Rare in natural philosophy is the opposite of dense. In moral
philosophy, it is the opposite of common.
This last variety of rare is what excites admiration. One never admires
what is common, one enjoys it.
An eccentric thinks himself above the rest of wretched mortals when he
has in his study a rare medal that is good for nothing, a rare book that
nobody has the courage to read, an old engraving by Albrecht Durer,
badly designed and badly printed: he triumphs if he has in his garden a
stunted tree from America. This eccentric has no taste; he has only
vanity. He has heard say that the beautiful is rare; but he should know
that all that is rare is not beautiful.
Beauty is rare in all nature's works, and in all works of art.
Whatever ill things have been said of women, I maintain that it is rarer
to find women perfectly beautiful than passibly good.
You will meet in the country ten thousand women attached to their homes,
laborious, sober, feeding, rearing, teaching their children; and you
will find barely one whom you could show at the theatres of Paris,
London, Naples, or in the public gardens, and who would be looked on as
Likewise, in works of art, you have ten thousand daubs and scrawls to
If everything were beautiful and good, it is clear that one would no
longer admire anything; one would enjoy. But would one have pleasure in
enjoying? that is a big question.
Why have the beautiful passages in "The Cid," "The Horaces," "Cinna,"
had such a prodigious success? Because in the profound night in which
people were plunged, they suddenly saw shine a new light that they did
not expect. It was because this beauty was the rarest thing in the
The groves of Versailles were a beauty unique in the world, as were then
certain passages of Corneille. St. Peter's, Rome, is unique.
But let us suppose that all the churches of Europe were equal to St.
Peter's, Rome, that all statues were Venus dei Medici, that all
tragedies were as beautiful as Racine's "Iphigenie", all works of poetry
as well written as Boileau's "Art Poetique", all comedies as good as
"Tartufe", and thus in every sphere; would you then have as much
pleasure in enjoying masterpieces become common as they made you taste
when they were rare? I say boldly "No!"; and I believe that the ancient
school, which so rarely was right, was right when it said: _Ab assuetis
non fit passio_, habit does not make passion.
But, my dear reader, will it be the same with the works of nature? Will
you be disgusted if all the maids are so beautiful as Helen; and you,
ladies, if all the lads are like Paris? Let us suppose that all wines
are excellent, will you have less desire to drink? if the partridges,
pheasants, pullets are common at all times, will you have less appetite?
I say boldly again "No!", despite the axiom of the schools, "Habit does
not make passion": and the reason, you know it, is that all the
pleasures which nature gives us are always recurring needs, necessary
enjoyments, and that the pleasures of the arts are not necessary. It is
not necessary for a man to have groves where water gushes to a height of
a hundred feet from the mouth of a marble face, and on leaving these
groves to go to see a fine tragedy. But the two sexes are always
necessary to each other. The table and the bed are necessities. The
habit of being alternately on these two thrones will never disgust you.
In Paris a few years ago people admired a rhinoceros. If there were in
one province ten thousand rhinoceroses, men would run after them only to
kill them. But let there be a hundred thousand beautiful women men will
always run after them to ... honour them.