by Honore de Balzac
Translated by Clara Bell and James Waring
"Et nunc et semper dilectoe dicatum."
Louis Lambert was born at Montoire, a little town in the Vendomois,
where his father owned a tannery of no great magnitude, and intended
that his son should succeed him; but his precocious bent for study
modified the paternal decision. For, indeed, the tanner and his wife
adored Louis, their only child, and never contradicted him in
At the age of five Louis had begun by reading the Old and New
Testaments; and these two Books, including so many books, had sealed
his fate. Could that childish imagination understand the mystical
depths of the Scriptures? Could it so early follow the flight of the
Holy Spirit across the worlds? Or was it merely attracted by the
romantic touches which abound in those Oriental poems! Our narrative
will answer these questions to some readers.
One thing resulted from this first reading of the Bible: Louis went
all over Montoire begging for books, and he obtained them by those
winning ways peculiar to children, which no one can resist. While
devoting himself to these studies under no sort of guidance, he
reached the age of ten.
At that period substitutes for the army were scarce; rich families
secured them long beforehand to have them ready when the lots were
drawn. The poor tanner's modest fortune did not allow of their
purchasing a substitute for their son, and they saw no means allowed
by law for evading the conscription but that of making him a priest;
so, in 1807, they sent him to his maternal uncle, the parish priest of
Mer, another small town on the Loire, not far from Blois. This
arrangement at once satisfied Louis' passion for knowledge, and his
parents' wish not to expose him to the dreadful chances of war; and,
indeed, his taste for study and precocious intelligence gave grounds
for hoping that he might rise to high fortunes in the Church.
After remaining for about three years with his uncle, an old and not
uncultured Oratorian, Louis left him early in 1811 to enter the
college at Vendome, where he was maintained at the cost of Madame de
Lambert owed the favor and patronage of this celebrated lady to
chance, or shall we not say to Providence, who can smooth the path of
forlorn genius? To us, indeed, who do not see below the surface of
human things, such vicissitudes, of which we find many examples in the
lives of great men, appear to be merely the result of physical
phenomena; to most biographers the head of a man of genius rises above
the herd as some noble plant in the fields attracts the eye of a
botanist in its splendor. This comparison may well be applied to Louis
Lambert's adventure; he was accustomed to spend the time allowed him
by his uncle for holidays at his father's house; but instead of
indulging, after the manner of schoolboys, in the sweets of the
delightful far niente that tempts us at every age, he set out every
morning with part of a loaf and his books, and went to read and
meditate in the woods, to escape his mother's remonstrances, for she
believed such persistent study to be injurious. How admirable is a
mother's instinct! From that time reading was in Louis a sort of
appetite which nothing could satisfy; he devoured books of every kind,
feeding indiscriminately on religious works, history, philosophy, and
physics. He has told me that he found indescribable delight in reading
dictionaries for lack of other books, and I readily believed him. What
scholar has not many a time found pleasure in seeking the probable
meaning of some unknown word? The analysis of a word, its physiognomy
and history, would be to Lambert matter for long dreaming. But these
were not the instinctive dreams by which a boy accustoms himself to
the phenomena of life, steels himself to every moral or physical
perception--an involuntary education which subsequently brings forth
fruit both in the understanding and character of a man; no, Louis
mastered the facts, and he accounted for them after seeking out both
the principle and the end with the mother wit of a savage. Indeed,
from the age of fourteen, by one of those startling freaks in which
nature sometimes indulges, and which proved how anomalous was his
temperament, he would utter quite simply ideas of which the depth was
not revealed to me till a long time after.
"Often," he has said to me when speaking of his studies, "often
have I made the most delightful voyage, floating on a word down
the abyss of the past, like an insect embarked on a blade of
grass tossing on the ripples of a stream. Starting from Greece, I
would get to Rome, and traverse the whole extent of modern ages.
What a fine book might be written of the life and adventures of a
word! It has, of course, received various stamps from the
occasions on which it has served its purpose; it has conveyed
different ideas in different places; but is it not still grander
to think of it under the three aspects of soul, body, and motion?
Merely to regard it in the abstract, apart from its functions,
its effects, and its influence, is enough to cast one into an
ocean of meditations? Are not most words colored by the idea they
represent? Then, to whose genius are they due? If it takes great
intelligence to create a word, how old may human speech be? The
combination of letters, their shapes, and the look they give to
the word, are the exact reflection, in accordance with the
character of each nation, of the unknown beings whose traces
survive in us.
"Who can philosophically explain the transition from sensation to
thought, from thought to word, from the word to its hieroglyphic
presentment, from hieroglyphics to the alphabet, from the alphabet to
written language, of which the eloquent beauty resides in a series of
images, classified by rhetoric, and forming, in a sense, the
hieroglyphics of thought? Was it not the ancient mode of representing
human ideas as embodied in the forms of animals that gave rise to the
shapes of the first signs used in the East for writing down language?
Then has it not left its traces by tradition on our modern languages,
which have all seized some remnant of the primitive speech of nations,
a majestic and solemn tongue whose grandeur and solemnity decrease as
communities grow old; whose sonorous tones ring in the Hebrew Bible,
and still are noble in Greece, but grow weaker under the progress of
successive phases of civilization?
"Is it to this time-honored spirit that we owe the mysteries lying
buried in every human word? In the word True do we not discern a
certain imaginary rectitude? Does not the compact brevity of its sound
suggest a vague image of chaste nudity and the simplicity of Truth in
all things? The syllable seems to me singularly crisp and fresh.
"I chose the formula of an abstract idea on purpose, not wishing to
illustrate the case by a word which should make it too obvious to the
apprehension, as the word Flight for instance, which is a direct
appeal to the senses.
"But is it not so with every root word? They are all stamped with a
living power that comes from the soul, and which they restore to the
soul through the mysterious and wonderful action and reaction between
thought and speech. Might we not speak of it as a lover who finds on
his mistress' lips as much love as he gives? Thus, by their mere
physiognomy, words call to life in our brain the beings which they
serve to clothe. Like all beings, there is but one place where their
properties are at full liberty to act and develop. But the subject
demands a science to itself perhaps!"
And he would shrug his shoulders as much as to say, "But we are too
high and too low!"
Louis' passion for reading had on the whole been very well satisfied.
The cure of Mer had two or three thousand volumes. This treasure had
been derived from the plunder committed during the Revolution in the
neighboring chateaux and abbeys. As a priest who had taken the oath,
the worthy man had been able to choose the best books from among these
precious libraries, which were sold by the pound. In three years Louis
Lambert had assimilated the contents of all the books in his uncle's
library that were worth reading. The process of absorbing ideas by
means of reading had become in him a very strange phenomenon. His eye
took in six or seven lines at once, and his mind grasped the sense
with a swiftness as remarkable as that of his eye; sometimes even one
word in a sentence was enough to enable him to seize the gist of the
His memory was prodigious. He remembered with equal exactitude the
ideas he had derived from reading, and those which had occurred to him
in the course of meditation or conversation. Indeed, he had every form
of memory--for places, for names, for words, things, and faces. He not
only recalled any object at will, but he saw them in his mind,
situated, lighted, and colored as he had originally seen them. And
this power he could exert with equal effect with regard to the most
abstract efforts of the intellect. He could remember, as he said, not
merely the position of a sentence in the book where he had met with
it, but the frame of mind he had been in at remote dates. Thus his was
the singular privilege of being able to retrace in memory the whole
life and progress of his mind, from the ideas he had first acquired to
the last thought evolved in it, from the most obscure to the clearest.
His brain, accustomed in early youth to the mysterious mechanism by
which human faculties are concentrated, drew from this rich treasury
endless images full of life and freshness, on which he fed his spirit
during those lucid spells of contemplation.
"Whenever I wish it," said he to me in his own language, to which a
fund of remembrance gave precocious originality, "I can draw a veil
over my eyes. Then I suddenly see within me a camera obscura, where
natural objects are reproduced in purer forms than those under which
they first appeared to my external sense."
At the age of twelve his imagination, stimulated by the perpetual
exercise of his faculties, had developed to a point which permitted
him to have such precise concepts of things which he knew only from
reading about them, that the image stamped on his mind could not have
been clearer if he had actually seen them, whether this was by a
process of analogy or that he was gifted with a sort of second sight
by which he could command all nature.
"When I read the story of the battle of Austerlitz," said he to me one
day, "I saw every incident. The roar of the cannon, the cries of the
fighting men rang in my ears, and made my inmost self quiver; I could
smell the powder; I heard the clatter of horses and the voices of men;
I looked down on the plain where armed nations were in collision, just
as if I had been on the heights of Santon. The scene was as terrifying
as a passage from the Apocalypse." On the occasions when he brought
all his powers into play, and in some degree lost consciousness of his
physical existence, and lived on only by the remarkable energy of his
mental powers, whose sphere was enormously expanded, he left space
behind him, to use his own words.
But I will not here anticipate the intellectual phases of his life.
Already, in spite of myself, I have reversed the order in which I
ought to tell the history of this man, who transferred all his
activities to thinking, as others throw all their life into action.
A strong bias drew his mind into mystical studies.
"Abyssus abyssum," he would say. "Our spirit is abysmal and loves
the abyss. In childhood, manhood, and old age we are always eager for
mysteries in whatever form they present themselves."
This predilection was disastrous; if indeed his life can be measured
by ordinary standards, or if we may gauge another's happiness by our
own or by social notions. This taste for the "things of heaven,"
another phrase he was fond of using, this mens divinior, was due
perhaps to the influence produced on his mind by the first books he
read at his uncle's. Saint Theresa and Madame Guyon were a sequel to
the Bible; they had the first-fruits of his manly intelligence, and
accustomed him to those swift reactions of the soul of which ecstasy
is at once the result and the means. This line of study, this peculiar
taste, elevated his heart, purified, ennobled it, gave him an appetite
for the divine nature, and suggested to him the almost womanly
refinement of feeling which is instinctive in great men; perhaps their
sublime superiority is no more than the desire to devote themselves
which characterizes woman, only transferred to the greatest things.
As a result of these early impressions, Louis passed immaculate
through his school life; this beautiful virginity of the senses
naturally resulted in the richer fervor of his blood, and in increased
faculties of mind.
The Baroness de Stael, forbidden to come within forty leagues of
Paris, spent several months of her banishment on an estate near
Vendome. One day, when out walking, she met on the skirts of the park
the tanner's son, almost in rags, and absorbed in reading. The book
was a translation of Heaven and Hell. At that time Monsieur Saint-
Martin, Monsieur de Gence, and a few other French or half German
writers were almost the only persons in the French Empire to whom the
name of Swedenborg was known. Madame de Stael, greatly surprised, took
the book from him with the roughness she affected in her questions,
looks, and manners, and with a keen glance at Lambert,--
"Do you understand all this?" she asked.
"Do you pray to God?" said the child.
"And do you understand Him?"
The Baroness was silent for a moment; then she sat down by Lambert,
and began to talk to him. Unfortunately, my memory, though retentive,
is far from being so trustworthy as my friend's, and I have forgotten
the whole of the dialogue excepting those first words.
Such a meeting was of a kind to strike Madame de Stael very greatly;
on her return home she said but little about it, notwithstanding an
effusiveness which in her became mere loquacity; but it evidently
occupied her thoughts.
The only person now living who preserves any recollection of the
incident, and whom I catechised to be informed of what few words
Madame de Stael had let drop, could with difficulty recall these words
spoken by the Baroness as describing Lambert, "He is a real seer."
Louis failed to justify in the eyes of the world the high hopes he had
inspired in his protectress. The transient favor she showed him was
regarded as a feminine caprice, one of the fancies characteristic of
artist souls. Madame de Stael determined to save Louis Lambert alike
from serving the Emperor or the Church, and to preserve him for the
glorious destiny which, she thought, awaited him; for she made him out
to be a second Moses snatched from the waters. Before her departure
she instructed a friend of hers, Monsieur de Corbigny, to send her
Moses in due course to the High School at Vendome; then she probably
Having entered this college at the age of fourteen, early in 1811,
Lambert would leave it at the end of 1814, when he had finished the
course of Philosophy. I doubt whether during the whole time he ever
heard a word of his benefactress--if indeed it was the act of a
benefactress to pay for a lad's schooling for three years without a
thought of his future prospects, after diverting him from a career in
which he might have found happiness. The circumstances of the time,
and Louis Lambert's character, may to a great extent absolve Madame de
Stael for her thoughtlessness and her generosity. The gentleman who
was to have kept up communications between her and the boy left Blois
just at the time when Louis passed out of the college. The political
events that ensued were then a sufficient excuse for this gentleman's
neglect of the Baroness' protege. The authoress of Corinne heard no
more of her little Moses.
A hundred louis, which she placed in the hands of Monsieur de
Corbigny, who died, I believe, in 1812, was not a sufficiently large
sum to leave lasting memories in Madame de Stael, whose excitable
nature found ample pasture during the vicissitudes of 1814 and 1815,
which absorbed all her interest.
At this time Louis Lambert was at once too proud and too poor to go in
search of a patroness who was traveling all over Europe. However, he
went on foot from Blois to Paris in the hope of seeing her, and
arrived, unluckily, on the very day of her death. Two letters from
Lambert to the Baroness remained unanswered. The memory of Madame de
Stael's good intentions with regard to Louis remains, therefore, only
in some few young minds, struck, as mine was, by the strangeness of
No one who had not gone through the training at our college could
understand the effect usually made on our minds by the announcement
that a "new boy" had arrived, or the impression that such an adventure
as Louis Lambert's was calculated to produce.
And here a little information must be given as to the primitive
administration of this institution, originally half-military and half-
monastic, to explain the new life which there awaited Lambert. Before
the Revolution, the Oratorians, devoted, like the Society of Jesus, to
the education of youth--succeeding the Jesuits, in fact, in certain of
their establishments--the colleges of Vendome, of Tournon, of la
Fleche, Pont-Levoy, Sorreze, and Juilly. That at Vendome, like the
others, I believe, turned out a certain number of cadets for the army.
The abolition of educational bodies, decreed by the convention, had
but little effect on the college at Vendome. When the first crisis had
blown over, the authorities recovered possession of their buildings;
certain Oratorians, scattered about the country, came back to the
college and re-opened it under the old rules, with the habits,
practices, and customs which gave this school a character with which I
have seen nothing at all comparable in any that I have visited since I
left that establishment.
Standing in the heart of the town, on the little river Loire which
flows under its walls, the college possesses extensive precincts,
carefully enclosed by walls, and including all the buildings necessary
for an institution on that scale: a chapel, a theatre, an infirmary, a
bakehouse, gardens, and water supply. This college is the most
celebrated home of learning in all the central provinces, and receives
pupils from them and from the colonies. Distance prohibits any
frequent visits from parents to their children.
The rule of the House forbids holidays away from it. Once entered
there, a pupil never leaves till his studies are finished. With the
exception of walks taken under the guidance of the Fathers, everything
is calculated to give the School the benefit of conventual discipline;
in my day the tawse was still a living memory, and the classical
leather strap played its terrible part with all the honors. The
punishment originally invented by the Society of Jesus, as alarming to
the moral as to the physical man, was still in force in all the
integrity of the original code.
Letters to parents were obligatory on certain days, so was confession.
Thus our sins and our sentiments were all according to pattern.
Everything bore the stamp of monastic rule. I well remember, among
other relics of the ancient order, the inspection we went through
every Sunday. We were all in our best, placed in file like soldiers to
await the arrival of the two inspectors who, attended by the tutors
and the tradesmen, examined us from the three points of view of dress,
health, and morals.
The two or three hundred pupils lodged in the establishment were
divided, according to ancient custom, into the minimes (the
smallest), the little boys, the middle boys, and the big boys. The
division of the minimes included the eighth and seventh classes; the
little boys formed the sixth, fifth, and fourth; the middle boys were
classed as third and second; and the first class comprised the senior
students--of philosophy, rhetoric, the higher mathematics, and
chemistry. Each of these divisions had its own building, classrooms,
and play-ground, in the large common precincts on to which the
classrooms opened, and beyond which was the refectory.
This dining-hall, worthy of an ancient religious Order, accommodated
all the school. Contrary to the usual practice in educational
institutions, we were allowed to talk at our meals, a tolerant
Oratorian rule which enabled us to exchange plates according to our
taste. This gastronomical barter was always one of the chief pleasures
of our college life. If one of the "middle" boys at the head of his
table wished for a helping of lentils instead of dessert--for we had
dessert--the offer was passed down from one to another: "Dessert for
lentils!" till some other epicure had accepted; then the plate of
lentils was passed up to the bidder from hand to hand, and the plate
of dessert returned by the same road. Mistakes were never made. If
several identical offers were made, they were taken in order, and the
formula would be, "Lentils number one for dessert number one." The
tables were very long; our incessant barter kept everything moving; we
transacted it with amazing eagerness; and the chatter of three hundred
lads, the bustling to and fro of the servants employed in changing the
plates, setting down the dishes, handing the bread, with the tours of
inspection of the masters, made this refectory at Vendome a scene
unique in its way, and the amazement of visitors.
To make our life more tolerable, deprived as we were of all
communication with the outer world and of family affection, we were
allowed to keep pigeons and to have gardens. Our two or three hundred
pigeon-houses, with a thousand birds nesting all round the outer wall,
and above thirty garden plots, were a sight even stranger than our
meals. But a full account of the peculiarities which made the college
at Vendome a place unique in itself and fertile in reminiscences to
those who spent their boyhood there, would be weariness to the reader.
Which of us all but remembers with delight, notwithstanding the
bitterness of learning, the eccentric pleasures of that cloistered
life? The sweetmeats purchased by stealth in the course of our walks,
permission obtained to play cards and devise theatrical performances
during the holidays, such tricks and freedom as were necessitated by
our seclusion; then, again, our military band, a relic of the cadets;
our academy, our chaplain, our Father professors, and all our games
permitted or prohibited, as the case might be; the cavalry charges on
stilts, the long slides made in winter, the clatter of our clogs; and,
above all, the trading transactions with "the shop" set up in the
This shop was kept by a sort of cheap-jack, of whom big and little
boys could procure--according to his prospectus--boxes, stilts, tools,
Jacobin pigeons, and Nuns, Mass-books--an article in small demand--
penknives, paper, pens, pencils, ink of all colors, balls and marbles;
in short, the whole catalogue of the most treasured possessions of
boys, including everything from sauce for the pigeons we were obliged
to kill off, to the earthenware pots in which we set aside the rice
from supper to be eaten at next morning's breakfast. Which of us was
so unhappy as to have forgotten how his heart beat at the sight of
this booth, open periodically during play-hours on Sundays, to which
we went, each in his turn, to spend his little pocket-money; while the
smallness of the sum allowed by our parents for these minor pleasures
required us to make a choice among all the objects that appealed so
strongly to our desires? Did ever a young wife, to whom her husband,
during the first days of happiness, hands, twelve times a year, a
purse of gold, the budget of her personal fancies, dream of so many
different purchases, each of which would absorb the whole sum, as we
imagined possible on the eve of the first Sunday in each month? For
six francs during one night we owned every delight of that
inexhaustible shop! and during Mass every response we chanted was
mixed up in our minds with our secret calculations. Which of us all
can recollect ever having had a sou left to spend on the Sunday
following? And which of us but obeyed the instinctive law of social
existence by pitying, helping, and despising those pariahs who, by the
avarice or poverty of their parents, found themselves penniless?
Any one who forms a clear idea of this huge college, with its monastic
buildings in the heart of a little town, and the four plots in which
we were distributed as by a monastic rule, will easily conceive of the
excitement that we felt at the arrival of a new boy, a passenger
suddenly embarked on the ship. No young duchess, on her first
appearance at Court, was ever more spitefully criticised than the new
boy by the youths in his division. Usually during the evening play-
hour before prayers, those sycophants who were accustomed to
ingratiate themselves with the Fathers who took it in turns two and
two for a week to keep an eye on us, would be the first to hear on
trustworthy authority: "There will be a new boy to-morrow!" and then
suddenly the shout, "A New Boy!--A New Boy!" rang through the courts.
We hurried up to crowd round the superintendent and pester him with
"Where was he coming from? What was his name? Which class would he be
in?" and so forth.
Louis Lambert's advent was the subject of a romance worthy of the
Arabian Nights. I was in the fourth class at the time--among the
little boys. Our housemasters were two men whom we called Fathers from
habit and tradition, though they were not priests. In my time there
were indeed but three genuine Oratorians to whom this title
legitimately belonged; in 1814 they all left the college, which had
gradually become secularized, to find occupation about the altar in
various country parishes, like the cure of Mer.
Father Haugoult, the master for the week, was not a bad man, but of
very moderate attainments, and he lacked the tact which is
indispensable for discerning the different characters of children, and
graduating their punishment to their powers of resistance. Father
Haugoult, then, began very obligingly to communicate to his pupils the
wonderful events which were to end on the morrow in the advent of the
most singular of "new boys." Games were at an end. All the children
came round in silence to hear the story of Louis Lambert, discovered,
like an aerolite, by Madame de Stael, in a corner of the wood.
Monsieur Haugoult had to tell us all about Madame de Stael; that
evening she seemed to me ten feet high; I saw at a later time the
picture of Corinne, in which Gerard represents her as so tall and
handsome; and, alas! the woman painted by my imagination so far
transcended this, that the real Madame de Stael fell at once in my
estimation, even after I read her book of really masculine power, De
But Lambert at that time was an even greater wonder. Monsieur
Mareschal, the headmaster, after examining him, had thought of placing
him among the senior boys. It was Louis' ignorance of Latin that
placed him so low as the fourth class, but he would certainly leap up
a class every year; and, as a remarkable exception, he was to be one
of the "Academy." Proh pudor! we were to have the honor of counting
among the "little boys" one whose coat was adorned with the red ribbon
displayed by the "Academicians" of Vendome. These Academicians enjoyed
distinguished privileges; they often dined at the director's table,
and held two literary meetings annually, at which we were all present
to hear their elucubrations. An Academician was a great man in embryo.
And if every Vendome scholar would speak the truth, he would confess
that, in later life, an Academician of the great French Academy seemed
to him far less remarkable than the stupendous boy who wore the cross
and the imposing red ribbon which were the insignia of our "Academy."
It was very unusual to be one of that illustrious body before
attaining to the second class, for the Academicians were expected to
hold public meetings every Thursday during the holidays, and to read
tales in verse or prose, epistles, essays, tragedies, dramas--
compositions far above the intelligence of the lower classes. I long
treasured the memory of a story called the "Green Ass," which was, I
think, the masterpiece of this unknown Society. In the fourth, and an
Academician! This boy of fourteen, a poet already, the protege of
Madame de Stael, a coming genius, said Father Haugoult, was to be one
of us! a wizard, a youth capable of writing a composition or a
translation while we were being called into lessons, and of learning
his lessons by reading them through but once. Louis Lambert bewildered
all our ideas. And Father Haugoult's curiosity and impatience to see
this new boy added fuel to our excited fancy.
