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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Conditions of Happiness
By Étienne Pivert de Senancour (1770–1846)
 
From ‘Obermann’

FONTAINEBLEAU, August 7.    
MONSIEUR W——, whom you know, said lately: “While I take my cup of coffee I put all the world in order.” I too permit myself similar dreams; and when I walk on the heaths among the junipers still wet, I sometimes surprise myself imagining men happy. I assure you, it seems to me they might be. I do not wish to create another species or another globe. I do not wish to reform everything. Such hypotheses lead to nothing, you will say, since they are not applicable to anything known. Very well: let us take what necessarily exists; let us take it as it is, and only arrange what is accidental therein. I do not desire new or chimerical species; but behold my materials,—with them I will make my plan according to my thought.
  1
  I desire two things certain: a fixed climate, true men. If I knew when the rain would cause the waters to overflow, when the sun would dry up my plants, when the hurricane would shake my dwelling,—my industry would have to fight against the natural forces opposed to my needs; but when I am ignorant of the moment anything will happen, when the evil oppresses me without the danger having warned me, when prudence may destroy me, and when the interests of others confided to my precautions forbid unconcern and even security,—is it not necessary that my life should be anxious and unhappy? Is it not true that inaction succeeds forced labor, and that, as Voltaire has so well said, I consume all my days in convulsions of disquiet or in the lethargy of weariness?  2
  If men nearly all dissimulate, if the duplicity of a part forces others at least to be reserved, does it not follow necessarily that they augment the inevitable harm which many for their own benefit do to others, with a much greater mass of needless injuries? Does it not follow that people harm each other reciprocally in spite of themselves, that each is eying the other, that each is prejudiced, that enemies are inventive and friends are cautious? Does it not follow that an honest man is ruined in public opinion by an indiscreet suggestion, by a false judgment; that an enmity born of an ill-founded suspicion becomes mortal; that those who would have liked to do right are discouraged; that false principles are established; that cunning is more useful than wisdom, courage, magnanimity; that children reproach their father for not having committed a trickery, and that States perish from not committing a crime? In this perpetual uncertainty, I ask what becomes of morality; and in the uncertainty of all things, what becomes of surety? Without surety, without morality, I ask if happiness is not a child’s dream?  3
  The moment of death should remain unknown. There is no evil without duration; and for twenty other reasons death should not be put in the number of misfortunes. It is well to ignore when all must finish: one rarely begins what may not be concluded. I think then that with man about what he is, ignorance as to the length of life is more useful than embarrassing; but the uncertainty of the things of life is not like that of their duration. An incident that you could not foresee deranges your plan, and prepares you long vexations. As for death, it annihilates your plan, it does not derange it: you will not suffer from what you do not know. The plan of those who remain may be thwarted, but to be certain about one’s own affairs is to have certainty enough; and I do not wish to imagine things altogether good according to man. I should doubt the world I am arranging if it did not contain more evil, and I cannot suppose perfect harmony except with a kind of fright. It seems to me that nature does not admit of it.  4
  A fixed climate, and above all, men who are true, inevitably true,—these suffice me. I am happy if I understand things. I leave to the sky its storms and thunderbolts; to the earth its wet and dry; to the soil its sterility; to our bodies their weakness and degeneration; to men their differences and incompatibilities, their inconstancy, their errors, even their vices and their necessary egoism; to time its slowness and irrevocability: my city is happy if everything is ruled, if thoughts are known. It needs only a good legislation; and if thoughts are known, it cannot fail to have one.  5
 
 
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