Human equilibrium is composed of two attractions, one towards death, the other towards life. Fatality is the vertigo which drags us to the abyss; liberty is the reasonable effort which lifts us above the fatal attractions of death. What is mortal sin? It is apostasy from our own liberty; it is to abandon ourselves to the law of inertia. An unjust act is a compact with injustice; now, every injustice is an abdication of intelligence. We fall from that moment under the empire of force whose reactions always crush everything which is unbalanced.
The love of evil and the formal adhesion of the will to injustice are the last efforts of the expiring will. Man, whatever he may do, is more than a brute, and he cannot abandon himself like a brute to fatality. He must choose. He must love. The desperate soul that thinks itself in love with death is still more alive than a soul without love. Activity for evil can and should lead back a man to good, by counter-stroke and by reaction. The true evil, that for which there is no remedy, is inertia.
The abysses of grace correspond to the abysses of perversity. God has often made saints of scoundrels; but He has never done anything with the half- hearted and the cowardly.
Under penalty of reprobation, one must work, one must act. Nature, moreover, sees to this, and if we will not march on with all our courage towards life, she flings us with all her forces towards death. She drags those who will not walk.
A man whom one may call the great prophet of drunkards, Edgar Poe, that sublime madman, that genius of lucid extravagance, has depicted with terrifying reality the nightmares of perversity. …
"I killed the old man because he squinted." "I did that because I ought not to have done it."
There is the terrible antistrophe of Tertullian's Credo quia absurdum.
To brave God and to insult Him, is a final act of faith. "The dead praise thee not, O Lord," said the Psalmist; and we might add if we dared: "The dead do not blaspheme thee."
"O my son!" said a father as he leaned over the bed of his child who had fallen into lethargy after a violent access of delirium: "insult me again, beat me, bite me, I shall feel that you are still alive, but do not rest for ever in the frightful silence of the tomb!"
A great crime always comes to protest against great lukewarmness. A hundred thousand good priests, had their charity been more active, might have prevented the crime of the wretch Verger. The Church has the right to judge, condemn and punish an ecclesiastic who causes scandal; but she has not the right to abandon him to the frenzies of despair and the temptations of misery and hunger.
Nothing is so terrifying as nothingness, and if one could ever formulate the conception of it, if it were possible to admit it, Hell would be a thing to hope for.
This is why Nature itself seeks and imposes expiation as a remedy; that is why chastisement is a chastening, as that great Catholic Count Joseph de Maistre so well understood; this is why the penalty of death is a natural right, and will never disappear from human laws. The stain of murder would be indelible if God did not justify the scaffold; the divine power, abdicated by society and usurped by criminals, would belong to them without dispute. Assassination would then become a virtue when it exercised the reprisals of outraged nature. Private vengeance would protest against the absence of public expiation, and from the splinters of the broken sword of justice anarchy would forge its daggers.
"If God did away with Hell, men would make another in order to defy Him," said a good priest to us one day. He was right: and it is for that reason that Hell is so anxious to be done away with. Emancipation! is the cry of every vice. Emancipation of murder by the abolition of the pain of death; emancipation of prostitution and infanticide by the abolition of marriage; emancipation of idleness and rapine by the abolition of property. … So revolves the whirlwind of perversity until it arrives at this supreme and secret formula: Emancipation of death by the abolition of life!
It is by the victories of toil that one escapes from the fatalities of sorrow. What we call death is but the eternal parturition of Nature. Ceaselessly she re-absorbs and takes again to her breast all that is not born of the spirit. Matter, in itself inert, can only exist by virtue of perpetual motion, and spirit, naturally volatile, can only endure by fixing itself. Emancipation from the laws of fatality by the free adhesion of the spirit to the true and good, is what the Gospel calls the spiritual birth; the re-absorption into the eternal bosom of Nature is the second death.
Unemancipated beings are drawn towards this second death by a fatal gravitation; the one drags the other, as the divine Michel Angelo has made us see so clearly in his great picture of the Last Judgment; they are clinging and tenacious like drowning men, and free spirits must struggle energetically against them, that their flight may not be hindered by them, that they may not be pulled back to Hell.
This war is as ancient as the world; the Greeks figured it under the symbols of Eros and Anteros, and the Hebrews by the antagonism of Cain and Abel. It is the war of the Titans and the Gods. The two armies are everywhere invisible, disciplined and always ready for attack or counterattack. Simple-minded folk on both sides, astonished at the instant and unanimous resistance that they meet, begin to believe in vast plots cleverly organized, in hidden, all-powerful societies. Eugene Sue invents Rodin;
churchmen talk of the Illuminati and of the Freemasons; Wronski dreams of his bands of mystics, and there is nothing true and serious beneath all that but the necessary struggle of order and disorder, of the instincts and of thought; the result of that struggle is balance in progress, and the devil always contributes, despite himself, to the glory of St. Michael.