"If he has pigeons, he can have no pigeon-house; there is not room for
another. Well, it cannot be helped," said one boy, since famous as an
"Who will sit next to him?" said another.
"Oh, I wish I might be his chum!" cried an enthusiast.
In school language, the word here rendered chum--faisant, or in some
schools, copin--expressed a fraternal sharing of the joys and evils
of your childish existence, a community of interests that was fruitful
of squabbling and making friends again, a treaty of alliance offensive
and defensive. It is strange, but never in my time did I know brothers
who were chums. If man lives by his feelings, he thinks perhaps that
he will make his life the poorer if he merges an affection of his own
choosing in a natural tie.
The impression made upon me by Father Haugoult's harangue that evening
is one of the most vivid reminiscences of my childhood; I can compare
it with nothing but my first reading of Robinson Crusoe. Indeed, I
owe to my recollection of these prodigious impressions an observation
that may perhaps be new as to the different sense attached to words by
each hearer. The word in itself has no final meaning; we affect a word
more than it affects us; its value is in relation to the images we
have assimilated and grouped round it; but a study of this fact would
require considerable elaboration, and lead us too far from our
Not being able to sleep, I had a long discussion with my next neighbor
in the dormitory as to the remarkable being who on the morrow was to
be one of us. This neighbor, who became an officer, and is now a
writer with lofty philosophical views, Barchou de Penhoen, has not
been false to his pre-destination, nor to the hazard of fortune by
which the only two scholars of Vendome, of whose fame Vendome ever
hears, were brought together in the same classroom, on the same form,
and under the same roof. Our comrade Dufaure had not, when this book
was published, made his appearance in public life as a lawyer. The
translator of Fichte, the expositor and friend of Ballanche, was
already interested, as I myself was, in metaphysical questions; we
often talked nonsense together about God, ourselves, and nature. He at
that time affected pyrrhonism. Jealous of his place as leader, he
doubted Lambert's precocious gifts; while I, having lately read Les
Enfants celebres, overwhelmed him with evidence, quoting young
Montcalm, Pico della Mirandola, Pascal--in short, a score of early
developed brains, anomalies that are famous in the history of the
human mind, and Lambert's predecessors.
I was at the time passionately addicted to reading. My father, who was
ambitious to see me in the Ecole Polytechnique, paid for me to have a
special course of private lessons in mathematics. My mathematical
master was the librarian of the college, and allowed me to help myself
to books without much caring what I chose to take from the library, a
quiet spot where I went to him during play-hours to have my lesson.
Either he was no great mathematician, or he was absorbed in some grand
scheme, for he very willingly left me to read when I ought to have
been learning, while he worked at I knew not what. So, by a tacit
understanding between us, I made no complaints of being taught
nothing, and he said nothing of the books I borrowed.
Carried away by this ill-timed mania, I neglected my studies to
compose poems, which certainly can have shown no great promise, to
judge by a line of too many feet which became famous among my
companions--the beginning of an epic on the Incas:
"O Inca! O roi infortune et malheureux!"
In derision of such attempts, I was nicknamed the Poet, but mockery
did not cure me. I was always rhyming, in spite of good advice from
Monsieur Mareschal, the headmaster, who tried to cure me of an
unfortunately inveterate passion by telling me the fable of a linnet
that fell out of the nest because it tried to fly before its wings
were grown. I persisted in my reading; I became the least emulous, the
idlest, the most dreamy of all the division of "little boys," and
consequently the most frequently punished.
This autobiographical digression may give some idea of the reflections
I was led to make in anticipation of Lambert's arrival. I was then
twelve years old. I felt sympathy from the first for the boy whose
temperament had some points of likeness to my own. I was at last to
have a companion in daydreams and meditations. Though I knew not yet
what glory meant, I thought it glory to be the familiar friend of a
child whose immortality was foreseen by Madame de Stael. To me Louis
Lambert was as a giant.
The looked-for morrow came at last. A minute before breakfast we heard
the steps of Monsieur Mareschal and of the new boy in the quiet
courtyard. Every head was turned at once to the door of the classroom.
Father Haugoult, who participated in our torments of curiosity, did
not sound the whistle he used to reduce our mutterings to silence and
bring us back to our tasks. We then saw this famous new boy, whom
Monsieur Mareschal was leading by the hand. The superintendent
descended from his desk, and the headmaster said to him solemnly,
according to etiquette: "Monsieur, I have brought you Monsieur Louis
Lambert; will you place him in the fourth class? He will begin work
Then, after speaking a few words in an undertone to the class-master,
"Where can he sit?"
It would have been unfair to displace one of us for a newcomer; so as
there was but one desk vacant, Louis Lambert came to fill it, next to
me, for I had last joined the class. Though we still had some time to
wait before lessons were over, we all stood up to look at Louis
Lambert. Monsieur Mareschal heard our mutterings, saw how eager we
were, and said, with the kindness that endeared him to us all:
"Well, well, but make no noise; do not disturb the other classes."
These words set us free to play some little time before breakfast, and
we all gathered round Lambert while Monsieur Mareschal walked up and
down the courtyard with Father Haugoult.
There were about eighty of us little demons, as bold as birds of prey.
Though we ourselves had all gone through this cruel novitiate, we
showed no mercy on a newcomer, never sparing him the mockery, the
catechism, the impertinence, which were inexhaustible on such
occasions, to the discomfiture of the neophyte, whose manners,
strength, and temper were thus tested. Lambert, whether he was stoical
or dumfounded, made no reply to any questions. One of us thereupon
remarked that he was no doubt of the school of Pythagoras, and there
was a shout of laughter. The new boy was thenceforth Pythagoras
through all his life at the college. At the same time, Lambert's
piercing eye, the scorn expressed in his face for our childishness, so
far removed from the stamp of his own nature, the easy attitude he
assumed, and his evident strength in proportion to his years, infused
a certain respect into the veriest scamps among us. For my part, I
kept near him, absorbed in studying him in silence.
Louis Lambert was slightly built, nearly five feet in height; his face
was tanned, and his hands were burnt brown by the sun, giving him an
appearance of manly vigor, which, in fact, he did not possess. Indeed,
two months after he came to the college, when studying in the
classroom had faded his vivid, so to speak, vegetable coloring, he
became as pale and white as a woman.
His head was unusually large. His hair, of a fine, bright black in
masses of curls, gave wonderful beauty to his brow, of which the
proportions were extraordinary even to us heedless boys, knowing
nothing, as may be supposed, of the auguries of phrenology, a science
still in its cradle. The distinction of this prophetic brow lay
principally in the exquisitely chiseled shape of the arches under
which his black eyes sparkled, and which had the transparency of
alabaster, the line having the unusual beauty of being perfectly level
to where it met the top of the nose. But when you saw his eyes it was
difficult to think of the rest of his face, which was indeed plain
enough, for their look was full of a wonderful variety of expression;
they seemed to have a soul in their depths. At one moment
astonishingly clear and piercing, at another full of heavenly
sweetness, those eyes became dull, almost colorless, as it seemed,
when he was lost in meditation. They then looked like a window from
which the sun had suddenly vanished after lighting it up. His strength
and his voice were no less variable; equally rigid, equally
unexpected. His tone could be as sweet as that of a woman compelled to
own her love; at other times it was labored, rough, rugged, if I may
use such words in a new sense. As to his strength, he was habitually
incapable of enduring the fatigue of any game, and seemed weakly,
almost infirm. But during the early days of his school-life, one of
our little bullies having made game of this sickliness, which rendered
him unfit for the violent exercise in vogue among his fellows, Lambert
took hold with both hands of one of the class-tables, consisting of
twelve large desks, face to face and sloping from the middle; he
leaned back against the class-master's desk, steadying the table with
his feet on the cross-bar below, and said:
"Now, ten of you try to move it!"
I was present, and can vouch for this strange display of strength; it
was impossible to move the table.
Lambert had the gift of summoning to his aid at certain times the most
extraordinary powers, and of concentrating all his forces on a given
point. But children, like men, are wont to judge of everything by
first impressions, and after the first few days we ceased to study
Louis; he entirely belied Madame de Stael's prognostications, and
displayed none of the prodigies we looked for in him.
After three months at school, Louis was looked upon as a quite
ordinary scholar. I alone was allowed really to know that sublime--why
should I not say divine?--soul, for what is nearer to God than genius
in the heart of a child? The similarity of our tastes and ideas made
us friends and chums; our intimacy was so brotherly that our school-
fellows joined our two names; one was never spoken without the other,
and to call either they always shouted "Poet-and-Pythagoras!" Some
other names had been known coupled in a like manner. Thus for two
years I was the school friend of poor Louis Lambert; and during that
time my life was so identified with his, that I am enabled now to
write his intellectual biography.
It was long before I fully knew the poetry and the wealth of ideas
that lay hidden in my companion's heart and brain. It was not till I
was thirty years of age, till my experience was matured and condensed,
till the flash of an intense illumination had thrown a fresh light
upon it, that I was capable of understanding all the bearings of the
phenomena which I witnessed at that early time. I benefited by them
without understanding their greatness or their processes; indeed, I
have forgotten some, or remember only the most conspicuous facts;
still, my memory is now able to co-ordinate them, and I have mastered
the secrets of that fertile brain by looking back to the delightful
days of our boyish affection. So it was time alone that initiated me
into the meaning of the events and facts that were crowded into that
obscure life, as into that of many another man who is lost to science.
Indeed, this narrative, so far as the expression and appreciation of
many things is concerned, will be found full of what may be termed
moral anachronisms, which perhaps will not detract from its peculiar
In the course of the first few months after coming to Vendome, Louis
became the victim of a malady which, though the symptoms were
invisible to the eye of our superiors, considerably interfered with
the exercise of his remarkable gifts. Accustomed to live in the open
air, and to the freedom of a purely haphazard education, happy in the
tender care of an old man who was devoted to him, used to meditating
in the sunshine, he found it very hard to submit to college rules, to
walk in the ranks, to live within the four walls of a room where
eighty boys were sitting in silence on wooden forms each in front of
his desk. His senses were developed to such perfection as gave them
the most sensitive keenness, and every part of him suffered from this
life in common.
The effluvia that vitiated the air, mingled with the odors of a
classroom that was never clean, nor free from the fragments of our
breakfasts or snacks, affected his sense of smell, the sense which,
being more immediately connected than the others with the nerve-
centers of the brain, must, when shocked, cause invisible disturbance
to the organs of thought.
Besides these elements of impurity in the atmosphere, there were
lockers in the classrooms in which the boys kept their miscellaneous
plunder--pigeons killed for fete days, or tidbits filched from the
dinner-table. In each classroom, too, there was a large stone slab, on
which two pails full of water were kept standing, a sort of sink,
where we every morning washed our faces and hands, one after another,
in the master's presence. We then passed on to a table, where women
combed and powdered our hair. Thus the place, being cleaned but once a
day before we were up, was always more or less dirty. In spite of
numerous windows and lofty doors, the air was constantly fouled by the
smells from the washing-place, the hairdressing, the lockers, and the
thousand messes made by the boys, to say nothing of their eighty
closely packed bodies. And this sort of humus, mingling with the mud
we brought in from the playing-yard, produced a suffocatingly
The loss of the fresh and fragrant country air in which he had
hitherto lived, the change of habits and strict discipline, combined
to depress Lambert. With his elbow on his desk and his head supported
on his left hand, he spent the hours of study gazing at the trees in
the court or the clouds in the sky; he seemed to be thinking of his
lessons; but the master, seeing his pen motionless, or the sheet
before him still a blank, would call out:
"Lambert, you are doing nothing!"
This "you are doing nothing!" was a pin-thrust that wounded Louis to
the quick. And then he never earned the rest of the play-time; he
always had impositions to write. The imposition, a punishment which
varies according to the practice of different schools, consisted at
Vendome of a certain number of lines to be written out in play hours.
Lambert and I were so overpowered with impositions, that we had not
six free days during the two years of our school friendship. But for
the books we took out of the library, which maintained some vitality
in our brains, this system of discipline would have reduced us to
idiotcy. Want of exercise is fatal to children. The habit of
preserving a dignified appearance, begun in tender infancy, has, it is
said, a visible effect on the constitution of royal personages when
the faults of such an education are not counteracted by the life of
the battle-field or the laborious sport of hunting. And if the laws of
etiquette and Court manners can act on the spinal marrow to such an
extent as to affect the pelvis of kings, to soften their cerebral
tissue, and so degenerate the race, what deep-seated mischief,
physical and moral, must result in schoolboys from the constant lack
of air, exercise, and cheerfulness!
Indeed, the rules of punishment carried out in schools deserve the
attention of the Office of Public Instruction when any thinkers are to
be found there who do not think exclusively of themselves.
We incurred the infliction of an imposition in a thousand ways. Our
memory was so good that we never learned a lesson. It was enough for
either of us to hear our class-fellows repeat the task in French,
Latin, or grammar, and we could say it when our turn came; but if the
master, unfortunately, took it into his head to reverse the usual
order and call upon us first, we very often did not even know what the
lesson was; then the imposition fell in spite of our most ingenious
excuses. Then we always put off writing our exercises till the last
moment; if there were a book to be finished, or if we were lost in
thought, the task was forgotten--again an imposition. How often have
we scribbled an exercise during the time when the head-boy, whose
business it was to collect them when we came into school, was
gathering them from the others!
In addition to the moral misery which Lambert went through in trying
to acclimatize himself to college life, there was a scarcely less
cruel apprenticeship through which every boy had to pass: to those
bodily sufferings which seemed infinitely varied. The tenderness of a
child's skin needs extreme care, especially in winter, when a school-
boy is constantly exchanging the frozen air of the muddy playing-yard
for the stuffy atmosphere of the classroom. The "little boys" and the
smallest of all, for lack of a mother's care, were martyrs to
chilblains and chaps so severe that they had to be regularly dressed
during the breakfast hour; but this could only be very indifferently
done to so many damaged hands, toes, and heels. A good many of the
boys indeed were obliged to prefer the evil to the remedy; the choice
constantly lay between their lessons waiting to be finished or the
joys of a slide, and waiting for a bandage carelessly put on, and
still more carelessly cast off again. Also it was the fashion in the
school to gibe at the poor, feeble creatures who went to be doctored;
the bullies vied with each other in snatching off the rags which the
infirmary nurse had tied on. Hence, in winter, many of us, with half-
dead feet and fingers, sick with pain, were incapable of work, and
punished for not working. The Fathers, too often deluded by shammed
ailments, would not believe in real suffering.
The price paid for our schooling and board also covered the cost of
clothing. The committee contracted for the shoes and clothes supplied
to the boys; hence the weekly inspection of which I have spoken. This
plan, though admirable for the manager, is always disastrous to the
managed. Woe to the boy who indulged in the bad habit of treading his
shoes down at heel, of cracking the shoe-leather, or wearing out the
soles too fast, whether from a defect in his gait, or by fidgeting
during lessons in obedience to the instinctive need of movement common
to all children. That boy did not get through the winter without great
suffering. In the first place, his chilblains would ache and shot as
badly as a fit of the gout; then the rivets and pack-thread intended
to repair the shoes would give way, or the broken heels would prevent
the wretched shoes from keeping on his feet; he was obliged to drag
them wearily along the frozen roads, or sometimes to dispute their
possession with the clay soil of the district; the water and snow got
in through some unnoticed crack or ill-sewn patch, and the foot would
Out of sixty boys, not ten perhaps could walk without some special
form of torture; and yet they all kept up with the body of the troop,
dragged on by the general movement, as men are driven through life by
life itself. Many a time some proud-tempered boy would shed tears of
rage while summoning his remaining energy to run ahead and get home
again in spite of pain, so sensitively afraid of laughter or of pity--
two forms of scorn--is the still tender soul at that age.
At school, as in social life, the strong despise the feeble without
knowing in what true strength consists.
Nor was this all. No gloves. If by good hap a boy's parents, the
infirmary nurse, or the headmaster gave gloves to a particularly
delicate lad, the wags or the big boys of the class would put them on
the stove, amused to see them dry and shrivel; or if the gloves
escaped the marauders, after getting wet they shrunk as they dried for
want of care. No, gloves were impossible. Gloves were a privilege, and
boys insist on equality.
Louis Lambert fell a victim to all these varieties of torment. Like
many contemplative men, who, when lost in thought, acquire a habit of
mechanical motion, he had a mania for fidgeting with his shoes, and
destroyed them very quickly. His girlish complexion, the skin of his
ears and lips, cracked with the least cold. His soft, white hands grew
red and swollen. He had perpetual colds. Thus he was a constant
sufferer till he became inured to school-life. Taught at last by cruel
experience, he was obliged to "look after his things," to use the
school phrase. He was forced to take care of his locker, his desk, his
clothes, his shoes; to protect his ink, his books, his copy-paper, and
his pens from pilferers; in short, to give his mind to the thousand
details of our trivial life, to which more selfish and commonplace
minds devoted such strict attention--thus infallibly securing prizes
for "proficiency" and "good conduct"--while they were overlooked by a
boy of the highest promise, who, under the hand of an almost divine
imagination, gave himself up with rapture to the flow of his ideas.
This was not all. There is a perpetual struggle going on between the
masters and the boys, a struggle without truce, to be compared with
nothing else in the social world, unless it be the resistance of the
opposition to the ministry in a representative government. But
journalists and opposition speakers are probably less prompt to take
advantage of a weak point, less extreme in resenting an injury, and
less merciless in their mockery than boys are in regard to those who
rule over them. It is a task to put angels out of patience. An unhappy
class-master must then not be too severely blamed, ill-paid as he is,
and consequently not too competent, if he is occasionally unjust or
out of temper. Perpetually watched by a hundred mocking eyes, and
surrounded with snares, he sometimes revenges himself for his own
blunders on the boys who are only too ready to detect them.
Unless for serious misdemeanors, for which there were other forms of
punishment, the strap was regarded at Vendome as the ultima ratio
Patrum. Exercises forgotten, lessons ill learned, common ill behavior
were sufficiently punished by an imposition, but offended dignity
spoke in the master through the strap. Of all the physical torments to
which we were exposed, certainly the most acute was that inflicted by
this leathern instrument, about two fingers wide, applied to our poor
little hands with all the strength and all the fury of the
administrator. To endure this classical form of correction, the victim
knelt in the middle of the room. He had to leave his form and go to
kneel down near the master's desk under the curious and generally
merciless eyes of his fellows. To sensitive natures these
preliminaries were an introductory torture, like the journey from the
Palais de Justice to the Place de Greve which the condemned used to
make to the scaffold.
Some boys cried out and shed bitter tears before or after the
application of the strap; others accepted the infliction with stoic
calm; it was a question of nature; but few could control an expression
of anguish in anticipation.
Louis Lambert was constantly enduring the strap, and owed it to a
peculiarity of his physiognomy of which he was for a long time quite
unconscious. Whenever he was suddenly roused from a fit of abstraction
by the master's cry, "You are doing nothing!" it often happened that,
without knowing it, he flashed at his teacher a look full of fierce
contempt, and charged with thought, as a Leyden jar is charged with
electricity. This look, no doubt, discomfited the master, who,
indignant at this unspoken retort, wished to cure his scholar of that
The first time the Father took offence at this ray of scorn, which
struck him like a lightning-flash, he made this speech, as I well
"If you look at me again in that way, Lambert, you will get the
At these words every nose was in the air, every eye looked alternately
at the master and at Louis. The observation was so utterly foolish,
that the boy again looked at the Father, overwhelming him with another
flash. From this arose a standing feud between Lambert and his master,
resulting in a certain amount of "strap." Thus did he first discover
the power of his eye.
The hapless poet, so full of nerves, as sensitive as a woman, under
the sway of chronic melancholy, and as sick with genius as a girl with
love that she pines for, knowing nothing of it;--this boy, at once so
powerful and so weak, transplanted by "Corinne" from the country he
loved, to be squeezed in the mould of a collegiate routine to which
every spirit and every body must yield, whatever their range or
temperament, accepting its rule and its uniform as gold is crushed
into round coin under the press; Louis Lambert suffered in every spot
where pain can touch the soul or the flesh. Stuck on a form,
restricted to the acreage of his desk, a victim of the strap and to a
sickly frame, tortured in every sense, environed by distress--
everything compelled him to give his body up to the myriad tyrannies
of school life; and, like the martyrs who smiled in the midst of
suffering, he took refuge in heaven, which lay open to his mind.
Perhaps this life of purely inward emotions helped him to see
something of the mysteries he so entirely believed in!
Our independence, our illicit amusements, our apparent waste of time,
our persistent indifference, our frequent punishments and aversion for
our exercises and impositions, earned us a reputation, which no one
cared to controvert, for being an idle and incorrigible pair. Our
masters treated us with contempt, and we fell into utter disgrace with
our companions, from whom we concealed our secret studies for fear of
being laughed at. This hard judgment, which was injustice in the
masters, was but natural in our schoolfellows. We could neither play
ball, nor run races, nor walk on stilts. On exceptional holidays, when
amnesty was proclaimed and we got a few hours of freedom, we shared in
none of the popular diversions of the school. Aliens from the
pleasures enjoyed by the others, we were outcasts, sitting forlorn
under a tree in the playing-ground. The Poet-and-Pythagoras formed an
exception and led a life apart from the life of the rest.
The penetrating instinct and unerring conceit of schoolboys made them
feel that we were of a nature either far above or far beneath their
own; hence some simply hated our aristocratic reserve, others merely
scorned our ineptitude. These feelings were equally shared by us
without our knowing it; perhaps I have but now divined them. We lived
exactly like two rats, huddled into the corner of the room where our
desks were, sitting there alike during lesson time and play hours.
This strange state of affairs inevitably and in fact placed us on a
footing of war with all the other boys in our division. Forgotten for
the most part, we sat there very contentedly; half happy, like two
plants, two images who would have been missed from the furniture of
the room. But the most aggressive of our schoolfellows would sometimes
torment us, just to show their malignant power, and we responded with
stolid contempt, which brought many a thrashing down on the Poet-and-
Lambert's home-sickness lasted for many months. I know no words to
describe the dejection to which he was a prey. Louis has taken the
glory off many a masterpiece for me. We had both played the part of
the "Leper of Aosta," and had both experienced the feelings described
in Monsieur de Maistre's story, before we read them as expressed by
his eloquent pen. A book may, indeed, revive the memories of our
childhood, but it can never compete with them successfully. Lambert's
woes had taught me many a chant of sorrow far more appealing than the
finest passages in "Werther." And, indeed, there is no possible
comparison between the pangs of a passion condemned, whether rightly
or wrongly, by every law, and the grief of a poor child pining for the
glorious sunshine, the dews of the valley, and liberty. Werther is the
slave of desire; Louis Lambert was an enslaved soul. Given equal
talent, the more pathetic sorrow, founded on desires which, being
purer, are the more genuine, must transcend the wail even of genius.
