Margot (midnight_birth) wrote in margot_quotes,

Micromegas and Other Stories by Voltaire.


Title: Micromegas and Other Stories.
Author: Voltaire (translated by Douglas Parmée).
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, novellas, fantasy, philosophical fiction.
Country: France.
Language: French.
Publication Date: 1715, 1747, 1748, 1750, 1752, 1756, 1759, 1764, 1765.
Summary: This volume collects 13 short stories and 1 essay. In Cosi-Sancta, A Small Sin to Achieve a Greater Good: An African Tale (1715), a virtuous woman is shocked when it is predicted that while her virtue will cause many problems, she will be sanctified for being unfaithful to her husband three times. In Plato's Dream (1756), a pointed philosophical criticism of religious doctrine, a god-like entity charges a number of "lesser superbeings" with the task of creating their own worlds, and the struggle the being Demogorgon has with his creation of Earth. Micromégas (1752) is a novella that recounts the visit to Earth of a being from a planet circling the star Sirius, and of his companion from the planet Saturn, and their impressions of it. In The Way of the World: Babouc's Vision (1748), a genii presiding over Upper Asia sends Babouc to the city of Persepolis (in actuality an allusion to Paris) to determine whether it can be reformed, or should be destroyed for its many sins and excesses, throwing Babouc into a conflicting state. Memnon or Human Wisdom (1747) is a humorous misadventure of Memnon, who makes an ill-fated decision to "be wise." Letter from a Turk: about Fakirs and His Friend Bababec (1750) is a criticism on fakirs and sages and their understanding of enlightenment through a conversation between a man seeking advice from the most famous fakir on the banks of the Ganges. In Scarmentado's Travels: Told by Himself (1756), a young man sets out to see the "wonders of the world" and encounters deep corruption in religious organizations in all the countries he travels to. In Consolation for Two (1756), a theory of "console yourself, for others suffer greater" is put to the test when a priest who holds firm to the belief experiences his own tragedy. In Story of a Good Brahmin (1759) a question is raised whether reason and intelligence is preferable to happiness, but the truth and theory don't match up. Jeannot and Colin (1764) is a fable of two friends, one of whom suddenly becomes rich and unwise, and the true meaning of friendship. Wives, Submit Yourselves unto Your Own Husbands (1765) is an essay describes a conversation between the wife of Marshal de Grancey and abbé de Châteauneuf about the sexism and prejudice against women in the Epistles of St. Paul, as well as other religious texts. Short Digression (1766) is a short tale that illustrates the rise of dictatorship and the breeding of civil discord through a happy and well-functioning community of the blind wherein one rises above the others as a leader. An Adventure in India: Translated by the Ignoramus (1764) describes Pythagoras's walks in India, and his thinking of unfairness and the downfalls of human governments and corruption. In The Adventure of Memory (1773), when people begin to argue that memory is not a valuable or necessary thing Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, takes it away from the human race to give them a reality check.

My rating: 8/10
My review:"

♥ There's an erroneous maxim saying that it's wrong to commit a minor evil in order to achieve a major good. St Augustine himself agrees that this maxim is untrue, as we can see from his account, in his City of God, of this little adventure which happened in his diocese during the proconsulate of Septimus Acidynus.

~~Cosi-Sancta, A Small Sin to Achieve a Greater Good: An African Tale.

♥ Demogorgon was allotted a little scrap of mud which we know as the earth and when he'd arranged it in the way we see it today, he claimed to have produced a masterpiece; he thought he'd silenced any envy and was expecting nothing but praise, even from his fellow artists. He was greatly surprised to be greeted by boos.

