Part 7 out of 9
"_AEsop was put up for sale with two other staves. The purchaser inquired of
the first what he could do; and he, to put a price upon himself, described
all sorts of marvels; the second said as much for himself, or more. When it
came to AEsop's turn, and he was asked what he could do:--Nothing, he said,
for these two have taken everything: they can do everything._"
Their attitude was that of pure reaction against "the impudence," as
Montaigne says, "of those who profess knowledge and their overweening
presumption!" The self-styled skeptics of the _Esope_ review were at heart
men of the firmest faith. But their mask of irony and haughty ignorance,
naturally enough, had small attraction for the public: rather it repelled.
The people are only with a writer when he brings them words of simple,
clear, vigorous, and assured life. They prefer a sturdy lie to an anemic
truth. Skepticism is only to their liking when it is the covering of lusty
naturalism or Christian idolatry. The scornful Pyrrhonism in which the
_Esope_ clothed itself could only be acceptable to a few minds--"_aeme
sdegnose_,"--who knew the solid worth beneath it. It was force absolutely
lost upon action and life.
There was no help for it. The more democratic France became, the more
aristocratic did her ideas, her art, her science seem to grow. Science
securely lodged behind its special languages, in the depths of its
sanctuary, wrapped about with a triple veil, which only the initiate had
the power to draw, was less accessible than at the time of Buffon and the
Encyclopedists. Art,--that art at least which had some respect for itself
and the worship of beauty,--was no less hermetically sealed: it despised
the people. Even among writers who cared less for beauty than for action,
among those who gave moral ideas precedence over esthetic ideas, there was
often a strange dominance of the aristocratic spirit. They seemed to be
more intent upon preserving the purity of their inward flame than to
communicate its warmth to others. It was as though they desired not to make
their ideas prevail but only to affirm them.
And yet among these writers there were some who applied themselves to
popular art. Among the most sincere some hurled into their writings
destructive anarchical ideas, truths of the distant future, which might be
beneficent in a century or so, but, for the time being, corroded and
scorched the soul: others wrote bitter or ironical plays, robbed of all
illusion, sad to the last degree. Christophe was left in a state of
collapse, ham-strung, for a day or two after he read them.
"And you give that sort of thing to the people?" he would ask, feeling
sorry for the poor audiences who had come to forget their troubles for a
few hours, only to be presented with these lugubrious entertainments. "It's
enough to make them all go and drown themselves!"
"You may be quite easy on that score," said Olivier, laughing. "The people
"And a jolly good thing too! You're mad. Are you trying to rob them of
every scrap of courage to live?"
"Why? Isn't it right to teach them to see the sadness of things, as we do,
and yet to go on and do their duty without flinching?"
"Without flinching? I doubt that. But it's very certain that they'll do it
without pleasure. And you don't go very far when you've destroyed a man's
pleasure in living."
"What else can one do? One has no right to falsify the truth."
"Nor have you any right to tell the whole truth to everybody."
"_You_ say that? You who are always shouting the truth aloud, you who
pretend to love truth more than anything in the world!"
"Yes: truth for myself and those whose backs are strong enough to bear it
But it is cruel and stupid to tell it to the rest. Yes. I see that now. At
home that would never have occurred to me: in Germany people are not so
morbid about the truth as they are here: they're too much taken up with
living: very wisely they see only what they wish to see. I love you for not
being like that: you are honest and go straight ahead. But you are inhuman.
When you think you have unearthed a truth, you let it loose upon the world,
without stopping to think whether, like the foxes in the Bible with their
burning tails, it will not set fire to the world. I think it is fine of you
to prefer truth to your happiness. But when it comes to the happiness of
other people.... Then I say, 'Stop!' You are taking too much upon
yourselves. Thou shalt love truth, more than thyself, but thy neighbor more
"Is one to lie to one's neighbor?"
Christophe replied with the words of Goethe:
"We should only express those of the highest truths which will be to the
good of the world. The rest we must keep to ourselves: like the soft rays
of a hidden sun, they will shed their light upon all our actions."
But they were not moved by these scruples. They never stopped to think
whether the bow in their hands shot "_ideas or death_," or both together.
They were too intellectual. They lacked love. When a Frenchman has ideas he
tries to impose them on others. He tries to do the same thing when he has
none. And when he sees that he cannot do it he loses interest in other
people, he loses interest in action. That was the chief reason why this
particular group took so little interest in politics, save to moan and
groan. Each of them was shut up in his faith, or want of faith.
Many attempts had been made to break down their individualism and to form
groups of these men: but the majority of these groups had immediately
resolved themselves into literary clubs, or split up into absurd factions.
The best of them were mutually destructive. There were among them some
first-rate men of force and faith, men well fitted to rally and guide those
of weaker will. But each man had his following, and would not consent to
merging it with that of other men. So they were split up into a number of
reviews, unions, associations, which had all the moral virtues, save one:
self-denial; for not one of them would give way to the others: and, while
they wrangled over the crumbs that fell from an honest and well-meaning
public, small in numbers and poor in purse, they vegetated for a short
time, starved and languished, and at last collapsed never to rise again,
not under the assault of the enemy, but--(most pitiful!)--under the weight
of their own quarrels.--The various professions,--men of letters, dramatic
authors, poets, prose writers, professors, members of the Institute,
journalists--were divided up into a number of little castes, which they
themselves split up again into smaller castes, each one of which closed its
doors against the rest. There was no sort of mutual interchange. There was
no unanimity on any subject in France, except at those very rare moments
when unanimity assumed an epidemic character, and, as a rule, was in the
wrong: for it was morbid. A crazy individualism predominated in every kind
of French activity: in scientific research as well as in commerce, in which
it prevented business men from combining and organizing working agreements.
This individualism was not that of a rich and bustling vitality, but that
of obstinacy and self-repression. To be alone, to owe nothing to others,
not to mix with others for fear of feeling their inferiority in their
company, not to disturb the tranquillity of their haughty isolation: these
were the secret thoughts of almost all these men who founded "outside"
reviews, "outside" theaters, "outside" groups: reviews, theaters, groups,
all most often had no other reason for existing than the desire not to be
with the general herd, and an incapacity for joining with other people in a
common idea or course of action, distrust of other people, or, at the very
worst, party hostility, setting one against the other the very men who were
most fitted to understand each other.
Even when men who thought highly of each other were united in some common
task, like Olivier and his colleagues on the _Esope_ review, they always
seemed to be on their guard with each other: they had nothing of that
open-handed geniality so common in Germany, where it is apt to become a
nuisance. Among these young men there was one especially who attracted
Christophe because he divined him to be a man of exceptional force: he was
a writer of inflexible logic and will, with a passion for moral ideas, in
the service of which he was absolutely uncompromising and ready in their
cause to sacrifice the whole world and himself: he had founded and
conducted almost unaided a review in which to uphold them: he had sworn to
impose on Europe and on France the idea of a pure, heroic, and free France:
he firmly believed that the world would one day recognize that he was
responsible for one of the boldest pages in the history of French
thought:--and he was not mistaken. Christophe would have been only too glad
to know him better and to be his friend. But there was no way of bringing
it about. Although Olivier had a good deal to do with him they saw very
little of each other except on business: they never discussed any intimate
matter, and never got any farther than the exchange of a few abstract
ideas: or rather--(for, to be exact, there was no exchange, and each
adhered to his own ideas)--they soliloquized in each other's company in
turn. However, they were comrades in arms and knew their worth.
There were innumerable reasons for this reservedness, reasons difficult to
discern, even for their own eyes. The first reason was a too great critical
faculty, which saw too clearly the unalterable differences between one mind
and another, backed by an excessive intellectualism which attached too much
importance to those differences: they lacked that puissant and naive
sympathy whose vital need is of love, the need of giving out its
overflowing love. Then, too, perhaps overwork, the struggle for existence,
the fever of thought, which so taxes strength that by the evening there is
none left for friendly intercourse, had a great deal to do with it. And
there was that terrible feeling, which every Frenchman is afraid to admit,
though too often it is stirring in his heart, the feeling of _not being of
one race_, the feeling that the nation consists of different races
established at different epochs on the soil of France, who, though all
bound together, have few ideas in common, and therefore ought not, in the
common interest, to ponder them too much. But above all the reason was to
seek in the intoxicating and dangerous passion for liberty, to which, when
a man has once tasted it, there is nothing that he will not sacrifice. Such
solitary freedom is all the more precious for having been bought by years
of tribulation. The select few have taken refuge in it to escape the
slavishness of the mediocre. It is a reaction against the tyranny of the
political and religious masses, the terrific crushing weight which
overbears the individual in France: the family, public opinion, the State,
secret societies, parties, coteries, schools. Imagine a prisoner who, to
escape, has to scale twenty great walls hemming him in. If he manages to
clear them all without breaking his neck, and, above all, without losing
heart, he must be strong indeed. A rough schooling for free-will! But those
who have gone through it bear the marks of it all their life in the mania
for independence, and the impossibility of their ever living in the lives
Side by side with this loneliness of pride, there was the loneliness of
renunciation. There were many, many good men in France whose goodness and
pride and affection came to nothing in withdrawal from life! A thousand
reasons, good and bad, stood in the way of action for them. With some it
was obedience, timidity, force of habit. With others human respect, fear of
ridicule, fear of being conspicuous, of being a mark for the comments of
the gallery, of meddling with things that did not concern them, of having
their disinterested actions attributed to motives of interest. There were
men who would not take part in any political or social struggle, women who
declined to undertake any philanthropic work, because there were too many
people engaged in these things who lacked conscience and even common sense,
and because they were afraid of the taint of these charlatans and fools. In
almost all such people there are disgust, weariness, dread of action,
suffering, ugliness, stupidity, risks, responsibilities: the terrible
"What's the use?" which destroys the good-will of so many of the French of
to-day. They are too intelligent,--(their intelligence has no wide sweep of
the wings),--they are too intent upon reasons for and against. They lack
force. They lack vitality. When a man's life beats strongly he never
wonders why he goes on living: he lives for the sake of living,--because it
is a splendid thing to be alive!
