Authors: Roger Martin Du Gard
Another letter from Jacques:
How do you manage to be so cheerful at times and so sad at others? Personally, even in my moods of maddest gaiety, time and again I feel myself the prey of sombre thoughts. And I know that never, never again shall I be able to be gay, light-hearted. Always there will rise up before me the spectre of an unattainable ideal.
Ah, sometimes I understand the ecstasy of those pale nuns with bloodless faces who spend their lives remote from this too, too real world! How pitiable to have wings if it is only to break them against prison bars! I am alone in a hostile universe; my father, whom I love, does not understand me. I am not so very old, but already how many fair flowers of hope lie broken, how many dews have turned to floods of rain, how many pleasures have been frustrated, what despairs have embittered my life!
Forgive me, beloved, for being so lugubrious—I suppose my “character is being formed.” My brain is in a ferment; my heart even more so, were that possible. Let us remain united for ever. Together we will steer clear of the rocks and reefs, and of the whirlpool men call pleasure.
Everything has turned to ashes in my hands; but there remains the supreme delight of knowing I am yours, and of our secret, O chosen of my heart!!
P.S. I end this letter in great haste, as I have my recitation to learn by heart and I don’t know a word of it yet, damn it!
O my love, if I didn’t have you, I really think I’d kill myself!
Daniel had replied immediately:
So you are suffering?
Why should you, dearest of friends, why should you, who are so young, curse life? It’s sacrilege! You say your soul is tethered to the earth. Well, then—work, hope, love, read books!
How can I console you for the sorrow that is preying on your soul? What remedy can I offer for your cries of despair? No, my friend, the Ideal is not incompatible with human nature. No, no, it is not a mere childish fancy, a phantom born of some poet’s dream. For me the Ideal (it’s hard to explain), for me it’s the mingling of what is greatest with the humblest earthly things; it is to bring greatness into all one does; it is the complete development of all those divine faculties that the Creative Breath has instilled in us. Do you understand me? That is the Ideal as I feel it in the depths of my heart.
And then, if you will but trust a friend who is faithful unto death, who has lived much because he has dreamed and suffered so much; if you will trust your friend who has never wished anything but your happiness, let me remind you once again that you don’t live for those who cannot understand you, for the outside world that despises you, poor boy, but for someone—that “someone” is I—who never ceases thinking of you, and feeling like you, with you, about all things.
O my friend, may the sweetness of our wonderful love be like a holy balm on your wounds.
Instantly Jacques had scribbled in the margin:
Forgive me! It is the fault of my violent, extravagant, fantastical nature, dearest love!! I pass from the depths of despair to the most futile hopes; one moment I am in the abyss and the next carried aloft into the clouds! Am I then never to love anything continuously? (If it be not you!!) (And my Art!!!) Yes, such is my destiny—let me confess it … to you!
I adore you for your generosity, for your flower-like sensitiveness, for the earnestness you impart to all your thoughts, to all your actions, even to the delights of love. All your tender emotions I share with you, at the selfsame moment as you feel them. Let us thank Providence that we love each other and that our lonely, suffering hearts have been able to mingle thus, indissolubly, flesh to flesh!
Never forsake me.
And let us both remember eternally that each has in the other
the passionate object of
There followed two long pages from Daniel, written in a bold, firm hand.
Tuesday, April 7.
Tomorrow I shall be fourteen. Last year I used to whisper to myself: “Fourteen!” It was like some lovely, impossible dream. Time passes and marks us. But in our depths nothing changes. We are always ourselves. Nothing has changed except that I feel weary and grown old.
Yesterday evening as I was going to bed I took up a volume of Musset. The last time I read it I began to tremble, at the first verse, and sometimes even wept. Yesterday for long sleepless hours I struggled to feel a thrill, but nothing came. I found the phrases well turned, harmonious… . Oh, what sacrilege!! Only at the end did the poetic emotion revive in me and, with a torrent of delicious tears, I felt that thrill.
Oh, if only my heart doesn’t dry up! I so fear that life may blunt my heart and senses. I am growing old. Already those great ideas of God, the Spirit, Love, are ceasing to make my bosom throb as once they did, and at times I feel Doubt gnawing at my heart. How sad it all is! Why can’t we live with all the might of our souls, instead of reasoning?
We think too much
! I envy the vitality of youth which blindly flings itself into every danger without taking thought. How I would love to sacrifice myself, with closed eyes, to a sublime Idea, to an ideal and immaculate Woman, instead of being always thrown back on myself. How dreadful they are, these longings which have no outlet!
You congratulate me on my earnestness. You are wrong; it is my curse, my evil destiny! I am not like the questing bee who goes to suck the honey from flower to flower. I am like the beetle that installs itself in the bosom of a single rose, in which it lives till the petals close about it and it dies suffocated in that last passionate embrace—the embrace of that one flower singled out from all the rest.
My devotion to you, my dear, is like that—faithful till death. You are that tender rose which, in the desolation of the earth, has opened its heart to me. In the depths of your loving heart bury my black despair!
P.S. You can write to my house without danger during the Easter hols. My mother never interferes with my letters (not that they’re anything very special!).
I have just finished Zola’s
. I can lend it to you. I haven’t yet got over the emotions it produced. It has such wonderful power, such depth! I am going to begin
. There, my dear, we have at last the book of books. I have also taken Gyp’s
Elle et Lui
, but I shall read
Jacques replied in a severe tone.
For my friend’s fourteenth birthday.
In the universe there is a man who by day suffers unspeakable torments and who cannot sleep of nights, who feels in his heart an aching void that sensual pleasure cannot fill and in his head a fearful chaos of his faculties; who in the giddy whirl of pleasure, amongst his gay companions, feels, of a sudden, solitude with dark wings hovering above his heart. In the universe there is a man who hopes for nothing, and fears nothing, who loathes life and has not the strength to leave it; ‘tis HE WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE IN GOD!!
