Wisdom Books: Wisdom and Destiny by Maurice Maeterlinck


…This essay on Wisdom and Destiny was to have been a thing of some twenty pages, the work of a fortnight; but the idea took root, others flocked to it, and the volume has occupied M. Maeterlinck continuously for more than two years. It has much essential kinship with the “Treasure of the Humble,” though it differs therefrom in treatment; for whereas the earlier work might perhaps be described as the eager speculation of a poet athirst for beauty, we have here rather the endeavour of an earnest thinker to discover the abode of truth. And if the result of his thought be that truth and happiness are one, this was by no means the object wherewith he set forth. Here he is no longer content with exquisite visions, alluring or haunting images; he probes into the soul of man and lays bare all his joys and his sorrows. It is as though he had forsaken the canals he loves so well–the green, calm, motionless canals that faithfully mirror the silent trees and moss-covered roofs–and had adventured boldly, unhesitatingly, on the broad river of life…

Read the following excerpt from ‘Wisdom and Destiny’:

67. You are told you should love your neighbour as yourself; but if you love yourself meanly, childishly, timidly, even so shall you love your neighbour. Learn therefore to love yourself with a love that is wise and healthy, that is large and complete. This is less easy than it would seem. There is more active charity in the egoism of a strenuous clairvoyant soul than in all the devotion of the soul that is helpless and blind. Before you exist for others it behoves you to exist for yourself; before giving, you first must acquire. Be sure that, if deeply considered, more value attaches to the particle of consciousness gained than to the gift of your entire unconsciousness. Nearly all the great things of this world have been done by men who concerned themselves not at all with ideas of self- sacrifice. Plato’s thoughts flew on–he paused not to let his tears fall with the tears of the mourners in Athens; Newton pursued his experiments calmly, nor left them to search for objects of pity or sorrow; and Marcus Aurelius above all (for here we touch on the most frequent and dangerous form of self-sacrifice) Marcus Aurelius essayed not to dim the brightness of his own soul that he might confer happiness on the inferior soul of Faustina. And if this was right in the lives of these men, of Plato and Newton and Marcus Aurelius, it is equally right in the life of every soul; for each soul has, in its sphere, the same obligations to self as the soul of the greatest. We should tell ourselves, once and for all, that it is the first duty of the soul to become as happy, complete, independent, and great as lies in its power.’ Herein is no egoism, or pride. To become effectually generous and sincerely humble there must be within us a confident, tranquil, and clear comprehension of all that we owe to ourselves. To this end we may sacrifice even the passion for sacrifice; for sacrifice never should be the means of ennoblement, but only the sign of our being ennobled.


Comments are closed.