In fine, the best of them were a mixture of sympathetic and average
qualities: a modicum of philosophy, moderate desires, fond attachment to
the family, the earth, moral custom; discretion, dread of intruding, of
being a nuisance to other people: modesty of feeling, unbending reserve.
All these amiable and charming qualities could, in certain cases, be
brought into line with serenity, courage, and inward joy; but at bottom
there was a certain connection between them and poverty in the blood, the
progressive ebb of French vitality.
The pretty garden, beneath the house in which Christophe and Olivier lived,
tucked away between the four walls, was symbolical of that part of the life
of France. It was a little patch of green earth shut off from the outer
world. Only now and then did the mighty wind of the outer air, whirling
down, bring to the girl dreaming there the breath of the distant fields and
the vast earth.
* * * * *
Now that Christophe was beginning to perceive the hidden resources of
France he was furious that she should suffer the oppression of the rabble.
The half-light, in which the select and silent few were huddled away,
stifled him. Stoicism is a fine thing for those whose teeth are gone. But
he needed the open air, the great public, the sunshine of glory, the love
of thousands of men and women: he needed to hold close to him those whom he
loved, to pulverize his enemies, to fight and to conquer.
"You can," said Olivier. "You are strong. You were born to conquer through
your faults--(forgive me!)--as well as through your qualities. You are
lucky enough not to belong to a race and a nation which are too
aristocratic. Action does not repel you. If need be you could even become a
politician.--Besides, you have the inestimable good fortune to write music.
Nobody understands you, and so you can say anything and everything. If
people had any idea of the contempt for themselves which you put into your
music, and your faith in what they deny, and your perpetual hymn in praise
of what they are always trying to kill, they would never forgive you, and
you would be so fettered, and persecuted, and harassed, that you would
waste most of your strength in fighting them: when you had beaten them back
you would have no breath left for going on with your work: your life would
be finished. The great men who triumph have the good luck to be
misunderstood. They are admired for the very opposite of what they are."
"Pooh!" said Christophe. "You don't understand how cowardly your masters
are. At first I thought you were alone, and I used to find excuses for your
inaction. But, as a matter of fact, there's a whole army of you all of the
same mind. You are a hundred times stronger than your oppressors, you are a
thousand times more worthy, and you let them impose on you with their
effrontery! I don't understand you. You live in a most beautiful country,
you are gifted with the finest intelligence and the most human quality of
mind, and with it all you do nothing: you allow yourselves to be overborne
and outraged and trampled underfoot by a parcel of fools. Good Lord! Be
yourselves! Don't wait for Heaven or a Napoleon to come to your aid! Arise,
band yourselves together! Get to work, all of you! Sweep out your house!"
But Olivier shrugged his shoulders, and said, wearily and ironically:
"Grapple with them? No. That is not our game: we have better things to do.
Violence disgusts me. I know only too well what would happen. All the old
embittered failures, the young Royalist idiots, the odious apostles of
brutality and hatred, would seize on anything I did and bring it to
dishonor. Do you want me to adopt the old device of hate: _Fuori Barbari_,
or: _France for the French_?"
"Why not?" asked Christophe.
"No. Such a device is not for the French. Any attempt to propagate it among
our people under cover of patriotism must fail. It is good enough for
barbarian countries! But our country has no use for hatred. Our genius
never yet asserted itself by denying or destroying the genius of other
countries, but by absorbing them. Let the troublous North and the
loquacious South come to us...."
"And the poisonous East?"
"And the poisonous East: we will absorb it with the rest: we have absorbed
many others! I just laugh at the air of triumph they assume, and the
pusillanimity of some of my fellow-countrymen. They think they have
conquered us, they strut about our boulevards, and in our newspapers and
reviews, and in our theaters and in the political arena. Idiots! It is they
who are conquered! They will be assimilated after having fed us. Gaul has a
strong stomach: in these twenty centuries she has digested more than one
civilization. We are proof against poison.... It is meet that you Germans
should be afraid! You must be pure or impure. But with us it is not a
matter of purity but of universality. You have an Emperor: Great Britain
calls herself an Empire: but, in fact, it is our Latin Genius that is
Imperial. We are the citizens of the City of the Universe. _Urbis, Orbis_."
"That is all very well," said Christophe, "as long as the nation is healthy
and in the flower of its manhood. But there will come a day when its energy
declines: and then there is a danger of its being submerged by the influx
of foreigners. Between ourselves, does it not seem as though that day had
"People have been saying that for ages. Again and again our history has
given the lie to such fears. We have passed through many different trials
since the days of the Maid of Orleans, when Paris was deserted, and bands
of wolves prowled through the streets. Neither in the prevalent immorality,
nor the pursuit of pleasure, nor the laxness, nor the anarchy of the
present day, do I see any cause for fear. Patience! Those who wish to live
must endure in patience. I am sure that presently there will be a moral
reaction,--which will not be much better, and will probably lead to an
equal degree of folly; those who are now living on the corruptness of
public life will not be the least clamorous in the reaction!... But what
does that matter to us? All these movements do not touch the real people of
France. Rotten fruit does not corrupt the tree. It falls. Besides, all
these people are such a small part of the nation! What does it matter to us
whether they live or die? Why should I bother to organize leagues and
revolutions against them? The existing evil is not the work of any form of
government. It is the leprosy of luxury, a contagion spread by the
parasites of intellectual and material wealth. Such parasites will perish."
"After they have sapped your vitality."
"It is impossible to despair of such a race. There is in it such hidden
virtue, such a power of light and practical idealism, that they creep into
the veins even of those who are exploiting and ruining the nation. Even the
grasping, self-seeking politicians succumb to its fascination. Even the
most mediocre of men when they are in power are gripped by the greatness of
its Destiny: it lifts them out of themselves: the torch is passed on from
hand to hand among them: one after another they resume the holy war against
darkness. They are drawn onward by the genius of the people: willy-nilly
they fulfil the law of the God whom they deny, _Gesta Dei per Francos_....
O my beloved country, I will never lose my faith in thee! And though in thy
trials thou didst perish, yet would I find in that only a reason the more
for my proud belief, even to the bitter end, in our mission in the world. I
will not have my beloved France fearfully shutting herself up in a
sickroom, and closing every inlet to the outer air. I have no mind to
prolong a sickly existence. When a nation has been so great as we have
been, then it were far better to die rather than to sink from greatness.
Therefore let the ideas of the world rush into the channels of our minds! I
am not afraid. The floor will go down of its own accord after it has
enriched the soil of France with its ooze."
"My poor dear fellow," said Christophe, "but it's a grim prospect in the
meanwhile. Where will you be when your France emerges from the Nile? Don't
you think it would be better to fight against it? You wouldn't risk
anything except defeat, and you seem inclined to impose that on yourself as
long as you like."
"I should be risking much more than defeat," said Olivier. "I should be
running the risk of losing my peace of mind, which I prize far more than
victory. I will not be a party to hatred. I will be just to all my enemies.
In the midst of passion I wish to preserve the clarity of my vision, to
understand and love everything."
* * * * *
But Christophe, to whom this love of life, detached from life, seemed to be
very little different from resignation and acceptance of death, felt in his
heart, as in Empedocles of old, the stirring of a hymn to Hatred and to
Love, the brother of Hate, fruitful Love, tilling and sowing good seed in
the earth. He did not share Olivier's calm fatalism: he had no such
confidence in the continuance of a race which did not defend itself, and
his desire was to appeal to all the healthy forces of the nation, to call
forth and band together all the honest men in the whole of France.
