My child, if as a baby you were sometimes comforted by my loving care, and if your heart preserves the memory of those moments, I hope you will place your trust in this advice, which is prompted by my love for you, and that it will help you to be happy.
Whatever the circumstances in which you read these lines, which I am writing far away from you, indifferent as to my own fate but preoccupied by yours and your mother's, remember that nothing can guarantee that those circumstance will last. Get into the habit of working, so that you are self- sufficient and need no external help. Work will provide for your needs; and though you may become poor, you will never become dependent on others.
Even if you never need to use your skills, they will at least prevent you from worrying, bolster your courage and help you face up to the setbacks which fortune may have in store for you. Knowing that you can do without riches, you will place less store by them. This will help protect you from the unhappiness to which men expose themselves in order to acquire wealth, or for fear of losing it. Choose a type of work which does not occupy the hands alone, but engages the mind without straining it; something which compensates your efforts by the pleasure it gives you. Otherwise, your aversion to it, if it ever became necessary, would be almost as unbearable as dependence itself. You might not have the courage to fall back upon it if it freed you from dependence only to hand you over to boredom, and if the price of independence was unhappiness.
People whose minds are active and whose necessary work does not fill the entire day have a strong need to be stimulated by new ideas and sensations. If you cannot exist alone, but need others to avoid boredom, you will find that you are necessarily subject to their tastes and desires, and also to chance which, since these ways of filling your empty moments do not depend on you, may deprive you of them.
These ways of passing the time are easily exhausted, like your childhood toys which, after a few days, lost their ability to amuse you.
Soon, as you find new ones and as you see one method constantly giving way to another, you will find that they lose the charm of novelty, and that this novelty itself ceases to be a pleasure.
Nothing, then, is more vital for your happiness than to ensure that you have some means dependent on yourself alone of filling your empty time, staving off boredom, calming your fears or distracting you from painful thoughts.
You can do this only by acquiring some skill in the arts and crafts or in exercising your mind. Ensure that you do so while you are still young.
If you do not attain some degree of perfection in these skills, if you do not shape, stretch and strengthen your mind by methodical study, these abilities will be of no use to you; fatigue and disgust at your own mediocrity will soon outweigh your pleasure.
So devote part of your youth to securing this precious treasure for the rest of your life. Your mother's tenderness and superior reason will enable these skills to come more easily, but you must have the courage to overcome the difficulties; reluctance and temporary aversion she will not be able to prevent nature bequeaths us our happiness now
Here on earth we cannot but reap what we sow.
Do not think that talent and ability -- gifts of nature which perhaps have more to do with our original constitution than with our upbringing or the efforts of our will -- are necessary to attain this means of happiness. If nature has not blessed you with these gifts, try to find a less exciting activity whose usefulness will increase your enjoyment and conceal its dullness. If you cannot reproduce beauty or passion on canvas, you will at least be able to reproduce insects or flowers with the precision of a naturalist.
Whenever you are mistaken as to your talents in a particular area, you will always find a similar solution. But whether nature has treated you well or badly, do not forget that your aim must be the daily pleasure of being busy, of doing something which ensures your independence,. protects you from boredom, and prevents the vague distaste for existence and unexplained depression which affects otherwise peaceful and successful lives. I shall not tell you to avoid the pleasures and perils of vanity, but ensure that it does not dominate you, that its pleasures do not become your reward, nor the pain it causes prevent you from making an effort. Ensure that you view both the pleasure and pain as an inevitable tribute which wisdom itself must pay to human weakness.
Habitually performing good actions and behaving with loving affection are the purest and most enduring sources of happiness. They produce a feeling of peace, a sort of mellow pleasure which makes all your pursuits, and even simple existence itself, attractive.
Get into the habit of benevolence early, but ensure that it is a benevolence enlightened by reason and guided by justice. Do not give in order to avoid the sight of poverty or sorrow, but to comfort yourself by the pleasure of having helped someone. Do not give just money; make sure you also know how to give your time, your attention and enlightenment, and the comforting affection which is often more valuable than help itself.
Your benevolence will then be independent of your fortune and not limited by it; it will become an occupation and a source of pleasure.
Learn above all to exercise it with the delicate respect for misfortune which doubles the kindness and elevates the benefactor in his own eyes. Never forget that the person who receives is, in nature, the equal of the person who gives; nor that any form of assistance which humiliates the beneficiary is an offense.
Enjoy the feelings of the people you love; but above all, enjoy your own. Think of their happiness, and your own will be your reward. Forgetting yourself in all matters of affection will increase your pleasure in them and decrease the pains of sensitivity. If we allow egoism to enter into them, we too often become dissatisfied with others. Our soul dries out, fades and even turns sour. We lose the pleasure of loving, and that of being loved becomes corrupted by worry and hidden sorrows, which are constantly accentuated by our excessive ability to hurt others.
Do not restrict yourself to having a deep affection for just a few individuals; allow your heart to develop a gentle affection for people whit whom events, habits, your tastes and your occupations bring you into contact.
Give the people you employ or who have pledged their services to you a share of the preferential feelings which are midway between friendship and the simple benevolence by which nature has linked us to every member of our species.
I shall not give you the useless advice to avoid passion and to beware of being too sensitive, but I will tell you to be sincere with yourself and not to exaggerate your sensitivity, whether for your vanity, to delude your imagination, or to excite that of another.
Beware the false enthusiasm of the passions. It can never compensate either for their dangers or their drawbacks. A man may be unable to ignore his heart, but he is always able to prevent it from becoming excited, and this is the only useful and practicable advice which reason can give sensitivity.
