Letters to La Comtesse de Noailles

XIII (1904)

   Madame, if it doesn't tire you too much, read this letter, it is more precise than the first one.


   I couldn't make out what you find pretty in my letter, but I am embarrassed by your reply. You must permit me to say a word or two to you to rectify my letter of yesterday. After thinking about it again and rereading that admirable ending, I have realised that I had misunderstood Mme Bulteau's view of the abbess the first time.1 The abbess is perhaps the most beautiful part, and the abbess's sacrifice ... Also, with the beautiful reasons which she gives for not leaving, one could think that you have not given in to the desire to cause yourself grief and have given it to us. And one feels with the passing months the sadness withdrawing. (Cf. the first sadness in Nouvelle Espérance). If I ask myself which is the most beautiful part of all, I think that it is this: "I see the universe blue, yellow and violet". It is not that many phrases, for example the incredible one about begonias in October "fresh and frosty as the sound of the angelus at dawn", or the one about the sad mouths of Spanish clocks (I mention that one particularly because I don't think I spoke of it to you yesterday), it is not that many phrases are not more beautiful. But "I see life blue, yellow and violet" seems to me to be the central phrase, the "central illumination" of the whole book. I want to say that it is the most extraordinary, the most lovely in this book (probably one that strikes you less because it comes most directly from your own self with no intervention from your reason or will), it is not composed of parts, it is one, bathed in the same atmosphere where colours arrange themselves one against the other, like on a spring morning seen from a dining room with multi-coloured glasses and the blind half drawn, where the "springs of air" which course through the garden enter the parlour bathed in heat and sunshine. This inspired truth of colour makes you the greatest of impressionists, and your boldnesses subdued by the harmony of the whole are unheard of (I bring to mind the blue wind, the pink avenue, the wood which shuts out the sun etc). Everything communicates and blends, and the staircase steps are only there to allow this tranquility to rise and descend. The light of the silver moon, also Julien, the little wall and the camellia. There is nothing that is "introduced" in this book, everything in it is bathed in an enchanted atmosphere which immediately bathes the first word and still envelops the last. There is no tone which should be changed, not a word which could be taken away without making all this vitality shout out and immediately lose all its fragmented reflexions, such as when one closes a shop window against the sun, on a square. But this multi-coloured unity of hue is merely the material symbol of this extraordinary quality which this book has, which only truly marvellous books have, and which is so incomprehensible, so astonishing in that it is the primordial quality, that which assures permanence and reveals genius. Because if one searches for what it is that gives absolute beauty to certain things, La Fontaine's fables, the comedies of Molière, one sees that it is not profundity, or one specific virtue which seems so important. No, it is a kind of blending, of transparent unity, where all things, losing their initial appearance, become arranged one against another in a kind of order, pierced through by the same light, seen one inside the other, without one single being word left out, which remains as if a refractory to this assimilation (I feel that I am incomprehensible myself by saying this so badly, but this idea comes to me for the first time and I don't know how to explain it). I suppose it is what one might call the Gloss of the Masters and it is this which Visage Emerveillé possesses to an unheard of degree and with a dazzling freshness of colour! What is it that you are able to do that makes me find the stigmata infinitely profound and droll and even more droll the irritating humility of the sister who expects humility in others and then invites you to eat chicken? How marvellous that this transposition in the religious life (and which in short incorporates the most delicious and very favourable interpretation) these most original features of Mme de Noailles and Bittô, and which make the nun into a pagan coquette, and a great poet of nature.2 I find a wonderful originality in the character of the abbess and the friendship between sister Sainte-Sophie and the abbess. When it comes down to it, it is unjust to relish mildness only in harsh beings and to not be sensitive to the affection of those who love us, but it is an injustice which is so much my own that I secretly cherish it, I who never have friendships, but pacts with thieves. But, Madame, if pride is a great quality, then does not courage become a great virtue? And why is it that today it is the humble who are courageous and the proud who are cowardly? The most impressive phrase is "that you become beautiful to unmoving hearts, for the hedge, for the little slope, for the sunflower which is in the gatekeeper's garden ...".

   Goodbye, Madame, be assured of my respectful admiration of your genius (Balzac never said admiration for your genius but of your genius).

Marcel Proust

I am drunk on "your disdains, your refusals"3. "Who is this poet?4 I suggest5 an edition of Visage Emerveillé for station bookstalls entitled: Champlâtreux, five minutes stop."

1. Mme Bulteau, to whom I was presented at the age of seventeen, had, according to her close circle of friends, a great influence on my mind. The moment she saw me, knowing that I had composed some verse, she decided that my poems should be published. It was she who submitted them to M. Georges Calmann-Lévy. Thus Le Coeur Innombrable was published. Mme Bulteau has held in my life, and in those of my sister and friends, such an important place that I would not know how to explain briefly here the dominion which she holds, this woman of domineering genius, yet infinitely generous and sensitive.

2. Bittô, Le Coeur Innombrable.

3.Proust is quoting from a verse in Visage Emerveillé that Mme de Noailles attributes in the subsequent note to Jean Passerat (1534-1602).
L'enfer sera pour vous, et la peine et les feux
Punirent justement vos dédains, vos reffeus,
Le Ciel vous dardera les traitz de sa vengeance,
Vous péchez contre un Dieu qui pourroit sans torment
Vous donner du plaisir et du contentement
Au Paradis d'Amour qu'on nomme Jouissance.

Reffeus is a Mediaeval French usage meaning arrière-fief or an inferior area of land belonging to a land owner who "refuses" access. (Trans)

4. Jean Passerat, disciple of Ronsard.

5. Marcel Proust knew from me that the charming chapel in the park of Champlâtreux had inspired some of my descriptions of the little convent, for which the religious hostel of Evian and a cloister on the outskirts of Pau also served as models.

XVII (1904)



   How amusing this character that you have created is (like France's Putois) 1: the Marquise d'Arpajon 2 - Allow me to point out that there is a question of principle here: in order to sacrifice less of ourselves in one's work than over one's friends (without doubt that is to say over the works of one's friends) the works "of friends" ought to be more enduring than the works of "loved ones". Nobody reads The Legend of Centuries but everyone remembers the commentary from Nettement. What good fortune that Hippolyte Lucas becomes immortal in order that Baudelaire does not perish. The Marquise d'Arpajon's argument is the opposite of:

I give you these verses in order that if my name
Embarks happily at distant ages,
And one evening brings dreams to the human mind,
The favoured vessel of a great aquiline,
Your memory, like unreliable stories,
Tires the reader like a dulcimer,
And by a brotherly and mystical link,
Remains suspended over my haughty rhymes.

   In spite of my excessive tiredness, I can't help myself from writing out one verse more, then another one, from this marvellous piece so that in the end I've copied out the whole thing. Moréas finds ... Actually, I do not want to bring up the subject of Moréas, about whom you probably do not feel the same as I, who do not admire him much (maybe a little, but not enormously, very little actually).

