A Grandmother

   There are people who live but lack, so to speak, the necessary strength, just as there are people who sing but do not have a voice. These are the most interesting; they have replaced the qualities they lack with intelligence and feeling. The grandmother of our dear collaborator and friend Robert de Flers, Mme de Rozière, who is to be buried today at Malzieu, was possessed of intelligence and feeling alone. Consumed with that perpetual anxiety which is the mark of a great life-long love (her love for her grandson), how could she be in good health! But she had that particular state of health of superior beings who do not benefit from good health but which we call vitality. So frail, so slight, she always came through the most terrible bouts of illness, and just when we thought she would sink down, we would see her rise quickly to the surface, following closely behind the craft which was leading her grandson to fame and fortune, not so that he would shower it upon her, but to see that he lacked for nothing, whether he still had need of a little of his grandmother's attention, and in her heart she truly hoped he did. Truly it took the power of death to separate them!
   I who have witnessed a grandmother's tears - the tears of a young girl - each time that Robert de Flers set off on a voyage alone, it was not without some anxiety for her that I thought how one day Robert would marry. She often said that she wanted him to marry but I believe she said it above all to accustom herself to the idea. Deep down, she was much more fearful of the fatal imminence of his marriage than her dread of his going off to college or leaving to join the army. And God alone knows - because people are courageous when they are loving - what she had suffered on both of those occasions! Shall I say it? Her love for her grandson did not seem to me to be bound, when Robert came to be married, to become a source of sadness for her alone: I was thinking about the woman who was to become her grand-daughter... Jealous love is not always kind to those with whom we have to share... The woman who married Robert de Flers accomplished with divine simplicity the miracle of making of this much dreaded marriage a period of pure happiness for Mme de Rozière, for herself and for Robert de Flers. All three of them were neither separated nor quarrelled for a single day. Mme de Rozière rightly said that out of discretion she would not continue to live with them and would go and live on her own, but I do not believe that either she, Robert, nor anybody else could seriously believe that such a thing was possible. The only way she could have been taken away was in a coffin.
   Another thing had occurred to me that would not pass off without grave difficulties, which, thanks to the understanding and kind-heartedness of Gaston de Caillavet, and of his wife, passed off most easily and happily for all concerned. At one particular time Robert had a collaborator. A collaborator! Really, what need did he, her grandson, have of a collaborator, he who had more talent alone than all the writers who had ever walked the earth? In any case it is of no importance; it is quite certain that of all the works written in collaboration everything good would be Robert's, and if by any chance some parts are less good they will by the other one, the presumptuous one... Well! nothing was "less good" and in any case she will declare that it was not all by Robert. I would not go as far as to say that in the unceasing triumphs that have marked this collaboration she would consider that all the glory should come to Caillavet, but he would have been the first to disavow it. And in their harmonious success, she shared those different gifts that were able to bring them together wonderfully. You must know that above everything else she was marvellously intelligent and it is that that makes it more just. That is why without doubt intelligence, which is such a great source of misfortune, appears to us all the same as so beneficent and so noble: we very much feel that it is intelligence alone that can honour and serve Justice. "They are two powerful gods."
   She did not leave her bed or her bedroom any more than did Joubert, or Descartes, or other people who considered it necessary to their health to spend a lot of time in bed without having for all that the delicacy of mind of the one or the strength of mind of the other. It is not for Mme de Rozière that I say this. Chateaubriand said of Joubert that he was constantly lying down with his eyes shut, but that that was when he was most troubled and got most tired. For the same reason Pascal, on this point, could never follow the advice that Descartes lavished upon him. So it is with many invalids to whom we recommend silence, but - like the young woman to Mme de Sevigné's grand-daughter - their thoughts "are noisy to them". She made herself such a difficult patient that she might have done better simply to take the more complicated wager of being healthy. But that was beyond her strength. In her final years her ravishing eyes, which had the colour of hyacinth, reflecting more and more what was taking place within, ceased to show her what was happening around her: she had become almost blind. At least that is what she said. But I myself know perfectly well that if Robert ever showed the slightest sign of illness, she was always the first to notice! And as she had no wish to see anything beyond him, she was happy. She never loved anything, to use Malbranche's phrase, except through him. He was her god.
   She had always been indulgent to his friends, but also severe, because she never thought them worthy of him. There was no one she was more indulgent towards than me. She had a way of saying to me: "Robert loves you like a brother", which at the same time meant: "You do not do wrong seeking to deserve it", and "all the same you only deserve it a very little". She extended her blindness towards everything that concerned me to the extent of being able to discern some talent in me. No doubt she told herself that anybody who spent so much time with her grandson could not help but pick up a little from him.
   Such a perfect love as united Robert de Flers and his grandmother could never die. Indeed! two beings so entirely correspondent that nothing that existed in one could not be found in the other, their raison d'être, their purpose, their satisfaction, their meaning, their tender remarks, two beings who seemed to be the translation one of the other, even though each was a true original, these two beings who only came together for a moment, by chance, in the infinity of time, how could they no longer mean anything to each other, nothing more special than they are to countless millions of others? Must we really think so? All the letters that constitute that spiritual and passionate book that was Mme de Rozière, have they become replaced with meaningless characters, that no longer form one single word? Those like me who have too quickly made a habit of loving to read both books and hearts can never fully believe that...
   I wanted to say to her on behalf of Robert de Flers' friends - who were friends of hers too - what I could not call a last farewell, because I feel that I will say many more to her yet, and then again, to be sure, we never truly say farewell to those we have loved, because they never leave us completely.
   Nothing lasts, not even death! Mme de Rozière is no longer on this earth, and already she is beginning to speak vividly to me so that I am unable to prevent myself from talking of her. And if you find me doing so with a smile, you will find it hard to believe that I have never for a second felt the need to weep. Nobody could better understand that than Robert. He would do the same as me. He knows that we never think of those whom we have most loved, at the times we are most sorrowful, without fervently addressing the most affectionate smile we are capable of in their direction. Do we do this in order to mislead them, to reassure them, to tell them that they need not worry and that we will be brave, to make them believe that we are not unhappy? Or is it, rather, that this smile is the physical expression of the countless kisses that we give them in the Invisible?

Article appeared in Le Figaro, 23 July 1907.

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