To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

[June 1907.]

Dear friend (if I may be permitted to call you that),

   as you know I only get up once in every two months. So it is very difficult for us to see one another. Would you care to do this: come with Gaston to the Ritz hotel next Monday the 1st of July at about 10 o'clock, quarter past 10 at the latest. Ask for the small drawing-room which I have reserved. For the first time in years I am entertaining a few people and you will hear Fauré by Fauré (two illegible words) and Mlle Hasselmans. Simply because there will be so very few people there I beg you (and Gaston too) not to speak about it. It is far too difficult to explain to you by letter the people who I wouldn't want to know about it. So if in doubt don't mention it to anybody. I am not promising that I will see very much of you, nor that we will be able to chatter very much, that would not be very fair for the musicians, but at least I will see you and that alone means a great deal to me. You will meet Mmes d'Haussonville, de Clermont-Tonnerre, de Ludre, I can hardly remember myself who else, anyway hardly anybody. I am in no fit state to carry on further. I send you a thousand respects and my tender affection for Gaston.

Marcel Proust.

 


To M. and Mme Robert de Flers:

[late 1905 - 1906.]

   I preserve a charmed memory tinged with dizziness of the brief apparition of yesterday evening which remains rather like a dream with no connection to the rest of my life. A painful dream in which I have come to appreciate everything which is awful, irreconcilable, about a creature who over the years, without any self-interest or payment, showed herself to be so full of devotion and sweetness for me. I recall certain sayings, certain times, and when I compare them with what you told me I cannot believe it, it isn't possible. Yet it is true! It is the consolation of lives such as mine - and it is even a little the reason for which one adopts them and prefers not to be tortured by the spectacle and knowledge of such things. They are revealed to you in the rare days of happiness such as yesterday. Because sadness is mixed with everything and corrupts everything.

Marcel Proust.

 


To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

[c.Dec 1906.]

Dear, dear, dear Madame!

   I have been wanting to write to you since the day I received your letter. And I already have so may things to say to you that I don't think it will be possible. First of all so that you will understand on the day you come: I have been at Versailles for four months, but is this really being at Versailles? I haven't left my bed, not once have I been able to see the Palace, the Trianon, or anything; I open my eyes in the middle of the night and keep asking myself whether this hermetically sealed and electric-lit place where I find myself couldn't be absolutely anywhere rather than Versailles, where I haven't watched a single dead leaf whirling down over a single fountain. Such is my glorious youth and my glorious life. Alone in my most utterly resigned thoughts, like somebody who has lost everything and has nothing left to lose, your letter brought me much sadness. You, the radiant apparition of so many of my dreams, you have been ill? you are despondent? and sad? It is not possible, I must see you in Paris. If you have a material cause for your illness you must see a doctor. Who are you seeing? It is very important. And if you don't have a material cause then I will cure you. And if I don't succeed I shall ask Gaston to entrust you to me, and without compromise I shall take you to Berne to consult Dubois and you will be cured. But you must be cured and comfortable. That is the first point. The second, which was much less important up until yesterday, is no longer of any importance today.
   Having been thoroughly indignant at the cruel, iniquitous, ignoble tone with which Paulus's matinée was described in the Figaro ("Paulus has aged, his type is obsolete, he resigns himself to oblivion") and other idiotic lies, no doubt from friends who want to make themselves appear generous by helping him to earn some money, but are merely humiliating the pride of a great artist who was and always will be, even if his voice has left the camp, I wanted to ask Robert de Flers to sign a little letter to the Figaro with me about Paulus. And as it is tiring for me to write, having had to write to you about yourself, I was going to ask you to pass on my proposition to him since he is a great admirer of Paulus. But yesterday evening I saw in the papers that he had written a piece about Paulus's matinée. So consequently he wouldn't want to sign a letter of protest. So it is pointless and I only mention it retrospectively. Reynaldo, who is a great admirer of Paulus, had asked to sign it with us. He realizes now that it is no longer possible.
   Goodbye Madame, I hope to be back in Paris soon; I have been renting an apartment there since October and I still can't move into it because of circumstances which have reached epic proportions, even though I am partly the proprietor of the house. I don't know when I will be able to move in and I don't know if you would like to visit me there. It is a truly ugly apartment, situated amongst the dust and the trees, everything which is hateful to me, which I took because it was the only one I was able to find which mama knew, and having been through the distress of leaving rue Courcelles which was too expensive, I hadn't the courage to move into an apartment where I would have felt that she had never set eyes on it, which she would not have known or had any opinion about. This one is still far too expensive and I don't think I will be able to stay there (if I am ever able to move in at all!) but for me it would be a transition between what is for me a real and dear grave-yard, the apartment in the rue de Courcelles and (I see that this sheet was already started, I beg your pardon but I haven't the heart to start all over again) the unknown, something completely strange.
   Tell Gaston and Robert that I have in mind a rather good (!) idea for a piece but I don't have the strength to do it. On the other hand (which has nothing to do with my idea for a piece) have they read (in extenso in the supplement of the Débats) a communication from M. Berger of the Institute on Aliénor, that wife of Louis VII who was so badly behaved that he sent her to the Crusades so that she couldn't get up to any mischief in his absence, but she ended up sleeping with the Sultan etc. The story continued with a very amusing and picturesque plan about a hanging which had to be given to the marvellous Vergy, which is one of the most delicious things I've seen and which I applauded so loudly that I could not stop myself knocking three times on the wall of my neighbour M. Hervieu.
   I hope that you are going to get better (charming syntax), that all of yours are well and I send you my most respectful affection.

