Excerpt from Treasure of the Humble on Silence – Maurice Maeterlinck

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That time I realized blogs could be used to discuss philosophy. (Ed. 9/30/2023)

Not my own work, “Treasure of the Humble” is a book by Maurice Maeterlinck written in the early 20th century. The copy I have is over eighty years old so I believe it’s public domain and I can post it safely. Maeterlinkc’s books have had a profound impact on my personal philosophy and thoughts. Reading about some of my friends recent run-in’s with silence or feelings of being alone I thought it may help to post excerpts from the first chapter of the book: “Silence” because reading, and re-reading it, has certanily helped me from time to time.

“And it is because we all of us know of this somber power and its perilous manifestations, that we stand in so deep a dread of silence. We can bear, when need must be, the silence of ourselves, that of isolation: but the silence of many – silence multiplied – and above all the silence of a crowd – these are supernatural burdens, whose inexplicable weight brings dread to the mightiest soul.

We spend a goodly portion of our lives in seeking places where silence is not. No sooner have two or three men met than their one thought is to drive away the invisible enemy; and of how many ordinary friendships may it not be said that their only foundation is the common hatred of silence!

And if, all efforts notwithstanding, it contrives to steal among a number of men, disquiet will fall upon them, and their restless eyes will wander in the mysterious direction of things unseen: It is a thing that knows no limit, and before it all men are equal; and the silence of a king or slave, in presence of death, or grief, or love, reveals the same features, hides beneath is impenetrable mantle the self-same treasure.

For this is the essential silence of our soul, our most inviolable sanctuary and its secret can never be lost; and where the first born of men to meet the last inhabitant of the earth, a kindred impulse would sawy them, and they would be voiceless in their caresses, in their terror and their tears; a kindred impulse would sway them, and all that could be said without falsehood would call for no spoken word: and the centuriees notwithstanding, there would come to them, at the same moment, as though one cradle had held them both, comprehension of that which the tongue shall not learn to tell before the world ceases…

No sooner are the lips still than the soul awakes, and sets forth on its labours; for silence is an element that is full of surprise, danger and happiness, and in these the soul possesses itself in freedom. If it be indeed your desire to give yourself over to another, be silent; and if you fear being silent with him – unless this fear be the proud uncertainty, or hunger, of the love that yearns for prodigies – fly from him, for your soul knows well how far it may go. There are men in whose presence the greatest of heroes would not dare to be silent; and even the soul that has nothing to conceal trembles lest another should discover its secret. Some there are that have no silence, and that kills the silence around them, and these are the only creatures that pass through life unperceived.”

Silence, “Treasure of the Humble” by Maurice Maeterlinck (c) 1911

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