The greatest blunders, like the thickest ropes, are often compounded of a multitude of strands. Take the rope apart, separate it into the small threads that compose it, and you can break them one by one. You think, That is all there was! But twist them all together and you have something tremendous.
From the oyster to the eagle, from the swine to the tiger, all animals are to be found in men and each of them exists in some man, sometimes several at the time. Animals are nothing but the portrayal of our virtues and vices made manifest to our eyes, the visible reflections of our souls. God displays them to us to give us food for thought.
One cannot be a good historian of the outward, visible world without giving some thought to the hidden, private life of ordinary people; and on the other hand one cannot be a good historian of this inner life without taking into account outward events where these are relevant. They are two orders of fact which reflect each other, which are always linked and which sometimes provoke each other.
There is a sacred horror about everything grand. It is easy to admire mediocrity and hills; but whatever is too lofty, a genius as well as a mountain, an assembly as well as a masterpiece, seen too near, is appalling.
Separated lovers cheat absence by a thousand fancies which have their own reality. They are prevented from seeing one another and they cannot write; nevertheless they find countless mysterious ways of corresponding, by sending each other the song of birds, the scent of flowers, the laughter of children, the light of the sun, the sighing of the wind, and the gleam of the stars --all the beauties of creation.
We may remark in passing that to be blind and beloved may, in this world where nothing is perfect, be among the most strangely exquisite forms of happiness. The supreme happiness in life is the assurance of being loved; of being loved for oneself, even in spite of oneself; and this assurance the blind man possesses. In his affliction, to be served is to be caressed. Does he lack anything? no. Possessing love he is not deprived of light. A love, moreover, that is wholly pure. There can be no blindness where there is this certainty.
There are obstinate and unknown braves who defend themselves inch by inch in the shadows against the fatal invasion of want and turpitude. There are noble and mysterious triumphs which no eye sees. No renown rewards, and no flourish of trumpets salutes. Life, misfortune, isolation, abandonment, and poverty and battlefields which have their heroes.
Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.
The convent, which belongs to the West as it does to the East, to antiquity as it does to the present time, to Buddhism and Muhammadanism as it does to Christianity, is one of the optical devices whereby man gains a glimpse of infinity.
Progress is the life-style of man. The general life of the human race is called Progress, and so is its collective march. Progress advances, it makes the great human and earthly journey towards what is heavenly and divine; it has its pauses, when it rallies the stragglers, its stopping places when it meditates, contemplating some new and splendid promised land that has suddenly appeared on its horizon. It has its nights of slumber; and it is one of the poignant anxieties of the thinker to see the human spirit lost in shadow, and to grope in the darkness without being able to awake sleeping progress.
Most commonly revolt is born of material circumstances; but insurrection is always a moral phenomenon. Revolt is Masaniello, who led the Neapolitan insurgents in 1647; but insurrection is Spartacus. Insurrection is a thing of the spirit, revolt is a thing of the stomach.
A saint addicted to excessive self-abnegation is a dangerous associate; he may infect you with poverty, and a stiffening of those joints which are needed for advancement -- in a word, with more renunciation than you care for -- and so you flee the contagion.
Nothing can be more depressing than to expose, naked to the light of thought, the hideous growth of argot. Indeed it is like a sort of repellent animal intended to dwell in darkness which has been dragged out of its cloaca. One seems to see a horned and living creature viciously struggling to be restored to the place where it belongs. One word is like a claw, another like a sightless and bleeding eye; and there are phrases which clutch like the pincers of a crab. And all of it is alive with the hideous vitality of things that have organized themselves amid disorganization.
The book which the reader now holds in his hands, from one end to the other, as a whole and in its details, whatever gaps, exceptions, or weaknesses it may contain, treats of the advance from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsity to truth, from darkness to daylight, from blind appetite to conscience, from decay to life, from bestiality to duty, from Hell to Heaven, from limbo to God. Matter itself is the starting-point, and the point of arrival is the soul. Hydra at the beginning, an angel at the end.
To rescue from oblivion even a fragment of a language which men have used and which is in danger of being lost --that is to say, one of the elements, whether good or bad, which have shaped and complicated civilization --is to extend the scope of social observation and to serve civilization.
Whenever we encounter the Infinite in man, however imperfectly understood, we treat it with respect. Whether in the synagogue, the mosque, the pagoda, or the wigwam, there is a hideous aspect which we execrate and a sublime aspect which we venerate. So great a subject for spiritual contemplation, such measureless dreaming -- the echo of God on the human wall!
Despots play their part in the works of thinkers. Fettered words are terrible words. The writer doubles and trebles the power of his writing when a ruler imposes silence on the people. Something emerges from that enforced silence, a mysterious fullness which filters through and becomes steely in the thought. Repression in history leads to conciseness in the historian, and the rocklike hardness of much celebrated prose is due to the tempering of the tyrant.
There exists, at the bottom of all abasement and misfortune, a last extreme which rebels and joins battle with the forces of law and respectability in a desperate struggle, waged partly by cunning and partly by violence, at once sick and ferocious, in which it attacks the prevailing social order with the pin-pricks of vice and the hammer-blows of crime.
One is not idle because one is absorbed. There is both visible and invisible labor. To contemplate is to toil, to think is to do. The crossed arms work, the clasped hands act. The eyes upturned to Heaven are an act of creation.