Marcel Proust
Hôtel des Reservoirs.

 


To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

102, Boulevard Haussmann
[1908.]

(The 102 is my address which is shown, alas!, by my name in the telephone directory. My number is 292-05)

Madame, dear Madame,

   I am writing with some difficulty because I have a fever after having caught cold (fortunately because of it my asthma has not been so bad), but I wanted to tell you that you are extravagantly kind, in yourself and also in relation to the Calmann Affair. For the first kindness (your natural kindness) I love you and admire you, and for the second (Calmann) I am grateful to you and love and admire you more. - I have just written to M. Calmann. It is unfortunate that it should be to him. Because he is very sympathetic to me: the consequence is that I have written him a very persuasive letter to explain to him that it would please me most if he didn't publish the articles. Doubtless he will not stand in the way of this solution. And now I am very upset about it! During the time it takes for him to take note of my letter and notifies me of his refusal, it would be very kind of you if you could ask Gaston if there aren't any publishers who are less smart and who it would be easier to deal with. It would be all the same to me to pay the costs of publication. All I want is to be extricated from it. You know that it was Gaston who put this terrible idea into my head. I found your hanging gardens, your antique pillars, the climbers all over the bare trees, and even, in spite of my feigned disdain, the signature of Napoleon, all that more than sympathetic. But I loved your daughter more and the prodigious distillation of understanding of a look or an exclamation. "I do what I can" (being kind to you) was sublime. She has made me understand something which I have never experienced: shyness. I understand what it must be like, I think for the first time. I did not like the concierge, but without fully understanding why. And the ephebe who remembered nothing about the rue Miromesnil: whatever. I still think that you looked a hundred times nicer with your bare neck, golden apples and your compact mass of hair than "done up for the evening" and I propose to accompany you in society like that. Goodbye, Madame, I love and admire you much more than you know. And in any case there is no reason why you need to know. Your respectful

Marcel Proust.

 


To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

[1908.]

Dear Madame,

   thank you with all my heart for your charming letter. I don't think it is worth you taking the trouble to write to M. Calmann. Perhaps I could telegraph him. Do you agree? If you know his address, to spare you the trouble of writing, you could telephone it to me, and ask that it is written down under your dictation, otherwise telephone messages can be rather vague. Read the article at the head of this morning's Figaro. Any moment you expect to come across "dog in the soup" etc... It lacks Gallicism and it is truly comical not to find a single French phrase in three whole columns.
Your respectful friend,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

[1908.]

