Gustave de Borda

   M. Gustave de Borda, who died last week and who was chiefly known and entered into legend under the name of "Sword-thrust Borda", had in effect spent his life with a sword in his hand, formidable to the wicked, but gentle towards the good and sympathetic towards the unfortunate, like a knight of Spanish romance, whose appearance he shared. Decorated for his outstanding conduct during wartime, he was celebrated for his unequalled talents in fencing and for the number of duels he fought. What is less well-known is that he would only make use of his extraordinary skill with a sword to moderate the effects of its power, which he never abused.
   He could be the most dangerous of enemies, but as he was the best of men he could never be other than the most moderate, the most just, the most humane, the most courteous of adversaries. It is moral standards not opinions that make for virtues; bravery has brought forth men of peace, like Borda; it cannot be achieved by pacifism. The actions and example of such a man teach us not to fear death but rather to relish life all the more. His sympathy, his kindness were delightful, because one felt that there was no place there for fear, selfishness or weakness because his was the spontaneous and pure gift of a truly free spirit. Of a charming and rich intellect, he possessed a lively and natural taste for the arts, especially for music, which he liked 'easy' such as befits a brave old man. Did not Stendhal, who was a veteran of the Russian campaign, prefer Italian music to all others? That marvellous duellist, M. de Borda, was also, with his unequalled competence, with his rare delicacy and kindness, an incomparable second.
   It was only the fatigue of his last few years that prevented him from continuing to venture forth onto the duelling ground to act as second for his friends, after he had passed that age when he was able to participate as combatant. The last person, if our memory serves us correctly, that he assisted as second was our contributor M. Marcel Proust, who has always had a veritable cult for him. M. Gustave de Borda counted as his friends everyone who counted in Paris for their courage, noble birth and high-mindedness. But the person who was more dear to him than all others, apart from his physician and friend Dr Vivier, was Jean Béraud, the great painter. M. de Borda perceived in this marvellous artist a nature which, in aspects which are less well-known to the public, in its bravery and courage, was very much akin to his own. He acknowledged him to be one of our last knights.


Article appeared in Le Figaro, 26 December 1907 and reprinted in Chroniques (Libraire Gallimard, 1927).

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