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development however, there is no action without reaction, and what we now witness is the fatigue that inevitably attends long journeys. The wayfarer sits down at the roadside, and at sight of the interminable plain—another century, as it were—still spread out before him, despairs of ever reaching his goal. Doubt even arises in his mind as to the distance already travelled, regret that he did not lie down in a field to sleep through all eternity under the stars. What can be the use of marching on and on, he asks, if the goal is ever to recede? What is the use of knowing anything if one can never know all ? . 'Twould be better to retain the artless simplicity, the ignorant happiness of a child. And thus, according to some among us, Science, which is said to have promised happiness, is, at this moment, under our very eyes, becoming bankrupt.
But has Science ever promised happiness? I do not believe this. Science has promised truth, and the entire question is whether we shall ever be able to fashion happiness out of truth. If we are ever to content ourselves in this respect we shall assuredly need to be possessed of much stoicism, absolute self-abnegation, and a satisfied serenity of intelligence, such as would seem only possible among an élite. And, meantime, how despairing is the cry which arises from suffering humanity : "How can one possibly live without lies and without illusions? If there be not somewhere another world where justice reigns, where the wicked are punished and the good rewarded, how can this abominable human life be lived without a feeling of rebellion ? Nature is unjust and cruel, Science seems to resolve itself into the monstrous law that might is right; and that being so, all moral doctrines crumble, all societies tend to despotism.” Moreover, in this reaction to which I am calling attention, this lassitude following upon a surfeit of Science, there is also a shuddering recoil from truth-truth as yet ill-explained and still of a ferocious aspect to our weak eyes, which are unable to penetrate and understand all its laws. “No, no!” the sufferers call, “ bring us back to the pleasant sleep of ignorance ! Reality is a school of perversion ; it must be killed and denied, since it is impossible for it to be aught else than ugliness and crime.” And thereupon men soar into dreamland, deeming no salvation possible save by escaping from the earth, by setting their confidence in that which is yet beyond human ken, in the hope that they will there at last find happiness, and the satisfaction of our common desire for fraternity and justice.
Such is the despairing cry for happiness which we hear to-day. It
fills me with infinite pity. Notice that it ascends from all sides like a mournful wail amid all the stir and din of Science ever marching on, stopping neither its machines nor trains. “Enough truth !
“” cries the voice, "give us chimeras ! We shall only obtain rest by dreaming of that which is not, by plunging into the Unknown. There and there only bloom those mystical flowers whose perfume will soothe our sufferings to sleep.” Already has music responded to the call, literature in its turn is striving to satisfy the new thirst, painting also is beginning to follow the fashion. I was alluding just now to the exhibition of the Champ de Mars—you will there see all the flora of our old stained-glass windows, slim, slender Virgins, apparitions shrouded by the shades of twilight, personages in the stiff, angular attitudes common to the primitive school. This is the reaction against Naturalism, which is said to be dead and buried. At all events, the movement cannot be denied, it has extended to all manifestations of the mind; and it is needful that we should take account of it, study and analyse it, if we would not despair of to-morrow.
In the opinion of an old hardened Positivist like myself there is here but a halt-such as was to be expected—in the forward march. Nay, it is not even a halt, since our libraries, our laboratories, our operatingrooms, our schools are not deserted. And another circumstance that reassures me is that the social soil has not changed, but is still the democratic soil from which our century sprouted and grew.
For a new art to flourish, for a new belief to change the course of humanity, a new soil would be needed, a soil in which that belief could germinate and grow; for there is no new society unless there be also a new soil. Faith does not resuscitate; once a religion is dead it can only be turned into a mythology. And so I believe that the coming century will be the affirmation of our own, the prolongation of the democratic and scientific impulse which has carried us along so far, and which yet continues.
The one thing that I will grant is that in Literature we unduly limited our horizon. Personally, I have before now regretted taking a sectarian course, in desiring that art should confine itself to proven truths. New comers, however, have again enlarged the horizon by seting forth to conquer the Unknown, the Mysterious; and they have done well. Between the truths scientifically acquired, and henceforth unshakeable, and the truths which Science will to-morrow wrest from the Unknown and determine in their turn there is an indefinite margin:
the field of doubt and inquiry which it seems to me is as much within the province of Literature as within that of Science. Thither may we go forward as pioneers, accomplishing the work of precursors, interpreting, according to the bent of our talents, the action of those forces of which we as yet know little or nothing. The Ideal-what is it, indeed, but the unexplained, those forces of the vast universe which encircle us, but of which we have no definite knowledge? But if it be allowable for us to invent solutions explaining the Unknown, can we dare call into question the laws that are already discovered and determined, imagine them otherwise than they really are, and by doing so deny them? In proportion as Science progresses the Ideal certainly recedes, and it seems to me that the one sense of life, the one delight one should take in living, lies in prosecuting this slow, laborious conquest, even though we should feel a melancholy certainty that we shall never know all.
