Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chamfort: Q and A

Why don't you give anything to the public anymore?

It's because the public uses men of letters in the same way that army recruiters of the Saint-Michel bridge treat the people they enroll, getting them drunk the first day, and giving them ten ecus and beatings for the rest of their life.
It's because people press me to work for the same reason that, when a person goes to his window, he hopes to see monkeys, bears, and ringleaders passing through the street.
The example of M. Thomas, insulted during his whole life and praised after his death.
The Gentlemen of the King's Chamber, the Comediens Francais, the censors, the police, Beaumarchais.
...It's because everything people tell me to encourage me to produce things is fit to be said to Saint-Ange or Murville.
...It's because I would not want to act like men of letters who resemble donkey's trying to kick out people's false teeth.
It's because if I gave attention to all of the trifles I could write down, there would be no more rest for me on earth.
It's because I prefer the esteem of honest people and my personal happiness to praise, some money, and a great deal of injury and slander.
It's because if there is any man on earth who has the right to live for his own sake, it is me, after the malice I was shown every time I was successful.
It's because one never sees, as Bacon says, glory and repose walking together.
Because the public is only interested in successes that it doesn't esteem.
Because I would be half-way from the glory of Jeannot.
Because I no longer want to please anyone except those who are like me.
It's because the more my literary attention goes away, the happier I am.
It's because I have known nearly every famous man in our times, and I have seen them unhappy through this petty passion for celebrity, and die after having degraded their moral character for it.

-Nicolas Chamfort, 1741-1794

(trans. Tim Siniscalchi)