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The Ancient Regime The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 1 by Hippolyte A. Taine

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cordial and then suddenly fall to the ground, foam at the mouth, act
deliriously and writhe in convulsions, we at once surmise that this
agreeable beverage contained some dangerous substance; but a delicate
analysis is necessary to detect and decompose the poison. The
philosophy of the eighteenth century contained poison, and of a kind
as potent as it was peculiar; for, not only is it a long historic
elaboration, the final and condensed essence of the tendency of the
thought of the century, but again its two principal ingredients have
this peculiarity, that, separate, they are salutary, and in
combination they form a venomous compound.


The accumulation and progress of discoveries in science and in
nature. - They serve as a starting-point for the new philosophers.

The first is scientific discovery, admirable on all sides, and
beneficent in its nature; it is made up of masses of facts slowly
accumulated and then summarily presented, or in rapid succession. For
the first time in history the sciences expand and affirm each other to
the extent of providing, not, as formerly, under Galileo and
Descartes, constructive fragments, or provisional scaffolding, but a
definite and demonstrated system of the universe, that of Newton.[1]
Around this capital fact, almost all the discoveries of the century,
either as complementary or as prolongations, range themselves. In pure
mathematics we have the Infinitesimal Calculus discovered
simultaneously by Leibnitz and Newton, mechanics reduced by d'Alembert
to a single theorem, and that superb collection of theories which,
elaborated by the Bernouillis, Euler, Clairaut, d'Alembert, Taylor and
Maclaurin, is finally completed at the end of the century by Monge,
Lagrange, and Laplace.[2] In astronomy, the series of calculations and
observations which, from Newton to Laplace, transforms science into a
problem of mechanics, explains and predicts the movements of the
planets and of their satellites, indicating the origin and formation
of our solar system, and, extending beyond this, through the
discoveries of Herschel, affording an insight into the distribution of
the stellar archipelagos, and of the grand outlines of celestial
architecture. In physics, the decomposition of light and the
principles of optics discovered by Newton, the velocity of sound, the
form of its undulations, and from Sauveur to Chladni, from Newton to
Bernouilli and Lagrange, the experimental laws and leading theorems of
Acoustics, the primary laws of the radiation of heat by Newton, Kraft
and Lambert, the theory of latent heat by Black, the proportions of
caloric by Lavoisier and Laplace, the first true conceptions of the
source of fire and heat, the experiments, laws, and means by which
Dufay, Nollet, Franklin, and especially Coulomb explain, manipulate
and, for the first time, utilize electricity. - In Chemistry, all
the foundations of the science: isolated oxygen, nitrogen and
hydrogen, the composition of water, the theory of combustion, chemical
nomenclature, quantitative analysis, the indestructibility of matter,
in short, the discoveries of Scheele, Priestley, Cavendish and Stahl,
crowned with the clear and concise theory of Lavoisier. - In
Mineralogy, the goniometer, the constancy of angles and the primary
laws of derivation by Romé de Lisle, and next the discovery of types
and the mathematical deduction of secondary forms by Haüy. - In
Geology, the verification and results of Newton's theory, the exact
form of the earth, the depression of the poles, the expansion of the
equator,[3] the cause and the law of the tides, the primitive fluidity
of the planet, the constancy of its internal heat, and then, with
Buffon, Desmarets, Hutton and Werner, the aqueous or igneous origin of
rocks, the stratifications of the earth, the structure of beds of
fossils, the prolonged and repeated submersion of continents, the slow
growth of animal and vegetable deposits, the vast antiquity of life,
the stripping, fracturing and gradual transformation of the
terrestrial surface,[4] and, finally the grand picture in which Buffon
describes in approximate manner the entire history of our globe, from
the moment it formed a mass of glowing lava down to the time when our
species, after so many lost or surviving species, was able to inhabit
it. - Upon this science of inorganic matter we see arising at the
same time the science of organic matter. Grew, and then Vaillant had
just demonstrated the sexual system and described the fecundating of
plants; Linnaeus invents botanical nomenclature and the first complete
classifications; the Jussieus discover the subordination of
characteristics and natural classification. Digestion is explained by
Réaumur and Spallanzani, respiration by Lavoisier ; Prochaska verifies
the mechanism of reflex actions ; Haller and Spallanzani experiment on
and describe the conditions and phases of generation. Scientists
penetrate to the lowest stages of animal life. Réaumur publishes his
admirable observations on insects and Lyonnet devotes twenty years to
portraying the willow-caterpillar; Spallanzani resuscitates his
rotifers, Tremblay dissects his fresh-water polyps, and Needham
reveals his infusoria. The experimental conception of life is deduced
from these various researches. Buffon already, and especially Lamarck,
in their great and incomplete sketches, outline with penetrating
divination the leading features of modern physiology and zoology.
Organic molecules everywhere diffused or everywhere growing, species
of globules constantly in course of decay and restoration, which,
through the blind and spontaneous development, transform themselves,
multiply and combine, and which, without either foreign direction or
any preconceived end, solely through the effect of their structure and
surroundings, unite together to form those masterly organisms which we
call plants and animals : in the beginning, the simplest forms, and
next a slow, gradual, complex and perfected organization ; the organ
created through habits, necessity and surrounding medium; heredity
transmitting acquired modifications,[5] all denoting in advance, in a
state of conjecture and approximation, the cellular theory of later
physiologists[6] and the conclusions of Darwin.[7] In the picture
which the human mind draws of nature, the general outline is marked by
the science of the eighteenth century, the arrangement of its plan and
of the principal masses being so correctly marked, that to day the
leading lines remain intact. With the exception of a few partial
corrections we have nothing to efface.

This vast supply of positive or probable facts, either demonstrated
or anticipated, furnishes food, substance and impulse to the intellect
of the eighteenth century. Consider the leaders of public opinion, the
promoters of the new philosophy: they are all, in various degrees,
versed in the physical and natural sciences. Not only are they
familiar with theories and authorities, but again they have a personal
knowledge of facts and things. Voltaire[8] is among the first to
explain the optical and astronomical theories of Newton, and again to
make calculations, observations and experiments of his own. He writes
memoirs for the Academy of Sciences "On the Measure of Motive Forces,"
and "On the Nature and Diffusion of Heat." He handles Réamur's
thermometer, Newton's prism, and Muschenbrock's pyrometer. In his
laboratory at Cirey he has all the known apparatus for physics and
chemistry. He experiments with his own hand on the reflection of light
in space, on the increase of weight in calcified metals, on the
renewal of amputated parts of animals, and in the spirit of a true
savant, persistently, with constant repetitions, even to the beheading
of forty snails and slugs, to verify an assertion made by Spallanzani.
- The same curiosity and the same preparation prevails with all
imbued with the same spirit. In the other camp, among the Cartesians,
about to disappear, Fontenelle is an excellent mathematician, the
competent biographer of all eminent men of science, the official
secretary and true representative of the Academy of Sciences. In other
places, in the Academy of Bordeaux, Montesquieu reads discourses on
the mechanism of the echo, and on the use of the renal glands; he
dissects frogs, tests the effect of heat and cold on animated tissues,
and publishes observations on plants and insects. - Rousseau, the
least instructed of all, attends the lectures of the chemist Rouelle,
botanizing and appropriating to himself all the elements of human
knowledge with which to write his "Emile." - Diderot taught
mathematics and devoured every science and art even to the technical
processes of all industries. D'Alembert stands in the first rank of
mathematicians. Buffon translated Newton's theory of flux, and the
Vegetable Statics of Hales; he is in turn a metallurgist, optician,
geographer, geologist and, last of all, an anatomist. Condillac, to
explain the use of signs and the relation of ideas, writes abridgments
of arithmetic, algebra, mechanics and astronomy.[9] Maupertuis,
Condorcet and Lalande are mathematicians, physicists and astronomers;
d'Holbach, Lamettrie and Cabanis are chemists, naturalists
physiologists and physicians. - Prophets of a superior or inferior
kind, masters or pupils, specialists or simple amateurs, all draw
directly or indirectly from the living source that has just burst
forth. This is their basis when they begin to teach about Man, what he
is, from whence he came, where he is going, what he may become and
what he should be. A new point of departure leads to new points of
view; so that the idea, which was then entertained of the human being
will become completely transformed.


Change of the point of view in the science of man. - It is detached
from theology and is united with the natural sciences.

Let us suppose a mind thoroughly imbued with these new truths, to
be placed on the orbit of Saturn, and let him observe[10]. Amidst this
vast and overwhelming space and in these boundless solar
archipelagoes, how small is our own sphere, and the earth, what a
grain of sand! What multitudes of worlds beyond our own, and, if life
exists in them, what combinations are possible other than those of
which we are the result! What is life, what is organic substance in
the monstrous universe but an indifferent mass, a passing accident,
the corruption of a few epidermic particles? And if this be life, what
is that humanity which is so small a fragment of it? - Such is Man
in nature, an atom, and an ephemeral particle; let this not be lost
sight of in our theories concerning his origin, his importance, and
his destiny.

"A mite that would consider itself as the center of all things
would be grotesque, and therefore it is essential that an insect
almost infinitely small should not show conceit almost infinitely
great."[11] -

How slow has been the evolution of the globe itself! What myriads
of ages between the first cooling of its mass and the beginnings of
life![12] Of what consequence is the turmoil of our ant-hill compared
to the geological tragedy in which we have born no part, the strife
between fire and water, the thickening of the earth's crust, formation
of the universal sea, the construction and separation of continents!
Previous to our historical record what a long history of vegetable and
animal existence! What a succession of flora and fauna! What
generations of marine organisms in forming the strata of sediment!
What generations of plans in forming the deposits of coal! What
transformations of climate to drive the pachydermata away from the
pole! - And now comes Man, the latest of all, he is like the
uppermost bud on the top of a tall ancient tree, flourishing there for
a while, but, like the tree, destined to perish after a few seasons,
when the increasing and foretold congelation allowing the tree to live
shall force the tree to die. He is not alone on the branch; beneath
him, around him, on a level with him, other buds shoot forth, born of
the same sap; but he must not forget, if he would comprehend his own
being, that, along with himself, other lives exist in his vicinity,
graduated up to him and issuing from the same trunk. If he is unique
he is not isolated, being an animal among other animals;[13] in him
and with them, substance, organization and birth, the formation and
renewal of the functions, senses and appetites, are similar, while his
superior intelligence, like their rudimentary intelligence, has for an
indispensable organ a nervous matter whose structure is the same with
him as with them. - Thus surrounded, brought forth and borne along
by nature, is it to be supposed that in nature he is an empire within
an empire? He is there as the part of a whole, by virtue of being a
physical body, a chemical composition, an animated organism, a
sociable animal, among other bodies, other compositions, other social
animals, all analogous to him; and by virtue of these classifications,
he is, like them, subject to laws. - For, if the first cause is
unknown to us, and we dispute among ourselves to know what it is,
whether innate or external, we affirm with certainty the mode of its
action, and that it operates only according to fixed and general laws.
Every circumstance, whatever it may be, is conditioned, and, its
conditions being given, it never fails to conform to them. Of two
links forming a chain, the first always draws on the second. There are

* for numbers, forms, and motions,

* for the revolution of the planets and the fall of bodies,

* for the diffusion of light and the radiation of heat,

* for the attractions and repulsion of electricity,

* for chemical combinations, and

* for the birth, equilibrium and dissolution of organic bodies.

They exist for the birth, maintenance, and development of human
societies, for the formation, conflict, and direction of ideas,
passions and determinations of human individuals.[14] In all this, Man
is bound up with nature; hence, if we would comprehend him, we must
observe him in her, after her, and like her, with the same
independence, the same precautions, and in the same spirit. Through
this remark alone the method of the moral sciences is fixed. In
history, in psychology, in morals, in politics, the thinkers of the
preceding century, Pascal, Bossuet, Descartes, Fenelon, Malebrance,
and La Bruyère, all based their thoughts on dogma; It is plain to
every one qualified to read them that their base is predetermined.
Religion provided them with a complete theory of the moral order of
things; according to this theory, latent or exposed, they described
Man and accommodated their observations to the preconceived model. The
writers of the eighteenth century rejected this method: they dwell on
Man, on the observable Man, and on his surroundings; in their eyes,
conclusions about the soul, its origin, and its destiny, must come
afterwards and depend wholly, not on that which the Revelation
provided, but on that which observation does and will provide. The
moral sciences are now divorced from theology and attach themselves,
as if a prolongation of them, to the physical sciences.


Voltaire. - Criticism and conceptions of unity. - Montesquieu. - An
outline of social laws.

Through the separation from theology and the attachment to natural
science the humanities become science. In history, every foundation on
which we now build, is laid. Compare Bossuet's "Discours sur
l'histoire universelle," with Voltaire's "Essai sur les mœurs," and we
at once see how new and profound these foundations were. - The
critics of religious dogma here establish their fundamental principle:
in view of the fact that the laws of nature are universal and
permanent it follows that, in the moral world, as in the physical
world, there can be no exception from them, and that no arbitrary or
foreign force intervenes to disturb the regular scientific procedures,
which will provide a sure means of discerning myth from truth.[15]
Biblical exegesis is born out of this maxim, and not alone that of
Voltaire, but also the critical explanatory methods of the future.
[16] Meanwhile they skeptically examine the annals of all people,
carelessly cutting away and suppressing; too hastily, extravagantly,
especially where the ancients are concerned, because their historical
expedition is simply a scouting trip; but nevertheless with such an
overall insight that we may still approve almost all the outlines of
their summary chart. The (newly discovered) primitive Man was not a
superior being, enlightened from above, but a coarse savage, naked and
miserable, slow of growth, sluggish in progress, the most destitute
and most needy of all animals, and, on this account, sociable, endowed
like the bee and the beaver with an instinct for living in groups, and
moreover an imitator like the monkey, but more intelligent, capable of
passing by degrees from the language of gesticulation to that of
articulation, beginning with a monosyllabic idiom which gradually
increases in richness, precision and subtlety.[17] How many centuries
are requisite to attain to this primitive language! How many centuries
more to the discovery of the most necessary arts, the use of fire, the
fabrication of "hatches of silex and jade", the melting and refining
of metals, the domestication of animals, the production and
modification of edible plants, the formation of early civilized and
durable communities, the discovery of writing, figures and
astronomical periods.[18] Only after a dawn of vast and infinite
length do we see in Chaldea and in China the commencement of an
accurate chronological history. There are five or six of these great
independent centers of spontaneous civilization, China, Babylon,
ancient Persia, India, Egypt, Phoenicia, and the two American empires.
On collecting these fragments together, on reading such of their books
as have been preserved, and which travelers bring to us, the five
Kings of the Chinese, the Vedas of the Hindus, the Zoroastrians of the
ancient Persians, we find that all contain religions, moral theories,
philosophies and institutions, as worthy of study as our own. Three of
these codes, those of India, China and the Muslims, still at the
present time govern countries as vast as our Europe, and nations of
equal importance. We must not, like Bossuet, "overlook the universe in
a universal history," and subordinate humanity to a small population
confined to a desolate region around the Dead Sea.[19] Human history
is a thing of natural growth like the rest; its direction is due to
its own elements; no external force guides it, but the inward forces
that create it; it is not tending to any prescribed end but developing
a result. And the chief result is the progress of the human mind.
"Amidst so many ravages and so much destruction, we see a love of
order secretly animating the human species, and forestalling its utter
ruin. It is one of the springs of nature ever recovering its energy;
it is the source of the formation of the codes of nations; it causes
the law and the ministers of the law to be respected in Tinquin and in
the islands of Formosa as well as in Rome." Man thus possesses, said
Voltaire, a "principle of Reason," namely, a "an instinct for
engineering" suggesting to him useful implements;[20] also an instinct
of right suggesting to him his moral conceptions. These two instincts
form a part of his makeup; he has them from his birth, "as birds have
their feathers, and bears their hair. Hence he is perfectible through
nature, and merely conforms to nature in improving his mind and in
bettering his condition. Extend the idea farther along with Turgot and
Condorcet,[21] and, with all its exaggerations, we see arising, before
the end of the century, our modern theory of progress, that which
founds all our aspirations on the boundless advance of the sciences,
on the increase of comforts which their applied discoveries constantly
bring to the human condition, and on the increase of good sense which
their discoveries, popularized, slowly deposit in the human brain.

A second principle has to be established to complete the
foundations of history. Discovered by Montesquieu it still to-day
serves as a constructive support, and, if we resume the work, as if on
the substructure of the master's edifice, it is simply owing to
accumulated erudition placing at our disposal more substantial and
more abundant materials. In human society all parts are
interdependent; no modification of one can take place without
effecting proportionate changes in the others. Institutions, laws and
customs are not mingled together, as in a heap, through chance or
caprice, but connected one with the other through convenience or
necessity, as in a harmony.[22] According as authority is in all, in
several or in one hand, according as the sovereign admits or rejects
laws superior to himself, with intermediary powers below him,
everything changes or tends to differ in meaning and in importance:

* public intelligence,

* education,

* the form of judgments,

* the nature and order of penalties,

* the condition of women,

* military organization

* and the nature and the extent of taxation.

A multitude of subordinate wheels depend on the great central
wheel. For if the clock runs, it is owing to the harmony of its
various parts, from which it follows that, on this harmony ceasing,
the clock gets out of order. But, besides the principal spring, there
are others which, acting on or in combination with it, give to each
clock a special character and a peculiar movement. Such, in the first
place, is climate, that is to say, the degree of heat or cold,
humidity or dryness, with its infinite effects on man's physical and
moral attributes, followed by its influence on political, civil and
domestic servitude or freedom. Likewise the soil, according to its
fertility, its position and its extent. Likewise the physical régime,
according as a people is composed of hunters, shepherds or
agriculturists. Likewise the fecundity of the race, and the consequent
slow or rapid increase of population, and also the excess in number,
now of males and now of females. And finally, likewise, are national
character and religion. - All these causes, each added to the other,
or each limited by the other, contribute together to form a total
result, namely society. Simple or complex, stable or unstable,
barbarous or civilized, this society contains within itself its
explanations of its being. Strange as a social structure may be, it
can be explained; also its institutions, however contradictory.
Neither prosperity, nor decline, nor despotism, nor freedom, is the
result of a throw of the dice, of luck or an unexpected turn of events
caused by rash men. They are conditions we must live with. In any
event, it is useful to understand them, either to improve our
situation or bear it patiently, sometimes to carry out appropriate
reforms, sometimes to renounce impracticable reforms, now to assume
the authority necessary for success, and now the prudence making us


The transformation of psychology. - Condillac. - The theory of
sensation and of signs.

We now reach the core of moral science; the human being in
general. The natural history of the mind must be dealt with, and this
must be done as we have done the others, by discarding all prejudice
and adhering to facts, taking analogy for our guide, beginning with
origins and following, step by step, the development by which the
infant, the savage, the uncultivated primitive man, is converted into
the rational and cultivated man. Let us consider life at the outset,
the animal at the lowest degree on the scale, the human being as soon
as it is born. The first thing we find is perception, agreeable or
disagreeable, and next a want, propensity or desire, and therefore at
last, by means of a physiological mechanism, voluntary or involuntary
movements, more or less accurate and more or less appropriate and
coordinated. And this elementary fact is not merely primitive; it is,
again, constant and universal, since we encounter it at each moment of
each life, and in the most complicated as well as in the simplest. Let
us accordingly ascertain whether it is not the thread with which all
our mental cloth is woven, and whether its spontaneous unfolding, and
the knotting of mesh after mesh, is not finally to produce the entire
network of our thought and passion. - Condillac (1715-1780)provides
us here with an incomparable clarity and precision with the answers to
all our questions, which, however the revival of theological prejudice
and German metaphysics was to bring into discredit in the beginning of
the nineteenth century, but which fresh observation, the establishment
of mental pathology, and dissection have now (in 1875) brought back,
justified and completed.[23] Locke had already stated that our ideas
all originate in outward or inward experience. Condillac shows further
that the actual elements of perception, memory, idea, imagination,
judgment, reasoning, knowledge are sensations, properly so called, or
revived sensations; our loftiest ideas are derived from no other
material, for they can be reduced to signs which are themselves
sensations of a certain kind. Sensations accordingly form the
substance of human or of animal intelligence; but the former
infinitely surpasses the latter in this, that, through the creation of
signs, it succeeds in isolating, abstracting and noting fragments of
sensations, that is to say, in forming, combining and employing
general conceptions. - This being granted, we are able to verify all
our ideas, for, through reflection, we can revive and reconstruct the
ideas we had formed without any reflection. No abstract definitions
exist at the outset; abstraction is ulterior and derivative; foremost
in each science must be placed examples, experiences, evident facts;
from these we derive our general idea. In the same way we derive from
several general ideas of the same degree another general idea, and so
on successively, step by step, always proceeding according to the
natural order of things, by constant analysis, using expressive signs,
as with mathematicians in passing from calculation by the fingers to
calculation by numerals, and from this to calculation by letters, and
who, calling upon the eyes to aid Reason, depict the inward analogy of
quantities by the outward analogy of symbols. In this way science
becomes complete by means of a properly organized language.[24] -
Through this reversal of the usual method we summarily dispose of
disputes about words, escape the illusions of human speech, simplify
study, remodel education, enhance discoveries, subject every assertion
to control, and bring all truths within reach of all understandings.


The analytical method. - Its principle. - The conditions requisite
to make it productive. - These conditions wanting or inadequate in the
18th century. - The truth and survival of the principle.

Such is the course to be pursued with all the sciences, and
especially with the moral and political sciences. To consider in turn
each distinct province of human activity, to decompose the leading
notions out of which we form our conceptions, those of religion,
society and government, those of utility, wealth and exchange, those
of justice, right and duty. To revert to manifest facts, to first
experiences, to the simple circumstances in which the elements of our
ideas are included; to extricate from these the precious lode without
omission or mixture; to recompose our idea with these, to define its
meaning and determine its value; to substitute for the vague and
vulgar notion with which we started out the precise scientific
definition we arrive at, and for the impure metal we received the
refined metal we recovered, constituted the prevalent method taught by
the philosophers under the name of analysis, and which sums up the
whole progress of the century. - Up to this point, and not farther,
they are right; truth, every truth, is found in observable things, and
only from these can it be derived; there is no other pathway leading
to discovery.-The operation, undoubtedly, is productive only when the
vein is rich, and we possess the means of extracting the ore. To
obtain a just notion of government, of religion, of right, of wealth,
a man must be a historian beforehand, a jurisconsult and economist,
and have gathered up myriad of facts; and, besides all this, he must
possess a vast erudition, an experienced and professional
perspicacity. If these conditions are only partially complied with,
the result will only be a half finished product or a doubtful alloy, a
few rough drafts of the sciences, the rudiments of pedagogy as with
Rousseau, of political economy with Quesnay, Smith, and Turgot, of
linguistics with Des Brosses, and of arithmetical morals and criminal
legislation with Bentham. Finally, if none of these conditions are
complied with, the same efforts will, in the hands of philosophical
amateurs and oratorical charlatans, undoubtedly only produce
mischievous compounds and destructive explosions. - Nevertheless
good procedure remains good even when ignorant and the impetuous men
make a bad use of it; and if we of to day resume the abortive effort
of the eighteenth century, it should be within the guidelines they set



[1]. "Philosophiœ naturalis principia," 1687; "Optics," 1704.

[2] See concerning this development Comte's "Philosophie Positive,"
vol. I. - At the beginning of the eighteenth century, mathematical
instruments are carried to such perfection as to warrant the belief
that all physical phenomena may be analyzed, light, electricity,
sound, crystallization, heat, elasticity, cohesion and other effects
of molecular forces. - See "Whewell's History of the Inductive
Sciences. II., III.

[3] The travels of La Condamine in Peru and of Maupertuis in

[4] Buffon, "Théorie de la terre," 1749; "Epoques de la Nature,"
1788. - "Carte géologique de l'Auvergne," by Desmarets, 1766.

[5] See a lecture by M. Lacaze-Duthier on Lamarck, "Revue
Scientifique," III. 276-311.

[6] Buffon, "Histoire Naturelle, II. 340: "All living beings
contain a vast quantity of living and active molecules. Vegetal and
animal life seem to be only the result of the actions of all the small
lives peculiar to each of the active molecules whose life is
primitive." Cf. Diderot, "Revue d'Alembert."

[8] "Philosophie de Newton," 1738, and "Physique," by Voltaire. -
Cf. du Bois-Raymond, "Voltaire physician," (Revue des Cours
Scientifique, V. 539), and Saigey, "la Physique de Voltaire," - "Had
Voltaire," writes Lord Brougham, "continued to devote himself to
experimental physics he would undoubtedly have inscribed his name
among those of the greatest discoverers of his age."

[9] See his "Langue des Calculs," and his "Art de Raisonner."

[10] For a popular exposition of these ideas see Voltaire, passim,
and particularly the "Micromégas" and "Les Oreilles du Comte de

[11] Cf. Buffon, ibid.. I. 31: "Those who imagine a reply with
final causes do not reflect that they take the effect for the cause.
The relationship which things bear to us having no influence whatever
on their origin, moral convenience can never become a physical
explanation." - Voltaire, "Candide": "When His High Mightiness sends
a vessel to Egypt is he in any respect embarrassed about the comfort
of the mice that happen to be aboard of it?"

[12] Buffon, ibid. . "Supplement," II. 513; IV. ("Epoques de la
Nature"), 65, 167. According to his experiments with the cooling of a
cannon ball he based the following periods: From the glowing fluid
mass of the planet to the fall of rain 35,000 years. From the
beginning of life to its actual condition 40,000 years. From its
actual condition to the entire congealing of it and the extinction of
life 93,000 years. He gives these figures simply as the minima. We now
know that they are much too limited.

[13] Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, ib. I. 12: "The first truth
derived from this patient investigation of nature is, perhaps, a
humiliating truth for man, that of taking his place in the order of

[14] Voltaire, "Philosophie, Du principe d'action:" "All beings,
without exception, are subject to invariable laws."

[15] Voltaire "Essay sur les Mœurs,", chap. CXLVII., the summary;
"The intelligent reader readily perceives that he must believe only in
those great events which appear plausible, and view with pity the
fables with which fanaticism, romantic taste and credulity have at all
times filled the world."

[16] Note this expression," exegetical methods". (Chambers defines
an exegetist as one who interprets or expounds.) Taine refers to
methods which should allow the Jacobins, socialists, communists, and
other ideologists to, from an irrefutable idea or expression, to
deduct, infer, conclude and draw firm and, to them, irrefutable
conclusions. (SR.)

[17] "Traité de Metaphysique," chap. I. "Having fallen on this
little heap of mud, and with no more idea of man than man has of the
inhabitants of Mars and Jupiter, I set foot on the shore of the ocean
of the country of Caffraria and at once began to search for a man. I
encounter monkeys, elephants and Negroes, with gleams of imperfect
intelligence, etc" - The new method is here clearly apparent.

[18] "Introduction à l'Essay sur les Mœurs: Des Sauvages." -
Buffon, in "Epoques de la nature," the seventh epoch, precedes Darwin
in his ideas on the modifications of the useful species of animals.

[19] Voltaire, "Remarques de l'essay sur les Mœurs." "We may speak
of this people in connection with theology but they are not entitled
to a prominent place in history." - "Entretien entre A, B, C," the

[20] Franklin defined man as a maker of tools.

[21] Condorcet, "Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de
l'esprit humain."

[22] Montesquieu: "Esprit des Lois," preface. "I, at first,
examined men, thinking that, in this infinite diversity of laws and
customs, they were not wholly governed by their fancies. I brought
principles to bear and I found special cases yielding to them as if
naturally, the histories of all nations being simply the result of
these, each special law being connected with another law or depending
on some general law."

[23] Pinel, (1791), Esquirol (1838), on mental diseases. -
Prochaska, Legallois (1812) and then Flourens for vivisection. -
Hartley and James Mill at the end of the eighteenth century follow
Condillac on the same psychological road; all contemporary
psychologists have entered upon it. (Wundt, Helmholz, Fechner, in
Germany, Bain, Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer and Carpenter, in

[24] Condillac, passim, and especially in his last two works the
"Logique," and the "Langue des Calculs."


This grand and magnificent system of new truths resembles a tower
of which the first story, quickly finished, at once becomes accessible
to the public. The public ascends the structure and is requested by
its constructors to look about, not at the sky and at surrounding
space, but right before it, towards the ground, so that it may at last
become familiar with the country in which it lives. Certainly, the
point of view is good, and the advice is well thought-out. The
conclusion that the public will have an accurate view is not
warranted, for the state of its eyes must be examined, to ascertain
whether it is near or far-sighted, or if the retina naturally, or
through habit, is sensitive to certain colors. In the same way the
French of the eighteenth century must be considered, the structure of
their inward vision, that is to say, the fixed form of their
intelligence which they are bringing with them, unknowingly and
unwillingly, up upon their new tower.


Its signs, duration and power. - Its origin and public supporters.
- Its vocabulary, grammar and style. - Its method, merits and defects.

This fixed intelligence consists of the classic spirit, which
applied to the scientific acquisitions of the period, produces the
philosophy of the century and the doctrines of the Revolution. Various
signs denote its presence, and notably its oratorical, regular and
correct style, wholly consisting of ready-made phrases and contiguous
ideas. It lasts two centuries, from Malherbe and Balzac to Delille and
de Fontanes, and during this long period, no man of intellect, save
two or three, and then only in private memoirs, as in the case of
Saint-Simon, also in familiar letters like those of the marquis and
bailly de Mirabeau, either dares or can withdraw himself from its
empire. Far from disappearing with the ancient regime it forms the
matrix out of which every discourse and document issues, even the
phrases and vocabulary of the Revolution. Now, what is more effective
than a ready-made mold, enforced, accepted, in which by virtue of
natural tendency, of tradition and of education, everyone can enclose
their thinking? This one, accordingly, is a historic force, and of the
highest order; to understand it let us consider how it came into
being. -- It appeared together with the regular monarchy and polite
conversation, and it accompanies these, not accidentally, but
naturally and automatically. For it is product of the new society, of
the new regime and its customs: I mean of an aristocracy left idle due
the encroaching monarchy, of people well born and well educated who,
withdrawn from public activity, fall back on conversation and pass
their leisure sampling the different serious or refined pleasures of
the intellect.[1] Eventually, they have no other role nor interest
than to talk, to listen, to entertain themselves agreeably and with
ease, on all subjects, grave or gay, which may interest men or even
women of society, that's their great affair. In the seventeenth
century they are called "les honnêtes gens"[2] and from now on a
writer, even the most abstract, addresses himself to them. "A
gentleman," says Descartes, "need not have read all books nor have
studiously acquired all that is taught in the schools;" and he
entitles his last treatise, "A search for Truth according to natural
light, which alone, without aid of Religion or Philosophy, determines
the truths a gentleman should possess on all matters forming the
subjects of his thoughts."[3] In short, from one end of his philosophy
to the other, the only qualification he demands of his readers is
"natural good sense" added to the common stock of experience acquired
by contact with the world. - As these make up the audience they are
likewise the judges. "One must study the taste of the court," says
Molière,[4] "for in no place are verdicts more just . . . With simple
common sense and intercourse with people of refinement, a habit of
mind is there obtained which, without comparison, forms a more
accurate, judgment of things than the rusty attainments of the
pedants." From this time forth, it may be said that the arbiter of
truth and of taste is not, as before, an erudite Scaliger, but a man
of the world, a La Rochefoucauld, or a Tréville.[5] The pedant and,
after him, the savant, the specialist, is set aside. "True honest
people," says Nicole after Pascal, "require no sign. They need not be
divined; they join in the conversation going on as they enter the
room. They are not styled either poets or surveyors, but they are the
judges of all these."[6] In the eighteenth century they constitute the
sovereign authority. In the great crowd of blockheads sprinkled with
pedants, there is, says Voltaire, "a small group apart called good
society, which, rich, educated and polished, forms, you might say,
the flower of humanity; it is for this group that the greatest men
have labored; it is this group which accords social recognition."[7]
Admiration, favor, importance, belong not to those who are worthy of
it but to those who address themselves to this group. "In 1789," said
the Abbé Maury, "the French Academy alone enjoyed any esteem in
France, and it really bestowed a standing. That of the Sciences
signified nothing in public opinion, any more than that of
Inscriptions. . . The languages is considered a science for fools.
D'Alembert was ashamed of belonging to the Academy of Sciences. Only a
handful of people listen to a mathematician, a chemist, etc. but the
man of letters, the lecturer, has the world at his feet."[8] - Under
such a strong pressure the mind necessarily follows a literary and
verbal route in conformity with the exigencies, the proprieties, the
tastes, and the degree of attention and of instruction of its
public.[9] Hence the classic mold, - formed out of the habit of
speaking, writing and thinking for a drawing room audience.[10]

This is immediately evident in its style and language. Between
Amyot, Rabelais and Montaigne on the one hand, and Châteaubriand,
Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac on the other, classic French comes
into being and dies. From the very first it is described at the
language of "honest people." It is fashioned not merely for them, but
by them, and Vaugelas,[11] their secretary, devotes himself for thirty
years to the registry of decisions according to the usages only of
good society. Hence, throughout, both in vocabulary and in grammar,
the language is refashioned over and over again, according to the cast
of their intellects, which is the prevailing intellect. -

In the first place the vocabulary is diminished:

* Most of the words specially employed on erudite and technical
subjects, expressions that are too Greek or too Latin, terms peculiar
to the schools, to science, to occupations, to the household, are
excluded from discourse;

* those too closely denoting a particular occupation or profession
are not considered proper in general conversation.

* A vast number of picturesque and expressive words are dropped,
all that are crude, gaulois or naifs, all that are local and
provincial, or personal and made-up, all familiar and proverbial
locutions,[12] many brusque, familiar and frank turns of thought,
every haphazard, telling metaphor, almost every description of
impulsive and dexterous utterance throwing a flash of light into the
imagination and bringing into view the precise, colored and complete
form, but of which a too vivid impression would run counter to the
proprieties of polite conversation.

"One improper word," said Vaugelas, "is all that is necessary to
bring a person in society into contempt,"

and, on the eve of the Revolution, an objectionable term denounced
by Madame de Luxembourg still consigns a man to the rank of "espèces,"
because correct expression is ever an element of good manners. -
Language, through this constant scratching, is attenuated and becomes
colorless: Vaugelas estimates that one-half of the phrases and terms
employed by Amyot are set aside.[13] With the exception of La
Fontaine, an isolated and spontaneous genius, who reopens the old
sources, and La Bruyère, a bold seeker, who opens a fresh source, and
Voltaire an incarnate demon who, in his anonymous and pseudonymous
writings, gives the rein to the violent, crude expressions of his
inspiration,[14] the terms which are most appropriate fall into
desuetude. One day, Gresset, in a discourse at the Academy, dares
utter four or five of these,[15] relating, I believe, to carriages and
head-dresses, whereupon murmurs at once burst forth. During his long
retreat he had become provincial and lost the touch. - By degrees,
discourses are composed of "general expressions" only. These are even
employed, in accordance with Buffon's precept, to designate concrete
objects. They are more in conformity with the polished courtesy which
smoothes over, appeases, and avoids rough or familiar expressions, to
which some views appear gross or rude unless partly hidden by a veil.
This makes it easier for the superficial listener; prevailing terms
alone will immediately arouse current and common ideas; they are
intelligible to every man from the single fact that he belongs to the
drawing-room; special terms, on the contrary, demand an effort of the
memory or of the imagination. Suppose that, in relation to Franks or
to savages, I should mention "a battle-ax," which would be at once
understood; should I mention a "tomahawk," or a "francisque,"[16] many
would imagine that I was speaking Teuton or Iroquois.[17] In this
respect the more fashionable and refined the style, the more
punctilious the effort. Every appropriate term is banished from
poetry; if one happens to enter the mind it must be evaded or replaced
by a paraphrase. An eighteenth century poet can hardly permit himself
to employ more than one-third of the dictionary, poetic language at
last becomes so restricted as to compel a man with anything to say not
to express himself in verse.[18]

