to be a man of (you may trace them in his books) some rather，
My illness, far from robbing me of my physical vigour, had but increased it. I was no longer the heavy, sleepy animal, fatigued by digestion and stupefied by weariness. I felt the vibrations of all my fibres filling my soul with unknown harmonies; and I was astonished to discover within myself faculties of which I had never suspected the use. My good kinfolk were delighted at this, though apparently not surprised. They had allowed themselves to augur so well of me from the beginning that it seemed as if they had been accustomed all their lives to the trade of civilizing barbarians.
The nervous system which had just been developed in me, and which made me pay for the pleasures and advantages it brought by keen and constant sufferings during the rest of my life, had rendered me specially sensitive to impressions from without; and this quickness to feel the effect of external things was helped by an organic vigour such as is only found among animals or savages. I was astounded at the decay of the faculties in other people. These men in spectacles, these women with their sense of smell deadened by snuff, these premature graybeards, deaf and gouty before their time, were painful to behold. To me society seemed like a vast hospital; and when with my robust constitution I found myself in the midst of these weaklings, it seemed to me that with a puff of my breath I could have blown them into the air as if they had been so much thistle-down.
This unfortunately led me into the error of yielding to that rather stupid kind of pride which makes a man presume upon his natural gifts. For a long time it induced me to neglect their real improvement, as if this were a work of supererogation. The idea that gradually grew up in me of the worthlessness of my fellows prevented me from rising above those whom I henceforth looked upon as my inferiors. I did not realize that society is made up of so many elements of little value in themselves, but so skilfully and solidly put together that before adding the least extraneous particle a man must be a qualified artificer. I did not know that in this society there is no resting- place between the role of the great artist and that of the good workman. Now, I was neither one nor the other, and, if the truth must be told, all my ideas have never succeeded in lifting me out of the ordinary ruck; all my strength has only enabled me with much difficulty to do as others do.
In a few weeks, then, I passed from an excess of admiration to an excess of contempt for society. As soon as I understood the workings of its springs they seemed to me so miserably regulated by a feeble generation that the hopes of my mentors, unknown to themselves, were doomed to disappointment. Instead of realizing my own inferiority and endeavouring to efface myself in the crowd, I imagined that I could give proof of my superiority whenever I wished; and I fed on fancies which I blush to recall. If I did not show myself egregiously ridiculous, it was thanks to the very excess of this vanity which feared to stultify itself before others.
At that time Paris presented a spectacle which I shall not attempt to set before you, because no doubt you have often eagerly studied it in the excellent pictures which have been painted by eye-witnesses in the form of general history or private memoirs. Besides, such a picture would exceed the limits of my story, for I promised to tell you only the cardinal events in my moral and philosophical development. In order to give you some idea of the workings of my mind at this period it will suffice to mention that the War of Independence was breaking out in America; that Voltaire was receiving his apotheosis in Paris; that Franklin, the prophet of a new political religion, was sowing the seed of liberty in the very heart of the Court of France; while Lafayette was secretly preparing his romantic expedition. The majority of young patricians were being carried away either by fashion, or the love of change, or the pleasure inherent in all opposition which is not dangerous.
Opposition took a graver form and called for more serious work in the case of the old nobles, and among the members of the parliaments. The spirit of the League was alive again in the ranks of these ancient patricians and these haughty magistrates, who for form's sake were still supporting the tottering monarchy with one arm, while with the other they gave considerable help to the invasions of philosophy. The privileged classes of society were zealously lending a hand to the imminent destruction of their privileges by complaining that these had been curtailed by the kings. They were bringing up their children in constitutional principles, because they imagined they were going to found a new monarchy in which the people would help them to regain their old position above the throne; and it is for this reason that the greatest admiration for Voltaire and the most ardent sympathies with Franklin were openly expressed in the most famous salons in Paris.
So unusual and, if it must be said, so unnatural a movement of the human mind had infused fresh life into the vestiges of the Court of Louis XIV, and replaced the customary coldness and stiffness by a sort of quarrelsome vivacity. It had also introduced certain serious forms into the frivolous manners of the regency, and lent them an appearance of depth. The pure but colourless life of Louis XVI counted for nothing, and influenced nobody. Never had there been such serious chatter, so many flimsy maxims, such an affectation of wisdom, so much inconsistency between words and deeds as might have been found at this period among the so-called enlightened classes.
It was necessary to remind you of this in order that you might understand the admiration which I had at first for a world apparently so disinterested, so courageous, so eager in the pursuit of truth, and likewise the disgust which I was soon to feel for so much affectation and levity, for such an abuse of the most hallowed words and the most sacred convictions. For my own part, I was perfectly sincere; and I founded my philosophic fervour (that recently discovered sentiment of liberty which was then called the cult of reason) on the broad base of an inflexible logic. I was young and of a good constitution, the first condition perhaps of a healthy mind; my reading, though not extensive, was solid, for I had been fed on food easy of digestion. The little I knew served to show me, therefore, that others either knew nothing at all, or were giving themselves the lie.
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