* * * * *
Just as it is possible to learn more of a human being in one minute of love
than in months of observation, so Christophe had learned more about France
in a week of intimacy with Olivier, hardly ever leaving the house, than
during a whole year of blind wandering through Paris, and standing at
attention at various intellectual and political gatherings. Amid the
universal anarchy in which he had been floundering, a soul like that of his
friend seemed to him veritably to be the "_Ile de France_"--the island of
reason and serenity in the midst of the ocean. The inward peace which was
in Olivier was all the more striking, inasmuch as it had no intellectual
support,--as it existed amid unhappy circumstances,--(in poverty and
solitude, while the country of its birth was decadent),--and as its body
was weak, sickly, and nerve-ridden. That serenity was apparently not the
fruit of any effort of will striving to realize it,--(Olivier had little
will);--it came from the depths of his being and his race. In many of the
men of Olivier's acquaintance Christophe perceived the distant light of
that [Greek: sophrosynae],--"the silent calm of the motionless sea";--and
he, who knew, none better, the stormy, troublous depths of his own soul,
and how he had to stretch his will-power to the utmost to maintain the
balance in his lusty nature, marveled at its veiled harmony.
What he had seen of the inner France had upset all his preconceived ideas
about the character of the French. Instead of a gay, sociable, careless,
brilliant people, he saw men of a headstrong and close temper, living in
isolation, wrapped about with a seeming optimism, like a gleaming mist,
while they were in fact steeped in a deep-rooted and serene pessimism,
possessed by fixed ideas, intellectual passions, indomitable souls, which
it would have been easier to destroy than to alter. No doubt these men were
only the select few among the French: but Christophe wondered where they
could have come by their stoicism and their faith. Olivier told him:
"In defeat. It is you, my dear Christophe, who have forged us anew. Ah! But
we suffered for it, too. You can have no idea of the darkness in which we
grew up in a France humiliated and sore, which had come face to face with
death, and still felt the heavy weight of the murderous menace of force.
Our life, our genius, our French civilization, the greatness of a thousand
years,--we were conscious that France was in the hands of a brutal
conqueror who did not understand her, and hated her in his heart, and at
any moment might crush the life out of her for ever. And we had to live for
that and no other destiny! Have you ever thought of the French children
born in houses of death in the shadow of defeat, fed with ideas of
discouragement, trained to strike for a bloody, fatal, and perhaps futile
revenge: for even as babies, the first thing they learned was that there
was no justice, there was no justice in the world: might prevailed against
right! For a child to open its eyes upon such things is for its soul to be
degraded or uplifted for ever. Many succumbed: they said: 'Since it is so,
why struggle against it? Why do anything? Everything is nothing. We'll not
think of it. Let us enjoy ourselves.'--But those who stood out against it
are proof against fire: no disillusion can touch their faith: for from
their earliest childhood they have known that their road could never lead
them near the road to happiness, and that they had no choice but to follow
it, else they would suffocate. Such assurance is not come by all at once.
It is not to be expected of boys of fifteen. There is bitter agony before
it is attained, and many tears are shed. But it is well that it should be
so. It must be so....
"_O Faith, virgin of steel...._
"Dig deep with thy lance into the downtrodden hearts of the peoples!
In silence Christophe pressed Olivier's hand.
"Dear Christophe," said Olivier, "your Germany has made us suffer indeed."
And Christophe begged for forgiveness almost as though he had been
responsible for it.
"There's nothing for you to worry about," said Olivier, smiling. "The good
it has unintentionally done us far outweighs the ill. You have rekindled
our idealism, you have revived in us the keen desire for knowledge and
faith, you have filled our France with schools, you have raised to the
highest pitch the creative powers of a Pasteur, whose discoveries are alone
worth more than your indemnity of two hundred million; you have given new
life to our poetry, our painting, our music: to you we owe the new
awakening of the consciousness of our race. We have reward enough for the
effort needed to learn to set our faith before our happiness: for, in doing
so, we have come by a feeling of such moral force, that, amid the apathy of
the world, we have no doubt, even of victory in the end. Though we are few
in number, my dear Christophe, though we seem so weak,--a drop of water in
the ocean of German power--we believe that the drop of water will in the
end color the whole ocean. The Macedonian phalanx will destroy the mighty
armies of the plebs of Europe."
Christophe looked down at the puny Olivier, in whose eyes there shone the
light of faith, and he said:
"Poor weakly little Frenchmen! You are stronger than we are."
"O beneficent defeat," Olivier went on. "Blessed be that disaster! We will
no more deny it! We are its children."
Defeat new-forges the chosen among men: it sorts out the people: it winnows
out those who are purest and strongest, and makes them purer and stronger.
But it hastens the downfall of the rest, or cuts short their flight. In
that way it separates the mass of the people, who slumber or fall by the
way, from the chosen few who go marching on. The chosen few know it and
suffer: even in the most valiant there is a secret melancholy, a feeling of
their own impotence and isolation. Worst of all,--cut off from the great
mass of their people, they are also cut off from each other. Each must
fight for his own hand. The strong among them think only of
self-preservation. _O man, help thyself!_... They never dream that the
sturdy saying means: _O men, help yourselves!_ In all there is a want of
confidence, they lack free-flowing sympathy, and do not feel the need of
common action which makes a race victorious, the feeling of overflowing
strength, of reaching upward to the zenith.
Christophe and Olivier knew something of all this. In Paris, full of men
and women who could have understood them, in the house peopled with unknown
friends, they were as solitary as in a desert of Asia.
* * * * *
They were very poor. Their resources were almost nil. Christophe had only
the copying and transcriptions of music given him by Hecht. Olivier had
very unwisely thrown up his post at the University during the period of
depression following on his sister's death, which had been accentuated by
an unhappy love affair with a young lady he had met at Madame
Nathan's:--(he had never mentioned it to Christophe, for he was modest
about his troubles: part of his charm lay in the little air of mystery
which he always preserved about his private affairs, even with his friend,
from whom, however, he made no attempt to conceal anything).--In his
depressed condition when he had longed for silence his work as a lecturer
became intolerable to him. He had never cared for the profession, which
necessitates a certain amount of showing off, and thinking aloud, while it
gives a man no time to himself. If teaching in a school is to be at all a
noble thing it must be a matter of a sort of apostolic vocation, and that
Olivier did not possess in the slightest degree: and lecturing for any of
the Faculties means being perpetually in contact with the public, which is
a grim fate for a man, like Olivier, with a desire for solitude. On several
occasions he had had to speak in public: it gave him a singular feeling of
humiliation. At first he loathed being exhibited on a platform. He _saw_
the audience, felt it, as with antennae, and knew that for the most part it
was composed of idle people who were there only for the sake of having
something to do: and the role of official entertainer was not at all to his
liking. Worst of all, speaking from a platform is almost bound to distort
ideas: if the speaker does not take care there is a danger of his passing
gradually from a certain theatricality in gesture, diction, attitude, and
the form in which he presents his ideas--to mental trickery. A lecture is a
thing hovering in the balance between tiresome comedy and polite pedantry.
For an artist who is rather bashful and proud, a lecture, which is a
monologue shouted in the presence of a few hundred unknown, silent people,
a ready-made garment warranted to fit all sizes, though it actually fits no
one, is a thing intolerably false. Olivier, being more and more under the
necessity of withdrawing into himself and saying nothing which was not
wholly the expression of his thought, gave up the profession of teaching,
which he had had so much difficulty in entering: and, as he no longer had
his sister to check him in his tendency to dream, he began to write. He was
naive enough to believe that his undoubted worth as an artist could not
fail to be recognized without his doing anything to procure recognition.
He was quickly undeceived. He found it impossible to get anything
published. He had a jealous love of liberty, which gave him a horror of
everything that might impinge on it, and made him live apart, like a poor
starved plant, among the solid masses of the political churches whose
baleful associations divided the country and the Press between them. He was
just as much cut off from all the literary coteries and rejected by them.
He had not, nor could he have, a single friend among them. He was repelled
by the hardness, the dryness, the egoism of the intellectuals--(except for
the very few who were following a real vocation, or were absorbed by a
passionate enthusiasm for scientific research). That man is a sorry
creature who has let his heart atrophy for the sake of his mind--when his
mind is small. In such a man there is no kindness, only a brain like a
dagger in a sheath: there is no knowing but it will one day cut your
throat. Against such a man it is necessary to be always armed. Friendship
is only possible with honest men, who love fine things for their own sake,
and not for what they can make out of them,--those who live outside their
art. The majority of men cannot breathe the atmosphere of art. Only the
very great can live in it without loss of love, which is the source of
Olivier could only count on himself. And that was a very precarious
support. Any fresh step was a matter of extreme difficulty to him. He was
not disposed to accept humiliation for the sake of his work. He went hot
with shame at the base and obsequious homage which young authors forced
themselves to pay to a well-known theater manager, who took advantage of
their cowardice, and treated them as he would never dare to treat his
servants. Olivier could never have done that to save his life. He just sent
his manuscripts by post, or left them at the offices of the theaters or the
reviews, where they lay for months unread. However, one day by chance he
met one of his old schoolfellows, an amiable loafer, who had still a sort
of grateful admiration for him for the ease and readiness with which
Olivier had done his exercises: he knew nothing at all about literature:
but he knew several literary men, which was much better: he was rich and in
society, something of a snob, and so he let them, discreetly, exploit him.
He put in a word for Olivier with the editor of an important review in
which he was a shareholder: and at once one of his forgotten manuscripts
was disinterred and read: and, after much temporization,--(for, if the
article seemed to be worth something, the author's name, being unknown, was
valueless),--they decided to accept it. When he heard the good news Olivier
thought his troubles were over. They were only just beginning.
It is comparatively easy to have an article accepted in Paris: but getting
it published is quite a different matter. The unhappy writer has to wait
and wait, for months, if need be for life, if he has not acquired the trick
of flattering people, or bullying them, and showing himself from time to
time at the receptions of these petty monarchs, and reminding them of his
existence, and making it clear that he means to go on being a nuisance to
them as long as they make it necessary. Olivier just stayed at home, and
wore himself out with waiting. At best he would write a letter or two which
were never answered. He would lose heart, and be unable to work. It was
quite absurd, but there was nothing to be done. He would wait for post
after post, sitting at his desk, with his mind blanketed by all sorts of
vague injuries: then he would get up and go downstairs to the porter's
room, and look hopefully in his letter-box, only to meet with
disappointment: he would walk blindly about with no thought in his head but
to go back and look again: and when the last post had gone, when the
silence of his room was broken only by the heavy footsteps of the people in
the room above, he would feel strangled by the cruel indifference of it
all. Only a word of reply, only a word! Could that be refused him if only
in charity? And yet those who refused him that had no idea of the hurt they
were dealing him. Every man sees the world in his own image. Those who have
no life in their hearts see the universe as withered and dry: and they
never dream of the anguish of expectation, hope, and suffering which rends
the hearts of the young: or if they give it a thought, they judge them
coldly, with the weary, ponderous irony of those who are surfeited and
beyond the freshness of life.
At last the article appeared. Olivier had waited so long that it gave him
no pleasure: the thing was dead for him. And yet he hoped desperately that
it would be a living thing for others. There were flashes of poetry and
intelligence in it which could not pass unnoticed. It fell upon absolute
silence.--He made two or three more attempts. Being attached to no clique
he met with silence or hostility everywhere. He could not understand it. He
had thought simply that everybody must be naturally well-disposed towards
the work of a new man, even if it was not very good. It always represents
such an amount of work, and surely people would be grateful to a man who
has tried to give others a little beauty, a little force, a little joy. But
he only met with indifference or disparagement. And yet he knew that he
could not be alone in feeling what he had written, and that it must be in
the minds of other good men. He did not know that such good men did not
read him, and had nothing to do with literary opinion, or with anything, or
with anything. If here and there there were a few men whom his words had
reached, men who sympathized with him, they would never tell him so: they
remained immured in their unnatural silence. Just as they refrained from
voting, so they took no share in art: they did not read books, which
shocked them: they did not go to the theater, which disgusted them: but
they let their enemies vote, elect their enemies, engineer a scandalous
success and a vulgar celebrity for books and plays and ideas which only
represented an impudent minority of the people of France.
Since Olivier could not count on those who were mentally akin to himself,
as they did not read, he was delivered up to the hosts of the enemy, to the
mercy of men of letters, who were for the most part hostile to his ideas,
and the critics who were at their beck and call.
His first bouts with them left him bleeding. He was as sensitive to
criticism as old Bruchner, who could not bear to have his work performed,
because he had suffered so much from the malevolence of the Press. He did
not even win the support of his former colleagues at the University, who,
thanks to their profession, did preserve a certain sense of the
intellectual traditions of France, and might have understood him. But for
the most part these excellent young men, cramped by discipline, absorbed in
their work, often rather embittered by their thankless duties, could not
forgive Olivier for trying to break away and do something else Like good
little officials, many of them were inclined only to admit the superiority
of talent when it was consonant with hierarchic superiority.
In such a position three courses were open to him: to break down resistance
by force: to submit to humiliating compromises: or to make up his mind to
write only for himself. Olivier was incapable of the two first: he
surrendered to the third. To make a living he went through the drudgery of
teaching and went on writing, and as there was no possibility of his work
attaining full growth in publicity, it became more and more involved,
chimerical, and unreal.
Christophe dropped like a thunderbolt into the midst of his dim crepuscular
life. He was furious at the wickedness of people and Olivier's patience.
"Have you no blood in your veins?" he would say. "How can you stand such a
life? You know your own superiority to these swine, and yet you let them
squeeze the life out of you without a murmur!"
"What can I do?" Olivier would say. "I can't defend myself. It revolts me
to fight with people I despise: I know that they can use every weapon
against me: and I can't. Not only should I loathe to stoop to use the means
they employ, but I should be afraid of hurting them. When I was a boy I
used to let my schoolfellows beat me as much as they liked. They used to
think me a coward, and that I was afraid of being hit. I was more afraid of
hitting than of being hit. I remember some one saying to me one day, when
one of my tormentors was bullying me: 'Why don't you stop it once and for
all, and give him a kick in the stomach?' That filled me with horror. I
would much rather be thrashed."
"There's no blood in your veins," said Christophe. "And on top of that, all
sorts of Christian ideas!... Your religious education in France is reduced
to the Catechism: the emasculate Gospel, the tame, boneless New
Testament.... Humanitarian clap-trap, always tearful.... And the
Revolution, Jean-Jacques, Robespierre, '48, and, on top of that, the
Jews!... Take a dose of the full-blooded Old Testament every morning."
Olivier protested. He had a natural antipathy for the Old Testament, a
feeling which dated back to his childhood, when he used secretly to pore
over an illustrated Bible, which had been in the library at home, where it
was never read, and the children were even forbidden to open it. The
prohibition was useless! Olivier could never keep the book open for long.
He used quickly to grow irritated and saddened by it, and then he would
close it: and he would find consolation in plunging into the _Iliad_, or
the _Odyssey_, or the _Arabian Nights_.
"The gods of the _Iliad_ are men, beautiful, mighty, vicious: I can
understand them," said Olivier. "I like them or dislike them: even when I
dislike them I still love them: I am in love with them. More than once,
with Patroclus, I have kissed the lovely feet of Achilles as he lay
bleeding. But the God of the Bible is an old Jew, a maniac, a monomaniac, a
raging madman, who spends his time in growling and hurling threats, and
howling like an angry wolf, raving to himself in the confinement of that
cloud of his. I don't understand him. I don't love him; his perpetual
curses make my head ache, and his savagery fills me with horror:
"_The burden of Moab...._
"_The burden of Damascus...._
"_The burden of Babylon...._
"_The burden of Egypt...._
"_The burden of the desert of the sea...._
"_The burden of the valley of vision...._
"He is a lunatic who thinks himself judge, public prosecutor, and
executioner rolled into one, and, even in the courtyard of his prison, he
pronounces sentence of death on the flowers and the pebbles. One is
stupefied by the tenacity of his hatred, which fills the book with bloody
cries ...--'a cry of destruction,... the cry is gone round about the
borders of Moab: the howling thereof unto Eglaim, and the howling thereof
"Every now and then he takes a rest, and looks round on his massacres, and
the little children done to death, and the women outraged and butchered:
and he laughs like one of the captains of Joshua, feasting after the sack
of a town:
"'_And the Lord of hosts shall make unto all people a feast of fat things;
a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the
lees well refined.... The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, it is
made fat with fatness, with the fat of the kidneys of rams...._'
"But worst of all is the perfidy with which this God sends his prophet to
make men blind, so that in due course he may have a reason for making them
"'_Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy and shut
their eyes: lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and
understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.--Lord, how
long?--Until the cities be wasted without inhabitants, and the houses
without men, and the land be utterly desolate...._' Oh! I have never found
a man so evil as that!...
"I'm not so foolish as to deny the force of the language. But I cannot
separate thought and form: and if I do occasionally admire this Hebrew God,
it is with the same sort of admiration that I feel for a viper, or a
...--(I'm trying in vain to find a Shakespearean monster as an example: I
can't find one: even Shakespeare never begat such a hero of Hatred--saintly
and virtuous Hatred). Such a book is a terrible thing. Madness is always
contagious. And that particular madness is all the more dangerous inasmuch
as it sets up its own murderous pride as an instrument of purification.
England makes me shudder when I think that her people have for centuries
been nourished on no other fare.... I'm glad to think that there is the
dike of the Channel between them and me. I shall never believe that a
nation is altogether civilized as long as the Bible is its staple food."
"In that case," said Christophe, "you will have to be just as much afraid
of me, for I get drunk on it. It is the very marrow of a race of lions.
Stout hearts are those which feed on it. Without the antidote of the Old
Testament the Gospel is tasteless and unwholesome fare. The Bible is the
bone and sinew of nations with the will to live. A man must fight, and he
"I hate hatred," said Olivier.
"I only wish you did!" retorted Christophe.