One of them, a consummate hoaxer, sneered: "Oh yes, that's a really splendid piece of work you've produced: you've split your world into two and put a vast amount of water between the two hemispheres, so that they can't communicate with each other. Those at the two poles will freeze to death and those on the equators will die from the heat. You've carefully set up large sandy deserts so that anyone crossing them will die of hunger and thirst. I quite like your chickens, your sheep and your cows, but frankly I don't think much of your snakes and your spiders. Your onions and artichokes are very good, but I can't see the point of covering the earth with so many toxic plants, unless you intend to poison its inhabitants. What's more, you seem to have created thirty species of monkeys, even more species of dogs and only four or five kinds of man. It's true that you've endowed this last sort of animal with something you call reason, but let me tell you honestly that your reason is just too ridiculous and dangerously close to madness. In any case, it doesn't seem to me that you think very highly of that particular biped, because you've given it so many enemies and provided it with so few defences, so many illnesses and so few remedies, so many passions and so little wisdom. It seems that you don't want many of these animals to survive since, apart from all the dangers you've exposed them to, you've arranged things so cleverly that one day smallpox will regularly wipe out one tenth of their species and its big sister, syphilis, will poison the source of life in the remaining nine tenths. And as if that isn't enough, you've worked everything so well that half the survivors will be busily going to law and the other half going to war. No doubt they'll all feel greatly obliged to you. Yes, you really have produced a masterpiece."

Demogorgon blushed: he was well aware that there were things in his work that were morally and physically wrong but still maintained that there was more good than bad in it.

"It's all very well for you to criticize me," he said, "but do you think it's all that easy to create an animal that's always reasonable, who's free and never buses that freedom? Do you think that when you have to provide nine or ten thousand plants, it's easy to prevent some of them from being harmful? Do you imagine that, given a certain quantity of water, mud, sand and fire, you avoid having seas and deserts? You're laughing at me but, as you've finished making the planet Mars, let's have a look at what you've managed to do with your two big circles and the wonderful effect of your nights without a moon. We'll see if there are people there who aren't mad or ill."

~~Plato's Dream.

♥ After travelling around a good deal, Micromegas finally made a landing on Saturn. Although he'd become accustomed to seeing novelties, when he saw how tiny the globe and its inhabitants were, he couldn't suppress that smile of superiority which sometimes even the wisest of us can't manage to conceal. Saturn is in fact only nine hundred times larger than the Earth and the Saturnians themselves are only about 6,800 feet tall. At first, he and his companions rather joked about them (somewhat as an Italian musician will laugh at the music of Lully when he visits France), but as our Sirian had an understanding nature, he quickly came to see that a thinking being may well not be ridiculous merely because he's only six thousand feet tall.

♥ "Nature is just Nature. Why attempt to compare it with anything else?"

"In order to please you," the secretary replied.

"I don't want to be pleased," said the traveller. "I want to be informed."

♥ "Yes, alas," agreed the Saturnian. "We live only about five hundred revolutions of the sun." (This corresponds to about fifteen thousand years of our time.) "So you can see that we die almost as soon as we're born. Our life is like a little dot, we last only for a moment and our globe is no larger than an atom. We scarcely have time to start learning something before death comes to cut short our existence. As for myself, I don't dare to make any plans; I feel like a small drop in the immense ocean. And I feel particularly ashamed when I'm with you: what a ridiculous figure I must seem in the world."

"If it weren't for the fact that you're a philosopher," said Micromegas, "I'd be afraid of making you feel even more distressed by telling you that we live seven times longer than you. But you well understand that when the time comes for us to return our body to the elements, giving life back to nature in another form, which we call dying, when this moment of metamorphosis comes, there's not the slightest difference between living for a day and living for an eternity. I've been to countries where people live a thousand times longer than in mine and I discovered that they still weren't happy. But there are sensible people everywhere who are able to accept their lot and give thanks to the great Author of Nature. He has scattered throughout the universe an immense number of varieties to create a single, admirable uniformity. For example, all thinking beings are different, but remain fundamentally the same because they have all been given desire and the power of thought. Matter can be found everywhere, but it takes on different attributes in different globes. How many attributes do you reckon to have in your form of matter?"

"If you mean those attributes without which we think out globe could not continue to exist in its present form," replied the Saturnian, "we reckon that there are three hundred, such as extent, impenetrability, motion, gravitation, disability and all the others."

♥ Their eyes and hands weren't adapted to finding those tiny creatures who crawl around on Earth, and they didn't feel the slightest sensation to lead them to suspect that we and all the other inhabitants of the world have the honour of existing.

At first, the dwarf, subject at times to making overhasty judgments, decided that there was nobody on Earth. His reason for thinking this was that he hadn't seen anyone. Micromegas politely pointed out that this was not a very sound argument.