After sitting for a long time with his eyes fixed on a lime-tree in
the playground, Louis would say just a word; but that word would
reveal an infinite speculation.
"Happily for me," he exclaimed one day, "there are hours of comfort
when I feel as though the walls of the room had fallen and I were
away--away in the fields! What a pleasure it is to let oneself go on
the stream of one's thoughts as a bird is borne up on its wings!"
"Why is green a color so largely diffused throughout creation?" he
would ask me. "Why are there so few straight lines in nature? Why is
it that man, in his structures, rarely introduces curves? Why is it
that he alone, of all creatures, has a sense of straightness?"
These queries revealed long excursions in space. He had, I am sure,
seen vast landscapes, fragrant with the scent of woods. He was always
silent and resigned, a living elegy, always suffering but unable to
complain of suffering. An eagle that needed the world to feed him,
shut in between four narrow, dirty walls; and thus this life became an
ideal life in the strictest meaning of the words. Filled as he was
with contempt of the almost useless studies to which we were
harnessed, Louis went on his skyward way absolutely unconscious of the
things about us.
I, obeying the imitative instinct that is so strong in childhood,
tired to regulate my life in conformity with his. And Louis the more
easily infected me with the sort of torpor in which deep contemplation
leaves the body, because I was younger and more impressionable than
he. Like two lovers, we got into the habit of thinking together in a
common reverie. His intuitions had already acquired that acuteness
which must surely characterize the intellectual perceptiveness of
great poets and often bring them to the verge of madness.
"Do you ever feel," said he to me one day, "as though imagined
suffering affected you in spite of yourself? If, for instance, I think
with concentration of the effect that the blade of my penknife would
have in piercing my flesh, I feel an acute pain as if I had really cut
myself; only the blood is wanting. But the pain comes suddenly, and
startles me like a sharp noise breaking profound silence. Can an idea
cause physical pain?--What do you say to that, eh?"
When he gave utterance to such subtle reflections, we both fell into
artless meditation; we set to work to detect in ourselves the
inscrutable phenomena of the origin of thoughts, which Lambert hoped
to discover in their earliest germ, so as to describe some day the
unknown process. Then, after much discussion, often mixed up with
childish notions, a look would flash from Lambert's eager eyes; he
would grasp my hand, and a word from the depths of his soul would show
the current of his mind.
"Thinking is seeing," said he one day, carried away by some objection
raised as to the first principles of our organization. "Every human
science is based on deduction, which is a slow process of seeing by
which we work up from the effect to the cause; or, in a wider sense,
all poetry, like every work of art, proceeds from a swift vision of
He was a spiritualist (as opposed to materialism); but I would venture
to contradict him, using his own arguments to consider the intellect
as a purely physical phenomenon. We both were right. Perhaps the words
materialism and spiritualism express the two faces of the same fact.
His considerations on the substance of the mind led to his accepting,
with a certain pride, the life of privation to which we were condemned
in consequence of our idleness and our indifference to learning. He
had a certain consciousness of his own powers which bore him up
through his spiritual cogitations. How delightful it was to me to feel
his soul acting on my own! Many a time have we remained sitting on our
form, both buried in one book, having quite forgotten each other's
existence, and yet not apart; each conscious of the other's presence,
and bathing in an ocean of thought, like two fish swimming in the same
Our life, apparently, was merely vegetating; but we lived through our
heart and brain.
Lambert's influence over my imagination left traces that still abide.
I used to listen hungrily to his tales, full of the marvels which make
men, as well as children, rapturously devour stories in which truth
assumes the most grotesque forms. His passion for mystery, and the
credulity natural to the young, often led us to discuss Heaven and
Hell. Then Louis, by expounding Swedenborg, would try to make me share
in his beliefs concerning angels. In his least logical arguments there
were still amazing observations as to the powers of man, which gave
his words that color of truth without which nothing can be done in any
art. The romantic end he foresaw as the destiny of man was calculated
to flatter the yearning which tempts blameless imaginations to give
themselves up to beliefs. Is it not during the youth of a nation that
its dogmas and idols are conceived? And are not the supernatural
beings before whom the people tremble the personification of their
feelings and their magnified desires?
All that I can now remember of the poetical conversations we held
together concerning the Swedish prophet, whose works I have since had
the curiosity to read, may be told in a few paragraphs.
In each of us there are two distinct beings. According to Swedenborg,
the angel is an individual in whom the inner being conquers the
external being. If a man desires to earn his call to be an angel, as
soon as his mind reveals to him his twofold existence, he must strive
to foster the delicate angelic essence that exists within him. If, for
lack of a lucid appreciation of his destiny, he allows bodily action
to predominate, instead of confirming his intellectual being, all his
powers will be absorbed in the use of his external senses, and the
angel will slowly perish by the materialization of both natures. In
the contrary case, if he nourishes his inner being with the aliment
needful to it, the soul triumphs over matter and strives to get free.
When they separate by the act of what we call death, the angel, strong
enough then to cast off its wrappings, survives and begins its real
life. The infinite variety which differentiates individual men can
only be explained by this twofold existence, which, again, is proved
and made intelligible by that variety.
In point of fact, the wide distance between a man whose torpid
intelligence condemns him to evident stupidity, and one who, by the
exercise of his inner life, has acquired the gift of some power,
allows us to suppose that there is as great a difference between men
of genius and other beings as there is between the blind and those who
see. This hypothesis, since it extends creation beyond all limits,
gives us, as it were, the clue to heaven. The beings who, here on
earth, are apparently mingled without distinction, are there
distributed, according to their inner perfection, in distinct spheres
whose speech and manners have nothing in common. In the invisible
world, as in the real world, if some native of the lower spheres
comes, all unworthy, into a higher sphere, not only can he never
understand the customs and language there, but his mere presence
paralyzes the voice and hearts of those who dwell therein.
Dante, in his Divine Comedy, had perhaps some slight intuition of
those spheres which begin in the world of torment, and rise, circle on
circle, to the highest heaven. Thus Swedenborg's doctrine is the
product of a lucid spirit noting down the innumerable signs by which
the angels manifest their presence among men.
This doctrine, which I have endeavored to sum up in a more or less
consistent form, was set before me by Lambert with all the fascination
of mysticism, swathed in the wrappings of the phraseology affected by
mystical writers: an obscure language full of abstractions, and taking
such effect on the brain, that there are books by Jacob Boehm,
Swedenborg, and Madame Guyon, so strangely powerful that they give
rise to phantasies as various as the dreams of the opium-eater.
Lambert told me of mystical facts so extraordinary, he so acted on my
imagination, that he made my brain reel. Still, I loved to plunge into
that realm of mystery, invisible to the senses, in which every one
likes to dwell, whether he pictures it to himself under the indefinite
ideal of the Future, or clothes it in the more solid guise of romance.
These violent revulsions of the mind on itself gave me, without my
knowing it, a comprehension of its power, and accustomed me to the
workings of the mind.
Lambert himself explained everything by his theory of the angels. To
him pure love--love as we dream of it in youth--was the coalescence of
two angelic natures. Nothing could exceed the fervency with which he
longed to meet a woman angel. And who better than he could inspire or
feel love? If anything could give an impression of an exquisite
nature, was it not the amiability and kindliness that marked his
feelings, his words, his actions, his slightest gestures, the conjugal
regard that united us as boys, and that we expressed when we called
There was no distinction for us between my ideas and his. We imitated
each other's handwriting, so that one might write the tasks of both.
Thus, if one of us had a book to finish and to return to the
mathematical master, he could read on without interruption while the
other scribbled off his exercise and imposition. We did our tasks as
though paying a task on our peace of mind. If my memory does not play
me false, they were sometimes of remarkable merit when Lambert did
them. But on the foregone conclusion that we were both of us idiots,
the master always went through them under a rooted prejudice, and even
kept them to read to be laughed at by our schoolfellows.
I remember one afternoon, at the end of the lesson, which lasted from
two till four, the master took possession of a page of translation by
Lambert. The passage began with Caius Gracchus, vir nobilis; Lambert
had construed this by "Caius Gracchus had a noble heart."
"Where do you find 'heart' in nobilis?" said the Father sharply.
And there was a roar of laughter, while Lambert looked at the master
in some bewilderment.
"What would Madame la Baronne de Stael say if she could know that you
make such nonsense of a word that means noble family, of patrician
"She would say that you were an ass!" said I in a muttered tone.
"Master Poet, you will stay in for a week," replied the master, who
unfortunately overheard me.
Lambert simply repeated, looking at me with inexpressible affection,
Madame de Stael was, in fact, partly the cause of Lambert's troubles.
On every pretext masters and pupils threw the name in his teeth,
either in irony or in reproof.
Louis lost no time in getting himself "kept in" to share my
imprisonment. Freer thus than in any other circumstances, we could
talk the whole day long in the silence of the dormitories, where each
boy had a cubicle six feet square, the partitions consisting at the
top of open bars. The doors, fitted with gratings, were locked at
night and opened in the morning under the eye of the Father whose duty
it was to superintend our rising and going to bed. The creak of these
gates, which the college servants unlocked with remarkable expedition,
was a sound peculiar to that college. These little cells were our
prison, and boys were sometimes shut up there for a month at a time.
The boys in these coops were under the stern eye of the prefect, a
sort of censor who stole up at certain hours, or at unexpected
moments, with a silent step, to hear if we were talking instead of
writing our impositions. But a few walnut shells dropped on the
stairs, or the sharpness of our hearing, almost always enabled us to
beware of his coming, so we could give ourselves up without anxiety to
our favorite studies. However, as books were prohibited, our prison
hours were chiefly filled up with metaphysical discussions, or with
relating singular facts connected with the phenomena of mind.
One of the most extraordinary of these incidents beyond question is
this, which I will here record, not only because it concerns Lambert,
but because it perhaps was the turning-point of his scientific career.
By the law of custom in all schools, Thursday and Sunday were
holidays; but the services, which we were made to attend very
regularly, so completely filled up Sunday, that we considered Thursday
our only real day of freedom. After once attending Mass, we had a long
day before us to spend in walks in the country round the town of
Vendome. The manor of Rochambeau was the most interesting object of
our excursions, perhaps by reason of its distance; the smaller boys
were very seldom taken on so fatiguing an expedition. However, once or
twice a year the class-masters would hold out Rochambeau as a reward
In 1812, towards the end of the spring, we were to go there for the
first time. Our anxiety to see this famous chateau of Rochambeau,
where the owner sometimes treated the boys to milk, made us all very
good, and nothing hindered the outing. Neither Lambert nor I had ever
seen the pretty valley of the Loire where the house stood. So his
imagination and mine were much excited by the prospect of this
excursion, which filled the school with traditional glee. We talked of
it all the evening, planning to spend in fruit or milk such money as
we had saved, against all the habits of school-life.
After dinner next day, we set out at half-past twelve, each provided
with a square hunch of bread, given to us for our afternoon snack. And
off we went, as gay as swallows, marching in a body on the famous
chateau with an eagerness which would at first allow of no fatigue.
When we reached the hill, whence we looked down on the house standing
half-way down the slope, on the devious valley through which the river
winds and sparkles between meadows in graceful curves--a beautiful
landscape, one of those scenes to which the keen emotions of early
youth or of love lend such a charm, that it is wise never to see them
again in later years--Louis Lambert said to me, "Why, I saw this last
night in a dream."
He recognized the clump of trees under which we were standing, the
grouping of the woods, the color of the water, the turrets of the
chateau, the details, the distance, in fact every part of the prospect
which we looked on for the first time. We were mere children; I, at
any rate, who was but thirteen; Louis, at fifteen, might have the
precocity of genius, but at that time we were incapable of falsehood
in the most trivial matters of our life as friends. Indeed, if
Lambert's powerful mind had any presentiment of the importance of such
facts, he was far from appreciating their whole bearing; and he was
quite astonished by this incident. I asked him if he had not perhaps
been brought to Rochambeau in his infancy, and my question struck him;
but after thinking it over, he answered in the negative. This
incident, analogous to what may be known of the phenomena of sleep in
several persons, will illustrate the beginnings of Lambert's line of
talent; he took it, in fact, as the basis of a whole system, using a
fragment--as Cuvier did in another branch of inquiry--as a clue to the
reconstruction of a complete system.
At this moment we were sitting together on an old oak-stump, and after
a few minutes' reflection, Louis said to me:
"If the landscape did not come to me--which it is absurd to imagine--I
must have come here. If I was here while I was asleep in my cubicle,
does not that constitute a complete severance of my body and my inner
being? Does it not prove some inscrutable locomotive faculty in the
spirit with effects resembling those of locomotion in the body? Well,
then, if my spirit and my body can be severed during sleep, why should
I not insist on their separating in the same way while I am awake? I
see no half-way mean between the two propositions.
"But if we go further into details: either the facts are due to the
action of a faculty which brings out a second being to whom my body is
merely a husk, since I was in my cell, and yet I saw the landscape--
and this upsets many systems; or the facts took place either in some
nerve centre, of which the name is yet to be discovered, where our
feelings dwell and move; or else in the cerebral centre, where ideas
are formed. This last hypothesis gives rise to some strange questions.
I walked, I saw, I heard. Motion is inconceivable but in space, sound
acts only at certain angles or on surfaces, color is caused only by
light. If, in the dark, with my eyes shut, I saw, in myself, colored
objects; if I heard sounds in the most perfect silence and without the
conditions requisite for the production of sound; if without stirring
I traversed wide tracts of space, there must be inner faculties
independent of the external laws of physics. Material nature must be
penetrable by the spirit.
"How is it that men have hitherto given so little thought to the
phenomena of sleep, which seem to prove that man has a double life?
May there not be a new science lying beneath them?" he added, striking
his brow with his hand. "If not the elements of a science, at any rate
the revelation of stupendous powers in man; at least they prove a
frequent severance of our two natures, the fact I have been thinking
out for a very long time. At last, then, I have hit on evidence to
show the superiority that distinguishes our latent senses from our
corporeal senses! Homo duplex!
"And yet," he went on, after a pause, with a doubtful shrug, "perhaps
we have not two natures; perhaps we are merely gifted with personal
and perfectible qualities, of which the development within us produces
certain unobserved phenomena of activity, penetration, and vision. In
our love of the marvelous, a passion begotten of our pride, we have
translated these effects into poetical inventions, because we did not
understand them. It is so convenient to deify the incomprehensible!
"I should, I own, lament over the loss of my illusions. I so much
wished to believe in our twofold nature and in Swedenborg's angels.
Must this new science destroy them? Yes; for the study of our unknown
properties involves us in a science that appears to be materialistic,
for the Spirit uses, divides, and animates the Substance; but it does
not destroy it."
He remained pensive, almost sad. Perhaps he saw the dreams of his
youth as swaddling clothes that he must soon shake off.
"Sight and hearing are, no doubt, the sheaths for a very marvelous
instrument," said he, laughing at his own figure of speech.
Always when he was talking to me of Heaven and Hell, he was wont to
treat of Nature as being master; but now, as he pronounced these last
words, big with prescience, he seemed to soar more boldly than ever
above the landscape, and his forehead seemed ready to burst with the
afflatus of genius. His powers--mental powers we must call them till
some new term is found--seemed to flash from the organs intended to
express them. His eyes shot out thoughts; his uplifted hand, his
silent but tremulous lips were eloquent; his burning glance was
radiant; at last his head, as though too heavy, or exhausted by too
eager a flight, fell on his breast. This boy--this giant--bent his
head, took my hand and clasped it in his own, which was damp, so
fevered was he for the search for truth; then, after a pause, he said:
"I shall be famous!--And you, too," he added after a pause. "We will
both study the Chemistry of the Will."
Noble soul! I recognized his superiority, though he took great care
never to make me feel it. He shared with me all the treasures of his
mind, and regarded me as instrumental in his discoveries, leaving me
the credit of my insignificant contributions. He was always as
gracious as a woman in love; he had all the bashful feeling, the
delicacy of soul which make life happy and pleasant to endure.
On the following day he began writing what he called a Treatise on
the Will; his subsequent reflections led to many changes in its plan
and method; but the incident of that day was certainly the germ of the
work, just as the electric shock always felt by Mesmer at the approach
of a particular manservant was the starting-point of his discoveries
in magnetism, a science till then interred under the mysteries of
Isis, of Delphi, of the cave of Trophonius, and rediscovered by that
prodigious genius, close on Lavater, and the precursor of Gall.
Lambert's ideas, suddenly illuminated by this flash of light, assumed
vaster proportions; he disentangled certain truths from his many
acquisitions and brought them into order; then, like a founder, he
cast the model of his work. At the end of six months' indefatigable
labor, Lambert's writings excited the curiosity of our companions, and
became the object of cruel practical jokes which led to a fatal issue.
One day one of the masters, who was bent on seeing the manuscripts,
enlisted the aid of our tyrants, and came to seize, by force, a box
that contained the precious papers. Lambert and I defended it with
incredible courage. The trunk was locked, our aggressors could not
open it, but they tried to smash it in the struggle, a stroke of
malignity at which we shrieked with rage. Some of the boys, with a
sense of justice, or struck perhaps by our heroic defence, advised the
attacking party to leave us in peace, crushing us with insulting
contempt. But suddenly, brought to the spot by the noise of a battle,
Father Haugoult roughly intervened, inquiring as to the cause of the
fight. Our enemies had interrupted us in writing our impositions, and
the class-master came to protect his slaves. The foe, in self-defence,
betrayed the existence of the manuscript. The dreadful Haugoult
insisted on our giving up the box; if we should resist, he would have
it broken open. Lambert gave him the key; the master took out the
papers, glanced through them, and said, as he confiscated them:
"And it is for such rubbish as this that you neglect your lessons!"
Large tears fell from Lambert's eyes, wrung from him as much by a
sense of his offended moral superiority as by the gratuitous insult
and betrayal that he had suffered. We gave the accusers a glance of
stern reproach: had they not delivered us over to the common enemy? If
the common law of school entitled them to thrash us, did it not
require them to keep silence as to our misdeeds?
In a moment they were no doubt ashamed of their baseness.
Father Haugoult probably sold the Treatise on the Will to a local
grocer, unconscious of the scientific treasure, of which the germs
thus fell into unworthy hands.
Six months later I left the school, and I do not know whether Lambert
ever recommenced his labors. Our parting threw him into a mood of the
It was in memory of the disaster that befell Louis' book that, in the
tale which comes first in these Etudes, I adopted the title invented
by Lambert for a work of fiction, and gave the name of a woman who was
dear to him to a girl characterized by her self-devotion; but this is
not all I have borrowed from him: his character and occupations were
of great value to me in writing that book, and the subject arose from
some reminiscences of our youthful meditations. This present volume is
intended as a modest monument, a broken column, to commemorate the
life of the man who bequeathed to me all he had to leave--his
In that boyish effort Lambert had enshrined the ideas of a man. Ten
years later, when I met some learned men who were devoting serious
attention to the phenomena that had struck us and that Lambert had so
marvelously analyzed, I understood the value of his work, then already
forgotten as childish. I at once spent several months in recalling the
principal theories discovered by my poor schoolmate. Having collected
my reminiscences, I can boldly state that, by 1812, he had proved,
divined, and set forth in his Treatise several important facts of
which, as he had declared, evidence was certain to come sooner or
later. His philosophical speculations ought undoubtedly to gain him
recognition as one of the great thinkers who have appeared at wide
intervals among men, to reveal to them the bare skeleton of some
science to come, of which the roots spread slowly, but which, in due
time, bring forth fair fruit in the intellectual sphere. Thus a humble
artisan, Bernard Palissy, searching the soil to find minerals for
glazing pottery, proclaimed, in the sixteenth century, with the
infallible intuition of genius, geological facts which it is now the
glory of Cuvier and Buffon to have demonstrated.
I can, I believe, give some idea of Lambert's Treatise by stating the
chief propositions on which it was based; but, in spite of myself, I
shall strip them of the ideas in which they were clothed, and which
were indeed their indispensable accompaniment. I started on a
different path, and only made use of those of his researches which
answered the purpose of my scheme. I know not, therefore, whether as
his disciple I can faithfully expound his views, having assimilated
them in the first instance so as to color them with my own.
New ideas require new words, or a new and expanded use of old words,
extended and defined in their meaning. Thus Lambert, to set forth the
basis of his system, had adopted certain common words that answered to
his notions. The word Will he used to connote the medium in which the
mind moves, or to use a less abstract expression, the mass of power by
which man can reproduce, outside himself, the actions constituting his
external life. Volition--a word due to Locke--expressed the act by
which a man exerts his will. The word Mind, or Thought, which he
regarded as the quintessential product of the Will, also represented
the medium in which the ideas originate to which thought gives
substance. The Idea, a name common to every creation of the brain,
constituted the act by which man uses his mind. Thus the Will and the
Mind were the two generating forces; the Volition and the Idea were
the two products. Volition, he thought, was the Idea evolved from the
abstract state to a concrete state, from its generative fluid to a
solid expression, so to speak, if such words may be taken to formulate
notions so difficult of definition. According to him, the Mind and
Ideas are the motion and the outcome of our inner organization, just
as the Will and Volition are of our external activity.
He gave the Will precedence over the Mind.
"You must will before you can think," he said. "Many beings live in a
condition of Willing without ever attaining to the condition of
Thinking. In the North, life is long; in the South, it is shorter; but
in the North we see torpor, in the South a constant excitability of
the Will, up to the point where from an excess of cold or of heat the
organs are almost nullified."
The use of the word "medium" was suggested to him by an observation he
had made in his childhood, though, to be sure, he had no suspicion
then of its importance, but its singularity naturally struck his
delicately alert imagination. His mother, a fragile, nervous woman,
all sensitiveness and affection, was one of those beings created to
represent womanhood in all the perfection of her attributes, but
relegated by a mistaken fate to too low a place in the social scale.
Wholly loving, and consequently wholly suffering, she died young,
having thrown all her energies into her motherly love. Lambert, a
child of six, lying, but not always sleeping, in a cot by his mother's
bed, saw the electric sparks from her hair when she combed it. The man
of fifteen made scientific application of this fact which had amused
the child, a fact beyond dispute, of which there is ample evidence in
many instances, especially of women who by a sad fatality are doomed
to let unappreciated feelings evaporate in the air, or some
superabundant power run to waste.
In support of his definitions, Lambert propounded a variety of
problems to be solved, challenges flung out to science, though he
proposed to seek the solution for himself. He inquired, for instance,
whether the element that constitutes electricity does not enter as a
base into the specific fluid whence our Ideas and Volitions proceed?
