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(From “Rameau's Nephew.")

[Denis DIDEROT, French encyclopedist and philosophical writer, was born, a master cutter's son, at Langres, October 5, 1713. With a passion for books and study, he quitted the law and settled in Paris, where he supported himself by teaching, translating, and general literary work. His “Pensées Philosophiques" (1746) was burned by the Parliament of Paris, while he suffered three months' imprisonment at Vincennes for a work entitled “ A Letter on the Blind" (1749). But he is now chiefly remembered as the projector and co-editor with D'Alembert of the famous “ Encyclopédie," a repository of the results of scientific research in the middle of the eighteenth century. The first volume was issued in 1751, and although publication was several times suspended by the government, the vast undertaking was carried to a successful conclusion twenty years later. Diderot received financial support from Catherine II., and went to St. Petersburg (1773–1774) to thank his imperial benefactress. He died at Paris, July, 1784. Besides articles in the “Encyclopédie ” on history, philosophy, and mechanical arts, he wrote plays, letters, art criticisms, and several stories, among which may be mentioned “ The Nun," “Jacques the Fatalist,” and “Rameau's Nephew." Diderot is regarded as the chief of the skeptical school of encyclope dists; and it is asserted that he was a professed atheist. ]

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HE – Singular beings, you are !

I- 'Tis you who are beings much to be pitied, if you cannot imagine that one rises above one's lot, and that it is impossible to be unhappy under the shelter of good actions.

He That is a kind of felicity with which I should find it hard to familiarize myself, for we do not often come across it. But, then, according to you, we should be good.

I– To be happy, assuredly.

He - Yet I see an infinity of honest people who are not happy, and an infinity of people who are happy without being honest.

I- You think so.

He And is it not for having had common sense and frankness for a moment, that I don't know where to go for a supper to-night?

I- Nay, it is for not having had it always; it is because you did not perceive in good time that one ought first and foremost to provide a resource independent of servitude.

He Independent or not, the resource I had provided is at any rate the most comfortable.

I— And the least sure and least decent.

He — But the most conformable to my character of sloth, madman, and good for naught.

I- Just so.

He And since I can secure my happiness by vices which are natural to me, which I have acquired without labor, which I preserve without effort, which go well with the manners of my nation, which are to the taste of those who protect me, and are more in harmony with their small private necessities than virtues which would weary them by being a standing accusation against them from morning to night, why, it would be very singular for me to go and torment myself like a lost spirit, for the sake of making myself into somebody other than I am, to put on a character foreign to my own, and qualities which I will admit to be highly estimable, in order to avoid discussion, but which it would cost me a great deal to acquire, and a great deal to practice, and would lead to nothing, or possibly to worse than nothing, through the continual satire of the rich among whom beggars like me have to seek their subsistence.

We praise virtue, but we hate it, and shun it, and know very

well that it freezes the marrow of our bones and in this world one must have one's feet warm. And then all that would infallibly fill me with ill humor; for why do we so constantly see religious people so harsh, so querulous, so unsociable? 'Tis because they have imposed a task upon themselves which is not natural to them. They suffer, and when people suffer, they make others suffer too. That is not my game, nor that of my protectors either; I have to be gay, supple, amusing, comical. Virtue makes itself respected, and respect is inconvenient; virtue insists on being admired, and admiration is not amusing. I have to do with people who are bored, and I must make them laugh. Now it is absurdity and madness which make people laugh, so mad and absurd I must be; and even if nature had not made me so, the simplest plan would still be to feign it. Happily, I have no need to play hypocrite; there are so many already of all colors, without reckoning those who play hypocrite with themselves. ... If your friend Rameau were to apply himself to show his contempt for fortune, and women, and good cheer, and idleness, and to begin to Catonize, what would he be but a hypocrite? Rameau must be what he is a lucky rascal among rascals swollen with riches, and not a mighty paragon of virtue, or even a virtuous man, eating his dry crust of bread, either alone, or by the side of a pack of beg

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gars. And, to cut it short, I do not get on with your felicity, or with the happiness of a few visionaries like yourself.

I-I see, my friend, that you do not even know what it is, and that you are not even made to understand it.

He — So much the better, I declare; so much the better. It would make me burst with hunger and weariness, and, maybe, with remorse.

I- Very well, then, the only advice I have to give you, is to find your way back as quickly as you can into the house from which your impudence drove you out. .

He And to do what you do not disapprove absolutely, and yet is a little repugnant to me relatively?

I – What a singularity!

He Nothing singular in it at all; I wish to be abject, but I wish to be so without constraint. I do not object to descend from my dignity. . You laugh?

I— Yes, your dignity makes me laugh.

