From the Realm of the Surgeon's Knife1

To the Comtesse de M.


   I was disappointed to see, upon receiving several pages from your forthcoming album, on the one hand that your caricatures are not in colour like the ones you sent me two years ago; and on the other hand that several of them are missing, notably that marvellous: "He is not attractive, but he is someone", worthy counterpoint to "He will be forgiven a great deal because she has nursed many", in which you rival Abel Faivre2 whilst you remain totally original and very different from him.
   The suppression of colour has disappointed me, because it has taken away some of the colour of your landscapes. Now, long before you were acquainted with Clément, he was one of my two or three closest friends. How many evenings we spent together at Savoy3 watching Mont Blanc become, in the setting sun, a fugitive Mont Rose that was about to swallow up the night. Then it was time to return to lake Geneva, and, before Thonon, catch a jolly little train, much like the one I described in one of my books that is not yet published4, and that you will receive one after the other, if God spares me life. A good patient little train, good-natured, that waited, time permitting, for loiterers and, even after it had set off, would stop if you flagged it down, to gather up all those who, puffing just as much as the train, were hurrying to rejoin it at all speed. With all speed, in that they differed from the little train, which never had recourse to anything other than a stately crawl. At Thonon, a long stop, we shook hands with such and such a person who had come to accompany the guests, with another wanting to buy newspapers, with many that I always suspected of having nothing else to do there but meet up again with people of their acquaintance. A form of social life unlike any other but this stop at Thonon station.
   Well the château of M., the old ancestral home of your husband, was well above Thonon but set within the emerald of that lovely countryside. Your colours always make me think of the colours of that part of the country. That was all a long time ago; since then you have been a wonderful yet cheerful nurse of untiring devotion; you have extracted a very special comedy from that environment in which you have occupied a heroic place. A drawing such as: "Wake up old chap, it's time to take your sleeping draught", deserves to endure just as much as your fat penitent ladies who illustrate a whole chapter of your "Splendour and misery" not, certainly, of courtesans, but of a few grandes dames who only became saintly later in life.
   And the château of M., you say to me, what became of it in all this? I have not lost sight of it. You recall, at the beginning of Capitaine Fracasse, the lugubrious château where Sigognac lived? Frankly M. was a wonderful place but it was no longer happy. Gautier, who intended Sigognac to return to the vast château so as to end in darkness a book that began in darkness, was a little disconcerted when his publishers demanded a happy, light and triumphal ending. To his daughter (Judith Gautier5) especially, that seemed less true, less "lifelike". He did it nevertheless. You have since come to prove him right. By marrying Clément, you have brought happiness into that sad home: your charm, your wit, a shared love, has forced a smile from those old stones.
   Please accept, Madame, my greatest respects.


1. Preface to Au royaume du bistouri, 30 drawings by R. de M., published by Henn, (1920?). - Rita de Maugny was the wife of comte Clément de Maugny with whom Proust had been close friends for many years. He composed his preface "off the top of his head".

2. French painter and caricaturist (1867 - 1945). He achieved his greatest notoriety during the 1914 - 1918 war.

3. In the summer of 1899.

4. Allusion to the "little train" at Balbec ("Sodome et Gomorrhe").

5. Judith Gautier (1845 - 1917), eldest daughter of Théophile Gautier, woman of letters, elected to the Goncourt academy in 1910. She married Catulle Mendès in 1866, divorcing him in 1896.


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