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The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
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  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
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A.M. Weiss

Monsieur Weiss, I made you wait a very long time, I confess this, the small amount of information I have to furnish on my friend Gustave Fallot. It is indeed that I feel an invincible repugnance to say of him all that I think. Others see it as a sacred duty to collect down to the most minimal, memories of the conversations and of the walks of a friend, to embellish upon them, to what they believe, a biographical item: me, I do not know which instinct squeezes my heart and prevents me from speaking. What import to the public? The events of Fallot’s life are nothing: others, just as well as he, saw their literary vocations frustrated; others, and the more mediocre geniuses, were, so to speak, themselves prophesied; others were excellent friends, noble citizens; all of this, precious for me, has nothing of novelty or of magnetism for the curious and the indifferent. What good is it to repeat a common praise to so many people? What use is it to employ known formulas, so often prostituted? If I was charged with the article of Fallot in any biography, me, his friend, as he called me, me, his most necessary, I would not give him twenty lines. It is otherwise than this that I would want to consecrate his memory.

When I learn the news of the death of Fallot, I felt that half of my life and of my mind were erased: I found myself alone in the world. Fallot leaves friends that regret it as much as I, I doubt it not: I did not shed a tear, for I never cry; but, since, I have not passed maybe four continuous hours that his memory, like a fixed idea, a true obsession, has not occupied my thoughts. But, yet another time, what does this do to the soul that lives? If all those who knew and liked him prepared his funeral oration, there would be a big book, and this book would be fiercely boring for its other authors.

I knew Fallot at the end of 1829. After having finished his studies, he was placed in a commerce house by his father, against his will. Also, it was well promised to leave there as soon as his maturity rendered him the master of his actions. This is what he did. His life in Besançon is known; it is here that I followed him the most; our frequenting was never interrupted until around the middle of 1831, the époque when he left for Paris, and I for Switzerland.

I saw him again in the capital at the beginning of March1832; I arrived at his home as at the home of my father; cholera entered with me. It seems that then all conspired against us. It was a hundred bet against one that one time in Paris, I would exit no more; and what grieves me today, it is that I have the firm confidence that, if I had remained close to him, he would not be dead. I had the talent or the gift to recreate him, to distract him, to force him to take some recreation without a single loss to his works and his studies; my presence being almost of all the instants, I was for him as a servant, but an intelligent servant and friend of his master. Who could replace me? Nobody could do it, and the proof, it is that he is dead.

When I landed at his home, he had already presented his memoirs for the Suard pensions to the academy of Besançon: he calculated that with his modest income and the profit of this pension, if he obtained it, plus the little that he allowed me make in my printing profession, we could live very well, until any occasion would pull us into misery. I consented only with pain. All of a sudden, the unfortunate news arriving for him from his country, he saw himself forced, by continuation of domestic bothers, to pay a very strong sum. From that time I searched for employment with printers. This was the time of the June days, the most difficult times of the July revolution. All the workshops were doing it; I was obligated to go search for fortune elsewhere; and since, I have seen it no more.

I feel compelled to demand your pardon, Mister Weiss, for instead of speaking to you of Fallot I have done nothing so far but my own history. Eh! It is exactly for this that I backed off so as to do you a pleasure so light, despite all the resolution that I have of you to be pleasant. I do not hear otherwise the biography, when I write it in my name. What should I say to you now? Fallot, attacked by cholera and believing to die, Fallot held my hands, the night that I looked at as an eve of death, and said to me with an enthusiasm capable of killing a sturdy man: If I die, swear to me that you will immortalize me!

These words torment me and follow me as remorse, as a ghost. Not that I believe myself obliged by the promise that pulled from me the compassion of a young man dying in the distress of his interrupted career: it would not please God that I would believe myself capable of giving immortality to person! But this spectacle of a burgeoning genius, occupied with an inexorable fatality; this conscience so strongly obtained that he had of his future, and to which death came to say: you lied about some of this; the idea that the loss of one single man was often maybe the cause for the destinies of humanity, attached to those of science and philosophy, were hindered or led down false roads; the pictures, opposed and fighting together, of the thought, of the void, of chance and of intelligence, all of which gives me an impression of terror, a divine horror, that still endures.

I offer you, Mister Weiss, the letters that remain with me of this man of which I will not see a similar one, at least for me: endure the pain to read them; perhaps, written to a friend, you will learn more from them than all that I could say. You would recognize there that the dominant faculty of Fallot was the aptitude for philosophical meditations, and that philology for him was never more than a secondary object that could furnish some light on the objects occupied with the metaphysical heights. One of his beliefs was that the observation of the phenomena of language and physiology, compared, would bring about sooner or later discoveries rather important to the definitive resolution, in yes or in no, the most interesting problems of science. He said that genius was entirely in attention. This truth seems profound to me. We do not lack definitions of genius; some of them come close to the one of Fallot; but I have not known a single author who has reduced genius so clearly the to a simple operation of discernment, of attention.

I await with impatience, as all those who knew Fallot, the publication of his book, about which formerly he spoke a few words to me. To say all of my opinion of Fallot, and considered a linguist, I do not believe that he would have been able to know, I mean to say to possess, the copia verborum of many languages, or even to keep perfectly the simple mechanisms of some. But he did have a higher degree of the talent to compare, to analyze, to discuss, to deduce new consequences, curious and prolific, of facts and of untapped materials. As such, he has perhaps surpassed the ancients and the contemporaries. We resolved one day to take up the study of Greek; the first lesson was the verb; he confessed that, if he came to the end to keep it, he would believe to know Greek. However, I knew since that he had given himself so strongly to this language, probably because he had established principles and a method that facilitated his work, and which he perhaps will have made a part of his posthumous book.

Fallot eminently possessed the most beautiful and the most rare of intellectual faculties, a faculty that alone made all that he was, and perhaps returned the torch of philosophical France: it was neither memory, nor imagination, nor reflection nor even this attention, of which he had so well recognized the power; it was the faculty of understanding, if he permitted me to give this word a meaning that is perhaps novel. He quickly seized and with ease the entire composition of a system, seeing all the consequences of it sometimes better than the author himself. This faculty, fed and exercised at his home by a fairly large erudition, and by varied knowledge acquired from youth (entomology, ornithology, chemistry, physics, history, and compared philosophies), gave him a integrity of judgment, a piercing reason, a dialectic power the likes of which I have seen few examples. We have passed some time reviewing the vast works, the immense structures of human thought; and I must say that I learned more by this critic, and that I will always be more indebted to the memories that I preserve of his method, than to studies that have been prolonged more and more.

With all of this, Fallot was nothing more perhaps than a mediocre professor. He was fearful to favor of the side of elocution; and the safety of his critic holding more to the slowness of the observation than to a quick instinct, it was done more to supply the press than to occupy the pulpit.

But, the more I talk of his beautiful organization, the more I prepare myself for bitterness; all of this is lost for me! Thanks to so selfish a regret! I had wanted, with him, to do nothing but study and furnish him some ideas, he always holding the feather. It seemed to me that it thought for both of us, and that his thoughts were mine. Henceforth I have known this with no one.

That I become Plato, I said to him, and you will be Socrates. I have now only the regret of the powerlessness and uselessness of this vow.

I hope that I, Monsieur Weiss, have satiated your expectation, and furnished some data on a young man that was like a son to you. It would still be a subject of consolation, for the one that aims for a hundredth of the place that Fallot occupies in your heart.

P.-J. Proudhon

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