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Juan Valera (1824–1905). Pepita Jimenez.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Part I.—Letters from My Nephew

April 4th

April 4th.

MY life in this place begins, from its monotony, to be wearisome; and not because it is, physically, less active here than it was elsewhere; on the contrary, I walk and ride a great deal, and make excursions into the country, and, to please my father, visit the club-house and go to parties; in short, my life and my surroundings are quite uncongenial to me. For my intellectual life is a blank; I read nothing, and there is hardly a moment left me in which to reflect and meditate with tranquillity; and, as reflection and meditation were what constituted the chief charm of my existence, my life without them seems to me monotonous. Thanks to the patience which you have recommended to me for every occasion, I am able to endure it.

Another thing that prevents my spirit from being completely at rest is the longing, that becomes every day more ardent within me, to embrace that life to which I have for years been so earnestly inclined. It seems to me that, in those moments when I feel myself so near to the realization of the constant dream of my life, it is something like a profanation to allow my mind to be distracted by other objects. So much does this idea torment me, and to so many doubts does it give rise within me, that my admiration for the beauty of things created; of the heavens, so full of stars in these serene nights of spring, and in this favored region of Andalusia; of these smiling fields, now covered with verdure; of these cool and pleasant gardens, abounding in shady and delightful walks. in gently flowing streams and rivulets, in sequestered nooks, in birds that enliven them with song, and in flowers and odorous herbs—this admiration and enthusiasm, I repeat, which formerly seemed to me in perfect harmony with the religious feeling that filled my soul, animating and exalting it, instead of weakening it, seems to me now almost a sinful distraction, and an unpardonable forgetfulness of the eternal for the temporal, of the uncreated and the spiritual for the material and created.

Although I have made but little progress in virtue, although my mind is never free from the phantasms of the imagination; although the interior man is never exempt in me from the influence of external impressions, and from the need of employing in meditation the fatiguing argumentative method; although I can not, by an effort of love, withdraw myself to the very centre of pure intelligence, to the loftiest sphere of thought, in order to behold there goodness and truth divested of images and forms; though this is all true, yet I confess to you that the method of mental prayer, unrestricted by set forms, makes me afraid. Even rational meditation inspires me with distrust. I do not want to employ a process of reasoning in order to know God, nor to adduce arguments for loving, in order to love Him. I desire, by a single effort of the will, to elevate myself to and be absorbed in the Divine contemplation. Oh that I had the wings of a dove, to fly to the bosom of Him whom my soul loveth! But what and where are my merits? Where the mortifications, the extended prayers, and the fasting? What have I done, oh my God, that Thou shouldst favor me?

I know that the ungodly of the present day accuse—though without any foundation whatever—our holy religion of inciting souls to abhor the things of this world, to despise or to contemn Nature, perhaps to fear it also, as if there were in it something diabolical, placing all their affections on what these ungodly call the monstrous egotism of Divine love, for they say that the soul loves herself in loving God; I know, too, that this is not the case; that the Divine love is charity, and that to love God is to love all things, for all things are in God, in a supreme and ineffable manner. I know that I commit no sin in loving material things for the love of God, which is to love them for themselves, righteously; for what are material things but the manifestation, the creation, of the love of God? Yet I often feel some undefinable fear, some unwonted scruple, some vague and scarcely perceptible remorse tormenting me even at the moment when I am experiencing an effusion of tenderness, a sort of ecstasy of enthusiasm, on penetrating into a leafy grove; on hearing the song of the nightingale, or the twittering of the swallows, or the tender cooing of the dove; on looking at the flowers; on beholding the stars.

I imagine, at times, that there is in all this something of sensual pleasure, a something that makes me forget, for the moment at least, more lofty aspirations. I do not desire that in me the spirit should sin against the flesh; but neither do I desire, on the other hand, that the beauty of the material world—that its delights, even those most delicate, subtle, and ethereal ones that are perceived rather by the spirit than by the senses, such as the soft sigh of the zephyr, laden with rural scents, the song of the birds, the peaceful and majestic silence of the night in these gardens and orchards—that these delights should distract me from the contemplation of higher beauty. or weaken, even for a moment, my love toward Him who has created this harmonious fabric of the world.

I know that all these material things are like the letters of a book, the signs and characters in which the soul, eager for knowledge, may find a hidden meaning, and decipher and discover the beauty of God, which is shadowed forth in them, though but dimly, and of which they are the pictures, or rather emblems, because they do not represent, but only symbolize that beauty. On this distinction I dwell at times to fortify my spirit and mortify the flesh. For, I consider, if I love the beauty of earthly things for itself, it is idolatry; I ought to love this beauty as a sign and symbol of a beauty occult and divine and infinitely superior to it.

A few days ago I completed my twenty-second year. Heretofore my religious fervor has been such that I have felt no other love than the immaculate love of God Himself and of His holy religion, which I desire to diffuse and see triumphant in all the regions of the earth.

But I must needs confess that something of a profane sentiment has mingled itself with this purity of affection. You are aware of this; I have told it to you many times, and you, regarding me with your accustomed indulgence, have answered me that man is not an angel, and that even to aspire to so great a degree of perfection is pride; that I should endeavor to moderate these sentiments rather than seek to eradicate them entirely. Love of knowledge, a desire for the reputation which is founded on the possession of knowledge, even a not unfavorable opinion of one’s own merits—these, even when kept within just bounds, though guarded and moderated by Christian humility, and directed toward a good end, have in them, doubtless, something of selfishness, but they may serve as a stimulus and a support to the noblest and most constant resolutions. The scruples that trouble my conscience now, therefore, have not their source in pride, in an overweening self-confidence, in a desire for worldly fame, or in a too great love of knowledge. Nothing of this nature it is that troubles me; nothing bearing any relation to self-conceit, but, in a certain sense, something entirely opposed to it. I feel a lassitude, a debility and abandonment of the will so great that it almost makes me afraid: I am too ready to weep for tenderness when I see a little flower, or when I contemplate the ray, mysterious, slender, and swift, of a remote star.

Tell me what you think of these things; and if there be not something morbid in this disposition of my mind.