"After all," he said, "you yourself, having such small eyes, can't see certain stars of the fiftieth magnitude that I can see quite distinctly. But can you therefore conclude that those stars don't exist?"

"But I did poke around carefully," replied the dwarf.

"But you didn't feel around properly."

♥ I'm going to give you a simple, honest account of what actually happened, without inventing anything of my own—and that's no mean feat for a historian.

♥ He was being misled by appearances, as happens all too often, whether you're using a microscope or not.

♥ When they heard these words, the philosophers all shook their heads and one of them, more honest than the rest, frankly admitted that, apart from a few people whom nobody thought very highly of, everybody else was mad, evil or unhappy.

"We have in us more matter than we need to do a great deal of harm," he said, "assuming, of course, that evil is caused by matter, and too much mind, assuming that evil comes from the mind. For example, do you know that at this very moment there are a hundred thousand idiots of our species called Russians and wearing caps, killing a hundred thousand similar animals called Turks and wearing turbans, unless they are being massacred by them? What is more, they've been doing it since time immemorial."

The Sirian shuddered and asked what might be the reason for these horrible disputes between such petty little animals.

"It's all about a few tiny heaps of mud no larger than your heel," replied the philosopher, "and there's not one of these millions of humans getting their throats slit who wants to have a spoonful of the mud. It's just a question whether it should belong to a certain man called a Sultan or another one called, God alone now why, Caesar or Tsar. And neither of them has even seen or ever will see this little spec of earth which they call Crimea, nor have hardly any of these little animals busy cutting each other's throats ever seen the animal on whose behalf they're doing it."

"You poor unhappy wretches!" exclaimed the Sirian indignantly. "How can one even imagine such atrocious savagery? In just three steps I could stamp out this whole ant hill of stupid murderers, and I'm tempted to it."

"It's not worth your trouble," the human replied, "they'll manage to do it perfectly well themselves without your help. Let me tell you that in ten years' time not one per cent of those wretched people will have survived, even if they never draw a sword: famine or exhaustion or self-indulgence will have wiped out almost all of them. In any case, it's not they who should be punished but that barbarous lot sitting tucked comfortably away in their offices, who while digesting a good meal will order a million men to be massacred, after which they'll solemnly offer thanks to God."

♥ Another old disciple of Aristotle said confidently, in a loud voice, that the soul was an entelechy capable of attaining perfection and a reason through which it has the power to become what it is; and that this was what Aristotle had expressly declared on page 633 of the Louvre edition; and then he quoted some Greek.

"I'm afraid my Greek's not very good," said the giant.

"Neither is mine," replied the minuscule philosopher.

"Then why are you quoting Aristotle to me in Greek?" enquired the Sirian.

"Because it's a good idea to quote something you don't understand in the language you understand least well," the learned man replied.

♥ A small follower of Locke was standing next to him and when finally he was asked the same question, he replied:

"I don't know how I think, but I do know that I've never been able to think without being able to use my senses. I have no doubt that there are immaterial and intelligent substances, but I doubt very much if it's impossible for God to convey thought to matter. I revere the eternal force, it's not for me to limit it; I make no assertions, I'm content to believe that there are more things possible than we think."

♥ The Sirian picked up the little mites again, still treating them kindly, though inwardly rather annoyed that such infinitely small creatures were so almost infinitely arrogant. He promised to produce a splendid volume of philosophy, written specially for them, which would tell them everything about everything, and he did in fact give it to them before leaving. They took it to the Academy of Sciences in Paris, but when the secretary opened it, he found nothing but blank pages.

"That's just what I suspected!" he said.


♥ Later, after gaining further information about what had happened in both armies, he learnt of noble, compassionate, unselfish acts which amazed and delighted him. "How inscrutable human beings are!" he exclaimed. "How can one be so vile and so noble, so good and so evil?"

