"Billets" from Marcel Proust to his servants


Notes in verse to Nicolas Cottin:

"These papers you keep for all time
So I'd better write to you in rhyme
And if your tiredness you resist
Nicholas the Nationalist
In twenty minutes please fetch me
A coffee that is piping hot.
"Puisque-vous conservez tous ces papiers divers
Je suis obligé de vous écrire en vers
Si vous ne vous sentez pas las
Nationaliste Nicholas
Dans vingt minutes donnez-moi
Un bon café au lait qui fume."
"In twenty minutes please fetch me
A coffee that is piping hot.
I will take it, as they say, for the cold that I have got."
"Dans vingt minutes donnez moi
Un bon café au lait qui fume.
J'en prendrai, dit-on, pour mon rhume."

Notes to Nicholas Cottin

"Nicholas, I can't talk but the charming letter from Céline has totally confused me"

Notes to Odilon Albaret c.1922

"Odilon, I cannot speak yet, but as I fear that after the day I have spent I will not be able to see you this morning, I wanted to put your mind at rest with a quick word.
Marie having come in to me in a downright fury which up till now had been Céleste's prerogative (and which it useless to speak to her about because she has made her apologies to me - the treaty of guarantee is decidedly emboldened, excepting you and I) consequently Marie having told me that she would get you to bring up the firewood, and me having protested, don't alarm yourself. I will simply have it brought up by the wood merchant. Besides it's only a matter of 24 hours and it will be all calm again. But in spite of my tiredness I'm worried that you are troubling yourself. Everything will be as you wish. - On the other hand what time is it exactly? I wanted to see Bize or Wicart, is it too late?
Don't say anything - I don't want to look like I'm afraid of Marie. It's the first time since I've known her that she's dared "kick up" even more of a "fuss" than Céleste.
Where are the papers?"

"Dear Odilon, have you time to go to my brother's before the chemist closes? Would you take this note to my sister-in-law. [...] Perhaps my brother will come with you. Or later if he prefers. He could just as well not come."

Notes to Céleste Albaret c.1922

"I would like another cup of coffee. I will serve myself... "

"Where is Odilon? I would like a fire for my[?] cardigan over my shoulders"

"Pass me la Prisonnière. Odilon must leave the room."

"No misunderstandings. Do not come in if I don't ring."

"How many times must I say it, that I will get dressed alone and mustn't keep getting up too early or too late?"

"But the pillow isn't pushed down even if I am upright; I need to warm up my bed with 2 bottles to start with then 2 or 3 jerseys."

"Somebody must have a cracked tile because I have just heard the sound of thunder. You have no idea how much I suffer."

"Where is the good piperazine? The compote in 20 minutes but without saying a word to me."

"You could always buy some asparagus and do them straight away. I might have them or I might not.." 27 May 1922.

"do you have to take aspirin on an empty stomach? the balls are not warm enough for earplugs.
Half of one will be enough but no hairs in the compote." 13? Oct 1922.

"Sorry but when I came back to bed I didn't think you were still in bed. In spite of my stomach ache I thought, compote of peaches rather than pears would do me good. And my box of bicarbonate of soda so that I can take some in here." c.16 Oct 1922.

"Why did I hear the bell ring in here?"

"I'm sure Odilon will be coming. They probably won't give him his orders to leave until this evening. If he comes this evening I'd better get up, so that he has a place tomorrow."

"Céleste, Odilon can leave in ten minutes at about 6:30 or 7 in the morning. Pull the chair closer to me." 18 Nov 1922.

"I heard iron instead of glass." [fer au lieu de verre] 18 Nov 1922.

"Don't stay I have such a fever that perhaps it will allow me to avoid further fits. What was that beer I had 2 hours ago. I need a jumper round a hot water bottle (I've already asked you for one). I've done some sweet and pretty verses about you."

"Why isn't the bell here?"

"Céleste I would like an empty tea-cup and some sugar."

"I recoil all the time from ringing but I have neither kettle nor a light, no paper, one single hot-water bottle that I am moving around against the cold because of this damned chicken. And so much effort to write that straight away it all becomes useless because of the fatigue of asking. Because then I have to smoke again etc."

"You see my coughing fits have started again because I spoke to you. Cross out everything (apart from what we left in Albertine disparue - up to my arrival in Venice with my mother."

