Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 6
My Uncle Sosthenes
Some people are Freethinkers from sheer stupidity. My Uncle Sosthenes was one of
these. Some people are often religious for the same reason. The very sight of a priest
threw my uncle into a violent rage. He would shake his fist and make grimaces at him,
and would then touch a piece of iron when the priest's back was turned, forgetting that the
latter action showed a belief after all, the belief in the evil eye. Now, when beliefs are
unreasonable, one should have all or none at all. I myself am a Freethinker; I revolt at all
dogmas, but feel no anger toward places of worship, be they Catholic, Apostolic, Roman,
Protestant, Greek, Russian, Buddhist, Jewish, or Mohammedan.
My uncle was a Freemason, and I used to declare that they are stupider than old women
devotees. That is my opinion, and I maintain it; if we must have any religion at all, the
old one is good enough for me.
What is their object? Mutual help to be obtained by tickling the palms of each other's
hands. I see no harm in it, for they put into practice the Christian precept: "Do unto others
as ye would they should do unto you." The only difference consists in the tickling, but it
does not seem worth while to make such a fuss about lending a poor devil half a crown.
To all my arguments my uncle's reply used to be:
"We are raising up a religion against a religion; Free Thought will kill clericalism.
Freemasonry is the stronghold, of those who are demolishing all deities."
"Very well, my dear uncle," I would reply--in my heart I felt inclined to say, "You old
idiot! it is just that which I am blaming you for. Instead of destroying, you are organizing
competition; it is only a case of lowering prices. And then, if you admitted only
Freethinkers among you, I could understand it, but you admit anybody. You have a
number of Catholics among you, even the leaders of the party. Pius IX is said to have
been one of you before he became pope. If you call a society with such an organization a
bulwark against clericalism, I think it is an extremely weak one."
"My dear boy," my uncle would reply, with a wink, "we are most to be dreaded in
politics; slowly and surely we are everywhere undermining the monarchical spirit."
Then I broke out: "Yes, you are very clever! If you tell me that Freemasonry is an
election machine, I will grant it. I will never deny that it is used as a machine to control
candidates of all shades; if you say that it is only used to hoodwink people, to drill them
to go to the polls as soldiers are sent under fire, I agree with you; if you declare that it is
indispensable to all political ambitions because it changes all its members into electoral
agents, I should say to you: 'That is as clear as the sun.' But when you tell me that it
serves to undermine the monarchical spirit, I can only laugh in your face.