"You're right. I'm too weak even for that. What would you? I can't help
seeing the arguments in favor of my enemies. And I say to myself over and
over again, like Chardin: 'Gentleness! Gentleness!'...."
"What a silly sheep you are!" said Christophe. "But whether you like it or
not, I'm going to make you leap the ditch you're shying at, and I'm going
to drag you on and beat the big drum for you."
* * * * *
In the upshot he took Olivier's affairs in hand and set out to do battle
for him. His first efforts were not very successful. He lost his temper at
the very outset, and did his friend much harm by pleading his cause: he
recognized what he had done very quickly, and was in despair at his own
Olivier did not stand idly by. He went and fought for Christophe. In spite
of his fear and dislike of fighting, in spite of his lucid and ironical
mind, which scorned any sort of exaggeration in word and deed, when it came
to defending Christophe he was far more violent than anybody else, and even
than Christophe himself. He lost his head. Love makes a man irrational, and
Olivier was no exception to the rule.--However, he was cleverer than
Christophe. Though he was uncompromising and clumsy in handling his own
affairs, when it came to promoting Christophe's success he was politic and
even tricky: he displayed an energy and ingenuity well calculated to win
support: he succeeded in interesting various musical critics and Maecenases
in Christophe, though he would have been utterly ashamed to approach them
with his own work.
In spite of everything they found it very difficult to better their lot.
Their love for each other made them do many stupid things. Christophe got
into debt over getting a volume of Olivier's poems published secretly, and
not a single copy was sold. Olivier induced Christophe to give a concert,
and hardly anybody came to it. Faced with the empty hall, Christophe
consoled himself bravely with Handel's quip: "Splendid! My music will sound
all the better...." But these bold attempts did not repay the money they
cost: and they would go back to their rooms full of indignation at the
indifference of the world.
* * * * *
In their difficulties the only man who came to their aid was a Jew, a man
of forty, named Taddee Mooch. He kept an art-photograph shop: but although
he was interested in his trade and brought much taste and skill to bear on
it, he was interested in so many things outside it that he was apt to
neglect his business for them. When he did attend to his business he was
chiefly engaged in perfecting technical devices, and he would lose his head
over new reproduction processes, which, in spite of their ingenuity, hardly
ever succeeded, and always cost him a great deal of money. He was a
voracious reader, and was always hard on the heels of every new idea in
philosophy, art, science, and politics: he had an amazing knack of finding
out men of originality and independence of character: it was as though he
answered to their magnetism. He was a sort of connecting-link between
Olivier's friends, who were all as isolated as himself, and all working in
their several directions. He used to go from one to the other, and through
him there was established between them a complete circuit of ideas, though
neither he nor they had any notion of it.
When Olivier first proposed to introduce him to Christophe, Christophe
refused: he was sick of his experiences with the tribe of Israel. Olivier
laughed and insisted on it, saying that he knew no more of the Jews than he
did of France. At last Christophe consented, but when he saw Taddee Mooch
he made a face. In appearance Mooch was extraordinarily Jewish: he was the
Jew as he is drawn by those who dislike the race: short, bald, badly built,
with a greasy nose and heavy eyes goggling behind large spectacles: his
face was hidden by a rough, black, scrubby beard: he had hairy hands, long
arms, and short bandy legs: a little Syrian Baal. But he had such a kindly
expression that Christophe was touched by it. Above all, he was very
simple, and never talked too much. He never paid exaggerated compliments,
but just dropped the right word, pat. He was very eager to be of service,
and before any kindness was asked of him it would be done. He came often,
too often; and he almost always brought good news: work for one or other of
them, a commission for an article or a lecture for Olivier, or
music-lessons for Christophe. He never stayed long. It was a sort of
affectation with him never to intrude. Perhaps he saw Christophe's
irritation, for his first impulse was always towards an ejaculation of
impatience when he saw the bearded face of the Carthaginian idol,--(he used
to call him "Moloch")--appear round the door: but the next moment it would
be gone, and he would feel nothing but gratitude for his perfect kindness.
Kindness is not a rare quality with the Jews: of all the virtues it is the
most readily admitted among them, even when they do not practise it.
Indeed, in most of them it remains negative or neutral: indulgence,
indifference, dislike for hurting anybody, ironic tolerance. With Mooch it
was an active passion. He was always ready to devote himself to some cause
or person: to his poor co-religionists, to the Russian refugees, to the
oppressed of every nation, to unfortunate artists, to the alleviation of
every kind of misfortune, to every generous cause. His purse was always
open: and however thinly lined it might be, he could always manage to
squeeze a mite out of it: when it was empty he would squeeze the mite out
of some one else's purse: if he could do any one a service no pains were
too great for him to take, no distance was too far for him to go. He did it
simply--with exaggerated simplicity. He was a little apt to talk too much
about his simplicity and sincerity: but the great thing was that he was
both simple and sincere.
Christophe was torn between irritation and sympathy with Mooch, and one day
he said an innocently cruel thing, though he said it with the air of a
spoiled child. Mooch's kindness had touched him, and he took his hands
affectionately and said:
"What a pity!... What a pity it is that you are a Jew!"
Olivier started and blushed, as though the shaft had been leveled at
himself. He was most unhappy, and tried to heal the wound his friend had
Mooch smiled, with sad irony, and replied calmly:
"It is an even greater misfortune to be a man."
To Christophe the remark was nothing but the whim of a moment. But its
pessimism cut deeper than he imagined: and Olivier, with his subtle
perception, felt it intuitively. Beneath the Mooch of their acquaintance
there was another different Mooch, who was in many ways exactly the
opposite. His apparent nature was the result of a long struggle with his
real nature. Though he was apparently so simple he had a distorted mind:
when he gave way to it he was forced to complicate simple things and to
endow his most genuine feelings with a deliberately ironical character.
Though he was apparently modest and, if anything, too humble, at heart he
was proud, and knew it, and strove desperately to whip it out of himself.
His smiling optimism, his incessant activity, his perpetual business in
helping others, were the mask of a profound nihilism, a deadly despondency
which dared not see itself face to face. Mooch made a show of immense faith
in all sorts of things: in the progress of humanity, in the future of the
pure Jewish spirit, in the destiny of France, the soldier of the new
spirit--(he was apt to identify the three causes). Olivier was not taken in
by it, and used to say to Christophe:
"At heart he believes in nothing."
With all his ironical common sense and calmness Mooch was a neurasthenic
who dared not look upon the void within himself. He had terrible moments
when he felt his nothingness: sometimes he would wake suddenly in the
middle of the night screaming with terror. And he would cast about for
things to do, like a drowning man clinging to a life-buoy.
It is a costly privilege to be a member of a race which is exceeding old.
It means the bearing of a frightful burden of the past, trials and
tribulations, weary experience, disillusion of mind and heart,--all the
ferment of immemorial life, at the bottom of which is a bitter deposit of
irony and boredom.... Boredom, the immense boredom of the Semites, which
has nothing in common with our Aryan boredom, though that, too, makes us
suffer; while it is at least traceable to definite causes, and vanishes
when those causes cease to exist: for in most cases it is only the result
of regret that we cannot have what we want. But in some of the Jews the
very source of joy and life is tainted with a deadly poison. They have no
desire, no interest in anything: no ambition, no love, no pleasure. Only
one thing continues to exist, not intact, but morbid and fine-drawn, in
these men uprooted from the East, worn out by the amount of energy they
have had to give out for centuries, longing for quietude, without having
the power to attain it: thought, endless analysis, which forbids the
possibility of enjoyment, and leaves them no courage for action. The most
energetic among them set themselves parts to play, and play them, rather
than act on their own account. It is a strange thing that in many of
them--and not in the least intelligent or the least seriously minded--this
lack of interest in life prompts the impulse, or the unavowed desire, to
act a part, to play at life,--the only means they know of living!
Mooch was an actor after his fashion. He rushed about to try to deaden his
senses. But whereas most people only bestir themselves for selfish reasons,
he was restlessly active in procuring the happiness of others. His devotion
to Christophe was both touching and a bore. Christophe would snub him and
then immediately be sorry for it. But Mooch never bore him any ill-will.
Nothing abashed him. Not that he had any ardent affection for Christophe.
It was devotion that he loved rather than the men to whom he devoted
himself. They were only an excuse for doing good, for living.
He labored to such effect that he managed to induce Hecht to publish
Christophe's _David_ and some other compositions. Hecht appreciated
Christophe's talent, but he was in no hurry to reveal it to the world. It
was not until he saw that Mooch was on the point of arranging the
publication at his own expense with another firm that he took the
initiative out of vanity.
