The Happy Few

Stendhal had the delightful habit of ending his books with the closing dedication, in English, “TO THE HAPPY FEW.”  The phrase is thought to be a borrowing from Henry V (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . . ”) or perhaps from Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, where the vicar anticipates his writings being read in the future by some “happy few.” While the identity or nature of the persons in question is never suggested by the author, their select quality is obviously assumed.  Are the happy few political liberals people of a particularly enlightened sort, or a band of especially gifted artists or intellectuals?  There were many more than a few political liberals in Europe during Stendhal’s lifetime, which makes this identification improbable.  Perhaps he had in mind the historical equivalent of Albert Jay Nock’s “remnant,” but that idea seems too reactionary to have appealed to Stendhal.  Far more likely, Mencken’s “civilized minority” is the nearest equivalent.  Indeed, it sounds just right.  “To the happy few,” for Stendhal, could have meant only the civilized few: Civilized people are happy people, and the most civilized people in the world are the happiest ones.  Civilization means happiness, which is really the essence of civilization, which amounts to the condition of human fulfillment. ...

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