On the other hand the more you prune the more you thin out. Reduced
to a select vocabulary the Frenchman deals with fewer subjects, but he
describes them more agreeably and more clearly. "Courtesy, accuracy",
(Urbanité, exactitude!), these two words, born at the same time with
the French Academy, describes in a nutshell the reform of which it is
the tool, and which the drawing-room, by it, and alongside of it,
imposes on the public. Grand seigniors in retirement, and unoccupied
fine ladies, enjoy the examination of the subtleties of words for the
purpose of composing maxims, definitions and characters. With
admirable scrupulousness and infinitely delicate tact, writers and
people society apply themselves to weighing each word and each phrase
in order to fix its sense, to measure its force and bearing, to
determine its affinities, use and connections This work of precision
is carried on from the earliest academicians, Vaugelas, Chapelain and
Conrart, to the end of the classic epoch, in the Synonymes by Bauzée
and by Girard, in the Remarque by Duclos, in the Commentaire by
Voltaire on Corneille, in the Lycée by la Harpe,[19] in the efforts,
the example, the practice and the authority of the great and the
inferior writers of which all are correct. Never did architects,
obliged to use ordinary broken highway stones in building, better
understand each piece, its dimensions, its shape, its resistance, its
possible connections and suitable position. - Once this was learned,
the task was to construct with the least trouble and with the utmost
solidity; the grammar was consequently changed at the same time and in
the same way as the dictionary. Hence no longer permitting the words
to reflect the way impressions and emotions were felt; they now
had to be regularly and rigorously assigned according to the
invariable hierarchy of concepts. The writer may no longer begin his
text with the leading figure or the main purpose of his story; the
setting is given and the places assigned beforehand. Each part of the
discourse has its own place; no omission or transposition is
permitted, as was done in the sixteenth century[20]. All parts must be
included, each in its definite place: at first the subject of the
sentence with its appendices, then the verb, then the object direct,
and, finally, the indirect connections. In this way the sentence forms
a graduated scaffolding, the substance coming foremost, then the
quality, then the modes and varieties of the quality, just as a good
architect in the first place poses his foundation, then the building,
then the accessories, economically and prudently, with a view to adapt
each section of the edifice to the support of the section following
after it. No sentence demands any less attention than another, nor is
there any in which one may not at every step verify the connection or
incoherence of the parts.[21] - The procedure used in arranging a
simple sentence also governs that of the period, the paragraph and the
series of paragraphs; it forms the style as it forms the syntax. Each
small edifice occupies a distinct position, and but one, in the great
total edifice. As the discourse advances, each section must in turn
file in, never before, never after, no parasitic member being allowed
to intrude, and no regular member being allowed to encroach on its
neighbor, while all these members bound together by their very
positions must move onward, combining all their forces on one single
point. Finally, we have for the first time in a writing, natural and
distinct groups, complete and compact harmonies, none of which
infringe on the others or allow others to infringe on them. It is no
longer allowable to write haphazard, according to the caprice of one's
inspiration, to discharge one's ideas in bulk, to let oneself be
interrupted by parentheses, to string along interminable rows of
citations and enumerations. An end is proposed; some truth is to be
demonstrated, some definition to be ascertained, some conviction to be
brought about; to do this we must march, and ever directly onward.
Order, sequence, progress, proper transitions, constant development
constitute the characteristics of this style. To such an extent is
this pushed, that from the very first, personal correspondence,
romances, humorous pieces, and all ironical and gallant effusions,
consist of morsels of systematic eloquence.[22] At the Hôtel
Rambouillet, the explanatory period is displayed with as much fullness
and as rigorously as with Descartes himself. One of the words most
frequently occurring with Mme. de Scudéry is the conjunction for (in
French car). Passion is worked out through close-knit arguments.
Drawing room compliments stretch along in sentences as finished as
those of an academical dissertation. Scarcely completed, the
instrument already discloses its aptitudes. We are aware of its being
made to explain, to demonstrate, to persuade and to popularize.
Condillac, a century later, is justified in saying that it is in
itself a systematic means of decomposition and of recomposition, a
scientific method analogous to arithmetic and algebra. At the very
least it possesses the incontestable advantage of starting with a few
ordinary terms, and of leading the reader along with facility and
promptness, by a series of simple combinations, up to the
loftiest.[23] By virtue of this, in 1789, the French tongue ranks
above every other. The Berlin Academy promises a prize to for anyone
who best can explain its pre-eminence. It is spoken throughout Europe.
No other language is used in diplomacy. As formerly with Latin, it is
international, and appears that, from now on, it is to be the
preferred tool whenever men are to reason.

It is the organ only of a certain kind of reasoning, la raison
raisonnante, that requiring the least preparation for thought, giving
itself as little trouble as possible, content with its acquisitions,
taking no pains to increase or renew them, incapable of, or unwilling
to embrace the plenitude and complexity of the facts of real life. In
its purism, in its disdain of terms suited to the occasion, in its
avoidance of lively sallies, in the extreme regularity of its
developments, the classic style is powerless to fully portray or to
record the infinite and varied details of experience. It rejects any
description of the outward appearance of reality, the immediate
impressions of the eyewitness, the heights and depths of passion, the
physiognomy, at once so composite yet absolute personal, of the
breathing individual, in short, that unique harmony of countless
traits, blended together and animated, which compose not human
character in general but one particular personality, and which a
Saint-Simon, a Balzac, or a Shakespeare himself could not render if
the rich language they used, and which was enhanced by their
temerities, did not contribute its subtleties to the multiplied
details of their observation.[24] Neither the Bible, nor Homer, nor
Dante, nor Shakespeare[25] could be translated with this style. Read
Hamlet's monologue in Voltaire and see what remains of it, an abstract
piece of declamation, with about as much of the original in it as
there is of Othello in his Orosmane. Look at Homer and then at Fenelon
in the island of Calypso; the wild, rocky island, where "gulls and
other sea-birds with long wings," build their nests, becomes in pure
French prose an orderly park arranged "for the pleasure of the eye."
In the eighteenth century, contemporary novelists, themselves
belonging to the classic epoch, Fielding, Swift, Defoe, Sterne and
Richardson, are admitted into France only after excisions and much
weakening; their expressions are too free and their scenes are to
impressive; their freedom, their coarseness, their peculiarities,
would form blemishes; the translator abbreviates, softens, and
sometimes, in his preface, apologizes for what he retains. Room is
found, in this language, only for a partial lifelikeness, for some of
the truth, a scanty portion, and which constant refining daily renders
still more scanty. Considered in itself, the classic style is always
tempted to accept slight, insubstantial commonplaces for its subject
materials. It spins them out, mingles and weaves them together; only a
fragile filigree, however, issues from its logical apparatus; we may
admire the elegant workmanship; but in practice, the work is of
little, none, or negative service.

From these characteristics of style we divine those of the mind for
which it serves as a tool. - Two principal operations constitute the
activity of the human understanding. -- Observing things and events, it
receives a more or less complete, profound and exact impression of
these; and after this, turning away from them, it analyses its
impressions, and classifies, distributes, and more or less skillfully
expresses the ideas derived from them. - In the second of these
operations the classicist is superior. Obliged to adapt himself to his
audience, that is to say, to people of society who are not
specialists and yet critical, he necessarily carries to perfection the
art of exciting attention and of making himself heard; that is to say,
the art of composition and of writing. - With patient industry, and
multiplied precautions, he carries the reader along with him by a
series of easy rectilinear conceptions, step by step, omitting none,
beginning with the lowest and thus ascending to the highest, always
progressing with steady and measured peace, securely and agreeably as
on a promenade. No interruption or diversion is possible: on either
side, along the road, balustrades keep him within bounds, each idea
extending into the following one by such an insensible transition,
that he involuntarily advances, without stopping or turning aside,
until brought to the final truth where he is to be seated. Classic
literature throughout bears the imprint of this talent; there is no
branch of it into which the qualities of a good discourse do not enter
and form a part. - They dominate those sort of works which, in
themselves, are only half-literary, but which, by its help, become
fully so, transforming manuscripts into fine works of art which their
subject-matter would have classified as scientific works, as reports
of action, as historical documents, as philosophical treatises, as
doctrinal expositions, as sermons, polemics, dissertations and
demonstrations. It transforms even dictionaries and operates from
Descartes to Condillac, from Bossuet to Buffon and Voltaire, from
Pascal to Rousseau and Beaumarchais, in short, becoming prose almost
entirely, even in official dispatches, diplomatic and private
correspondence, from Madame de Sévigné to Madame du Deffant; including
so many perfect letters flowing from the pens of women who were
unaware of it . - Such prose is paramount in those works which, in
themselves, are literary, but which derive from it an oratorical turn.
Not only does it impose a rigid plan, a regular distribution of
parts[26] in dramatic works, accurate proportions, suppressions and
connections, a sequence and progress, as in a passage of eloquence,
but again it tolerates only the most perfect discourse. There is no
character that is not an accomplished orator; with Corneille and
Racine, with Molière himself, the confidant, the barbarian king, the
young cavalier, the drawing room coquette, the valet, all show
themselves adepts in the use of language. Never have we encountered
such adroit introductions, such well-arranged evidence, such just
reflections, such delicate transitions, such conclusive summing ups.
Never have dialogues borne such a strong resemblance to verbal
sparring matches. Each narration, each portrait, each detail of
action, might be detached and serve as a good example for schoolboys,
along with the masterpieces of the ancient tribune. So strong is this
tendency that, on the approach of the final moment, in the agony of
death, alone and without witnesses, the character finds the means to
plead his own frenzy and die eloquently.


Its original deficiency. - Signs of this in the 17th century. - It
grows with time and success. - Proofs of this growth in the 18th
century. - Serious poetry, the drama, history and romances. - Short-
sighted views of man and of human existence.

This excess indicates a deficiency. In the two operations which the
human mind performs, the classicist is more successful in the second
than in the first. The second, indeed, stands in the way of the first,
the obligation of always speaking correctly makes him refrain from
saying all that ought to be said. With him the form is more important
than abundant contents, the firsthand observations which serve as a
living source losing, in the regulated channels to which they are
confined, their force, depth and impetuosity. Real poetry, able to
convey dream and illusion, cannot be brought forth. Lyric poetry
proves abortive, and likewise the epic poem.[27] Nothing sprouts on
these distant fields, remote and sublime, where speech unites with
music and painting. Never do we hear the involuntary scream of intense
torment, the lonely confession of a distraught soul,[28] pouring out
his heart to relieve himself. When a creation of characters is
imperative, as in dramatic poetry, the classic mold fashions but one
kind, that which through education, birth, or impersonation, always
speak correctly, in other words, like so many people of high society.
No others are portrayed on the stage or elsewhere, from Corneille and
Racine to Marivaux and Beaumarchais. So strong is the habit that it
imposes itself even on La Fontaine's animals, on the servants of
Molière, on Montesquieu's Persians, and on the Babylonians, the
Indians and the Micromégas of Voltaire. - It must be stated,
furthermore, that these characters are only partly real. In real
persons two kinds of characteristics may be noted; the first, few in
number, which he or she shares with others of their kind and which any
reader readily may identify; and the other kind, of which there are a
great many, describing only one particular person and these are much
more difficult to discover. Classic art concerns itself only with the
former; it purposely effaces, neglects or subordinates the latter. It
does not build individual persons but generalized characters, a king,
a queen, a young prince, a confidant, a high-priest, a captain of the
guards, seized by some passion, habit or inclination, such as love,
ambition, fidelity or perfidy, a despotic or a yielding temper, some
species of wickedness or of native goodness. As to the circumstances
of time and place, which, amongst others, exercise a most powerful
influence in shaping and diversifying man, it hardly notes them, even
setting them aside. In a tragedy the scene is set everywhere and any
time, the contrary, that the action takes place nowhere in no specific
epoch, is equally valid. It may take place in any palace or in any
temple,[29] in which, to get rid of all historic or personal impressions,
habits and costumes are introduced conventionally, being neither French
nor foreign, nor ancient, nor modern. In this abstract world the
address is always "you"(as opposed to the familiar thou),[30]
"Seigneur" and "Madame," the noble style always clothing the most
different characters in the same dress. When Corneille and Racine,
through the stateliness and elegance of their verse, afford us a
glimpse of contemporary figures they do it unconsciously, imagining
that they are portraying man in himself; and, if we of the present
time recognize in their pieces either the gentleman, the duelists, the
bullies, the politicians or the heroines of the Fronde, or the
courtiers, princes and bishops, the ladies and gentlemen in waiting of
the regular monarchy, it is because they have inadvertently dipped
their brush in their own experience, some of its color having fallen
accidentally on the bare ideal outline which they wished to trace. We
have simply a contour, a general sketch, filled up with the harmonious
gray tone of correct diction. - Even in comedy, necessarily employing
current habits, even with Molière, so frank and so bold, the model is
unfinished, all individual peculiarities being suppressed, the face
becoming for a moment a theatrical mask, and the personage, especially
when talking in verse, sometimes losing its animation in becoming the
mouth-piece for a monologue or a dissertation.[31] The stamp of rank,
condition or fortune, whether gentleman or bourgeois, provincial or
Parisian, is frequently overlooked.[32] We are rarely made to
appreciate physical externals, as in Shakespeare, the temperament, the
state of the nervous system, the bluff or drawling tone, the impulsive
or restrained action, the emaciation or obesity of a character.[33]
Frequently no trouble is taken to find a suitable name, this being
either Chrysale, Orgon, Damis, Dorante, or Valère. The name designates
only a simple quality, that of a father, a youth, a valet, a grumbler,
a gallant, and, like an ordinary cloak, fitting indifferently all
forms alike, as it passes from the wardrobe of Molière to that of
Regnard, Destouche, Lesage or Marivaux.[34] The character lacks the
personal badge, the unique, authentic appellation serving as the
primary stamp of an individual. All these details and circumstances,
all these aids and accompaniments of a man, remain outside of the
classic theory. To secure the admission of some of them required the
genius of Molière, the fullness of his conception, the wealth of his
observation, the extreme freedom of his pen. It is equally true again
that he often omits them, and that, in other cases, he introduces only
a small number of them, because he avoids giving to these general
characters a richness and complexity that might interfere with the
story. The simpler the theme the clearer its development, the first
duty of the author throughout this literature being to clearly develop
the restricted theme of which he makes a selection.

