Letters to Jacques Bizet, Daniel Halèvy, Robert Dreyfus, Lucien Daudet


To Jacques Bizet:

[winter 1887 - 1888]

My dear Jacques,

   I have very great need of your friendship. I have a lot of troubles: my family treat me very badly. I think I shall be sent away as a boarder in the country. Would you like to be my reservoir too? My only consolation when I am really sad is to love and be loved. And truly you are the one who satisfies that, you who had so many troubles at the beginning of winter, you who the other day wrote me one exquisite letter.
   I embrace you and love you with all my heart.



To Daniel Halèvy:

[between 16 May & 13 June 1888]

Letter of recommendation to Madame Urgèle, fairy,
on behalf of Daniel Halèvy, dramatic artist.1


   Because he admires you devoutly and loves you as is proper, we beseech you to use a little of your incorruptible grace to get permission from the Father of all things that this young Ephebe recite with all the desirable imagination the "sparkling" verses of M. Théodore de Banville.2 If this overture, Madame, appears to you to be a little too much in the style of those that M. Lemaitre will make in a few years' time, we are not disheartened. With the help of Madame Sarah Bernhardt, would you prefer that I sound for a moment the triumphal clarion of M. Catulle Mendès. As you wish Madame. By the lilies blossoming beneath the snow of your victorious bosom, by the roses inflamed in the embers of your glorious arms, reddened by the auroras in which arouse, flower and jewel, the oroseal3 purple of a sign, by the scattered gold, by the glories entangled in the wild cascade of your Ambrosian tresses... I beseech you, Madame, inspire this young man and cause a few soaring verses to come and beat their wings against the barrier of my ear.
   We beseech you, Madame, to kindly accept the expression of our feelings of respectful admiration and Renanist irony, because in our opinion Le Baiser is nothing but the charming but wholesome - oh! how wholesome - fantasy of a charming spirit that is enjoying itself. We think it, Madame, but we do not say it.
   No I assure you through vanity and through fear of Rococo (sharp voice of the headmaster: isn't that so Halèvy? - Halèvy? Isn't that so Halèvy?) (The face of the deputy head, pearly and pink, dissolves and grows faint in a mystical smile), but because we fear above all being mistaken for certain characters of no merit whatsoever in declaring that Le Baiser is not a masterpiece, because they had not been dazzled by its splendour, because they do not love it. But we love it, it has brought us pure delights, and if we deny it as a masterpiece, it is through that higher wisdom and firm judgement that understands how to guarantee for us the most soaring gratifications, as much as the pleasures of the senses from the verses of Stéphane Mallarmé and even of Théodore de Banville.

   Your friend, if you will allow,

   Marcel Proust.

1. This letter must precede a recitation, by Daniel Halèvy, in the role of Pierrot in the verse play by Théodore de Banville, Le Baiser (The Kiss). The fairy Urgèle is the other character in the play; she appears at the start of the play as an old woman, "crazy, disfigured, dressed in a coarse brown cloak, repaired with patches". The fairy, the victim of a spell, must, in order to regain her beautiful appearance, receive "the first kiss of a young innocent man": who will be Pierrot. Proust is imploring, beneath his grotesque manner, the character whose Baroque portrait he dissembles in a style of prose caricaturing the excesses of the Parnassians, the Symbolists and the Decadents.

2. Thèodore de Banville (1823 - 1891). Initially Romantic, then virtuoso of "art for art's sake", and recognized master of the Parnassian movement.

3. Orocéale, invented word after the Greek origin "oros", mountain.


To Daniel Halèvy:

[22 May 1888]

My dear friend,

   When I saw the other day that you were no longer speaking to me, I thought that I had annoyed you with that letter. I had been very stupid to write it you, you very stupid to have been offended by it, and more than anything else to show that you were offended by it. I have nothing to tell you. I only have to wait for your bad mood to pass. If by any chance it is bound to pass. But Bizet told me that it is in fact on account of a much more serious motive (which he is as ignorant of as I am) that you are offended with me. If it is possible that I was disagreeable to you, I ask your full pardon and assure you that I never intended it. But I have searched in vain, I can't see when or how. I hope that you will feel grateful to me for the whole little victory that I win over my pride by saying again the 1st and that you will want to properly explain to me the wrongs that I have done to you without knowing. The moment that your anger with me is something other than a little quarrel of self-esteem, I will be heartbroken to let you through self-esteem hold against me a resentment of which I know not the cause but that cannot be justified since I always have so much esteem and friendship for you.

   Best wishes,

Marcel Proust.


To Jacques Bizet:

[June 1888]

   To M. Jacques Bizet.