Whether the hair, which loses its color, turns white, falls out, or
disappears, in proportion to the decay or crystallization of our
thoughts, may not be in fact a capillary system, either absorbent or
diffusive, and wholly electrical? Whether the fluid phenomena of the
Will, a matter generated within us, and spontaneously reacting under
the impress of conditions as yet unobserved, were at all more
extraordinary than those of the invisible and intangible fluid
produced by a voltaic pile, and applied to the nervous system of a
dead man? Whether the formation of Ideas and their constant diffusion
was less incomprehensible than evaporation of the atoms, imperceptible
indeed, but so violent in their effects, that are given off from a
grain of musk without any loss of weight. Whether, granting that the
function of the skin is purely protective, absorbent, excretive, and
tactile, the circulation of the blood and all its mechanism would not
correspond with the transsubstantiation of our Will, as the
circulation of the nerve fluid corresponds to that of the Mind?
Finally, whether the more or less rapid affluence of these two real
substances may not be the result of a certain perfection or
imperfection of organs whose conditions require investigation in every
Having set forth these principles, he proposed to class the phenomena
of human life in two series of distinct results, demanding, with the
ardent insistency of conviction, a special analysis for each. In fact,
having observed in almost every type of created thing two separate
motions, he assumed, nay, he asserted, their existence in our human
nature, and designated this vital antithesis Action and Reaction.
"A desire," he said, "is a fact completely accomplished in our will
before it is accomplished externally."
Hence the sum-total of our Volitions and our Ideas constitutes Action,
and the sum-total of our external acts he called Reaction.
When I subsequently read the observations made by Bichat on the
duality of our external senses, I was really bewildered by my
recollections, recognizing the startling coincidences between the
views of that celebrated physiologist and those of Louis Lambert. They
both died young, and they had with equal steps arrived at the same
strange truths. Nature has in every case been pleased to give a
twofold purpose to the various apparatus that constitute her
creatures; and the twofold action of the human organism, which is now
ascertained beyond dispute, proves by a mass of evidence in daily life
how true were Lambert's deductions as to Action and Reaction.
The inner Being, the Being of Action--the word he used to designate an
unknown specialization--the mysterious nexus of fibrils to which we
owe the inadequately investigated powers of thought and will--in
short, the nameless entity which sees, acts, foresees the end, and
accomplishes everything before expressing itself in any physical
phenomenon--must, in conformity with its nature, be free from the
physical conditions by which the external Being of Reaction, the
visible man, is fettered in its manifestation. From this followed a
multitude of logical explanation as to those results of our twofold
nature which appear the strangest, and a rectification of various
systems in which truth and falsehood are mingled.
Certain men, having had a glimpse of some phenomena of the natural
working of the Being of Action, were, like Swedenborg, carried away
above this world by their ardent soul, thirsting for poetry, and
filled with the Divine Spirit. Thus, in their ignorance of the causes
and their admiration of the facts, they pleased their fancy by
regarding that inner man as divine, and constructing a mystical
universe. Hence we have angels! A lovely illusion which Lambert would
never abandon, cherishing it even when the sword of his logic was
cutting off their dazzling wings.
"Heaven," he would say, "must, after all, be the survival of our
perfected faculties, and hell the void into which our unperfected
faculties are cast away."
But how, then, in the ages when the understanding had preserved the
religious and spiritualist impressions, which prevailed from the time
of Christ till that of Descartes, between faith and doubt, how could
men help accounting for the mysteries of our nature otherwise than by
divine interposition? Of whom but of God Himself could sages demand an
account of an invisible creature so actively and so reactively
sensitive, gifted with faculties so extensive, so improvable by use,
and so powerful under certain occult influences, that they could
sometimes see it annihilate, by some phenomenon of sight or movement,
space in its two manifestations--Time and Distance--of which the
former is the space of the intellect, the latter is physical space?
Sometimes they found it reconstructing the past, either by the power
of retrospective vision, or by the mystery of a palingenesis not
unlike the power a man might have of detecting in the form,
integument, and embryo in a seed, the flowers of the past, and the
numberless variations of their color, scent, and shape; and sometimes,
again, it could be seen vaguely foreseeing the future, either by its
apprehension of final causes, or by some phenomenon of physical
Other men, less poetically religious, cold, and argumentative--quacks
perhaps, but enthusiasts in brain at least, if not in heart--
recognizing some isolated examples of such phenomena, admitted their
truth while refusing to consider them as radiating from a common
centre. Each of these was, then, bent on constructing a science out of
a simple fact. Hence arose demonology, judicial astrology, the black
arts, in short, every form of divination founded on circumstances that
were essentially transient, because they varied according to men's
temperament, and to conditions that are still completely unknown.
But from these errors of the learned, and from the ecclesiastical
trials under which fell so many martyrs to their own powers, startling
evidence was derived of the prodigious faculties at the command of the
Being of Action, which, according to Lambert, can abstract itself
completely from the Being of Reaction, bursting its envelope, and
piercing walls by its potent vision; a phenomenon known to the
Hindoos, as missionaries tell us, by the name of Tokeiad; or again,
by another faculty, can grasp in the brain, in spite of its closest
convolutions, the ideas which are formed or forming there, and the
whole of past consciousness.
"If apparitions are not impossible," said Lambert, "they must be due
to a faculty of discerning the ideas which represent man in his purest
essence, whose life, imperishable perhaps, escapes our grosser senses,
though they may become perceptible to the inner being when it has
reached a high degree of ecstasy, or a great perfection of vision."
I know--though my remembrance is now vague--that Lambert, by following
the results of Mind and Will step by step, after he had established
their laws, accounted for a multitude of phenomena which, till then,
had been regarded with reason as incomprehensible. Thus wizards, men
possessed with second sight, and demoniacs of every degree--the
victims of the Middle Ages--became the subject of explanations so
natural, that their very simplicity often seemed to me the seal of
their truth. The marvelous gifts which the Church of Rome, jealous of
all mysteries, punished with the stake, were, in Louis' opinion, the
result of certain affinities between the constituent elements of
matter and those of mind, which proceed from the same source. The man
holding a hazel rod when he found a spring of water was guided by some
antipathy or sympathy of which he was unconscious; nothing but the
eccentricity of these phenomena could have availed to give some of
them historic certainty.
Sympathies have rarely been proved; they afford a kind of pleasure
which those who are so happy as to possess them rarely speak of unless
they are abnormally singular, and even then only in the privacy of
intimate intercourse, where everything is buried. But the antipathies
that arise from the inversion of affinities have, very happily, been
recorded when developed by famous men. Thus, Bayle had hysterics when
he heard water splashing, Scaliger turned pale at the sight of water-
cress, Erasmus was thrown into a fever by the smell of fish. These
three antipathies were connected with water. The Duc d'Epernon fainted
at the sight of a hare, Tycho-Brahe at that of a fox, Henri III. at
the presence of a cat, the Marechal d'Albret at the sight of a wild
hog; these antipathies were produced by animal emanations, and often
took effect at a great distance. The Chevalier de Guise, Marie de
Medici, and many other persons have felt faint at seeing a rose even
in a painting. Lord Bacon, whether he were forewarned or no of an
eclipse of the moon, always fell into a syncope while it lasted; and
his vitality, suspended while the phenomenon lasted was restored as
soon as it was over without his feeling any further inconvenience.
These effects of antipathy, all well authenticated, and chosen from
among many which history has happened to preserve, are enough to give
a clue to the sympathies which remain unknown.
This fragment of Lambert's investigations, which I remember from among
his essays, will throw a light on the method on which he worked. I
need not emphasize the obvious connection between this theory and the
collateral sciences projected by Gall and Lavater; they were its
natural corollary; and every more or less scientific brain will
discern the ramifications by which it is inevitably connected with the
phrenological observations of one and the speculations on physiognomy
of the other.
Mesmer's discovery, so important, though as yet so little appreciated,
was also embodied in a single section of this treatise, though Louis
did not know the Swiss doctor's writings--which are few and brief.
A simple and logical inference from these principles led him to
perceive that the will might be accumulated by a contractile effort of
the inner man, and then, by another effort, projected, or even
imparted, to material objects. Thus the whole force of a man must have
the property of reacting on other men, and of infusing into them an
essence foreign to their own, if they could not protect themselves
against such an aggression. The evidence of this theorem of the
science of humanity is, of course, very multifarious; but there is
nothing to establish it beyond question. We have only the notorious
disaster of Marius and his harangue to the Cimbrian commanded to kill
him, or the august injunction of a mother to the Lion of Florence, in
historic proof of instances of such lightning flashes of mind. To
Lambert, then, Will and Thought were living forces; and he spoke of
them in such a way as to impress his belief on the hearer. To him
these two forces were, in a way, visible, tangible. Thought was slow
or alert, heavy or nimble, light or dark; he ascribed to it all the
attributes of an active agent, and thought of it as rising, resting,
waking, expanding, growing old, shrinking, becoming atrophied, or
resuscitating; he described its life, and specified all its actions by
the strangest words in our language, speaking of its spontaneity, its
strength, and all its qualities with a kind of intuition which enabled
him to recognize all the manifestations of its substantial existence.
"Often," said he, "in the midst of quiet and silence, when our inner
faculties are dormant, when a sort of darkness reigns within us, and
we are lost in the contemplation of things outside us, an idea
suddenly flies forth, and rushes with the swiftness of lightning
across the infinite space which our inner vision allows us to
perceive. This radiant idea, springing into existence like a will-o'-
the-wisp, dies out never to return; an ephemeral life, like that of
babes who give their parents such infinite joy and sorrow; a sort of
still-born blossom in the fields of the mind. Sometimes an idea,
instead of springing forcibly into life and dying unembodied, dawns
gradually, hovers in the unknown limbo of the organs where it has its
birth; exhausts us by long gestation, develops, is itself fruitful,
grows outwardly in all the grace of youth and the promising attributes
of a long life; it can endure the closest inspection, invites it, and
never tires the sight; the investigation it undergoes commands the
admiration we give to works slowly elaborated. Sometimes ideas are
evolved in a swarm; one brings another; they come linked together;
they vie with each other; they fly in clouds, wild and headlong.
Again, they rise up pallid and misty, and perish for want of strength
or of nutrition; the vital force is lacking. Or again, on certain
days, they rush down into the depths to light up that immense
obscurity; they terrify us and leave the soul dejected.
"Ideas are a complete system within us, resembling a natural kingdom,
a sort of flora, of which the iconography will one day be outlined by
some man who will perhaps be accounted a madman.
"Yes, within us and without, everything testifies to the livingness of
those exquisite creations, which I compare with flowers in obedience
to some unutterable revelation of their true nature!
"Their being produced as the final cause of man is, after all, not
more amazing than the production of perfume and color in a plant.
Perfumes are ideas, perhaps!
"When we consider the line where flesh ends and the nail begins
contains the invisible and inexplicable mystery of the constant
transformation of a fluid into horn, we must confess that nothing is
impossible in the marvelous modifications of human tissue.
"And are there not in our inner nature phenomena of weight and motion
comparable to those of physical nature? Suspense, to choose an example
vividly familiar to everybody, is painful only as a result of the law
in virtue of which the weight of a body is multiplied by its velocity.
The weight of the feeling produced by suspense increases by the
constant addition of past pain to the pain of the moment.
"And then, to what, unless it be to the electric fluid, are we to
attribute the magic by which the Will enthrones itself so imperiously
in the eye to demolish obstacles at the behest of genius, thunders in
the voice, or filters, in spite of dissimulation, through the human
frame? The current of that sovereign fluid, which, in obedience to the
high pressure of thought or of feeling, flows in a torrent or is
reduced to a mere thread, and collects to flash in lightnings, is the
occult agent to which are due the evil or the beneficent efforts of
Art and Passion--intonation of voice, whether harsh or suave,
terrible, lascivious, horrifying or seductive by turns, thrilling the
heart, the nerves, or the brain at our will; the marvels of the touch,
the instrument of the mental transfusions of a myriad artists, whose
creative fingers are able, after passionate study, to reproduce the
forms of nature; or, again, the infinite gradations of the eye from
dull inertia to the emission of the most terrifying gleams.
"By this system God is bereft of none of His rights. Mind, as a form
of matter, has brought me a new conviction of His greatness."
After hearing him discourse thus, after receiving into my soul his
look like a ray of light, it was difficult not to be dazzled by his
conviction and carried away by his arguments. The Mind appeared to me
as a purely physical power, surrounded by its innumerable progeny. It
was a new conception of humanity under a new form.
This brief sketch of the laws which, as Lambert maintained, constitute
the formula of our intellect, must suffice to give a notion of the
prodigious activity of his spirit feeding on itself. Louis had sought
for proofs of his theories in the history of great men, whose lives,
as set forth by their biographers, supply very curious particulars as
to the operation of their understanding. His memory allowed him to
recall such facts as might serve to support his statements; he had
appended them to each chapter in the form of demonstrations, so as to
give to many of his theories an almost mathematical certainty. The
works of Cardan, a man gifted with singular powers of insight,
supplied him with valuable materials. He had not forgotten that
Apollonius of Tyana had, in Asia, announced the death of a tyrant with
every detail of his execution, at the very hour when it was taking
place in Rome; nor that Plotinus, when far away from Porphyrius, was
aware of his friend's intention to kill himself, and flew to dissuade
him; nor the incident in the last century, proved in the face of the
most incredulous mockery ever known--an incident most surprising to
men who were accustomed to regard doubt as a weapon against the fact
alone, but simple enough to believers--the fact that Alphonzo-Maria di
Liguori, Bishop of Saint-Agatha, administered consolations to Pope
Ganganelli, who saw him, heard him, and answered him, while the Bishop
himself, at a great distance from Rome, was in a trance at home, in
the chair where he commonly sat on his return from Mass. On recovering
consciousness, he saw all his attendants kneeling beside him,
believing him to be dead: "My friends," said he, "the Holy Father is
just dead." Two days later a letter confirmed the news. The hour of
the Pope's death coincided with that when the Bishop had been restored
to his natural state.
Nor had Lambert omitted the yet more recent adventure of an English
girl who was passionately attached to a sailor, and set out from
London to seek him. She found him, without a guide, making her way
alone in the North American wilderness, reaching him just in time to
save his life.
Louis had found confirmatory evidence in the mysteries of the
ancients, in the acts of the martyrs--in which glorious instances may
be found of the triumph of human will, in the demonology of the Middle
Ages, in criminal trials and medical researches; always selecting the
real fact, the probable phenomenon, with admirable sagacity.
All this rich collection of scientific anecdotes, culled from so many
books, most of them worthy of credit, served no doubt to wrap parcels
in; and this work, which was curious, to say the least of it, as the
outcome of a most extraordinary memory, was doomed to destruction.
Among the various cases which added to the value of Lambert's
Treatise was an incident that had taken place in his own family, of
which he had told me before he wrote his essay. This fact, bearing on
the post-existence of the inner man, if I may be allowed to coin a new
word for a phenomenon hitherto nameless, struck me so forcibly that I
have never forgotten it. His father and mother were being forced into
a lawsuit, of which the loss would leave them with a stain on their
good name, the only thing they had in the world. Hence their anxiety
was very great when the question first arose as to whether they should
yield to the plaintiff's unjust demands, or should defend themselves
against him. The matter came under discussion one autumn evening,
before a turf fire in the room used by the tanner and his wife. Two or
three relations were invited to this family council, and among others
Louis' maternal great-grandfather, an old laborer, much bent, but with
a venerable and dignified countenance, bright eyes, and a bald, yellow
head, on which grew a few locks of thin, white hair. Like the Obi of
the Negroes, or the Sagamore of the Indian savages, he was a sort of
oracle, consulted on important occasions. His land was tilled by his
grandchildren, who fed and served him; he predicted rain and fine
weather, and told them when to mow the hay and gather the crops. The
barometric exactitude of his forecasts was quite famous, and added to
the confidence and respect he inspired. For whole days he would sit
immovable in his armchair. This state of rapt meditation often came
upon him since his wife's death; he had been attached to her in the
truest and most faithful affection.
This discussion was held in his presence, but he did not seem to give
much heed to it.
"My children," said he, when he was asked for his opinion, "this is
too serious a matter for me to decide on alone. I must go and consult
The old man rose, took his stick, and went out, to the great
astonishment of the others, who thought him daft. He presently came
back and said:
"I did not have to go so far as the graveyard; your mother came to
meet me; I found her by the brook. She tells me that you will find
some receipts in the hands of a notary at Blois, which will enable you
to gain your suit."
The words were spoken in a firm tone; the old man's demeanor and
countenance showed that such an apparition was habitual with him. In
fact, the disputed receipts were found, and the lawsuit was not
This event, under his father's roof and to his own knowledge, when
Louis was nine years old, contributed largely to his belief in
Swedenborg's miraculous visions, for in the course of that
philosopher's life he repeatedly gave proof of the power of sight
developed in his Inner Being. As he grew older, and as his
intelligence was developed, Lambert was naturally led to seek in the
laws of nature for the causes of the miracle which, in his childhood,
had captivated his attention. What name can be given to the chance
which brought within his ken so many facts and books bearing on such
phenomena, and made him the principal subject and actor in such
marvelous manifestations of mind?
If Lambert had no other title to fame than the fact of his having
formulated, in his sixteenth year, such a psychological dictum as
this:--"The events which bear witness to the action of the human race,
and are the outcome of its intellect, have causes by which they are
preconceived, as our actions are accomplished in our minds before they
are reproduced by the outer man; presentiments or predictions are the
perception of these causes"--I think we may deplore in him a genius
equal to Pascal, Lavoisier, or Laplace. His chimerical notions about
angels perhaps overruled his work too long; but was it not in trying
to make gold that the alchemists unconsciously created chemistry? At
the same time, Lambert, at a later period, studied comparative
anatomy, physics, geometry, and other sciences bearing on his
discoveries, and this was undoubtedly with the purpose of collecting
facts and submitting them to analysis--the only torch that can guide
us through the dark places of the most inscrutable work of nature. He
had too much good sense to dwell among the clouds of theories which
can all be expressed in a few words. In our day, is not the simplest
demonstration based on facts more highly esteemed than the most
specious system though defended by more or less ingenious inductions?
But as I did not know him at the period of his life when his
cogitations were, no doubt, the most productive of results, I can only
conjecture that the bent of his work must have been from that of his
first efforts of thought.
It is easy to see where his Treatise on the Will was faulty. Though
gifted already with the powers which characterize superior men, he was
but a boy. His brain, though endowed with a great faculty for
abstractions, was still full of the delightful beliefs that hover
around youth. Thus his conception, while at some points it touched the
ripest fruits of his genius, still, by many more, clung to the smaller
elements of its germs. To certain readers, lovers of poetry, what he
chiefly lacked must have been a certain vein of interest.
But his work bore the stamp of the struggle that was going on in that
noble Spirit between the two great principles of Spiritualism and
Materialism, round which so many a fine genius has beaten its way
without ever daring to amalgamate them. Louis, at first purely
Spiritualist, had been irresistibly led to recognize the Material
conditions of Mind. Confounded by the facts of analysis at the moment
when his heart still gazed with yearning at the clouds which floated
in Swedenborg's heaven, he had not yet acquired the necessary powers
to produce a coherent system, compactly cast in a piece, as it were.
Hence certain inconsistencies that have left their stamp even on the
sketch here given of his first attempts. Still, incomplete as his work
may have been, was it not the rough copy of a science of which he
would have investigated the secrets at a later time, have secured the
foundations, have examined, deduced, and connected the logical
Six months after the confiscation of the Treatise on the Will I left
school. Our parting was unexpected. My mother, alarmed by a feverish
attack which for some months I had been unable to shake off, while my
inactive life induced symptoms of coma, carried me off at four or
five hours' notice. The announcement of my departure reduced Lambert
to dreadful dejection.
"Shall I ever seen you again?" said he in his gentle voice, as he
clasped me in his arms. "You will live," he went on, "but I shall die.
If I can, I will come back to you."
Only the young can utter such words with the accent of conviction that
gives them the impressiveness of prophecy, of a pledge, leaving a
terror of its fulfilment. For a long time indeed I vaguely looked for
the promised apparition. Even now there are days of depression, of
doubt, alarm, and loneliness, when I am forced to repel the intrusion
of that sad parting, though it was not fated to be the last.
When I crossed the yard by which we left, Lambert was at one of the
refectory windows to see me pass. By my request my mother obtained
leave for him to dine with us at the inn, and in the evening I
escorted him back to the fatal gate of the college. No lover and his
mistress ever shed more tears at parting.
"Well, good-bye; I shall be left alone in this desert!" said he,
pointing to the playground where two hundred boys were disporting
themselves and shouting. "When I come back half dead with fatigue from
my long excursions through the fields of thought, on whose heart can I
rest? I could tell you everything in a look. Who will understand me
now?--Good-bye! I could wish I had never met you; I should not know
all I am losing."
"And what is to become of me?" said I. "Is not my position a dreadful
one? I have nothing here to uphold me!" and I slapped my forehead.
He shook his head with a gentle gesture, gracious and sad, and we
At that time Louis Lambert was about five feet five inches in height;
he grew no more. His countenance, which was full of expression,
revealed his sweet nature. Divine patience, developed by harsh usage,
and the constant concentration needed for his meditative life, had
bereft his eyes of the audacious pride which is so attractive in some
faces, and which had so shocked our masters. Peaceful mildness gave
charm to his face, an exquisite serenity that was never marred by a
tinge of irony or satire; for his natural kindliness tempered his
conscious strength and superiority. He had pretty hands, very slender,
and almost always moist. His frame was a marvel, a model for a
sculptor; but our iron-gray uniform, with gilt buttons and knee-
breeches, gave us such an ungainly appearance that Lambert's fine
proportions and firm muscles could only be appreciated in the bath.
When we swam in our pool in the Loire, Louis was conspicuous by the
whiteness of his skin, which was unlike the different shades of our
schoolfellows' bodies mottled by the cold, or blue from the water.
Gracefully formed, elegant in his attitudes, delicate in hue, never
shivering after his bath, perhaps because he avoided the shade and
always ran into the sunshine, Louis was like one of those cautious
blossoms that close their petals to the blast and refuse to open
unless to a clear sky. He ate little, and drank water only; either by
instinct or by choice he was averse to any exertion that made a demand
on his strength; his movements were few and simple, like those of
Orientals or of savages, with whom gravity seems a condition of
As a rule, he disliked everything that resembled any special care for
his person. He commonly sat with his head a little inclined to the
left, and so constantly rested his elbows on the table, that the
sleeves of his coats were soon in holes.
To this slight picture of the outer man I must add a sketch of his
moral qualities, for I believe I can now judge him impartially.
Though naturally religious, Louis did not accept the minute practices
of the Roman ritual; his ideas were more intimately in sympathy with
Saint Theresa and Fenelon, and several Fathers and certain Saints,
who, in our day, would be regarded as heresiarchs or atheists. He was
rigidly calm during the services. His own prayers went up in gusts, in
aspirations, without any regular formality; in all things he gave
himself up to nature, and would not pray, any more than he would
think, at any fixed hour. In chapel he was equally apt to think of God
or to meditate on some problem of philosophy.