There is, accordingly, a radical defect in the classic spirit, the
defect of its qualities, and which, at first kept within proper
bounds, contributes towards the production of its purest master-
pieces, but which, in accordance with the universal law, goes on
increasing and turns into a vice through the natural effect of age,
use, and success. Contracted at the start, it is to become yet more
so. In the eighteenth century the description of real life, of a
specific person, just as he is in nature and in history, that is to
say, an undefined unit, a rich plexus, a complete organism of
peculiarities and traits, superposed, entangled and co-ordinated, is
improper. The capacity to receive and contain all these is wanting.
Whatever can be discarded is cast aside, and to such an extent that
nothing is left at last but a condensed extract, an evaporated
residuum, an almost empty name, in short, what is called a hollow
abstraction. The only characters in the eighteenth century exhibiting
any life are the off-hand sketches, made in passing and as if
contraband, by Voltaire, Baron de Thundertentronk and Milord Watthen,
the lesser figures in his stories, and five or six portraits of
secondary rank, Turcaret, Gil Blas, Marianne, Manon Lescaut, Rameau,
and Figaro, two or three of the rough sketches of Crébillon the
younger and of Collé, all so many works in which sap flows through a
familiar knowledge of things, comparable with those of the minor
masters in painting, Watteau, Fragonard, Saint-Aubin, Moreau, Lancret,
Pater, and Beaudouin, and which, accepted with difficulty, or as a
surprise, by the official drawing room are still to subsist after the
grander and soberer canvases shall have become moldy through their
wearisome exhalations. Everywhere else the sap dries up, and, instead
of blooming plants, we encounter only flowers of painted paper. What
are all the serious poems, from the "la Henriade" of Voltaire to the
"Mois" by Roucher or the "l'Imagination" by Delille, but so many
pieces of rhetoric garnished with rhymes? Examine the innumerable
tragedies and comedies of which Grimm and Collé gives us mortuary
extracts, even the meritorious works of Voltaire and Crébillon, and
later, those of authors of repute, Du Belloy, Laharpe, Ducis, and
Marie Chénier? Eloquence, art, situations, correct verse, all exist in
these except human nature; the personages are simply well-taught
puppets, and generally mere mouthpieces by which the author makes his
declamation public; Greeks, Romans, Medieval knights, Turks, Arabs,
Peruvians, Giaours, or Byzantines, they have all the same declamatory
mechanisms. The public, meanwhile, betrays no surprise. It is not
aware of history. It assumes that humanity is everywhere the same. It
establishes the success alike of the "Incas" by Marmontel, and of
"Gonsalve" and the "Nouvelles" by Florian; also of the peasants,
mechanics, Negroes, Brazilians, Parsees, and Malabarites that appear
before it churning out their exaggerations. Man is simply regarded as
a reasoning being, alike in all ages and alike in all places;
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre endows his pariah with this habit, like
Diderot, in his Tahitians. The one recognized principle is that every
human being must think and talk like a book. - And how inadequate
their historical background! With the exception of "Charles XII.," a
contemporary on whom Voltaire, thanks to eye eye-witnesses, bestows
fresh life, also his spirited sketches of Englishmen, Frenchmen,
Spaniards, Italians and Germans, scattered through his stories, where
are real persons to be found? With Hume, Gibbon and Robertson,
belonging to the French school, and who are at once adopted in France,
in the researches into our middle ages of Dubos and of Mably, in the
"Louis XI" of Duclos, in the "Anarcharsis" of Barthélemy, even in the
"Essai sur les Moeurs," and in the "Siecle de Louis XIV" of Voltaire,
even in the "Grandeur des Romains," and the "Esprit des Lois" of
Montesquieu, what peculiar deficiency! Erudition, criticism, common
sense, an almost exact exposition of dogmas and of institutions,
philosophic views of the relationships between events and on the
general run of these, nothing is lacking but the people! On reading
these it seems as if the climates, institutions and civilizations
which so completely modifies the human intellect, are simply so many
outworks, so many fortuitous exteriors, which, far from reflecting its
depths scarcely penetrate beneath its surface. The vast differences
separating the men of two centuries, or of two peoples, escape them
entirely.[35] The ancient Greek, the early Christian, the conquering
Teuton, the feudal man, the Arab of Mahomet, the German, the
Renaissance Englishman, the puritan, appear in their books as in
engravings and frontispieces, with some difference in costume, but the
same bodies, the same faces, the same countenances, toned down,
obliterated, proper, adapted to the conventionalities of good manners.
That sympathetic imagination by which the writer enters into the mind
of another, and reproduces in himself a system of habits and feelings
so different from his own, is the talent the most absent in the
eighteenth century. With the exception of Diderot, who uses it badly
and capriciously, it almost entirely disappears in the last half of
the century. Consider in turn, during the same period, in France and
in England, where it is most extensively used, the romance, a sort of
mirror everywhere transportable, the best adapted to reflect all
phrases of nature and of life. After reading the series of English
novelists, Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, Sterne, and
Goldsmith down to Miss Burney and Miss Austen, I have become familiar
with England in the eighteenth century; I have encountered clergymen,
country gentlemen, farmers, innkeepers, sailors, people of every
condition in life, high and low; I know the details of fortunes and of
careers, how much is earned, how much is expended, how journeys are
made and how people eat and drink: I have accumulated for myself a
file of precise biographical events, a complete picture in a thousand
scenes of an entire community, the amplest stock of information to
guide me should I wish to frame a history of this vanished world. On
reading a corresponding list of French novelists, the younger
Crébillon, Rousseau, Marmontel, Laclos, Restif de la Breton, Louvet,
Madame de Staël, Madame de Genlis and the rest, including Mercier and
even Mme. Cottin, I scarcely take any notes; all precise and
instructive little facts are left out; I find civilities, polite acts,
gallantries, mischief-making, social dissertations and nothing else.
They carefully abstain from mentioning money, from giving me figures,
from describing a wedding, a trial, the administration of a piece of
property; I am ignorant of the situation of a curate, of a rustic
noble, of a resident prior, of a steward, of an intendant. Whatever
relates to a province or to the rural districts, to the bourgeoisie or
to the shop,[36] to the army or to a soldier, to the clergy or to
convents, to justice or to the police, to business or to housekeeping
remains vaguely in my mind or is falsified; to clear up any point I am
obliged to recur to that marvelous Voltaire who, on laying aside the
great classic coat, finds plenty of elbow room and tells all. On the
organs of society of vital importance, on the practices and
regulations that provoke revolutions, on feudal rights and seigniorial
justice, on the mode of recruiting and governing monastic bodies, on
the revenue measures of the provinces, of corporations and of trade-
unions, on the tithes and the corvées,[37] literature provides me with
scarcely any information. Drawing-rooms and men of letters are
apparently its sole material. The rest is null and void. Outside the
good society that is able to converse France appears perfectly empty.
- On the approach of the Revolution the elimination increases. Look
through the harangues of the clubs and of the tribune, through
reports, legislative bills and pamphlets, and through the mass of
writings prompted by passing and exciting events; in none of them do
we see any sign of the human creature as we see him in the fields and
in the street; he is always regarded as a simple robot, a well known
mechanism. Among writers he was a moment ago a dispenser of
commonplaces, among politicians he is now a pliable voter ; touch him
in the proper place and he responds in the desired manner. Facts are
never apparent; only abstractions, long arrays of sentences on nature,
Reason, and the people, on tyrants and liberty, like inflated
balloons, uselessly conflicting with each other in space. Were we not
aware that all this would terminate in terrible practical effects then
we could regard it as competition in logic, as school exercises,
academic parades, or ideological compositions. It is, in fact,
Ideology, the last product of the century, which will stamp the
classic spirit with its final formula and last word.


The philosophic method in conformity with the Classic Sprit. -
Ideology. - Abuse of the mathematical process. - Condillac, Rousseau,
Mably, Condorcet, Volney, Sieyès, Cabanis, and de Tracy. - Excesses of
simplification and boldness of organization.

The natural process of the classic spirit is to pursue in every
research, with the utmost confidence, without either reserve or
precaution, the mathematical method: to derive, limit and isolate a
few of the simplest generalized notions and then, setting experience
aside, comparing them, combining them, and, from the artificial
compound thus obtained, by pure reasoning, deduce all the consequences
they involve. It is so deeply implanted as to be equally encountered
in both centuries, as well with Descartes, Malebranche[38] and the
partisans of innate ideas as with the partisans of sensation, of
physical needs and of primary instinct, Condillac, Rousseau,
Helvétius, and later, Condorcet, Volney, Sieyès, Cabanis and Destutt
de Tracy. In vain do the latter assert that they are the followers of
Bacon and reject (the theory of) innate ideas; with another starting
point than the Cartesians they pursue the same path, and, as with the
Cartesians, after borrowing a little, they leave experience behind
them. In this vast moral and social world, they only remove the
superficial bark from the human tree with its innumerable roots and
branches; they are unable to penetrate to or grasp at anything beyond
it; their hands cannot contain more. They have no suspicion of
anything outside of it; the classic spirit, with limited
comprehension, is not far-reaching. To them the bark is the entire
tree, and, the operation once completed, they retire, bearing along
with them the dry, dead epidermis, never returning to the trunk
itself. Through intellectual incapacity and literary pride they omit
the characteristic detail, the animating fact, the specific
circumstance, the significant, convincing and complete example.
Scarcely one of these is found in the "Logique" and in the "Traité des
Sensations" by Condillac, in the "Idéologie" by Destutt de Tracy, or
in the "Rapports du Physique et du Morale" by Cabanis.[39] Never, with
them, are we on the solid and visible ground of personal observation
and narration, but always in the air, in the empty space of pure
generalities. Condillac declares that the arithmetical method is
adapted to psychology and that the elements of our ideas can be
defined by a process analogous "to the rule of three." Sieyès holds
history in profound contempt, and believes that he had "perfected the
science of politics"[40] at one stroke, through an effort of the
brain, in the style of Descartes, who thus discovers analytic
geometry. Destutt de Tracy, in undertaking to comment on Montesquieu,
finds that the great historian has too servilely confined himself to
history, and attempts to do the work over again by organizing society
as it should be, instead of studying society as it is. - Never were
such systematic and superficial institutions built up with such a
moderate extract of human nature.[41] Condillac, employing sensation,
animates a statue, and then, by a process of pure reasoning, following
up its effects, as he supposes, on smell, taste, hearing, sight and
touch, fashions a complete human soul. Rousseau, by means of a
contract, founds political association, and, with this given idea,
pulls down the constitution, government and laws of every balanced
social system. In a book which serves as the philosophical testament
of the century,[42] Condorcet declares that this method is the "final
step of philosophy, that which places a sort of eternal barrier
between humanity and its ancient infantile errors." "By applying it
to morals, politics and political economy the moral sciences have
progressed nearly as much as the natural sciences. With its help we
have been able to discover the rights of man." As in mathematics, they
have been deduced from one primordial statement only, which statement,
similar to a first principle in mathematics, becomes a fact of daily
experience, seen by all and therefore self-evident. - This school of
thought is to endure throughout the Revolution, the Empire and even
into the Restoration,[43] together with the tragedy of which it is the
sister, with the classic spirit their common parent, a primordial,
sovereign power, as dangerous as it is useful, as destructive as it is
creative, as capable of propagating error as truth, as astonishing in
the rigidity of its code, the narrow-mindedness of its yoke and in the
uniformity of its works as in the duration of its reign and the
universality of its ascendancy.[44]



