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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Philosophy on the Heath
By Jens Baggesen (1764–1826)
 
From ‘The Labyrinth’

CAILLARD was a man of experience, taste, and knowledge. He told me the story of his life from beginning to end, he confided to me his principles and his affairs, and I took him to be the happiest man in the world. “I have everything,” he said, “all that I have wished for or can wish for: health, riches, domestic peace (being unmarried), a tolerably good conscience, books—and as much sense as I need to enjoy them. I experience only one single want, lack only one single pleasure in this world; but that one is enough to embitter my life and class me with other unfortunates.”  1
  I could not guess what might yet be wanting to such a man under such conditions, “It cannot be liberty,” I said, “for how can a rich merchant in a free town lack this?”  2
  “No! Heaven save me—I neither would nor could live one single day without liberty.”  3
  “You do not happen to be in love with some cruel or unhappy princess?”  4
  “That is still less the case.”  5
  “Ah!—now I have it, no doubt—your soul is consumed with a thirst for truth, for a satisfactory answer to the many questions which are but philosophic riddles. You are seeking what so many brave men from Anaxagoras to Spinoza have sought in vain—the corner-stone of philosophy, the foundation of the structure of our ideas.”  6
  He assured me that in this respect he was quite at ease. “Then, in spite of your good health, you must be subject to that miserable thing, a cold in the head?” I said.
          “Uno minor—Jove, dives
Liber, honoratus, pulcher rex denique regum,
Præcipue sanus—nisi cum pituita molesta est.”
—HORACE.    
  7
  When he denied this too, I gave up trying to solve the meaning of his dark words.  8
  O happiness! of all earthly chimeras thou art the most chimerical! I would rather seek dry figs on the bottom of the sea and fresh ones on this heath,—I would rather seek liberty, or truth itself, or the philosopher’s stone, than to run after thee, most deceitful of lights, will-o’-the-wisp of our human life!  9
  I thought that at last I had found a perfectly happy, an enviable man; and now—behold! though I have not the ten-thousandth part of his wealth, though I have not the tenth part of his health, though I may not have a third of his intellect, although I have all the wants which he has not and the one want under which he suffers, yet I would not change places with him!  10
  From this moment he was the object of my sincerest pity. But what did this awful curse prove to be? Listen and tremble!  11
  “Of what use is it all to me?” he said: “coffee, which I love more than all the wines of this earth and more than all the women of this earth, coffee which I love madly—coffee is forbidden me!”  12
  Laugh who lists! Inasmuch as everything in this world, viewed in a certain light, is tragic, it would be excusable to weep: but inasmuch as everything viewed in another light is comic, a little laughter could not be taken amiss; only beware of laughing at the sigh with which my happy man pronounced these words, for it might be that in laughing at him you laugh at yourself, your father, your grandfather, your great-grandfather, your great-great-grandfather, and so on, including your entire family as far back as Adam.  13
  If, in laughing at such discontent, you laugh in advance at your son, your son’s son’s son, and so forth to the last descendant of your entire family, this is a matter which I do not decide. It will depend upon the road humanity chooses to take. If it continues as it is going, some coffee-want or other will forever strew it with thorns.  14
  Had he said, “Chocolate is forbidden me,” or tea, or English ale, or madeira, or strawberries, you would have found his misery equally absurd.  15
  The great Alexander is said to have wept because he found no more worlds to conquer. The man who bemoans the loss of a world and the man who bemoans the loss of coffee are to my mind equally unbalanced and equally in need of forgiveness. The desire for a cup of coffee and the desire for a crown, the hankering after the flavor or even the fragrance of the drink and the hankering after fame, are equally mad and equally—human.  16
  If history is to be believed, Adam possessed all the advantages and comforts, all the necessities and luxuries a first man could reasonably demand…. Lord of all living things, and sharing his dominion with his beloved, what did he lack?  17
  Among ten thousand pleasures, the fruit of one single tree was forbidden him. Good-by content and peace! Good-by forever all his bliss!  18
  I acknowledge that I should have yielded to the same temptation; and he who does not see that this fate would have overtaken his entire family, past and to come, may have studied all things from the Milky Way in the sky to the milky way in his kitchen, may have studied all stones, plants, and animals, and all folios and quartos dealing therewith, but never himself or man.  19
  As we do not know the nature of the fruit which Adam could not do without, it may as well have been coffee as any other. That it was pleasant to the eyes means no more than that it was forbidden. Every forbidden thing is pleasant to the eyes.  20
  “Of what use is it all to me?” said Adam, looking around him in Eden, at the rising sun, the blushing hills, the light-green forest, the glorious waterfall, the laden fruit-trees, and, most beautiful of all, the smiling woman—“of what use is it all to me, when I dare not taste this——coffee bean?”  21
  “And of what use is it all to me?” said Mr. Caillard, and looked around him on the Lüneburg heath: “coffee is forbidden me; one single cup of coffee would kill me.”  22
  “If it will be any comfort to you,” I said, “I may tell you that I am in the same case.” “And you do not despair at times?”—“No,” I replied, “for it is not my only want. If like you I had everything else in life, I also might despair.”  23
 
 
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