From the Greek word _impression_, _engraving_.
It is what nature has graved in us.
Can one change one's character? Yes, if one changes one's body. It is
possible for a man born blunderer, unbending and violent, being stricken
with apoplexy in his old age, to become a foolish, tearful child, timid
and peaceable. His body is no longer the same. But as long as his
nerves, his blood and his marrow are in the same state, his nature will
not change any more than a wolf's and a marten's instinct.
The character is composed of our ideas and our feelings: well, it is
substantiated that we give ourselves neither feelings nor ideas;
therefore our character does not depend on us.
If it depended on us, there is nobody who would not be perfect.
We cannot give ourselves tastes, talents; why should we give ourselves
If one does not reflect, one thinks oneself master of everything; when
one reflects thereon, one sees that one is master of nothing.
Should you wish to change a man's character completely, purge him with
diluents every day until you have killed him. Charles XII., in his
suppurative fever on the road to Bender, was no longer the same man. One
prevailed upon him as upon a child.
If I have a crooked nose and two cat's eyes, I can hide them with a
mask. Can I do more with the character which nature has given me?
A man born violent, hasty, presented himself before Francois I., King of
France, to complain of an injustice; the prince's countenance, the
respectful bearing of the courtiers, the very place where he is, make a
powerful impression on this man; mechanically he lowers his eyes, his
rough voice softens, he presents his petition humbly, one would believe
him born as gentle as are (at that moment at least) the courtiers,
amongst whom he is even disconcerted; but Francois I. understands
physiognomy, he easily discovers in the lowered eyes, burning
nevertheless with sombre fire, in the strained facial muscles, in the
compressed lips, that this man is not so gentle as he is forced to
appear. This man follows him to Pavia, is taken with him, led to the
same prison in Madrid: Francois I.'s majesty no longer makes the same
impression on him; he grows familiar with the object of his respect. One
day when pulling off the king's boots, and pulling them off badly, the
king, embittered by his misfortune, gets angry; my man sends the king
about his business, and throws his boots out of the window.
Sixtus V. was born petulant, stubborn, haughty, impetuous, vindictive,
arrogant; this character seemed softened during the trials of his
novitiate. He begins to enjoy a certain credit in his order; he flies
into a passion with a guard, and batters him with his fist: he is
inquisitor at Venice; he performs his duties with insolence: behold him
cardinal, he is possessed _dalla rabbia papale_: this fury triumphs over
his nature; he buries his person and his character in obscurity; he apes
the humble and the dying man; he is elected Pope; this moment gives back
to the spring, which politics have bent, all its long curbed elasticity;
he is the haughtiest and most despotic of sovereigns.
_Naturam expella furca, tamen usque recurret._
(Hor. L. I., ep. x).
Drive away nature, it returns at the gallop.
(DESTOUCHES, _Glorieux_, Act 3, Sc. 5.)
Religion, morality put a brake on a nature's strength; they cannot
destroy it. The drunkard in a cloister, reduced to a half-setier of
cider at each meal, will no longer get drunk, but he will always like
Age enfeebles character; it is a tree that produces only degenerate
fruit, but the fruit is always of the same nature; it is knotted and
covered with moss, it becomes worm-eaten, but it is always oak or pear
tree. If one could change one's character, one would give oneself one,
one would be master of nature. Can one give oneself anything? do we not
receive everything? Try to animate an indolent man with a continued
activity; to freeze with apathy the boiling soul of an impetuous fellow,
to inspire someone who has neither ear nor taste with a taste for music
and poetry, you will no more succeed than if you undertook to give sight
to a man born blind. We perfect, we soften, we conceal what nature has
put in us, but we do not put in ourselves anything at all.
One says to a farmer: "You have too many fish in this pond, they will
not prosper; there are too many cattle in your meadows, grass lacks,
they will grow thin." It happens after this exhortation that the pikes
eat half my man's carp, and the wolves the half of his sheep; the rest
grow fat. Will he congratulate himself on his economy? This countryman,
it is you; one of your passions has devoured the others, and you think
you have triumphed over yourself. Do not nearly all of us resemble that
old general of ninety who, having met some young officers who were
debauching themselves with some girls, says to them angrily: "Gentlemen,
is that the example I give you?"