MEMNON, THE PHILOSOPHER
Memnon one day took it into his head to become a
great philosopher. "To be perfectly happy," said he
to himself, "I have nothing to do but to divest myself
entirely of passions; and nothing is more easy, as
everybody knows. In the first place, I will never be
in love; for, when I see a beautiful woman, I will say
to myself, these cheeks will one day grow sallow and
wrinkled, these eyes be encircled with vermilion, that
bosom become lean and emaciated, that head bald and
palsied. Now I have only to consider her at present in
imagination as she will afterwards appear in reality,
and certainly a fair face will never turn my head.
"In the second place, I shall always be temperate. It
will be in vain to tempt me with good cheer, with
delicious wines, or the charms of society, I will have
only to figure to myself the consequences of excess --
an aching head, a loathing stomach, the loss of reason,
of health, and of time: I will then only eat to supply
the waste of nature; my health will be always equal,
my ideas pure and luminous. All this is so easy that
there is no merit in accomplishing it."
"But," says Memnon, "I must think a little of how I am
to regulate my fortune: why, my desires are moderate,
my wealth is securely placed with the Receiver General
of the finances of Nineveh. I have wherewithal to live
independent; and that is the greatest of blessings. I
shall never be under the cruel necessity of dancing
attendance at court. I will never envy any one, and
nobody will envy me. Still all this is easy. I have
friends, and I will preserve them, for we shall never
have any difference. I will never take amiss anything
they may say or do; and they will behave in the same
way to me. There is no difficulty in all this."
Having thus laid this little plan of philosophy in his
closet, Memnon put his head out of the window. He saw
two women walking under the plane-trees near his house.
The one was old, and appeared quite at her ease. The
other was young, handsome, and seemingly much agitated.
She sighed, she wept, and seemed on that account still
more beautiful. Our philosopher was touched, not, to
be sure, with the lady, (he was too much determined not
to feel any uneasiness of that kind) but with the distress
which he saw her in. He came downstairs, and accosted
the young Ninevite, designing to console her with
philosophy. That lovely person related to him, with an
air of the greatest simplicity, and in the most affecting
manner, the injuries she sustained from an imaginary
uncle -- with what art he had deprived her of some
imaginary property, and of the violence which she
pretended to dread from him.
"You appear to me," said she, "a man of such wisdom,
that if you will come to my house and examine into my
affairs, I am persuaded you will be able to relieve
me from the cruel embarrassment I am at present involved
Memnon did not hesitate to follow her, to examine her
affairs philosophically, and to give her sound counsel.
The afflicted lady led him into a perfumed chamber,
and politely made him sit down with her on a large
sofa, where they both placed themselves opposite to
each other, in the attitude of conversation; the one
eager in telling her story, the other listening with
devout attention. The lady spoke with downcast eyes,
whence there sometimes fell a tear, and which, as she
now and then ventured to raise them, always met those
of the sage Memnon. Their discourse was full of tenderness,
which redoubled as often as their eyes met. Memnon
took her affairs exceedingly to heart, and felt himself
every instant more and more inclined to oblige a person
so virtuous and so unhappy. By degrees, in the warmth of
conversation they drew nearer. Memnon counseled her with
great wisdom, and gave her most tender advice.
At this interesting moment, as may easily be imagined,
who should come in but the uncle. He was armed from head
to foot, and the first thing he said was, that he would
immediately sacrifice, as was just, both Memnon and his
niece. The latter, who made her escape, knew that he
was disposed to pardon, provided a good round sum were
offered to him. Memnon was obliged to purchase his safety
with all he had about him. In those days people were
happy in getting so easily quit. America was not then
discovered, and distressed ladies were not then so
dangerous as they are now.
Memnon, covered with shame and confusion, got home to
his own house. He there found a card inviting him to
dinner with some of his intimate friends.
"If I remain at home alone," said he, "I shall have my
mind so occupied with this vexatious adventure, that
I shall not be able to eat a bit, and I shall bring
upon myself some disease. It will therefore be prudent
in me to go to my intimate friends and partake with
them of a frugal repast. I shall forget, in the sweets
of their society, the folly I have this morning been
Accordingly he attends the meeting; he is discovered
to be uneasy at something, and he is urged to drink
and banish care.
"A little wine, drank in moderation, comforts the heart
of God and man:" so reasoned Memnon the philosopher,
and he became intoxicated. After the repast, play is
"A little play, with one's intimate friends, is a harmless
pastime." He plays and loses all in his purse, and four
times as much on his word. A dispute arises on some
circumstance in the game, and the disputants grow warm.
One of his intimate friends throws a dice-box at his head,
and strikes out one of his eyes. The philosopher Memnon
is carried home drunk and penniless, with the loss of
He sleeps out his debauch, and, when his head becomes
clear, he sends his servant to the Receiver General of
the finances of Nineveh, to draw a little money to pay
his debt of honor to his intimate friends. The servant
returns and informs him, that the Receiver General had
that morning been declared a fraudulent bankrupt, and
that by this means an hundred families are reduced to
poverty and despair. Memnon, almost beside himself, puts
a plaster on his eye and a petition in his pocket, and
goes to court to solicit justice from the king against
the bankrupt. In the saloon he meets a number of ladies,
all in the highest spirits, and sailing along with hoops
four-and-twenty feet in circumference. One of them,
slightly acquainted with him, eyed him askance, and
cried aloud: "Ah! what a horrid monster!"
