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Chapter 49

AN EXPLANATION FOR M. BONAPARTE'S BENEFIT


Let us go a little deeper into all these novelties.

Pray learn this also, M. Bonaparte: that which distinguishes man from brute, is the notion of good and of evil--of that good and that evil of which I was speaking to you just now.

There is the abyss.

The animal is a complete being. That which constitutes the grandeur of man is the being incomplete; it is the feeling one's self to be many degrees removed from completion; it is the perceiving something on that side of one's self, something on this side. This something is mystery; it is--to make use of those feeble human expressions which always come one by one, and never express more than one side of things--the moral world. This moral world man bathes in, as much as, more than, in the material world. He lives in what he feels, more than in what he sees. Creation may beset him, want may assail him, pleasure may tempt him, the beast within him may torment him, but all in vain; a sort of incessant aspiration toward another world impels him irresistibly beyond creation, beyond want, beyond pleasure, beyond the beast. He glimpses everywhere, at every moment, the upper world, and he fills his soul with that vision, and regulates his actions by it. He does not feel complete in this life on earth. He bears within him, so to speak, a mysterious pattern of the anterior and ulterior world--the perfect world--with which he is incessantly, and despite himself, comparing the imperfect world, and himself, and his infirmities, and his appetites, and his passions, and his actions. When he perceives that he is approaching this ideal pattern, he is overjoyed; when he sees that he is receding from it, he is sad. He understands thoroughly that there is nothing useless or superfluous in this world, nothing which does not proceed from something, and which does not lead to something. The just, the unjust, good, evil, good works, evil deeds, fall into the abyss, but are not lost there, passing on into the infinite, for the benefit or the burden of those who have accomplished them. After death they are collected, and the sum-total cast up. To disappear, to vanish, to be annihilated, to cease to be, is no more possible for the moral atom than for the material atom. Hence, in man, that great twofold sense of his liberty and of his responsibility. It is given him to be good or to be bad. It is an account that will have to be settled. He may be guilty, and therein--a striking circumstance upon which I dwell--consists his grandeur. There is nothing similar for the brute. With the brute it is all instinct: to drink when thirsty, to eat when hungry, to procreate in due season, to sleep when the sun sets, to wake when it rises, or vice versa, if it be a beast of night. The brute has only an obscure sort of ego, illumined by no moral light. Its entire law, I repeat, is instinct: instinct, a sort of railway, along which inevitable nature impels the brute. No liberty, therefore, no responsibility, and consequently no future life. The brute does neither evil nor good; it is wholly ignorant. Even the tiger is innocent.

If, perchance, you were innocent as the tiger!

At certain moments one is tempted to believe that, having no warning voice within, any more than the tiger, you have no more sense of responsibility.

Really, at times I pity you. Who knows? perhaps after all, you are only a miserable blind force!

Louis Bonaparte, you have not the notion of good and evil. You are, perhaps, the only man of all mankind who has not that notion. This gives you a start over the human race. Yes, you are formidable. It is that which constitutes your genius, it is said; I admit that, at all events, it is that which at this moment constitutes your power.

But do you know what results from this sort of power? Possession, yes; right, no.

Crime essays to deceive history as to its true name; it says, "I am success."--Thou art crime!

You are crowned and masked. Down with the mask! Down with the crown!

Ah! you are wasting your trouble, you are wasting your appeals to the people, your plebiscites, your ballots, your footings, your executive committees proclaiming the sum total, your red or green banners, with these figures in gold paper,--7,500,000! You will derive no advantage from this elaborate mise-en-scène. There are things about which universal sentiment is not to be gulled. The human race, taken as a whole, is an honest man.

Even by those about you you are judged. There is not one of your domestics, whether in gold lace or in embroidered coat, valet of the stable, or valet of the Senate, who does not say beneath his breath that which I say aloud. What I proclaim, they whisper; that is the only difference. You are omnipotent, they bend the knee, that is all. They salute you, their brows burning with shame.

They feel that they are base, but they know that you are infamous.

Come, since you are by way of hunting those whom you call "the rebels of December," since it is on them you are setting your hounds, since you have instituted a Maupas, and created a ministry of police specially for that purpose, I denounce to you that rebel, that recusant, that insurgent, every man's conscience.

You give money, but 'tis the hand receives it, not the conscience. Conscience! while you are about it, inscribe it on your lists of exiles. It is an obstinate opponent, pertinacious, persistent, inflexible, making a disturbance everywhere. Drive it out of France. You will be at ease then.

Would you like to know what it calls you, even among your friends? Would you like to know in what terms an honourable chevalier of Saint-Louis, an octogenarian, a great antagonist of "demagogues," and a partisan of yours, cast his vote for you on the 20th of December? "He is a scoundrel," said he, "but a necessary scoundrel."

No! there are no necessary scoundrels. No! crime is never useful! No! crime is never a good. Society saved by treason! Blasphemy! we must leave it to the archbishops to say these things. Nothing good has evil for its basis. The just God does not impose on mankind the necessity for scoundrels. There is nothing necessary in this world but justice and truth. Had that venerable man thought less of life and more of the tomb, he would have seen this. Such a remark is surprising on the part of one advanced in years, for there is a light from God which enlightens souls approaching the tomb, and shows them the truth.

Never do crime and the right come together: on the day when they should meet, the words of the human tongue would change their meaning, all certainty would vanish, social darkness would supervene. When, by chance, as has been sometimes seen in history, it happens that, for a moment, crime has the force of law, the very foundations of humanity tremble. "Jusque datum sceleri!" exclaims Lucan, and that line traverses history, like a cry of horror.

Therefore, and by the admission of your voters, you are a scoundrel. I omit the word necessary. Make the best of this situation.

"Well, be it so," you say. "But that is precisely the case in question: one procures 'absolution' by universal suffrage."

Impossible.

What! impossible?

Yes, impossible. I will put your finger on the impossibility.


Victor Hugo