To him Jesus Christ was the most perfect type of his system. Et
Verbum caro factum est seemed a sublime statement intended to express
the traditional formula of the Will, the Word, and the Act made
visible. Christ's unconsciousness of His Death--having so perfected
His inner Being by divine works, that one day the invisible form of it
appeared to His disciples--and the other Mysteries of the Gospels, the
magnetic cures wrought by Christ, and the gift of tongues, all to him
confirmed his doctrine. I remember once hearing him say on this
subject, that the greatest work that could be written nowadays was a
History of the Primitive Church. And he never rose to such poetic
heights as when, in the evening, as we conversed, he would enter on an
inquiry into miracles, worked by the power of Will during that great
age of faith. He discerned the strongest evidence of his theory in
most of the martyrdoms endured during the first century of our era,
which he spoke of as the great era of the Mind.
"Do not the phenomena observed in almost every instance of the
torments so heroically endured by the early Christians for the
establishment of the faith, amply prove that Material force will never
prevail against the force of Ideas or the Will of man?" he would say.
"From this effect, produced by the Will of all, each man may draw
conclusions in favor of his own."
I need say nothing of his views on poetry or history, nor of his
judgment on the masterpieces of our language. There would be little
interest in the record of opinions now almost universally held, though
at that time, from the lips of a boy, they might seem remarkable.
Louis was capable of the highest flights. To give a notion of his
talents in a few words, he could have written Zadig as wittily as
Voltaire; he could have thought out the dialogue between Sylla and
Eucrates as powerfully as Montesquieu. His rectitude of character made
him desire above all else in a work that it should bear the stamp of
utility; at the same time, his refined taste demanded novelty of
thought as well as of form. One of his most remarkable literary
observations, which will serve as a clue to all the others, and show
the lucidity of his judgment, is this, which has ever dwelt in my
memory, "The Apocalypse is written ecstasy." He regarded the Bible as
a part of the traditional history of the antediluvian nations which
had taken for its share the new humanity. He thought that the
mythology of the Greeks was borrowed both from the Hebrew Scriptures
and from the sacred Books of India, adapted after their own fashion by
the beauty-loving Hellenes.
"It is impossible," said he, "to doubt the priority of the Asiatic
Scriptures; they are earlier than our sacred books. The man who is
candid enough to admit this historical fact sees the whole world
expand before him. Was it not on the Asiatic highland that the few men
took refuge who were able to escape the catastrophe that ruined our
globe--if, indeed men had existed before that cataclysm or shock? A
serious query, the answer to which lies at the bottom of the sea. The
anthropogony of the Bible is merely a genealogy of a swarm escaping
from the human hive which settled on the mountainous slopes of Thibet
between the summits of the Himalaya and the Caucasus.
"The character of the primitive ideas of that horde called by its
lawgiver the people of God, no doubt to secure its unity, and perhaps
also to induce it to maintain his laws and his system of government--
for the Books of Moses are a religious, political, and civil code--
that character bears the authority of terror; convulsions of nature
are interpreted with stupendous power as a vengeance from on high. In
fact, since this wandering tribe knew none of the ease enjoyed by a
community settled in a patriarchal home, their sorrows as pilgrims
inspired them with none but gloomy poems, majestic but blood-stained.
In the Hindoos, on the contrary, the spectacle of the rapid recoveries
of the natural world, and the prodigious effects of sunshine, which
they were the first to recognize, gave rise to happy images of
blissful love, to the worship of Fire and of the endless
personifications of reproductive force. These fine fancies are lacking
in the Book of the Hebrews. A constant need of self-preservation amid
all the dangers and the lands they traversed to reach the Promised
Land engendered their exclusive race-feeling and their hatred of all
"These three Scriptures are the archives of an engulfed world. Therein
lies the secret of the extraordinary splendor of those languages and
their myths. A grand human history lies beneath those names of men and
places, and those fables which charm us so irresistibly, we know not
why. Perhaps it is because we find in them the native air of renewed
Thus, to him, this threefold literature included all the thoughts of
man. Not a book could be written, in his opinion, of which the subject
might not there be discerned in its germ. This view shows how
learnedly he had pursued his early studies of the Bible, and how far
they had led him. Hovering, as it were, over the heads of society, and
knowing it solely from books, he could judge it coldly.
"The law," said he, "never puts a check on the enterprises of the rich
and great, but crushes the poor, who, on the contrary, need
His kind heart did not therefore allow him to sympathize in political
ideas; his system led rather to the passive obedience of which Jesus
set the example. During the last hours of my life at Vendome, Louis
had ceased to feel the spur to glory; he had, in a way, had an
abstract enjoyment of fame; and having opened it, as the ancient
priests of sacrifice sought to read the future in the hearts of men,
he had found nothing in the entrails of his chimera. Scorning a
sentiment so wholly personal: "Glory," said he, "is but beatified
Here, perhaps, before taking leave of this exceptional boyhood, I may
pronounce judgment on it by a rapid glance.
A short time before our separation, Lambert said to me:
"Apart from the general laws which I have formulated--and this,
perhaps, will be my glory--laws which must be those of the human
organism, the life of man is Movement determined in each individual by
the pressure of some inscrutable influence--by the brain, the heart,
or the sinews. All the innumerable modes of human existence result
from the proportions in which these three generating forces are more
or less intimately combined with the substances they assimilate in the
environment they live in."
He stopped short, struck his forehead, and exclaimed: "How strange! In
every great man whose portrait I have remarked, the neck is short.
Perhaps nature requires that in them the heart should be nearer to the
Then he went on:
"From that, a sum-total of action takes its rise which constitutes
social life. The man of sinew contributes action or strength; the man
of brain, genius; the man of heart, faith. But," he added sadly,
"faith sees only the clouds of the sanctuary; the Angel alone has
So, according to his own definitions, Lambert was all brain and all
heart. It seems to me that his intellectual life was divided into
three marked phases.
Under the impulsion, from his earliest years, of a precocious
activity, due, no doubt, to some malady--or to some special perfection
--of organism, his powers were concentrated on the functions of the
inner senses and a superabundant flow of nerve- fluid. As a man of
ideas, he craved to satisfy the thirst of his brain, to assimilate
every idea. Hence his reading; and from his reading, the reflections
that gave him the power of reducing things to their simplest
expression, and of absorbing them to study them in their essence.
Thus, the advantages of this splendid stage, acquired by other men
only after long study, were achieved by Lambert during his bodily
childhood: a happy childhood, colored by the studious joys of a born
The point which most thinkers reach at last was to him the starting-
point, whence his brain was to set out one day in search of new worlds
of knowledge. Though as yet he knew it not, he had made for himself
the most exacting life possible, and the most insatiably greedy.
Merely to live, was he not compelled to be perpetually casting
nutriment into the gulf he had opened in himself? Like some beings who
dwell in the grosser world, might not he die of inanition for want of
feeding abnormal and disappointed cravings? Was not this a sort of
debauchery of the intellect which might lead to spontaneous
combustion, like that of bodies saturated with alcohol?
I had seen nothing of this first phase of his brain-development; it is
only now, at a later day, that I can thus give an account of its
prodigious fruit and results. Lambert was now thirteen.
I was so fortunate as to witness the first stage of the second period.
Lambert was cast into all the miseries of school-life--and that,
perhaps, was his salvation--it absorbed the superabundance of his
thoughts. After passing from concrete ideas to their purest
expression, from words to their ideal import, and from that import to
principles, after reducing everything to the abstract, to enable him
to live he yearned for yet other intellectual creations. Quelled by
the woes of school and the critical development of his physical
constitution, he became thoughtful, dreamed of feeling, and caught a
glimpse of new sciences--positively masses of ideas. Checked in his
career, and not yet strong enough to contemplate the higher spheres,
he contemplated his inmost self. I then perceived in him the struggle
of the Mind reacting on itself, and trying to detect the secrets of
its own nature, like a physician who watches the course of his own
At this stage of weakness and strength, of childish grace and
superhuman powers, Louis Lambert is the creature who, more than any
other, gave me a poetical and truthful image of the being we call an
angel, always excepting one woman whose name, whose features, whose
identity, and whose life I would fain hide from all the world, so as
to be sole master of the secret of her existence, and to bury it in
the depths of my heart.
The third phase I was not destined to see. It began when Lambert and I
were parted, for he did not leave college till he was eighteen, in the
summer of 1815. He had at that time lost his father and mother about
six months before. Finding no member of his family with whom his soul
could sympathize, expansive still, but, since our parting, thrown back
on himself, he made his home with his uncle, who was also his
guardian, and who, having been turned out of his benefice as a priest
who had taken the oaths, had come to settle at Blois. There Louis
lived for some time; but consumed ere long by the desire to finish his
incomplete studies, he came to Paris to see Madame de Stael, and to
drink of science at its highest fount. The old priest, being very fond
of his nephew, left Louis free to spend his whole little inheritance
in his three years' stay in Paris, though he lived very poorly. This
fortune consisted of but a few thousand francs.
Lambert returned to Blois at the beginning of 1820, driven from Paris
by the sufferings to which the impecunious are exposed there. He must
often have been a victim to the secret storms, the terrible rage of
mind by which artists are tossed to judge from the only fact his uncle
recollected, and the only letter he preserved of all those which Louis
Lambert wrote to him at that time, perhaps because it was the last and
To begin with the story. Louis one evening was at the Theatre-
Francais, seated on a bench in the upper gallery, near to one of the
pillars which, in those days, divided off the third row of boxes. On
rising between the acts, he saw a young woman who had just come into
the box next him. The sight of this lady, who was young, pretty, well
dressed, in a low bodice no doubt, and escorted by a man for whom her
face beamed with all the charms of love, produced such a terrible
effect on Lambert's soul and senses, that he was obliged to leave the
theatre. If he had not been controlled by some remaining glimmer of
reason, which was not wholly extinguished by this first fever of
burning passion, he might perhaps have yielded to the most
irresistible desire that came over him to kill the young man on whom
the lady's looks beamed. Was not this a reversion, in the heart of the
Paris world, to the savage passion that regards women as its prey, an
effect of animal instinct combining with the almost luminous flashes
of a soul crushed under the weight of thought? In short, was it not
the prick of the penknife so vividly imagined by the boy, felt by the
man as the thunderbolt of his most vital craving--for love?
And now, here is the letter that depicts the state of his mind as it
was struck by the spectacle of Parisian civilization. His feelings,
perpetually wounded no doubt in that whirlpool of self-interest, must
always have suffered there; he probably had no friend to comfort him,
no enemy to give tone to this life. Compelled to live in himself
alone, having no one to share his subtle raptures, he may have hoped
to solve the problem of his destiny by a life of ecstasy, adopting an
almost vegetative attitude, like an anchorite of the early Church, and
abdicating the empire of the intellectual world.
This letter seems to hint at such a scheme, which is a temptation to
all lofty souls at periods of social reform. But is not this purpose,
in some cases, the result of a vocation? Do not some of them endeavor
to concentrate their powers by long silence, so as to emerge fully
capable of governing the world by word or by deed? Louis must,
assuredly, have found much bitterness in his intercourse with men, or
have striven hard with Society in terrible irony, without extracting
anything from it, before uttering so strident a cry, and expressing,
poor fellow, the desire which satiety of power and of all earthly
things has led even monarchs to indulge!
And perhaps, too, he went back to solitude to carry out some great
work that was floating inchoate in his brain. We would gladly believe
it as we read this fragment of his thoughts, betraying the struggle of
his soul at the time when youth was ending and the terrible power of
production was coming into being, to which we might have owed the
works of the man.
This letter connects itself with the adventure at the theatre. The
incident and the letter throw light on each other, body and soul were
tuned to the same pitch. This tempest of doubts and asseverations, of
clouds and of lightnings that flash before the thunder, ending by a
starved yearning for heavenly illumination, throws such a light on the
third phase of his education as enables us to understand it perfectly.
As we read these lines, written at chance moments, taken up when the
vicissitudes of life in Paris allowed, may we not fancy that we see an
oak at that stage of its growth when its inner expansion bursts the
tender green bark, covering it with wrinkles and cracks, when its
majestic stature is in preparation--if indeed the lightnings of heaven
and the axe of man shall spare it?
This letter, then, will close, alike for the poet and the philosopher,
this portentous childhood and unappreciated youth. It finishes off the
outline of this nature in its germ. Philosophers will regret the
foliage frost-nipped in the bud; but they will, perhaps, find the
flowers expanding in regions far above the highest places of the
"PARIS, September-October 1819.
"DEAR UNCLE,--I shall soon be leaving this part of the world,
where I could never bear to live. I find no one here who likes
what I like, who works at my work, or is amazed at what amazes me.
Thrown back on myself, I eat my heart out in misery. My long and
patient study of Society here has brought me to melancholy
conclusions, in which doubt predominates.
"Here, money is the mainspring of everything. Money is
indispensable, even for going without money. But though that dross
is necessary to any one who wishes to think in peace, I have not
courage enough to make it the sole motive power of my thoughts. To
make a fortune, I must take up a profession; in two words, I must,
by acquiring some privilege of position or of self-advertisement,
either legal or ingeniously contrived, purchase the right of
taking day by day out of somebody else's purse a certain sum
which, by the end of the year, would amount to a small capital;
and this, in twenty years, would hardly secure an income of four
or five thousand francs to a man who deals honestly. An advocate,
a notary, a merchant, any recognized professional, has earned a
living for his later days in the course of fifteen or sixteen
years after ending his apprenticeship.
"But I have never felt fit for work of this kind. I prefer thought
to action, an idea to a transaction, contemplation to activity. I
am absolutely devoid of the constant attention indispensable to
the making of a fortune. Any mercantile venture, any need for
using other people's money would bring me to grief, and I should
be ruined. Though I have nothing, at least at the moment, I owe
nothing. The man who gives his life to the achievement of great
things in the sphere of intellect, needs very little; still,
though twenty sous a day would be enough, I do not possess that
small income for my laborious idleness. When I wish to cogitate,
want drives me out of the sanctuary where my mind has its being.
What is to become of me?
"I am not frightened at poverty. If it were not that beggars are
imprisoned, branded, scorned, I would beg, to enable me to solve
at my leisure the problems that haunt me. Still, this sublime
resignation, by which I might emancipate my mind, through
abstracting it from the body, would not serve my end. I should
still need money to devote myself to certain experiments. But for
that, I would accept the outward indigence of a sage possessed of
both heaven and heart. A man need only never stoop, to remain
lofty in poverty. He who struggles and endures, while marching on
to a glorious end, presents a noble spectacle; but who can have
the strength to fight here? We can climb cliffs, but it is
unendurable to remain for ever tramping the mud. Everything here
checks the flight of the spirit that strives towards the future.
"I should not be afraid of myself in a desert cave; I am afraid of
myself here. In the desert I should be alone with myself,
undisturbed; here man has a thousand wants which drag him down.
You go out walking, absorbed in dreams; the voice of the beggar
asking an alms brings you back to this world of hunger and thirst.
You need money only to take a walk. Your organs of sense,
perpetually wearied by trifles, never get any rest. The poet's
sensitive nerves are perpetually shocked, and what ought to be his
glory becomes his torment; his imagination is his cruelest enemy.
The injured workman, the poor mother in childbed, the prostitute
who has fallen ill, the foundling, the infirm and aged--even vice
and crime here find a refuge and charity; but the world is
merciless to the inventor, to the man who thinks. Here everything
must show an immediate and practical result. Fruitless attempts
are mocked at, though they may lead to the greatest discoveries;
the deep and untiring study that demands long concentrations of
every faculty is not valued here. The State might pay talent as it
pays the bayonet; but it is afraid of being taken in by mere
cleverness, as if genius could be counterfeited for any length of
"Ah, my dear uncle, when monastic solitude was destroyed, uprooted
from its home at the foot of mountains, under green and silent
shade, asylums ought to have been provided for those suffering
souls who, by an idea, promote the progress of nations or prepare
some new and fruitful development of science.
"The love of study brought me hither, as you know. I have met
really learned men, amazing for the most part; but the lack of
unity in scientific work almost nullifies their efforts. There is
no Head of instruction or of scientific research. At the Museum a
professor argues to prove that another in the Rue Saint-Jacques
talks nonsense. The lecturer at the College of Medicine abuses him
of the College de France. When I first arrived, I went to hear an
old Academician who taught five hundred youths that Corneille was
a haughty and powerful genius; Racine, elegiac and graceful;
Moliere, inimitable; Voltaire, supremely witty; Bossuet and
Pascal, incomparable in argument. A professor of philosophy may
make a name by explaining how Plato is Platonic. Another
discourses on the history of words, without troubling himself
about ideas. One explains Aeschylus, another tells you that
communes were communes, and neither more nor less. These original
and brilliant discoveries, diluted to last several hours,
constitute the higher education which is to lead to giant strides
in human knowledge.
"If the Government could have an idea, I should suspect it of
being afraid of any real superiority, which, once roused, might
bring Society under the yoke of an intelligent rule. Then nations
would go too far and too fast; so professors are appointed to
produce simpletons. How else can we account for a scheme devoid of
method or any notion of the future?
"The Institut might be the central government of the moral and
intellectual world; but it has been ruined lately by its
subdivision into separate academies. So human science marches on,
without a guide, without a system, and floats haphazard with no
road traced out.
"This vagueness and uncertainty prevails in politics as well as in
science. In the order of nature means are simple, the end is grand
and marvelous; here in science as in government, the means are
stupendous, the end is mean. The force which in nature proceeds at
an equal pace, and of which the sum is constantly being added to
itself--the A + A from which everything is produced--is
destructive in society. Politics, at the present time, place human
forces in antagonism to neutralize each other, instead of
combining them to promote their action to some definite end.
"Looking at Europe alone, from Caesar to Constantine, from the
puny Constantine to the great Attila, from the Huns to
Charlemagne, from Charlemagne to Leo X., from Leo X., to Philip
II., from Philip II. to Louis XIV.; from Venice to England, from
England to Napoleon, from Napoleon to England, I see no fixed
purpose in politics; its constant agitation has led to no
"Nations leave witnesses to their greatness in monuments, and to
their happiness in the welfare of individuals. Are modern
monuments as fine as those of the ancients? I doubt it. The arts,
which are the direct outcome of the individual, the products of
genius or of handicraft, have not advanced much. The pleasures of
Lucullus were as good as those of Samuel Bernard, of Beaujon, or
of the King of Bavaria. And then human longevity has diminished.
"Thus, to those who will be candid, man is still the same; might
is his only law, and success his only wisdom.
"Jesus Christ, Mahomet, and Luther only lent a different hue to
the arena in which youthful nations disport themselves.
"No development of politics has hindered civilization, with its
riches, its manners, its alliance of the strong against the weak,
its ideas, and its delights, from moving from Memphis to Tyre,
from Tyre to Baalbek, from Tadmor to Carthage, from Carthage to
Rome, from Rome to Constantinople, from Constantinople to Venice,
from Venice to Spain, from Spain to England--while no trace is
left of Memphis, of Tyre, of Carthage, of Rome, of Venice, or
Madrid. The soul of those great bodies has fled. Not one of them
has preserved itself from destruction, nor formulated this axiom:
When the effect produced ceases to be in a ratio to its cause,
"The most subtle genius can discover no common bond between great
social facts. No political theory has ever lasted. Governments
pass away, as men do, without handing down any lesson, and no
system gives birth to a system better than that which came before
it. What can we say about politics when a Government directly
referred to God perished in India and Egypt; when the rule of the
Sword and of the Tiara are past; when Monarchy is dying; when the
Government of the People has never been alive; when no scheme of
intellectual power as applied to material interests has ever
proved durable, and everything at this day remains to be done all
over again, as it has been at every period when man has turned to
cry out, 'I am in torment!'
"The code, which is considered Napoleon's greatest achievement, is
the most Draconian work I know of. Territorial subdivision carried
out to the uttermost, and its principle confirmed by the equal
division of property generally, must result in the degeneracy of
the nation and the death of the Arts and Sciences. The land, too
much broken up, is cultivated only with cereals and small crops;
the forests, and consequently the rivers, are disappearing; oxen
and horses are no longer bred. Means are lacking both for attack
and for resistance. If we should be invaded, the people must be
crushed; it has lost its mainspring-- its leaders. This is the
history of deserts!
"Thus the science of politics has no definite principles, and it
can have no fixity; it is the spirit of the hour, the perpetual
application of strength proportioned to the necessities of the
moment. The man who should foresee two centuries ahead would die
on the place of execution, loaded with the imprecations of the
mob, or else--which seems worse--would be lashed with the myriad
whips of ridicule. Nations are but individuals, neither wiser nor
stronger than man, and their destinies are identical. If we
reflect on man, is not that to consider mankind?
"By studying the spectacle of society perpetually storm-tossed in
its foundations as well as in its results, in its causes as well
as in its actions, while philanthropy is but a splendid mistake,
and progress is vanity, I have been confirmed in this truth: Life
is within and not without us; to rise above men, to govern them,
is only the part of an aggrandized school-master; and those men
who are capable of rising to the level whence they can enjoy a
view of the world should not look at their own feet.
"I am no doubt occupied with weighty thoughts, I am on the way to
certain discoveries, an invincible power bears me toward a
luminary which shone at an early age on the darkness of my moral
life; but what name can I give to the power that ties my hands and
shuts my mouth, and drags me in a direction opposite to my
vocation? I must leave Paris, bid farewell to the books in the
libraries, those noble centres of illumination, those kindly and
always accessible sages, and the younger geniuses with whom I
sympathize. Who is it that drives me away? Chance or Providence?
"The two ideas represented by those words are irreconcilable. If
Chance does not exist, we must admit fatalism, that is to say, the
compulsory co-ordination of things under the rule of a general
plan. Why then do we rebel? If man is not free, what becomes of
the scaffolding of his moral sense? Or, if he can control his
destiny, if by his own freewill he can interfere with the
execution of the general plan, what becomes of God?
"Why did I come here? If I examine myself, I find the answer: I
find in myself axioms that need developing. But why then have I
such vast faculties without being suffered to use them? If my
suffering could serve as an example, I could understand it; but
no, I suffer unknown.
"This is perhaps as much the act of Providence as the fate of the
flower that dies unseen in the heart of the virgin forest, where
no one can enjoy its perfume or admire its splendor. Just as that
blossom vainly sheds its fragrance to the solitude, so do I, here
in the garret, give birth to ideas that no one can grasp.
"Yesterday evening I sat eating bread and grapes in front of my
window with a young doctor named Meyraux. We talked as men do whom
misfortune has joined in brotherhood, and I said to him:
" 'I am going away; you are staying. Take up my ideas and develop
" 'I cannot!' said he, with bitter regret: 'my feeble health
cannot stand so much work, and I shall die young of my struggle
"We looked up at the sky and grasped hands. We first met at the
Comparative Anatomy course, and in the galleries of the Museum,
attracted thither by the same study--the unity of geological
structure. In him this was the presentiment of genius sent to open
a new path in the fallows of intellect; in me it was a deduction
from a general system.
