The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Meditation XVII.


MAN is not made to enjoy an indefinite activity; nature has destined him to a variable existence, and his perceptions must end after a certain time. This time of activity may be prolonged, by varying the nature of the perceptions to be experienced, and a continuity of life brings about a desire for repose.

Repose leads to sleep, and sleep produces dreams.

Here we find ourselves on the very verge of humanity, for the man who sleeps is something more than a mere social being: the law protects, but does not command him.

Here a very singular fact told me by Dom Duhaget, once prior of the Chartreuse convent of Pierre Chatel, presents itself.

Dom Duhaget was a member of a very good family in Gascogne, and had served with some distinction as a captain of infantry. He was a knight of St Louis. I never knew any one, the conversation of whom was more pleasant.

“There was,” said he, “before I went to Pierre Chatel, a monk of a very melancholy humor, whose character was very sombre, and who was looked upon as a somnambulist.

“He used often to leave his cell, and when he went astray, people were forced to guide him back again. Many attempts had been made to cure him, but in vain.

“One evening I had not gone to bed at the usual hour, but was in my office looking over several papers, when I saw this monk enter in a perfect state of somnambulism.

“His eyes were open but fixed, and he was clad in the tunic in which he should have gone to bed, but he had a huge knife in his hand.

“He came at once to my bed, the position of which he was familiar with, and after having felt my hand, struck three blows which penetrated the mattrass on which I laid.

“As he passed in front of me his brows were knit, and I saw an expression of extreme gratification pervaded his face.

“The light of two lamps on my desk made no impression, and he returned as he had come, opening the doors which led to his cell, and I soon became satisfied that he had quietly gone to bed.

“You may,” said the Prior, “fancy my state after this terrible apparition; I trembled at the danger I had escaped, and gave thanks to Providence. My emotion, however, was so great that during the balance of the night I could not sleep.

“On the next day I sent for the somnambulist and asked him what he had dreamed of during the preceding night.

“When I asked the question he became troubled. ‘Father,’ said he, ‘I had so strange a dream that it really annoys me; I fear almost to tell you for I am sure the devil has had his hand in it.’ ‘I order you to tell me,’ said I, ‘dreams are involuntary and this may only be an illusion. Speak sincerely to me.’ ‘Father,’ said he,’ I had scarcely gone to sleep when I dreamed that you had killed my mother, and when her bloody shadow appeared to demand vengeance, I hurried into your cell, and as I thought stabbed you. Not long after I arose, covered with perspiration, and thanked God that I had not committed the crime I had meditated.’ ‘It has been more nearly committed,’ said I, with a kind voice, ‘than you think.’

“I then told him what had passed, and pointed out to him the blows he had aimed at me.

“He cast himself at my feet, and all in tears wept over the involuntary crime he had thought to commit, and besought me to inflict any penance I might think fit.

“’No,’ said I, ‘I will not punish you for an involuntary act. Henceforth, though I excuse you from the service of the night, I inform you that your cell will be locked on the outside and never be opened except to permit you to attend to the first mass.’”

If in this instance, from which a miracle only saved him, the Prior had been killed, the monk would not have suffered, for he would have committed a homicide not a murder.

Time of Rest.

The general laws of the globe we inhabit have an influence on the human race. The alternatives of day and night are felt with certain varieties over the whole globe, but the result of all this is the indication of a season of quiet and repose. Probably we would not have been the same persons had we lived all our lives without any change of day or night.

Be this as it may, when one has enjoyed for a certain length of time a plentitude of life a time comes when he can enjoy nothing; his impressibility gradually decreases, and the effects on each of his senses are badly arranged. The organs are dull and the soul becomes obtuse.

It is easy to see that we have had social man under consideration, surrounded by all the attractions of civilization. The necessity of this is peculiarly evident to all who are buried either in the studio, travel, as soldiers, or in any other manner.

In repose our mother nature especially luxuriates. The man who really reposes, enjoys a happiness which is as general as it is indefinable; his arms sink by their own weight, his fibres distend, his brain becomes refreshed, his senses become calm, and his sensations obtuse. He wishes for nothing, he does not reflect, a veil of gauze is spread before his eyes, and in a few moments he will sink to sleep.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51