Bernardin de St. Pierre, Paul and Virginia (1771), pp. 45-46

You Europeans, whose minds are imbued from infancy with prejudices at variance with happiness, can not imagine all the instruction and pleasure to be derived from Nature. Your souls, confined to a small sphere of intelligence, soon reach the limit of its artificial enjoyments; but Nature and the heart are inexhaustible. Paul and Virginia had neither clock, nor almanac, nor books of chronology, history, or philosophy. The periods of their lives were regulated by those of the operations of Nature, and their familiar conversation had a constant reference to the changes of the seasons. They knew the time of day by the shadows of the trees; the seasons, by the times when those trees bore flowers or fruit; and the years, by the number of their harvests. These soothing images diffused an inexpressible charm over their conversation. "It is time to dine," said Virginia; "the shadows of the plantain-trees are at their roots;" or, "Night approaches; the tamarinds are closing their leaves." "When will you come and see us?" inquired some of her companions in the neighbourhood. "At the time of the sugar-canes," answered Virginia. ... Their lives seemed linked to that of the trees, like those of Fauns or Dryads. They knew no other historical epochs than those of the lives of their mothers, no other chronology than that of their orchards, and no other philosophy than that of doing good, and resigning themselves to the will of Heaven.

What need, indeed, had these young people of riches or learning such as ours? Even their necessities and their ignorance increased their happiness. No day passed in which they were not of some service to one another, or in which they did not mutually impart some instruction. Yes, instruction; for if errors mingled with it, they were at least not of a dangerous character. A pure-minded being has none of that description to fear. Thus grew these children of Nature. No care had troubled their peace, no intemperance had corrupted their blood, no misplaced passion had depraved their hearts. Love, innocence, and piety possessed their souls; and those intellectual graces were unfolding daily in their features, their attitudes, and their movements. Still in the morning of life, they had all its blooming freshness; and surely such in the garden of Eden appeared our first parents, when, coming from the hands of God, they first saw and approached each other, and conversed together, like brother and sister. Virginia was gentle, modest, and confiding as Eve; and Paul, like Adam, united the stature of manhood with the simplicity of a child.

Few passages express so well the major tenet of sensibility, the innate goodness of the human heart. Once again, civilization--"riches" and "learning"--are the corrupting elements; the natural self, pure. Nature and each other's pure hearts provide Paul and Virginia all the instruction they need. Interestingly, despite their illiteracy, "intellectual grace" are unfolding in their faces; St. Pierre fails to elaborate on the quality of those graces, however, leaving us instead with an image of prelapsarian perfection.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography