Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Great Littleness. — There is no growth of culture without rest and settlement, and every culture worthy of the name begins in the little fields and gardens of social life, wherein the soils are tended with particular care, and wherein deep roots are allowed to form; and even though each little patch might begin delightfully simple and unsophisticated, out of each, and between them all, something grander may arise, which itself provides the grounds for still more cultivation and wild growth, and so it might go on until in each place there arises something sublime and immeasurable. Yet:—
“Present folly seeks the unity of nations and not the creation of a single man from the entire species, so be it; but in acquiring general capabilities, will not a whole set of private sentiments perish? Farewell the tenderness of the fireside; farewell delight in family; among all the beings white, yellow or black, claimed as your compatriots, you will be unable to throw yourself on a brother's breast. Was there nothing in that life of other days, nothing in that narrow space you gazed at from your ivy-framed window? Beyond your horizon you suspected unknown countries of which the bird of passage, the only voyager you saw in autumn, barely told you. It was happiness to think that the hills enclosing you would not vanish before your eyes; that they would surround your loves and friendships; that the sighing of night around your sanctuary would be the only sound to accompany your sleep; that the solitude of your soul would never be troubled, that you would always find your thoughts there, waiting for you, to take up again their familiar conversation. You knew where you were born; you knew where your grave would be; penetrating the forests you could say:
‘Fair trees that once saw my beginning,
Soon you will witness my end.’
“Man has no need to travel to become greater; he bears immensity within. The accents escaping from your breast are immeasurable and find an echo in thousands of other souls: those who lack the melody within themselves will demand it of the universe in vain. Sit on the trunk of a fallen tree in the depths of the woods; if in profound forgetfulness of yourself, in immobility, in silence, you fail to find the infinite, it is useless to wander the shores of the Ganges seeking it.” [1]
If men stay still awhile, they put down roots and draw into themselves the nourishment required for their flourishing; but a constant movement and an unceasing fuss is demanded of them, and they are led hither and thither in pursuit of — what: their own tails? Even those at odds with this restless industry and movement must on account of it become wanderers; but, for them, it is a search for something so simple as home.

[1] François de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d'Outre-tombe, tr. A.S. Kline, BkXLII:14:1, published online by A.S. Kline.

1 comment:

Malcolm Pollack said...

Beautifully said. It may be, though, it is not forgetfulness of self that holds the key, but remembrance.