Dear Madame,

   I am so ill, but in the unlikely event that I am in a fit state to go out I could be a possible theatre companion. I will fall into your box like a "dog in the soup" and the "vicissitude"1 would be yours. How good it is that it is a triumph! how delicious this scene is! The "infamous" Calmann has still not replied to me! from eleven days ago! And it was so urgent! If he refuses now I wouldn't have enough time to apply to anybody else. That's all there is to it!
   You did not understand my letter, I didn't say that I wanted him to refuse. On the contrary! I said that as he is so kind I couldn't take the same liberties with him as I could with somebody less agreeable and I didn't want to torment him. But that doesn't lessen my wish that he accepts. In any case I think that it would be very advantageous for them if they did accept. I am held in high regard for Les Plaisirs et les jours ...
   In spite of that I would really like them to take my pastiches, now more than ever as their silence has caused me such delay. If he refuses now I won't be able to publish them. I didn't reply to your letter because I thought that this clarification of my misunderstanding with you over Calmann would leave you cold during the awakening of Roi. And for myself I must say that with good reason Roi has preoccupied me a hundred times more. But now that it is a triumph I am telling you all this so that you don't carry on believing that I don't know what I want and that I would have the effrontery to not want Calmann after you had asked him.
   Please excuse this note written under the influence of so much medication that I literally don't know what I am writing, and trust in my respectful affection. My admiring respects to Mlle Simone and my goodwill to Gaston.

Marcel Proust.

1. Allusions to Roi, a piece by Gaston de Caillavet and Robert de Flers which they had just put on at the Variétés.

 


To Robert de Flers:

[1908.]

Read this letter to the end.

My dear little Robert,

   I read in the Figaro that alarming news has been put out about M. Sardon's health, which I didn't know about, that the news is false gives me great pleasure; but all the same reading between the lines I realize quite well that he must have been very sick, I was ignorant of it and I sent somebody to ask you what it is all about. Sending somebody to your house gives me the idea of asking you to do me a favour. This is it. Would it be possible for you to write a few words of dedication in a copy of Roi, that wonderful piece of yours, for the young son of some people who have been very kind to me ...
   I am not at all well, my dear little Robert, I hardly ever get out of bed, have awful, incessant asthma attacks ... I hope that your life is happier and the bad state of Sardon's health has not been serious enough to cast too unhappy a shadow over it. I don't know how I found the strength to go to Roi. But it was a marvellous enchantment for me.
   Best to you,

Marcel.

 


To Gaston de Caillavet:

[1910.]

My little Gaston,

   in a flood of tears, all of the past, the whole beginning of our great friendship, when you were a soldier, then when I was, wells up again in my heart, which I assure you is a very brotherly heart, very tenderly leaning over your own broken heart today. I don't think that anybody was more loved, more admired than your poor mother was by me who knew her so well; I assure you that nobody will remember her more faithfully and more eternally.
   It is very distressing for me not to be with you; I have been in bed with a fever for some time; I shall try to come tomorrow morning. Please could you place this wreath beside her? I knew of her end at once and her illness, and how exquisitely your wife cared for her during her suffering. Her sweet tenderness will give you something in your distress which I have always lacked because I have always wept alone. I am with you with all my heart.

Marcel Proust.