   The most difficult letter I have ever had to write in my life.


   Why, do you see, I know nothing about it. And for how long? Perhaps for ever, perhaps for a few days - Why? ... perhaps because she is worried about my affection that is somehow excessive, is that it? and which could degenerate (so she believes perhaps) into... sensual affection... perhaps because she supposes that in general you have too much of the same faults as me (independent spirit, nervousness, dissolute spirit, perhaps even onanism). How? I don't know. Perhaps from your face, perhaps from having heard my brother talk about you, or M. Rodrigues,1 or would it have begun while my brother was talking about you to Baignères,2 or could my brother have spoken ill of you, because we are often not good together, but most of all I think because of me, of my excessive affection for you, at first my mother asked me not to see you. Upon my strenuous refusal she had at least forbidden me from going to your house or seeing you here. Furious scenes, dull hopelessness, threats, ill health (except for one certain day, but immediately afterwards she came back to her initial decision) nothing can be done. Oh! this morning, dearest, when my father saw me, he begged me to stop masturbating for at least four days, it would have been easy for me to say: I do it because etc, I won't do it again if... but no. You wouldn't want it. I don't want my "dearest" to be with me as a tolerated outcast, if I come to prove that you are a delicious creature, on that day you will come to my house, pet. And if that day doesn't come, well! I will love you extra muros. And I will make a café into a nest for two. But forgive me, I am speaking to you like a supreme friend and I hardly know you and you must find me clinging. I have done what you asked me. I assure you that it is not without anguish. I hope that you will be grateful to me.

M. P.

1. Hippolyte Rodrigues, first-cousin of Mme Fromental Halèvy.

2. Jacques Baignères, son of Henry Baignères; his mother, née Laure Boilley, would receive Proust in her salon for musical receptions; his cousin Paul Baignères (1869 - 1936) would paint the first portrait of Proust during the winter of 1892 - 1893 after having made a pencil sketch at Trouville during the summer of 1892.


To Daniel Halèvy:

[towards the end of June 1888]

My dear Daniel,

   Everyone is geographizing zealously all around me. I am giving myself a two minute breather. - I am not decadent. From this century I admire above all others Musset, old man Hugo, Michelet, Renan, Sully-Prudhomme, Leconte de Lisle, Halèvy, Taine, Becque1, France. I take a great deal of pleasure in Banville, Hérédia and in a kind of imaginary anthology, composed of exquisite fragments from poets that I do not embrace in their entirety: Malarmé's "The Creation of Flowers", Paul Veraine's Chansons etc. etc. But I have a horror of the critics who take a mocking attitude towards decadents. I think that in their case a lot of insincerity creeps in, but unconsciously or at least without any clear-sightedness. The causes of this insincerity are, if you like, the doctrine of beautiful style of language, a perversion of the senses, an unhealthy sensibility that finds rare pleasures in distant harmonies, in forms of music that are rather more suggested than exist in reality.
   As for the prose style of Mendès2, Silvestre3, Banville, I think that it leads to the sort of insincerity that is the onset of banality (that sounds a bit like Purgon4: dysentery etc. etc.) If that doesn't sound very comprehensible to you I will explain it all face to face.
   - I do not have passion. I find your dearest friend, or at least the one you like more than the others, I'm not sure how that is said in French - very nice and I take great pleasure - which I don't try to hide - in being in his company But since I have just as much pleasure being with you please let me know the days when you are not leaving immediately at 4 o'clock. And on those days that are good for me, I will be at your service. Bizet will believe that I am starting with you that series of "lists" that are as you know, with me, the beginning of friendship. He will be completely mistaken, because mine for you is already ancient and although it is rather foolish to say so but in the end on paper everything is allowed, very much alive.
   I thank you for having given me the opportunity of not listening to Choublier5. Besides, by writing to you, I feel as though I am talking to you and so it gives me the illusion of a great pleasure, which as you know, is no longer illusory.

Post scriptum

   I propose that you and I (but always alone, as directors) found a great journal of art. - As for your pederast, virtual or not, you could very easily be mistaken. I know... that there are certain young people (and if this interests you and you promise me absolute secrecy, even from Bizet, I will give you some things of great interest from that point of view, belonging to me, addressed to me), from young people and especially chaps between 8 and 17 years old who love other chaps, always wanting to see them (as I do Bizet) weeping and suffering when separated from them and wanting only one thing to embrace them and sit on their knees, who love them for their bodies, devour them with their eyes, who call them dearest, my angel, very seriously, who write them passionate letters and who would not for anything in the world practice pederasty.
   Yet generally they are transported by love and they masturbate together. But do not mock them or the one of whom you speak, if it is so. In the end they are lovers. And I don't see why their love is dirtier than normal love.