[1] Voltaire, "Dict. Phil.," see the articles on Language. "Of all
the languages in Europe the French is most generally used because it
is the best adapted to conversation. Its character is derived from
that of the people who speak it. For more than a hundred and fifty
years past, the French have been the most familiar with (good) society
and the first to avoid all embarrassment . . . It is a better currency
than any other, even if it should lack weight."

[2] HIST: honnête homme means gentleman. (SR.)

[3] Descartes, ed. Cousin, XI. 333, I. 121, . . . Descartes
depreciates "simple knowledge acquired without the aid of reflection,
such as languages, history, geography, and, generally, whatever is not
based on experience. . . . It is no more the duty of an honest man to
know Greek or Latin than to know the Swiss or Breton languages, nor
the history of the Romano-Germanic empire any more than of the
smallest country in Europe."

[4] Molière, "Les Femmes Savantes," and "La Critique de l'école des
femmes." The parts of Dorante with Lycidas and of Clitandre with

[5] The learned Huet, (1630-1721), true to the taste of the sixteenth
century, describes this change very well from his point of view. "When
I entered the world of letters these were still flourishing; great
reputations maintained their supremacy. I have seen letters decline
and finally reach an almost entire decay. For I scarcely know a person
of the present time that one can truly call a savant." The few
Benedictines like Ducange and Mabillon, and later, the academician
Fréret, the president Bouhier of Dijon, in short, the veritable
erudites exercise no influence.

[6] Nicole, "Oeuvres morales," in the second essay on Charity and
Self-love, 142.

[7] Voltaire, "Dialogues," "L'intendant des menus et l'abbé Grizel,"

[8] Maury adds with his accustomed coarseness, "We, in the French
Academy, looked upon the members of the Academy of Sciences as our
valets." - These valets at that time consisted of Lavoisier,
Fourcroy, Lagrange, Laplace, etc. (A narrative by Joseph de Maistre,
quote by Sainte-Beuve, "Causeries du lundi," IV. 283.)

[9] This description makes me think of the contemporary attitudes
pejoratively called "politically correctness." Thus the drawings-room
audience of the 18th century have today been replaced by the
"political correct" elite holding sway in teacher training schools,
schools of journalism, the media and hence among the television
public. The same mechanism which moved the upper class in the 18th
century moves it in the 20th century.. (S.R.)

[10] Today in 1999 we may speak of the TV mold forced by the measured
popularity or "ratings"of the programs. (SR.

[11] Vaugelas, "Remarques sur la langue française:" "It is the mode
of speech of the most sensible portion of the court, as well as the
mode of writing of the most sensible authors of the day. It is better
to consult women and those who have not studied than those who are
very learned in Greek and in Latin."

[12] One of the causes of the fall and discredit of the Marquis
d'Argenson in the eighteenth century, was his habit of using these.

[13] Vaugelas, ibid.. "Although we may have eliminated one-half of
his phrases and terms we nevertheless obtain in the other half all the
riches of which we boast and of which we make a display." - Compare
together a lexicon of two or three writers of the sixteenth century
and one of two or three writers of the seventeenth. A brief statement
of the results of the comparison is here given. Let any one, with pen
in hand, note the differences on a hundred pages of any of these
texts, and he will be surprised at it. Take, for examples, two writers
of the same category, and of secondary grade, Charron and Nicole.

[14] For instance, in the article "Ignorance," in the "Dict.

[15] La Harpe, "Cours de Littérature," ed. Didot. II. 142.

[16] A battle-axe used by the Franks. - TR.

[17] I cite an example haphazard from the "Optimiste" (1788), by
Colin d'Harleville. In a certain description, "The scene represents a
bosquet filled with odoriferous trees." - The classic spirit rebels
against stating the species of tree, whether lilacs, lindens or
hawthorns. - In paintings of landscapes of this era we have the same
thing, the trees being generalized, - of no known species.

[18] This evolution is seen today as well, television having the same
effect upon its actors as the 18th century drawing-room. (SR.)

[19] See in the "Lycée," by la Harpe, after the analysis of each
piece, his remarks on detail in style.

[20] The omission of the pronouns, I, he, we, you, they, the article
the, and of the verb, especially the verb to be.-- Any page of
Rabelais, Amyot or Montaigne, suffices to show how numerous and
various were the transpositions.

[21] Vaugelas, ibid . "No language is more inimical to ambiguities
and every species of obscurity."

[22] See the principal romances of the seventeenth century, the
"Roman Bourgeois," by Furetière, the "Princess de Clèves," by Madame
de Lafayette, the "Clélie," by Mme. de Scudéry, and even Scarron's
"Roman Comique." - See Balzac's letters , and those of Voiture and
their correspondents, the "Récit des grands jours d'Auvergne," by
Fléchier, etc. On the oratorical peculiarities of this style cf.
Sainte-Beuve, "Port-Royal," 2nd ed. I. 515.

[23] Voltaire, 'Esay sur le poème épique', "Our nation, regarded by
strangers as superficial is, with the pen in its hand, the wisest of
all. Method is the dominant quality of all our writers."

[24] Milton's works are built up with 8,000. "Shakespeare, who
displayed a greater variety of expression than probably any writer in
any language, produced all his plays with about 15,000 words and the
Old Testament says all it has to say with 5,642 words." (Max Müller,
"Lectures on the Science of language," I. 309.) - It would be
interesting to place alongside of this Racine's restricted vocabulary.
That of Mme. de Scudery is extremely limited. In the best romance of
the XVIIth century, the "Princesse de Clèves," the number of words is
reduced to the minimum. The Dictionary of the old French Academy
contains 29,712 words; the Greek Thesaurus, by H. Estienne, contains
about 150,000.

[25] Compare together the translations of the Bible made by de Sacy
and Luther; those of Homer by Dacier, Bitaubé and Lecomte de Lisle;
those of Herodotus, by Larcher and Courrier, the popular tales of
Perrault and those by Grimm, etc.

[26] See the "Discours académique," by Racine, on the reception of
Thomas Corneille: "In this chaos of dramatic poetry your illustrious
brother brought Reason on the stage, but Reason associated with all
the pomp and the ornamentation our language is capable of."

[27] Voltaire, "Essay sur le poème épique," 290. "It must be admitted
that a Frenchman has more difficulty in writing an epic poem than
anybody else. . . . Dare I confess it? Our own is the least poetic of
all polished nations. The works in verse the most highly esteemed in
France are those of the drama, which must be written in a familiar
style approaching conversation."

[28] Except in "Pensées," by Pascal, a few notes dotted down by a
morbidly exalted Christian, and which certainly, in the perfect work,
would not have been allowed to remain as they are.

[29] See in the Cabinet of Engravings the theatrical costumes of the
middle of the XVIIIth century. - Nothing could be more opposed to the
spirit of the classic drama than the parts of Esther and Brittannicus,
as they are played nowadays, in the accurate costumes and with scenery
derived from late discoveries at Pompeii or Nineveh.

[30] The formality which this indicates will be understood by those
familiar with the use of the pronoun thou in France, denoting intimacy
and freedom from restraint in contrast with ceremonious and formal
intercourse. - Tr.

[31] See the parts of the moralizers and reasoners like Cléante in
"Tartuffe," Ariste in "Les Femmes Savantes," Chrysale in "L'Ecole des
Femmes," etc. See the discussion between the two brothers in "Le
Festin de Pierre," III. 5; the discourse of Ergaste in "L'Ecole des
Maris"; that of Eliante, imitated from Lucretius in the "Misanthrope,"
II. 5; the portraiture, by Dorine in "Tartuffe," I. 1. - The portrait
of the hypocrite, by Don Juan in "Le Festin de Pierre," V. 2.

[32] For instance the parts of Harpagon and Arnolphe.

[33] We see this in Tartuffe, but only through an expression of
Dorine, and not directly. Cf. in Shakespeare, the parts of Coriolanus,
Hotspur, Falstaff, Othello, Cleopatra, etc.

[34] Balzac passed entire days in reading the "Almanach des cent
mille adresses," also in a cab in the streets during the afternoons,
examining signs for the purpose of finding suitable names for his
characters. This little circumstance shows the difference between two
diverse conceptions of mankind.

[35] "At the present day, whatever may be said, there is no such
thing as Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, and Englishmen, for all are
Europeans. All have the same tastes, the same passions, the same
habits, none having obtained a national form through any specific
institution." Rousseau, "Sur le gouvernement de Pologne," 170.

[36] Previous to 1750 we find something about these in "Gil-Blas,"
and in "Marianne," (Mme. Dufour the sempstress and her shop). -
Unfortunately the Spanish travesty prevents the novels of Lesage from
being as instructive as they might be.

[37] Interesting details are found in the little stories by Diderot
as, for instance, "Les deux amis de Bourbonne." But elsewhere he is a
partisan, especially in the "Religieuse," and conveys a false
impression of things.

[38] "To attain to the truth we have only to fix our attention on the
ideas which each one finds within his own mind." (Malebranche,
"Recherche de la Vérité," book I. ch. 1.) - "Those long chains of
reasoning, all simple and easy, which geometers use to arrive at their
most difficult demonstrations, suggested to me that all things which
come within human knowledge must follow each other in a similar
chain." (Descartes, "Discours de la Methode," I. 142). - In the
seventeenth century In the 17th century constructions a priori were
based on ideas, in the 18th century on sensations, but always
following the same mathematical method fully displayed in the "Ethics"
of Spinoza.

[39] See especially his memoir: "De l'influence du climat sur les
habitudes morales," vague, and wholly barren of illustrations
excepting one citation from Hippocrates.

[40] These are Sieyès own words. - He adds elsewhere, "There is no
more reality in assumed historical truths than in assumed religious
truths." ("Papiers de Sieyès," the year 1772, according to Sainte-
Beuve, "Causeries du lundi," V. 194). - Descartes and Malebranche
already expressed this contempt for history.

[41] Today, in 1998, we know that Taine was right. The research on
animal and human behavior, on animal and human brain circuitry, and
the behavior of the cruel human animal during the 20th century,
confirmed his views. Still mankind persists in preferring simple
solutions and ideas to complex ones. This is the way our brains and
our nature as gregarious animals make us think and feel. This our
basic human nature make ambitious men able to appeal to and dominate
the crowd. (SR.)

[42] Condorcet, "Esquisse d'un tableau historique de l'esprit
humain," ninth epoch.

[43] See the "Tableau historique," presented to the Institute by
Chénier in 1808, showing by its statements that the classic spirit
still prevails in all branches of literature. - Cabanis died in 1818,
Volney in 1820, de Tracy and Sieyès in 1836, Daunou in 1840. In May,
1845, Saphary and Valette are still professors of Condillac's
philosophy in the two lycées in Paris.

