The Count of Monte Cristo – Day 182 of 400

Monte Cristo pointed to a chair, which the procureur was obliged to take the trouble to move forwards himself, while the count merely fell back into his own, on which he had been kneeling when M. Villefort entered. Thus the count was halfway turned towards his visitor, having his back towards the window, his elbow resting on the geographical chart which furnished the theme of conversation for the moment,—a conversation which assumed, as in the case of the interviews with Danglars and Morcerf, a turn analogous to the persons, if not to the situation. “Ah, you philosophize,” replied Villefort, after a moment’s silence, during which, like a wrestler who encounters a powerful opponent, he took breath; “well, sir, really, if, like you, I had nothing else to do, I should seek a more amusing occupation.”

“Why, in truth, sir,” was Monte Cristo’s reply, “man is but an ugly caterpillar for him who studies him through a solar microscope; but you said, I think, that I had nothing else to do. Now, really, let me ask, sir, have you?—do you believe you have anything to do? or to speak in plain terms, do you really think that what you do deserves being called anything?”

Villefort’s astonishment redoubled at this second thrust so forcibly made by his strange adversary. It was a long time since the magistrate had heard a paradox so strong, or rather, to say the truth more exactly, it was the first time he had ever heard of it. The procureur exerted himself to reply. “Sir,” he responded, “you are a stranger, and I believe you say yourself that a portion of your life has been spent in Oriental countries, so you are not aware how human justice, so expeditious in barbarous countries, takes with us a prudent and well-studied course.”

“Oh, yes—yes, I do, sir; it is the pede claudo of the ancients. I know all that, for it is with the justice of all countries especially that I have occupied myself—it is with the criminal procedure of all nations that I have compared natural justice, and I must say, sir, that it is the law of primitive nations, that is, the law of retaliation, that I have most frequently found to be according to the law of God.”

“If this law were adopted, sir,” said the procureur, “it would greatly simplify our legal codes, and in that case the magistrates would not (as you just observed) have much to do.”

“It may, perhaps, come to this in time,” observed Monte Cristo; “you know that human inventions march from the complex to the simple, and simplicity is always perfection.”

“In the meanwhile,” continued the magistrate, “our codes are in full force, with all their contradictory enactments derived from Gallic customs, Roman laws, and Frank usages; the knowledge of all which, you will agree, is not to be acquired without extended labor; it needs tedious study to acquire this knowledge, and, when acquired, a strong power of brain to retain it.”

“I agree with you entirely, sir; but all that even you know with respect to the French code, I know, not only in reference to that code, but as regards the codes of all nations. The English, Turkish, Japanese, Hindu laws, are as familiar to me as the French laws, and thus I was right, when I said to you, that relatively (you know that everything is relative, sir)—that relatively to what I have done, you have very little to do; but that relatively to all I have learned, you have yet a great deal to learn.”

“But with what motive have you learned all this?” inquired Villefort, in astonishment. Monte Cristo smiled. “Really, sir,” he observed, “I see that in spite of the reputation which you have acquired as a superior man, you look at everything from the material and vulgar view of society, beginning with man, and ending with man—that is to say, in the most restricted, most narrow view which it is possible for human understanding to embrace.”

“Pray, sir, explain yourself,” said Villefort, more and more astonished, “I really do—not—understand you—perfectly.”

“I say, sir, that with the eyes fixed on the social organization of nations, you see only the springs of the machine, and lose sight of the sublime workman who makes them act; I say that you do not recognize before you and around you any but those office-holders whose commissions have been signed by a minister or king; and that the men whom God has put above those office-holders, ministers, and kings, by giving them a mission to follow out, instead of a post to fill—I say that they escape your narrow, limited field of observation. It is thus that human weakness fails, from its debilitated and imperfect organs. Tobias took the angel who restored him to light for an ordinary young man. The nations took Attila, who was doomed to destroy them, for a conqueror similar to other conquerors, and it was necessary for both to reveal their missions, that they might be known and acknowledged; one was compelled to say, ‘I am the angel of the Lord’; and the other, ‘I am the hammer of God,’ in order that the divine essence in both might be revealed.”

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