Pays des Aromates (Lands of Fragrance)

by Comte Robert de Montesquiou
Paris, H. Floury, 1900 in-8°

   Imitating the simplicity of such illustrious predecessors who claimed only to sketch out the Intinéraire de Paris à Jerusalem or to reinstate a Rapport sur la philosophie au XIX siècle, comte Robert de Montesquiou's only intention, in his Pays des aromates, is to produce a catalogue and provide a guide to a very small fraction of the 1900 Exposition, the Victor Klotz collection in the Retrospective of Perfumery. To tell the truth this is not the first guide for the Exposition that the celebrated poet has written, even though it is the first one that he had wanted to write. As the taste of a public artist quickly consecrates what his intuition as precursor had first elected, the idols of the 1900 Exposition find that they he has offered up incense to them, and, after having gone, with great difficulty, beyond veritable fields of hydrangeas and skies full of "bats", there could be no more marvellous companion, when going to see Chassériau, Gallé, Monticelli, Lalique, than those magisterial pages from Autels privilegiés and Roseau pensants. This time it is vinaigrette boxes, perfume sprays, scent bottles, fragrances that M. R. de Montesquiou describes for us, excusing himself, or rather making reference to the words of Goethe: "Everything is deserving of study and verse if one understands how to fully discern it". And, indeed, one can read in these exquisite and brief pages a sort of abridged history of Perfumery, one could say the literary history of Perfumery, which is for us the equal of Rutebeuf's precious quotation about painted ladies: "She is twenty years old in the daytime and fifty at night", and a tender souvenir, in which all true Balzacians will take delight, addressed to one of our most senior perfumiers of the nineteenth century, César Birotteau, the inventor of Sultana's Paste and Carminative Water. There follows a description of the requisites, brushes, pin cushions, needle cases, fragrance-giving rings, boxes of handkerchiefs, to rouge, powder, scent bottles, that attended to the luxury of our ancestors. And no less attend to our own. "I possess the secret of Beauty" proclaims one of them, and it is good that it preserves it, because even if it is no longer beautifying some person it is still beautiful in itself. And from these vinaigrette boxes, whose odours have long since departed to become reunited with the roses, perfumed by them, from faces long covered with dust, from these perfume sprays that have not retained "the odour of memory", and above all from these pages, with infinite and profound grace, it seems that something both disturbing and delightful is being given off, yet more immaterial, the "imperishable Perfume" of the Past.


First published in La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, 5 January 1901.

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