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Gustave Flaubert – Sage remarks of M. Bouvard

December 26, 2014

On beauty:

         “First, what is beauty?
         For Schelling, it is the infinite expressing itself in the finite; for Reid, an occult quality; for Jouffroy, a fact incapable of analysis; for De Maistre, that which is pleasing to virtue; for Father Andre, that which gratifies reason.
         And there exist several kinds of beauty: a beauty of science, geometry is beautiful; a beauty of behavior, it cannot be denied that the death of Socrates was beautiful. A beauty of the animal kingdom: the beauty of the dog consists in its sense of smell. A pig could not be beautiful on account of its filthy habits; nor a snake, because it awakes in us ideas of baseness.
         Flowers, butterflies, birds may be beautiful. In fact, the first condition of beauty is unity in variety; that is the root of the matter.
         ‘Yet,’ said Bouvard, ‘two cross-eyes are more varied than two ordinary ones and produce a less good effect, as a rule.’”

On Universal Suffrage:

         “Since it belongs to everybody, it cannot possess intelligence. An ambitious man will always be leader, others will follow him like a flock, the electors not being required even to be literate; that is why according to Pécuchet there had been so many frauds in the presidential election.
         ‘I don’t agree,’ replied Bouvard, ‘rather I believe in the folly of the people. Think of all those who buy the Vitaliser, Dupuytren’s hair restorer, lady’s lotions, etc. These boobies form the mass of the electors and we submit to their will. Why can’t one make an income of three thousand francs out of rabbits? Because too much overcrowding will make them die. In the same way, wherever there is a crowd, germs of stupidity, inherent there, will develop, and result in incalculable effects.’”

(from Bouvard and Pécuchet [1881], translated by T.W. Earp and G.W. Stonier)

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