"Pass me la Prisonière; Odilon can go, to bring back some beer, leave again and come back between half past five and six o'clock in the morning."

"I said that he should go to Rivière first and then to Duvernois at half past eight. But I understand the whole palaver. Useless to insist. What have you done with my brother's letter that I told you to leave next to me."

"Can Odilon find out if M. Gans is in Paris and might be able to come and see me in the evening. Can he go to M. Rivière's and see if he can come now for five minutes. As for M. Robert we'll see if it's not too late." 6 Sept 1920.

"This box of Voges[?] granules seems to me to be empty. I can't find either the Rami syrup or the Gomerol."

"wake me up at three o'clock"

"I haven't got any of my little dry cakes, nor my watch"

"I don't think I will want anything tomorrow. Although, if I ask (even if I don't take it), white coffee etc."

"some bicarbonate of soda I can't see any near me"

"There's a lot of air coming in. Cool me some Vichy water, this has lost its fizz. I couldn't ask you for my potatoes, the horrible tart made me feel sick. I'm freezing. Is it hotter in the kitchen than in here?
Have you got any croissants, I'm worried that the potatoes will take a long time.
How long for the vermicelli? Sorry for ringing so much."

"I've just coughed three thousand times and I can't feel my back, stomach or anything any more. It's madness. I need really hot underwear and jerseys the same. Just think about this. All your linen has an acrid smell which causes me unnecessary coughing fits. I hope you are going to take formal notice of my order. If not I will be more than angry."

"Some rhino-gomenol so that if you've picked up some flu from outside we don't start the whole rigmarole again. As for your present arrangements I don't understand them at all.
I am as irritated as can be. But in any case you're going to come and present yourself in front of me, in a while.
I haven't received a letter from Mme Schiff?"

"What's that smell of wood. There isn't a fire in the house is there?"

"Not enough vinegar, I'm spitting everything out as it is. But that doesn't matter bring some vinegar.
I want a spoon of vinegar and a salad of green beans, straight away."

"I don't think I'll have anything. But then if I ask (even if it means not taking it) for white coffee that Marie has it all ready and that she understands that what I want is milk that doesn't smell."

"Never do again what unfortunately you are frequently doing now. Coming in without me ringing. [...] Never come in again unless I ring. You have no idea of the harm you have caused me for the rest of the day."

"Don't come unless I ring."

"You have ripped my chest to pieces by forcing me to speak in the morning air."

"All of this exasperates me."

"Too long. Return quickly to the old principles otherwise being affectionate towards you for two hours at the most in two days we will fall out."

"What is this farce of doors left open, freezing cold, are you doing it on purpose. I haven't even got a pen holder."

"I haven't got any of the paper I need. I used some of my fumigation paper but it's more irritating."

"Let's not start this farce all over again."

"I'm as tense as can be. But in any case you are going to come and stand in front of me, for a long time."

"Listen Céleste you always see you
When Marie
I tell you I have given up on Marie
I've just coughed more that three thousand times and I my back is gone, my stomach, everything. It's madness."

"If I think I can have a fire for a minute I will begin to warm up my back, but I need the hot water bottle more quickly." [on the back of a letter to Lionel Hauser dated 26 September 1922].

"No more fire because it was too hot."

Note to Marie Gineste [shortly after 18 Aug 1922]

if my brother comes earlier because before taking my coffee I wouldn't receive him anywhere else, when I ask for my coffee call Céleste. I might have my coffee very soon, I don't know. If M. Hardy comes to complain about the noise say that it is above and next door but I haven't made a sound. When Céleste comes back she needs to remember to come in quietly, without saying anything. She mustn't forget."

Note to his mother

"My dear little Mama, I am still suffocating with drinking and smoking, and I'm wondering what sort of a sleep I'm going to get! A thousand tender kisses. I was writing to you about something or other but I can no longer remember what it was."

 Note to unidentified recipient (his mother? Céleste?)

"Have someone buy the Figaro because it hasn't been brought up (Not urgent) in the morning or afternoon. I am in  a terrible state because I haven't had my fumigations and I really don't know what the outcome will be because they say that trional starts to oppress[?] me etc. But I think all that will turn out for the best, in any case no choking so far.
As long as nobody opens any doors before eleven because I'm drenched in sweat."

Return to Front Page

Updated 03.09.20