To Bertrand de Fénelon:

My dear Bertrand,

   If you only knew the enormous pleasure your letters and even your postcards bring me you would take the trouble to write more legibly so that they don't strain my eyes with a sort of mockery, the irritating mystery of a precious and indecipherable secret. - I have not been able to make out one single word from your last two postcards. If your Ts were always Ms and your Ps were always Os one could accept that convention. But you are no more capable of staying faithful to your literary caprices than to any others. When you write you are nothing more than a drawer of patterns, yet I can no longer even make out the shapes.
   Dear Bertrand, if I were sure, if I had your solemn promise that you would send them back, I would return your last two postcards so that you could explain to me what they were meant to tell me. But I am too frightened that you would not send them back to me and so I keep them as objects bearing bizarre inscriptions in unknown characters which are precious to me because they have been brought by you to me, I who am not an artist and don't have the right to speak in order to say nothing and to know about it has no charm.
   I am writing to you in all honesty as legibly as I can, to thank you for having thought of me and to show my great friendship for you.

Marcel.

 


To Simone de Caillavet:

[1910.]

Dear Mademoiselle Simone,

   it may be a little indiscreet of one who doesn't have the honour of knowing you very well, to allow myself to approach you in your time of grief. But your grandmother, whom I had enormous admiration for, had spoken to me about you before I knew you; it was through her that I first learned about you what I later found out for myself. She loved you so much! I think that your heart must be overflowing and I assure you that mine is no longer happy and that it would do me good to weep beside you. But I think about you very, very much. I wanted to tell you so and also how grateful I am that your tenderness will be so good for your papa who will have so much need of it at this time.
   Very respectfully yours,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

[1910.]

Madame,

   Thank you so much for your letter and I am so moved by the one from Gaston. Since, even at such a time, you have shown so much kindness towards me, could I ask another? I have recently had a wreath sent to avenue Hoche (by the same person who brought my four letters, and who delivered it at the same time). But I know how at these times servants simply place any flowers in a corner: and for me, who remembers the way she would look at flowers, when I had sent her them, smell them, ring for somebody to arrange them, I attach, if I may say so, a particular pleasure to these - the last ones! - but the first ones which I am able ! to have placed beside her. If you have a second to do this you will easily recognize it, it is made up of camellias, arums (I think they are arums, with white bells), lilac, roses and violets. Would it be possible to do this for me? ... Thank Gaston enormously for having the courage to write to me. Don't tell him that I am filling myself with drugs, against his advice, to try to come tomorrow morning, and above all hug him, you are everything to him at this time.
   Your respectful friend,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

[1910.]

Madame,

   What emotion! what sweet joy mixed with such feelings of sadness! So many years of my life brought together in that dear envelope. You would need a heart utterly incapable of memory not to tremble a little when opening it. And it all seems like yesterday. I am not talking about you, because that word has no meaning for you, since yesterday or today you are the same. Was the photograph of you at the tennis court between little Daireaux and one of the Dancougées taken long ago or was it this summer ... it is impossible to tell since you are exactly the same person. And what has given me such a blow to the heart is that "nothing in it has changed ... except me!" I think of you with so much affection, and now I can say it! that I love you! As for your poor mother-in-law, my grief becomes greater every day, and the sad things that I was told yesterday, which I never suspected, add to my terrible anguish.
   Your respectful and grateful friend,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

[1910.]

Madame,

   I am only writing you a few lines to tell you that I know how delightful you were to your poor mother-in-law. What a sweet consolation it will be for Gaston to remember that! How all his friends thank you and trust you for alleviating the hours for him when sadly I am not able to come and be with him! I can hardly write. But even if I could I would not be able to tell you how much I love you.
   Your respectful friend,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

