The Mangy Parrot 7

“These studies are useful, pleasant, and entertaining, young friend, because the mind does not encounter in them the abstractions of theology, the uncertainties of medicine, the intricacies of law, nor the ruggedness of mathematics. It is all satisfying, all delightful, all enchanting, and all educational, both physics as well as natural history. It doesn’t exhaust you to study it, and you don’t tire of it as an occupation. Its teachings are sweet, and it is served in a golden cup.

“Those who look at the universe from the outside are surprised by the lovely perspectives it offers; but they merely surprise themselves as little children do when they first see some pretty toy. The philosopher, looking at the universe with different eyes, goes beyond simple surprise: he knows, observes, scrutinizes, and admires everything about Nature. If he lifts his mind toward the heavens, he loses himself among those spaces filled with the most sovereign majesty: if he turns his attention to the Sun, he sees an enormous mass of intense fire, which is penetrating and inextinguishable, but at the same time beneficial and advantageous to all of Nature; if he observes the moon, he knows that it is a globe with mountains, seas, valleys, and rivers, no different from the globe he walks on, and that it is a mirror reflecting the brilliant light of the Sun and communicating its influences to us; if he observes the planets, such as Venus, Mercury, Mars, and the rest of the multitude of heavenly bodies, both fixed and wandering, he contemplates no less than an infinity of worlds, some lit from within and others reflecting light from without, some suns and others moons that constantly observe the movements and orbits prescribed for them by the Almighty since the beginning. If he lowers his reflections to this planet we inhabit, he wonders at the economy with which it was crafted; he sees water suspended on earth, held back only by a frail dusting of sand; sees towering mountains, thundering cascades, cheerful springs, tame creeks, swift-flowing rivers; sees trees, plants, flowers, fruits, jungles, valleys, hills, birds, wild beasts, fish, man, and even the contemptible little crawling insects; and all of it, all of it offers him a theater for his curiosity and investigation.

“The atmosphere, clouds, rain, morning dew, hail, ignis fatuus, aurora borealis, thunder, lightning flashes and blasts, and all the meteors of Nature present a vast field for his detailed and meticulous examination; and after he has admired, contemplated, The Mangy Parrot examined, meditated on, pondered, and sharpened his mind upon this prodigious chaos of heterogeneous beings, as admirable as they are incomprehensible, he pauses to reflect that his knowledge or ignorance of these same things leads him, as if by the hand, to the very foot of the Creator’s throne. Then the true philosopher cannot but be overwhelmed and fall prostrate before the Supreme Deity, confess His power, praise His providence, silently recognize the sublimity of His wisdom, and give infinite thanks to Him for the deluge of benefits that He has rained down upon His creatures—the most noble, the most exalted, the most privileged, and the most ungrateful of His earthly creatures being Man, under whose feet (as the voice of truth tells us) He has put all creation: Omnia subjecisti sub pedibus ejus. No sooner does the philosopher reach these lofty and necessary heights of knowledge than he becomes a contemplative theologian, for just as all the spokes of a cartwheel rest on the axle that forms their center, so all creatures recognize their central point in the Creator; thus, any impious atheist who denies the existence of a God who has created and preserved the universe, is working against the common testimony of all nations, for the most barbarous and savage nations have recognized this sovereign principle; because the heavens themselves proclaim the glory of God, the firmament announces His wondrous works, and all the creatures that reveal themselves to our sight are guides leading us to adore the wonders that we see. But as you can see, atheists are all brutes who only seem like men, or men who voluntarily wish to be less than brutes. This much is obvious. . . . ”

*****

The first is a mind that bends to reason; the second, a noble and sensitive heart, which has never let me give in to my passions. I put it this way, because when I have at times committed excesses, it has been difficult for me to subordinate my spirit to my flesh. That is, I have committed evil knowing what I was doing and riding roughshod over the protests of my conscience, and in the full awareness of justice, as befalls every man who slips into crime. Because of these good qualities, which, as I say, I have noted in my soul, I have never been vengeful, not even against my enemies, much less against someone who I knew had counseled me well, if perhaps somewhat harshly; which is not a common thing, because our self-love ordinarily suffers from the gentlest corrections; and because of this, the people at the hacienda were amazed by the friendly harmony they observed between me and the father.