He Everybody has his own dignity. I do not object to come down from mine, but it must be in my own way, and not at the bidding of others. Must they be able to say to me, Crawl — and behold me, forced to crawl? That is the worm's way, and it is mine; we both of us follow it — the worm and I

when they leave us alone, but we turn when they tread on our tails. They have trodden on my tail, and I mean to turn. And then you have no idea of the creature we are talking about. Imagine a sour and melancholy person, eaten up by vapors, wrapped twice or thrice round in his dressing gown, discontented with himself, and discontented with every one else; out of whom you hardly wring a smile, if you put your body and soul out of joint in a hundred different ways; who examines with a cold considering eye the droll grimaces of my face, and those of my mind, which are droller still. I may torment myself to attain the highest sublime of the lunatic asylum, nothing comes of it. Will he laugh, or will he not? That is what I am obliged to keep saying to myself in the midst of my contortions; and you may judge how damaging this uncertainty is to one's talent. My hypochondriac, with his head buried in a nightcap that covers his eyes, has the air of an immovable pagod, with a string tied to its chin, and going down under his chair. You wait for the string to be pulled, and it is not

. pulled; or if by chance the jaws open, it is only to articulate some word that shows he has not seen you, and that all you


drolleries have been thrown away.

This word is the answer to some question which you put to him four days before; the word spoken, the mastoid muscle contracts, and the jaw sticks.

[Then he set himself to imitate his man. He placed himself on a chair, his head fixed, his hat coming over his eyebrows, his eyes half shut, his arms hanging down, moving his jaw up and down like an automaton:] Gloomy, obscure, oracular as destiny itself — such is our patron.

At the other side of the room is a prude who plays at importance, to whom one could bring one's self to say that she is pretty, because she is pretty, though she has a blemish or two upon her face. Item, she is more spiteful, more conceited, and more silly than a goose. Item, she insists on having wit. Item, you have to persuade her that you believe she has more of it than anybody else in the world. Item, she knows nothing, and she has a turn for settling everything out of hand. Item, you must applaud her decisions with feet and hands, jump for joy, and scream with admiration: “How fine that is, how delicate, well said, subtly seen, singularly felt! Where do women get that? Without study, by mere force of instinct, and pure light of nature! That is really like a miracle! And then they want us to believe that experience, study, reflection, education, have anything to do with the matter! .. And other fooleries to match, and tears and tears of joy; ten times a day to kneel down, one knee bent in front of the other, the other leg drawn back, the arms extended towards the goddess, to seek one's desire in her eyes, to hang on her lips, to wait for her command, and then start off like a flash of lightning. Where is the man who would subject himself to play such a part, if it is not the wretch who finds there two or three times a week the wherewithal to still the tribulation of his inner parts ?

I- I should never have thought you were so fastidious.

He-I am not. In the beginning I watched the others, and I did as they did, even rather better, because I am more frankly impudent, a better comedian, hungrier, and better off for lungs. I descend apparently in a direct line from the famous Stentor.

[And to give me a just idea of the force of his organ, he set off laughing, with violence enough to break the windows of the coffeehouse, and to interrupt the chess players. ]

1- But what is the good of this talent?



He - You cannot guess?
1-No; I am rather slow.

He — Suppose the debate opened, and victory uncertain; 1 get up, and, displaying my thunder, I say: “That is as mademoiselle asserts. That is worth calling a judgment. There is genius in the expression.” But one must not always approve in the same manner; one would be monotonous, and seem insincere, and become insipid. You only escape that by judgment and resource; you must know how to prepare and place your major and most peremptory tones, to seize the occasion and the moment. When, for instance, there is a difference in feeling, and the debate has risen to its last degree of violence, and you have ceased to listen to one another, and all speak at the same time, you ought to have your place at the corner of the room which is farthest removed from the field of battle, to have prepared the way for your explosion by a long silence, and then suddenly to fall like a thunderclap over the very midst of the combatants. Nobody possesses this art as I do. But where I am truly surprising is in the opposite way — I have low tones that I accompany with a smile, and an infinite variety of approving tricks of face; nose, lips, brow, eyes, all make play, I have a suppleness of reins, a manner of twisting the spine, of shrugging the shoulders, extending the fingers, inclining the head, closing the eyes, and throwing myself into a state of stupefaction, as if I had heard a divine angelic voice come down from heaven; that is what flatters. I do not know whether you seize rightly all the energy of that last attitude. I did not invent it, but nobody has ever surpassed me in its execution. Behold, behold!

I— Truly, it is unique.


there is a woman's brain that could stand that?

I-It must be admitted that you have carried the talent of playing the madman, and of self-debasement, as far as it can possibly be carried.

He — Try as hard as they will, they will never touch me - not the best of them. Palissot, for instance, will never be more than a good learner. But if this part is amusing at first, and if you have some relish in inwardly mocking at the folly of the people whom you are intoxicating, in the long run that ceases to be exciting, and then after a certain number of discoveries one is obliged to repeat one's self. Wit and art have

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