BOOK I, CHAPTER XXVI
has, of recognising the extreme difference between them and me; and, notwithstanding, I let my conceptions go their way, as feeble and trivial as when I gave birth to them, without plastering and patching up the faults which this comparison has revealed to me. (c) A man must have strong loins to attempt to march in the same line with such as these. (a) The indiscreet writers of our time, who intersperse in their worthless works whole passages from the ancient authors, to give themselves reputation, do just the opposite. For the infinite difference in brilliancy gives to their work an aspect so pallid, so dull, and so ugly, that by doing thus they lose much more than they gain.
(c) There were [of old] two contrary humours. The philosopher Chrysippus scattered through his books, not passages simply, but whole works, of other authors, and in one the “Medea” of Euripides; and Apollodorus said that, if there were cut out of his work what was foreign to it, the paper would be blank. Epicurus, on the other hand, in the three hundred volumes that he left, had not introduced a single alien citation.
(a) It happened the other day that I came upon such a passage. I had dragged languidly along through French words so bloodless, so fleshless, and so void of substance and of sense, that they were really only French words. At the end of a long and wearisome road, I came upon a lofty, ornate fragment, rising to the clouds. Had I found the slope gradual and the ascent a little prolonged, the thing would have been pardonable; but it was a steep so sheer and abrupt that, from the first six words, I knew that I had escaped into heaven. Thence I discerned the pit from which I had come, so far below and so deep, that I have never since had the courage to go down again into it. If I should stuff out one of my discourses with these rich spoils, it would throw too much light on the stupidity of the others.
- This sentence substituted for car autrement j’engendrois des monstres: comme font les ecrivains indiscrets, etc., of the earlier editions.
- See Diogenes Laertius, Life of Chrysippus.
- See Idem, Life of Epicurus.
- That is, one of the passages borrowed from other authors by “the indiscreet writers of our time.”
- Peintures in earlier editions.