Auguste Comte founded a religion to immortalise the woman he had loved.

This philosopher’s theoretic work had considerable influence on the future of ideas.  He was struck by love late in life, and, after having brought to the world the first scientific and materialist conception of human history, became the priest of a new religion, in memory of his beloved.  This French philosopher, whose ambition was to abolish the metaphysical mentality, was transformed into a high priest by devouring love.

***

Auguste Comte introduced a new word into the French language:  l’altruisme.  He invented a science and gave it a name:  sociology.  He founded a philosophy:  positivism.

Contemporary egalitarianism comes from altruism.  Sociology today dominates the human sciences.  Positivism has engendered modern materialism.

The fundamental idea of this Polytechnician is that new habits must be given to intelligence, because of the state of the sciences.  A science of social phenomena must be founded from the objective concepts of mathematical analysis.  Humanity has known three states:  the theological state, where the divine powers are used by Man as principles of explanation and action;  the metaphysical state, where the divine powers are replaced by impersonal and abstract forces.  We are entering into the positive state.

He publishes his famous Cours de philosophie positive while teaching Astronomy for seventeen years to un-registered students, at the Mairie du IIIe arrondissement.  He lives with difficulty from his tutorial functions at l’Ecole polytechnique, where his teaching is admirable.  Guizot refuses him a Chair in History of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the College de France, because of his Republican opinions.  For the same reason, he is refused the Chair of Geometry at the Polytechnique.  He is forty-seven.  He is poor.  He lives alone, separated from his wife after a disastrous conjugal life.  Having lost his post of Examiner at the Polytechnique, he is without resources.  John Stuart Mill and a few rich English intellectuals support him.  Then, Emile Littre adheres to his ideas and opens a subscription to help him.  It is at this epoch that he makes the acquaintance of the sister of one of his disciples, Clotilde de Vaux.

***

Clotilde de Vaux is the young woman whom Auguste Comte will turn into the Virgin Mother of Humanity.

She is thirty-one.  She is slim and pale, of a cold beauty.  She lives both in her own apartment, Rue Payenne, and in that of her parents, which is almost next-door.  Her husband has left her, after a few swindles.  She has never known love, and has no child.  She writes little novels, the kind of which Hugo would say:

“She would do better to knit herself something.”

Auguste Comte visits her family.

Clotilde’s mother finds that he is acting rather strangely of late, and asks her daughter if he is courting her.  Clotilde denies that he is.

As a matter of fact, he isn’t really courting her.  He talks about philosophy with her, of quibblers and pedants, occasionally declaring to her that he doesn’t know what would become of him, if he couldn’t see her any more.

However, he starts to become pressing, signing notes :  “Your devoted spouse.”  She answers with cold kindness:  “You have the heart of a knight, my excellent philosopher.”  Or:  “In the hours of suffering, your image floats before me.”  And she calls him “My tender father”.

He dreams of receiving her in his shabby lodgement.  Will he take her in his arms?

“My organization has received from a tender mother certain intimate cords, eminently feminine, which have not yet been able to vibrate, through lack of having been appropriately caressed.  The time has at last come to develop its activity…  It is by your salutary influence, my Clotilde, that I await this estimable improvement.”

To this philosopher’s mumbo-jumbo born of congested desire, she answers:

“I would have seen you yesterday, if I hadn’t been very ill.  I do not want you to become ill or unhappy because of me.”

She comes one day at last to his home.  She sits in his red armchair.  He is arranging some papers in front of her, like a notary.  He makes the remark that they are alone, that the female servant is leaving.  He shows her the bedroom from a distance:  a sepulcral cupboard-like space at the end of the austere apartment.  She chatters about one thing and another, keeping her eyes on the folds of her gown.  He calculates the budget for a life together, adding up figures.  She speaks of her health and finds that the room is too hot. And finally, she interrupts his household calculations by telling him that, if he is her friend, he must understand that he has to wait even longer.  A few months, for example, to give her time to get better.  Then she rushes out.

She writes to him during the night:

“Give me time.  We would expose ourselves to too many regrets now.  Be generous in everything.”

This should tell him that he does not really inspire desire in the young woman.  But he does not understand and insistently quibbles:

“The irrevocable token that I ask of you on my knees.”

Or:

“Without this token of alliance, I could not regard you as so irrevocably mine as I recognize myself to be yours.”

Or again:

“The principal knot of our exceptional situation.”

And these heavy clogs of the positivist lover:

“This unique decisive guarantee of indissolubility of our union.”

The chaste muse replies:

“Exercise your noble intelligence on yourself, and do not again try to bring me to regrettable actions (in other words:  I declare to you that I haven’t the least desire for you).”

And she politely signs:

“I am, of those obliged to you, the most grateful and the most affectionate.”

Soon, phthisis finishes by tiring her.  She can hardly walk, she breathes with difficulty, she is covered in perspiration, her pulse is galloping.  He is still begging her to give herself to him.  One day, he steals a rapid kiss from her lips.  And excuses himself with this extravagant letter:

“I should have especially felt, yesterday, that I was then affected by a gastric trouble, because of which my breath, although habitually very pure, was found to be momentarily not worthy of being mixed with yours.”

A kiss with bad breath:  the only union of the flesh.

To be continued.

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