   Goodbye, Madame, please accept my respectful admiration,

Marcel Proust.

1. Let us remember, even though it seems unnecessary, that Anatole France, in creating the imaginary character of Putois, wanted to stress the power of the world and the credulousness by which he is duped.

2. A newly written piece by me which only appeared in an English language newspaper.

XX (1905)


   I thank you with all my heart (do not come) I shall write to you tomorrow. This evening my head aches too much. I have gone into certain rooms which through chance I had not revisited, and I have explored unknown areas of my grief, which spreads ever more widely as I go further into it. There are certain floorboards close to mama's room which I cannot cross without making them creak, and as soon as mama heard me she would make a tiny noise with her mouth which meant: come and kiss me. It looks like I should leave this place which is now so sad because it used to be so happy and which forms a part of my heart. I shall write to you tomorrow or the day after and I will be so sad that you will truly understand what suffering is! If M. de Noailles could write me something on the respective worth of Sollier and Dubois and the comfort of their amenities he would be doing me a great service! Do you know if M. Sollier would consent to oversee my stay? But do not ask him because I am already engaged with lots of others! The ideal doctor to my mind would be always stooping, like the one in Rheims cathedral, over a vial of ... 1 and certainly not Vaschide.2

Marcel Proust.

1. Indecipherable word. (Actually the word is "urine" which Anna de N. chose to suppress. - Trans.)

2. Dr Vaschide, of Rumanian nationality, spirit overflowing with gifts; student of professor Pierre Marie.

It was Vaschide who gave me an account of the moving spectacle of Nietzsche in a clinic in Iéna, where this great lyrical dreamer was a prey to mental illness, shrouded in supreme nobility and gentleness; he made himself read pages of French literature, while his gaze like that of a dumbfounded eagle rested on the rustic horizon.

Vaschide wrote a volume about dreams which received interesting commentaries before the theories of Freud appeared. With a boundless generosity of spirit, he rapidly exhausted himself through over work sacrificing his vigorous health. He died at the age of thirty three, true to a prediction made to me five years previously by Mme Fraya, a friend of his whose clairvoyant powers enthralled him. Confident of overcoming people's incredulity, he did not hesitate in bringing Mme Fraya into hospital, to the bedside of the sick, and he looked to her for a diagnosis using her surprising inspiration.

XXI (1905)

Night of Saturday to Sunday


   I received your book this very evening, I received it like the Husband "who rises from the desert, like a column of smoke in the shape of a palm, perfumed with myrrh, of sweet smelling cane and fragrant powders" (Cantique des Cantiques). I received it and I have not yet left it. Your dizzying development astonishes me. The prodigious leap between Visage Emerveillé and this one is such that from here Visage Emerveillé and Nouvelle Espérance seem each as high as the other and yet Visage Emerveillé was itself very high. But still only a marvellous perfect cell. And now these cells have multiplied to millions, a world; Coeur Innombrable is answered by an innumerable talent, a power such as has never before been seen; most certainly you too, all your incandescent books, you will be immortal, having thus penetrated, reversed life and death, played with their secrets which are inferior to those of your genius. Cruel power! Calm for many years, what sufferings of reading will it not now give me and for how many years! I am still too totally shattered by the agony of Elisabeth1 to write to you about all that. I don't believe I shall ever leaves Bruges, once strong and golden, now a mute, meditative shrine, hospice of peace and gold "autumn where the brisk air does not push itself forward only the shadows". I remain there, I feel that I do not have the strength to carry on further. What's the use? You yourself, what could you ever write which is so beautiful? Now, by sorrowful and sublime paths, to the heights to which you have led me I am reminded of affliction and I am obliged to turn back the pages, each page disturbing my heart, to rediscover the words themselves. I have reached other stopping places which I thought I could never leave, after detaching myself from those hearts "dedicated to St Godeliève, St Valère to St Odilon". I thought I should stop for ever in ecstasy before "the immense square of rock, immobile Victoire", then before "rounded and hallowed gold, the golden cells of Saint-Marc and the porcelain Alps". Sometimes it was over an astonishing adjective which I hung suspended, such as "the favoured place". But cruelly you have made me give up nature for life. What a book! Perhaps its most beautiful sweep, which will reveal itself to me more fully one day, I mean to say that of the soul of Antoine, who from the disdainful and insolent love for the first young woman (in actual fact the third after Mme. Maille and Corinne, I mean to say she who is not called the Venus of Ypres) who admits that she finds it painful to talk about herself, approaches that love for Elisabeth which infinitely exceeds his love for her, which nevertheless like Mme. de Rénal causes him to die three days after her. There without doubt is an immense grandeur, and it is perhaps the greatest piece of literary beauty I know. Antoine separated from her, that proud figure who understands sadness, for another, and wishes for death, becomes human, becomes very great. But if that is an immense arch, the circle rising back from the heart, yet the abysses into which you continually feign to send us hurtling "into the azure, into the dazzlements"; what a wicked, outrageous book! When I saw the countess of Albi's shutters closed I believed that she was dead. And like Antoine over Elisabeth I was rather pleased about it. And who does not wish constantly for death in this book in order to avoid having to experience such suffering, so in that way your cruelty is greater than those of life, because it combines a sadness unknown in nature which is yours alone, inflicted without respite. Only the atrocious Emilie does not make me despair and I hold that she does suffer. She is perhaps the most admirable character in the book, this maid who makes herself precious by her listlessness, that we must hold her like an evanescent Esther, care for her like a Hébé who is allowed to fall from the nest of the gods. The most marvellous place in the book is undoubtedly the garden of Eaden (Eden?) that day where azure is in the air like a garden of blue roses. But, Madame, you who certainly know the princess of Polignac, Mme. Bulteau, I don't know who else, those beautiful followers of yours, how do you dare to never see them? Think how they read these phrases about their dresses, which they have been given, and how they think they are being scorned by you! And the commoners who dine with you you place after Turenne. Madame, in order to be able to think this, I realize quite well that I am already coming back, that I am once more descending step by step the golden sparkling staircase, but to what dizzy heights you have elevated me again. This is a great day. For all of us. Above all for language. At a certain point I had feared that you would not be able to write any more, forging words for the cravings of the ineffable. On the same subject, after reading an article (containing two sublime things) about Mme. Bulteau, I wanted to write to you but I did not dare. God is God. But now you have made a final leap and you have touched not the unknown but the absolute. A more eternal style becomes more personal. Absolute certainty through extreme audacity. A style which, in your own words, promises more than beauty. What? Life and death? An anxiety worse than either. And which, I confess, prevents me from savouring beauty at the moment. How to find enjoyment in the world, when one sees it in a wounded flight, like on a fine morning, when one starts to realize that one has been deceived, that the being whom one loves is going to die. All that is too sorrowful and I want to divert myself with your books if the open wound from the divine arrow is curable. Remove life when there is nothing but life. Sublime words written by you yourself. I return them against you. Goodbye, Madame. Goodbye? For so long I would have loved to have seen you again. And such worry that you do not care at all. And your sister even less. But detested by the charming husband, who has such just and legitimate influence, hated by Mme Bulteau, how do you even come to send me your book? I shall not thank you further, with great respect

Marcel Proust.

