chapter
The interior as aesthetic refuge
Edmond de Goncourt’s
ByLa maison d’un artiste
Pages 19

In a lecture delivered in Paris in 1819, politician and writer Benjamin Constant

compared the ancient classical notion of liberty with its modern counterpart. He

explained that liberty, and the sense of pleasure and fulfilment it affords,

consisted for the ancients in the ability to participate constantly and actively in

public collective government. This participation came at the expense of exer-

cising individual choice over affairs of personal interest, since these were closely

scrutinised by the same collective government. In contrast, he suggested, the

modern ideal of liberty is concerned with the enjoyment of our private existence.

In the modern state an individual, absorbed within the multitude, can exert very

little public influence. Constant argued that this loss of influence was amply

compensated by a vast increase in the possibilities for individual happiness, and

ultimately for fulfilment in modern private life.1