Madame,

   I don't know how to thank you for your delightful letter. And Reynaldo came this evening at midnight (who I couldn't see because I was having a very severe attack) leaving me word saying that you were asking to see me. Alas! it is impossible. It's not that there aren't some days, about once a month, when I am well. On those occasions I get up, go out, but usually too late to go to visit you. On the other days I am having attacks and fumigations. I don't allow anybody to come in, not even my doctor. The only person I sometimes see is Reynaldo because he comes constantly, and at unreasonable hours, and if one time out of six I have finished my fumigations, on those occasions I allow him to come in, because he is so used to my ailments, getting replies to his questions written on little pieces of paper if I can't talk etc. ... The other day I went out at one o'clock and I went to call on Mme Lemaire. I hadn't seen her for a year. And she is one of the people who I do see. It has been seven years since I have been able to see Mme Greffulhe. And it is the same with plenty of others. I am talking about myself a lot but I assure you that you are the only person I think about. I feel like I am going to get better any moment and then I shall come to see you. But at least while I can't do anything I am working a little, I am working on a long novel which I would have been so anxious to show to your mother-in-law. I think back about her marvellous intelligence, about the admiration with which she spoke to me about you at the time of your marriage: "Jeanne is wonderful, she has a gift such as I have never known," she said.
   You told me - and I believe it because you said it - that she was less friendly afterwards. It is possible. No doubt that was during one of the periods when I was ill when a disagreement, which I can't think back on today without tears, caused a distance between us. But personally I never knew anything about it. And it is a great comfort to me to think that if there was any misunderstanding between you that it vanished completely in the final days when she came to know you as you really are ... which you would also have understood and admired. And I thank God for having granted this reconciliation thanks to which Gaston can reunite you both in his memory of his mother, and with all the reasons he has for adoring you, would also have the gratitude for the care you took of her and your noble attitude. It is very tiring for me to write. Nevertheless I wanted to tell you, however badly, what is in my heart. But it takes a long letter to show you only a little of the tenderness I have for Gaston and yourself.
   Your respectful and unswerving friend,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

Madame,

   If it doesn't tire you or debilitate you to write, what was the very pretty phrase that your daughter used when you told her that she did not look like you? I can't remember it very exactly.
   Your respectful friend,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Bertrand de Fénelon:

My dear Bertrand,

   I am writing a few insignificant lines (intimidated by the clear understanding of her sorrow) to your unfortunate sister. And I send you my thoughts which are always so affectionately united with your own. Such misfortunes make us truly realize how even those who think themselves assured of a long future can be taken away so quickly and even more so to think about those who, like me, only continue to live by pure chance, which makes me tell myself that we must see each other again; so that, and I say this without arrogance, and in complete sincerity, perhaps I would not be the only one to gain by it, that you could profit to some extent from my disposition, my culture which absolutely do not merely seem unnecessary repetition alongside yours.
   Let's try to see each other on your return. I would even travel outside Paris to see you. There is nothing to stop me. I am still here this year for reasons which would amuse you were it not for your grief over the death of your brother-in-law. I have been playing the stock market!... and I have lost a lot of money, so I have not been able to absent myself yet.
   Times have changed since you made me look for the "Bourse" journal which I couldn't find, and it was excusable that I couldn't since you had me look for the Sunday evening!

Marcel P.

 


To Bertrand de Fénelon:

My dear Bertrand,

   Thank you so much for your card, it gave me much pleasure, it reminded me of a lovely day which, thanks to you, I spent at Trouville, not a few years ago. Affections are like the dead in that nature never brings them back: Happy is the friendship out of which is preserved a beautiful summer's day, a hedgerow in flower; one always remembers them with charm.
   There is much more in my friendship for you, my dear Bertrand, a constant desire for your good fortune, an unceasing feeling of solicitude. The news which you were given about my health is totally false; I hope that yours is good and I send you a thousand affectionate wishes.

Marcel P.

 


To Robert de Flers:

[Nov 1913.]