1. Heroine of La Domination.

XXII (1905)

Sunday evening


   You know very well that what Antoine1 feels when he is invited to that great writer's, old Corrinne, cannot give you any idea of my emotion. When I think that it is you, who have reached the most exalted position in the understanding of the mentality of the species, who wrote me that. Not that I believe you think that for a second. I know that it is a part of your nature to wish to give goodness to feelings and intellect, and more especially that it uses up still more of your strength to be sparing with it during the churching of your fertile thought. But it is even more beautiful that way; because it is this gift of knowing what can touch everyone's heart which is the element, the pure substance which is the basis of your genius. And the wish to be so good, to create goodness is the door through which you reach all our hearts, all universes. (I do not say how you win hearts, naturally! but how intellectually you penetrate their secrets, it is first of all necessary that you are them, and you can only be that through sympathy, which as Schopenhauer says, breaks down artificial barriers which exist between individuals and creates unity in the world). I do not hear anybody saying this, but there are three or four representative examples, as we discern the immense feeling produced by la Domination, and as we appreciate the distance separating this book from its predecessors, which we do not betray for all that. "How I shall love everything in the things you create".

   And I think that La Domination will even feel fraternity between itself and its brothers Nouvelle Espérance and Visage Emerveillé and will not be like Victor Hugo's cedar:

A cedar does not feel a rose at its roots.

   A cedar! How often Victor Hugo's verse is mistaken! Does not the cedar only exist in the admirable phrase in La Domination? Perhaps the most beautiful in the book. In short the judgement of M. Rageot appears to be to be perfectly just. Except maybe his Barrèsist analysis. To me nothing could be more wrong. I think it is a lack of perspicacity in his critical spirit. He feels quire rightly that there is some of Barrès there; but through not knowing well enough how to analyse it, he does not take account of the fact that it is not in the writing of la Domination that there is something of Barrès, but in the principal characters, yes, I believe that certain aspects of Antoine's pride and boredom, and of his scornful disdain for the soul of his first mistress (the one from Bruges) and yet of the latent force through which he gives way to an immense affection for the great soul of Elisabeth, these are things which you have been able (if nothing else) to see in M. Barrès' work. But Barrèsist analysis in the book I do not see. And yet I do see things in it which could be Barrèsist. And if that is so, you must not give in to it2 and if on the other hand that is within you, and on your own terms, do not resist it. It is the abrupt change from present to indicative, where one would usually use the imperfect and the perfect. "Now Elisabeth feels that ...., etc." It is even unthinkable to consider at which point your admirable Venice differs from his admirable Venice, and your admirable Bruges from his admirable Bruges, when the image that he has given to these two towns is so particular that it has seemed to govern literary sensibility for so long. And will govern them indeed, barring this exception and the miracle of this view of genius which has now intervened. Regarding your Bruges, I think that Huysmanns said in La Cathédrale (and I have felt this myself) that at Chartres there is such a wind in the streets that one is swept to the church (don't worry, what he said has no relation to what you say). So then we ask ourselves if piety would not exist other than in the towns where there is no traffic in the streets and where one is blown by force into the naves where the air is soft and warm, without breeze, where one can breathe, put one's hat back on properly, get your breath back whilst on your knees. I don't need to tell you that I believe nothing of that and that you who have felt such harshness, but also efficacy in cathedrals of which you have spoken better than it doesn't matter who (like about everything in the world you have never spoken like anybody else). You know that piety has a higher source such as its "mystic trials" and that we must at least look at "the moonlight in the rose windows".

   Madame, it is so sweet to play with all these words from your books, which are now the sacred alphabet of all thought, that I could write to you for ever without dreaming that it is absurd, audacious and derisive to detain your attention like this. I thank you once again, Madame, for that letter of ineffable saintliness, and ask you to accept with my unfailing gratitude my respectful admiration,

Marcel Proust

   I wanted to write to you the other day about La Domination, but having gone out in the morning to see the Whistlers, I was in an indescribably terrible state for four hours. Blanche's article about Whistler is very pretty, a little cruel.

1. Hero of La Domination, novel admired by Marcel Proust. Without having had the occasion to reread this book, because I did not authorise a reprint, I cannot therefore comment on the accuracy of Marcel Proust's quotations from a novel expelled from my memory, and which in spite of me he loved exaggeratedly and frequently discussed with me.

2. I agree with the impeccable and scrupulous reasoning of Marcel Proust. He was so often a lucid judge!

XXIII (1905)

Sunday night to Monday


   Being constantly under the oppression of this great book, I should like to speak to you again about it, not that I could. It is simply that I do not think I have expressed to you sufficiently how beautiful I find it. Because yesterday, when I wrote to you I was not even sure myself that it was. It was my divine Elisabeth, I knew that here was a soul at the centre of the universe, I did not know if it was pretty or average or great. I know it today and I still love it more and more. Perhaps you would like to know the sentences which I have liked the most. I know I have already said much about this yesterday. The most beautiful of all without comparison seems to me to be: when their tears flowed one on the other and merged together like a long river between two mysterious towns. More lovely because what she says is more beautiful, more inventive, more profound. But all the expressions from the journey in the North are also lovely, the geraniums between the porcelain tiles, beside a wicker chair, and all of the pages on the wind, ladies' bonnets (and the open door in Memling) and their modest knees. Their modest knees are the equal of the busy, good-natured inhabitants, the decorative épicerie, the neutral face, the prudent cloak, the ring of small pearls on the round swollen finger. The whole chapter about France (?) is extraordinary. But all the same it is at Venice that the whole wonderful beginning with Elisabeth borders on the superhuman. The butterflies (the first ones, those with the abrupt descent, and the second ones, those in the garden of Eden) and the remarkable daylight, of the blue roses (garden of Eden), of blossoming roses (Florence) where the earth is like a ship, where the sky creates its own good fortune (ah! to separate the azure parts!). The heavenly little birds, and the hare and the doves, and the exchanged flowers (pink and tuberous centaurea). What can one pick out from this ocean of beauty? If only I had the time to think about this, so absorbed by the sublime ending, so obscure in its marvellous light, so outrageous, so sweet.

   Goodbye Madame, I admire you much more than Arnault, Corrine's father, and Arnault does not admire himself.