1. Henry-François Becques (1837 - 1899), French dramatist.

2. Catulle Mendès (1861 - 1909), anxious about affectation in poetry, he founded, in 1860, La Revue fantaisiste, which grouped together the Parnassian poets.

3. Armand Silvestre (1837 - 1901), Parnassian poet.

4. Dr Purgon, character in Molière's Le Malade imaginaire. Act 3: "I foretell that within four days you'll be in an incurable condition. [...] You'll fall into a state of bradypepsia. [...] From bradypepsia into dyspepsia. [...] From lientry into dysentery. [...] From dysentery into dropsy. [...] And from dropsy to autopsy that your own folly will have brought you to."

5. M. Choublier, professor of history, geography and rhetoric at Le Lycée Condorcet.


To Daniel Halèvy:

[10 May 1889]

My dear Halèvy,

   I don't think I explained myself very well yesterday evening. If by any chance you did fully understand me, it won't do any harm to repeat it because I want to be brief and it shouldn't bore you for too long. I have speechified a little on this matter that I didn't like Jacques1 so much (who I still like a lot). I did not at all mean to say by that that he was stupid, simply that the ideal I had formed of him is fading a little, like when one falls out of love a little. I also said that I think him too ready to absorb the surrounding and repeated air of opinions (not without understanding them) of those around him. I don't mean to say that this makes him a parrot but rather too much a machine of assimilation. Deep down, I think that it is worse because things that are received raw, unassimilated, do not stay with one for long. Whereas if one assimilates one moulds one's personality along the lines of others. But that still proves that he is very intelligent - I think moreover that more than anything it is because of vanity, the desire to make a show of the riches of others rather than the inability to show what he gives of himself as much as what he absorbs. Also, when he is not posing, when he is himself, when he acts as Bizet, shows some Bizet, talks Bizet, he is charming and so this is what I wanted to say to you most of all: I find him a delightful creature, a charming intelligence. You know that I admire him very much, and his rare and acute way of appreciating books and things. I read with delight the "Romantic pastorals" and I am not wrong to say so. Well! I think nevertheless that he still has a certain number of things - which perhaps to you don't seem uniquely literary being of the feelings, subtle traits of character, shades of tenderness that he understands infinitely better than you. But if you think about it a bit, those things are the foundations of art. The Parnassians, by not recognizing them, will perish. The longevity of great books depends upon them. And if through study such as philosophy, Bizet's intelligence takes on more energy, vigorously releases his originality, perhaps he will do something really very beautiful from it. You see that I still admire him very much, because I admire him even more than you.

1. Jacques Bizet.


To Daniel Halèvy:

July 1891

My dear friend,

   Excuse my indiscretion: I have been asked to recommend to those judges I know Mademoiselle Cam1, who under the name of Camé or Camée, played Chérubin, one of the girls in L'Intruse2, at the Verlaine and Gaugin3 production - and who appears at the Conservatoire on the 23rd.
   Unfortunately I cannot permit myself to recommend her to the most influential, Monsieur Halèvy4. But perhaps you could do this favour. I'm sure you remember the lovely voice and great intelligence of this actress. It seems that she is very literary, very unselfish and will pay back great services to young talented poets who don't often have such intelligent actresses of such great willingness. The Conservatoire probably won't know very much about her. But it is very useful for her career.
   I would be very grateful if you could say a few words to Monsieur Halèvy. I am totally impartial: I don't know this young woman. It is M. Pierre Quillard5, a very distinguished poet, who has given a clear account of her merits which have also much affected M. Henri de Régnier.
   Believe me to be your very devoted

Marcel Proust.


1. Mlle Samé, lyrical artist, played the eponymous role in Mignon, 19 October 1888. Mlle Cam, Camé or Camée is possibly the same actress.

2. L'Intruse, one act play by Maurice Maeterlinck, published 1890 and first performed in 1891.

3. On 23rd March 1891 the Symbolists organized a banquet at the Café Voltaire in honour of Gaugin, presided over by Malarmé. On 27th May an evening entertainment to finance Gaugin's voyage to Tahiti and equally as a benefit for Verlaine was held at the Théâtre d'Art de Paul Fort. Verses from Verlaine and Charles Morice were performed along with L'Intruse.

4. Ludovic Halèvy, father of Daniel Halèvy.

5. Pierre Quillard (1862-1912), poet and ex-student from the Lycée Condorcet.


To Jacques Bizet:

[Comments by Proust on Georges Royer, a short story by Jacques Bizet, intended for La Revue verte, 1888.]


