And again, though we cannot prove, we feel, that we are deathless. We perceive that life is not like those dramas so beloved by the people—in which every villain is punished, and every act of virtue meets with its reward; we learn anew every day that the wisdom of the serpent fares better here than the gentleness of the dove, and that any thief can triumph if he steals enough. If mere worldly utility and expediency were the justification of virtue, it would not be wise to be too good. And yet, knowing all this, having it flung into our faces with brutal repetition, we still feel the command to righteousness, we know that we ought to do the inexpedient good.
I felt that the metal of my spirit, like a bar of iron that is softened and bent by a persistent flame, was being gradually softened and bent by the troubles that oppressed it. In spite of myself, I was conscious of a feeling of envy for those who did not suffer from such troubles, for the wealthy and the privileged; and this envy, I observed, was accompanied—still against my will—by a feeling of bitterness towards them, which, in turn, did not limit its aim to particular persons or situations, but, as if by an uncontrollable bias, tended to assume the general, abstract character of a whole conception of life. In fact, during those difficult days, I came very gradually to feel that my irritation and my intolerance of poverty were turning into a revolt against injustice, and not only against the injustice which struck at me personally but the injustice from which so many others like me suffered. I was quite aware of this almost imperceptible transformation of my subjective resentments into objective reflections and states of mind, owing to the bent of my thoughts which led always and irresistibly in the same direction: owing also to my conversation, which, without my intending it, alway harped upon the same subject. I also noticed in myself a growing sympathy for those political parties which proclaimed their struggle against the evils and infamies of the society to which, in the end I had attributed the troubles that beset me—a society which, as I thought, in reference to myself, allowed its best sons to languish and protected its worst ones. Usually, and in the simpler, less cultivated people, this process occurs without their knowing it, in the dark depths of consciousness where, by a kind of mysterious alchemy, egoism is transmuted into altruism, hatred into love, fear into courage; but to me, accustomed as I was to observing and studying myself, the whole thing was clear and visible, as though I were watching it happen in someone else; and yet I was aware the whole time that I was being swayed by material subjective factors, that I was transforming purely personal motives into universal reasons.