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François the Waif

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
R*** AND I were coming home from our walk by the light of the moon which faintly silvered the dusky country lanes. It was a mild autumn evening, and the sky was slightly overcast; we observed the resonance of the air peculiar to the season, and a certain mystery spread over the face of nature. At the approach of the long winter sleep, it seems as if every creature and thing stealthily agreed to enjoy what is left of life and animation before the deadly torpor of the frost; and as if the whole creation, in order to cheat the march of time, and to avoid being detected and interrupted in the last frolics of its festival, advanced without sound or apparent motion toward its orgies in the night. The birds give out stifled cries instead of their joyous summer warblings. The cricket of the fields sometimes chirps inadvertently; but it soon stops again, and carries elsewhere its song or its wail. The plants hastily breathe out their last perfume, which is all the sweeter for being more delicate and less profuse. The yellowing leaves now no longer rustle in the breeze, and the flocks and herds graze in silence without cries of love or combat. My friend and I walked quietly along, and our involuntary thoughtfulness made us silent and attentive to the softened beauty of nature, and to the enchanting harmony of her last chords, which were dying away in an imperceptible pianissimo. Autumn is a sad and sweet andante, which makes an admirable preparation for the solemnadagio of winter. "It is all so peaceful," said my friend at last, for, in spite of our silence, he had followed my thoughts as I followed his; "everything seems absorbed in a reverie so foreign and so indifferent to the labors, cares, and preoccupations of man, that I wonder what expression, what color, and what form of art and poetry human intelligence could give at this moment to the face of nature. In order to explain better to you the end of my inquiry, I may compare the evening, the sky, and the landscape, dimmed, and yet harmonious and complete, to the soul of a wise and religious peasant, who labors and profits by his toil, who rejoices in the possession of the life to which he is born, without the need, the longing, or the means of revealing and expressing his inner life. I try to place myself in the heart of the mystery of this natural rustic life—I, who am civilized, who cannot enjoy by instinct alone, and who am always tormented by the desire of giving an account of my contemplation, or of my meditation, to myself and to others. "Then, too," continued my friend, "I am trying to find out what relation can be established between my intelligence, which is too active, and that of the peasant, which is not active enough; just as I was considering a moment ago what painting, music, description, the interpretation of art, in short, could add to the beauty of the autumnal night which is revealed to me in its mysterious silence, and affects me in some magical and unknown way." "Let us see," said I, "how your question is put. This October night, this colorless sky, this music without any distinct or connected melody, this calm of nature, and the peasant who by his very simplicity is more able than we to enjoy and understand it, though he cannot portray it—let us put all this together and call it primitive life, with relation to our own highly developed and complicated life, which I shall call artificial life. You are asking what possible connection or direct link can there be between these two opposite conditions in the existence of persons and things; between the palace and the cottage, between the artist and the universe, between the poet and the laborer." "Yes," he answered, "and let us be exact: between the language spoken by nature, primitive life, and instinct, and that spoken by art, science,—in a word, by knowledge."