Etudes critiques sur la litterature contemporaine, par Edmond Scherer.—M. Sainte-Beuve, p. 354.
 Xavier de Maistre.
Soyons comme l’oiseau pose
pour un instant
Sur des rameaux trop freles,
Qui sent ployer la branche et qui chante pourtant,
Sachant qu’il a des ailes.—VICTOR HUGO.
(At Geneva, 4th Dec. 1863.—At Lausanne, 27th Jan. 1864.)
Man is not a simple product of nature; in vain does he labor to degrade himself by desiring to find the explanation of his spiritual being in matter brought gradually to perfection. Man is not the summit and principle of the universe; in vain does he labor to deify himself. He is great only by reason of the divine rays which inform his heart, his conscience, and his reason. From the moment that he believes himself to be the source of light, he passes into night. When thought has risen from nature up to man, it must needs fall again, if its impetus be not strong enough to carry it on to God. These assertions do but translate the great facts of man’s intellectual history. “There is no nation so barbarous,” said Cicero, “there are no men so savage as not to have some tincture of religion. Many there are who form false notions of the gods; ... but all admit the existence of a divine power and nature.... Now, in any matter whatever, the consent of all nations is to be reckoned a law of nature.” No discovery has diminished the value of these words of the Roman orator. In the most degraded portions of human society, there remains always some vestige of the religious sentiment. The knowledge of the Creator comes to us from the Christian tradition; but the idea, more or less vague, of a divine world is found wherever there are men.
Cicero brings forward this universal consent as a very strong proof of the existence of the gods. The supporters of atheism dispute the value of this argument. They say: “General opinion proves nothing. How many fabulous legends have been set up by the common belief into historic verities! All mankind believed for a long time that the sun revolved about the earth. Truth makes way in the world only by contradicting opinions generally received. The faith of the greater number is rather a mark of error than a sign of truth.” This objection rests upon a confusion of ideas. Humanity has no testimony to render upon scientific questions, the solution of which is reserved for patient study; but humanity bears witness to its own nature. The universality of religion proves that the search after the divine is, as said the Roman orator, a law of nature. When therefore we rise from matter to man, and from man to God, we are not going in an arbitrary road, but are advancing according to the law of nature ascertained by the testimony of humanity. It needs a mind at once very daring and very frivolous not to feel the importance of this consideration.