"My point is to ascertain the real relation that may exist between
God and man. Is not this a need of the age? Without the highest
assurance, it is impossible to put bit and bridle on the social
factions that have been let loose by the spirit of scepticism and
discussion, and which are now crying aloud: 'Show us a way in
which we may walk and find no pitfalls in our way!'
"You will wonder what comparative anatomy has to do with a
question of such importance to the future of society. Must we not
attain to the conviction that man is the end of all earthly means
before we ask whether he too is not the means to some end? If man
is bound up with everything, is there not something above him with
which he again is bound up? If he is the end-all of the explained
transmutations that lead up to him, must he not be also the link
between the visible and invisible creations?
"The activity of the universe is not absurd; it must tend to an
end, and that end is surely not a social body constituted as ours
is! There is a fearful gulf between us and heaven. In our present
existence we can neither be always happy nor always in torment;
must there not be some tremendous change to bring about Paradise
and Hell, two images without which God cannot exist to the mind of
the vulgar? I know that a compromise was made by the invention of
the Soul; but it is repugnant to me to make God answerable for
human baseness, for our disenchantments, our aversions, our
"Again, how can we recognize as divine the principle within us
which can be overthrown by a few glasses of rum? How conceive of
immaterial faculties which matter can conquer, and whose exercise
is suspended by a grain of opium? How imagine that we shall be
able to feel when we are bereft of the vehicles of sensation? Why
must God perish if matter can be proved to think? Is the vitality
of matter in its innumerable manifestations--the effect of its
instincts--at all more explicable than the effects of the mind? Is
not the motion given to the worlds enough to prove God's
existence, without our plunging into absurd speculations suggested
by pride? And if we pass, after our trials, from a perishable
state of being to a higher existence, is not that enough for a
creature that is distinguished from other creatures only by more
perfect instincts? If in moral philosophy there is not a single
principle which does not lead to the absurd, or cannot be
disproved by evidence, is it not high time that we should set to
work to seek such dogmas as are written in the innermost nature of
things? Must we not reverse philosophical science?
"We trouble ourselves very little about the supposed void that
must have pre-existed for us, and we try to fathom the supposed
void that lies before us. We make God responsible for the future,
but we do not expect Him to account for the past. And yet it is
quite as desirable to know whether we have any roots in the past
as to discover whether we are inseparable from the future.
"We have been Deists or Atheists in one direction only.
"Is the world eternal? Was the world created? We can conceive of
no middle term between these two propositions; one, then, is true
and the other false! Take your choice. Whichever it may be, God,
as our reason depicts Him, must be deposed, and that amounts to
denial. The world is eternal: then, beyond question, God has had
it forced upon Him. The world was created: then God is an
impossibility. How could He have subsisted through an eternity,
not knowing that He would presently want to create the world? How
could He have failed to foresee all the results?
"Whence did He derive the essence of creation? Evidently from
Himself. If, then, the world proceeds from God, how can you
account for evil? That Evil should proceed from Good is absurd. If
evil does not exist, what do you make of social life and its laws?
On all hands we find a precipice! On every side a gulf in which
reason is lost! Then social science must be altogether
"Listen to me, uncle; until some splendid genius shall have taken
account of the obvious inequality of intellects and the general
sense of humanity, the word God will be constantly arraigned, and
Society will rest on shifting sands. The secret of the various
moral zones through which man passes will be discovered by the
analysis of the animal type as a whole. That animal type has
hitherto been studied with reference only to its differences, not
to its similitudes; in its organic manifestations, not in its
faculties. Animal faculties are perfected in direct transmission,
in obedience to laws which remain to be discovered. These
faculties correspond to the forces which express them, and those
forces are essentially material and divisible.
"Material faculties! Reflect on this juxtaposition of words. Is
not this a problem as insoluble as that of the first communication
of motion to matter--an unsounded gulf of which the difficulties
were transposed rather than removed by Newton's system? Again, the
universal assimilation of light by everything that exists on earth
demands a new study of our globe. The same animal differs in the
tropics of India and in the North. Under the angular or the
vertical incidence of the sun's rays nature is developed the same,
but not the same; identical in its principles, but totally
dissimilar in its outcome. The phenomenon that amazes our eyes in
the zoological world when we compare the butterflies of Brazil
with those of Europe, is even more startling in the world of Mind.
A particular facial angle, a certain amount of brain convolutions,
are indispensable to produce Columbus, Raphael, Napoleon, Laplace,
or Beethoven; the sunless valley produces the cretin--draw your
own conclusions. Why such differences, due to the more or less
ample diffusion of light to men? The masses of suffering humanity,
more or less active, fed, and enlightened, are a difficulty to be
accounted for, crying out against God.
"Why in great joy do we always want to quit the earth? whence
comes the longing to rise which every creature has known or will
know? Motion is a great soul, and its alliance with matter is just
as difficult to account for as the origin of thought in man. In
these days science is one; it is impossible to touch politics
independent of moral questions, and these are bound up with
scientific questions. It seems to me that we are on the eve of a
great human struggle; the forces are there; only I do not see the
"Believe me, dear uncle, it is hard to give up the life that is in
us without a pang. I am returning to Blois with a heavy grip at my
heart; I shall die then, taking with me some useful truths. No
personal interest debases my regrets. Is earthly fame a guerdon to
those who believe that they will mount to a higher sphere?
"I am by no means in love with the two syllables Lam and bert;
whether spoken with respect or with contempt over my grave, they
can make no change in my ultimate destiny. I feel myself strong
and energetic; I might become a power; I feel in myself a life so
luminous that it might enlighten a world, and yet I am shut up in
a sort of mineral, as perhaps indeed are the colors you admire on
the neck of an Indian bird. I should need to embrace the whole
world, to clasp and re-create it; but those who have done this,
who have thus embraced and remoulded it began--did they not?--by
being a wheel in the machine. I can only be crushed. Mahomet had
the sword; Jesus had the cross; I shall die unknown. I shall be at
Blois for a day, and then in my coffin.
"Do you know why I have come back to Swedenborg after vast studies
of all religions, and after proving to myself, by reading all the
works published within the last sixty years by the patient
English, by Germany, and by France, how deeply true were my
youthful views about the Bible? Swedenborg undoubtedly epitomizes
all the religions--or rather the one religion--of humanity. Though
forms of worship are infinitely various, neither their true
meaning nor their metaphysical interpretation has ever varied. In
short, man has, and has had, but one religion.
"Sivaism, Vishnuism, and Brahmanism, the three primitive creeds,
originating as they did in Thibet, in the valley of the Indus, and
on the vast plains of the Ganges, ended their warfare some
thousand years before the birth of Christ by adopting the Hindoo
Trimourti. The Trimourti is our Trinity. From this dogma Magianism
arose in Persia; in Egypt, the African beliefs and the Mosaic law;
the worship of the Cabiri, and the polytheism of Greece and Rome.
While by this ramification of the Trimourti the Asiatic myths
became adapted to the imaginations of various races in the lands
they reached by the agency of certain sages whom men elevated to
be demi-gods--Mithra, Bacchus, Hermes, Hercules, and the rest--
Buddha, the great reformer of the three primeval religions, lived
in India, and founded his Church there, a sect which still numbers
two hundred millions more believers than Christianity can show,
while it certainly influenced the powerful Will both of Jesus and
"Then Christianity raised her standard. Subsequently Mahomet fused
Judaism and Christianity, the Bible and the Gospel, in one book,
the Koran, adapting them to the apprehension of the Arab race.
Finally, Swedenborg borrowed from Magianism, Brahmanism, Buddhism,
and Christian mysticism all the truth and divine beauty that those
four great religious books hold in common, and added to them a
doctrine, a basis of reasoning, that may be termed mathematical.
"Any man who plunges into these religious waters, of which the
sources are not all known, will find proofs that Zoroaster, Moses,
Buddha, Confucius, Jesus Christ, and Swedenborg had identical
principles and aimed at identical ends.
"The last of them all, Swedenborg, will perhaps be the Buddha of
the North. Obscure and diffuse as his writings are, we find in
them the elements of a magnificent conception of society. His
Theocracy is sublime, and his creed is the only acceptable one to
superior souls. He alone brings man into immediate communion with
God, he gives a thirst for God, he has freed the majesty of God
from the trappings in which other human dogmas have disguised Him.
He left Him where He is, making His myriad creations and creatures
gravitate towards Him through successive transformations which
promise a more immediate and more natural future than the Catholic
idea of Eternity. Swedenborg has absolved God from the reproach
attaching to Him in the estimation of tender souls for the
perpetuity of revenge to punish the sin of a moment--a system of
injustice and cruelty.
"Each man may know for himself what hope he has of life eternal,
and whether this world has any rational sense. I mean to make the
attempt. And this attempt may save the world, just as much as the
cross at Jerusalem or the sword at Mecca. These were both the
offspring of the desert. Of the thirty-three years of Christ's
life, we only know the history of nine; His life of seclusion
prepared Him for His life of glory. And I too crave for the
Notwithstanding the difficulties of the task, I have felt it my duty
to depict Lambert's boyhood, the unknown life to which I owe the only
happy hours, the only pleasant memories, of my early days. Excepting
during those two years I had nothing but annoyances and weariness.
Though some happiness was mine at a later time, it was always
I have been diffuse, I know; but in default of entering into the whole
wide heart and brain of Louis Lambert--two words which inadequately
express the infinite aspects of his inner life--it would be almost
impossible to make the second part of his intellectual history
intelligible--a phase that was unknown to the world and to me, but of
which the mystical outcome was made evident to my eyes in the course
of a few hours. Those who have not already dropped this volume, will,
I hope, understand the events I still have to tell, forming as they do
a sort of second existence lived by this creature--may I not say this
creation?--in whom everything was to be so extraordinary, even his
When Louis returned to Blois, his uncle was eager to procure him some
amusement; but the poor priest was regarded as a perfect leper in that
godly-minded town. No one would have anything to say to a
revolutionary who had taken the oaths. His society, therefore,
consisted of a few individuals of what were then called liberal or
patriotic, or constitutional opinions, on whom he would call for a
rubber of whist or of boston.
At the first house where he was introduced by his uncle, Louis met a
young lady, whose circumstances obliged her to remain in this circle,
so contemned by those of the fashionable world, though her fortune was
such as to make it probable that she might by and by marry into the
highest aristocracy of the province. Mademoiselle Pauline de Villenoix
was sole heiress to the wealth amassed by her grandfather, a Jew named
Salomon, who, contrary to the customs of his nation, had, in his old
age, married a Christian and a Catholic. He had only one son, who was
brought up in his mother's faith. At his father's death young Salomon
purchased what was known at that time as a savonnette a vilain
(literally a cake of soap for a serf), a small estate called
Villenoix, which he contrived to get registered with a baronial title,
and took its name. He died unmarried, but he left a natural daughter,
to whom he bequeathed the greater part of his fortune, including the
lands of Villenoix. He appointed one of his uncles, Monsieur Joseph
Salomon, to be the girl's guardian. The old Jew was so devoted to his
ward that he seemed willing to make great sacrifices for the sake of
marrying her well. But Mademoiselle de Villenoix's birth, and the
cherished prejudice against Jews that prevails in the provinces, would
not allow of her being received in the very exclusive circle which,
rightly or wrongly, considers itself noble, notwithstanding her own
large fortune and her guardian's.
Monsieur Joseph Salomon was resolved that if she could not secure a
country squire, his niece should go to Paris and make choice of a
husband among the peers of France, liberal or monarchical; as to
happiness, that he believed he could secure her by the terms of the
Mademoiselle de Villenoix was now twenty. Her remarkable beauty and
gifts of mind were surer guarantees of happiness than those offered by
money. Her features were of the purest type of Jewish beauty; the oval
lines, so noble and maidenly, have an indescribable stamp of the
ideal, and seem to speak of the joys of the East, its unchangeably
blue sky, the glories of its lands, and the fabulous riches of life
there. She had fine eyes, shaded by deep eyelids, fringed with thick,
curled lashes. Biblical innocence sat on her brow. Her complexion was
of the pure whiteness of the Levite's robe. She was habitually silent
and thoughtful, but her movements and gestures betrayed a quiet grace,
as her speech bore witness to a woman's sweet and loving nature. She
had not, indeed, the rosy freshness, the fruit-like bloom which blush
on a girl's cheek during her careless years. Darker shadows, with here
and there a redder vein, took the place of color, symptomatic of an
energetic temper and nervous irritability, such as many men do not
like to meet with in a wife, while to others they are an indication of
the most sensitive chastity and passion mingled with pride.
As soon as Louis saw Mademoiselle de Villenoix, he discerned the angel
within. The richest powers of his soul, and his tendency to ecstatic
reverie, every faculty within him was at once concentrated in
boundless love, the first love of a young man, a passion which is
strong indeed in all, but which in him was raised to incalculable
power by the perennial ardor of his senses, the character of his
ideas, and the manner in which he lived. This passion became a gulf,
into which the hapless fellow threw everything; a gulf whither the
mind dare not venture, since his, flexible and firm as it was, was
lost there. There all was mysterious, for everything went on in that
moral world, closed to most men, whose laws were revealed to him--
perhaps to his sorrow.
When an accident threw me in the way of his uncle, the good man showed
me into the room which Lambert had at that time lived in. I wanted to
find some vestiges of his writings, if he should have left any. There
among his papers, untouched by the old man from that fine instinct of
grief that characterized the aged, I found a number of letters, too
illegible ever to have been sent to Mademoiselle de Villenoix. My
familiarity with Lambert's writing enabled me in time to decipher the
hieroglyphics of this shorthand, the result of impatience and a frenzy
of passion. Carried away by his feelings, he had written without being
conscious of the irregularity of words too slow to express his
thoughts. He must have been compelled to copy these chaotic attempts,
for the lines often ran into each other; but he was also afraid
perhaps of not having sufficiently disguised his feelings, and at
first, at any rate, he had probably written his love-letters twice
It required all the fervency of my devotion to his memory, and the
sort of fanaticism which comes of such a task, to enable me to divine
and restore the meaning of the five letters that here follow. These
documents, preserved by me with pious care, are the only material
evidence of his overmastering passion. Mademoiselle de Villenoix had
no doubt destroyed the real letters that she received, eloquent
witnesses to the delirium she inspired.
The first of these papers, evidently a rough sketch, betrays by its
style and by its length the many emendations, the heartfelt alarms,
the innumerable terrors caused by a desire to please; the changes of
expression and the hesitation between the whirl of ideas that beset a
man as he indites his first love-letter--a letter he never will
forget, each line the result of a reverie, each word the subject of
long cogitation, while the most unbridled passion known to man feels
the necessity of the most reserved utterance, and like a giant
stooping to enter a hovel, speaks humbly and low, so as not to alarm a
No antiquary ever handled his palimpsests with greater respect than I
showed in reconstructing these mutilated documents of such joy and
suffering as must always be sacred to those who have known similar joy
"Mademoiselle, when you have read this letter, if you ever should
read it, my life will be in your hands, for I love you; and to me,
the hope of being loved is life. Others, perhaps, ere now, have,
in speaking of themselves, misused the words I must employ to
depict the state of my soul; yet, I beseech you to believe in the
truth of my expressions; though weak, they are sincere. Perhaps I
ought not thus to proclaim my love. Indeed, my heart counseled me
to wait in silence till my passion should touch you, that I might
the better conceal it if its silent demonstrations should
displease you; or till I could express it even more delicately
than in words if I found favor in your eyes. However, after having
listened for long to the coy fears that fill a youthful heart with
alarms, I write in obedience to the instinct which drags useless
lamentations from the dying.
"It has needed all my courage to silence the pride of poverty, and
to overleap the barriers which prejudice erects between you and
me. I have had to smother many reflections to love you in spite of
your wealth; and as I write to you, am I not in danger of the
scorn which women often reserve for profession of love, which they
accept only as one more tribute of flattery? But we cannot help
rushing with all our might towards happiness, or being attracted
to the life of love as a plant is to the light; we must have been
very unhappy before we can conquer the torment, the anguish of
those secret deliberations when reason proves to us by a thousand
arguments how barren our yearning must be if it remains buried in
our hearts, and when hopes bid us dare everything.
"I was happy when I admired you in silence; I was so lost in the
contemplation of your beautiful soul, that only to see you left me
hardly anything further to imagine. And I should not now have
dared to address you if I had not heard that you were leaving.
What misery has that one word brought upon me! Indeed, it is my
despair that has shown me the extent of my attachment--it is
unbounded. Mademoiselle, you will never know--at least, I hope you
may never know--the anguish of dreading lest you should lose the
only happiness that has dawned on you on earth, the only thing
that has thrown a gleam of light in the darkness of misery. I
understood yesterday that my life was no more in myself, but in
you. There is but one woman in the world for me, as there is but
one thought in my soul. I dare not tell you to what a state I am
reduced by my love for you. I would have you only as a gift from
yourself; I must therefore avoid showing myself to you in all the
attractiveness of dejection--for is it not often more impressive
to a noble soul than that of good fortune? There are many things I
may not tell you. Indeed, I have too lofty a notion of love to
taint it with ideas that are alien to its nature. If my soul is
worthy of yours, and my life pure, your heart will have a
sympathetic insight, and you will understand me!
"It is the fate of man to offer himself to the woman who can make
him believe in happiness; but it is your prerogative to reject the
truest passion if it is not in harmony with the vague voices in
your heart--that I know. If my lot, as decided by you, must be
adverse to my hopes, mademoiselle, let me appeal to the delicacy
of your maiden soul and the ingenuous compassion of a woman to
burn my letter. On my knees I beseech you to forget all! Do not
mock at a feeling that is wholly respectful, and that is too
deeply graven on my heart ever to be effaced. Break my heart, but
do not rend it! Let the expression of my first love, a pure and
youthful love, be lost in your pure and youthful heart! Let it die
there as a prayer rises up to die in the bosom of God!
"I owe you much gratitude: I have spent delicious hours occupied
in watching you, and giving myself up to the faint dreams of my
life; do not crush these long but transient joys by some girlish
irony. Be satisfied not to answer me. I shall know how to
interpret your silence; you will see me no more. If I must be
condemned to know for ever what happiness means, and to be for
ever bereft of it; if, like a banished angel, I am to cherish the
sense of celestial joys while bound for ever to a world of sorrow
--well, I can keep the secret of my love as well as that of my
"Yes, I resign you to God, to whom I will pray for you, beseeching
Him to grant you a happy life; for even if I am driven from your
heart, into which I have crept by stealth, still I shall ever be
near you. Otherwise, of what value would the sacred words be of
this letter, my first and perhaps my last entreaty? If I should
ever cease to think of you, to love you whether in happiness or in
woe, should I not deserve my punishment?"
"You are not going away! And I am loved! I, a poor, insignificant
creature! My beloved Pauline, you do not yourself know the power
of the look I believe in, the look you gave me to tell me that you
had chosen me--you so young and lovely, with the world at your
"To enable you to understand my happiness, I should have to give
you a history of my life. If you had rejected me, all was over for
me. I have suffered too much. Yes, my love for you, my comforting
and stupendous love, was a last effort of yearning for the
happiness my soul strove to reach--a soul crushed by fruitless
labor, consumed by fears that make me doubt myself, eaten into by
despair which has often urged me to die. No one in the world can
conceive of the terrors my fateful imagination inflicts on me. It
often bears me up to the sky, and suddenly flings me to earth
again from prodigious heights. Deep-seated rushes of power, or
some rare and subtle instance of peculiar lucidity, assure me now
and then that I am capable of great things. Then I embrace the
universe in my mind, I knead, shape it, inform it, I comprehend it
--or fancy that I do; then suddenly I awake--alone, sunk in
blackest night, helpless and weak; I forget the light I saw but
now, I find no succor; above all, there is no heart where I may
"This distress of my inner life affects my physical existence. The
nature of my character gives me over to the raptures of happiness
as defenceless as when the fearful light of reflection comes to
analyze and demolish them. Gifted as I am with the melancholy
faculty of seeing obstacles and success with equal clearness,
according to the mood of the moment, I am happy or miserable by
"Thus, when I first met you, I felt the presence of an angelic
nature, I breathed an air that was sweet to my burning breast, I
heard in my soul the voice that never can be false, telling me
that here was happiness; but perceiving all the barriers that
divided us, I understood the vastness of their pettiness, and
these difficulties terrified me more than the prospect of
happiness could delight me. At once I felt the awful reaction
which casts my expansive soul back on itself; the smile you had
brought to my lips suddenly turned to a bitter grimace, and I
could only strive to keep calm, while my soul was boiling with the
turmoil of contradictory emotions. In short, I experienced that
gnawing pang to which twenty-three years of suppressed sighs and
betrayed affections have not inured me.
"Well, Pauline, the look by which you promised that I should be
happy suddenly warmed my vitality, and turned all my sorrows into
joy. Now, I could wish that I had suffered more. My love is
suddenly full-grown. My soul was a wide territory that lacked the
blessing of sunshine, and your eyes have shed light on it. Beloved
providence! you will be all in all to me, orphan as I am, without
a relation but my uncle. You will be my whole family, as you are
my whole wealth, nay, the whole world to me. Have you not bestowed
on me every gladness man can desire in that chaste--lavish--timid
"You have given me incredible self-confidence and audacity. I can
dare all things now. I came back to Blois in deep dejection. Five
years of study in the heart of Paris had made me look on the world
as a prison. I had conceived of vast schemes, and dared not speak
of them. Fame seemed to me a prize for charlatans, to which a
really noble spirit should not stoop. Thus, my ideas could only
make their way by the assistance of a man bold enough to mount the
platform of the press, and to harangue loudly the simpletons he
scorns. This kind of courage I have not. I ploughed my way on,
crushed by the verdict of the crowd, in despair at never making it
hear me. I was at once too humble and too lofty! I swallowed my
thoughts as other men swallow humiliations. I had even come to
despise knowledge, blaming it for yielding no real happiness.
"But since yesterday I am wholly changed. For your sake I now
covet every palm of glory, every triumph of success. When I lay my
head on your knees, I could wish to attract to you the eyes of the
whole world, just as I long to concentrate in my love every idea,
every power that is in me. The most splendid celebrity is a
possession that genius alone can create. Well, I can, at my will,
make for you a bed of laurels. And if the silent ovation paid to
science is not all you desire, I have within me the sword of the
Word; I could run in the path of honor and ambition where others
"Command me, Pauline; I will be whatever you will. My iron will
can do anything--I am loved! Armed with that thought, ought not a
man to sweep everything before him? The man who wants all can do
all. If you are the prize of success, I enter the lists to-morrow.
To win such a look as that you bestowed on me, I would leap the
deepest abyss. Through you I understand the fabulous achievements
of chivalry and the most fantastic tales of the Arabian Nights.
I can believe now in the most fantastic excesses of love, and in
the success of a prisoner's wildest attempt to recover his
liberty. You have aroused the thousand virtues that lay dormant
within me--patience, resignation, all the powers of my heart, all
the strength of my soul. I live by you and--heavenly thought!--for
you. Everything now has a meaning for me in life. I understand
everything, even the vanities of wealth.
