My friend Honoré has charming
eyes, shows the most naturally amiable character, but squanders
through a life of scandals the money that he borrows from
usurers. Yesterday at his mother's house, after a dinner that he
had not even attended the conversation turned to his conduct and
his uncle who is a magistrate expressed his thoughts first in
- Berthe, he said, everything comes to an end, but your son's excesses show no sign of coming to an end. Show no mercy, that's my advice to you, or the courts will not be far away. Why do you allow him to corrupt the false but brilliant character that nature has given him in the company of wicked women and gamblers. Is it proper for a young man of his age to go around wearing gaudy cravats and flowers in his button-hole. That's not the dress of a hard working young man. Lord knows I have no time for writers, taking them all for dangerous bohemians, but in the end if, as everybody says, your son has some inclination for writing, I would much prefer to see him writing bad novels (maybe you could direct him towards works of history or political economy, much more compatible with an orderly life) than lead that sort of life! At least he won't be parading himself all the time like a toff on a thoroughbred horse.
But he was interrupted by the great painter and novelist B... who was listening impatiently to this speech.
- Heaven protect me from criticizing you for speaking as a guardian of the law, he exclaimed! As for myself I have too strong an affection for the different temperaments and characters of men and the propriety of their judgements on peoples' characters, but if I rate you as a prudent magistrate, how I would love to commission Honoré to paint before our very eyes a fresco depicting so ardently and passionately the life of a young man. Such wonderful years! What, would we like to see him squander it by writing? But if he has talent, what should he do that has value? Be beautiful, revel in it, inspire affection, be foolish, live. So that we try to make an imperfect imitation of his passion and, not without reason, we call it a masterpiece. But how much more beautiful and passionate is the actual model. Then he immerses himself in political economy, he keeps himself busy, but soberly, so that his family are proud of him, then he goes around dressed in black! Translate that into art or literature to see what boring greyness that would produce. Isn't it proper that he ruins himself in order that he is finely dressed and mounted and wouldn't it be shameful if if he were badly dressed and poorly mounted, how could he not ruin himself, since he has no money. What use is a youth spent bent over books, dulled, ignorant of splendour, if it gains a following that will become painters, novelists, without those who love the diversity of form and the good things of life. You complain that he knows the difference between a jacket and a morning coat, a bay horse and a chestnut mare, a moonstone and an opal and a cat's-eye; but I think that is simply keeping your eyes open to the world. Isn't it true that the day when we can no longer distinguish the difference between things, tat's the day we cease to write or to paint. Certainly I am not suggesting that your son, to burnish into red the gamut of colours that life presents, goes as far as assassination, but horsemanship and a foolish elegance, debts and expedients, gambling, debauchery, these are the essential and delightful stages in the life of a young man, this is the most intelligent and artistic manner for him to pursue his life so that he will be beautiful and loved.
- Good or bad, since it is so, said Honoré's mother in a whisper, I would prefer to believe that his life is beautiful rather than horrible. But if it is better to show proof of good taste rather than good sense, and if it is in good taste to fill life with colour and harmony, shouldn't he place more highly still a good heart, and if he has a little of that, shouldn't he have pity for me who sees him all the time.
- There's no doubt that he has pity for you, B... cried, because he has a generous nature. But he can feel infinite concern for you while still, for all that, finding pleasure in horses, women, elegant clothes and the excitement of gambling. Our soul is open to diverse kinds of emotions which, be they enemies of life, can reconcile themselves in our soul into the same impression of beauty.
So spoke this aged painter, gentle, indulgent, but not much of a philosopher. He, who was always modestly, simply, and tidily dressed, had imagined such sumptuous and passionate lives, he had not been able to see that their beauty did not reside in those tat led those lives without understanding them, but in the rich imagination that conceived them. He used the language of artists of our time, so disquieting to the simple literary point of view even, if one dreams tat hardly have we freed ourselves from the son of a theatrical family among whom the most vile indelicacies were only an effect of its generosity and its honour, we are going to see appear - they threaten us - the same son of the family, tainted but standing up for art and for an intelligent submission to the laws of colour and to the exigencies of general aesthetic.
However somebody's character continues to develop be it through the reflections that young men's conduct inspired in him, be it through the dissimulation that they made him pass over in silence - and the very absence of Honoré at this family reunion did not indicate less than would his presence a trace of sympathy from some, antipathy from others, his character still uncertain and difficult to judge.
Written about the
period of Les Plaisirs et les jours, 1893-1895, but not used.
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