   Your respectful friend,

Marcel Proust

XXV (1905)


   Excuse me (I have been so unwell) for not having replied to you again (you have realised that our letters crossed). I am too tired to be able to come to dine on Saturday. Besides I have vowed that I shall not come to dine with you until I have been able to replace the Tanagra that I had the misfortune to break on the 17th of July last, the day I dined at your house with Guiche. Note this augural character - and perhaps rather ill-fated - of Guiche's1, present at all out meetings, at that dinner; then I did not see you again before his marriage. And I have not seen you again (nor him either apart from maybe a few times) since. I think you will write something sublime about music, its appearances in Domination like modellers of sorrowful mouths, like (in the style of Goncourt) (when I say in the style of Goncourt I mean to say of the like that I began with2, and naturally not of your extraordinary, sublime style, three thousand metres above Goncourt for whom I have no interest) constantly run through with Wagner's Muse which cries out, Yseult and Joan of Arc, the infinite promise of music, all this is what I believe to be most beautiful about music. (And I do not mention the singing, the night, at Venice which is extraordinary). (Encountered Croisset distraught at not having received la Domination). Madame, it seems to me that I have desire and veneration for the great things you have named, like God who created by naming things. And I went by motor car to see again "the white road which rushes forward in an azure arch". And if one day I am able to take a trip it will be to go and sleep at the Noble-Rose hotel. Madame, how good you are to have written to me, to have pretended to have read my letter, from which the incense does not reach up to you but which in spite of it my heart breathes, consumed with admiration for these beauties without equal,

Marcel Proust.

   I have not been very clear; Goncourt style refers to the style of my letter and not, of course, to the style of Domination which makes it idiotic, which proves that not being Caesar (nor anything) I weep before this statue of Alexander.3

1. Marcel Proust had a perfect friendship with the Duc de Guiche, which his letters to me, to him, reveal; but he loved, like a musician, to write such sonorous morsels. Abundance, alacrity of Liszt...

2. In conversation, the marvellous wandering bursts of words which Marcel Proust used to produce will remain a unique achievement. Those who do not understand s'embarquer will never be aware of this enchantment.

3. "Caesar wept when he saw the statue of Alexander". I have often quoted and will always quote this phrase. It seems to me to express with supreme emphasis the painful nobility of ambition.

XXVI (1905)


   One single word to say to you, this; the other day I had a type of mild bronchitis which, combined with my asthma, made me suffer badly. But for that I would have already written to you to tell you that the other morning, when I met you, I had eaten nothing for forty eight hours, nor slept a quarter of an hour in twenty four hours, and that I was so tired that I didn't know how to speak, nor feel myself near to you, and that without doubt my words were little in harmony with the thoughts that I have hourly about you. The kind of bitter theological argument that your mother initiated with you at the foot of the altar, full of illusory fears like all matters religious, full of touchiness too and making prodigious differences over split hairs1, all that upset me badly, to the extent that for the first time in three weeks my distressing and infinitely sad feelings for the duchesse de Gramont2 actually left me. But what I want to say is that I, for whom your books are not fixed things once I have loved them, but continue to preoccupy me incessantly, which are always real in my heart, and to the point where those of your thoughts which, with the casualness which has assured them of immortal form (I mean in the organic sense of things), you no longer think about, makes my every hour "the inner support", then, finally seeing you, I have said nothing to you ...

   I was going to see our dear "doctor in spite of himself" that day, who you virtually have to beat to make him talk medicine: Brissaud, more handsome and more charming than ever. But ultimately one can only see doctors during the day. And I pay for every daytime trip with a month of fever. And I ask myself whether the good they have done me ... Brissaud ended up by rather recommending Sollier to me. I must discuss this with you. I am going to write a book about doctors. I would like to know the whereabouts of your sister in law3, because I would like to write to her, not having been able to shake hands with her the other day. I remember the tenderness of your mother towards her. The thought that her mother knew - or believed - that she had left her for ever, that she would never again see her in the next world, is a thought which makes me frantic.

   Your respectful admirer,

Marcel Proust.

   Naturally this letter does not need any response; simply benevolent and understanding silence. I hope that the princess is not angry, because she was giving me terrible looks. Because although she detested as a schismatism denying the horse of stone over her own horse - or over the funeral horse - because I have never been able to understand the first motif very well - you were less in sympathy with her ideas, contradicted them, understood them, despite my being there, stupidly being a stranger to the distinctions which began the conversation, foolishly offering a motor car, and in the end disastrous and disliked. I love the princess so much and would never wish to offend her in any way.4

1. My mother, an imperturbable lover of logic and precision, could not voluntarily bear the meanderings of a muddled conversation.

2. Marcel Proust often returned to this subject which struck him greatly. He liked and admired the duc de Guiche, and received him at home when I told Marcel Proust about the death of the duchesse de Gramont, at a time when we could give so little comfort to the dying, it haunted his grieving friendship.

3. The marquise de Noailles, nee Corysande de Gramont.

4. My mother had a great affection for Marcel Proust but could never get used to those dizzying and knowing meanderings of his conversation, and on that day above all she wanted to take advantage of the virtues of her trusted horse rather than his motor car which she distrusted.

XXVII (1906)


   At this moment I should like to feel less tired, above all to suffer less with my eyes, to tell you with what emotion I was uplifted this morning in the Figaro up to the peak of your genius in that most beautiful piece of yours, the most beautiful a poet has ever written. While adoring the pieces in the Revue des Deux Mondes, where who knows if, on top of all your poetry, posterity will not love your summer dresses more and the call for youth to gather at the bosom of poetry in human countenance and individual details (and this also in the poems in the review, the ones I prefer), I have found there something rather subjective in inspiration and at times too discontinuous in expression, despite almost everything else which is wonderful.1 But here in this morning's Figaro you have given once more, and with a force which you have never had to this degree, about which we stand stupefied that it didn't kill you, a prodigious life to the world. You are the Numide, the bow woman. With each arrow we think we will die and for that alone it is an intoxicating poem. But we barely felt disbelief:

It is you who suddenly made sulphurous and harsh
The gentle languid banks of the courses of the Occident

we barely recover ourselves before we are thrown crashing down again by this which is more beautiful still:

It is you who have come to shine on the linen blinds
Like an early morning sovereign star

   Ah! that star, it is the first time it has appeared in the heavens of poetry. That errant star, more confounding for us than Venus, we shall call it by your name, like the Leverrier planet, Anna. But before we can stop to dream before this star we are thrown to our knees before:

You who burst open like Blidah's fruit

and this which surpasses everything:

Which forms a sluggish pond where some idle boat,
Becoming more languid than the rivers of Come

   Besides II is still more beautiful than I (Antoine3 believed that it is a question of "acts"). The foliage, little forests in the sky, the cloud with birds embroidered on its artless dress (this is to die for, the sun shelters in a shepherdess's bonnet, the opaque water, hot and green, it is through tiredness that I don't say the half of what I love most). And what I love most of all is this:

But when my sky is already too divine for me

and that whole section.