   Excuse me bothering you once again.
   Grasset, my publisher, wants to have the imminent publication of my book announced in a news item in the Figaro. Since M. Hébrand has given one of his writers the task of interviewing me and doing an "atmospheric article" about me, I wanted to wait for that which would have made up the main elements of the piece, but as I don't know which day I will be well enough to see this gentleman, I am worried that this will delay it too much because it is essential that the piece leaves here in the next day or two. My book is appearing on the 14th and this is a "literary indiscretion" (the publishers words). The whole work will be called A la Recherche de Temps perdu; the volume which is about to appear (dedicated to Calmette): Du côte de chez Swann. The second: Le côte de Guermantes, or perhaps: A l'Ombre des Jeunes filles en fleurs or perhaps: Les Intermittences du Coeur. The third: Le Temps retrouvé. What it is essential to say is that it is not all articles from the Figaro, but a novel which is at the same time filled with passion, meditation and landscape. Above all it is totally different from Plaisirs et Jours and is neither "delicate" or "refined". Although one part resembles (though it is much better) "Fin de la Jalousie". I don't want the long silence which I have maintained and which has left me unknown when others have had the chance to make themselves known to cause it to be announced as a book devoid of importance. Without attaching as much to it as certain writers who definitely exaggerate their value, I have put all my ideas, all my heart, my very life itself into it. If you could announce the book in a few lines you would be doing me a great service.
   Best to you,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Madame the marquise de Flers:

   My eyestrain makes correspondence extremely painful, even more so as I have never been able to see an optician and get some glasses, never going out other than when all doctors are in bed.
   Mme Straus has in fact spoken to me about you with the most profound tenderness. Unfortunately that goes back quite a long time; her health, and mine, the similarity of our conditions, the difference in our hours only allows me to see her on very rare occasions. It is a terrible loss for me because I love nobody more than her and have done for many years.
   If my attacks at least have the good grace to warn me before the day when they allow me to get up - if in a word I were able to carry it through, I would ask Mme Straus to invite me with you because I would very much like to see you again. Unfortunately I never know when I will be able to get up until the last minute. The "forward plans" which I have made to see Robert have caused me, through the medication which they necessitate, terrible heart pains!...

 


To Mme Gaston de Caillavet:

44, rue Hamelin
Address confidential

   I am encamped in a dingy, awful furnished apartment which looks like servants' lodgings.
   But what does it matter! He is working. He has finished his "long novel". He leads his principal and already legendary characters on their way to old age or death. He has become ruthless towards the world in which he has worked like a herbalist on the side of a mountain accumulating the most rare and poisonous flowers in his herbarium. He shows no indulgence other than for Saint-Loup. As for the others he is going to underline or aggravate their imperfections and their ridiculousness: the vice of M. de Charlus, the baseness of Jupien, the noisy authority, the later and unforeseen snobbery of Mme Verdurin, the ingratitude of Morel. He is even going to be pitiless towards the dear duchess de Guermantes. Age having effaced the grace and beauty of Oriane, and Marcel having been himself stripped of all snobbery, will no longer see her other than with her faults and her tics. He will observe her meanness, her spite, and "that she talks in endless absurdities and lies". He will draw our attention to her "russet head, her salmon-coloured body constricted by jewellery..." He will compare her to "an old sacred fish encrusted with gem stones, with cheeks like nougat."
   He reveals to us that she, formerly so proud of her nobility, occupying the highest place in Paris society, has come down in the world and is now "occupied in the political and artistic world for an ill-defined creature, a defrocked member of the Faubourg Saint-Germain... a half-title", pursuing ministers and actresses.
   Marcel always placed a hundred masks over the faces of all the characters in his magisterial comedy. But all those who lived in close connection with his innumerable models could recognize in the duc de Guermantes some of the duc de X's shortcomings..., some of the ridiculousness of comte W..., a story told by Y..., an event which happened at Z...; the whims, the outrages, the words of Mme Verdurin were taken from three or four women with famous salons or tables; likewise for Mme Villeparisis, Legrandin, etc. La Berma is a mixture of our great Sarah and the wonderful Réjane. But the two characters who dominate the work, who no mask can conceal, the two great portraits are those of M. de Charlus and the duchesse de Guermantes. Certainly they are also a compound known from two or three separate physiognomies which intersect, superimpose and intermingle over the course of the book and the years, but he disengages from both a great force of truth, so they appear to break free at every moment from the framework which Marcel has imposed on them allowing us to call out their names as their masks are lifted.