Physical love is the most perverse of all fatal passions. It is the anarchist of anarchists; it knows neither law, duty, truth nor justice. It would make the maiden walk over the corpses of her parents. It is an irrepressible intoxication; a furious madness. It is the vertigo of fatality seeking new victims; the cannibal drunkenness of Saturn who wishes to become a father in order that he may have more children to devour. To conquer love is to triumph over the whole of Nature. To submit it to justice is to rehabilitate life by devoting it to immortality; thus the greatest works of the Christian revelation are the creation of voluntary virginity and the sanctification of marriage.
While love is nothing but a desire and an enjoyment, it is mortal. In order to make itself eternal it must become a sacrifice, for then it becomes a power and a virtue. It is the struggle of Eros and Anteros which produces the equilibrium of the world.
Everything that over-excites sensibility leads to depravity and crime. Tears call for blood. It is with great emotions as with strong drink; to use them habitually is to abuse them. Now, every abuse of the emotions perverts the moral sense; one seeks them for their own sakes; one sacrifices everything in order to procure them for one's self. A romantic woman will easily become an Old Bailey heroine. She may even arrive at the deplorable and irreparable absurdity of killing herself in order to admire herself, and pity herself, in seeing herself die!
Romantic habits lead women to hysteria and men to melancholia. Manfred, Rene, Lelia are types of perversity only the more profound in that they argue on behalf of their unhealthy pride, and make poems of their dementia. One asks one's self with terror what monster might be born from the coupling of Manfred and Lelia!
The loss of the moral sense is a true insanity; the man who does not, first of all, obey justice no longer belongs to himself; he walks without a light in the night of his existence; he shakes like one in a dream, a prey to the nightmare of his passions.
The impetuous currents of instinctive life and the feeble resistances of the will form an antagonism so distinct that the qabalists hypothesized the super-foetation of souls; that is to say, they believed in the presence in one body of several souls who dispute it with each other and often seek to destroy it. Very much as the shipwrecked sailors of the Medusa, when they were disputing the possession of the too small raft, sought to sink it.
It is certain that, in making one's self the servant of any current whatever, of instincts or even of ideas, one gives up one's personality, and becomes the slave of that multitudinous spirit whom the Gospel calls legion. Artists know this well enough. Their frequent evocations of the universal light enervate them. They become mediums, that is to say, sick men. The more success magnifies them in public opinion, the more their personality diminishes. They become crotchety, envious, wrathful. They do not admit that any merit, even in a different sphere, can be placed besides theirs; and, having become unjust, they dispense even with politeness. To escape this fatality, really great men isolate themselves from all comradeship, knowing it to be death to liberty. They save themselves by a proud unpopularity from the contamination of the vile multitude. If Balzac had been during his life a man of a clique or of a party, he would not have remained after his death the great and universal genius of our epoch.
The light illuminates neither things insensible nor closed eyes, or at least it only illuminates them for the profit of those who see. The word of Genesis, "Let there be light!" is the cry of victory with which intelligence triumphs over darkness. This word is sublime in effect because it expresses simply the greatest and most marvellous thing in the world: the creation of intelligence by itself, when, calling its powers together, balancing its faculties, it says: I wish to immortalize myself with the sight of the eternal truth. Let there be light! and there is light. Light, eternal as God, begins every day for all eyes that are open to see it. Truth will be eternally the invention and the creation of genius; it cries: Let there be light! and genius itself is, because light is. Genius is immortal because it understands that light is eternal. Genius contemplates truth as its work because it is the victor of light, and immortality is the triumph of light because it will be the recompense and crown of genius.
But all spirits do not see with justness, because all hearts do not will with justice. There are souls for whom the true light seems to have no right to be. They content themselves with phosphorescent visions, abortions of light, hallucinations of thought; and, loving these phantoms, fear the day which will put them to flight, because they feel that, the day not being made for their eyes, they would fall back into a deeper darkness. It is thus that fools first fear, then calumniate, insult, pursue and condemn the sages. One must pity them, and pardon them, for they know not what they do.
True light rests and satisfies the soul; hallucination, on the contrary, tires it and worries it. The satisfactions of madness are like those gastronomic dreams of hungry men which sharpen their hunger without ever satisfying it. Thence are born irritations and troubles, discouragements and despairs. — Life is always a lie to us, say the disciples of Werther, and therefore we wish to die! Poor children, it is not death that you need, it is life. Since you have been in the world you have died every day; is it from the cruel pleasure of annihilation that you would demand a remedy for the annihilation of your pleasure? No, life has never deceived you, you have not yet lived. What you have been taking for life is but the hallucinations and the dreams of the first slumber of death!