♥ Babouc joined the throng of people, which consisted of the dirtiest and ugliest of both sexes, as it surged confusedly into a vast, gloomy enclosure. The persistent hum and continual movement, the sight of people giving money to others in order to get a seat, led him to assume that he was in a market were they were selling straw-seated chairs, but when he saw women fall on their knees and pretend to be looking straight ahead while ca-siting a sly glance at the men beside them, he became aware that he was in a temple. The high vault was reverberating to the sound of wild, shrill, raucous, inarticulate voices, like the braying of asses responding to the call of the herdsman's horn on the plains of Poitou. He stuck his fingers into his ears, but was tempted to plug his eyes and his nose as well when he saw workers carrying crowbars and shovels entering the temple. They moved a large stone and dug out some foul-smelling soil which they scattered around; then they placed the body of a dead man in the hole and put back the stone.

"Heavens above!" exclaimed Babouc. "They bury their dead in the place where they worship their God! So their temples are paved with corpses. I'm no longer surprised that Persepolis suffers from all sorts of pestilential plagues. These decaying bodies and the foul state in which they live all crammed together in one place are enough to infect the whole globe. What a horrid city Persepolis is! The angels must be wanting to destroy it in order to replace it by one more beautiful and populate it with people who aren't so filthy. Providence doubtless has its reasons: we must let it proceed with its work."

♥ Babouc was exasperated and felt that a country where high offices dealing with peace and war were put up for auction could only be condemned, rather hastily concluding that nobody in such a country could possibly understand the meaning of war or justice and that their hateful system of government would inevitably lead them to exterminate themselves even if Ituriel didn't.

♥ After dinner, Babouc went into one of the city's grandest temples and sat down with a group of men and women who'd come because they'd nothing better to do. A magus appeared on an extremely high piece of equipment and delivered an eloquent address on vice and virtue, carefully dividing into distinctive categories things that didn't need to be divided. He systematically proved things that required no proof; he taught his audience things that everyone already knew. He spoke, expressing passionate ideas with complete indifference, and when he left he was sweating and out of breath. The assembled company then woke up and thought that they'd been taught something.

♥ Babouc wrote down the dealer's name to inform Ituriel when he came to punish the city. As he was doing this, the dealer himself came in to return Babouc's purse, which he had inadvertently left behind in the shop.

"How is it possible," exclaimed Babouc, "for you to behave so honestly and generously when you had no scruples in charging me four times the value of those baubles I bought from you?"

"There's not one dealer in the city who wouldn't ave returned your purse," replied the dealer. "But you were being misled when you were told that I was charging you four times too much: it was ten times too much, and you'll see that if you want to resell them in a month's time you'll not even get that tenth. But that's absolutely fair ad reasonable: the price of such paltry things is fixed by passing fads - and those fads enable me to give work to a hundred people; they've provided me with a fine house, a comfortable chariot and horses to draw it. They promote industry, which helps money to circulate and creates pleasure and prosperity. And I sell these trifles to neighbouring countries for much more than I charge you and thereby benefit the Persian empire."

Babouc pondered for a while and then crossed the dealer's name off the list of criminals.

♥ The very next morning he arranged to be taken to a theological college. The archimandrite confided to him that he was receiving a hundred thousand crowns a year for having made a vow of poverty and that, having vowed to remain humble, he was in control of quite a considerable domain.

♥ According to their apologia all these societies were essential, and according to their accusations they all deserved to be abolished. He was amazed to learn that in order to provide universal enlightenment, there was not one that did not demand to be in complete control.

♥ Babouc trembled at the thought of such wild ideas in the heads of men who professed to be wise and of the intrigues of those who had renounced the world, of the ambition, pride and cupidity of those who were preaching humility and unselfishness.

♥ Babouc sadly confided in him what he'd been reading and seeing.

"You've been reading rubbish," the author said. "It's always the bad things which proliferate, while good things are scarce in any age or any country. You've hosted the dregs of pedantry because in every profession it's the most worthless who have the least shame in flaunting themselves. The truly wise are quiet, retiring, and keep to themselves. There are still books worth reading and people worth knowing in Persepolis."

♥ So, in the end, Babouc came to the conclusion that these large groups of men who - because of the violence of their disputes - seemed to deserve to be destroyed, were basically beneficial; that each group of magi acted as a brake against the others; that though these groups were competing with each other, they were all preaching the same morality; that they were providing education for the people and were all subject to the law, in the same way as a tutor is in charge of the son of the house while the master of the house keeps and eye on the tutor. He got to know several of them and found that they were saintly souls. He even found that amongst those madmen who wanted to go to war against the Grand Lama there were some truly great men. He finally came to suspect that the morals of the citizens of Persepolis were like its buildings, some of which seemed to him frightful while others had filled him with admiration.

