It is good to have a little difficulty in life and not follow an even path. I feel sorry for kings if all they have to do is express their desires; and the gods, if there are any left, must get a little depressed. It’s said that in the past they took on the guise of travellers and came to knock on doors; no doubt they found some small happiness in feeling hunger, thirst and the passions of love. Except that, as soon as they thought of their power for a moment, they could tell themselves that this was only a game and could, if they wished, kill off their desires by suppressing time and distance. All things considered, they were bored; they must have hung or drowned themselves since then; or they sleep like sleeping beauty. Happiness assumes some anxiety, some passion, a painful prick which awakens us to ourselves.
It’s usually the case that we gain more happiness through the imagination than through real goods. This comes from the fact that when we do possess those real goods, we think that the matter is closed and sit down instead of running on. There are two forms of wealth; the one that leaves us seated is boring; the one that pleases is the one which still requires plans and effort, as with a peasant when he finally comes to own a long desired field; for it is power that pleases, not power at rest but power in action. A person who does nothing likes nothing. Bring him or her happiness ready-made, they turn their head away, as if they are ill. Besides, who doesn’t prefer to make music rather than listen to it? The difficult is what pleases. So every time there is an obstacle on the path, it gets the circulation going and rekindles the fire. Who would want an Olympic crown if it could be won without difficulty? No one. Who would want to play cards without ever running the risk of losing? Here is an old king playing with his courtiers; if he loses he becomes angry and the courtiers are well aware of this; as they have learnt to play properly, he never loses. Now watch him push the cards aside. He rises, he mounts his horse; he goes hunting; but it’s a king’s hunt; the game runs towards him; the deer are also courtiers.
I have known more than one king. They were little kings in little kingdoms; kings in their families, loved too much, flattered too much, pampered too much, and waited on too much. They didn’t even have time to express their desires; attentive eyes read their thoughts. Well now, these little Jupiters wanted, despite all this, to launch the thunder; so they invented obstacles; they fabricated capricious desires; changeable as a January sun, desiring desire at any price, and falling from boredom into extravagance. May the gods, if they haven’t died of boredom, never give you such flat kingdoms to rule; may they lead you up mountain paths; may they give you a good Andalusian mule for companion, with eyes like deep wells and a forehead like an anvil, and who suddenly stops because it sees the shadow of its ears on the road.
January, 22 1908
English translation copyright © Michel Petheram