  It is a charming story, the subject of which is very nicely chosen. The story of a failed man is one of the most melancholy themes of all. But it is also one of the most deeply human, one of the most difficult to comprehend, one of the most mysteriously impenetrable. Naturally you are far too young to have thought philosophically about all that. If you were to do it again in three years or so you would surely take care to make your Georges Royer extremely intelligent - but affected with a painful and, in the final analysis, quite mysterious powerlessness. Still, you will understand him and you will explain him, but you will see that the explanation confronts us with the most distressing but inviolable laws. Then, the first model of your G. Royer will seem to you not only quite superficially observed, but above all full of conventions, living a completely artificial existence, quite feeble. - Which doesn't stop it being so pretty that I wept when I read it. Now you will say that it is my friendship that prejudices me. - Try to avoid such deplorable affectations as "in a great entombment" etc.


To Daniel Halèvy:

[First or second week of October 1888]

from Charles Cros, the great poet1


She had beautiful blonde hair
As sweet harvest, of such length
That it fell to her heels.



He feared no rival
When through hill and dale
He carried her off on horseback.



Love seized her so hard to the heart,
That as a mocking smile,
There came to her a languid ache.



"Make of my tresses a violin bow
To bewitch your other mistresses."


And in a long nervous kiss
Died. He made a Bow of her hair.

   The poet then recounts how he travels from town to town, astonishing the people with his bow.


   Because in its sounds
Lived Death and its songs.


The enchanted king made his fortune.
He knew how to please the dark queen.
He carried her off in the moonlight...

   The poet says that he played to the "dark queen" with his bow.


But each time he touched it
The bow gently reproached him.

   I no longer know the end of this beautiful legend that I give you to read very slowly, in a low voice psalmodizing the tiercel rhyme2, and singing the syllables.
   As it is appropriate to take note of the people we admire, I will tell you that Charles Cros was the author of some beautiful poems collected together in The Sandalwood Casket, among others The Kippered Herring and Dodo, Pipi, Caca, Do re mi fa sol fa3, and also the inventor of the telephone.4 Poor drunkard, he died very young, just this year, after having been exploited by all the dirty swine possible, who extorted extraordinary poems from him for a couple of beers.
   This poor Cros pleases me. His fragile songs will very soon be forgotten. Poor observer of the outside world that he saw through eyes dulled with drink, he tapped his poetry from inside himself. The material was meagre. He did not know how to make it valued, as accomplished art. Yet I find music and feeling in it. That seemed to me sufficient to amuse you, Rabaud5 having left.

Kind regards

   Wait for me a moment at 4 o'clock.


1. Charles Cros (1842-1888), French poet. Proust is quoting from memory (not always accurately) from L'Archet (The Bow) from Le Coffret de santal (The Sandalwood Casket).

2. Rhyme structure invented by Dante in the XIVth century (terza rima), a stanza of three lines where the first rhymes with the third and the second rhymes with the first line of the following stanza. In L'Archet the three lines of each stanza rhyme with each other.

3. Quotation from Interieur (Interior), also from Le Coffret de santal.

4. Charles Cros had invented an early sound recording device, the "paléophone". Around the same time Thomas Edison patented the phonograph. Proust is mistaken in attributing the invention of the telephone to Cros, (Graham Bell in 1876).

5. Henri Rabaud (1873-1949), French musician and fellow student of Proust and Halèvy. In Rabaud's absence during a study period Proust wanted to amuse his friend with poetry in which "he found music", the subject of a probable conversation between Rabaud who was destined to a musical career, and Halèvy the son of Offenbach's librettist and grand nephew of the composer of La Juive.


To Daniel Halèvy:



Une peine abimait et tenaillait, mortelle  
Et pénible un vampire accroupi sur un mort  
Pourriture par le travail de vers et telle  
Un charogne en proie aux griffes d'un remords. Foolish thinking, language and versifying
Vaporeux yeux cernés du blond mourant et pâle Could be charming
Plus de sang ni de chair, la fiêvre sur les os Very good
Et parfois soulevant le pauvre corps un râle  
Horripilant sortait du lit aux blancs rideaux. Good
Quelques mots échappaient par instants au délire  
Empreints du désespoir amer de n'être plus Good
Et des mots s'allumaient par le visage en cire Good
Et ses os étreignaient le vide de corps nus ???
La femme saisissait à travers l'avalanche Who's that? No composition?? I can't see a drop of any
De mots incohérents et tristes quel était  
Le voeu du mort, hanté de pâle femme blanche ???
D'anges divins que la luxure nourrissait. Incomprehensible periphrasis, painful cliché.
Et le jour, grandissant comme une aube enflamée At least 10 lines must be missing. I'm completely lost.
Et grondante, allumait son âme de lueurs  
L'affaissait, la mordait et la jetait pâmée  
En des contorsions mortelle de pâleurs. Rodriguism of another sort, painful!
Elle cherchait si Dieu défend, punit, ordonne  
Partagée et tordue entre deux voeux ardents  
Sans jamais rechercher en elle s'il pardonne Pure Rodrigue - Improbable
Elle baissait la tête et frissonnait des dents.  
Ses regards chatoyaient, ondoyants et morbides  
Et regardaient trembler et frissonner le corps  
Immense qui bercé de visions pallides  
Étreignait dans le vide éternel des chairs d'ors.  
Et fixait inondé de pensers excitantes Orthography
Les flancs purs de la soeur qui tenait le rideau The gesture, the nun-like pose is quite charming. It is a pretty group but the expression is so obscure, so acquired, so superadded??
Suspendu; s'irritant aux voluptés latentes  
Á l'ennui de tant vivre et de finir puceau. Infantile. Horrible line.


Ses pensers étaient lents et ses gestes rapides You have lost sight of your group. A slow thinker is never expressed by rapid gestures.
Elle hésitait encore et ses bras dévoilés  
Allumaient les regards du mourant, verts et vides  
Comme par un temps noir les cieux sont étoilés I don't know if it is good, but I do think it is very beautiful
Sa charité s'enflamme à se voir exaucée  
Sa chemise aux longs pils dévoile ses deux seins  
Les yeux fermés la tête et la face embrasée  
D'entendre à ses côtés sourdre de noirs essaims. Oh!
De remords, de regrets, chargés de jouissances  
D'avoir à mitiger les cris d'agonisants Have you finished!
Du bonheur le plus pur et d'amères souffrances  
Et d'avoir à souffrir d'adverses cuisants.  
Dans la nuit où son coeur abreuvé d'agonies  
Se plongeait à dessein pour ne plus revenir Nothing but parasitic words - ?
Elle jeta, bouillant et rouge, aux gémonies,  
Ce qu'elle ne savait ni ne voulait ternir.  
Elle entra sous les draps et plaça l'homme - pâle -  
Sur elle, comme il faut pour d'ultimes plaisirs  
Nerveux, il recouvra sa force et dans un râle, There's much more force in the expression. It is quite direct and sad
Il étreint, assouvit et calme ses désirs. But what a line, all padding, and how vulgar and narrow


Et tous deux, convulsés et tordus l'un sur l'autre,  
Elle de ses deux mains apaise ses remords Grotesque
Et lui face souffrante et béate se vautre  
Furent le lendemain trouvés au lit et morts. Not French.

Oh! how little you have considered the force of the title! The whole thing is bad, without any talent, almost torments me and quite unworthy of you. You never express your thoughts in their sincerity, in their integrity. It's the fault of the decadents. Soon you won't be able to write anything in French any more. Practice Latin discourses to disassociate your thoughts away from the decadent style that adheres to you. Let it loose then, as you know how to do.


1. Poem written by Daniel Halèvy in 1888, "corrected" by Marcel Proust. Underlinings and comments are by Proust.


To Daniel Halèvy:



Une peine abimait et tenaillait, mortelle mortelle is atrocious, as an expression, as a "figure of speech" and finally for versification. Not only is it padding but it cruelly demolishes your verse
Et pénible un vampire accroupi sur un mort Perhaps this could be good but this syntax is unintelligible to me.
You'll know that the lines gnawing the body only exist in cooks' medecine
Pourriture par le travail de vers et telle  
Roulée entre les doigts d'indien puissant et fort Beautiful image, spoiled by those around it. Padding.
Vaporeux yeux cernés du blond mourant et pâle Very good
Plus de sang ni de chair, la fiêvre sur les os  
Et parfois soulevant le pauvre corps un râle Good
Horripilant sortait du lit aux blancs rideaux. Odious
Quelques mots échappaient par instants au délire Naturalistic ergo stupid.
Empreints du désespoir amer de n'être plus Very good but seen before somewhere
Et des mots s'allumaient par le visage en cire Nice image awkwardly introduced
Et ses os étreignaient le vide de corps nus ? Crude
Jaune et les yeux errants sous la blanche cornette Idiotic That is very debatable. We shall see.
Une soeur, aux côtés du lit, le surveillait Hideous line, the worst of Coppée2
Parfois pour l'appaiser rafraichissant sa tête Oh!
Avec un geste pur et doux qui lui seyait Completely charming
S'agitant sur les draps qui collaient le malade  
Délirait et la soeur alors pour le calmer Atrocious
En sourdine chantait quelque antique ballade That doesn't make you laugh?
Dont elle articulait les mots comme un soupir The images are without form. It is vague even when it is nearly right. It is all anyoldhow, that is to say the opposite of poetry.
La femme saisissait à travers l'avalanche Very mediocre
De mots incohérents et tristes quel était  
Le voeu qui tourmentait sa face jaune et blanche  
D'anges divins que la luxure nourrissait. Crude
Il marmottait des mots inconscients, obscènes How bad and above all mediocre all this is. If you arranged it into grammatical sense, it would be the same minus the inaccuracy and extravagance = Ohnet3 if you like.
Et douloureux dans leur renoncement d'avoir  
Et dans la cruauté bilieuse des blasphèmes Idiotic
Qu'il vomissait, dégobillant sans nul espoir. Is this serious?
Espérante, inquiète et triste à toutes bornes These absolutely incomprehensible sounds void not only of meaning and ideas, but of feeling or sensations will be a topic for facile jokes.
Son rêve devenait puissant à l'acculer  
Au fait sans rien penser que des choses informes  
Et rien pouvoir encor nettement formuler  