Now, in the troublous times through which we are passing, in the midst of this surfeited, tentative epoch of ours, there have arisen many spiritual pastors who, all anxiety and fervour, propose a faith to the young generation. The offer is a generous one, but the misfortune is that the faith in question changes beyond recognition according to the prophet. There are many of these faiths, and none to me seems either very clear or well determined. You are implored to believe, but in what you are not plainly told. Perhaps it is because the prophets cannot tell you, perhaps because they dare not do so. You are to believe, it seems, solely for the happiness of believing. The advice in itself is by no means bad: repose in any faith, no matter what it may be, most certainly yields great happiness; but the misfortune is that we are not the masters of grace, which descends and alights where it listeth.
Now I will conclude by, in my turn, offering you a faith, by beseeching you indeed to put your trust in work. Toil, young men, toil! I am quite conscious of the triteness of the advice. There is not a distribution of prizes at any school but it falls upon heedless, indifferent ears. None the less, I ask you to reflect upon it, and venture—I who have been nothing but a toiler—to tell you how great has been the benefit that I have derived from the long labour, the arduous accomplishment of which has occupied my whole life. My career began in hardship; I knew bitter misery and despair. Later on I lived a life of battle, I live it still ; disparaged, scoffed at, covered with insults! Well, through all of this I have had but one faith, one fortifier-work. That which has sustained
me has been the huge labour I imposed upon myself. Yonder, in front of me, I always beheld the goal towards which I was marching; and this it was—whenever the ills of life had laid me low-that sufficed to set me on my legs again and gave me the courage to march on and on, despite everything. The work I refer to is steady, settled work, the daily task, the self-imposed duty of making a forward step every day towards the accomplishment of one's allotted toil. How many times of a morning have I sat down at my table, with my head in confusion, lost, my mouth bitter, tortured by some great physical or moral anguish! And on each occasion, despite the rebellion of my sufferings, my task-after the first minutes of agony-brought me relief and comfort. I have invari. ably risen up from my daily toil with a feeling of consolation—my heart yet sore, perhaps, but nevertheless conscious that I was still erect, with strength enough to continue living until the morrow.
Labour ! remember that it is the unique natural law of the world, the regulator which leads organised matter to its unknown goal. Life has no other meaning, no other raison d'être ; we only appear on this earth in order that we each may contribute our share of labour and disappear. One can only define life by that motion which is communicated to it and which it transmits, and which after all is but so much labour towards the great final work to be accomplished in the depths of the ages. Why, then, should we not be modest, why should we not accept the respective tasks that each of us comes here to fulfil, without rebellion, without giving way to the pride of egotism which prompts men to consider themselves centres of gravity, and deters them from falling into the ranks with their fellows?
As soon as that task has been accepted, as soon as the accomplishment of it begins, quietude, it seems to me, must descend into the hearts of those that experience the greatest torture. There are some minds, I know, that are tormented by thoughts of the Infinite, the Mysterious, and to them I fraternally address myself, advising them to occupy their lives with some huge labour the end of which it might be well they should never see. This is the balancing pole that will enable them to proceed on their way upright, without fear of falling, the diversion that will provide solace for every weary hour, the grain of wheat tendered to the mind that it may grind it for its daily sustenance with the satisfaction that attends upon the performance of duty. Doubtless this does not resolve any metaphysical problem ; in what I have said there is but an empirical recipe for living life honestly and in tolerable quietude. But is it nothing to gain good moral and physical health, to escape from the danger of dreams, by taking work as the solution of that great problem-how to acquire the greatest sum of happiness possible upon this earth?
For my part, I confess it, I have always distrusted chimeras. Nothing can be more unhealthy than illusions either for men individually or for nations ; illusion does away with effort, illusion blinds, illusion is the vanity of the weak. To cling to a legend, to abuse one's own mind with regard to every reality, to imagine that it is sufficient to dream of strength in order to be strong-we Frenchmen have seen whither all that tends—aye, to what frightful disasters! Nations have been told to look up on high, to rest content with trust in a superior power, to soar away into the Ideal. No, no! the only strong nation is the nation that labours; labour alone imparts courage and faith. In order to conquer, it is necessary that the arsenals should be full, that one should possess the strongest, most perfect armament, that the army should be well trained, confident in its leaders and in itself. All this may be accomplished by labour-all that is necessary is will and method. The coming century, the whole unlimited future, will belong to labour, of that you may rest well assured. Cannot you already see outlined in the rise and growth of Socialism, the one great law of to-morrow, the law of labour for allliberating and pacifying toil?
So, young men, young men, set yourselves to work. Let cach of you accept his task, a task to fill his life. It may be a very humble one, but it will none the less be useful. Let it be what you please, provided that it is there, and that it keeps you erect! When you have regulated it, without over-taxing yourselves, simply confining yourselves to accomplishing a fit and proper portion of it every day, it will bring you a life of health and joy, and deliver you from all tormenting thoughts of the Infinite. What a healthy and great society would be that in which each member would contribute his logical share of work! The man who works is almost always good and kindly. And so I am convinced that the only faith which can save us is a belief in the efficacy of the accomplished effort. Assuredly it is beautiful to dream of eternity. But for an honest man it is sufficient that he should have passed through life and done his work.