Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Auguste Comte
by [?]

Auguste Comte is the one bright particular star amid that milky way of riotous thinkers which followed close upon the destruction of the French Monarchy.

When Napoleon visited the grave of Rousseau, he mused in silence and then said, “Perhaps it might have been as well if this man had never lived.”

And Marshal Ney, standing near, said, “It reveals small gratitude for Napoleon Bonaparte to say so.” Napoleon smiled and answered, “Possibly the world would be as well off if neither of us had ever lived.”

Auguste Comte thought that Napoleon was just as necessary in the social evolution as Rousseau, and that both were needed–and he himself was needed to make the matter plain in print.

* * * * *

Auguste Comte was born at Montpelier, France, in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-eight. His father was receiver of taxes, an office that carried with it much leisure and a fair income. Men of leisure seldom have time to think–if you want a thing done it is safest and best not to pick a publican. Only busy men have time to do things. The men who have good incomes and work little are envied only by those with a mental impediment.

The boy Auguste owed little to his parents for his peculiar evolution, save as his father taught him by antithesis: the children of drunkards make temperance fanatics, and shiftless fathers sometimes have sons who are great financiers.

When nine years of age, the passion to know and to become was upon Auguste Comte. He was small in stature, insignificant in appearance, and had a great appetite for facts. Comte is a fine refutation of the maxim that infant prodigies fall victims to arrested development.

At twelve years of age he was filled with the idea that the social order was all wrong. To the utter astonishment of his parents and tutors, he argued that the world could not be bettered until mankind was taught the lesson that history, languages, theology and polite etiquette were not learning at all; and as long as educated men centered on these things, there was no hope for the race.

The birch was brought in to disannex the boy from his foolishness, but this only seemed to make him cling the closer to what he was pleased to call his convictions.

He read books that wearied the brains of grown-ups, and took a hearty interest in the abstruse, the obscure and the complex.

At thirteen, that peculiar time when the young turn to faith, this perverse rareripe was so filled with doubt that it ran over and he stood in the slop. He offered to publicly debate the question of Freewill with the local cure; and on several occasions stood up in meeting and contradicted the preacher.

His parents, thinking to divert his mind from abstractions to useful effort, sent him to the Polytechnic School at Paris, that excellent institution founded by Napoleon, which served America most nobly as a model for the Boston School of Technology, only the French “Polytechnique” was purely a government institution–a sample of the Twentieth Century sent for the benefit of the Nineteenth.

But institutions are never much beyond the people–they can not be, for the people dilute everything until it is palatable. Laws that do not embody public opinion can never be enforced. No man who expresses himself is really much ahead of his time–if he is, the times snuff him out, and quickly.

In Eighteen Hundred Fourteen, the Polytechnic School was well saturated with the priestly idea of education, and the attempt was made to produce an alumni of cultured men, rather than a race of useful ones.

Revolt was rife in the ranks of the students. It is still debatable whether revolution and riot in colleges are actuated by a passion for truth or a love of excitement. Anyway, the “Techs” laid deep places to the effect that when a certain professor appeared at chapel, a unique reception would be in store for him.