And on another occasion, when things were very serious and Olivier was ill
and they had no money, Mooch thought of going to Felix Weil, the rich
archeologist, who lived in the same house. Mooch and Weil were acquainted,
but had little sympathy with one another. They were too different: Mooch's
restlessness and mysticism and revolutionary ideas and "vulgar" manners,
which, perhaps, he exaggerated, were an incentive to the irony of Felix
Weil, with his calm, mocking temper, his distinguished manners and
conservative mind. They had only one thing in common: they were both
equally lacking in any profound interest in action: and if they did indulge
in action, it was not from faith, but from their tenacious and mechanical
vitality. But neither was prepared to admit it: they preferred to give
their minds to the parts they were playing, and their different parts had
very little in common. And so Mooch was quite coldly received by Weil: when
he tried to interest him in the artistic projects of Olivier and
Christophe, he was brought up sharp against a mocking skepticism. Mooch's
perpetual embarkations for one Utopia or another were a standing joke in
Jewish society, where he was regarded as a dangerous visionary. But on this
occasion, as on so many others, he was not put out: and he went on speaking
about the friendship of Christophe and Olivier until he roused Weil's
interest. He saw that and went on.
He had touched a responsive chord. The friendless solitary old man
worshiped friendship: the one great love of his life had been a friendship
which he had left behind him: it was his inward treasure: when he thought
of it he felt a better man. He had founded institutions in his friend's
name, and had dedicated his books to his memory. He was touched by what
Mooch told him of the mutual tenderness of Christophe and Olivier. His own
story had been something like it. His lost friend had been a sort of elder
brother to him, a comrade of youth, a guide whom he had idolized. That
friend had been one of those young Jews, burning with intelligence and
generous ardor, who suffer from the hardness of their surroundings, and set
themselves to uplift their race, and, through their race, the world, and
burn hotly into flame, and, like a torch of resin, flare for a few hours
and then die. The flame of his life had kindled the apathy of young Weil.
He had raised him from the earth. While his friend was alive Weil had
marched by his side in the shining light of his stoical faith,--faith in
science, in the power of the spirit, in a future happiness,--the rays of
which were shed upon everything with which that messianic soul came in
contact. When he was left alone, in his weakness and irony, Weil fell from
the heights of that idealism into the sands of that Book of Ecclesiastes,
which exists in the mind of every Jew and saps his spiritual vitality. But
he had never forgotten the hours spent in the light with his friend:
jealously he guarded its clarity, now almost entirely faded. He had never
spoken of him to a soul, not even to his wife, whom he loved: it was a
sacred thing. And the old man, who was considered prosaic and dry of heart,
and nearing the end of his life, used to say to himself the bitter and
tender words of a Brahmin of ancient India:
"_The poisoned tree of the world puts forth two fruits sweeter than the
waters of the fountain of life: one is poetry, the other, friendship._"
From that time on he took an interest in Christophe and Olivier. He knew
how proud they were, and got Mooch, without saying anything, to send him
Olivier's volume of poems, which had just been published: and, without the
two friends having anything to do with it, without their having even the
smallest idea of what he was up to, he managed to get the Academy to award
the book a prize, which came in the nick of time to help them in their
When Christophe discovered that such unlooked-for assistance came from a
man of whom he was inclined to think ill, he regretted all the unkind
things he had said or thought of him: he gulped down his dislike of
calling, and went and thanked him. His good intentions met with no reward.
Old Weil's irony was excited by Christophe's young enthusiasm, although he
tried hard to conceal it from him, and they did not get on at all well.
That very day, when Christophe returned, irritated, though still grateful,
to his attic, after his interview with Weil, he found Mooch there, doing
Olivier some fresh act of service, and also a review containing a
disparaging article on his music by Lucien Levy-Coeur;--it was not written
in a vein of frank criticism, but took the insultingly kindly line of
chaffing him and banteringly considering him alongside certain third-rate
and fourth-rate musicians whom he loathed.
"You see," said Christophe to Olivier, after Mooch had gone, "we always
have to deal with Jews, nothing but Jews! Perhaps we're Jews ourselves? Do
tell me that we're not. We seem to attract them. We're always knocking up
against them, both friends and foes."
"The reason is," said Olivier, "that they are more intelligent than the
rest. The Jews are almost the only people in France to whom a free man can
talk of new and vital things. The rest are stuck fast in the past among
dead things. Unfortunately the past does not exist for the Jews, or at
least it is not the same for them as for us. With them we can only talk
about the things of to-day: with our fellow-countrymen we can only discuss
the things of yesterday. Look at the activity of the Jews in every kind of
way: commerce, industry, education, science, philanthropy, art...."
"Don't let's talk about art," said Christophe.
"I don't say that I am always in sympathy with what they do: very often I
detest it. But at least they are alive, and can understand men who are
alive. It is all very well for us to criticise and make fun of the Jews,
and speak ill of them. We can't do without them."
"Don't exaggerate," said Christophe jokingly. "I could do without them
"You might go on living perhaps. But what good would that be to you if your
life and your work remained unknown, as they probably would without the
Jews? Would the members of your own religion come to your assistance? The
Catholic Church lets the best of its members perish without raising a hand
to help them. Men who are religious from the very bottom of their hearts,
men who give their lives in the defense of God,--if they have dared to
break away from Catholic dominion and shake off the authority of Rome,--at
once find the unworthy mob who call themselves Catholic not only
indifferent, but hostile: they condemn them to silence, and abandon them to
the mercy of the common enemy. If a man of independent spirit, be he never
so great and Christian at heart, is not a Christian as a matter of
obedience, it is nothing to the Catholics that in him is incarnate all that
is most pure and most truly divine in their faith. He is not of the pack,
the blind and deaf sect which refuses to think for itself. He is cast out,
and the rest rejoice to see him suffering alone, torn to pieces by the
enemy, and crying for help to those who are his brothers, for whose faith
he is done to death. In the Catholicism of to-day there is a horrible,
death-dealing power of inertia. It would find it far easier to forgive its
enemies than those who wish to awake it and restore it to life.... My dear
Christophe, where should we be, and what should we do--we, who are
Catholics by birth, we, who have shaken free, without the little band of
free Protestants and Jews? The Jews in Europe of to-day are the most active
and living agents of good and evil. They carry hither and thither the
pollen of thought. Have not your worst enemies and your friends from the
very beginning been Jews?"
"That's true," said Christophe. "They have given me encouragement and help,
and said things to me which have given me new life for the struggle, by
showing me that I was understood. No doubt very few of my friends have
remained faithful to me: their friendship was but a fire of straw. No
matter! That fleeting light is a great thing in darkness. You are right: we
mustn't be ungrateful."
"We must not be stupid, either," replied Olivier. "We must not mutilate our
already diseased civilization by lopping off some of its most living
branches. If we were so unfortunate as to have the Jews driven from Europe,
we should be left so poor in intelligence and power for action that we
should be in danger of utter bankruptcy. In France especially, in the
present condition of French vitality, their expulsion would mean a more
deadly drain on the blood of the nation than the expulsion of the
Protestants in the seventeenth century.--No doubt, for the time being, they
do occupy a position out of all proportion to their true merit. They do
take advantage of the present moral and political anarchy, which in no
small degree they help to aggravate, because it suits them, and because it
is natural to them to do so. The best of them, like our friend Mooch, make
the mistake, in all sincerity, of identifying the destiny of France with
their Jewish dreams, which are often more dangerous than useful. But you
can't blame them for wanting to build France in their own image: it means
that they love the country. If their love becomes a public danger, all we
have to do is to defend ourselves and keep them in their place, which, in
France, is the second. Not that I think their race inferior to ours:--(all
these questions of the supremacy of races are idiotic and disgusting).--But
we cannot admit that a foreign race which has not yet been fused into our
own, can possibly know better than we do what suits us. The Jews are well
off in France: I am glad of it: but they must not think of turning France
into Judea! An intelligent and strong Government which was able to keep the
Jews in their place would make them one of the most useful instruments for
the building of the greatness of France: and it would be doing both them
and us a great service. These hypernervous, restless, and unsettled
creatures need the restraint of law and the firm hand of a just master, in
whom there is no weakness, to curb them. The Jews are like women: admirable
when they are reined in; but, with the Jews as with women, their use of
mastery is an abomination, and those who submit to it present a pitiful and
* * * * *
In spite of their love for each other, and the intuitive knowledge that
came with it, there were many things which Christophe and Olivier could not
understand in each other, things, too, which shocked them. In the beginning
of their friendship, when each tried instinctively only to suffer the
existence of those qualities in himself which were most like the qualities
of his friend, they never remarked them. It was only gradually that the
different aspects of their two nationalities appeared on the surface again,
more sharply defined than before: for being in contrast, each showed the
other up. There were moments of difficulty, moments when they clashed,
which, with all their fond indulgence, they could not altogether avoid.
Sometimes they misunderstood each other. Olivier's mind was a mixture of
faith, liberty, passion, irony, and universal doubt, for which Christophe
could not find any working formula.
Olivier, on his part, was distressed by Christophe's lack of psychology:
being of an old intellectual stock, and therefore aristocratic, he was
moved to smile at the awkwardness of such, a vigorous, though lumbering and
single mind, which had no power of self-analysis, and was always being
taken in by others and by itself. Christophe's sentimentality, his noisy
outbursts, his facile emotions, used sometimes to exasperate Olivier, to
whom they seemed absurd. Not to speak of a certain worship of force, the
German conviction of the excellence of fist-morality, _Faustrecht_, to
which Olivier and his countrymen had good reason for not subscribing.
