Sylvain Maréchal, “The Golden Age” (1782)

The Golden Age consists of roughly thirty “pastoral tales,” touching on subjects that will be familiar to readers of almost any of Maréchal’s work. I’ve begun at the end of the collection, with “The Just Man,” and will add others as time allows.

They say there was a Time called the Golden Age,
When sacrifices were made to the naked Truth,
When artless Innocence walked with a sure step:
For Virtuous hearts this Time still exists.

 

THE GOLDEN AGE

A COLLECTION OF

PASTORAL TALES

By the Shepherd Sylvain.

1782.

Publisher’s Preface.

Oh you who wish to taste pure felicity!
Far from the big cities, take your exercise in the fields,
We find in the fields (nearer to Nature)
The precious remains of the peaceful Golden Age.

 

[…]

THE JUST MAN.

On a beautiful autumn evening, the old Lysander, seated before his hut, facing the darkening west, enjoying one more time the last rays of the setting sun, which was becoming, like him, weaker & less fiery.

From time to time he raised his eyes toward the heavens & asked them for an end to his life as peaceful as the decline of his age. Some moments later, the spectacle of Nature made him forget the great number of his years: for the ninetieth time he saw it submit to the changing of the seasons. Lysander had always seen & admired it; Lysander saw & admired it still; Nature is so beautiful!

Sensing that he was enjoying it for the last time, he remained for a long time in a pious ecstasy. Quietly & without being seen, Philander, the eldest of his children, had come up behind him. He respected at first the eloquent silence of the venerable old man; but the respect soon gave way to love. The son rushed into the arms of his father, who cried: “If I finished my life in this moment, my last day would be a happy one.” The embraced again, & he added: “My son, I long ago promised you a hymn, the Canticle of the Just. The hour that I had set aside for it has, I think, arrived; listen to me, Philander, for perhaps the last time… my voice is weak; but it will always have enough strength for such a beautiful subject.”

And he sang:

How sweet it is to be virtuous!

The life of the just man goes by as peacefully as the tranquil waters of the pure brook that flows slowly across the pasture. Like them, the just man leaves behind him abundance & happiness! Like them, we desire it, we cherish it and we lament it when it is gone.

How sweet it is to be virtuous!

Nature watches over the just man at all times. She presides at his birth & gives him parents as wise as there are tender, who take care of his youth & train him in virtue. In a little while he becomes as hardy as them. The first use of his strength is to aid his already feeble relations; he would return to them all that he has received. But soon nature speaks to his heart: he feels the need of the companion. A worthy lover offers herself to his innocent desires. The most tender love soon captivates him in the sweetest of bonds. An amiable & numerous posterity is the fruit of such holy nuptials: they derive their happiness from that of their children, in order to earn a fair return in the results. The years multiply. These virtuous spouses bend bit by bit under their weight; finally, they succumb: lamented by their relations, content with them, they die as they have lived.

How sweet it is to be virtuous!

The unfortunate bless the just man; his countrymen love him; strangers hold him in esteem. The sweetest pleasures all gather together under his humble roof. Merry words & innocent games enchant his leisure time, crown his meals & incline him to undertake new labors: & to complete his happiness, Friendship, loving Friendship, seats itself at his table.

How sweet it is to be virtuous!

For the just man the dawn is always beautiful, the day always serene, nature always in its springtime. The awakening of the just man is the signal for joy; his moments are all full: the unfortunate counts almost all of them for him. Night does not overtake the just man before he has profited from the day: sweet sleep comes then to close his eyelids; he sleeps & does not fear to be awakened by the rumblings of remorse. Peace is the companion of innocence: the calm of the night is no deeper than that in his heart..

How sweet it is to be virtuous!

The wicked, it is true, shares the light of day with the just man; the night extends its peaceful veils over one as over the other. Nature spreads her benefits over both: but how well she distinguishes between virtue and vice! These same presents of fair nature, which bring pleasure to the just man who enjoys them, are a source of evil for the wicked man who abuses them; the ruby liqueur of Bacchus gives the sober man the strength that it takes from the intemperate.

How sweet it is to be virtuous!

Sometimes, too, somber clouds darken the fair days of the just man: his pleasures are sometimes mixed with pain. But it is an ingenious precaution of Nature, to make him feel more clearly the cost of happiness. Whatever setbacks he experiences, he always maintains a good heart, a clear mind, a beautiful soul. A consoling voice does not cease crying to him: Fear nothing; you are just.

How sweet it is to be virtuous!

Nature loves the just man: she grants him a happy childhood, a fine youth, a friendly old age. She gives him wise parents, a chaste spouse, loving children, true friends; perfect health, fertile land, a fortunate life, a comforting death. The just man is a good son, good husband, good friend.

How sweet it is to be virtuous!

“But tears fill your eyes, my son!” said the old man, embracing him. “I love to see you sympathetic to this reflection! So always be just, & you will always be happy. Seek to do good, & you will find happiness.

These were the last words of Lysander. He did not know that Death, who had been behind him for some time, had not dared to interrupt such a touching scene with his presence. Hardly had the old man finished, than she showed herself to him. Lysander saw her without dread; he awaited her without fear. He embraced Philander once more. Death seized that moment, struck him….. & the soul of the father passed into that of his son.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2215 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.