[44] The world did not heed Taine's warnings. The leaders and the
masses of the Western world were to be seduced by the terrible new
ideologies of the 20th century. The ideology of socialism persists
making good use of the revised 20th century editions of the Rights
of Man, enlarged to cover the physical well-being and standard of
living of man, woman, child and animal and in this manner allowing
the state to replace all individual responsibility and authority,
thus, as Taine saw, dealing a death blow to the family, to
individual responsibility and enterprise and to effective local
government. (SR.).



The doctrine, its pretensions, and its character. - A new authority
for Reason in the regulation of human affairs. - Government thus far

OUT of the scientific acquisitions thus set forth, elaborated by
the spirit we have just described, is born a doctrine, seemingly a
revelation, and which, under this title, was to claim the government
of human affairs. On the approach of 1789 it is generally admitted
that man is living in "a century of light," in "the age of Reason;"
that, previously, the human species was in its infancy and that now it
has attained to its "majority." Truth, finally, is made manifest and,
for the first time, its reign on earth is apparent. The right is
supreme because it is truth itself. It must direct all things because
through its nature it is universal. The philosophy of the eighteenth
century, in these two articles of faith, resembles a religion, the
Puritanism of the seventeenth century, and Islam in the seventh
century. We see the same outburst of faith, hope and enthusiasm, the
same spirit of propaganda and of dominion, the same rigidity and
intolerance, the same ambition to recast man and to remodel human life
according to a preconceived type. The new doctrine is also to have its
scholars, its dogmas, its popular catechism, its fanatics, its
inquisitors and its martyrs. It is to speak as loudly as those
preceding it, as a legitimate authority to which dictatorship belongs
by right of birth, and against which rebellion is criminal or insane.
It differs, however, from the preceding religions in this respect,
that instead of imposing itself in the name of God, it imposes itself
in the name of Reason.

The authority, indeed, was a new one. Up to this time, in the
control of human actions and opinions, Reason had played but a small
and subordinate part. Both the motive and its direction were obtained
elsewhere; faith and obedience were an inheritance; a man was a
Christian and a subject because he was born Christian and subject. --
Surrounding the nascent philosophy and the Reason which enters upon
its great investigation, is a system of recognized laws, an
established power, a reigning religion; all the stones of this
structure hold together and each story is supported by a preceding
story. But what does the common cement consist of, and where is the
basic foundation? -- Who sanctions all these civil regulations which
control marriages, testaments, inheritances, contracts, property and
persons, these fanciful and often contradictory regulations? In the
first place immemorial custom, varying according to the province,
according to the title to the soil, according to the quality and
condition of the person; and next, the will of the king who caused the
custom to be inscribed and who sanctioned it. -- Who authorizes this
will, this sovereignty of the prince, this first of public
obligations? In the first place, eight centuries of possession, a
hereditary right similar to that by which each one enjoys his own
field and domain, a property established in a family and transmitted
from one eldest son to another, from the first founder of the State to
his last living successor; and, in addition to this, a religion
directing men to submit to the constituted powers. -- And who,
finally, authorizes this religion? At first, eighteen centuries of
tradition, the immense series of anterior and concordant proofs, the
steady belief of sixty preceding generations; and after this, at the
beginning of it, the presence and teachings of Christ, then, farther
back, the creation of the world, the command and the voice of God. --
Thus, throughout the moral and social order of things the past
justifies the present; antiquity provides its title, and if beneath
all these supports which age has consolidated, the deep primitive rock
is sought for in subterranean depths, we find it in the divine will.
-- During the whole of the seventeenth century this theory still
absorbs all souls in the shape of a fixed habit and of inward respect;
it is not open to question. It is regarded in the same light as the
heart of the living body; whoever would lay his hand upon it would
instantly draw back, moved by a vague sentiment of its ceasing to beat
in case it were touched. The most independent, with Descartes at the
head, "would be grieved" at being confounded with those chimerical
speculators who, instead of pursuing the beaten track of custom, dart
blindly forward "in a direct line across mountains and over
precipices." In subjecting their belief to systematic investigation
not only do they leave out and set apart "the truths of faith,"[1] but
again the dogma they think they have thrown out remains in their mind
latent and active, to guide them on unconsciously and to convert their
philosophy into a preparation for, or a confirmation of,
Christianity.[2] -- Summing it all up, faith, the performance of
religious duties, with religious and political institutions, are at
base of all thought of the seventeenth century. Reason, whether she
admits it or is ignorant of it, is only a subaltern, an oratorical
agency, a setter-in-motion, forced by religion and the monarchy to
labor in their behalf. With the exception of La Fontaine, whom I
regard as unique in this as in other matters, the greatest and most
independent, Pascal, Descartes, Bossuet, La Bruyère, borrows from the
established society their basic concepts of nature, man, society, law
and government.[3] So long as Reason is limited to this function its
work is that of a councilor of State, an extra preacher dispatched by
its superiors on a missionary tour in the departments of philosophy
and of literature. Far from proving destructive it consolidates; in
fact, even down to the Regency, its chief employment is to produce
good Christians and loyal subjects.

But now the roles are reversed; tradition descends from the upper
to the lower ranks, while Reason ascends from the latter to the
former. -- On the one hand religion and monarchy, through their
excesses and misdeeds under Louis XIV, and their laxity and
incompetence under Louis XV, demolish piece by piece the basis of
hereditary reverence and filial obedience so long serving them as a
foundation, and which maintained them aloft above all dispute and free
of investigation; hence the authority of tradition insensibly declines
and disappears. On the other hand science, through its imposing and
multiplied discoveries, erects piece by piece a basis of universal
trust and deference, raising itself up from an interesting subject of
curiosity to the rank of a public power; hence the authority of Reason
augments and occupies its place. -- A time comes when, the latter
authority having dispossessed the former, the fundamental ideas
tradition had reserved to itself fall into the grasp of Reason.
Investigation penetrates into the forbidden sanctuary. Instead of
deference there is verification, and religion, the state, the law,
custom, all the organs, in short, of moral and practical life, become
subject to analysis, to be preserved, restored or replaced, according
to the prescriptions of the new doctrine.


Origin, nature and value of hereditary prejudice. - How far custom,
religion and government are legitimate.

Nothing could be better had the new doctrine been complete, and
if Reason, instructed by history, had become critical, and therefore
qualified to comprehend the rival she replaced. For then, instead of
regarding her as an usurper to be repelled she would have recognized
in her an elder sister whose part must be left to her. Hereditary
prejudice is a sort of Reason operating unconsciously. It has claims
as well as reason, but it is unable to present these; instead of
advancing those that are authentic it puts forth the doubtful ones.
Its archives are buried; to exhume these it is necessary to make
researches of which it is incapable; nevertheless they exist, and
history at the present day is bringing them to light. -- Careful
investigations shows that, like science, it issues from a long
accumulation of experiences; a people, after a multitude of gropings
and efforts, has discovered that a certain way of living and thinking
is the only one adapted to its situation, the most practical and the
most salutary, the system or dogma now seeming arbitrary to us being
at first a confirmed expedient of public safety. Frequently it is so
still; in any event, in its leading features it is indispensable; it
may be stated with certainty that, if the leading prejudices of the
community should suddenly disappear, Man, deprived of the precious
legacy transmitted to him by the wisdom of ages, would at once fall
back into a savage condition and again become what he was at first,
namely, a restless, famished, wandering, hunted brute. There was a
time when this heritage was lacking; there are populations to day with
which it is still utterly lacking.[4] To abstain from eating human
flesh, from killing useless or burdensome aged people, from exposing,
selling or killing children one does not know what to do with, to be
the one husband of but one woman, to hold in horror incest and
unnatural practices, to be the sole and recognized owner of a distinct
field, to be mindful of the superior injunctions of modesty, humanity,
honor and conscience, all these observances, formerly unknown and
slowly established, compose the civilization of human beings. Because
we accept them in full security they are not the less sacred, and they
become only the more sacred when, submitted to investigation and
traced through history, they are disclosed to us as the secret force
which has converted a herd of brutes into a society of men. In
general, the older and more universal a custom, the more it is based
on profound motives, on physiological motives on those of hygiene, and
on those instituted for social protection. At one time, as in the
separation of castes, a heroic or thoughtful stock must be preserved
by preventing the mixtures by which inferior blood introduces mental
debility and low instincts.[5] At another, as in the prohibition of
spirituous liquors, and of animal food, it is necessary to conform to
the climate prescribing a vegetable diet, or to the race-temperament
for which strong drink is pernicious.[6]At another, as in the
institution of the right of first-born to inherit title and castle, it
was important to prepare and designate beforehand the military
commander who the tribe would obey, or the civil chieftain that would
preserve the domain, superintend its cultivation, and support the
family.[7] -- If there are valid reasons for legitimizing custom
there are reasons of higher import for the consecration of religion
Consider this point, not in general and according to a vague notion,
but at the outset, at its birth, in the texts, taking for an example
one of the faiths which now rule in society, Christianity, Hinduism,
the law of Mohammed or of Buddha. At certain critical moments in
history, a few men, emerging from their narrow and daily routine of
life, are seized by some generalized conception of the infinite
universe; the august face of nature is suddenly unveiled to them; in
their sublime emotion they seem to have detected its first cause; they
have at least detected some of its elements. Through a fortunate
conjunction of circumstances these elements are just those which their
century, their people, a group of peoples, a fragment of humanity is
in a state to comprehend. Their point of view is the only one at which
the graduated multitudes below them are able to accept. For millions
of men, for hundreds of generations, only through them is any access
to divine things to be obtained. Theirs is the unique utterance,
heroic or affecting, enthusiastic or tranquilizing; the only one which
the hearts and minds around them and after them will heed; the only
one adapted to profound cravings, to accumulated aspirations, to
hereditary faculties, to a complete intellectual and moral organism;
Yonder that of Hindostan or of the Mongolian; here that of the Semite
or the European; in our Europe that of the German, the Latin or the
Slave; in such a way that its contradictions, instead of condemning
it, justify it, its diversity producing its adaptation and its
adaptation producing benefits. -- This is no barren formula. A
sentiment of such grandeur, of such comprehensive and penetrating
insight, an idea by which Man, compassing the vastness and depth of
things, so greatly oversteps the ordinary limits of his mortal
condition, resembles an illumination; it is easily transformed into a
vision; it is never remote from ecstasy; it can express itself only
through symbols; it evokes divine figures.[8]Religion in its nature is
a metaphysical poem accompanied by faith. Under this title it is
popular and efficacious; for, apart from an invisible select few, a
pure abstract idea is only an empty term, and truth, to be apparent,
must be clothed with a body. It requires a form of worship, a legend,
and ceremonies in order to address the people, women, children, the
credulous, every one absorbed by daily cares, any understanding in
which ideas involuntarily translate themselves through imagery. Owing
to this palpable form it is able to give its weighty support to the
conscience, to counterbalance natural egoism, to curb the mad onset of
brutal passions, to lead the will to abnegation and devotion, to tear
Man away from himself and place him wholly in the service of truth, or
of his kind, to form ascetics, martyrs, sisters of charity and
missionaries. Thus, throughout society, religion becomes at once a
natural and precious instrumentality. On the one hand men require it
for the contemplation of infinity and to live properly ; if it were
suddenly to be taken away from them their souls would be a mournful
void, and they would do greater injury to their neighbors. Besides, it
would be vain to attempt to take it away from them; the hand raised
against it would encounter only its envelope; it would be repelled
after a sanguinary struggle, its germ lying too deep to be extirpated.