And Christophe could not bear Olivier's irony, which used sometimes to make
him furious with exasperation: he could not bear his mania for arguing, his
perpetual analysis, and the curious intellectual immorality, which was
surprising in a man who set so much store by moral purity as Olivier, and
arose from the very breadth of his mind, to which every kind of negation
was detestable,--so that he took a delight in the contemplation of ideas
the opposite of his own. Olivier's outlook on things was in some sort
historical and panoramic: it was so necessary for him to understand
everything that he always saw reasons both for and against, and supported
each in turn, according as the opposite thesis was put forward: and so amid
such contradictions he lost his way. He would leave Christophe hopelessly
perplexed. It was not that he had any desire to contradict or any taste for
paradox: it was an imperious need in him for justice and common sense: he
was exasperated by the stupidity of any assumption, and he had to react
against it. The crudeness with which Christophe judged immoral men and
actions, by seeing everything as much coarser and more brutal than it
really was, distressed Olivier, who was just as moral, but was not of the
same unbending steel; he allowed himself to be tempted, colored, and molded
by outside influences. He would protest against Christophe's exaggerations
and fly off into exaggeration in the opposite direction. Almost every day
this perverseness of mind would make him take up the cudgels for his
adversaries against his friends. Christophe would lose his temper. He would
cry out upon Olivier's sophistry and his indulgence of hateful things and
people. Olivier would smile: he knew the utter absence of illusion that lay
behind his indulgence: he knew that Christophe believed in many more things
than he did, and had a greater power of acceptance! But Christophe would
look neither to the right hand nor the left, but went straight ahead. He
was especially angry with Parisian "kindness."
"Their great argument, of which they are so proud, in favor of 'pardoning'
rascals, is," he would say, "that all rascals are sufficiently unhappy in
their wickedness, or that they are irresponsible or diseased.... In the
first place, it is not true that those who do evil are unhappy. That's a
moral idea in action, a silly melodramatic idea, stupid, empty optimism,
such as you find in Scribe and Capus,--(Scribe and Capus, your Parisian
great men, artists of whom your pleasure-seeking, vulgar society is worthy,
childish hypocrites, too cowardly to face their own ugliness).--It is quite
possible for a rascal to be a happy man. He has every chance of being so.
And as for his irresponsibility, that is an idiotic idea. Do have the
courage to face the fact that Nature does not care a rap about good and
evil, and is so far malevolent that a man may easily be a criminal and yet
perfectly sound in mind and body. Virtue is not a natural thing. It is the
work of man. It is his duty to defend it. Human society has been built up
by a few men who were stronger and greater than the rest. It is their duty
to see that the work of so many ages of frightful struggles is not spoiled
by the cowardly rabble."
At bottom there was no great difference between these ideas and Olivier's:
but, by a secret instinct for balance and proportion, he was never so
dilettante as when he heard provocative words thrown out.
"Don't get so excited, my friend," he would say to Christophe. "Let the
world hug its vices. Like the friends in the 'Decameron,' let us breathe in
peace the balmy air of the gardens of thought, while under the cypress-hill
and the tall, shady pines, twined about with roses, Florence is devastated
by the black plague."
He would amuse himself for days together by pulling to pieces art, science,
philosophy, to find their hidden wheels: so he came by a sort of
Pyrrhonism, in which everything that was became only a figment of the mind,
a castle in the air, which had not even the excuse of the geometric
symbols, of being necessary to the mind. Christophe would rage against his
pulling the machine to pieces:
"It was going quite well: you'll probably break it. Then how will you be
better off? What are you trying to prove? That nothing is nothing? Good
Lord! I know that. It is because nothingness creeps in upon us from every
side that we fight. Nothing exists? I exist. There's no reason for doing
anything? I'm doing what I can. If people like death, let them die! For my
part, I'm alive, and I'm going to live. My life is in one scale of the
balance, my mind and thought in the other.... To hell with thought!"
He would fly off with his usual violence, and in their argument he would
say things that hurt. Hardly had he said them than he was sorry. He would
long to withdraw them: but the harm was done. Olivier was very sensitive:
his skin was easily barked: a harsh word, especially if it came from some
one he loved, hurt him terribly. He was too proud to say anything, and
would retire into himself. And he would see in his friend those sudden
flashes of unconscious egoism which appear in every great artist. Sometimes
he would feel that his life was no great thing to Christophe compared with
a beautiful piece of music:--(Christophe hardly troubled to disguise the
fact).--He would understand and see that Christophe was right: but it made
And then there were in Christophe's nature all sorts of disordered elements
which eluded Olivier and made him uneasy. He used to have sudden fits of a
freakish and terrible humor. For days together he would not speak: or he
would break out in diabolically malicious moods and try deliberately to
hurt. Sometimes he would disappear altogether and be seen no more for the
rest of the day and part of the night. Once he stayed away for two whole
days. God knows what he was up to! He was not very clear about it
himself.... The truth was that his powerful nature, shut up in that narrow
life, and those small rooms, as in a hen-coop, every now and then reached
bursting-point. His friend's calmness maddened him: then he would long to
hurt him, to hurt some one. He would have to rush away, and wear himself
out. He would go striding through the streets of Paris and the outskirts in
the vague quest of adventure, which sometimes he found: and he would not
have been sorry to meet with some rough encounter which would have given
him the opportunity of expending some of his superfluous energy in a
brawl.... It was hard for Olivier, with his poor health and weakness of
body, to understand. Christophe was not much nearer understanding it. He
would wake up from his aberrations as from an exhausting dream,--a little
uneasy and ashamed of what he had been doing and might yet do. But when the
fit of madness was over he would feel like a great sky washed by the storm,
purged of every taint, serene, and sovereign of his soul. He would be more
tender than ever with Olivier, and bitterly sorry for having hurt him. He
would give up trying to account for their little quarrels. The wrong was
not always on his side: but he would take all the blame upon himself, and
put it down to his unjust passion for being right; and he would think it
better to be wrong with his friend than to be right, if right were not on
Their misunderstandings were especially grievous when they occurred in the
evening, so that the two friends had to spend the night in disunion, which
meant that both of them were morally upset. Christophe would get up and
scribble a note and slip it under Olivier's door: and next day as soon as
he woke up he would beg his pardon. Sometimes, even, he would knock at his
door in the middle of the night: he could not bear to wait for the day to
come before he humbled himself. As a rule, Olivier would be just as unable
to sleep. He knew that Christophe loved him, and had not wished to hurt
him: but he wanted to hear him say so. Christophe would say so, and then
the whole thing would be forgotten. Then they would be pacified. Delightful
state! How well they would sleep for the rest of the night!
"Ah!" Olivier would sigh. "How difficult it is to understand each other!"
"But is it necessary always to understand each other?" Christophe would
ask. "I give it up. We only need love each other."
All these petty quarrels which, with anxious tenderness, they would at once
find ways of mending, made them almost dearer to each other than before.
When they were hotly arguing Antoinette would appear in Olivier's eyes. The
two friends would pay each other womanish attentions. Christophe never let
Olivier's birthday go by without celebrating it by dedicating a composition
to him, or by the gift of flowers, or a cake, or a little present, bought
Heaven knows how!--(for they often had no money in the house)--Olivier
would tire his eyes out with copying out Christophe's scores at night and
Misunderstandings between friends are never very serious so long as a third
party does not come between them.--But that was bound to happen: there are
too many people in this world ready to meddle in the affairs of others and
make mischief between them.
* * * * *
Olivier knew the Stevens, whom Christophe rarely visited, and he too had
been attracted by Colette. The reason why Christophe had not met him in the
girl's little court was that just at that time Olivier was suffering from
his sister's death, and had shut himself up with his grief and saw no one.
Colette, on her part, did not go out of her way to see him: she liked
Olivier, but she did not like unhappy people: she used to declare that she
was so sensitive that she could not bear the sight of sorrow: she waited
until Olivier's sorrow was over before she remembered his existence. When
she heard that he seemed to be himself again, and that there was no danger
of infection, she made bold to beckon him to her. Olivier did not need much
inducement to go. He was shy but he liked society, and he was easily led:
and he had a weakness for Colette. When he told Christophe of his intention
of going back to her, Christophe, who had too much respect for his friend's
liberty to express any adverse opinion, just shrugged his shoulders and
"Go, dear boy, if it amuses you."
