Correspondence with Monsieur Émile Straus
Friday [29 October 1915.]
A thousand thanks for having taken the trouble to write me such a nice letter. It gave me much pleasure by providing me with some good news about Madame Straus, but it tears me apart in my deepest most fundamental feelings by saying that she has been so ill for two months. I think that the war, even climacterically, by the simultaneous overthrow of the physical and moral climate, has been detestable for all sensitive people. But I think that their troubles, as painful as they are for them and so cruel for those around them, are not lasting, at least not as much as acute and serious troubles. And luckily I think that with Mme Straus the only troubles there are nervous and functional ones. However you are well aware of how ill she has been over the last ten years. I don't want to annoy you with telephone calls since she is relatively well at the moment, or at least I won't have you called other than when I am feeling sad about having no news about her, when I feel like an exile in a very distant country. In any case I no longer have a telephone since my ruin, I send my housekeeper to telephone you from a café or from the post-office. You fully understand that in my grief over Hervieu's death1 I thought of you immediately. But I didn't know whether you had told Mme Straus about it; I was sure that she would know, even if only through the papers. But I preferred to remain prudent and not risk delivering her a blow which could be so dangerous to such a delicate sensibility which would feel the pain of it for so long, because she is unfortunately not one of those people for whom the poem which she loves was written: "The dead no not endure long". But I commiserate with both of you so much over the loss of a friend like Hervieu; I have no words to express the incessant and infinite compassion which Mme de Pierrebourg inspires in me. Please share with Mme Straus my great respect and grateful affection.
1. Paul Hervieu died on Monday 25 October 1915.
You would be doing me an enormous favour if you could tell me whether, in your opinion, this contract legally prevents me (with the risk of lawsuits etc.) from publishing my second volume with another publisher. In actual fact it concerns the second and third volumes because in the meantime we have settled with Grasset that the work will be in three volumes rather than two, but we haven't mentioned this in the contract which was already drawn up and I don't want to take advantage of this modification. Since then I have had some very good offers from other publishers for my second and third volumes but I haven't even considered them, not wishing to leave Grasset purely out of self interest. Only, since then, on one hand I get the impression that it would be behaving badly on my part, but on the other hand André Gide and his friends are making urgent efforts to publish my second and third volumes at the same time as some things by Claudel etc., which from a literary point of view would please me very much. I have refused their offer of paying the costs of publication and even of offering money to Grasset, in order to demonstrate clearly that I am not leaving Grasset, and wanting to do the right thing on the contrary I wish to cover the expense of publication by Gide's people (despite his protestations). Quite simply, do I have the right? (the right to leave Grasset). I ask you this (and in total confidence since I still haven't spoken to Grasset about it). Don't take the trouble of writing to me. Simply tell one of your servants to telephone me in the next few days: "M. Proust has the right" or else "M. Proust risks having to pay damages". And if that is too much trouble don't reply at all. Would you thank Mme Straus for her delightful letter? I hope to go to see her any day now. And that we will have to exchange "views" about Mme Estradère's appearance on the scene. There are names from our past which have ended up by becoming magnetic. They draw after them like iron filings a thousand inseparable and attractive memories. I saw Roye Danguillécourt again, poor Mme Lipmann. Goodbye my dear sir and please accept my grateful respect and my closely bound attachment.
[Tuesday, November 1918.1]
I am heartbroken that Mme Straus is unwell again. I hope that you don't imitate her, your concierge said that you were in "very good spirits". But I confess that your good health is not enough for me and to know that Mme Straus is not well is a great sorrow for me. She wrote me a delightful and high-spirited letter. My only remorse is that she tired herself by it. - As for M. Sibilat, Mme Straus wrote me, no doubt inadvertently, that he was living at 31, rue de la Bourse. I sent a pneumatique on Tuesday or Wednesday to M. Sibilat 31, rue de la Bourse. I can't vouch for the day the pneumatique was sent. In any case what I can say is that I asked him to agree to set off on Saturday at 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon for the visit to see my monstrosities in the jumble, in the dust-covered furniture store which my dining room has become. I told him that no doubt I would be in no fit state to see the person who comes myself but that Céleste would do it perfectly well on my behalf. It is because I am always fearing beforehand that I won't be able to get up that I said that. But for three hours I was "under siege". Do you have any means of asking M. Sibilat to make the same visit tomorrow, Wednesday, setting off at 4 o'clock? I am too ill to have any hope of being up myself, but will be sufficiently rested after my sleep today that I don't expect too great an attack during the disturbance in the dining room which would be very painful to me if it came at the same time. So tomorrow Wednesday would be very good ... for me! But that doesn't necessarily mean that it would be a convenient day for my visitor to look at my wardrobes etc. ... Because I am supposing that I will be well tomorrow, I am sure to be bad on Thursday. We could always put it off until Saturday. I asked M. Sibilat if he would please make sure that the visitor doesn't make any verbal valuations on the pieces and the furniture. I shall explain why. In any case it is all very ugly. But the quantity makes up for the quality. Then again certain materials such as leather (I think there are about twenty leather chairs in excellent condition), crystal, could have risen in value, could be worth more for the materials themselves. I will leave you now, dear sir, my pen is dropping from my hand with tiredness. I'll repeat to you my grief that Mme Straus is unwell, my joy over your recovery, my passionate desire that she is not long in emulating you, and to both of you my profound and grateful respects and fervent affection.