To Robert de Flers:

[1919.]

   I have a small service to ask of you and at the same time a great service to thank you for (I didn't know about it). In two words: the service I want to ask of you today is this: I see in Les Débats that I have been decorated. Unfortunately I am surrounded by people of no great literary value. Would it be possible by means of a small note from you to place me a little beside some genuine writers such as Mme de Noailles or M. Fabré (I am not very sure who is decorated because I am suffering with otitis and only caught a glimpse of the newspaper which has been taken from me). But this is the essential thing: a word from Reynaldo informed me that you behaved with great kindness to me with M. Honnorat. I cannot tell you how touched I am by that and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. My gratitude is on a par with my fondness, which is no small thing.
   Your very devoted and admiring,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Robert de Flers:

44, rue Hamelin

My dear little Robert,

   I can't tell you what joy I felt in reading your article from this morning, to see all at once your beautiful blue eyes turned to me, your hand outstretched. What you say about me is magnificent, much too magnificent; I don't deserve such a eulogy. But I make allowances for friendship, happy to shut my eyes to it, and my joy is not diminished but increased. I was not able to go to see Conte d'Hiver, so that it made me rejoice to experience the performance, thanks to you, from my bed instead of a theatre seat. But I don't take any notice about what people say about me, such as when Gide holds his discussions (narrow portraits is splendid and certainly one could not be more fair. I like the people at the Nouvelle Revue Française very much but we have few ideas in common. Even the praises they give me, strongly exaggerated, don't seem at all to be what I might merit.) H... came to dine the other evening, on his way through Paris. It would be all very well of me to "send signals" to you, as "people" say, but we know that you will never come, that you will not reply, it is discouraging. But you are well loved. Oh! how I would love to see you again! Perhaps even after only this word reaches you I may succeed! But, alas, with me everything is so improbable, so exhausting. I send you once again, whilst begging you to pay my great respects to Mme de Flers, my tender and grateful affection.
   Your friend who admires you,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Robert de Flers:

My dear Robert,

   Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the infinitely kind way you have presented an extract from my book in Le Figaro. I cannot understand what made Gallimard choose these lines with no signification, but your little preface made me literally overflow with gratitude and tenderness. I will express it all to you straight away, even though I have not been in a fit state to write for four days. But to delay thanking you afterwards, when I wrote to you at such length before, would be a moral torment for me. And over and above that you are not familiar with the sudden terrible variations in my health and you could form a false judgement of my ingratitude, when my heart is so full of you. Through reading Le Figaro frequently I am very aware of false judgements caused by ignorance where one is led to make unforeseen alterations in the things we believe. I really like Capus's articles where things seem to be viewed with depth and clarity, with fixed and decisive outlines like a piece of rock crystal. Only on the first page where he demonstrates, more geometrorum, why Bar-le-Duc's speech illuminates and reconciles us definitively with M. Lloyd George, we learn at the last moment in the same issue that this minister criticized M. Poincaré's resolutions in unbecoming terms and he is rather in agreement with M. Barthou. Unfortunately pretty rock crystal cannot change lines like those dry immodifiable points of Helleu's which you don't want to hear my opinions about. And it needs a new lucid, heavy mineral to resist the sudden fractures of the following day. That is not to say that one can do better than Capus, that matters, and especially day to day matters, even more so if they are distant, and with Genoese aggravation, do not lend themselves to the translucid beauty of a peremptory art with fixed boundaries. And in this disagreement between things and the director's luminous "paper", in my opinion it is not things which prevail. I don't want to imitate their injustice, and yet the disintegration of a worsening health just like the Conference makes you bring a judgement en bloc which it will not apply to itself. Likewise I have written to you straight away, even though incapable of doing so. I regret not being in contact with you more. The sad event has verified what I had written to poor Deschanel to such an extent and in the smallest details that I would have given you a living article on he who is alas dead. I will send you my book as soon as Gallimard deigns to "send" it. Not that I wouldn't quite willingly buy one, but I don't want to give you anything other than a first edition. With all my deepest fondness and gratitude,

Marcel Proust.

