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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Literary Judgments
By Joseph Joubert (1754–1824)
 
Translation of Thomas Wentworth Higginson

THERE never will be an endurable translation of Homer unless all the words can be chosen with art, and be full of variety, of freshness, and of grace. The diction moreover must be as antique, as simple, as the manners, the events, and the personages described. With our modern style everything is distorted in Homer, and his heroes seem grotesque figures that take grave and proud attitudes.  1
 
  Plato found philosophy made of bricks, and rebuilt it of gold.  2
 
  In Plato, seek only forms and ideas: this is what he himself sought. There is in him more of light than of objects, more form than substance. He should be inhaled, not fed upon.  3
 
  Plato loses himself in the void; but we see the play of his wings and hear their sound.  4
 
  Aristotle rectified all the rules, and in all the sciences added new truths to those already known. His works are an ocean of instruction, as it were the encyclopædia of antiquity.  5
 
  The ‘Memorabilia’ of Xenophon are a fine thread with which he has the art of weaving magnificent lace, but with which we can sew nothing.  6
 
  Cicero is in philosophy a sort of moon. His doctrine has a light extremely soft, but borrowed; a light wholly Greek, which the Roman softened and weakened.  7
 
  There are a thousand ways of employing and seasoning words: Cicero loved them all.  8
 
  In Catullus one finds two things, than the union of which nothing can be worse: affected delicacy with grossness.  9
 
  It is the symmetries in the style of Seneca that make him quoted.  10
 
  I look upon Plutarch’s ‘Lives’ as one of the most precious monuments left to us by antiquity. There we are shown whatever has appeared that is great in the human race, and the best that men have done is put before us as an example. The whole of ancient wisdom is there. For the writer I have not the same esteem that I have for his work.  11
 
  In the annals of Tacitus there is a narrative interest which will not let us read little, and a depth and grandeur of expression which will not permit us to read much. The mind, divided between the curiosity which absorbs it and the attention which holds it, experiences some fatigue: the writer takes possession of the reader even to doing him violence.  12
 
  Most of the thoughts of Pascal on laws, usages, customs, are but the thoughts of Montaigne recast.  13
 
  Fénelon dwells amid the valleys and slopes of thought; Bossuet on its elevations and mountain peaks.  14
 
  M. de Beausset says of Fénelon, “He loved men more than he knew them.” This phrase is charming: it would be impossible to praise with more wit what one blames, or to praise more highly while blaming.  15
 
  Voltaire retained through life, in the world and in affairs, a very strong impress from the influence of his first masters. Impetuous as a poet, and polite as a courtier, he knows how to be as insinuating and crafty as any Jesuit. No one ever followed more carefully, and with more art and skill, the famous maxim he so ridiculed: To be all things to all men.  16
 
  Voltaire is sometimes sad, or he is excited; but he is never serious. His graces even are impudent.  17
 
  There are faults hard to recognize, that have not been classed or defined or christened. Voltaire is full of them.  18
 
  It is impossible that Voltaire should satisfy, and impossible that he should not please.  19
 
  Voltaire introduced and put into vogue such luxury in literary work, that one can no longer offer common food except on dishes of gold or silver.  20
 
  J. J. Rousseau had a voluptuous nature. In his writings the soul is blended with the body, and never leaves it. No man ever gave such an impression of flesh absolutely mingled with spirit, and of the delights of their marriage.  21
 
  Rousseau gave, if I may so speak, bowels to words; infused into them such a charm, savors so penetrating, energies so potent, that his writings affect the soul somewhat as do those forbidden pleasures that extinguish taste and intoxicate reason.  22
 
  When we read Buffon, we think ourselves learned; when we have read Rousseau, we think ourselves virtuous: but for all that we are neither.  23
 
  For thirty years Petrarch adored, not the person, but the image of Laura: so much easier is it to maintain unchanged one’s sentiments and one’s ideas than one’s sensations. Thence came the fidelity of the ancient knights.  24
 
  No man knows better than Racine how to weave words, sentiments, thoughts, actions, events; and with him events, thoughts, sentiments, words, are all woven of silk.  25
 
  Racine and Boileau are not fountains of water. A fine choice in imitation makes their merit. It is their books that copy books, and not their souls that copy souls. Racine is the Virgil of the ignorant.  26
 
  Molière is coolly comic; he makes others laugh without laughing himself: there lies his excellence.  27
 
  Alfieri is but a convict, whom nature condemns to the galleys of the Italian Parnassus.  28
 
  In La Fontaine there is an affluence of poetry which is found in no other French author.  29
 
  Piron: He was a poet who played well on his jew’s-harp.  30
 
 
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