~~The Way of the World: Babouc's Vision.

♥ One day, Memnon had the odd idea of being perfectly wise. Most people have, sometime or other, let this mad idea flit through their head.

♥ "Your lot will change," replied the creature from the star, "and while it's true that you'll never have more than one eye, apart from that you'll be fairly happy, provided you never again have the sill idea of being perfectly wise."

"So that's impossible?" sighed Memnon.

"As impossible," replied the spirit, "as being perfectly clever, perfectly strong and powerful, perfectly happy. We ourselves are far from being any of those things. There does exist a globe where you can be all that, but in the hundred thousand millions of worlds scattered in space, everything is gradual: you are less wise, have less pleasure in the second one than in the first, and so it goes on until you reach the last one, in which everyone is completely mad."

"I'm very much afraid," commented Memnon, "that our little terraqueous globe may be precisely the little madhouse of the universe which you've just done me the honour of telling me about."

"Not quite," replied the good angel, "but you're getting rather close to it. There's a place for everything."

"But in that case," said Memnon, "certain poets, certain philosophers are very much mistaken when they say that all is well."

"No, they're quite right," said the philosopher from outer space, "if you take into account the organization of the whole universe."

"I'll believe that," poor Memnon replied, "when I've got my other eye back."

~~Memnon or Human Wisdom.

♥ My friend Omri took me to the cell of the most famous fakir of all. He was called Bababec and was stark naked, with a large chain round his neck which weighed eighty pounds. He was sitting on a wooden chair, very nicely equipped with sharp little nails which were sticking into his buttocks, yet you might have thought he was sitting on a silk mattress. Lots of women used to come and consult him: he was a family oracle and he seemed to enjoy a tremendous reputation. I watched Omri having a long conversation to him.

"Do you think, Father, that after passing the test of the seven metamorphoses," he asked, "I can enter the abode of Brahma?"

"That depends," replied the fakir. "How do you spend your time?"

"I try to be a good citizen," he replied. "I'm a good husband, a good father, a good friend. I occasionally lend money to the rich, without charging any interest. I give money to the poor. I encourage my neighbours to live peaceably."

"Do you ever stick nails into your arse?" asked the fakir.

"Never, Reverend Father."

"That's unfortunate," said the fakir. "It's a pity, but you're certainly never going to get beyond the nineteenth heaven."

"What do you mean?" said Omri. "That's very good, I'll be quite content with that. What does it matter to me whether I get to the nineteenth or twentieth heaven, as long as I've done my duty during my pilgrimage on earth? I'll be made welcome at my final destination. Isn't it enough just to behave decently and then to be happy in the land of Brahma? What heaven do you intend to reach, Mister Bababec, with your chain and nails?"

"The thirty-fifth," replied Bababec.

"I think it's very curious of you," said Omri, "to claim to be ranked so much higher above me. It must be because you're excessively ambitious. You condemn people who want to be celebrated during their lifetime, so why do you want to be so grand in the next? And in any case, why do you claim you'll be better treated than I'll be? Let me tell you that I give more money to the poor in ten days than you spend in ten years on nails to stick in your backside. It's all very well for you to sit there all day stark-naked with a chain round your neck. How does that help your country? I have far more respect for a man who plants a tree than for all your fellow fakirs who squat watching their noses or wearing packsaddles to display what magnificent souls they have."

Having said which, he calmed down, told the fakir what a good man he was and persuaded him to give up his nails and his chain and come and live a decent life with him. They cleaned him up rubbed him with scented oils and got him to dress properly. For a whole fortnight, he lived very sensibly and admitted that he felt a hundred times happier than he'd been before. But he was losing his prestige among the people; women had stopped coming to ask his advice. He left Omri and went back to his nails: he wanted to be a celebrity.

~~Letter from a Turk: about Fakirs and His Friend Bababec.

