Archive for March 30, 2010
Success is a hideous thing. Its false similarity to merit deceives men. To the masses, success has almost the same appearance as supremacy. Success, that pretender to talent, has a dupe—history. Juvenal and Tacitus only reject it.
In our day, an almost official philosophy has entered into its service, wears its livery, and waits in its antechamber. Success: That is the theory. Prosperity supposes capacity. Win the lottery, and you are an able man. The victor is venerated. To be born with a caul is everything. Have luck alone and you will have the rest; be happy, and you will be thought great.
Beyond the five or six great exceptions, the wonders of their age, contemporary admiration is nothing but shortsightedness. Gilt is gold. To be a chance comer is no drawback provided you have improved your chances. The common herd is an old Narcissus, who adores himself and applauds the common. That mighty genius, by which one becomes a Moses, an Aeschylus, a Dante, a Michelangelo, or a Napoleon, the multitude attributes at one and by acclamation to whoever succeeds in his object, whatever it my be.
Let a notary rise to be deputy; let a sham Corneille write Tiridate; let a eunuch come into the possession of a harem; let a military Prudhomme accidentally win in the decisive battle of an era; let a pharmacist invent cardboard soles for army shoes and put aside, by selling this cardboard as leather for the army of the Sambre-et-Meuse, four hundred thousand livres in income; let a peddler marry usury and have her bear seven or eight million, of which he is the father and she the mother; let a preacher become a bishop by talking platitudes; let the steward of a good house become so rich that on leaving service he is made Minister of Finance—men call that Genius, just as they call the face of Mousqueton, Beauty, and the bearing of Claude, Majesty.
They confuse heaven’s radiant stars with a duck’s footprint left in the mud.
—Victor Hugo, Les Misérables