   I think that now is the right moment for the Revue des Deux Mondes verses, because of the taste for the word throat, for the word evident and other indications too, the tu and vous of springtime and plenty of other things, but it is possible also that from a certain distance in time for these to be the same things which you have given a desire for the same expressions. The ardent battalions of rosebushes, ah! and now I take refuge in the shadow and delight in the stately verse of Ronsard.

Charming recluses who dream in a park,
Children becoming wounded in the sixteenth year ...

   Your respectful friend who admires you deeply,

Marcel Proust.

1. We see here how the infallible critical sense of Marcel Proust struggles against the forces of friendship which repress and muzzle his free judgement.

2. Poème de l'Azure from les Éblouissements,

3. Antoine Bibesco, a highly talented dramatist.

XXIX (1906)


   All your visits and gifts are from a goddess and your telegram filled me with an infinite feeling of gratitude. I have not thanked you. Forgive me. For one who does not believe in anniversaries, the day of the year has had a profound and terrible evocation for me. It brought back to me like a blow all the memories of mama which I had forgotten, the memory of her voice. Please excuse me, I was too unhappy to be able to pretend to be someone who has decided to go on living, who writes, because I cannot write to you without all my thoughts, all my heart being stirred up and they are so wounded ... I have come home, but suffer so much. I have not been able to get up since I came home. I am beginning to believe that I will never be able to come to see you and perhaps I would have been better loved had I never known you.

   Your respectful friend,

Marcel Proust.

   I have read the marvellous Grenoble 1

1. La ville de Stendhal, a poem from les Éblouissements.

XXXI (1906)


   I am only writing you a couple of lines to tell you that I have read the wonderful dedication to Voyage de Sparte and I am very pleased that this will ensure posterity's fascination by having this profile of you at the front of one of Barrès's most beautiful works. What an important and delicious passage for the Sainte-Beuve of the future. It seems to me that you were never absent from this book in any case, now Pegase, now Gasmule ... but that deserves a commentary which would be far too long for my weary hand. I sent you tribute of an admiration, alas! less precious than that of our Chateaubriand (all the same superior in some ways to Chateaubriand) but also profound and respectful.

Marcel Proust.

XXXII (1907)


   "A volume of verse which doesn't resemble my first two in the slightest, which I'm confused about". That could mean (and this is very Saint-Simon) that you are confused that your new book is so dissimilar to your first two. In which case people who could write less well than you would say: "That confuses me". And this confusion would be quite understandable if it were not necessary to resemble them. But if you are saying that you are confused about your first two volumes of verse, which provide us with all our poetry, all our beauty, our joy, which we equal to Légende des Siècles, to Contemplations, to Meditations, to the poetry of Vigny, Baudelaire, Racine, to everything we know as being the most beautiful in the world (and furthermore which we love less than Ombre des Jours and Coeur Innombrable), then you cause me such pain that, rather than to have to disown things which I have too much love for to ever wish for anything better, even by you, I will certainly not read your new book and I will not write to you again. But perhaps I will go to see you unexpectedly one afternoon in what you call places of insipid nothingness. You ought to see Dubois again in passing. I have just read two poems in les Essais and find them equally admirable. The first above all, and of your own world, is so dissolvent that its effect is similar to very strong poisons on the nervous system. All those bright names made to die and already we grow faint at Palma, "the sweetest point of the Baléares". But when we get to Sainte-Sarah, Saint-Alcibiade, it is almost too much for us. You have only used words which are luminous and sweet, "bright as a vase". And yet isn't this more beautiful still:

Carthagna in the fever of an always even sky,
A path of rosebushes in old Portugal

   Your intoxicated admirer,

Marcel Proust.

1. Poem from les Éblouissements under the title: Chant dionysien.

XXXIII (1907)


   (I beg of you do not reply to me, the springtime does not ask any thanks from us for looking at it). Here are all the lines which I omitted to quote you as the ones I love the most, or at least as much as the others. How did I omit to mention the sublime silver shields (the rhyme is wonderful). And those two most beautiful lines phosphorous and Bosporus, and the air which frolics above the wells, and the places where the coolness is withdrawn, and silence like milk in a bowl and the little bridges in the Persian garden and the seas of Marmara luminous and warm, and the golden hands of Buddha, and everything! Every minute I discover something else. The violence with which you have made it all reappear to me is enough to make me completely stupid. For example: for two days I have been repeating the lines about "matinal and sovereign star", I saw it, I see it now, but it is only in the last two minutes that I have appreciated the beauty of "matinal", a star which appears when there are no others, I had not imagined that. I could not appreciate clearly the historic feeling which a work such as this can cause until now. It seems to me that people will take this in with their eyes and will no longer be blind, feel a trembling in their knees; in some cases madness as well. Just like some natural phenomena. And be stricken with sunstroke at least, which our mirrors multiply a hundred-fold. "Yesterday several people were struck with congestion while reading Poèmes de l'Azur. One person who had read them in his newspaper while crossing the Pont Neuf fell completely over the parapet. Bargees could do nothing." You say that the springtime is above what you say about it. But what you say about it is above what it makes us feel. Above everything there is the springtime as you feel it, beneath it (according to you at least) the springtime which you express and make us fell, and a thousand times beneath that the springtime which we would feel without you. And I haven't mentioned the nymph, the naiad (broken verse like the lines which precede "an open corolla where the bee buries itself") which are sublime, perhaps the most lovely of all. In any case no other poet has ever done that. Out of two hundred verses by Lamartine, we find two which give a precise impression of nature. You, every verse.1 You must have written that in a superhuman vision, an apocalypse of genius. I am writing to you very badly Madame, during a terrible asthma crisis, but I hope you will rectify my inexact words and give life to my dull phrases.

   Your respectful admirer,

Marcel Proust.

1. Without doubt in the friendship of those who live in the same epoch there is a passionate way of looking at things which must excuse this tender sacrilege.

XXXIV (1907)

   Madame, there are two pages, also read what is written on the back.


   It distresses me to be continually bothering you, but I have just read my article to Reynaldo who has recommended several changes and told me to be careful of the article being too long for Le Figaro. Tomorrow (today when you read this) I am going to condense it a bit. But by any chance do you know Hébrard1? or Charmes2? Perhaps it would be more suitable for Le Revue des Deux Mondes or Le Temps. I haven't mentioned Le Revue de Paris, which would be the best, because I know full well that Ganderax3 would not take it and we would be delaying for nothing. Of course if Ganderax wished, promised, that would be much the best. As for Le Figaro, if it is too long for the front page, perhaps it could go in the third or fourth page, and I could ask Calmette to do what he does for my Horatio articles4, that is to put a headline on the front page:

   "Read the article by M. Proust on the Comtesse de Noailles's Éblouissements on page three."

   But I think we must avoid the "supplement" which they will no doubt offer us and which is like the foretaste of eternal oblivion. If you could send me a telegram during the day telling me your opinion (but in any case I don't think I shall have it finished before Wednesday, because I haven't been able to do an hour of work today, and I have already rewritten the beginning four times as it is very bad)...