"I find myself shedding all the pearls of the Indies at your feet;
I fancy you reclining either on the rarest flowers, or on the
softest tissues, and all the splendor of the world seems hardly
worthy of you, for whom I would I could command the harmony and
the light that are given out by the harps of seraphs and the stars
of heaven! Alas! a poor, studious poet, I offer you in words
treasures I cannot bestow; I can only give you my heart, in which
you reign for ever. I have nothing else. But are there no
treasures in eternal gratitude, in a smile whose expressions will
perpetually vary with perennial happiness, under the constant
eagerness of my devotion to guess the wishes of your loving soul?
Has not one celestial glance given us assurance of always
understanding each other?
"I have a prayer now to be said to God every night--a prayer full
of you: 'Let my Pauline be happy!' And will you fill all my days
as you now fill my heart?
"Farewell, I can but trust you to God alone!"
"Pauline! tell me if I can in any way have displeased you
yesterday? Throw off the pride of heart which inflicts on me the
secret tortures that can be caused by one we love. Scold me if you
will! Since yesterday, a vague, unutterable dread of having
offended you pours grief on the life of feeling which you had made
so sweet and so rich. The lightest veil that comes between two
souls sometimes grows to be a brazen wall. There are no venial
crimes in love! If you have the very spirit of that noble
sentiment, you must feel all its pangs, and we must be unceasingly
careful not to fret each other by some heedless word.
"No doubt, my beloved treasure, if there is any fault, it is in
me. I cannot pride myself in the belief that I understand a
woman's heart, in all the expansion of its tenderness, all the
grace of its devotedness; but I will always endeavor to appreciate
the value of what you vouchsafe to show me of the secrets of
"Speak to me! Answer me soon! The melancholy into which we are
thrown by the idea of a wrong done is frightful; it casts a shroud
over life, and doubts on everything.
"I spent this morning sitting on the bank by the sunken road,
gazing at the turrets of Villenoix, not daring to go to our hedge.
If you could imagine all I saw in my soul! What gloomy visions
passed before me under the gray sky, whose cold sheen added to my
dreary mood! I had dark presentiments! I was terrified lest I
should fail to make you happy.
"I must tell you everything, my dear Pauline. There are moments
when the spirit of vitality seems to abandon me. I feel bereft of
all strength. Everything is a burden to me; every fibre of my body
is inert, every sense is flaccid, my sight grows dim, my tongue is
paralyzed, my imagination is extinct, desire is dead--nothing
survives but my mere human vitality. At such times, though you
were in all the splendor of your beauty, though you should lavish
on me your subtlest smiles and tenderest words, an evil influence
would blind me, and distort the most ravishing melody into
discordant sounds. At those times--as I believe--some
argumentative demon stands before me, showing me the void beneath
the most real possessions. This pitiless demon mows down every
flower, and mocks at the sweetest feelings, saying: 'Well--and
then?' He mars the fairest work by showing me its skeleton, and
reveals the mechanism of things while hiding the beautiful
"At those terrible moments, when the evil spirit takes possession
of me, when the divine light is darkened in my soul without my
knowing the cause, I sit in grief and anguish, I wish myself deaf
and dumb, I long for death to give me rest. These hours of doubt
and uneasiness are perhaps inevitable; at any rate, they teach me
not to be proud after the flights which have borne me to the skies
where I have gathered a full harvest of thoughts; for it is always
after some long excursion in the vast fields of the intellect, and
after the most luminous speculations, that I tumble, broken and
weary, into this limbo. At such a moment, my angel, a wife would
double my love for her--at any rate, she might. If she were
capricious, ailing, or depressed, she would need the comforting
overflow of ingenious affection, and I should not have a glance to
bestow on her. It is my shame, Pauline, to have to tell you that
at times I could weep with you, but that nothing could make me
"A woman can always conceal her troubles; for her child, or for
the man she loves, she can laugh in the midst of suffering. And
could not I, for you, Pauline, imitate the exquisite reserve of a
woman? Since yesterday I have doubted my own power. If I could
displease you once, if I failed once to understand you, I dread
lest I should often be carried out of our happy circle by my evil
demon. Supposing I were to have many of those dreadful moods, or
that my unbounded love could not make up for the dark hours of my
life--that I were doomed to remain such as I am?--Fatal doubts!
"Power is indeed a fatal possession if what I feel within me is
power. Pauline, go! Leave me, desert me! Sooner would I endure
every ill in life than endure the misery of knowing that you were
unhappy through me.
"But, perhaps, the demon has had such empire over me only because
I have had no gentle, white hands about me to drive him off. No
woman has ever shed on me the balm of her affection; and I know
not whether, if love should wave his pinions over my head in these
moments of exhaustion, new strength might not be given to my
spirit. This terrible melancholy is perhaps a result of my
isolation, one of the torments of a lonely soul which pays for its
hidden treasures with groans and unknown suffering. Those who
enjoy little shall suffer little; immense happiness entails
"How terrible a doom! If it be so, must we not shudder for
ourselves, we who are superhumanly happy? If nature sells us
everything at its true value, into what pit are we not fated to
fall? Ah! the most fortunate lovers are those who die together in
the midst of their youth and love! How sad it all is! Does my soul
foresee evil in the future? I examine myself, wondering whether
there is anything in me that can cause you a moment's anxiety. I
love you too selfishly perhaps? I shall be laying on your beloved
head a burden heavy out of all proportion to the joy my love can
bring to your heart. If there dwells in me some inexorable power
which I must obey--if I am compelled to curse when you pray, if
some dark thought coerces me when I would fain kneel at your feet
and play as a child, will you not be jealous of that wayward and
"You understand, dearest heart, that what I dread is not being
wholly yours; that I would gladly forego all the sceptres and the
palms of the world to enshrine you in one eternal thought, to see
a perfect life and an exquisite poem in our rapturous love; to
throw my soul into it, drown my powers, and wring from each hour
the joys it has to give!
"Ah, my memories of love are crowding back upon me, the clouds of
despair will lift. Farewell. I leave you now to be more entirely
yours. My beloved soul, I look for a line, a word that may restore
my peace of mind. Let me know whether I really grieved my Pauline,
or whether some uncertain expression of her countenance misled me.
I could not bear to have to reproach myself after a whole life of
happiness, for ever having met you without a smile of love, a
honeyed word. To grieve the woman I love--Pauline, I should count
it a crime. Tell me the truth, do not put me off with some
magnanimous subterfuge, but forgive me without cruelty."
"Is so perfect an attachment happiness? Yes, for years of
suffering would not pay for an hour of love.
"Yesterday, your sadness, as I suppose, passed into my soul as
swiftly as a shadow falls. Were you sad or suffering? I was
wretched. Whence came my distress? Write to me at once. Why did I
not know it? We are not yet completely one in mind. At two
leagues' distance or at a thousand I ought to feel your pain and
sorrows. I shall not believe that I love you till my life is so
bound up with yours that our life is one, till our hearts, our
thoughts are one. I must be where you are, see what you feel, feel
what you feel, be with you in thought. Did not I know, at once,
that your carriage had been overthrown and you were bruised? But
on that day I had been with you, I had never left you, I could see
you. When my uncle asked me what made me turn so pale, I answered
at once, 'Mademoiselle de Villenoix had has a fall.'
"Why, then, yesterday, did I fail to read your soul? Did you wish
to hide the cause of your grief? However, I fancied I could feel
that you were arguing in my favor, though in vain, with that
dreadful Salomon, who freezes my blood. That man is not of our
"Why do you insist that our happiness, which has no resemblance to
that of other people, should conform to the laws of the world? And
yet I delight too much in your bashfulness, your religion, your
superstitions, not to obey your lightest whim. What you do must be
right; nothing can be purer than your mind, as nothing is lovelier
than your face, which reflects your divine soul.
"I shall wait for a letter before going along the lanes to meet
the sweet hour you grant me. Oh! if you could know how the sight
of those turrets makes my heart throb when I see them edged with
light by the moon, our only confidante."
"Farewell to glory, farewell to the future, to the life I had
dreamed of! Now, my well-beloved, my glory is that I am yours, and
worthy of you; my future lies entirely in the hope of seeing you;
and is not my life summed up in sitting at your feet, in lying
under your eyes, in drawing deep breaths in the heaven you have
created for me? All my powers, all my thoughts must be yours,
since you could speak those thrilling words, 'Your sufferings must
be mine!' Should I not be stealing some joys from love, some
moments from happiness, some experiences from your divine spirit,
if I gave my hours to study--ideas to the world and poems to the
poets? Nay, nay, my very life, I will treasure everything for you;
I will bring to you every flower of my soul. Is there anything
fine enough, splendid enough, in all the resources of the world,
or of intellect, to do honor to a heart so rich, so pure as yours
--the heart to which I dare now and again to unite my own? Yes,
now and again, I dare believe that I can love as much as you do.
"And yet, no; you are the angel-woman; there will always be a
greater charm in the expression of your feelings, more harmony in
your voice, more grace in your smile, more purity in your looks
than in mine. Let me feel that you are the creature of a higher
sphere than that I live in; it will be your pride to have
descended from it; mine, that I should have deserved you; and you
will not perhaps have fallen too far by coming down to me in my
poverty and misery. Nay, if a woman's most glorious refuge is in a
heart that is wholly her own, you will always reign supreme in
mine. Not a thought, not a deed, shall ever pollute this heart,
this glorious sanctuary, so long as you vouchsafe to dwell in it--
and will you not dwell in it for ever? Did you not enchant me by
the words, 'Now and for ever?' Nunc et semper! And I have
written these words of our ritual below your portrait--words
worthy of you, as they are of God. He is nunc et semper, as my
"Never, no, never, can I exhaust that which is immense, infinite,
unbounded--and such is the feeling I have for you; I have imagined
its immeasurable extent, as we measure space by the dimensions of
one of its parts. I have had ineffable joys, whole hours filled
with delicious meditation, as I have recalled a single gesture or
the tone of a word of yours. Thus there will be memories of which
the magnitude will overpower me, if the reminiscence of a sweet
and friendly interview is enough to make me shed tears of joy, to
move and thrill my soul, and to be an inexhaustible wellspring of
gladness. Love is the life of angels!
"I can never, I believe, exhaust my joy in seeing you. This
rapture, the least fervid of any, though it never can last long
enough, has made me apprehend the eternal contemplation in which
seraphs and spirits abide in the presence of God; nothing can be
more natural, if from His essence there emanates a light as
fruitful of new emotions as that of your eyes is, of your imposing
brow, and your beautiful countenance--the image of your soul.
Then, the soul, our second self, whose pure form can never perish,
makes our love immortal. I would there were some other language
than that I use to express to you the ever-new ecstasy of my love;
but since there is one of our own creating, since our looks are
living speech, must we not meet face to face to read in each
other's eyes those questions and answers from the heart, that are
so living, so penetrating, that one evening you could say to me,
'Be silent!' when I was not speaking. Do you remember it, dear
"When I am away from you in the darkness of absence, am I not
reduced to use human words, too feeble to express heavenly
feelings? But words at any rate represent the marks these feelings
leave in my soul, just as the word God imperfectly sums up the
notions we form of that mysterious First Cause. But, in spite of
the subtleties and infinite variety of language, I have no words
that can express to you the exquisite union by which my life is
merged into yours whenever I think of you.
"And with what word can I conclude when I cease writing to you,
and yet do not part from you? What can farewell mean, unless in
death? But is death a farewell? Would not my spirit be then more
closely one with yours? Ah! my first and last thought; formerly I
offered you my heart and life on my knees; now what fresh blossoms
of feelings can I discover in my soul that I have not already
given you? It would be a gift of a part of what is wholly yours.
"Are you my future? How deeply I regret the past! I would I could
have back all the years that are ours no more, and give them to
you to reign over, as you do over my present life. What indeed was
that time when I knew you not? It would be a void but that I was
"Beloved angel, how delightful last evening was! How full of
riches your dear heart is! And is your love endless, like mine?
Each word brought me fresh joy, and each look made it deeper. The
placid expression of your countenance gave our thoughts a
limitless horizon. It was all as infinite as the sky, and as bland
as its blue. The refinement of your adored features repeated
itself by some inexplicable magic in your pretty movements and
your least gestures. I knew that you were all graciousness, all
love, but I did not know how variously graceful you could be.
Everything combined to urge me to tender solicitation, to make me
ask the first kiss that a woman always refuses, no doubt that it
may be snatched from her. You, dear soul of my life, will never
guess beforehand what you may grant to my love, and will yield
perhaps without knowing it! You are utterly true, and obey your
"The sweet tones of your voice blended with the tender harmonies
that filled the quiet air, the cloudless sky. Not a bird piped,
not a breeze whispered--solitude, you, and I. The motionless
leaves did not quiver in the beautiful sunset hues which are both
light and shadow. You felt that heavenly poetry--you who
experienced so many various emotions, and who so often raised your
eyes to heaven to avoid answering me. You who are proud and saucy,
humble and masterful, who give yourself to me so completely in
spirit and in thought, and evade the most bashful caress. Dear
witcheries of the heart! They ring in my ears; they sound and play
there still. Sweet words but half spoken, like a child's speech,
neither promise nor confession, but allowing love to cherish its
fairest hopes without fear or torment! How pure a memory for life!
What a free blossoming of all the flowers that spring from the
soul, which a mere trifle can blight, but which, at that moment,
everything warmed and expanded.
"And it will always be so, will it not, my beloved? As I recall,
this morning, the fresh and living delights revealed to me in that
hour, I am conscious of a joy which makes me conceive of true love
as an ocean of everlasting and ever-new experiences, into which we
may plunge with increasing delight. Every day, every word, every
kiss, every glance, must increase it by its tribute of past
happiness. Hearts that are large enough never to forget must live
every moment in their past joys as much as in those promised by
the future. This was my dream of old, and now it is no longer a
dream! Have I not met on this earth with an angel who had made me
know all its happiness, as a reward, perhaps, for having endured
all its torments? Angel of heaven, I salute thee with a kiss.
"I shall send you this hymn of thanksgiving from my heart, I owe
it to you; but it can hardly express my gratitude or the morning
worship my heart offers up day by day to her who epitomized the
whole gospel of the heart in this divine word: 'Believe.' "
"What! no further difficulties, dearest heart! We shall be free to
belong to each other every day, every hour, every minute, and for
ever! We may be as happy for all the days of our life as we now
are by stealth, at rare intervals! Our pure, deep feelings will
assume the expression of the thousand fond acts I have dreamed of.
For me your little foot will be bared, you will be wholly mine!
Such happiness kills me; it is too much for me. My head is too
weak, it will burst with the vehemence of my ideas. I cry and I
laugh--I am possessed! Every joy is an arrow of flame; it pierces
and burns me. In fancy you rise before my eyes, ravished and
dazzled by numberless and capricious images of delight.
"In short, our whole future life is before me--its torrents, its
still places, its joys; it seethes, it flows on, it lies sleeping;
then again it awakes fresh and young. I see myself and you side by
side, walking with equal pace, living in the same thought; each
dwelling in each other's heart, understanding each other,
responding to each other as an echo catches and repeats a sound
across wide distances.
"Can life be long when it is thus consumed hour by hour? Shall we
not die in a first embrace? What if our souls have already met in
that sweet evening kiss which almost overpowered us--a feeling
kiss, but the crown of my hopes, the ineffectual expression of all
the prayers I breathe while we are apart, hidden in my soul like
"I, who would creep back and hide in the hedge only to hear your
footsteps as you went homewards--I may henceforth admire you at my
leisure, see you busy, moving, smiling, prattling! An endless joy!
You cannot imagine all the gladness it is to me to see you going
and coming; only a man can know that deep delight. Your least
movement gives me greater pleasure than a mother even can feel as
she sees her child asleep or at play. I love you with every kind
of love in one. The grace of your least gesture is always new to
me. I fancy I could spend whole nights breathing your breath; I
would I could steal into every detail of your life, be the very
substance of your thoughts--be your very self.
"Well, we shall, at any rate, never part again! No human alloy
shall ever disturb our love, infinite in its phases and as pure as
all things are which are One--our love, vast as the sea, vast as
the sky! You are mine! all mine! I may look into the depths of
your eyes to read the sweet soul that alternately hides and shines
there, to anticipate your wishes.
"My best-beloved, listen to some things I have never yet dared to
tell you, but which I may confess to you now. I felt a certain
bashfulness of soul which hindered the full expression of my
feelings, so I strove to shroud them under the garbs of thoughts.
But now I long to lay my heart bare before you, to tell you of the
ardor of my dreams, to reveal the boiling demands of my senses,
excited, no doubt, by the solitude in which I have lived,
perpetually fired by conceptions of happiness, and aroused by you,
so fair in form, so attractive in manner. How can I express to you
my thirst for the unknown rapture of possessing an adored wife, a
rapture to which the union of two souls by love must give frenzied
intensity. Yes, my Pauline, I have sat for hours in a sort of
stupor caused by the violence of my passionate yearning, lost in
the dream of a caress as though in a bottomless abyss. At such
moments my whole vitality, my thoughts and powers, are merged and
united in what I must call desire, for lack of a word to express
that nameless delirium.
"And I may confess to you now that one day, when I would not take
your hand when you offered it so sweetly--an act of melancholy
prudence that made you doubt my love--I was in one of those fits
of madness when a man could commit a murder to possess a woman.
Yes, if I had felt the exquisite pressure you offered me as
vividly as I heard your voice in my heart, I know not to what
lengths my passion might not have carried me. But I can be silent,
and suffer a great deal. Why speak of this anguish when my visions
are to become realities? It will be in my power now to make life
one long love-making!
"Dearest love, there is a certain effect of light on your black
hair which could rivet me for hours, my eyes full of tears, as I
gazed at your sweet person, were it not that you turn away and
say, 'For shame; you make me quite shy!'
"To-morrow, then, our love is to be made known! Oh, Pauline! the
eyes of others, the curiosity of strangers, weigh on my soul. Let
us go to Villenoix, and stay there far from every one. I should
like no creature in human form to intrude into the sanctuary where
you are to be mine; I could even wish that, when we are dead, it
should cease to exist--should be destroyed. Yes, I would fain hide
from all nature a happiness which we alone can understand, alone
can feel, which is so stupendous that I throw myself into it only
to die--it is a gulf!
"Do not be alarmed by the tears that have wetted this page; they
are tears of joy. My only blessing, we need never part again!"
In 1823 I traveled from Paris to Touraine by diligence. At Mer we
took up a passenger for Blois. As the guard put him into that part of
the coach where I had my seat, he said jestingly:
"You will not be crowded, Monsieur Lefebvre!"--I was, in fact, alone.
On hearing this name, and seeing a white-haired old man, who looked
eighty at least, I naturally thought of Lambert's uncle. After a few
ingenious questions, I discovered that I was not mistaken. The good
man had been looking after his vintage at Mer, and was returning to
Blois. I then asked for some news of my old "chum." At the first word,
the old priest's face, as grave and stern already as that of a soldier
who has gone through many hardships, became more sad and dark; the
lines on his forehead were slightly knit, he set his lips, and said,
with a suspicious glance:
"Then you have never seen him since you left the College?"
"Indeed, I have not," said I. "But we are equally to blame for our
forgetfulness. Young men, as you know, lead such an adventurous and
storm-tossed life when they leave their school-forms, that it is only
by meeting that they can be sure of an enduring affection. However, a
reminiscence of youth sometimes comes as a reminder, and it is
impossible to forget entirely, especially when two lads have been such
friends as we were. We went by the name of the Poet-and-Pythagoras."
I told him my name; when he heard it, the worthy man grew gloomier
"Then you have not heard his story?" said he. "My poor nephew was to
be married to the richest heiress in Blois; but the day before his
wedding he went mad."
"Lambert! Mad!" cried I in dismay. "But from what cause? He had the
finest memory, the most strongly-constituted brain, the soundest
judgment, I ever met with. Really a great genius--with too great a
passion for mysticism perhaps; but the kindest heart in the world.
Something most extraordinary must have happened?"
"I see you knew him well," said the priest.
From Mer, till we reached Blois, we talked only of my poor friend,
with long digressions, by which I learned the facts I have already
related in the order of their interest. I confessed to his uncle the
character of our studies and of his nephew's predominant ideas; then
the old man told me of the events that had come into Lambert's life
since our parting. From Monsieur Lefebvre's account, Lambert had
betrayed some symptoms of madness before his marriage; but they were
such as are common to men who love passionately, and seemed to me less
startling when I knew how vehement his love had been and when I saw
Mademoiselle de Villenoix. In the country, where ideas are scarce, a
man overflowing with original thought and devoted to a system, as
Louis was, might well be regarded as eccentric, to say the least. His
language would, no doubt, seem the stranger because he so rarely
spoke. He would say, "That man does not dwell in heaven," where any
one else would have said, "We are not made on the same pattern." Every
clever man has his own quirks of speech. The broader his genius, the
more conspicuous are the singularities which constitute the various
degrees of eccentricity. In the country an eccentric man is at once
set down as half mad.
Hence Monsieur Lefebvre's first sentences left me doubtful of my
schoolmate's insanity. I listened to the old man, but I criticised his
The most serious symptom had supervened a day or two before the
marriage. Louis had had some well-marked attacks of catalepsy. He had
once remained motionless for fifty-nine hours, his eyes staring,
neither speaking nor eating; a purely nervous affection, to which
persons under the influence of violent passion are liable; a rare
malady, but perfectly well known to the medical faculty. What was
really extraordinary was that Louis should not have had several
previous attacks, since his habits of rapt thought and the character
of his mind would predispose him to them. But his temperament,
physical and mental, was so admirably balanced, that it had no doubt
been able to resist the demands on his strength. The excitement to
which he had been wound up by the anticipation of acute physical
enjoyment, enhanced by a chaste life and a highly-strung soul, had no
doubt led to these attacks, of which the results are as little known
as the cause.
The letters that have by chance escaped destruction show very plainly
a transition from pure idealism to the most intense sensualism.
Time was when Lambert and I had admired this phenomenon of the human
mind, in which he saw the fortuitous separation of our two natures,
and the signs of a total removal of the inner man, using its unknown
faculties under the operation of an unknown cause. This disorder, a
mystery as deep as that of sleep, was connected with the scheme of
evidence which Lambert had set forth in his Treatise on the Will.
And when Monsieur Lefebvre spoke to me of Louis' first attack, I
suddenly remembered a conversation we had had on the subject after
reading a medical book.
"Deep meditation and rapt ecstasy are perhaps the undeveloped germs of
catalepsy," he said in conclusion.
