Four Draft Manuscripts (about 1909)


   One day when I was asking M. de Guermantes to give me all the glorious titles of his brother-in-law, I heard one fine composite name resound like those names of Homeric heroes, when all of a sudden these names seemed to me to diminish, to find the place they held in my memory, modest as the name of an excursion that could be taken at five o'clock after the cure was over, or like the name of a wine we could drink if the doctor did not deem it harmful to one's diet. I hesitated; I recognized a second as the very site neighbouring the little German spa town where I had gone in the past with my mother long before Querqueville; he mentioned still a third and a fourth; it was the name of a place that I had not visited, because it was necessary to set off first thing in the morning by motor car to reach it, but whose church I had spotted on the top of the hill and the wine from which was the most expensive cru in the hotel; a fourth was just next to the town where we were staying; I had gone there several times in a small boat after the heat of the afternoon. I realized that he was Lord of all these places together because they were all in fact situated one beside the other. This interested me very much: those forests through which I had strolled, those blue hills that rose up behind the Kurhaus and bore beautiful German names that I had often wondered who had the feudal rights over. I had always liked to penetrate to their very depths the places I saw, to try to recompose them, out of the diversity of their appearances and the fragmentary nature of the contacts I had with them, that gave them a resemblance in every corner of their woods, in every corner of their streets, a unity, a particular essence, out of which could be recovered the originality of their names. Always too whenever confronted with these beautiful names from the German nobility, I yearned to discover what actually lay at the foundation of these beautiful multiple names; to seek what the name held within itself made me imagine a mysterious reality that I did not know. And behold it was the forest to whose skirts I had walked when the cure had not tired me too much, beneath whose trees like the ones in Pinçonville wood I sheltered if it began to rain or where after a storm had passed I had once again seen the sun reappear and stretch out its golden beams over the land; it was the village where we made out the Gothic spire in the depths of the green river; it was the little blue mountain situated behind the Kurhaus that I proposed to climb after the cure was complete so as to see the view to be had over the entire Palatinate. These distant spots that were so dear to me, sites of so many sensations of cold, of sunshine, of hunger, of sadness, of joy, of the desire to travel or simply to return for dinner that I had experienced there, they were his Rhinegrave territories; they were his limbs - these lands, these woods, these waterways - his living body, over which the Rhinegrave formerly ruled, and that I had sought to imagine. These names of places of which he was Rhinegrave and so many of whose Margraves or Teutonic squires I had attempted to picture, now I saw them! It was the gentle name of the beloved river where I stretched out in the bottom of the little boat, pausing beneath the reeds, it was also the well-known and well-loved name of the village for which I was hiring the boat, asking "to go to..." and about which mamma said to me when I came back for dinner: "Did you have time to go as far as...?" They were all the beloved, familiar names, full of memories and not the unknown, these charming names, placed end to end, as we often do when mamma and I are dining together and we recount our day, forming the strange and sonorous title - 4 lines from the Gotha - of Rhinegrave. And if that gave to this title the familiarity of the days I had lived, the roads on which I felt the heat, felt the wind, had a wish to travel in Germany, to read Goethe, to return to dinner, at a long distant part of my life when it seemed quite different to how it was and that I would not wish for today, if that allowed me to lift the visor of beautiful heraldic names and to tenderly catch sight of old friends beneath the disguise on whom the five o'clock sun still fell, old friends who had become a little mysterious the further away I was from them, in return on those readily vulgar places where there is a Kurhaus, groups of people out for a walk, a concert in the municipal gardens, restaurants in the mountains, all this imposes an invisible crown of a German Holy Roman Empire that stamps everything with the arms of the Rhinegrave, an invisible crown, situated slightly above the ground, in mid air, but which demonstrates that these discordant, diverse, industrialized, modern places are the very ones that history makes us dream about when it speaks to us of Rhinegraves, Burgraves and Palatine Princes.



   M. de Guercy was called Manfred. It was one of those harsh Christian names - Manfred, Roffredo - from the house of Sicily, proud as a drawn sword with its final syllable broken off by the French pronunciation that seems to beat still in the waves against the Sicilian crags. That same Christian name could be found with some podesta, some XVth century Cardinal and among M. de Guercy's ancestors. Not strictly speaking an identical name, but the very one that slipped quietly out of the depths of the centuries and came to belong to the descendant of those to whom it was granted and to which name he attached himself, antique, as at every epoch, in its proud beauty patinated by the ages, from the old medallions of the Italian Renaissance (an antique medallion perhaps, as the genealogists claimed) that came from the cabinet of a Pope, to fall into the hands of the present-day Marquis. And it was also a delight, when reading the history of Italy, to suddenly come upon it again - the one - the same - beside the name of some prince and which indicated for how many long years it had been in the family. Because these are ancient works as much as proud Christian names and in the collections that I would like to assemble, there would figure a collection of Christian names just as if they were a collection of medallions, a collection of names of villages or regions (old engravings representing some ancient village, some antique view, some province forgotten in the area, and that was the true history, through the image, history surviving till now, more ancient than their signboards, signboards not only of the house or the street, but of all countries, more ancient, more curious, more instructive, more charming), a collection of ancient sonorities, that I will reunite from one period of time to another, exhibited in a room beside [...]



