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

I WISH I had a trade: it would animate my arms and tranquillize my head. A talent would not do this; yet if I knew how to paint, I think I should be less unquiet. I have long been in a stupor; I am sorry to have waked. I was in a depression more tranquil than actual depression.  1
  Of all the rapid and uncertain moments when I have thought in my simplicity that one was on this earth to live, none have left me such profound remembrances as those twenty days of forgetfulness and hope, when, about the period of the March equinox, near the torrent before the rocks, between the happy hyacinth and the simple violet, I imagined it would be given me to love.  2
  I was touching what I could never seize. Without inclinations, without hope, I might have been able to vegetate, bored but tranquil. I had a presentiment of human energy, but in my shadowy life I endured my sleep. What sinister force opened the world to me, and thus removed the consolations of nothingness?  3
  Drawn into an expansive activity, eager to love all, to sustain all, to console all; ever struggling between a need of seeing a change in many sad things and a conviction that no change will occur,—I am wearied with the evils of life, and still more indignant at the perfidious seduction of pleasure; my eyes always arrested by the immense heap of hatreds, iniquities, opprobriums, and miseries upon this misguided earth.  4
  And I! I am in my twenty-seventh year: the fine days are over, I did not even see them. Unhappy in the age of happiness, what can I expect of other ages? I spent in emptiness and weariness the happy season of confidence and hope. Everywhere oppressed, suffering, my heart empty and torn, I have attained while still young the regrets of old age. Accustomed to see all the flowers of life shrivel under my sterile steps, I am like those old men from whom everything has escaped; but more unhappy than they, I have lost all long before my own end. With my ardent spirit I cannot rest in this silence of death….  5
  What places were ever to me what they are to other men? What times were tolerable, and under what skies did I find repose of heart? I have seen the stir of towns, the emptiness of country places, and the austerity of mountains. I have seen the grossness of ignorance and the torment of the arts. I have seen the useless virtues, the indifferent successes, and all good things lost in evil things; man and fate always unequal, ceaselessly deceiving themselves; and in the mad struggle of all the passions, the odious conqueror receiving as price of his triumph the heaviest link of the ills it has caused.  6
  If man were adapted to unhappiness, I should pity him far less; and considering his transitory duration, I should despise for him as for myself the torment of a day. But all good things surround him; all his faculties bid him enjoy, all say to him, “Be happy”: and man has said, “Happiness shall be for the brute: art, science, glory, grandeur, shall be for me.” His mortality, his griefs, his crimes themselves, are but the slightest part of his wretchedness. I deplore his losses,—calm, choice, union, tranquil possession. I deplore a hundred years that millions of sentient beings have wasted in anxiety and restrictions, in the midst of what would make security, liberty, joy; living with bitterness upon a voluptuous earth, because they have desired imaginary and exclusive good things.  7
  However, all that amounts to very little. I did not witness it half a century ago, and in half a century more I shall see it no longer.  8
  I said to myself: If it was not part of my destiny to recall to primordial morals an isolated circumscribed land, if I ought to force myself to forget the world, and think myself happy enough in obtaining tolerable days upon this deluded earth,—then I would ask but one favor, one spirit in that dream from which I no longer wish to awaken. There rests upon earth, such as it is, an illusion which can still deceive me; it is the only one. I would have the wisdom to be deceived by it: the rest is not worth an effort. This is what I said then; but chance alone could grant me the inestimable mistake. Chance is slow and uncertain: life rapid and irrevocable, its springtime passes; and this unsatisfied craving, by wasting my life, must finally alienate my heart and change my nature. Sometimes already I feel myself growing sour: I become angry, my affections narrow; impatience makes my will fierce, and a kind of contempt bears me toward great but austere designs. However, this bitterness does not endure in all its force: afterward I abandon myself as if I felt that distracted men, and uncertain things, and my life so short, did not merit a day’s uneasiness, and that a severe awakening is useless when one must soon sleep forever.  9

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