And when, at length, after religion and custom, we regard the
State, that is to say, the armed power possessing both physical force
and moral authority, we find for it an almost equally noble origin. It
has, in Europe at least, from Russia to Portugal and from Norway to
the two Sicilies, in its origin and essence, a military foundation in
which heroism constitutes itself the champion of right. Here and there
in the chaos of tribes and crumbling societies, some man has arisen
who, through his ascendancy, rallies around him a loyal band, driving
out intruders, overcoming brigands, re-establishing order, reviving
agriculture, founding a patrimony, and transmitting as property to his
descendants his office of hereditary justiciary and born general.
Through this permanent delegation a great public office is removed
from competition, fixed in one family, sequestered in safe hands;
thenceforth the nation possesses a vital center and each right obtains
a visible protector. If the sovereign confines himself to his
traditional responsibilities, is restrained in despotic tendencies,
and avoids falling into egoism, he provides the country with the best
government of which the world has any knowledge. Not alone is it the
most stable, capable of continuation, and the most suitable for
maintaining together a body of 20 or 30 million people, but again one
of the most noble because devotion dignifies both command and
obedience and, through the prolongation of military tradition,
fidelity and honor, from grade to grade, attaches the leader to his
duty and the soldier to his commander. -- Such are the strikingly
valid claims of social traditions which we may, similar to an
instinct, consider as being a blind form of reason. That which makes
it fully legitimate is that reason herself, to become efficient, is
obliged to borrow its form. A doctrine becomes inspiring only through
a blind medium. To become of practical use, to take upon itself the
government of souls, to be transformed into a spring of action, it
must be deposited in minds given up to systematic belief, of fixed
habits, of established tendencies, of domestic traditions and
prejudice, and that it, from the agitated heights of the intellect,
descends into and become amalgamated with the passive forces of the
will; then only does it form a part of the character and become a
social force. At the same time, however, it ceases to be critical and
clairvoyant; it no longer tolerates doubt and contradiction, nor
admits further restrictions or nice distinctions; it is either no
longer cognizant of, or badly appreciates, its own evidences. We of
the present day believe in infinite progress about the same as people
once believed in original sin; we still receive ready-made opinions
from above, the Academy of Sciences occupying in many respects the
place of the ancient councils. Except with a few special savants,
belief and obedience will always be unthinking, while Reason would
wrongfully resent the leadership of prejudice in human affairs, since,
to lead, it must itself become prejudiced.


The classic intellect incapable of accepting this point of view. -
- The past and present usefulness of tradition are misunderstood. --
Reason undertakes to set them aside.

Unfortunately, in the eighteenth century, reason was classic; not
only the aptitude but the documents which enable it to comprehend
tradition were absent. In the first place, there was no knowledge of
history; learning was, due to its dullness and tediousness, refused;
learned compilations, vast collections of extracts and the slow work
of criticism were held in disdain. Voltaire made fun of the
Benedictines. Montesquieu, to ensure the acceptance of his "Esprit des
lois," indulged in wit about laws. Reynal, to give an impetus to his
history of commerce in the Indies, welded to it the declamation of
Diderot. The Abbé Barthélemy covered over the realities of Greek
manners and customs with his literary varnish. Science was expected to
be either epigrammatic or oratorical; crude or technical details would
have been objectionable to a public composed of people of the good
society; correctness of style therefore drove out or falsified those
small significant facts which give a peculiar sense and their original
relief to ancient personalities. -- Even if writers had dared to
note them, their sense and bearing would not have been understood. The
sympathetic imagination did not exist[9]; people were incapable of
going out of themselves, of betaking themselves to distant points of
view, of conjecturing the peculiar and violent states of the human
brain, the decisive and fruitful moment during which it gives birth to
a vigorous creation, a religion destined to rule, a state that is sure
to endure. The imagination of Man is limited to personal experiences,
and where in their experience, could individuals in this society have
found the material which would have allowed them to imagine the
convulsions of a delivery? How could minds, as polished and as amiable
as these, fully adopt the sentiments of an apostle, of a monk, of a
barbarian or feudal founder; see these in the milieu which explains
and justifies them; picture to themselves the surrounding crowd, at
first souls in despair and haunted by mystic dreams, and next the rude
and violent intellects given up to instinct and imagery, thinking with
half-visions, their resolve consisting of irresistible impulses? A
speculative reasoning of this stamp could not imagine figures like
these. To bring them within its rectilinear limits they require to be
reduced and made over; the Macbeth of Shakespeare becomes that of
Ducis, and the Mahomet of the Koran that of Voltaire. Consequently, as
they failed to see souls, they misconceived institutions. The
suspicion that truth could have been conveyed only through the medium
of legends, that justice could have been established only by force,
that religion was obliged to assume the sacerdotal form, that the
State necessarily took a military form, and that the Gothic edifice
possessed, as well as other structures, its own architecture,
proportions, balance of parts, solidity, and even beauty, never
entered their heads. -- Furthermore, unable to comprehend the past,
they could not comprehend the present. They knew nothing about the
mechanic, the provincial bourgeois, or even the lesser nobility; these
were seen only far away in the distance, half-effaced, and wholly
transformed through philosophic theories and sentimental haze. "Two or
three thousand"[10] polished and cultivated individuals formed the
circle of ladies and gentlemen, the so-called honest folks, and they
never went outside of their own circle. If they fleeting had a glimpse
of the people from their chateaux and on their journeys, it was in
passing, the same as of their post-horses, or of the cattle on their
farms, showing compassion undoubtedly, but never divining their
anxious thoughts and their obscure instincts. The structure of the
still primitive mind of the people was never imagined, the paucity and
tenacity of their ideas, the narrowness of their mechanical, routine
existence, devoted to manual labor, absorbed with the anxieties for
daily bread, confined to the bounds of a visible horizon; their
attachment to the local saint, to rites, to the priest, their deep-
seated rancor, their inveterate distrust, their credulity growing out
of the imagination, their inability to comprehend abstract rights, the
law and public affairs, the hidden operation by which their brains
would transform political novelties into nursery fables or into ghost
stories, their contagious infatuations like those of sheep, their
blind fury like that of bulls, and all those traits of character the
Revolution was about to bring to light. Twenty millions of men and
more had scarcely passed out of the mental condition of the middle
ages; hence, in its grand lines, the social edifice in which they
could dwell had necessarily to be mediaeval. It had to be cleaned up,
windows put in and walls pulled down, but without disturbing the
foundations, or the main building and its general arrangement;
otherwise after demolishing it and living encamped for ten years in
the open air like savages, its inmates would have been obliged to
rebuild it on the same plan. In uneducated minds, those having not yet
attained to reflection, faith attaches itself only to the corporeal
symbol, obedience being brought about only through physical restraint;
religion is upheld by the priest and the State by the policeman. --
One writer only, Montesquieu, the best instructed, the most sagacious,
and the best balanced of all the spirits of the age, made these truths
apparent, because he was at once an erudite, an observer, a historian
and a jurisconsult. He spoke, however, as an oracle, in maxims and
riddles; and every time he touched matters belonging to his country
and epoch he hopped about as if upon red hot coals. That is why he
remained respected but isolated, his fame exercising no influence. The
classic reason refused[11] to go so far as to make a careful study of
both the ancient and the contemporary human being. It found it easier
and more convenient to follow its original bent, to shut its eyes on
man as he is, to fall back on its stores of current notions, to derive
from these an idea of man in general, and build in empty space. --
Through this natural and complete state of blindness it no longer
heeds the old and living roots of contemporary institutions; no longer
seeing them makes it deny their existence. Custom now appears as pure
prejudice; the titles of tradition are lost, and royalty seems based
on robbery. So from now on Reason is armed and at war with its
predecessor to wrench away its control over the minds and to replace a
rule of lies with a rule of truth.


Two stages in this operation. - Voltaire, Montesquieu, the deists
and the reformers represent the first one. - What they destroy and
what they respect.

In this great undertaking there are two stages. Owing to common
sense or timidity many stop half-way. Motivated by passion or logic
others go to the end. -- A first campaign results in carrying the
enemy's out-works and his frontier fortresses, the philosophical army
being led by Voltaire. To combat hereditary prejudice, other
prejudices are opposed to it whose empire is as extensive and whose
authority is not less recognized. Montesquieu looks at France through
the eyes of a Persian, and Voltaire, on his return from England,
describes the English, an unknown species. Confronting dogma and the
prevailing system of worship, accounts are given, either with open or
with disguised irony, of the various Christian sects, the Anglicans,
the Quakers, the Presbyterians, the Socinians, those of ancient or of
remote people, the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Muslims, and Guebers, of
the worshippers of Brahma, of the Chinese and of pure idolaters. In
relation to established laws and customs, expositions are made, with
evident intentions, of other constitutions and other social habits, of
despotism, of limited monarchy, of a republic, here the church subject
to the state, there the church free of the state, in this country
castes, in another polygamy, and, from country to country, from
century to century, the diversity, contradiction and antagonism of
fundamental customs which, each on its own ground, are all equally
consecrated by tradition, all legitimately forming the system of
public rights. From now on the charm is broken. Ancient institutions
lose their divine prestige; they are simply human works, the fruits of
the place and of the moment, and born out of convenience and a
covenant. Skepticism enters through all the breaches. With regard to
Christianity it at once enters into open hostility, into a bitter and
prolonged polemical warfare; for, under the title of a state religion
this occupies the ground, censuring free thought, burning writings,
exiling, imprisoning or disturbing authors, and everywhere acting as a
natural and official adversary. Moreover, by virtue of being an
ascetic religion, it condemns not only the free and cheerful ways
tolerated by the new philosophy but again the natural tendencies it
sanctions, and the promises of terrestrial felicity with which it
everywhere dazzles the eyes. Thus the heart and the head both agree in
their opposition. -- Voltaire, with texts in hand, pursues it from
one end to the other of its history, from the first biblical narration
to the latest papal bulls, with unflagging animosity and energy, as
critic, as historian, as geographer, as logician, as moralist,
questioning its sources, opposing evidences, driving ridicule like a
pick-ax into every weak spot where an outraged instinct beats against
its mystic walls, and into all doubtful places where ulterior
patchwork disfigures the primitive structure. -- He respects,
however, the first foundation, and, in this particular, the greatest
writers of the day follow the same course. Under positive religions
that are false there is a natural religion that is true. This is the
simple and authentic text of which the others are altered and
amplified translations. Remove the ulterior and divergent excesses and
the original remains; this common essence, on which all copies
harmonize, is deism. -- The same operation is to be made on civil
and political law. In France, where so many survive their utility,
where privileges are no longer paid for with service, where rights are
changed into abuses, how incoherent is the architecture of the old
Gothic building! How poorly adapted to a modern nation ! Of what use,
in an unique and compact state, are those feudal compartments
separating orders, corporations and provinces? What a living paradox
is the archbishop of a semi-province, a chapter owning 12,000 serfs, a
drawing room abbé well supported by a monastery he never saw, a lord
liberally pensioned to figure in antechambers, a magistrate purchasing
the right to administer justice, a colonel leaving college to take the
command of his inherited regiment, a Parisian trader who, renting a
house for one year in Franche-Comté, alienates through this act alone
the ownership of his property and of his person. Throughout Europe
there are others of the same character. The best that can be said of
"a civilized nation" [12] is that its laws, customs and practices are
composed "one-half of abuses and one-half of tolerable usage". --
But, underneath these concrete laws, which contradict each other, and
of which each contradicts itself, a natural law exists, implied in the
codes, applied socially, and written in all hearts.

"Show me a country where it is honest to steal the fruits of my
labor, to violate engagements, to lie for injurious purposes, to
calumniate, to assassinate, to poison, to be ungrateful to one's
benefactor, to strike one's father and mother on offering you food". -
"Justice and injustice is the same throughout the universe,"

and, as in the worst community force always, in some respects, is
at the service of right, so, in the worst religion, the extravagant
dogma always in some fashion proclaims a supreme architect. --
Religions and communities, accordingly, disintegrated under the
investigating process, disclose at the bottom of the crucible, some
residue of truth, others a residue of justice, a small but precious
balance, a sort of gold ingot of preserved tradition, purified by
Reason, and which little by little, freed from its alloys, elaborated
and devoted to all usage, must solely provide the substance of
religion and all threads of the social warp.


The second stage, a return to nature. - Diderot, d'Holbach and the
materialists. - Theory of animated matter and spontaneous
organization. - The moral of animal instinct and self-interest
properly understood.

Here begins the second philosophic expedition. It consists of two
armies: the first composed of the encyclopedists, some of them
skeptics like d'Alembert, others pantheists like Diderot and Lamarck,

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