And then, on the day when his grandfather had turned
him out of doors, he had been only a child, now he was a
man. He felt it. Misery, we repeat, had been good for him.
Poverty in youth, when it succeeds, has this magnificent
property about it, that it turns the whole will towards effort,
and the whole soul towards aspiration. Poverty instantly
lays material life bare and renders it hideous; hence inexpressible
bounds towards the ideal life. The wealthy young
man has a hundred coarse and brilliant distractions, horse
races, hunting, dogs, tobacco, gaming, good repasts, and all
the rest of it; occupations for the baser side of the soul, at
the expense of the loftier and more delicate sides. The poor
young man wins his bread with difficulty; he eats; when he
has eaten, he has nothing more but meditation. He goes to
the spectacles which God furnishes gratis; he gazes at the
sky, space, the stars, flowers, children, the humanity among
which he is suffering, the creation amid which he beams.
He gazes so much on humanity that he perceives its soul, he
gazes upon creation to such an extent that he beholds God.
He dreams, he feels himself great; he dreams on, and feels
himself tender. From the egotism of the man who suffers he
passes to the compassion of the man who meditates. An admirable
sentiment breaks forth in him, forgetfulness of self
and pity for all. As he thinks of the innumerable enjoyments
which nature offers, gives, and lavishes to souls which stand
open, and refuses to souls that are closed, he comes to pity,
he the millionnaire of the mind, the millionnaire of money.
All hatred departs from his heart, in proportion as light
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penetrates his spirit. And is he unhappy? No. The misery
of a young man is never miserable. The first young lad who
comes to hand, however poor he may be, with his strength,
his health, his rapid walk, his brilliant eyes, his warmly circulating
blood, his black hair, his red lips, his white teeth,
his pure breath, will always arouse the envy of an aged emperor.
And then, every morning, he sets himself afresh to
the task of earning his bread; and while his hands earn
his bread, his dorsal column gains pride, his brain gathers
ideas. His task finished, he returns to ineffable ecstasies, to
contemplation, to joys; he beholds his feet set in afflictions,
in obstacles, on the pavement, in the nettles, sometimes
in the mire; his head in the light. He is firm serene, gentle,
peaceful, attentive, serious, content with little, kindly; and
he thanks God for having bestowed on him those two forms
of riches which many a rich man lacks: work, which makes
him free; and thought, which makes him dignified.
This is what had happened with Marius. To tell the truth,
he inclined a little too much to the side of contemplation.
From the day when he had succeeded in earning his living
with some approach to certainty, he had stopped, thinking
it good to be poor, and retrenching time from his work to
give to thought; that is to say, he sometimes passed entire
days in meditation, absorbed, engulfed, like a visionary, in
the mute voluptuousness of ecstasy and inward radiance.
He had thus propounded the problem of his life: to toil as
little as possible at material labor, in order to toil as much
as possible at the labor which is impalpable; in other words,
to bestow a few hours on real life, and to cast the rest to the
1168 Les Miserables
infinite. As he believed that he lacked nothing, he did not
perceive that contemplation, thus understood, ends by becoming
one of the forms of idleness; that he was contenting
himself with conquering the first necessities of life, and that
he was resting from his labors too soon.
It was evident that, for this energetic and enthusiastic nature,
this could only be a transitory state, and that, at the
first shock against the inevitable complications of destiny,
Marius would awaken.