Balzac: Mass executions: Has Europe ever ceased from wars?
Honoré de Balzac
From La Peau de chagrin (1831)
“War, Power, Art…are all forms of demoralization, equally remote from the faculties of humanity…Are not generals, ministers, and artists carried, more or less, towards destruction by the need of violent distractions, in an existence so remote from ordinary life as theirs?…
“In war, is not man an angel of extirpation, a sort of executioner on a grand scale? Must not the spell be strong indeed that makes us undergo such horrid sufferings so hostile to our weak frames, sufferings that encircle every strong passion with a hedge of thorns?…She has never given herself time to wipe the stains from her feet that are steeped in blood to the ankle. Mankind at large is carried away by fits of intoxication, as nature by its accessions of love.”
“Napoleon left us glory, at any rate, my good friend!” exclaimed a naval officer who had never left Brest.
“Glory is a poor bargain; you buy it dear, and it will not keep. Does not the egotism of the great take the form of glory, just as for no-bodies it is their own well-being?”
“You are very fortunate, sir – ”
“The first inventor of ditches must have been a weakling, for society is only useful to the puny. The savage and the philosopher, at either extreme of the moral scale, hold property in equal horror.”
“[Is] not that the sum-up of all religious, political, or literary dissertations? Man is a clown dancing on the edge of an abyss.”
Have you ever launched into the immensity of time and space as you read the geological writings of Cuvier? Carried by his fancy, have you hung as if suspended by a magician’s wand over the illimitable abyss of the past? When the fossil bones of animals belonging to civilizations before the Flood are turned up in bed after bed and layer of layer of the quarries of Montmartre or among the schists of the Ural range, the soul receives with dismay a glimpse of millions of peoples forgotten by feeble human memory and unrecognized by permanent divine tradition, peoples whose ashes cover our globe with two feet of earth that yields bread to us and flowers.