All great criminals have hallucinated themselves on purpose; and those who hallucinate themselves on purpose may be fatally led to become great criminals. Our personal light specialized, brought forth, determined by our own overmastering affection, is the germ of our paradise or of our Hell. Each one of us (in a sense) conceives, bears, and nourishes his good or evil angel. The conception of truth gives birth in us to the good genius; intentional untruth hatches and brings up nightmares and phantoms. Everyone must nourish his children; and our life consumes itself for the sake of our thoughts. Happy are those who find again immortality in the creations of their soul! Woe unto them who wear themselves out to nourish falsehood and to fatten death! for every one will reap the harvest of his own sowing.
There are some unquiet and tormented creature whose influence is disturbing and whose conversation is fatal. In their presence one feels one's self irritated, and one leaves their presence angry; yet, by a secret perversity, one looks for them, in order to experience the disturbance and enjoy the malevolent emotions which they give us. Such persons suffer from the contagious maladies of the spirit of perversity.
The spirit of perversity has always for its secret motive the thirst of destruction, and its final aim is suicide. The murderer of Elisabide, on his own confession, not only felt the savage need of killing his relations and friends, but he even wished, had it been possible — he said it in so many words at his trial — to burst the globe like a cooked chestnut. Lacenaire, who spent his days in plotting murders, in order to have the means of passing his nights in ignoble orgies or in the excitement of gambling, boasted aloud that he had lived. He called that living, and he sang a hymn to the guillotine, which he called his beautiful betrothed, and the world was full of imbeciles who admired the wretch! Alfred de Musset, before extinguishing himself in drunkenness, wasted one of the finest talents of his century in songs of cold irony and of universal disgust. The unhappy man had been bewitched by the breath of a profoundly perverse woman, who, after having killed him, crouched like a ghoul upon his body and tore his winding sheet. We asked one day, of a young writer of this school, what his literature proved. It proves, he replied frankly and simply, that one must despair and die. What apostleship, and what a doctrine! But these are the necessary and regular conclusions of the spirit of perversity; to aspire ceaselessly to suicide, to calumniate life and nature, to invoke death every day without being able to die. This is eternal Hell, it is the punishment of Satan, that mythological incarnation of the spirit of perversity; the true translation into French of the Greek word Diabolos, or devil, is le pervers — the perverse.
Here is a mystery which debauchees do not suspect. It is this: one cannot enjoy even the material pleasures of life but by virtue of the moral sense. Pleasure is the music of the interior harmonies; the senses are only its instruments, instruments which sound false in contact with a degraded soul. The wicked can feel nothing, because they can love nothing: in order to love one must be good. Consequently for them everything is empty, and it seems to them that Nature is impotent, because they are so themselves; they doubt everything because they know nothing; they blaspheme everything because they taste nothing; they caress in order to degrade; they drink in order to get drunk; they sleep in order to forget; they wake in order to endure mortal boredom: thus will live, or rather thus will die, every day he who frees himself from every law and every duty in order to make himself the slave of his passions. The world, and eternity itself, become useless to him who makes himself useless to the world and to eternity.
Our will, by acting directly upon our plastic medium, that is to say, upon the portion of astral life which is specialized in us, and which serves us for the assimilation and configuration of the elements necessary to our existence; our will, just or unjust, harmonious or perverse, shapes the medium in its own image and gives it beauty in conformity with what attracts us. Thus moral monstrosity produces physical ugliness; for the astral medium, that interior architect of our bodily edifice, modifies it ceaselessly according to our real or factitious needs. It enlarges the belly and the jaws of the greedy, thins the lips of the miser, makes the glances of impure women shameless, and those of the envious and malicious venomous. When selfishness has prevailed in the soul, the look becomes cold, the features hard: the harmony of form disappears, and according to the absorption or radiant speciality of this selfishness, the limbs dry up or become encumbered with fat. Nature, in making of our body the portrait of our soul, guarantees its resemblance for ever, and tirelessly retouches it. You pretty women who are not good, be sure that you will not long remain beautiful. Beauty is the loan which Nature makes to virtue. If virtue is not ready when it falls due, the lender will pitilessly take back Her capital.
Perversity, by modifying the organism whose equilibrium it destroys, creates at the same time a fatality of needs which urges it to its own destruction, to its death. The less the perverse man enjoys, the more thirsty of enjoyment he is. Wine is like water for the drunkard, gold melts in the hands of the gambler; Messalina tires herself out without being satiated. The pleasure which escapes them changes itself for them into a long irritation and desire. The more murderous are their excesses, the more it seems to them that supreme happiness is at hand. … One more bumper of strong drink, one more spasm, one more violence done to Nature… Ah! at last, here is pleasure; here is life … and their desire, in the paroxysm of its insatiable hunger, extinguishes itself for ever in death.