I returned home by the deserted byways of the village. The moon, full and red like the glow of a conflagration, was beginning to make its appearance from behind the jagged horizon of then house-tops; the stars were shining tranquilly in the deep, blue vault of the sky; and I was struck by the absurdity of the idea when I recalled to mind that once upon a time there were some exceedingly wise people who thought that the stars of heaven participated in our insignificant squabbles for a slice of ground, or some other imaginary rights. And what then? These lamps, lighted, so they fancied, only to illuminate their battles and triumphs, are burning with all their former brilliance, whilst the wiseacres themselves, together with their hopes and passions, have long been extinguished, like a little fire kindled at the edge of a forest by a careless wayfarer! But, on the other hand, what strength of will was lent them by the conviction that the entire heavens, with their innumerable habitants, were looking at them with a sympathy, unalterable, though mute! . . . And we, their miserable descendants, roaming over the earth, without faith, without pride, without enjoyment, and without terror — except that involuntary awe which makes the heart shrink at the thought of the inevitable end — we are no longer capable of great sacrifices, either for the good of mankind or even for our own happiness, because we know the impossibility of such happiness; and, just as our ancestors used to fling themselves from one delusion to another, we pass indifferently from doubt to doubt, without possessing, as they did, either hope or even that vague though, at the same time, keen enjoyment which the soul encounters at every struggle with mankind or with destiny.
These and many other similar thoughts passed through my mind, but I did not follow them up, because I do not like to dwell upon abstract ideas — for what do they lead to? In my early youth I was a dreamer; I loved to hug to my bosom the images — now gloomy, now rainbow hued — which my restless and eager imagination drew for me. And what is there left to me of all these? Only such weariness as might be felt after a battle by night with a phantom — only a confused memory full of regrets. In that vain contest I have exhausted the warmth of soul and firmness of will indispensable to an active life. I have entered upon that life after having already lived through it in thought, and it has become wearisome and nauseous to me, as the reading of a bad imitation of a book is to one who has long been familiar with the original.
Pgs. 153-156 – Bk III
My whole past life I live again in memory, and, involuntarily, I ask myself: ‘why have I lived — for what purpose was I born?’ . . . A purpose there must have been, and, surely, mine was an exalted destiny, because I feel that within my soul are powers immeasurable. . . But I was not able to discover that destiny, I allowed myself to be carried away by the allurements of passions, inane and ignoble. From their crucible I issued hard and cold as iron, but gone for ever was the glow of noble aspirations — the fairest flower of life. And, from that time forth, how often have I not played the part of an axe in the hands of fate! Like an implement of punishment, I have fallen upon the head of doomed victims, often without malice, always without pity. . . To none has my love brought happiness, because I have never sacrificed anything for the sake of those I have loved: for myself alone I have loved — for my own pleasure. I have only satisfied the strange craving of my heart, greedily draining their feelings, their tenderness, their joys, their sufferings — and I have never been able to sate myself. I am like one who, spent with hunger, falls asleep in exhaustion and sees before him sumptuous viands and sparkling wines; he devours with rapture the aerial gifts of the imagination, and his pains seem somewhat assuaged. Let him but awake: the vision vanishes — twofold hunger and despair remain!
And to-morrow, it may be, I shall die! . . . And there will not be left on earth one being who has understood me completely. Some will consider me worse, others, better, than I have been in reality. . . Some will say: ‘he was a good fellow’; others: ‘a villain.’ And both epithets will be false. After all this, is life worth the trouble? And yet we live — out of curiosity! We expect something new. . . How absurd, and yet how vexatious!
Ch. XVIII – pg. 169