♥ When I was fifteen, my father sent me to study in Rome. I arrived all eager to learn the truth about everything, because up till then I had been taught the exact opposite, as is the custom from China to the Alps. I'd been recommended to Cardinal Profondo, who was an odd man, one of the most terrifyingly learned men in the world. He was to teach me the categories of Aristotle and was ready to put me into the category of favourite boy; I had a narrow escape. I saw processions, exorcisms and a few molestations. It was said - mistakenly - that Signore Olimpia, a most prudent woman, was selling a lot of things as dispensations that weren't supposed to be sold. I was of an age when that sort of thing seemed very amusing. A very sweet-tempered young woman called Signora Fatelo took it into her head to fall in love with me. She was being wooed by the Reverend Father Aconiti and the Reverend Father Poignardini, young members of a religious order that no longer exists: she settled their disagreement by granting her favours to me, thereby putting me in danger of being excommunicated and poisoned as well. So I left: but I'd greatly enjoyed seeing St Peter's Basilica.

♥ To console myself, I hired the services of an extremely beautiful Circassian who in private concourse was the most tender of women and in a mosque the most devout. One night, carried away by the delights of love, she cried out: "Allah! Illah! Allah!", which, for the Turks, are holy words. I took them to be words of love and exclaimed, equally tenderly: "Allah! Illah! Allah!"

"Ah!" she cried. "Allah be praised; through his mercy you've become a Turk!"

I told her that I was thanking God for giving me such strength and because I was so happy. Next morning the imam came to circumcise me and, when I proved difficult to persuade, the local district magistrate, a loyal man, offered to impale me. Saving my foreskin and my backside cost me a thousand sequins. I quickly left for Persia, determined in future never to attend either a Greek or a Latin mass and never to exclaim: "Allah! Illah! Allah!" while enjoying a rendezvous.

♥ Aurangzeb hardly seemed to need it, since he was the most pious man in the whole of Hindustan, though it's true that he'd cut the throat of one of his sons and poisoned his own father. And twenty Hindu rajas and an equal number of Muslims umrahs had also been tortured to death; all this was quire irrelevant: he was devout and thus praised by all. Only His Sacred Majesty, Moulay Ismail, His Most Serene Highness the Sultan of Morocco, was worthy to be compared to him: he cut off people's heads every Friday after prayers.

♥ I had seen all that was beautiful and good and admirable on earth. I resolved never again to worship anything but my own household gods. I married a local girl, she made me a cuckold and I realized that it was the most peaceful way of life in the world.

~~Scarmentado's Travels: Written by Himself.

♥ In the course of my travels I met an old Brahmin, a very wise, erudite and intelligent man; what's more, he was rich and that made him even wiser, because, as he had everything, he didn't need to lie to anyone.

♥ I examined myself and realized that I wouldn't, in fact, have liked to be happy if it required me to be an idiot.

I put the question to some philosophers; they agreed with me. "All the same," I said, "there's a tremendous contradiction in that way of thinking; after all, what are we talking about? Being happy: what's the importance of being intelligent or being stupid?

Moreover, those people who are content with their lot are quite sure they're happy, whereas those who go around thinking aren't sure that they're thinking properly. So it's obvious that we ought to choose not to have common sense, if having it contributes to making us feel unhappy."

Everyone shared my view, yet I couldn't find a single person prepared to accept the option of becoming a moron in order to be happy. From which I drew the conclusion that, even if we think it's important to be happy, we think it even more important not to be stupid.

All the same, after due consideration, it does seem that it's really mad to prefer reason to happiness. So how can this contradiction be resolved? This isn't a matter to be lightly dismissed: it still requires a great deal of discussion.

~~Story of a Good Brahmin.

♥ It's the same for all the arts. A young, well-born lord isn't a painter or a musician or an architect or a sculptor, but he's very glad to be able to support and encourage all those arts by his magnanimity. There's no doubt that it's better to sponsor them than to practise them: all that the marquis needs is to have good taste; it's the artist's job to do the work for him, and that's why it's very right and proper that ladies and gentlemen of quality - by which term I mean the very rich - know everything without ever having learnt anything, because, at the end of the day, they do indeed know how to pass judgment on all the things they've ordered - and are paying for."

~~Jeannot and Colin.