 


To Mme Maurice Pouquet: 1

44, rue Hamelin
[19 April 1922.]

Dear Madame,

   No, I have no friends around me, and in any case I wouldn't be well enough to receive them. I certainly have a typist (the niece of my chamber-maid), I have not seen her for a long time because I am too ill, but she lives here and never goes out, so that tonight I was able to dictate this note to her, which would have been too tiring for me to have written. But even though you appear to authorize it, I would not dare to allow myself to write to you by machine like this, and wouldn't have called for the girl to do it had it not been for my strength deserting me. Please excuse me for talking about myself so much, but it is simply so that you understand the reason (which is rather confidential because I don't like a lot of talk about my health) why I have not written to you more.
   No, I didn't know Gaston at school. Perhaps he studied at the same school as me (Condorcet), but in any case I didn't know him there. I don't know who took me to Gaston's mother's house, I know that I was about to leave for my military service, which I took at a very young age because it was the last year of what they called the volontariat. I don't know whether Gaston did it under the same circumstances. In any case it was going to finish at the same time I was starting and it was during the course of my brief "leaves" that I caught my first glimpse of him at his mother's house. But he was so kind to me that our friendship began immediately. I would really like to know if there aren't some of the letters which he wrote to me at that time (I suppose 1889), when he hardly knew me, in one of the three large trunks where all my things are stored. Because at that time, having a great esteem for my "intelligence", which I didn't deserve, his letters were not only wonderful in their sentiment but he put a veritable coquettishness into the writing. One page on the musical science of numbers (and perhaps partly inspired by M. France) filled me with admiration. This friendship which was born like this virtually through correspondence, he kept up for a long time with a goodness, an infinite thoughtfulness which I will never forget. When you think that at that time there were no taxis, you will be astonished to learn that every Sunday evening when I was going back to Orléans by the 7:40 train, he came every time to take me by car to the train. He had to set off before 7 o'clock, getting back at half past 8, not to mention having had no dinner. And he even came to Orléans. These memories break one's heart; how can one relive them without weeping? And it demonstrates his merit even more in that he persevered with our friendship on several occasions at least to such an extent that I was disliked by almost all of his friends. A certain L... would not even say one word to me, any more than would G... from l'avenue Messine. Another (Paul) on the other hand was very kind to me but that didn't last. The friendly ones were Louis K... and Fernand P... as well as a future theatre director whose name escapes me. I was very touched, meeting him a few years ago at Cabourg (most probably the year before the war), by the way he spoke to me about Gaston. This rather unappealing man certainly has a great heart and with regard to Gaston behaved not only very well, but perhaps even better than Gaston ever knew. My friendship for Gaston was enormous, he was the only person I talked about in the barracks, to my batman, the corporal etc. who regarded him as some kind of god, so that on New Year's Day they would send him a message of respect. Only God can say how it must have been interpreted! At that time Robert de Flers did not yet know Gaston who even took my affection for his future collaborator rather badly. My friendship with Gaston around this time acted like an unexpected vaccine for me. It immunised me against real suffering, in the love which Mlle Pouquet inspired in me. Knowing that they were half engaged I didn't allow myself to entertain a single hope. You were perhaps less beautiful than now but quite different; you gave the impression of a clear spring. I feel as if I am beginning to get tired, I will have to break off abruptly; I beg you to remember me fondly to M. Pouquet who I saw at about this time at your dear mama's house at rue Miromesnil. He created an extremely sympathetic impression on me, though I scarcely saw him and he certainly won't remember me. Please accept my kind respects Madame.

Marcel Proust.

 

1. After the war Mme Gaston de Caillavet married her cousin M. Maurice Pouquet.


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