In the human race, the frequency of the virtues that are identical in us all is not more wonderful than the multiplicity of the defects that are peculiar to each one of us. Undoubtedly, it is not common sense that is “the commonest thing in the world”; it is human kindness. In the most distant, the most desolate corners of the earth, we marvel to see it blossom of its own accord, as in a remote valley a poppy like all the poppies in the rest of the world, which it has never seen as it has never known anything but the wind that occasionally stirs the folds of its lonely scarlet cloak. Even if this human kindness, paralysed by self-interest, is not put into practice, it exists none the less, and whenever there is no selfish motive to restrain it, for example when reading a novel or a newspaper, it will blossom, even in the heart of one who, cold-blooded in real life, has retained a tender heart as a lover of serial romances, and turn towards the weak, the just and the persecuted. But the variety of our defects is no less remarkable than the similarity of our virtues. The most perfect person in the world has a certain defect which shocks us or makes us angry. One man is of rare intelligence, sees everything from the loftiest viewpoint, never speaks ill of anyone, but will pocket and forget letters of supreme importance which he himself asked you to let him post for you, and so make you miss a vital engagement without offering you any excuse, with a smile, because he prides himself upon never knowing the time. Another is so refined, so gentle, so delicate in his conduct that he never says anything to you about yourself that you would not be glad to hear, but you feel that he suppresses, that he keeps buried in his heart, where they turn sour, other, quite different opinions, and the pleasure that he derives from seeing you is so dear to him that he will let you faint with exhaustion sooner than leave you to yourself. A third has more sincerity, but carries it so far that he feels bound to let you know, when you have pleaded the state of your health as an excuse for not having been to see him, that you were seen going to the theatre and were reported to be looking well, or else that he has not been able to turn to full advantage the step you took on his behalf, which in any case three other people had already offered to take, so that he is only moderately indebted to you. In similar circumstances the previous friend would have pretended not to know that you had gone to the theatre, or that other people could have done him the same service. But this last friend feels himself obliged to repeat or to reveal to somebody the very thing that is most likely to give offence; is delighted with his own frankness and tells you, emphatically: “I am like that.” While others infuriate you by their exaggerated curiosity, or by a want of curiosity so absolute that you can speak to them of the most sensational happenings without their knowing what it is all about; and others again take months to answer you if your letter has been about something that concerns yourself and not them, or else, if they write that they are coming to ask you for something and you dare not leave the house for fear of missing them, do not appear, but leave you in suspense for weeks because, not having received from you the answer which their letter did not in the least call for, they have concluded that you must be cross with them. And others, considering their own wishes and not yours, talk to you without letting you get a word in if they are in good spirits and want to see you, however urgent the work you may have in hand, but if they feel exhausted by the weather or out of humour, you cannot drag a word out of them, they greet your efforts with an inert languor and no more take the trouble to reply, even in monosyllables, to what you say to them than if they had not heard you. Each of our friends has his defects, to such an extent that to continue to love him we are obliged to console ourselves for them—by thinking of his talent, his kindness, his affection—or rather by ignoring them, for which we need to deploy all our good will. Unfortunately our obliging obstinacy in refusing to see the defect in our friend is surpassed by the obstinacy with which he persists in that defect, from his own blindness to it or the blindness that he attributes to other people. For he does not notice it himself or imagines that it is not noticed. Since the risk of giving offence arises principally from the difficulty of appreciating what does and what does not pass unnoticed, we ought at least, from prudence, never to speak of ourselves, because that is a subject on which we may be sure that other people’s views are never in accordance with our own. If, when we discover the true lives of other people, the real world beneath the world of appearance, we get as many surprises as on visiting a house of plain exterior which inside is full of hidden treasures, torture-chambers or skeletons, we are no less surprised if, in place of the image that we have of ourselves as a result of all the things that people have said to us, we learn from the way they speak of us in our absence what an entirely different image they have been carrying in their minds of us and of our lives. So that whenever we have spoken about ourselves, we may be sure that our inoffensive and prudent words, listened to with apparent politeness and hypocritical approbation, have given rise afterwards to the most exasperated or the most mirthful, but in either case the least favourable comments. At the very least we run the risk of irritating people by the disproportion between our idea of ourselves and the words that we use, a disproportion which as a rule makes people’s talk about themselves as ludicrous as the performances of those self-styled music-lovers who when they feel the need to hum a favourite tune compensate for the inadequacy of their inarticulate murmurings by a strenuous mimicry and an air of admiration which is hardly justified by what they let us hear. And to the bad habit of speaking about oneself and one’s defects there must be added, as part of the same thing, that habit of denouncing in other people defects precisely analogous to one’s own. For it is always of those defects that one speaks, as though it were a way of speaking of oneself indirectly, and adding to the pleasure of absolving oneself the pleasure of confession. Moreover it seems that our attention, always attracted by what is characteristic of ourselves, notices it more than anything else in other people. One short-sighted man says of another: “But he can scarcely open his eyes!”; a consumptive has his doubts as to the pulmonary integrity of the most robust; an unwashed man speaks only of the baths that other people do not take; an evil-smelling man insists that other people smell; a cuckold sees cuckolds everywhere, a light woman light women, a snob snobs. Then, too, every vice, like every profession, requires and develops a special knowledge which we are never loath to display. The invert sniffs out inverts; the tailor asked out to dine has hardly begun to talk to you before he has already appraised the cloth of your coat, which his fingers are itching to feel; and if after a few words of conversation you were to ask a dentist what he really thought of you, he would tell you how many of your teeth wanted falling. To him nothing appears more important, or to you, who have noticed his, more absurd. And it is not only when we speak of ourselves that we imagine other people to be blind; we behave as though they were. Each one of us has a special god in attendance who hides from him or promises him the concealment of his defect from other people, just as he closes the eyes and nostrils of people who do not wash to the streaks of dirt which they carry in their ears and the smell of sweat that emanates from their armpits, and assures them that they can with impunity carry both of these about a world that will notice nothing. And those who wear artificial pearls, or give them as presents, imagine that people will take them to be genuine.