♥ Finally, seeing that she had reached the age when they say lovely women who are also intelligent should move on to something different, she decided to take up reading. She began with the tragedies of Racine and was surprised to discover that she enjoyed them more than when she had seen them on the stage; her taste was expanding and she realized that this man had never said anything that wasn't true and interesting, and that everything had been put exactly in its right place, that he was simple, noble, with nothing declamatory or forced, no attempt to be clever; that his plots as well as his thoughts were all based on nature; as she read she could see a reflection of her own feelings, the picture of her own life.

They gave her Montaigne to read. She was charmed by this man who chatted with her and had doubts about everything. Next they gave her Plutarch's Lives of Great Men, and she enquired why he hadn't written some Lives of Great Women.

♥ "I've just picked up a book which happened to be lying about in my study - I think it was a collection of letters and I read a few words, saying something like: 'Wives, you must submit to your husbands.' I just tossed it onto the floor!"

"But, my dear lady, don't you know that that was one of the Epistles of St Paul?"

"I don't care who wrote them - he must have been a very ill-bred man. My husband, the Marshal, never said or wrote anything like that to me. I suspect that your St Paul must have been a very difficult man to get on with. Was he married?"

"Yes, madam."

"His wife must have been a very long-suffering woman. If I'd had a husband like that, I'd have soon shown him what's what! Submit to your own husbands, indeed! If he'd just said: be gentle, indulgent, understanding, thrifty, I'd have recognized that, at least, he was well bred. But why submit, if you please? When I married Grancey, we promised to be faithful to each other; well, I didn't quite manage to keep my word and neither did he. But neither of us ever promised to obey. Are we slaves? Isn't it enough that, after marrying you, he has the right to give you an illness that lasts for nine months... and may prove fatal? Isn't it enough that I gave birth - extremely painfully - to a child who, once he comes of age, will be able to take me to court? Isn't it enough that every month an extremely unpleasant event occurs, quite unseemly for a lady of quality? And moreover, when one of those dozen events fails to take place, I'm placed in a situation which may lead to my death? And on top of all that, I'm supposed to submit to him as well! I'm certain Nature never said anything like that: we were merely given organs different from men's, but while that may make us dependent on each other, Nature never claimed that this would be a form of slavery. I do remember Molière writing:

Power belongs to him who can grow a beard

"But that's a very odd reason for me to accept a master Just because a man's chin is covered in a nasty, rough stubble and I was born with a chin already shaven, am I supposed to be his most humble servant? I admit that men have stronger muscles than ours and that they can deliver a more powerful punch. And to tell you the truth, I'm afraid that's the basic reason for their claiming to be superior. But they also claim to have a more methodical brain than ours, and that's why they boast of being more capable of governing; however, I can show them queens who were just as good as kings. People were talking to me yesterday about a German princess called Catherine who gets up at five every morning to look after the welfare of her subjects, who concerns herself with everything, deals with all her correspondence herself, supports the arts and who's as kind as she's enlightened. And she's as brave as she is clever, for she hasn't been brought up in a convent, where they teach us what things we mustn't know and fail to teach us the things we need to know. For my part, if I were in charge of governing a state, I think I'd be bold enough to model myself on her."

~~Wives, Submit Yourselves unto Your Own Husbands.

When the Quinze-Vingts, the Institution for the Blind, was founded, we know that all were considered equal and everyone's little concerns were decided by vote at a general meeting. These blind people were perfectly capable of distinguishing, by touch, between gold and silver coins, not one of them would have mistaken wine from Brie for wine from Burgundy. Their sense of smell was more acute than that of people with two eyes. They could talk perfectly sensibly about matters pertaining to the four senses that is to say that they knew everything about them that we're allowed to know. So they lived as peacefully and happily as you can expect if you happen to be blind. Unfortunately, one of their professors claimed to have clear ideas about eyesight: he persuaded people to listen to him, he schemed, he gathered an enthusiastic group of disciples and finally was acknowledged as the leader of the community. He started to lay down the law about colours. It was the beginning of the end.