Another, who was better acquainted with him, thus
accosts him: "Good-morrow, Mr. Memnon, I hope you
are well, Mr. Memnon. La! Mr. Memnon, how did you
lose your eye?" and turning upon her heel, she
tripped unconcernedly away.
Memnon hid himself in a corner, and waited for the
moment when he could throw himself at the feet of
the monarch. That moment at last arrived. Three times
he kissed the earth, and presented his petition. His
gracious majesty received him very favorably, and
referred the paper to one of his satraps. The satrap
takes Memnon aside, and says to him with a haughty
air and satirical grin:
"Hark ye, you fellow with the one eye, you must be a
comical dog indeed, to address yourself to the king
rather than to me: and still more so, to dare to demand
justice against an honest bankrupt, whom I honor with my
protection, and who is also a nephew to the waiting-maid
of my mistress. Proceed no further in this business, my
good friend, if you wish to preserve the eye you have
Memnon having thus, in his closet, resolved to renounce
women, the excess of the table, play, and quarreling,
but especially having determined never to go to court,
had been in the short space of four-and-twenty hours
duped and robbed by a gentle dame, had got drunk, had
gamed, had been engaged in a quarrel, had got his eye
knocked out, and had been at court, where he was sneered
at and insulted.
Petrified with astonishment, and his heart broken with
grief, Memnon returns homeward in despair. As he was
about to enter his house, he is repulsed by a number of
officers who are carrying off his furniture for the
benefit of his creditors. He falls down almost lifeless
under a plane-tree. There he finds the fair dame of the
morning, who was walking with her dear uncle; and both
set up a loud laugh on seeing Memnon with his plaster.
The night approached, and Memnon made his bed on some
straw near the walls of his house. Here the ague seized
him, and he fell asleep in one of the fits, when a
celestial spirit appeared to him in a dream.
It was all resplendent with light: it had six beautiful
wings, but neither feet, nor head, and could be likened
"What art thou?" said Memnon.
"Thy good genius," replied the spirit.
"Restore me then my eye, my health, my fortune, my
reason," said Memnon; and he related how he had lost
them all in one day. "These are adventures which never
happen to us in the world we inhabit," said the spirit.
"And what world do you inhabit?" said the man of
"My native country," replied the other, "is five hundred
millions of leagues distant from the sun, in a little
star near Sirius, which you see from hence."
"Charming country!" said Memnon. "And are there indeed
with you no jades to dupe a poor devil, no intimate
friends that win his money and knock out an eye for
him, no fraudulent bankrupts, no satraps, that make a
jest of you while they refuse you justice?"
"No," said the inhabitant of the star, "we have nothing
of the kind. We are never duped by women, because we
have none among us; we never commit excesses at table,
because we neither eat nor drink; we have no bankrupts,
because with us there is neither silver nor gold; our
eyes cannot be knocked out, because we have not bodies
in the form of yours; and satraps never do us injustice,
because in our world we are all equal."
"Pray my lord," said Memnen, "without women and without
eating how do you spend your time?"
"In watching, over the other worlds that are entrusted
to us; and I am now come to give you consolation."
"Alas!" said Memnon, "why did you not come yesterday
to hinder me from committing so many indiscretions?"
"I was with your elder brother Hassan," said the celestial
being. "He is still more to be pitied than you are. His
most gracious majesty, the sultan of the Indies, in whose
court he has the honor to serve, has caused both his eyes
to be put out for some small indiscretion; and he is now
in a dungeon, his hands and feet loaded with chains."
"'Tis a happy thing, truly," said Memnon, "to have a good
genius in one's family, when out of two brothers, one is
blind of an eye, the other blind of both; one stretched
upon straw, the other in a dungeon."
"Your fate will soon change," said the spirit of the star.
"It is true you will never recover your eye; but, except
that, you may be sufficiently happy if you never again
take it into your head to be a perfect philosopher."
"Is it then impossible?" said Memnon.
"As impossible as to be perfectly wise, perfectly strong,
perfectly powerful, perfectly happy. We ourselves are very
far from it. There is a world indeed where all this takes
place; but, in the hundred thousand millions of worlds
dispersed over the regions of space, everything goes on
by degrees. There is less philosophy and less enjoyment
in the second than in the first, less in the third than
in the second, and so forth till the last in the scale,
where all are completely fools."
"I am afraid," said Memnon, "that our little terraqueous
globe here is the madhouse of those hundred thousand
millions of worlds, of which your lordship does me the
honor to speak."
"Not quite," said the spirit, "but very nearly; everything
must be in its proper place."
"But are those poets and philosophers wrong, then, who tell
us that everything is for the best?"
"No, they are right, when we consider things in relation
to the gradation of the whole universe."
"Oh! I shall never believe it till I recover my eye again,"
said the unfortunate Memnon.