*****

“Father,” I said to him, “is that how rational beings act, exposing their lives to be sacrificed by an enraged beast? And do so many people troop in to enjoy the blood of the brutes spilled, and perhaps even that of their fellow men?”

“That is precisely what happens,” the curate answered me, “and it will keep happening in the realms of Spain until at last we forget this custom, as repugnant to Nature as it is to the enlightenment of the century in which we live.”

*****

“Look here,” the father said to me; “I will gladly help you improve yourself, but that would be revenge, a vile passion that you should curb your whole life long;The Mangy Parrot taking revenge denotes a low soul, one incapable of overlooking the slightest affront. Pardoning insults is not only the characteristic sign of a good Christian, but also of a noble and great soul. Anyone, no matter how poor, feeble, or cowardly, is capable of avenging an offense; that doesn’t take religion, talent, wisdom, nor nobility, high birth, education, nor anything that is good; all you need is to have a debased soul and to let your anger run wild, and then subscribe to the bloody emotions it inspires. To forgive an affront, to pardon those who offend us, and to repay evil with beneficent acts, you not only need to know the Gospel (though that should be sufficient), but to have a heroic soul and a sensitive heart, and those are none too common; nor is it a common occurrence to find heroes like Trajan, of whom it is said that, when he was receiving his subjects in public audience, a shoemaker went up to the throne pretending to beg for justice; he drew close to the emperor, and taking advantage of his lowered guard, slapped him. The people surged forward, and the sentinels wanted to kill him on the spot; but Trajan would not allow it, wishing to punish the man himself. With the traitor held tight before him, Trajan asked: ‘How have I offended you? What motive did you have to injure me?’ The shoemaker, being as thickheaded as he was vain, replied: ‘Sir, the people say their blessings for your amiable character; I have no complaint to make of you; rather, I committed this sacrilegious crime, knowing that I would die, so that future generations would say that a shoemaker had the courage to slap the emperor Trajan.’ ‘Very well, then,’ Trajan said; ‘if that was your motive, I won’t let you surpass me in courage. I also want posterity to say that, if a shoemaker dared to slap the emperor Trajan, then Trajan had the courage to pardon the shoemaker. You are free.’ No need to praise this act; it recommends itself, and you can deduce from it and from thousands of similar acts along the same lines that, to seek revenge, you have to be low and cowardly; but not seeking revenge takes nobility and courage; for knowing how to conquer oneself and tame one’s passions is the most difficult conquest of all, and therefore is the most praiseworthy victory and the most reliable proof of a magnanimous and generous heart. For all these reasons, I think that it would be good for you to forget and overlook Mr. Januario’s insults.”

“Well, father,” I said, “if it takes more courage to pardon an insult than to inflict one, then from now on I declare that I won’t take revenge on Juan Largo or on anyone else who ever affronts me in this life.”

“Oh, Don Pedrito!” the curate answered me. “How valuable such resolutions would be in this world if only they were carried out! But there is no reason to declare a resolution arrogantly, because we are all weak and frail, and we cannot trust our own virtue, nor feel secure in our word alone. In the hour of the storm, sailors make a thousand promises, but when they pull in to port, they forget them as if they had never been uttered. When the earth trembles, all you can hear are prayers, acts of contrition, and pledges to reform; but when the quake ends, the drunks head back to their cups, the lewd back to the ladies, the gamblers back to the card tables, usurers back to their profits, and everyone back to their old vices. One of the most unbecoming things about man is his confidence in himself. That confidence is what makes young people liable to prostitute themselves, prudish souls to stray, administrators of justice to yield to temptation, and the wisest and saintliest of men to José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi become delinquents. Solomon lied; and St. Peter, who thought himself the bravest of the apostles, was the first and only to deny his divine Teacher. So we shouldn’t put too much trust in our own strength, nor chatter too long about our word of honor, for until the moment comes, we’re all as firm as a rock; but, when it arrives, we’re a miserable bunch of reeds, bending to the first breeze that hits us.”

*****

“Not very happy, if you’ll pardon my saying so,” said the vicar; “for this gentleman doesn’t understand a word of anything he’s said; rather, he’s a philosophical blasphemer.

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