Céleste, who is bringing this letter and who will be showing the visitor round tomorrow, if he comes, could quite easily go on after leaving your house to pass on a note from you to M. Sibilat or even speak to him on your behalf if it is too much trouble for you to write.
1. Follows letter CXI addressed to Mme Straus.
You must think me very ungrateful not to have thanked you sooner. But I have been through days of such terrible health that to have written a letter would have been very difficult for me. Besides what will prove to you that with me gratitude comes before my own interests is that I am writing to you and I still haven't written to the depositor. I was also dumbstruck with emotion by your letter, because I had thought, for some weeks, that you would not be concerned with it. Also I had requested Walter Berry to have my declaration accepted by the Ministry, even though the extension was passed, and it was paid off. So what a pleasant surprise to receive your letter after all that! Pleasant had it not informed me that Mme Straus's and your health is less than blooming. More than anything I feel that Mme Straus has not been well all this time and that causes me endless pain. I don't telephone you because I know that it irritates you and tires you both, and that Mme Straus's condition doesn't change from one hour to the next. But be assured that I think about it all the time and that a full recovery which I believe is close at hand (this damp coldness which must be detestable for her will soon be over) will give me the greatest of pleasure. I know that it is not worth trying to come to see you (which I would truly love to do) because that would be intolerable for both of you and I know how tiring for you after dinner visits are. If I could go out one day I would come rushing to you. Even in the evenings I don't get up once in a fortnight at the moment. The day before yesterday I was invited to a grand dinner party with the queen of Romania, the same yesterday, today with my friends the Murats and the Gramonts, and in spite of the fact that I had spent a week in bed beforehand I didn't go to any of them. I am not telling you these things out of any idiotic vanity about being invited there where there would be only fools, but to give you an idea of my life. Unfortunately people believe it to be quite different. Recently your friend princesse L. Murat came at eleven o'clock at night to see me and to "congratulate" me (!) on my preface to Jacques Blanche's book (which is delightful). (Do you have it? if not I'll send you it.) I had her be told that I had gone out so as not to have to say that I was in bed. So princesse Murat replied to Céleste that it didn't surprise her at all because she knew that I was going out all the time at the moment!! (I think that in the last month I have only gone out on one single occasion to go to Mme Hennessy's house. Even then I couldn't go until after the dinner which was being given for me.) I don't know whether I have told you in my letters how perfectly Guiche (with regard to whom you are mistaken) has acted on my behalf during my house moving, arguing with business men who he saw for me, as I was unable to go myself. I enjoy mentioning it and as I am losing my memory a little and don't know whether or not I have told you, I prefer to run the risk of telling you twice rather than not at all, because it is pleasant to publicize good deeds of which one has been the object. It was also very pleasant for me that by an extraordinary accident (because I had no idea at that time that the house was going to be sold and that I would have to request his services) as he is genuinely a man of science and a bearer of a Louis XIV name, I had written about him in my Affaire Lemoine de Saint-Simon pastiche in highly eulogistic terms. It gives me a double pleasure now to have done that. The pastiches are due to appear in a few weeks' time along with the second volume of Swann and I will send you them both. But as for the Pastiches, as you will see in the book where I announce it, the Saint-Simon one will have a sequel. The volume which is about to appear only contains a very small section about Mme Straus, which I showed to her. As for what I will say about her in the next volume of Pastiches (which will no doubt appear with the third volume of Swann) I will send her the, much longer, piece about her, because I did it for her. If by any chance you happen to see Hermant you would be doing me a great favour if you tell him from me that I was very upset to discover (but is it really true?) that Jacques Blanche once did a portrait of him. I knew absolutely nothing about it. That irritates me so much because in my preface I cite various writers who have become well-known and who's portraits were painted by Blanche before they were famous. So as I admire Hermant more than anybody I would have spoken about him more than any of the others. But I had no idea that a portrait of him by Blanche even existed. This omission is a great irritation to me. It would give me great pleasure if you could tell him this. Please pass on, dear sir, my very kind regards to Jacques and place at the feet of Mme Straus my great respects and ardent affection and share them, along with my gratitude, with her.
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