   Your respectful friend,

Marcel Proust.

1. It was one of the peculiarities of Marcel Proust's character, the most industrious of people, to always show nonchalance, a complete lack of curiosity with regard to his relations with friends. With discreet virtue, this powerful narrator hardly ever made enquiries, and only at moments where the response to his question assumed a matter of life and death. Adrien Hébrard, the most seductive of mischievous spirits, the most devoted of friends, gave me in his newspaper le Temps, a place of privilege for my first book.

2. Francis Charmes, director of la Revue des Deux Mondes, conscientious, benevolent, concerned, was keen on poetry and forgave any licence toward inexorable prosody of which, however, he was a supporter.

3. M. Louis Ganderax, a friend of the family since my childhood, upon becoming director of la Revue de Paris imposed, through his erudition and inflexible character, precise rules of grammar upon all his imaginative writers. He was sometimes willing, because of his affection for me, to soften this cruel obstinacy. It is true that this noble and scrupulous spirit understood that he could never read anything without wanting to make corrections to it. When he published Paul Hervieu's article about reception to the Académie Française, in la Revue de Paris, he confessed to me the torture which the clashing sonorities of the two lines from Victor Hugo's les Orientales, definitely not possible to change, inflicted on him.

"Must a hatchet blow follow

Every wave of her fan ..."

4. Pseudonym used by Marcel Proust.

XXXV (1907)

P.S. to my first dispatch.


   Tonight I have just copied half of the article. I have calculated that it contains (adding what I have copied already to what I still have to copy) 16,900 letters (I may be slightly mistaken in these fantastic calculations). Now I think just four columns in le Figaro, if it starts right at the top of the first and ends right at the end of the fourth, will make 18,000 letters. So if you can ask M. Calmette as a great favour to leave me four columns on the front page, he will leave them quite readily. Perhaps it would be better if you didn't mention the article about M. Blarenberghe because that would give the impression of trying to force him and I am not certain that it is four full columns. I think it would be better not to talk to him about putting it on page three. There will always be time if he says that it is impossible on the front page.

   I am in shame and despair to bore you with all this, especially over this horror of an article.

   Your respectful admirer,

Marcel Proust.

XXXIX (1908)


   I have just read the sublime verses - your most beautiful - in la Revue des Deux Mondes. In redoubling my admiration for your genius they have given to my spirit exhausted by illness and sadness "some nimbleness for the sky".1

Your respectful friend,

Marcel Proust

1. "Oh Stresa morning, breathing turquoise,
Sublime nimbleness of the heart for the sky!"

(Les Vivants et les Morts)

XLII (1911)


   Thank you so much for your letter. It seems too beautiful to me that, for a moment, you allow yourself to dull your own vision by choosing to look through my eyes, But I know that the greatest actions are the simplest and graciously done through goodness. On my behalf you know that to be read by you is the surest means of elevating my mind. It is already partly realised through writing; but the welcome of your intelligence is the supreme achievement to which it clings, the consummation, the very mouth of the river.

   Your respectful and grateful,

Marcel Proust.

XLIII (1912)

102, Boulevard Haussmann1


   I do not know whether my long forgotten name will seem like a stranger's to you.2 But I have just read your verses in la Revue de Paris, and, although I am incapable of writing this evening, I want to tell you that in your art they seem to me to display what I no longer thought possible, a higher and higher stage. The idea of an Oriental God who is only happy in gardens is truly sublime, of extraordinary originality and grandeur. And the busts in the museum, the white pillar of the moon, all this seems to me to have power, overwhelming prominence. I have so much to say to you about your most recent writing that I cannot do it tonight being too unwell. What I wrote about your insolently rhyming Sicilian verses about "to Saint Blaise to la Zuecca" could be appropriate here, but by no means what I said about the wonderful article in la Revue Hebdomadaire, where, glorifying in the "mysterious" inaccuracies or specific prosaic allusions of Musset, you quote his verses in such a way as to give hope to Madame *** whose own, in fifty years, will become just as mysterious. Because Musset's verse3, which Musset loved, the ones which were realized, have not become so (besides I worship him totally, and above all in his Chaussée d'Antim period). Did I tell you that recently I found a note book in which mama had described hour by hour the final illnesses of her father, of her mother, of papa, accounts which, not giving the faintest suggestion of what they contained, are so distressing that one can hardly carry on living after reading them. One single name is mentioned in them, one single thought is written out: yours, one of your ideas from Visage Emerveillé. It is an obscure quote but heartrending and for me very great and full of glory. I am in too much suffering tonight to write any more.

   Your respectful,

Marcel Proust.

1. One evening, in Paris, I was called on the telephone by the wine waiter at the Hotel des Reservoirs, in Versailles where Proust was staying; he asked me with conscientious simplicity whether I advised M. Proust to rent an apartment in Boulevard Haussmann in preference to another which had been equally recommended to him.

My conversation with this invisible being, my considered reply and arguments was perhaps one of the factors which made Marcel Proust make his decision. Boulevard Haussmann won out.

2. Marcel Proust, who was not unaware of the constant worry we had over his health, amused himself by reappearing, after his eclipses, holding in his hand, like a dagger hidden in myrtle, the unjust reproach combined with tenderness.

3. In an article written in 1908 about Alsace, which I was visiting then, I quoted several verses of Musset: this one about the waltz:

Beautiful German nymph in golden ankle boots

and this:

Who will bring back to us Ophelia's bouquet,
From the unknown river where the waves remain?

XLIV (1912)

102, Boulevard Haussmann.


   By any chance would you still have a copy of the article I did for le Figaro (supplement) on les Éblouissements and an issue of la Renaissance Latine which contains an article "On Reading", also by me? I want to reunite a few articles in one volume, and I haven't kept them. I asked at le Figaro. But they destroy everything after four years so they could give me nothing. I also need a Flaubert pastiche and a Saint-Simon pastiche. But you certainly won't have those. Whereas perhaps, because of its subject, M. de Noailles or your son may have kept it? And I'm sure you must have subscribed to la Renaissance Latine. I intend to cut out the article "On Reading" from that issue to send to the publisher and if he agrees to publish this book (I don't have much confidence since everybody without exception refuses to publish anything by me)1 the articles which you have lent will be returned to you in book form. As for the Flaubert, I have no idea where I could find it. The simplest thing would be to redo them, only better. But at the moment I am dispirited with worries, by health problems and by the fatigue which I am forced to endure by having such harsh and disobliging neighbours. Yesterday I read some wonderful things of yours, always so vast, so lofty; you grow like a tree. How I would love to see you again in that room where you have in front of your window, a garden, a town, a whole immense and minute landscape held in the glass; perspective with its infinite contraction of scale is the most ingenious art of the Japanese gardeners. But I am so unwell; I can hardly ever get out of bed, and if I do only very late.

