Extracts from Miscellaneous Letters


[To Marcel Prévost, some time before October 1900]

9, Boulevard Malesherbes

Proust writes that if he had not been so ill,

"it would have been a great honour for me to go to pay my last respects to your mother. I am one of those people whose sympathy is immaterial to you, because, not having known her, I would have been unable to bring back anything of her to you. Please accept at least my deepest respects for her and my friendship for you."


[To Auguste Marguillier, c.1902. Marguillier had sent Proust a copy of his book about Albert Dürer.]

Proust thanks him for sending him this

"delightful album of all Dürer's masterpieces",

which is

"a beautiful and profound book, full of learning, understanding and vitality. The first three pages announce an intellect at one and the same time of both the highest capacity for artistic and historical criticism, criticism as Taine would have understood it. But it is less abstract, less a priori, it follows reality more faithfully, it interprets the works more gently and never constrains them. But without exposing a different and strange system with regard to the work, which would be far too easy, yet you know how to extract from the work all the philosophy and higher meaning that it contains."

Proust quotes the analysis of the celebrated Melancholy and an example of two engravings

"before and after restoration".

He is going to spend more pleasant hours with this book,

"because Dürer is one of the geniuses who attract me most and about whom I know the least. I could almost say that what I know about him is nothing and what I would like to know about him is everything."


[To an unidentified female correspondent]

Proust writes in a hurry (about writing style),

"in a moment when I only have 2 minutes. The phrase is that there is even something quite nice about him, he has a quite nice side, etc. a way of expressing things in which one counts for nothing etc. So the two faults were forgetting the 'there' (what there is even) and forgetting the 'one' before which 'where' was not very euphonic. 'In which' is better. The 'and' which precedes it is unnecessary (a way etc. in which one takes into account).
Your respectful and profoundly grateful,

Marcel Proust.

In great haste. Sorry!"


[To Lucien Daudet]

[end of December 1903]

"Dear Lucien

What madness, or rather what an ado. In any case it was stupid of me, had I known that you would be leaving the Empress's so late I would not have had you telephoned. It was because I was longing to see you etc. - all too complicated to explain by letter. Weary of seeing me choking, Mamma returned shortly after you because she wanted to see you, to thank you as she is so filled with gratitude and your little letter about the cemetery moved her infinitely. She left shortly after you, two minutes later I went to rejoin her shortly after you and I met her coming back, bringing up the paper. In the end all this makes me wretched because of the remorse you make me feel through my sadism for having let you come for nothing when you don't like to do so twice running. So I don't know what to think. Don't come again in the evenings after the Continentale because I now go to bed at half past eleven or eleven o'clock (apart from this evening because of having my clothes dried, hair cut etc.). As for tomorrow at six o'clock, if my attacks have passed, in all probability you will find me only I fear that Ullman or Peter vaguely expect you, and as I spent a long time with Albu yesterday and today I don't think he will come tomorrow, and I think that of all my real friends he is the only one who doesn't irritate you. You who are so kind to me say that in the timeless existence I lead I let the 16th of December pass by without noticing. But it seems to me as though time has stood still since the day they brought Papa back home. My thoughts are permanently fixed, except in the moments when I see you and I try to speak to you a little about it all, about two or three things which I found out all about, I don't really know the length of time or the number of days afterwards. Forgive me. Madame Lemaire came this evening and was asking about you a great deal. I would so like to write to you at length but it is so late. If I hadn't all these absurd letters to write I should really like to write you a proper letter where you can say the things that you can't say face to face."


[To Dr Ladislas Landowski] (Mme Proust's doctor)


45, rue de Courcelles 
[after 26 May 1904] 

"Dear Sir,

I never stop thinking about you with infinite sadness since you have suffered such misfortune... All those who have no recollection of your sister must seem as strangers to you now. And yet I who knew her so little think about her often. With her wonderful grace it seemed as though one could divine from it all of her intelligence, all of her spirit... I can no longer think about you other than with great sadness, with a feeling of outrage, that such an élite being as yourself who has never done anything but good and spared those around him from suffering, should be afflicted in this awful way. Believe me, my dear sir, that I have never stopped thinking about you since that dreadful day and that your pain will find a profound echo in my own heart. I cannot separate you from my thoughts about those I love..."


[To his mother]

[Monday evening 19 June 1905]

"My dear little Mama,

I managed marvellously in the evening, the heat having completely cured me. Then I caught a bit of a chill in Papa's study searching for a Molière but that came on again, when I had to spend a few moments in the kitchen where the window had been left wide open. The night was cool, which brought on my cough etc. I had to have a fire made up, the coffee remade etc. The coffee was so strong and I had so much of it that I am worried about being rabid in my bed tomorrow, as you put it. In spite of all that, in spite of my desire to profit from the time to go out I doubt I will go after lunchtime to that concert..."

He goes on to describe a visit by Robert de Billy, Louis d'Albufera and Georges de Lauris

"...who only stayed an hour in the morning."

He ends with a brief allusion to the resignation of Delcasse as minister for foreign affairs and takes his leave of his mother with Billy's fears of

"...being dismissed by Rouvier."


[To Elisabeth Marquise de Clermont-Tonnerre]

[after 25 July 1905]

"...But an unknown person is not necessarily an indifferent person. And if I allow myself today to come and disturb your grief it is simply to tell you that I associate myself with it in the deepest reaches of my heart..."



[To Marcel Ballot, literary critic of Le Figaro. Unpublished (?) letter.]

102, boulevard Haussmann
Tuesday [28 June 1910]

Proust is happy and proud of the way Ballot has quoted him in his article in La Vie Littéraire about insomnia (27 June, dedicated to À la manière de... by Reboux and Muller).

"I have put the newspaper to one side so that I can read your article undisturbed. I had no doubt that it was keeping aside for me a deep personal pleasure, apart from the disinterested joy that I always enjoy in it."

Neither Calmette nor Beaunier had spoken to him about this surprise for which he was thanking Ballot.

"The only sadness is to think how pleased my poor parents would have been. But that is a sadness which accompanies all my joys. [...] The anxiety to please you and the grief at the feeling that I displeased you have always been very great with me. But the ardour of the second sentiment has always prevented me from proving to you any of the first. I know perfectly well that if my name has come out of your pen like that of a censer-bearer of a type of literature that you do not like, that is not to say that you would rank me, even at an infinite distance from them, in the same sphere of minds as Barrès or Madame de Noailles. That would be too nice. But in the end my name quoted by you and similarly in the same 'progression' where theirs shine, has given me a pleasure which, however naively, I wanted to express to you..."


[To Mme Catusse, circa 1910, after receiving from her a gift of a hand-coloured photograph of Laon cathedral.]

"What a delightful idea, Madame, to have wanted to conserve that precious attenuated and re-coloured light where the naves dwell. It is more the photograph of an illumination than of a statue that you have given me; or rather of a statue in its luminous ambience. It is something rare and exquisite, a work of art after a work of art, which besides would not astonish the artist..."

In the postscript Proust refers to his "terrible fatigue and difficulty writing".

[To Elisabeth Marquise de Clermont-Tonnerre]

[after 27 June 1920]

"...I am always in bed... We are in rivalry over asparagus because I too described them (less well and with less rigidity) in Du côtes de chez Swann..."

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