P.S. Keep this. You will read it again when you are utterly forsaken and lift your voice in vain amid the darkness.
“Have you been working during the hols.?” Daniel asked at the top of another page.
Jacques’s answer followed:
I have just completed a poem in the same style as my “Harmodius and Aristogeiton.” It begins rather neatly:
Hail, Ccesar! Lo, the blue-eyed maid from Gaul
Dancing for thee the dance of her dear land,
Like a river-lotus ‘neath the snowy flight of swans.
A shudder passes through her swaying form.
Hail, Emperor I … See the huge blade flash
In the fierce sword-dance of her far-off home… .
And so on… . Here’s the end:
Caesar, thou growest pale! Alas, ah, thrice alas!
Her sword’s jell point has pierced the lovely throat.
The cup falls jrom her hand, the blue eyes close,
All her white nakedness is red with blood,
Red in the pale light of the moon… .
Beside the great fire flaring on the lakeside
Ended is the dance
Of the white warrior maid at Caesar’s feast.
I call it “The Crimson Offering” and I have a mimed dance to go with it. I would like to dedicate it to the divine Loie Fuller, and for her to dance it at the Olympia. Do you think she’d do it?
Still, some days ago I took an irrevocable decision to return to the regular metres and rhymed verse of our great classics. (Really, I think I “despised” them because they are more difficult.) I have begun an ode in rhymed stanzas on the martyrdom I spoke to you about. This is the beginning:
Ode to Father Perboyre, who died a martyr’s death in
China, Nov. 20, 1839, and was beatified in fanuary 1889.
Hail, holy priest, at whose most cruel fate
All the world shuddered through its length and breadthl
Thee would I sing, to Heaven predestinate,
And faithful unto death.
But since yesterday I have come to think that my true vocation will be to write, not poems, but stories and, if I have patience enough, novels. A great theme is fermenting in my mind. Listen!
A young girl, the daughter of a great artist, born in a studio and herself an artist (that’s to say, rather unstable in character and finding her ideal not in family life but in the cult of Beauty), is loved by a sentimental but bourgeois young man, whom her exotic beauty fascinates. But their love changes to bitter hatred and they part. He then marries a harmless little provincial girl, while she, heartbroken for lost love, plunges into debauchery (or dedicates her genius to God—I don’t yet know which). That’s my idea; what does my friend think of it?
The great thing, you know, is to produce nothing that’s artificial, but to follow one’s bent. Given the instinct to create, one should regard oneself as having the noblest and finest of missions there can be, a great duty to fulfil. Yes, sincerity is all that matters. Sincerity in all things, always. Ah, how cruelly that thought torments me! A thousand times I have fancied I detected in myself that insincerity of the pseudo-artist, pseudo-genius, of which Maupassant discourses in Sur I’Eau. And my heart grew sick with disgust. O dearest, how I thank God that He has given you to me, and how greatly we shall need each other, so as to know ourselves truly and never fall into illusions about the nature of our genius!
I adore you and I clasp your hand passionately, as we did this morning, do you remember? With all my being, which is yours, wholeheartedly, passionately!
Take care! QQ has given us a dirty look. He can’t understand that one may have noble thoughts and pass them on to one’s friend—while he goes mumbling on over his Sallust!!
Another letter, almost illegible, seemed to have been dashed down without a pause:
Too full, my heart is overflowing! What I can capture of the flood, I commit to paper.
Born to suffer, love, and hope, I hope and love and suffer! The tale of my life can be told in two lines:
What makes me live is love, and I have but one love, YOU!
From my early youth I always felt a need to pour the emotions welling up in my heart into another, into an understanding heart. How many letters did I write in those days to an imaginary person who matched me like a brother! But, alas, it was only my own heart, carried away by its emotion, speaking, or, rather, writing to itself!! Then suddenly God willed that this Ideal should become Flesh, and it took form in You, my love! How did it begin? There is no telling; step by step, I lose myself in a maze of fancies, without ever tracing it to its origin. Could any one ever imagine anything so voluptuous, so sublime as our love?? I seek in vain for comparisons. Beside our great secret everything else turns pale! It’s a sun that warms, enlightens our two lives. But no words can describe it. Written, it is like the photo of a flower.
Perhaps you are in need of help, of hope or consolation, and here I am sending you not words of affection but the sad effusions of a heart that lives only for itself. Forgive me, my love! I cannot write to you otherwise! I am going through a crisis, my heart is more parched than the stones of a dry watercourse. I am so unsure about everything, unsure of myself; can crueller suffering be??
Scorn me! Write to me no more! Go, love another!! No longer am I worthy of the gift you make me of yourself!
What irony is in this implacable destiny that urges me … to what goal? To nothingness!!!
Write to me. If you were lost to me, I should kill myself!
Tibi eximo, carissime.
The Abbé Binot had slipped in between the last pages of the book a note intercepted by the teacher, on the eve of their flight. It consisted of an almost illegible pencilled note from Jacques.
On all who accuse basely and without proof, on all those persons, shame!
Shame to them! Woe to them!
Their machinations are prompted by vile curiosity, they want to nose
out the secrets of our friendship. What a foul thing to do!
No sordid truckling to them! We must face out the storm together!
Death rather than defeat!
Our love is above calumny and threats! Let us prove it!
Yours For Life,
THEY had reached Marseille on Sunday, after midnight. The first flush of their enthusiasm had waned. They had slept, doubled up, on the wooden seats of an ill-lighted carriage, and the noise of turntables and the sudden halt had waked them with a start. They had stepped onto the platform, blinking their eyes, dazed and apprehensive. The glamour had departed.