This first dictator of the blind set up a small committee, thereby gaining control of all the alms they received, so that nobody would dare resist him. He decreed that the clothes worn by the members of the Quinze-Vingts were white, and they believed him and would talk all the time about their lovely white coats, even though there wasn't a single white coat among the whole pot. Everyone else laughed at them, so they went and complained to the dictator. He told them that they were revolutionaries, malcontents, rebels allowing themselves to be led astray by the false ideas of people who had eyes and were daring to question the infallibility of their leader. This disagreement split of the Quinze-Vingts into two fractions.

To appease both of them, the dictator decreed that all their coats were red - there wasn't a single red coat in the whole Quinze-Vingts. They were laughed at even more. The community again complained. The dictator was furious and the other faction of the blind was furious too; this led to a long struggle and peace was restored only after all the Quinze-Vingts were granted permission to reserve judgment on the colour of their clothing.

A deaf man, on reading this little tale, admitted that the blind were wrong to make any statement about colours, but expressed his firm conviction that only the deaf had the right to pass judgment on music.

~~A Short Digression.

♥ Next, [Pythagoras] went on to advocate tolerance to the inhabitants of Crotone, but an intolerant man set fire to his house and the man who had saved two Hindus from being burnt at the stake himself died in the flames.

It's every man for himself.

~~An Adventure in India: Translated by the Ignoramus.

♥ That part of mankind capable of thought - that is to say, one in a hundred thousand, at most - had long been hoping, or at least, kept on saying, that our ideas come to us through our senses and that memory is the only means by which we can join two thoughts or even two words together.

That is why Jupiter, the god of nature, fell in love with Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, the moment he first set eyes on her, and their marriage gave birth to the nine Muses, who invented all the arts.

♥ A short time later, an argumentative man, half geometrician, half fantasist, came along and argued against the five senses and memory, and told the small minority of men capable of thought: "You've been misled until now. Your senses are useless, because ideas are innate and exist before your senses are capable of acting; you had all the necessary notions of time and space your require at birth. You had everything without having felt anything; all your ideas were born with you, they were part of your intelligence, which we call the soul. You had no need of memory; Memory's useless."

The Nonsober condemned that proposition, not because it was ridiculous but because it was new.

♥ They didn't produce any satires against the former judges, the followers of Loyola and Jansen or the Nonsober, because satires never make anyone better: they merely irritate the stupid and make them even more unpleasant. They thought of a way to enlighten and at the same time punish time.

So it came about that one lovely night everyone's brain was so benumbed that when they woke up next morning every memory of the past had been obliterated. Acting from some instinct, not dependent on memory, some judges in bed with their wives tried to make closer contact with them. The wives, who very rarely have the instinct to embrace their husbands, sharply rejected their disgusting caresses. Their husbands were annoyed, the wives loudly protested and, in most households, they came to blows.

Gentlemen catching sight of a theologian's square hat used it to satisfy needs which can be relieved neither by memory nor by common sense. Ladies used pots standing on their dressing tables for similar purposes. Unable to remember their contracts with their masters, servants went into their bedrooms without realizing where they were; and man being a naturally curious animal, they opened all the drawers; and since man has a natural liking for the glitter of gold and silver (no memory is involved here), they took whatever came to hand. Their masters tried to cry "Stop, thief!" but the word "thief" having escaped their minds, it couldn't reach their tongue. They'd all forgotten the language they spoke, so they uttered meaningless grunts. It was far worse than the Tower of Babel, where everyone created a new language on the spot.

The innate fondness of men for pretty women was so strong that insolent young lackeys hurled themselves indiscriminately on the first woman or girl they met, whether she was an innkeeper's wife of a high-court judge, and the women themselves, having forgotten everything they'd been told about modest behaviour, let them do whatever they wanted, without making any attempt to stop them.

It was time to eat: everybody had forgotten how to do it. Nobody had gone to market to buy or sell anything. Flunkeys had put on their masters' clothes and the masters were wearing those of their servants. They were all looking at each other completely bewildered. The people cleverest at providing themselves with what they needed - the common folk - found something to eat; the others went hungry.

The Lord Chief Justice and the Archbishop were walking around stark-naked and their grooms were wearing red silk gowns or priestly dalmatics. Everything was in confusion; starvation and disaster was threatening to exterminate everybody.

~~The Adventure of Memory.
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