Friday, August 31, 2012

Truisms from Jane

Repentance is said to be its cure, sir

     "How was your memory when you were eighteen, sir?"
     "All right then; limpid, salubrious:  no gush of bilge water had turned it to fetid puddle.  I was your equal at eighteen--quite your equal.  Nature meant me to be, on the whole, a good man, Miss Eyre; one of the better kind, and you see I am not so.  You would say you don't see it; at least I flatter myself I read as much in your eye (beware, by-the-bye, what you express with that organ; I am quick at interpreting its language).  Then take my word for it,--I am not a villain:  you are not to suppose that--not to attribute to me any such bad eminence; but, owing, I verily believe, rather to circumstances than to my natural bent, I am a trite commonplace sinner, hackneyed in all the poor petty dissipations with which the rich and worthless try to put on life.  Do you wonder that I avow this to you?  Know, that in the course of your future life you will often find yourself elected the involuntary confidant of your acquaintances' secrets:  people will instinctively find out, as I have done, that it is not your forte to tell of yourself, but to listen while others talk of themselves; they will feel, too, that you listen with no malevolent scorn of their indiscretion, but with a kind of innate sympathy; not the less comforting and encouraging because it is very unobtrusive in its manifestations."
     "How do you know?--how can you guess all this, sir?"
     "I know it well; therefore I proceed almost as freely as if I were writing my thoughts in a diary.  You would say, I should have been superior to circumstances; so I should--so I should; but you see I was not.  When fate wronged me, I had not the wisdom to remain cool: I turned desperate; then I degenerated.  Now, when any vicious simpleton excites my disgust by his paltry ribaldry, I cannot flatter myself that I am better than he:  I am forced to confess that he and I are on a level.  I wish I had stood firm--God knows I do!  Dread remorse when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre; remorse is the poison of life."
     "Repentance is said to be its cure, sir."
     "It is not its cure.  Reformation may be its cure; and I could reform--I have strength yet for that--if--but where is the use of thinking of it, hampered, burdened, cursed as I am?  Besides, since happiness is irrevocably denied me, I have a right to get pleasure out of life:  and I WILL get it, cost what it may."
     "Then you will degenerate still more, sir."
     "Possibly:  yet why should I, if I can get sweet, fresh pleasure And I may get it as sweet and fresh as the wild honey the bee gathers on the moor."
     "It will sting--it will taste bitter, sir."
     "How do you know?--you never tried it.  How very serious--how very solemn you look:  and you are as ignorant of the matter as this cameo head" (taking one from the mantelpiece).  "You have no right to preach to me, you neophyte, that have not passed the porch of life, and are absolutely unacquainted with its mysteries."
     "I only remind you of your own words, sir:  you said error brought remorse, and you pronounced remorse the poison of existence."

 That sounds a dangerous maxim, sir

     "To speak truth, sir, I don't understand you at all:  I cannot keep up the conversation, because it has got out of my depth.  Only one thing, I know:  you said you were not as good as you should like to be, and that you regretted your own imperfection;--one thing I can comprehend:  you intimated that to have a sullied memory was a perpetual bane.  It seems to me, that if you tried hard, you would in time find it possible to become what you yourself would approve; and that if from this day you began with resolution to correct your thoughts and actions, you would in a few years have laid up a new and stainless store of recollections, to which you might revert with pleasure."
     "Justly thought; rightly said, Miss Eyre; and, at this moment, I am paving hell with energy."
     "I am laying down good intentions, which I believe durable as flint. Certainly, my associates and pursuits shall be other than they have been."
     "And better?"
     "And better--so much better as pure ore is than foul dross.  You seem to doubt me; I don't doubt myself:  I know what my aim is, what my motives are; and at this moment I pass a law, unalterable as that of the Medes and Persians, that both are right."
     "They cannot be, sir, if they require a new statute to legalise them."
     "They are, Miss Eyre, though they absolutely require a new statute: unheard-of combinations of circumstances demand unheard-of rules."
     "That sounds a dangerous maxim, sir; because one can see at once that it is liable to abuse."
     "Sententious sage! so it is:  but I swear by my household gods not to abuse it."
     "You are human and fallible."
     "I am:  so are you--what then?"
     "The human and fallible should not arrogate a power with which the divine and perfect alone can be safely intrusted."
     "What power?"
     "That of saying of any strange, unsanctioned line of action,--'Let it be right.'"
     "'Let it be right'--the very words:  you have pronounced them."

The preceding are from chapter fourteen of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, when Mr. Rochester is first engaging Jane's unique wit and wisdom; and he begins, from these conversations, to remember a higher morality.

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