Mais le jour, grandissant comme une aube enflamée Quite false. The horror for this invalid is the darkness, nightlights, emptiness.
Et grondante, allumait son âme de lueurs Although no, perhaps it is good... yes it is very true and beautiful.
L'affaissait, la mordait et la laissait pâmée  
En des doutes mortels d'assassines pâleurs.  
Elle avait des éclairs fauves sous la prunelle  
Qui le faisaient frémir d'amples frémissements,  
Et parfois ses pensers se refermaient en elles  
Elle baissait la tête et frissonnait des dents.  I don't know any more, I've got a headache.


   I don't know... this odious syntax prevents me from enjoying any shadow of aesthetic pleasure in the most vigorous images; yet they are there, I am almost certain of it. Even so it is very strongly felt and if this form, as I hope for your sake, is only a miserable pastiche of a decadent that I don't know, when you have freed yourself from that, you will produce some very beautiful things.

   And now, my dear Daniel, since you have forced me to read these verses so brimming with talent but so laborious, dull and occasionally execrable, and to write these absurdities, I say to you phew, put down my critic's pen and take off my pedant's mask. I hope it hasn't left any lasting marks, and that you won't want to have nothing more to do with me. I clasp your hand. But don't attach any importance to any of this. Firstly it was written very quickly whilst everybody was correcting a problem. But above all I have no opinion on this sort of stuff. I don't get any pleasure from it; so I can't say how good it is, not yet being able to realize my own aesthetic. But then, that's another matter... In the end, I rather think that it is very bad. To keep a clear conscience, I drape myself with my gown and say this to you:
   Young man, read Homer, Plato, Lucretius, Virgil, Tacitus, Shakespeare, Shelley, Emerson, Goethe, La Fontaine, Racine, Villon, Théophile, Bossuet, La Bruyère, Descartes, Montesquiou, Rousseau, Diderot, Flaubert, Sainte-Beuve, Baudelaire, Renan, France and super omnes Ludovic Halèvy.You will learn that if your mind is original and strong, your works will be so only if you are absolutely sincere and that pastiche, the sacrifice to a form that pleases you, the desire to be original are so many partly hidden forms, and much more dangerous, of insincerity - then, but this is secondary, that simplicity is infinitely elegant, naturalness has ineffable charm...


1. Part I of the second version of the previous poem written by Daniel Halèvy in 1888, "corrected" by Marcel Proust. Underlinings and comments are by Proust.

2. François Coppée (1842-1908), French poet and novelist. His verse and prose focus on plain expressions of emotion, patriotism, the joy of young love, and the pitifulness of the poor.

3. Georges Ohnet (1848-1918), French populist novelist, attacked by critics as unrealistic and commonplace.


To Daniel Halèvy:

The same Thursday 5 o'clock
[20 or 21 July 1893]            

Dear friend,

   I am very anxious because I fear that your exquisite "Vicomtesse de Dives-née de Dreux" will no longer work.1 In fact admitting that I also sometimes sign Pauline, sometimes D.D., sometimes with a Christian name that you are going to give me, it would be good if sometimes I sign Dreux-Dives. But then that sounds a bit like a railway line, and I am afraid it is rather like the song in which Lavigne2 said if her name were Bastille, she would call her daughter Madeleine because that would make her Madeleine Bastille3... - Yet the thought of renouncing this lovely name grieves me. What is to be done? Urgent response needed. You must tease me sometimes about my shortcomings to make me write sharp offended letters.
   With heartfelt friendship,

Marcel Proust.