   Goodbye, Madame, if you can find it I would like that article about les Éblouissements.

   Your respectful admirer,

Marcel Proust.

1. How touching these words are, if he could ever have dreamed of his triumphant revenge!

XLV (1912)


   Infinite thanks. Naturally it is not for my big book (which is a "long term project") that I need the Éblouissements piece but for a collection of my articles. Besides this will be the only critical piece I will be publishing, and I believe yours will be the only name. But this book will not appear until after my long work, or perhaps at the same time. But none of this will happen unless I can find a publisher; and the reception I've had so far has not been encouraging! I have just seen your name in the contents of la Revue de Paris, and that is an "éblouissement" for me. And just now I am going to have your real presence with me. (I still haven’t been brought the revue which I should have within the hour, in any case I am not desperate for it, as you know.) Forgive me, I want to thank you for sending me my praises of you entwined with other innumerable praises of you as though plaited together into a coronet, from concentric seraphs of ancient paradises who say to us: "Great, great, great is her name". But I am in such a state of tiredness that I have - one could say aphasia - a kind of agraphia, and I don't want to tire your beautiful eyes trying to decipher these meaningless hieroglyphics.

   Your respectful and grateful,

Marcel Proust.

XLVI (1913)


   I can't understand how a letter I wrote to you could have been left on my table; what must you have thought of me; I add this postscript here so that you will understand that if I do not ask your pardon for my lateness in it it is because at the time I was not being late. I am embarrassed to receive la Renaissance Latine! But I am going to return it to you because what I had wanted was an article which I could keep, to send to the publisher. As for the rest of it, it is all quite awful and does not merit being reprinted. I have read with great emotion and admiration those memories of childhood spent abroad in la Revue de Paris.1 Deep down I don't believe that you have ever been to the orient, or Chateaubriand to America, and that you would be able to describe all of those places just as you described the city of Damascus.2 Moreover it is clear that reality is not the "be all and end all" and does not necessarily have to match up to our dreams. The great consolation of staying with you (I am looking at this from a practical standpoint, and I am not trying to say, as I'm sure you appreciate, that these extraordinary pages are less equal to those in which you imagine things which you have not seen). It would please me greatly if you do go to Florence where I have always had a great longing to visit. If you would allow me to accompany you there, that would settle it for me. Alas! I would not be able to go any further than here, if at all. But one day I shall get up at about 9 o'clock in the evening, I'll come to see you and you can tell me all about it. All this has made me very ill, but just for a short time, I need these punishments to interrupt my exhausting desire for such things.

   Your respectful admirer,

Marcel Proust.

1. An account of my voyage to Constantinople, where my mother sent us after the death of my father. We lived there for three months of the summer, at Arnaout-Keui, at the home of my mother's father.

2. What happiness distantly missed of the most lovely climates!
I shall never see the town of Damascus ....
(Les Éblouissements.)

XLVII (1913)


   I can only write to you with great difficulty in the state of health I am in at this moment. But I want to tell you (and I am so much more overjoyed by it since I did not get quite the same impression – (I tell you this all the time) when I had only read extracts in the newspapers) that if I found, when I read les Éblouissements, that they were infinitely beyond the marvellous Coeur Innombrable, the wonderful Ombre des Jours, - and yet I find this same distance, and greater still, between your new book1, and les Éblouissements, infinitely surpassed. For you (and this would also have to be the same for me) the wonderful extracts which I have read contained everything which you know, in the same way that a monad reflects the universe. But in actual fact they do not give any notion of the book, because, by the unique personality of your being (yet, in my opinion, more beautiful, more completely imbued with the spirit with which it is resorbed than it has ever been, truly the violin string upon which nothing exists other than the subtlety of the artist’s imagination), they remind us of what you were, and which, ignorant of what connects it to the new piece, this makes one think of your past rather than a renewal as such. I am not suggesting that there is a romantic or dramatic similarity between pieces such as la Chute d’un ange, Eloa etc. but the identity of the feelings which we experience when we compose has a unity also. And because of this there is in one complete volume a long poem which we cannot break down. Or at least from which parts cannot be broken down, but in the same way that Wotan’s Farewell, Tristan’s Prelude, heard in the past by the Pasdeloup or Cologne orchestra, still cannot give us a true picture of Wagner’s complete work. It is of this that the extraordinary growth of your genius (and above all the ever more organic insight within your work) makes us think. Between what you write today and the lovely things you have written in the past, and which still remain marvellous, there is truly the same distinction as between Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, - and Tristan, the Meistersingers, Parsifal. Let us say that this book is part Tristan, part Parsifal. It is astonishing that this phenomenon of multiplication of resonant cells through a process of infusion, of underlying inoculation of the thousand riches of thought have been able to occur in language, just as in music. This very miracle of spiritual biology is truly exciting. For myself, who am unable to completely banish the idea of miraculous concordances in these superior domains of communal life, of sadnesses I have experienced this year and which I still feel, seem to me to be like a preparation for experiencing the effect of certain parts of this book more fully. What poignant feeling (and at the same time creating the contrary feeling as we are always forced to do when we understand truth) for the invalid on his death bed is created by lines like: "Because nothing here is living, you depart"2. What things I should like to say to you if I were able, but do not doubt that every single word of your book been, by necessity the object of my delight and my endless admiration, followed by a moved, passionate and respectful return to you!

Marcel Proust

1. les Vivants et les Morts

2. les Vivants et les Morts

XLVIII (1913)


   Infinite thanks for having written to me. My book has had no success. And if it had I would not be capable of feeling any pleasure, because I am so unhappy at the moment. Besides I have forgotten my book: I am immersed in les Vivants et les Morts, and I ought not say how, in a purely selfish way, I am coming to search for guidelines, for oracles in it. Don’t take the trouble to write to me, because that would be tiring for you. But if you are able to read me, that would give me enormous pleasure, particularly all the second part of the chapter entitled "Swann in Love". In the first chapter (Combray) there are some pages which you would enjoy perhaps. But really, taken separately for the other volumes, it wouldn't make much sense. Are you really reading it? You have the magnificent charity of genius.

   Your grateful admirer,

Marcel Proust.

XLIX (1913)


   Having been incapable of writing in recent days (what you have taken as an improvement is the grip of death taking possession of my whole being), I could not thank you for your immortal Vedas1 and for a letter which, while you get ever younger, is heavy with so much honey and such pure wax, that one sees simply by reading it, you are become richer and more plentiful with booty than ever. If were able to write to you, I would explain all this to you better. And I would also tell you that you are two Madame de Noailles, one who writes those books which quite naturally take their place beside those of Hugo, Baudelaire, Vigny, and another who I was lying to you in pretending not to know. But I do not ask for a place in the chorus, or in the heart. How will yours be countless if it not fickle and isn't it the harsh ransom for those who have loved you to be faithful to your genius2? For me, I already feel it is too great a thing to be able to read such a book, to have received such a letter. "And I want no other paradise", as Verlaine said. I would tell you all this, and much more besides, (and to begin with to have thanked you for your fairy like presence the other evening) without being in a state which, even this evening, prevents me from stammering all the time. I tell you only this, believing that I have misread, what Mme Valmore wrote to Lamartine:

Did you not say something glorious
And I did not hear it.

