This is a most solemn occasion, and a certain
paralysis overcomes one at the thought that,
in a quarter of an hour which is supposedly
one`s last and therefore momentous even if
imaginary , one has got to say important, vital
things,& to say them quickly . The best course
will be to plunge headlong into one`s own
mind, without too much reflection. The first
thoughts that one brings back will be the most
obvious ones and perhaps the sincerest.
I should like to say first of all that love has been
the great concern of my life. For. me, happi-
ness consists above all in a perfect understand-
ing with another human being , in whose pres-
ence one can at last lay down that armor of
constraint , of ready - made thoughts , that one
always has to wear in the company of other
It is through love that I have understood eve-
rything: poetry, music, social life, history. I would
willingly saly with La Bruyere: <
more beautiful than that of a beautiful face , no
harmony sweeter than that of the loved one`s voice.>>
Only, when I was young , I identified every impulse
of desire with love and I believed that one could
pass from one love to the next without too much
suffering or harm. Life has taught me that it is not
so: that unfaithfulness inflicts great and needless
pain: that the penalty for unfaithfulness is lack
of trust and that without trust there is no real love.
So I have come , little by little , to accept the idea
of a single love in which each partner tells the other
everything. Of course this involves sacrifice: the
sacrifice what might have been to what is.
Without complete trust, there is no salvation
in love, and whoever has earned such trust will be
rewarded by a feeling of certainty of such great
sweetness that he will no longer regret his sacrifice,
real and exacting though it was.
I should like to say, too, that what is true of
love is no less so of friendship....
I have learnt, from my own experience of life
& from observing that of others , that violence
is not only horrible but, above all , futile. It can
only destroy , it is never constructive; it is only
permissible in self - defence. As for liberty, I would
rather not live than life without it , and I now know
that it can only be perserved by the methods that
have stood the test of centuries: the existence of a
respected opposition, the latter`s right to self-expre-
ssion, the separation of powers, trial by jury , in short
the whole body of institutions which we know as
the Rights of Man...
So much for one`s relations with others. I should
like to speak about something even more important:
one`s relations with oneself. The secret of happiness
consists in always acting in such a way that afterwards,
even up till one`s last quarter of an hour, one can feel at
peace with oneself. And how is this possible?
By ordering one`s behavior according to stable principles
& not according to perishable interests.
In this last quarter of an hour I am not disturbed by the
fear of eternity , for I have known eternity in moments
of total communion with reality.
A man who has done his best has nothing to fear.
Even if he has made mistakes concerning the consequences
of his actions, he can have made no mistake about their
motives. If these have been pure, he is saved. Some people
take the word in its theological sense, But I mean that he
is saved as a person. In either case the effect is the same:
he enjoys a wonderful serenity of mind. Thus , for men of
goodwill, the last minutes of life are full of an exalted sweetness.
150 copies printed for Alfred A. Knopf, in celebration of his
fifty years in book publishing.
The Greenwood Press, Palo Alto , California.
Excerpts taken from The London Magazine , May 1955.
Given as a radio talk in France under the title Le Dernier
Qart d` Heure. Translated from the French by Jean Stewart