1. Letter refers to an epistolary novel provisionally referred to as La Croix de Berny (The Cross of Berny), inspired by a novel of the same title by Théophile Gautier and three of his friends. In this collaboration, Proust played Pauline, Daniel Halèvy an abbot, Louis de La Salle an army officer and Fernand Gregh an artist. The project was abandoned after only a few of the letters were written.

2. Singer and actress Alice Lavigne (real name Julia Bourgogne), who specialized in comic roles.

3. Popular name for the Paris omnibus that ran from the Place de la Madeleine to the Place de la Bastille.


To Daniel Halèvy:

9, bd Malesherbes
[20 or 21 July 1893]

Dear friend,

   1st If née de Dreux as I wrote to you despondently this morning doesn't work because of Dreux-Dives - do you think Pauline de Dives née de Gouvres is any good - or née de Guivré - or née d'Alériouvre - or née de Fréhel. - Besides there is a M. de Dreux in Tout Paris which could perhaps thwart us. As for the signature, it is often signed de Dreux de Dives which would remove the pun. I will make inquiries else let you know if that is as good as signing Dreux-Dives. I think née de Buis or de Buÿ would be very good too and even née de Buivre although Buivre-Dives - and maybe even Buÿ-Dives have too much of an i sound and are too short. She could certainly be née d'Etranges, or d'Aytranges. That wouldn't go badly with Dives.
   Unless we can momentarily bring in a 5th correspondent I think that La Salle should be the general or at least the colonel of my handsome non-commissioned officer. In that way after several letters in which I make allusions to unhappy love, to separations that you won't reply to me about - and that in any case I imagine you don't understand, I will entrust La Salle to bring me together with the one I love under a pretext that he won't be taken in by of delegating him to convey a letter or something like that. And you would never know what was going to happen.
   With much affection



To Daniel Halèvy:

[Paris, 4 August 1893]

My dear Daniel,

   Here is my answer. I am enchanted with the vivacity of your abbot. You have immediately got just the right tone. I am cross that L. de La Sale 1st has spoken about my love-affair. That will simplify things for me. But it would have been better if that was made known in the letter I will write to tell him about it; 2nd making him a lieutenant is very bad as he should be a non-commissioned officer otherwise he would not be able to delegate him to convey a letter on my behalf. 3rd he has said that I was singing his praises. I have not once said anything good of him in the novel and though fully understanding what information is useful for my intrigue I give the appearance of attaching no importance to what becomes discovered in spite of me and you don't get duped by it but have the tact not to mention it to me. I have replied to you by return. Let's continue to do the same. But of course we will organize the letters afterwards, so that the reply never follows immediately after the letter. I will ask to change Princesse d'Alériouvre later. In a short story I have just written1 Mlle de Brayves is already née d'Alériouvre which could cause an unfortunate confusion with Mlle de Brayves.
   Your very devoted friend

Marcel Proust.

   Write to me at 9 bd Malesherbes until Monday morning and afterwards with please forward while I am unable to write to you. But you realize that apart from one or two exceptions the letters must be longer than your very funny but too short one. They need to be several pages.
   What should I do with La Salle's letter and yours? Send them to Gregh? But how de Baignères will criticize them at Clarens.2 It's most worrying. So let me know.


1. Mélancolique villégiature de Mme de Breyves, (Les Plaisirs et les jours).

2. Fernand Gregh was staying at Clarens at the home of Henry Baignères and Arthur Baignères.


To Daniel Halèvy:

Saturday [12 August 1893]

Dear friend,

   La Salle has redone the letter and is sending it back to you. No, there is nothing needs changing in your letter and "were it to kill me" I say no more about it to you - and even that I only say to answer you. For the next few days I shall be at Pension Veraguth St Moritz Upper Engadine Switzerland where your letter followed me along with Louis de La Salle of all people. Has Chalgrain1 written? Of course we will not contribute a letter - after the reply. We shall interpolate them as in Hervieu's novel.2
   A thousand affectionate thoughts from your

Marcel Proust.

   La Salle read L'Intrus3 and was delighted by it.
   I will take precious care of your letters and beg you to do the same with all those that you have. Even if we don't do anything with this Croix it would be very amusing to read it from start to finish.
   La Salle has had the generosity to devote his second letter to my love-affair. What luck. The first one was mediocre apart from the pretty phrase at the end. This one is an exquisite "masterpiece".
   He is going to write to you because this one is a response to a request for information that I had addressed to him about the man I am in love with, Givré. He has replied to me and is going to acquaint you with it in a letter that will take the place of the one that was suppressed that you knew about that you have sent me.
   If you have any criticisms to make me please do so.


