Recovering Voices From the Distant Past

Sadness Reposes In My Heart Without Overwhelming It

Guascoz, c. 1803

I love above all to contemplate the far-off mountains which confound themselves with the sky in the horizon.  Thus, the future, the far away, begets in me the sentiment of hope; my oppressed heart believes that there exists perhaps a land very far away, where, in an epoch of the future, I may taste at last this happiness for which I sigh, and which a secret instinct continually presents to me as possible.  I avoid being seen by the same men that my heart burns to meet, and from the top of the hill, hidden among the bushes like a fallow deer, my gaze rests upon the town of Aoste.   I see afar off, with longing eyes, its happy inhabitants who hardly know me; I stretch out my hands to them, moaning, and demand of them my portion of happiness.

In my delirium, shall I confess it to you?  I have sometimes clasped in my arms the trees of the forest, praying God to animate them for me and give me a friend.  But the trees . . . . have nothing in common with my warm and palpitating heart.  Overwhelmed with fatigue, weary of life, I drag myself again into my retreat, I make known to God my torments, and prayer brings back a little calm into my soul.

I am called The Leper . . . . that is the only title I have through the benevolence of men.  Would that they might be eternally ignorant of whom I am!

Troubles and sorrows make the hours seem long, but the years always fly away with the same rapidity.  Besides, there is still, to the furthest limit of misfortune, an enjoyment which ordinary men cannot know, and which will seem to you very singular; it is that of existing and breathing.  I pass whole days in the fine season motionless upon this rampart to enjoy the air and the beauty of nature . . . . sadness reposes in my heart without overwhelming it . . . .

The feeling of solitude is softened also by labor.  The man who labors is never completely unhappy, and I am the proof of it . . . . during the winter I make baskets and mats; I make clothes for myself; I prepare, each day, my food with the provisions which they bring me from the hospital, and prayer fills up the hours that labor leaves me.  In short, the year rolls away, and when it is past, it yet appears to me to have been very short.

I cultivate a little parterre of flowers which may please you; you will find some of them quite rare.  I procured seeds of all those which grow wild upon the high Alps, and have endeavored to make them double and to embellish them by culture.  If any of these flowers please you, you can take them . . . .

-- The words of Guascoz, an individual isolated in a tower outside the city of Aoste because he had leprosy, as recorded by Xavier de Maistre, c. 1803.  Excerpted and  reprinted in Illuminating Ourselves, copyright IDEA, 2006.

[Note:  The Aoste/Aosta valley is a mountainous region in north-western Italy that is bordered by France to the west, Switzerland to the north and the region of Piedmont to the south.  The region has a special autonomous status and today forms one of the Provinces of Italy. The regional capital is Aosta/Aoste.]

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