   All those people that I saw at the Guermates', I would want to know their complete genealogy going far back in time, because I was better able to picture for myself what really made M. de S. who he was if I knew the name of the family his mother belonged to, and in turn I was better able to picture the history of the family for myself if I knew that one of her daughters had married the father of M. de S. This created a double determination in me that was somewhat abstract and strange. But it was difficult to pin down the Guermantes on the subject of genealogies, because the Guermantes found the whole subject tiresome: "What interest could that possibly have for you?" Sometimes however chance presented to me some rather obscure name, and to which I was astonished to find that Montargis could be related, such as his being related to the mother of one of the Noailles or one of the La Rochefoucaulds. I understood that the gentleman with the name that I thought obscure could stand on an equal footing with the grandest names, because he had married one of their daughters, and the marriage of the other to Montargis' uncle then became quite natural. Thus between Montargis and the Noailles whose relations I did not know, the obscure gentleman created a relationship very close to cousinhood. Little by little the picture became more complete. Into the empty boxes there became visible, illustrious or obscure, familiar names whose respective relationships multiplied, family connections crossed and recrossed; the entire French nobility became like a carefully arranged painting or book in which there were no loose ends, nothing is left unknown, where everything fits together, where everything is in relation, in multiple reflections, where everything is explained, composed and in harmony.



   One one occasion Montargis drove me to an evening party at his house (Empire desk). The sight of the party was like a very rare and amusing illustration of an historic work of art in which every lady you see is in an ostentatious attitude, every gallant cavalier is not a person put there to be admired no matter what, but some little known but singular historical character, of whom no other portrait exists, that survives only in the curious plates in this beautiful work. In the same way this young man who was coming in behind me, who one never sees in society, was a surviving illustration, the last portrait of any likeness for an interesting and secondary episode from the Imperial era, the sole descendant of Neipperg and Marie-Louise, or the American Bonaparte. They were never seen in society, they had neither noble position or any charm whatsoever, but because of that even their historical flavour had not evaporated, one felt that they were like a specimen freshly cut from history, the chapter of Imperial history that they recalled surfacing in their persons. And the curious blue gemstones that the ravishing woman who was just coming in was wearing in her hair, were the ones given by the Emperor of Austria to her great-aunt Mme de Montesquiou in return for her consenting to abandon the King of Rome. A few elderly ladies bent over on themselves with old age, palsy, and the cold, who had been dazzling ballerinas at the Tuileries, now hardly noticed, no longer finding anybody who wanted to visit their homes, only invited on rare exceptions, made one think that social position may frequently be something no more fixed than is the face, it no longer concerned us. Since they had now been excluded from the high society in which they had shone, retroactively they seemed not to have played any part in it. Because the nature of a fine position is in the energy that allows it to be maintained. And as they no longer had it, as they looked from outside and from below upon the court in which they had been queens, the position that they had occupied there took on something completely artificial, a dream concocted by the caprices of fashionable women who through some error, or joke, had chosen them as if for an exhibition where they had slipped in without making an entrance, without making any impression, without making any effort, without exercising any self control. And in the midst of them I saw that, quite intimate with them, quite like them in the main, was my old friend Mme de Villeparisis. But all the same she was keeping a distance between those ladies and herself, because she said to me: "You find me among company who are neither very attractive, nor very talkative, nor very refined! Give me your arm, I am not enjoying myself here."
   One felt this worldly sovereignty that we thought inhabited them, to be interior to the majesty of their faces, they did not have, because they had not preserved it. They were not great ladies, because they had allowed themselves to no longer be so. That which circumstances are able to undo finds itself eliminated from us. We realize that it was exterior to us, that we have been witness to our own elegance, on the outside, by virtue of convention, as if in a role that has been arbitrarily assigned to us but that does not penetrate our essence. From the moment Brummel, ruined, in a small hotel in Caen, happened to pay for his dinner, retrospectively he had never been a prince of elegance. In reality he was not a prince of elegance, that was never in him. It is in nobody. Our reality itself does not allow it, because there are psychological elements within us that can outlive it.
   The kings are not kings.

From Cahier XXVIII, N.A.F. 16668, ff. 24-32.


Return to Front Page