Sunday, June 12, 2011

Astrology by Stendhal

Some minutes since Frabrizio had taken the road again; he passed the hill that forms the peninsula of Durini, and at length there met his gaze that campanile of the village of Grianta in which he had so often made observations of the stars with Priore Blanes. “What bounds were there to my ignorance in those days? I could not understand,” he reminded himself, even the ridiculous Latin of those treatises on astrology which my master used to pore over, and I think I respected them chiefly because, understanding only a few words here and there, my imagination stepped in to give them meaning, and the most romantic sense possible.”

Gradually his thoughts entered another channel. “may not there be something genuine about this science? Why should it be different from the rest? A certain number of imbeciles and quick-witted persons agree among themselves that they know (shall we say) Mexican; they impose themselves with this qualification upon society which respects them and governments pay them. Favors are showered upon them precisely because they have no real intelligence, and authority need not fear their raising the populace and creating an atmosphere of rant by aid of generous sentiments! For instance, Father Bari, to whom Ernesto IV has just awarded a pension of 4,000 francs and the Cross of his Order for having restored nineteen lines of a Greek dithyramb!

“But, Great God, have I indeed the right to find such things ridiculous? Is it for me to complain,” he asked himself, suddenly, stopping short in the road, “has not that same Cross just been given to my governor in Naples?” Fabrizio was conscious of a feeling of intense disgust; the fine enthusiasm for virtue which had just been making his heart beat high changed into the vile pleasure of having a good share in the spoils of a robbery. “After all,” he said to himself at length, with the lusterless eyes of a man who is dissatisfied with himself, “since my birth gives me the right to profit by these abuses, it would be a signal piece of folly on my part not to take my share, but I must never let myself denounce them in public.” This reasoning was by no means unsound; but Fabrizio had fallen a long way from that elevation of sublime happiness to which he had found himself transported an hour earlier. The thought of privilege had withered that plant, always so delicate, which we name happiness.

“If we are not to believe in astrology,” he went on, seeking to calm himself; “If this science is, like three quarters of the sciences which are not mathematical, a collection of enthusiastic simpletons and adroit hypocrites paid by the masters they serve, how does it come about that I think so often and with emotion of this fatal circumstance: I did make my escape from the prison at B--, but in the uniform and with the marching orders of a soldier who had been flung into prison with good cause?”

Fabrizio’s reasoning could never succeed in penetrating farther; he went a hundred ways round the difficulty without managing to surmount it. He was too young still; in his moments of leisure, his mind devoted itself with rapture to enjoying the sensations produced by the romantic circumstances with which his imagination was always ready to supply him. He was far from employing his time in studying with patience the actual details of things in order to discover their causes. Reality still seemed to him flat and muddy; I can understand a person’s not caring to look at it, but then he ought not to argue about it. Above all, he ought not to fashion objections out of the scattered fragments of his ignorance.

Thus it was, though not lacking in brains, Frabrizio could not manage to see that his half-belief in omens was for him a religion, a profound impression received at his entering upon life. To think of this belief was to feel, it was a happiness. And he set himself resolutely to discover how this could be proved a real science, in the same category as geometry, for example. He searched his memory strenuously for all the instances in which the omens observed by him had not been followed by the auspicious or inauspicious events which they seemed to herald. But all this time, while he believed himself to be following a line of reasoning and marching towards the truth, his attention kept coming joyfully to rest on the memory of the occasions on which the foreboding had been amply followed by the happy or unhappy accident which it had seemed to him to predict, and his heart was filled with respect and melted; and he would have felt an invincible repugnance for the person who denied the value of omens, especially if in doing so he had had recourse to irony.

Fabrizio walked on without noticing the distance he was covering, and had reached this point in his vain reasonings when, raising his head, he saw the wall of his father’s garden…

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