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I WAITED with impatience, my dear friend, for the second edition of Madame de Staël's work, on litera. ture. As she had promised to answer your criticisms I was curious to know what a woman of her talents would say in defence of perfectibility. As soon as her work reached my solitude, I hastened to read the preface and notes; but I saw that not one of your objections was removed, she had only endeavoured to explain the word upon which the whole system is founded. Alas! it would be very gratifying to believe that we are from age to age advancing progressively towards perfection, and that the son is always better than the father. If any thing could prove this excellence in the human character it
would be to see that Madame de Staël has found the principle of this illusion in her own heart. Yet I cannot help always entertaining apprehensions that this lady who so often laments over mankind, in boasting of their perfecti. bility is like those priests who do not believe in the ido! to whom they offer incense at the altars.
I will say also my dear friend, that it seems to me al. together unworthy a woman of the authors merit to have sought, by way of answer to you, to raise doubts with respect to your political opinions. What concern have these pretended opinions with a dispute purely literary ? Might one not justly retort her own argument upon Madame de Staël and say that she has very much the air of not loving the present government and regretting the days of greater liberty ? Madame de Staël was too much above these means to have made use of them; she ought to have left them to those who, in a spirit of philanthropy, prepare the road to Cayenne for certain authors if ever the good times should return.
Now then, my dear friend, I must tell you my mode of thinking upon this new course of literature. But in combating the system I shall perhaps appear to you as lit: tle reasonable as my adversary. You are not ignorant that my passion is to see Jesus Christ every where, as Madame de Staël's is to see perfectibility. I have the misfortune of believing, with Pascal, that the christian religion alone can explain the problem of man. that I begin by sheltering myself under a great name, in order that you may spare my contracted ideas, and my anti-philosophic superstitions. For the rest, I find myself emboldeped, in thinking with what indulgence you have already announced my work. But when will this work appear ? --It has even now been two years in the press--for two years the printer has been indefatigable in creating delays, and I have been no less indefatigable in
correcting the work. What I am going to say in this letter will then be taken almost entirely from my future work on the Genius of Christianity, or on the Moral and Poetical Beauties of the Christian Religion. It will be amus. ing to you to see how two minds, setting out from two opposite points, have sometimes arrived at the same results. Madame de Staël gives to philosophy what I ascribe to religion.
To begin with ancient Literature. I agree perfectly with the ingenious author whom you have refuted, that our theatre is superior to the theatre of the ancients; I see yet more clearly that this superiority arises from a more profound study of the human heart. But to what do we owe this knowledge of the passions ?-to christianity entirely, in no way to philosophy. You smile, my friend, listen to me. If there existed in the world a religion, the essential qualities of which were to plant a barrier against the passions of men, it would necessarily augment the play of the passions in the Drama and the Epopea ; it would be by its very nature much more favourable to the developement of character than any other religious institution, which, not mingling itself with the affections of the soul, would only act upon us by external scenes. Now the Christian Religion has this advantage over the religions of antiquity; 'tis a celestial wind which swells the sails of virtue, and multiplies the storms of conscience around vice.
All the bases of vice and of virtue are changed among men, at least among Christians, since the preaching of the Gospel. . Among the ancients, for example, humility was considered as baseness, and pride as a noble quality. Among us the reverse is the case ; pride is the first of vices and humility the first of virtues. This transmutation of principles alone makes a change in the entire system of morals. It is not difficult to perceive that christianity is in the right,—that christianity alone rests upon the fundamental truths of nature. But it results from thence that we ought to discover in the passions, things which the ancients did not see, yet that these new views of the hu. man heart, cannot justly be attributed to a growing per. fection in the genius of man.
To us the root of all evil is vanity ; the root of all good charity ; thus vicious passions are always a compo. sition of pride, virtuous ones are a composition of love. Setting out with these extreme terms, there are no medi. um terms that cannot easily be found in the scale of our passions. Christianity has carried morality to such a length, that it has, as it were, subjected the emotions of the soul to mathematical rules.
I shall not enter here, my dear friend, into an investi. gation of dramatic characters, such as those of father, of husband, &c. &c.-neither shall I treat of each sentiment separately; all this you will see in my work. I shall only observe with respect to friendship, in thinking of you, that christianity has developed its charms most eminently, because the one, like the other, consists altogether of contrasts. In order for two men to be perfect friends, they ought incessantly to attract and repel each other by some place; they ought to possess equal powers of genius, but directed to different objects; opposite opinions, similar principles; different loves and hatreds, but the same fund of sensibility; humours that cross each other, but tastes that assimilate; in one word, great contrast of character, with great harmony of soul.
In treating the subject of love, Madame de Staël has entered upon a commentary on the story of Phædra. Her observations are acute, and we see by the lesson of the scoliast that she perfectly understands her text. But if it be only in modern times that this passion has been formed from a combination of the soul and the senses, and we have seen that species of love of which friendship forms the moral basis, is it not to christianity that we are indebted for this sentiment being brought to perfection ?-is it not this mild religion which, tending continually to purify the heart, has carried spirituality even into those inclinations which appear the least susceptible of it?how much has it redoubled their energy by crossing them in the heart of man. Christianity alone has given rise to terrible combats between the flesh and the spirit which are so favourable to grand dramatic effects. See in Héloïse the most impetuous of passions struggling against a menacing religion. Héloïse loves, Héloïse burns, but religion raises up walls of ice to check the raging fever ; there, every warmer feeling is extinguished under insensible marble; there, eternal chastisements or rewards attend her fall or her triumph. Dido only loses an ungrateful lover; Héloïse, alas! endures far other torments; she must choose between a faithful lover and her God; nor must she hope that the least particle of her heart can be sécretly devoted to the service of her Abelard. The God whom she serves is a jealous God; a God who must be preferred before every other object; a God who punishes the very shadow of a thought, a mere dream alone addressed to any other than himself.
For tle rest, we cannot but feel that these cloisters, these vaults, these austere manners, contrasted with unfortunate love, must at once increase its power and its
I lament exceedingly that Madame de Staël has not developed the system of the passions religiously. Perfectibility was not, at least according to my opinion, the instrument which ought to have been employed to measure weakness; I would rather have appealed to the very errors of my life. Obliged to give the history of dreams, I would have interrogated my dreams, and if I had found that our passions are really more refined than the passions