My child, one of the best ways to ensure your happiness is to have preserved your self-respect, so that you can look back on your whole life without shame or remorse, without seeing a dishonorable act, nor a time when you have wronged someone without having made amends.
Think of the pain you have felt as a result of even minor injustices or mistakes, and imagine how it must feel to e the victim of serious injustices or truly shameful misconduct. Carefully nurture the precious self-respect which will ensure that bad actions always make you blush and that virtuous ones make you feel humble.
Everything will then become gentle and pure. A comforting charm will fill the moments when your soul is unoccupied with impressions or ideas, and give way to lazy reverie, allowing memories of the past to drift slowly before it. Even when you are distressed, your sorrows will be mitigated by the memory of a generous action, or by the image of the unfortunate people whose tears you have dried.
But do not allow this feeling to be tainted with pride.
Enjoy your life without comparing it to that of others. It is enough for you to know that you are good, without examining whether others are as good as you.
The painful pleasures of vanity would cost you too much. they would spoil the purer pleasures with which nature rewards good actions.
If you have no reason to reproach yourself, you can be sincere with others as well as with yourself. With nothing to hide, you need have no fear of being forced into the humiliation of lying or into making hypocritical statements, feigning principles and feelings which condemn your own conduct.
You will avoid the habitual feeling of shameful fear which is the penalty for corruption. In its place, you will feel a pure peace of mind; you will enjoy the feeling of your own dignity which is shared by all those who can acknowledge all their emotions and all their actions.
But do not despair if your conscience still rebukes you. think instead of ways to mend or expiate your mistakes; ensure that any thought of them is always accompanied by the memory of the action which secured the pardon of your reproachful conscience.
Do not get into the habit of concealing the truth, but have the courage to admit your mistakes. This sense of courage will be enough to sustain you throughout your regrets and remorse; there is no need to add a painful awareness of your own weakness and the shame which accompanies lies.
It is not so much bad action in themselves which threaten happiness and virtue, as the bad habit they cause in weak and corrupt souls. In a strong, frank and sensitive person, remorse inspires good actions and virtuous habits in an attempt to soothe its bitterness. They wake to find themselves surrounded by comforting thoughts which soften the pain, and find as much pleasure in repentance as in virtue.
The pleasures of a reformed soul are of course less pure and less gentle than those of an innocent one, but they are then the only pleasures left in our conscience, and almost the only ones which our weak natures, and above all our defective institutions, permit us.
Alas! All men need clemency!
If you want society to give you more pleasure and comfort than sorrow or bitterness, be indulgent and guard against egoism as a poison which ruins all its pleasures.
By indulgence, I do not mean the ability, born of indifference or thoughtlessness, to pardon everything simply because you do not feel or notice anything. I mean the indulgence based on justice, on reason, on an awareness of your own weakness, and on our happy inclination to pity men rather than condemn them.
This will enable you to find happiness in the many good but weak people who are not tiresome though they have no shining qualities, who can distract you even if they cannot occupy you, whom you can meet with pleasure but leave without pain, and who do not count when we view your lives as a whole, but who can pass the time and fill a few empty moments. And those who have superior abilities or talents will return to you with increased confidence.
The more justified they are in the belief that they can do without indulgence, the more they feel the need for it. Accustomed to judging themselves harshly, they are attracted by gentleness in others. And if they are indulgent themselves, they are less inclined to pardon a lack of indulgence in others, seeing them as proud rather than modest, pretentious rather than truly superior and hard rather than virtuous.
Because of your duties, your main interests and the things you feel strongly about, you may not always be able to associate only with people you have chosen to have around you. And then, situations which would have cost you nothing if you had been more reasonable and more just, and had made indulgence a way of life, will require painful, daily sacrifices. Instead of a slight constraint, they will become a true source of unhappiness.
Finally, the habit of indulgence is equally useful when others need us and when we need them. It makes the good we can do them easier and more pleasurable, and the good they do us less difficult to obtain and less painful to accept. But do not want to get into the habit of indulgence? Before judging someone harshly, before becoming irritated by his defects or reacting violently against what he has just said or done, consult justice. Do not be afraid to think over your own mistakes; question your reason and listen above all to the natural goodness which you are certain to find at the bottom of your heart -- for if you do not find it there, all this advice would be useless; my experience and my tenderness could do nothing for your happiness.
The egoism from which I should like to protect you is not the constant tendency to be continually and exclusively absorbed in our own interests and to sacrifice to them the interests, rights and happiness of others. This egoism is incompatible with any form of virtue, and even with any honest feeling; it would be too much to bear if I felt it necessary to protect you from such a feeling.
I am discussing the egoism which, in everyday life, makes us see everything in terms of our own health, our convenience, our tastes and our well-being; an egoism which keeps us in some sense in the presence of ourselves, which feeds on the small sacrifices it imposes on others without feeling, and almost without knowing, their injustice; an egoism, which finds whatever suits it natural and just, and whatever harms it unjust and bizarre, and which complains loudly about caprice and tyranny if someone else, while humoring it, thinks also of himself.
This failing diminishes benevolence and harms and cools friendship. We become dissatisfied with others, because their self- denial can never be sufficient. We become dissatisfied with ourselves, because our vague, aimless mood develops into a constant, painful feeling which we no longer have the strength to escape.
If you want to avoid this misfortune, ensure that the feelings of equality and justice become second nature to you. Expect and demand from others only a little less than you would do for them. If you make sacrifices for them. appreciate them for what they really cost you and not according to the fact that they are sacrifices. Seek compensation for them in your reason, which will assure you that they would be reciprocated, and in your heart, which will tell you that they do not need to be. You will find that life in society is more pleasant and, dare I day, more convenient, if you live for others. Only then do you truly live for yourself.