1. Pseudonym used by Fernand Gregh for poetry published in Le Banquet.

2. Peint par eux-mêmes (In their Own Words), epistolary novel by Paul Hervieu.

3. L'Intrus (The Intruder), novel by Italian writer Gabriele d'Annunzio (Italian title: L'Innocente), published in French translation 1893.


To Daniel Halèvy:

[Saint-Moritz, 21 or 22 August 1893]

Dear friend,

   I have read the first thirty pages of L'Intrus and I am enraptured by it. When I have finished it I will write to the abbot. La Salle and myself are writing to each other assiduously and he will let you know what comes to pass.
   Is Chalgrain working as hard as us?
   Many thanks. Don't write to Pension Veragruth any more but to Evian, "to be collected". We won't be there until the 26 or 27th of August but this letter won't reach you until the 23rd, so I thought it better not to give you my other address here.
   A thousand thanks,

Marcel Proust.


To Lucien Daudet:

Beg-Meil, Monday
[7 October 1895]

Dear Sir,

   We arrive back from Pointe du Raz with Reynaldo and I find your letter for which I am ashamed to exchange this notepaper of such a pink that tells you everything about the material inadequacies of our stay and the sentimental and sordid tastes of this part of the country.
   We don't share the heights of admiration of your friend Madame d'Ardoise1 for this part of the country and I am full of envy for you for your life in such glorious and tranquil countryside.2 I would very much like to visit one day and I hope that will happen - but when?
   If you are still kind enough to write to me the surest address is 9 Bd Malesherbes, to be forwarded on.
   With my fondest remembrances to your pink carnations that charm my own.3

Marcel Proust

   Reynaldo has asked me to pass his best wishes on to you.


   I have spoken to your brother about the poems (Portraits of Musicians, Chopin, Gluck, Mozart and Schumann) for the Nouvelle Revue. Please ask him if he is still of the same favourable opinion.4 If that is the case I won't send them anywhere else and I'll wait for him to tell me the best time. Remember me kindly to him and give my respectful regards to the Master and to Madame Daudet (which she is also but it is embarrassing in the feminine) [seven words crossed out and illegible].

1. Mme Dardoise (the particle is Proust's), family friend of the Daudet's.

2. Champrosay, at that time a pretty village on the banks of the Seine a few miles from Paris.

3. After the third dinner that Proust attended at the Daudet's Lucien received from him "a note to thank him for having shown him his pretty flowers"; in reality, according to Lucien, a poor watercolour of terrible stylized iris. The pink carnations (oeillets) refer to Lucien Daudet's paintings.

4. Portraits of Musicians were not published by the Nouvelle Revue. Although Portraits of Painters were published in Le Gaulois 21 June 1895, Portraits of Musicians did not appear until Les Plaisirs et les jours.


To Lucien Daudet:

9 Bd Malesherbes
[about 10 November 1895]

My dear friend,

   On arriving in Paris I learned through a line from Madame Adam1 (who has rejected them and sent them back to me) that Monsieur your brother has had the goodness to trouble himself over my poems. I can't tell you how touched I am that he has taken such pains and I am grieved to have caused him them so fruitlessly (I hope he hasn't read the poems because when they were returned I see that it is a rough draft full of errors that has been sent back to me, with words and whole hemistiches missing). I beg you, thank him from the bottom of my heart for taking my poems to Madame Adam and tell him how grateful I am. I came back to Paris yesterday evening and I would love to see you soon. If you tell me the address of your studio it would give me great pleasure to come and watch you work one day and to thank you for having so kindly played the part of messenger between your brother and myself that you so willingly undertook.
   Be so kind as to pass on to Monsieur and Madame Daudet my most respectful admiration and please accept my most sincere feelings of friendship.

Marcel Proust

   Reynaldo Hahn has not yet returned to Paris.


1. Juliette Adam (Mme Edmond Adam née Juliette Lambert), novelist and journalist, editor of La Nouvelle Revue.


To Lucien Daudet:

[about 20 November 1895]

   Why would you think I thought you responsible, (as you say), you who have shown me such friendship and kindness? The only one responsible is me. I can bear this not very heavy responsibility, because it is not such a great misfortune. How did you all come to read them1 (and along with you who else? I shudder at that vague plural) how awful! You are very kind and I have a great friendship for you.
   Your friend

Marcel Proust

   I will try to come on Thursday.2
   Reynaldo is not back yet.


1. Portraits of Musicians.

2. Thursday receptions at Mme Daudet's, 31 rue Bellechasse.




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