On the occasion when he so concisely formulated this idea, he had been
trying to link mental phenomena together by a series of results,
following the processes of the intellect step by step, from their
beginnings as those simple, purely animal impulses of instinct, which
are all-sufficient to many human beings, particularly to those men
whose energies are wholly spent in mere mechanical labor; then, going
on to the aggregation of ideas and rising to comparison, reflection,
meditation, and finally ecstasy and catalepsy. Lambert, of course, in
the artlessness of youth, imagined that he had laid down the lines of
a great work when he thus built up a scale of the various degrees of
man's mental powers.
I remember that, by one of those chances which seems like
predestination, we got hold of a great Martyrology, in which the most
curious narratives are given of the total abeyance of physical life
which a man can attain to under the paroxysms of the inner life. By
reflecting on the effects of fanaticism, Lambert was led to believe
that the collected ideas to which we give the name of feelings may
very possibly be the material outcome of some fluid which is generated
in all men, more or less abundantly, according to the way in which
their organs absorb, from the medium in which they live, the
elementary atoms that produce it. We went crazy over catalepsy; and
with the eagerness that boys throw into every pursuit, we endeavored
to endure pain by thinking of something else. We exhausted ourselves
by making experiments not unlike those of the epileptic fanatics of
the last century, a religious mania which will some day be of service
to the science of humanity. I would stand on Lambert's chest,
remaining there for several minutes without giving him the slightest
pain; but notwithstanding these crazy attempts, we did not achieve an
attack of catalepsy.
This digression seemed necessary to account for my first doubts, which
were, however, completely dispelled by Monsieur Lefebvre.
"When this attack had passed off," said he, "my nephew sank into a
state of extreme terror, a dejection that nothing could overcome. He
thought himself unfit for marriage. I watched him with the care of a
mother for her child, and found him preparing to perform on himself
the operation to which Origen believed he owed his talents. I at once
carried him off to Paris, and placed him under the care of Monsieur
Esquirol. All through our journey Louis sat sunk in almost unbroken
torpor, and did not recognize me. The Paris physicians pronounced him
incurable, and unanimously advised his being left in perfect solitude,
with nothing to break the silence that was needful for his very
improbable recovery, and that he should live always in a cool room
with a subdued light.--Mademoiselle de Villenoix, whom I had been
careful not to apprise of Louis' state," he went on, blinking his
eyes, "but who was supposed to have broken off the match, went to
Paris and heard what the doctors had pronounced. She immediately
begged to see my nephew, who hardly recognized her; then, like the
noble soul she is, she insisted on devoting herself to giving him such
care as might tend to his recovery. She would have been obliged to do
so if he had been her husband, she said, and could she do less for him
as her lover?
"She removed Louis to Villenoix, where they have been living for two
So, instead of continuing my journey, I stopped at Blois to go to see
Louis. Good Monsieur Lefebvre would not hear of my lodging anywhere
but at his house, where he showed me his nephew's room with the books
and all else that had belonged to him. At every turn the old man could
not suppress some mournful exclamation, showing what hopes Louis'
precocious genius had raised, and the terrible grief into which this
irreparable ruin had plunged him.
"That young fellow knew everything, my dear sir!" said he, laying on
the table a volume containing Spinoza's works. "How could so well
organized a brain go astray?"
"Indeed, monsieur," said I, "was it not perhaps the result of its
being so highly organized? If he really is a victim to the malady as
yet unstudied in all its aspects, which is known simply as madness, I
am inclined to attribute it to his passion. His studies and his mode
of life had strung his powers and faculties to a degree of energy
beyond which the least further strain was too much for nature; Love
was enough to crack them, or to raise them to a new form of expression
which we are maligning perhaps, by ticketing it without due knowledge.
In fact, he may perhaps have regarded the joys of marriage as an
obstacle to the perfection of his inner man and his flight towards
"My dear sir," said the old man, after listening to me with attention,
"your reasoning is, no doubt, very sound; but even if I could follow
it, would this melancholy logic comfort me for the loss of my nephew?"
Lambert's uncle was one of those men who live only by their
I went to Villenoix on the following day. The kind old man accompanied
me to the gates of Blois. When we were out on the road to Villenoix,
he stopped me and said:
"As you may suppose, I do not go there. But do not forget what I have
said; and in Mademoiselle de Villenoix's presence affect not to
perceive that Louis is mad."
He remained standing on the spot where I left him, watching me till I
was out of sight.
I made my way to the chateau of Villenoix, not without deep agitation.
My thoughts were many at each step on this road, which Louis had so
often trodden with a heart full of hopes, a soul spurred on by the
myriad darts of love. The shrubs, the trees, the turns of the winding
road where little gullies broke the banks on each side, were to me
full of strange interest. I tried to enter into the impressions and
thoughts of my unhappy friend. Those evening meetings on the edge of
the coombe, where his lady-love had been wont to find him, had, no
doubt, initiated Mademoiselle de Villenoix into the secrets of that
vast and lofty spirit, as I had learned them all some years before.
But the thing that most occupied my mind, and gave to my pilgrimage
the interest of intense curiosity, in addition to the almost pious
feelings that led me onwards, was that glorious faith of Mademoiselle
de Villenoix's which the good priest had told me of. Had she in the
course of time been infected with her lover's madness, or had she so
completely entered into his soul that she could understand all its
thoughts, even the most perplexed? I lost myself in the wonderful
problem of feeling, passing the highest inspirations of passion and
the most beautiful instances of self-sacrifice. That one should die
for the other is an almost vulgar form of devotion. To live faithful
to one love is a form of heroism that immortalized Mademoiselle
Dupuis. When the great Napoleon and Lord Byron could find successors
in the hearts of women they had loved, we may well admire
Bolingbroke's widow; but Mademoiselle Dupuis could feed on the
memories of many years of happiness, whereas Mademoiselle de
Villenoix, having known nothing of love but its first excitement,
seemed to me to typify love in its highest expression. If she were
herself almost crazy, it was splendid; but if she had understood and
entered into his madness, she combined with the beauty of a noble
heart a crowning effort of passion worthy to be studied and honored.
When I saw the tall turrets of the chateau, remembering how often poor
Lambert must have thrilled at the sight of them, my heart beat
anxiously. As I recalled the events of our boyhood, I was almost a
sharer in his present life and situation. At last I reached a wide,
deserted courtyard, and I went into the hall of the house without
meeting a soul. There the sound of my steps brought out an old woman,
to whom I gave a letter written to Mademoiselle de Villenoix by
Monsieur Lefebvre. In a few minutes this woman returned to bid me
enter, and led me to a low room, floored with black-and-white marble;
the Venetian shutters were closed, and at the end of the room I dimly
saw Louis Lambert.
"Be seated, monsieur," said a gentle voice that went to my heart.
Mademoiselle de Villenoix was at my side before I was aware of her
presence, and noiselessly brought me a chair, which at first I would
not accept. It was so dark that at first I saw Mademoiselle de
Villenoix and Lambert only as two black masses perceived against the
gloomy background. I presently sat down under the influence of the
feeling that comes over us, almost in spite of ourselves, under the
obscure vault of a church. My eyes, full of the bright sunshine,
accustomed themselves gradually to this artificial night.
"Monsieur is your old school-friend," she said to Louis.
He made no reply. At last I could see him, and it was one of those
spectacles that are stamped on the memory for ever. He was standing,
his elbows resting on the cornice of the low wainscot, which threw his
body forward, so that it seemed bowed under the weight of his bent
head. His hair was as long as a woman's, falling over his shoulders
and hanging about his face, giving him a resemblance to the busts of
the great men of the time of Louis XIV. His face was perfectly white.
He constantly rubbed one leg against the other, with a mechanical
action that nothing could have checked, and the incessant friction of
the bones made a doleful sound. Near him was a bed of moss on boards.
"He very rarely lies down," said Mademoiselle de Villenoix; "but
whenever he does, he sleeps for several days."
Louis stood, as I beheld him, day and night with a fixed gaze, never
winking his eyelids as we do. Having asked Mademoiselle de Villenoix
whether a little more light would hurt our friend, on her reply I
opened the shutters a little way, and could see the expression of
Lambert's countenance. Alas! he was wrinkled, white-headed, his eyes
dull and lifeless as those of the blind. His features seemed all drawn
upwards to the top of his head. I made several attempts to talk to
him, but he did not hear me. He was a wreck snatched from the grave, a
conquest of life from death--or of death from life!
I stayed for about an hour, sunk in unaccountable dreams, and lost in
painful thought. I listened to Mademoiselle de Villenoix, who told me
every detail of this life--that of a child in arms.
Suddenly Louis ceased rubbing his legs together, and said slowly:
"The angels are white."
I cannot express the effect produced upon me by this utterance, by the
sound of the voice I had loved, whose accents, so painfully expected,
had seemed to be lost for ever. My eyes filled with tears in spite of
every effort. An involuntary instinct warned me, making me doubt
whether Louis had really lost his reason. I was indeed well assured
that he neither saw nor heard me; but the sweetness of his tone, which
seemed to reveal heavenly happiness, gave his speech an amazing
effect. These words, the incomplete revelation of an unknown world,
rang in our souls like some glorious distant bells in the depth of a
dark night. I was no longer surprised that Mademoiselle de Villenoix
considered Lambert to be perfectly sane. The life of the soul had
perhaps subdued that of the body. His faithful companion had, no doubt
--as I had at that moment--intuitions of that melodious and beautiful
existence to which we give the name of Heaven in its highest meaning.
This woman, this angel, always was with him, seated at her embroidery
frame; and each time she drew the needle out she gazed at Lambert with
sad and tender feeling. Unable to endure this terrible sight--for I
could not, like Mademoiselle de Villenoix, read all his secrets--I
went out, and she came with me to walk for a few minutes and talk of
herself and of Lambert.
"Louis must, no doubt, appear to be mad," said she. "But he is not, if
the term mad ought only to be used in speaking of those whose brain is
for some unknown cause diseased, and who can show no reason in their
actions. Everything in my husband is perfectly balanced. Though he did
not actively recognize you, it is not that he did not see you. He has
succeeded in detaching himself from his body, and discerns us under
some other aspect--what that is, I know not. When he speaks, he utters
wondrous things. Only it often happens that he concludes in speech an
idea that had its beginning in his mind; or he may begin a sentence
and finish it in thought. To other men he seems insane; to me, living
as I do in his mind, his ideas are quite lucid. I follow the road his
spirit travels; and though I do not know every turning, I can reach
the goal with him.
"Which of us has not often known what it is to think of some futile
thing and be led on to some serious reflection through the ideas or
memories it brings in its train? Not unfrequently, after speaking
about some trifle, the simple starting-point of a rapid train of
reflections, a thinker may forget or be silent as to the abstract
connection of ideas leading to his conclusion, and speak again only to
utter the last link in the chain of his meditations.
"Inferior minds, to whom this swift mental vision is a thing unknown,
who are ignorant of the spirit's inner workings, laugh at the dreamer;
and if he is subject to this kind of obliviousness, regard him as a
madman. Louis is always in this state; he soars perpetually through
the spaces of thought, traversing them with the swiftness of a
swallow; I can follow him in his flight. This is the whole history of
his madness. Some day, perhaps, Louis will come back to the life in
which we vegetate; but if he breathes the air of heaven before the
time when we may be permitted to do so, why should we desire to have
him down among us? I am content to hear his heart beat, and all my
happiness is to be with him. Is he not wholly mine? In three years,
twice at intervals he was himself for a few days; once in Switzerland,
where we went, and once in an island off the wilds of Brittany, where
we took some sea-baths. I have twice been very happy! I can live on
"But do you write down the things he says?" I asked.
"Why should I?" said she.
I was silent; human knowledge was indeed as nothing in this woman's
"At those times, when he talked a little," she added, "I think I have
recorded some of his phrases, but I left it off; I did not understand
I asked her for them by a look; she understood me. This is what I have
been able to preserve from oblivion.
Everything here on earth is produced by an ethereal substance
which is the common element of various phenomena, known
inaccurately as electricity, heat, light, the galvanic fluid, the
magnetic fluid, and so forth. The universal distribution of this
substance, under various forms, constitutes what is commonly known
The brain is the alembic to which the Animal conveys what each of
its organizations, in proportion to the strength of that vessel,
can absorb of that Substance, which returns it transformed into
The Will is a fluid inherent in every creature endowed with
motion. Hence the innumerable forms assumed by the Animal, the
results of its combinations with that Substance. The Animal's
instincts are the product of the coercion of the environment in
which it develops. Hence its variety.
In Man the Will becomes a power peculiar to him, and exceeding in
intensity that of any other species.
By constant assimilation, the Will depends on the Substance it
meets with again and again in all its transmutations, pervading
them by Thought, which is a product peculiar to the human Will, in
combination with the modifications of that Substance.
The innumerable forms assumed by Thought are the result of the
greater or less perfection of the human mechanism.
The Will acts through organs commonly called the five senses,
which, in fact, are but one--the faculty of Sight. Feeling and
tasting, hearing and smelling, are Sight modified to the
transformations of the Substance which Man can absorb in two
conditions: untransformed and transformed.
Everything of which the form comes within the cognizance of the
one sense of Sight may be reduced to certain simple bodies of
which the elements exist in the air, the light, or in the elements
of air and light. Sound is a condition of the air; colors are all
conditions of light; every smell is a combination of air and
light; hence the four aspects of Matter with regard to Man--sound,
color, smell, and shape-- have the same origin, for the day is not
far off when the relationship of the phenomena of air and light
will be made clear.
Thought, which is allied to Light, is expressed in words which
depend on sound. To man, then, everything is derived from the
Substance, whose transformations vary only through Number--a
certain quantitative dissimilarity, the proportions resulting in
the individuals or objects of what are classed as Kingdoms.
When the Substance is absorbed in sufficient number (or quantity)
it makes of man an immensely powerful mechanism, in direct
communication with the very element of the Substance, and acting
on organic nature in the same way as a large stream when it
absorbs the smaller brooks. Volition sets this force in motion
independently of the Mind. By its concentration it acquires some
of the qualities of the Substance, such as the swiftness of light,
the penetrating power of electricity, and the faculty of
saturating a body; to which must be added that it apprehends what
it can do.
Still, there is in man a primordial and overruling phenomenon
which defies analysis. Man may be dissected completely; the
elements of Will and Mind may perhaps be found; but there still
will remain beyond apprehension the x against which I once used
to struggle. That x is the Word, the Logos, whose communication
burns and consumes those who are not prepared to receive it. The
Word is for ever generating the Substance.
Rage, like all our vehement demonstrations, is a current of the
human force that acts electrically; its turmoil when liberated
acts on persons who are present even though they be neither its
cause nor its object. Are there not certain men who by a discharge
of Volition can sublimate the essence of the feelings of the
Fanaticism and all emotions are living forces. These forces in
some beings become rivers that gather in and sweep away
Though Space is, certain faculties have the power of traversing
it with such rapidity that it is as though it existed not. From
your own bed to the frontiers of the universe there are but two
steps: Will and Faith.
Facts are nothing; they do not subsist; all that lives of us is
The realm of Ideas is divided into three spheres: that of
Instinct, that of Abstractions, that of Specialism.
The greater part, the weaker part of visible humanity, dwells in
the Sphere of Instinct. The Instinctives are born, labor, and
die without rising to the second degree of human intelligence,
Society begins in the sphere of Abstraction. If Abstraction, as
compared with Instinct, is an almost divine power, it is
nevertheless incredibly weak as compared with the gift of
Specialism, which is the formula of God. Abstraction comprises all
nature in a germ, more virtually than a seed contains the whole
system of a plant and its fruits. From Abstraction are derived
laws, arts, social ideas, and interests. It is the glory and the
scourge of the earth: its glory because it has created social
life; its scourge because it allows man to evade entering into
Specialism, which is one of the paths to the Infinite. Man
measures everything by Abstractions: Good and Evil, Virtue and
Crime. Its formula of equity is a pair of scales, its justice is
blind. God's justice sees: there is all the difference.
There must be intermediate Beings, then, dividing the sphere of
Instinct from the sphere of Abstractions, in whom the two elements
mingle in an infinite variety of proportions. Some have more of
one, some more of the other. And there are also some in which the
two powers neutralize each other by equality of effect.
Specialism consists in seeing the things of the material universe
and the things of the spiritual universe in all their
ramifications original and causative. The greatest human geniuses
are those who started from the darkness of Abstraction to attain
to the light of Specialism. (Specialism, species, sight;
speculation, or seeing everything, and all at once; Speculum, a
mirror or means of apprehending a thing by seeing the whole of
it.) Jesus had the gift of Specialism; He saw each fact in its
root and in its results, in the past where it had its rise, and in
the future where it would grow and spread; His sight pierced into
the understanding of others. The perfection of the inner eye gives
rise to the gift of Specialism. Specialism brings with it
Intuition. Intuition is one of the faculties of the Inner Man, of
which Specialism is an attribute. Intuition acts by an
imperceptible sensation of which he who obeys it is not conscious:
for instance, Napoleon instinctively moving from a spot struck
immediately afterwards by a cannon ball.
Between the sphere of Abstraction and that of Specialism, as
between those of Abstraction and Instinct, there are beings in
whom the attributes of both combine and produce a mixture; these
are men of genius.
Specialism is necessarily the most perfect expression of man, and
he is the link binding the visible world to the higher worlds; he
acts, sees, and feels by his inner powers. The man of Abstraction
thinks. The man of Instinct acts.
Hence man has three degrees. That of Instinct, below the average;
that of Abstraction, the general average; that of Specialism,
above the average. Specialism opens to man his true career; the
Infinite dawns on him; he sees what his destiny must be.
There are three worlds--the Natural, the Spiritual, and the
Divine. Humanity passes through the Natural world, which is not
fixed either in its essence and unfixed in its faculties. The
Spiritual world is fixed in its essence and unfixed in its
faculties. The Divine world is necessarily a Material worship, a
Spiritual worship, and a Divine worship: three forms expressed in
action, speech, and prayer, or, in other words, in deed,
apprehension, and love. Instinct demands deed; Abstraction is
concerned with Ideas; Specialism sees the end, it aspires to God
with presentiment or contemplation.
Hence, perhaps, some day the converse of Et Verbum caro factum
est will become the epitome of a new Gospel, which will proclaim
that The Flesh shall be made the Word and become the Utterance of
The Resurrection is the work of the Wind of Heaven sweeping over
the worlds. The angel borne on the Wind does not say: "Arise, ye
dead"; he says, "Arise, ye who live!"
Such are the meditations which I have with great difficulty cast in a
form adapted to our understanding. There are some others which Pauline
remembered more exactly, wherefore I know not, and which I wrote from
her dictation; but they drive the mind to despair when, knowing in
what an intellect they originated, we strive to understand them. I
will quote a few of them to complete my study of this figure; partly,
too, perhaps, because, in these last aphorisms, Lambert's formulas
seem to include a larger universe than the former set, which would
apply only to zoological evolution. Still, there is a relation between
the two fragments, evident to those persons--though they be but few--
who love to dive into such intellectual deeps.
Everything on earth exists solely by motion and number.
Motion is, so to speak, number in action.
Motion is the product of a force generated by the Word and by
Resistance, which is Matter. But for Resistance, Motion would have
had no results; its action would have been infinite. Newton's
gravitation is not a law, but an effect of the general law of
Motion, acting in proportion to Resistance, produces a result
which is Life. As soon as one or the other is the stronger, Life
No portion of Motion is wasted; it always produces number; still,
it can be neutralized by disproportionate resistance, as in
Number, which produces variety of all kinds, also gives rise to
Harmony, which, in the highest meaning of the word, is the
relation of parts to the whole.
But for Motion, everything would be one and the same. Its
products, identical in their essence, differ only by Number, which
gives rise to faculties.
Man looks to faculties; angels look to the Essence.
By giving his body up to elemental action, man can achieve an
inner union with the Light.
Number is intellectual evidence belonging to man alone; by it he
acquires knowledge of the Word.
There is a Number beyond which the impure cannot pass: the Number
which is the limit of creation.
The Unit was the starting-point of every product: compounds are
derived from it, but the end must be identical with the beginning.
Hence this Spiritual formula: the compound Unit, the variable
Unit, the fixed Unit.
The Universe is the Unit in variety. Motion is the means; Number
is the result. The end is the return of all things to the Unit,
which is God.
Three and Seven are the two chief Spiritual numbers.
Three is the formula of created worlds. It is the Spiritual Sign
of the creation, as it is the Material Sign of dimension. In fact,
God has worked by curved lines only: the Straight Line is an
attribute of the Infinite; and man, who has the presentiment of
the Infinite, reproduces it in his works. Two is the number of
generation. Three is the number of Life which includes generation
and offspring. Add the sum of four, and you have seven, the
formula of Heaven. Above all is God; He is the Unit.
After going in to see Louis once more, I took leave of his wife and
went home, lost in ideas so adverse to social life that, in spite of a
promise to return to Villenoix, I did not go.
The sight of Louis had had some mysteriously sinister influence over
me. I was afraid to place myself again in that heavy atmosphere, where
ecstasy was contagious. Any man would have felt, as I did, a longing
to throw himself into the infinite, just as one soldier after another
killed himself in a certain sentry box where one had committed suicide
in the camp at Boulogne. It is a known fact that Napoleon was obliged
to have the hut burned which had harbored an idea that had become a
Louis' room had perhaps the same fatal effect as that sentry box.
These two facts would then be additional evidence in favor of his
theory of the transfusion of Will. I was conscious of strange
disturbances, transcending the most fantastic results of taking tea,
coffee, or opium, of dreams or of fever--mysterious agents, whose
terrible action often sets our brains on fire.
I ought perhaps to have made a separate book of these fragments of
thought, intelligible only to certain spirits who have been accustomed
to lean over the edge of abysses in the hope of seeing to the bottom.
The life of that mighty brain, which split up on every side perhaps,
like a too vast empire, would have been set forth in the narrative of
this man's visions--a being incomplete for lack of force or of
weakness; but I preferred to give an account of my own impressions
rather than to compose a more or less poetical romance.
Louis Lambert died at the age of twenty-eight, September 25, 1824, in
his true love's arms. He was buried by her desire in an island in the
park at Villenoix. His tombstone is a plain stone cross, without name
or date. Like a flower that has blossomed on the margin of a
precipice, and drops into it, its colors and fragrance all unknown, it
was fitting that he too should fall. Like many another misprized soul,
he had often yearned to dive haughtily into the void, and abandon
there the secrets of his own life.
Mademoiselle de Villenoix would, however, have been quite justified in
recording his name on that cross with her own. Since her partner's
death, reunion has been her constant, hourly hope. But the vanities of
woe are foreign to faithful souls.
Villenoix is falling into ruin. She no longer resides there; to the
end, no doubt, that she may the better picture herself there as she
used to be. She had said long ago:
"His heart was mine; his genius is with God."
CHATEAU DE SACHE. June-July 1832.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Seaside Tragedy
A Seaside Tragedy
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Stael-Holstein (Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, Baronne de)
Letters of Two Brides
Villenoix, Pauline Salomon de
A Seaside Tragedy
The Vicar of Tours