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MONTAIGNE; OR, THE SCEPTIC.
VERY fact is related on one side to sensation, and, on
the other, to morals. The game of thought is, on the appearance of one of these two sides, to find the other; given the upper, to find the under side. Nothing so thin, but has these two faces; and, when the observer has seen the obverse, he turns it over to see the reverse. Life is a pitching of this penny,
heads or tails. We never tire of this game, because there is still a slight shudder of astonishment at the exhibition of the other face, at the contrast of the two faces. A man is flushed with success, and bethinks himself what this good luck signifies. He drives his bargain in the street ; but it occurs, that he also is bought and sold. He sees the beauty of a human face, and searches the cause of that beauty, which must be more beautiful. He builds his fortunes, maintains the laws, cherishes his children; but he asks himself, why ? and whereto? This head and this tail are called, in the language of philosophy, Infinite and Finite ; Relative and Absolute; Apparent and Real; and many fine names beside.
Each man is born with a predisposition to one or the other of these sides of nature ; and it will easily happen that men will be found devoted to one or the other. One class has the perception of difference, and is conversant with facts and surfaces; cities and persons; and the bringing certain things to pass ; — the men of talent and action. Another class have the perception of identity, and are men of faith and philosophy, men of genius.
Each of these riders drives too fast. Plotinus believes only in philosophers; Fenelon, in saints; Pindar and Byron, in poets. Read the haughty language in which Plato and the Platonists speak of all men who are not devoted to their own shining abstractions : other men are rats and mice. The literary class is usually proud and exclusive. The correspondence of Pope and Swift describes mankind around them as monsters; and that of Goethe and Schiller, in our own time, is scarcely more kind.
It is easy to see how this arrogance comes. The genius is a genius by the first look he casts on any object. Is his eye creative ? Does he not rest in angles and colors, but beholds the design, - he will presently undervalue the actual object. In powerful moments, his thought·has dissolved the works of art and nature into their causes, so that the works appear heavy and faulty. He has a conception of beauty which the sculptor cannot embody. Picture, statue, temple, railroad, steam-engine, existed first in an artist's mind, without flaw, mistake, or friction, which impair the executed models. So did the church, the state, college, court, social circle, and all the institutions. It is not strange that these men, remembering what they have seen and hoped of ideas, should affirm disdainfully the superiority of ideas. Having at some time seen that the happy soul will carry all the arts in power, they say, Why cumber ourselves with superfluous realizations ? and, like dreaming beggars, they assume to speak and act as if these values were already substantiated.
On the other part, the men of toil and trade and luxury, the animal world, including the animal in the philosopher and poet also, — and the practical world, including the painful drudgeries which are never excused to philosopher or poet any more than to the rest, weigh heavily on the other side. The trade in our streets believes in no metaphysical causes, thinks nothing of the force which necessitated traders and a trading planet to exist; no, but sticks to cotton, sugar, wool, and salt. The ward meetings, on election days, are not softened by any misgiving of the value of these ballotings. Hot life is streaming in a single direction. To the men of this world, to the animal strength and spirits, to the men of practical power, while immersed in it, the man of ideas appears out of his reason. They alone have reason.
Things always bring their own philosophy with them, that is, prudence. No man acquires property without acquiring with it a little arithmetic, also. In England, the richest country that ever existed, property stands for more, compared with personal ability, than in any other. After dinner, a man believes less, denics more : verities have lost some charm. After dinner, arithmetic is the only science : ideas are disturbing, incendiary, follies of young men, repudiated by the solid portion of society : and a man comes to be valued by his athletic and animal qualities. Spence relates, that Mr. Pope was with Sir Godfrey Kneller, one day, when his nephew, a Guinea trader, came in. “Nephew,” said Sir Godfrey, “you have the honor of seeing the two greatest men in the world.”
66 I don't know how great men you may be,” said the Guinea man, “but I don't like your looks. I have often bought a much better than both of you, all muscles and bones, for ten guineas." Thus, the men of the senses revenge themselves on the professors, and repay scorn for scorn. The first had leaped to conclusions not yet ripe, and say more than is true; the others make themselves merry with the philosopher, and weigh man by the pound. They believe that mustard bites the tongue, and pepper is hot, friction-matches are incendiary, revolvers to be avoided, and suspenders hold up pantaloons; that there is much sentiment in a chest of tea; and a man will be eloquent, if you give him good wine. Are you tender and scrupulous,
you must eat more mince-pie. They hold that Luther had milk in him when he said,
“ Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib, und Gesang,
Der bleibt ein Narr sein Leben lang”; and when he advised a young scholar, perplexed with fore-ordination and free-will, to get well drunk.
- The nerves,” says Cabanis, “they are the man.” My neighbor, a jolly farmer, in the tavern bar-room, thinks that the use of money is sure and speedy spending : “for his part,” he says, " he puts his down his neck, and gets the good of it.”
The inconvenience of this way of thinking is, that it runs into indifferentism, and then into disgust. Life is eating us up. We shall be fables presently. Keep cool : it will be all one a hundred years hence. Life’s well enough ; but we shall be glad to get out of it, and they will all be glad to have us. Why should we fret and drudge ? Our meat will taste tomorrow as it did yesterday, and we may at last have had enough of it. “Ah," said my languid gentleman at Oxford, “ there's nothing new or true,
and no matter." With a little more bitterness, the cynic moans : our life is like an ass led to market by a bundle of hay being carried before him : he sees nothing but the bundle of hay.
6. There is so much trouble in coming into the world,” said Lord Bolingbroke, “and so much more, as well as meanness, in going out of it, that 't is hardly worth while to be here at all.” I know