   I was pleased to see Régnier compare you to Lamartine with rightful enthusiasm the other day. I have only one advantage over M. de Régnier, before whom I keep myself to the background through respect and the most keen admiration, that of priority, when twice in the same Figaro I put you on a level with and above our great poets. To be sure, in no way do I compare myself to him, I would be just as incapable of his Double Maîtresse as his Bon Plaisir, I measure the distance between us and concede to him an enormous advantage of ground. But concerning myself, on two or so occasions (I am not counting trifles), it was I who observed accurately and brought it up first. It is a great honour for me that he ratifies so magnificently an admiration which has never wavered.

   Please accept my respectful tribute Madame,

Marcel Proust.

   When I spoke to you the other day at the Ritz about your poems on your son, I was thinking about those ancient, sublime ones from your Premières Meditations3. Before yesterday I admired the ones you addressed to him in your Recueillements4 perhaps more still. Alas! I see the vineyard and don’t enter the house. I am going to write to Gans5 the wonderful things you said to me about him. Please remember me to M. de Noailles, always so good to me.

1. Les Forces éternelles

2. Marcel Proust, and I am thankful to him for this injustice (moving evidence of his affection for me), no longer took account of his own possibilities. He felt the burden of his yoke, forgetting that which weighed on me. The mysterious and vacillating equilibrium which invalids are forced to renew indefinitely and which allows those who are given the courage and the ordeal to frequently triumph, being given a disconcerting expenditure of energy, perhaps totally different from that of their closest friends. At a time when I was seeking solitude and considered it a blessing, Marcel Proust, braving the hour of the evening, organized his dinners at the Ritz, became an enchanting host, momentarily tireless. My taste for seclusion, which made my extreme tiredness and the sadness which the war had left me with seem imperious, appeared to him to show a lack of friendship, a disavowal of a tender past.
I can never reread this letter without suffering terrible grief for having pained Marcel Proust, being unaware of the moral distress in which I was living.

3. Allusion to a poem entitled la Course dans l’Azur (les Éblouissements).

4. Allusion to a poem entitled A mon fils (les Forces éternelles).

5. M. Henri Gans, whose intelligence and friendship were one of the joys of my life, first met Marcel Proust at my home. The understanding which they both showed towards each other was immediate. Neither of these two spirits could out do each other in gallantry. My two friends corresponded with each other prolifically. Céleste and Odilon, genuine obliging and legendary confidants of Marcel Proust, would come by taxi, to seek out Henri Gans, who was always delighted to accept a call from a writer who he admired above all others. The trips from the rue Scheffer to rue Hamelin, where Marcel Proust was living, were often the subject of our laughing conversations, because Marcel Proust would excuse himself afterwards in sparkling letters for what he believed to have been an indiscretion. It was to M. Gans that I made a gift of a series of telegrams which Marcel Proust hilariously sent me from Brussels, during the course of a single day, when I was received as a member of the royal academy of French language. It was M. Henri Gans who informed me of the death of Marcel Proust one sad November morning; this incomparable friend escorted me beside the coffin, and joined me in the sad contemplation of that noble and never indifferent face. He was to die in an accident in November 1923, leaving me with the unfailing and cruel memory of lost perfection.

L (1919)

102, Boulevard Haussmann.


   What bliss of resurrection I felt to see the marvellous loops of your handwriting after so many years, which seem to be capable of protecting the Celestial Garden which the Angel (now become redundant) bearing a blazing sword keeps watch over. Your kindness in writing to me like this, and so quickly (qui cito dat, bis dat) brought back to me ancient feelings that you have since martyred a little. And I am sad to think, at the time of this renewal of respectful tenderness, that three of my books are about to appear in eight days, in which simply by chance the space you occupy in them is so small, a few lines in a Renan pastiche which you know, the line in a Saint-Simon pastiche, new pieces which you do not know (maybe a word in Mélanges, I don't know, I didn't choose the selections). I shall not forget your kindness today and I will have the opportunity in the not too distant future to express my gratitude worthily. But it pains me that I didn't beg for and receive word from you a month earlier, so that I would have put in another. I would also like to thank M. de Noailles. I will find a way. How good it is of him to remember to speak to you about it, tell him, please do (honestly, don’t forget to tell him) how much I was moved by it. Should I tell you that your wonderful letter has been just like a priceless drawing, because I have hardly been able to decipher a single word of it. Only the name Bernstein, and I can understand why he has come to be there. But before daring to bore you with all this, some months ago I telephoned him and, like me, he has mislaid the address1. But that's of no importance now, as Guiche2 (who has been wonderful to me in this frightful tale of upheaval, went to see the managers, got from them the money which I believe they owed me), has strained all his ingenuity into searching out cork makers who would be willing to convert my cork walls into bottle corks.

   Please accept my respectful and grateful admiration Madame,

Marcel Proust.

   After having written to you, for the fiftieth time I am looking at this beautiful arabesque design, and how the words Cité de Retiro, an Élysée in Élysée which, being named by you become the "Champs-Élysées", glow in letters of fire. Tomorrow I shall go to see the Cité de Retiro to find out what this mysterious address can relate to. No doubt I shall find a use for my cork there as I won’t be able to put it up in my new lodgings which I am leaving boulevard Haussmann for. (I am leaving because the building has been sold to a banker, the good M. Josse, who wants to turn it into a bank, and to do that is making all the tenants leave, without understanding that it will be the death of at least one of those who he uproots.) Moreover I believe that the strong, even those of Liège, have had their day. And it occurs to me that it would be better to apply means of defence to the ears3. Mme Simone spoke to me about some ivory balls (I would really like to find more details about them). The duchesse de Guiche mentioned cotton wool in vaseline. But no doubt these ladies are less sensitive to noise than I, who am terribly ill, dying.

1. M. Henry Bernstein, for whom noise was unbearable, was the first to fit cork linings to his flat. Both Marcel Proust and I copied him, thanks to which work and sometimes sleep became possible.

2. The duke de Guiche, today the duke de Gramont, a remarkable scholar, founder and president of the Institute of optics, member of the Académie des Sciences.

3. One of my friends brought me some small ivory balls which I was eager to recommend to everybody who sought silence at home. Marcel Proust described, in one of his books, numerous ways of delicately placing and removing these barriers against tumult in and out of the ears. In this way silence is treated as a musical score. It is an oft quoted example of his intellectual and verbal virtuosity.

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