But nothing would have induced him to follow his example. He had made up
his mind to have nothing more to do with a coquette like Colette or the
world she lived in. Not that he was a misogynist: far from it. He had a
very tender feeling for all the young women who worked for their living,
the factory-hands, and typists, and Government clerks, who are to be seen
every morning, half awake, always a little late, hurrying to their
workshops and offices. It seemed to him that a woman was only in possession
of all her senses when she was working and struggling for her own
individual existence, by earning her daily bread and her independence. And
it seemed to him that only then did she possess all her charm, her alert
suppleness of movement, the awakening of all her senses, her integrity of
life and will. He detested the idle, pleasure-seeking woman, who seemed to
him to be only an overfed animal, perpetually in the act of digestion,
bored, browsing over unwholesome dreams. Olivier, on the contrary, adored
the _far niente_ of women, their charm, like the charm of flowers, living
only to be beautiful and to perfume the air about them. He was more of an
artist: Christophe was more human. Unlike Colette, Christophe loved other
people in proportion as they shared in the suffering of the world. So,
between him and them there was a bond of brotherly compassion.
Colette was particularly anxious to see Olivier again, after she heard of
his friendship with Christophe: for she was curious to hear the details.
She was rather angry with Christophe for the disdainful manner in which he
seemed to have forgotten her: and, though she had no desire for
revenge,--(it was not worth the trouble: and revenge does mean a certain
amount of trouble),--she would have been very glad to pay him out. She was
like a cat that bites the hand that strokes it. She had an ingratiating way
with her, and she had no difficulty in getting Olivier to talk. Nobody
could be more clear-sighted than he, or less easily taken in by people,
when he was away from them: but nobody could be more naively confiding than
he when he was with a woman whose eyes smiled kindly at him. Colette
displayed so genuine an interest in his friendship with Christophe that he
went so far as to tell her the whole story, and even about certain of their
amicable misunderstandings, which, at a distance, seemed amusing, and he
took the whole blame for them on himself. He also confided to Colette
Christophe's artistic projects, and also some of his opinions--which were
not altogether flattering--concerning France and the French. Nothing that
he told her was of any great importance in itself, but Colette repeated it
all at once, and adapted it partly to make the story more spicy, and partly
to satisfy her secret feeling of malice against Christophe. And as the
first person to receive her confidence was naturally her inseparable Lucien
Levy-Coeur, who had no reason for keeping it secret, the story went the
rounds, and was embellished by the way: a note of ironic pity for Olivier,
who was represented as a victim, was introduced, and he cut rather a sorry
figure. It seemed unlikely that the story could be very interesting to
anybody, since the heroes of it were very little known: but a Parisian
takes an interest in everything that does not concern him. So much so, that
one day Christophe heard the story from the lips of Madame Roussin. She met
him one day at a concert, and asked him if it were true that he had
quarreled with that poor Olivier Jeannin: and she asked about his work, and
alluded to things which he believed were known only to himself and Olivier.
And when he asked her how she had come by her information, she said she had
had it from Lucien Levy-Coeur, who had had it direct from Olivier.
The blow overwhelmed Christophe. Violent and uncritical as he was, it never
occurred to him to think how utterly fantastic the story was: he only saw
one thing: his secrets which he had confided to Olivier had been
betrayed--betrayed to Lucien Levy-Coeur. He could not stay to the end of
the concert: he left the hall at once. Around him all was blank and dark.
In the street he narrowly escaped being run over. He said to himself over
and over again: "My friend has betrayed me!..."
Olivier was with Colette. Christophe locked the door of his room, so that
when Olivier came in he could not have his usual talk with him. He heard
him come in a few moments later and try to open the door, and whisper
"Good-night" through the keyhole: he did not stir. He was sitting on his
bed in the dark, holding his head in his hands, and saying over and over
again: "My friend has betrayed me!...": and he stayed like that half
through the night. Then he felt how dearly he loved Olivier: for he was not
angry with him for having betrayed him: he only suffered. Those whom we
love have absolute rights over us, even the right to cease loving us. We
cannot bear them any ill-will; we can only be angry with ourselves for
being so unworthy of love that it must desert us. There is mortal anguish
in such a state of mind--anguish which destroys the will to live.
Next morning, when he saw Olivier, he did not tell him anything: he so
detested the idea of reproaching him,--reproaching him for having abused
his confidence and flung his secrets into the enemy's maw,--that he could
not find a single word to say to him. But his face said what he could not
speak: his expression was icy and hostile. Olivier was struck dumb: he
could not understand it. He tried timidly to discover what Christophe had
against him. Christophe turned away from him brutally, and made no reply.
Olivier was hurt in his turn, and said no more, and gulped down his
distress in silence. They did not see each other again that day.
Even if Olivier had made him suffer a thousand times more, Christophe would
never have done anything to avenge himself, and he would have done hardly
anything to defend himself: Olivier was sacred to him. But it was necessary
that the indignation he felt should be expended upon some one: and since
that some one could not be Olivier, it was Lucien Levy-Coeur. With his
usual passionate injustice he put upon him the responsibility for the
ill-doing which he attributed to Olivier: and he suffered intolerable pangs
of jealousy in the thought that such a man as that could have robbed him of
his friend's affection, just as he had previously ousted him from his
friendship with Colette Stevens. To bring his exasperation to a head, that
very day he happened to see an article by Lucien Levy-Coeur on a
performance of _Fidelio_. In it he spoke of Beethoven in a bantering way,
and poked fun at his heroine. Christophe was as alive as anybody to the
absurdities of the opera, and even to certain mistakes in the music. He had
not always displayed an exaggerated respect for the acknowledged master
himself. But he set no store by always agreeing with his own opinions, nor
had he any desire to be Frenchily logical. He was one of those men who are
quite ready to admit the faults of their friends, but cannot bear anybody
else to do so. And, besides, it was one thing to criticise a great artist,
however bitterly, from a passionate faith in art, and even--(one may
say)--from an uncompromising love for his fame and intolerance of anything
mediocre in his work,--and another thing, as Lucien Levy-Coeur did, only to
use such criticism to flatter the baseness of the public, and to make the
gallery laugh, by an exhibition of wit at the expense of a great man.
Again, free though Christophe was in his judgments, there had always been a
certain sort of music which he had tacitly left alone and shielded: music
which was not to be tampered with: that music, which was higher and better
than music, the music of an absolutely pure soul, a great health-giving
soul, to which a man could turn for consolation, strength, and hope.
Beethoven's music was in the category. To see a puppy like Levy-Coeur
insulting Beethoven made him blind with anger. It was no longer a question
of art, but a question of honor; everything that makes life rare, love,
heroism, passionate virtue, the good human longing for self-sacrifice, was
at stake. The Godhead itself was imperiled! There was no room for argument
It is as impossible to suffer that to be besmirched as to hear the woman
you respect and love insulted: there is but one thing to do, to hate and
kill.... What is there to say when the insulting blackguard was, of all
men, the one whom Christophe most despised?
And, as luck would have it, that very evening the two men came face to
* * * * *
To avoid being left alone with Olivier, contrary to his habit, Christophe
went to an At Home at the Roussins'. He was asked to play. He consented
unwillingly. However, after a moment or two he became absorbed in the music
he was playing, until, glancing up, he saw Lucien Levy-Coeur standing in a
little group, watching him with an ironical stare. He stopped short, in the
middle of a bar: he got up and turned away from the piano. There was an
awkward silence. Madame Roussin came up to Christophe in her surprise and
smiled forcedly; and, very cautiously,--for she was not sure whether the
piece was finished or not,--she asked him:
"Won't you go on, Monsieur Krafft?"
"I've finished," he replied curtly.
He had hardly said it than he became conscious of his rudeness; but,
instead of making him more restrained, it only excited him the more. He
paid no heed to the amused attention of his auditors, but went and sat
in a corner of the room from which he could follow Lucien Levy-Coeur's
movements. His neighbor, an old general, with a pinkish, sleepy face,
light-blue eyes, and a childish expression, thought it incumbent on him to
compliment him on the originality of his music. Christophe bowed irritably,
and growled out a few inarticulate sounds. The general went on talking
with effusive politeness and a gentle, meaningless smile: and he wanted
Christophe to explain how he could play such a long piece of music from
memory. Christophe fidgeted impatiently, and thought wildly of knocking the
old gentleman off the sofa. He wanted to hear what Lucien Levy-Coeur was
saying: he was waiting for an excuse for attacking him. For some moments
past he had been conscious that he was going to make a fool of himself: but
no power on earth could have kept him from it.--Lucien Levy-Coeur, in his
high falsetto voice, was explaining the aims and secret thoughts of great
artists to a circle of ladies. During a moment of silence Christophe heard
him talking about the friendship of Wagner and King Ludwig, with all sorts
of nasty innuendoes.
"Stop!" he shouted, bringing his fist down on the table by his side.
Everybody turned in amazement. Lucien Levy-Coeur met Christophe's eyes and
paled a little, and said:
"Were you speaking to me?"
"You hound!... Yes," said Christophe.
He sprang to his feet.
"You soil and sully everything that is great in the world," he went on
furiously. "There's the door! Get out, you cur, or I'll fling you through
He moved towards him. The ladies moved aside screaming. There was a moment
of general confusion. Christophe was surrounded at once. Lucien Levy-Coeur
had half risen to his feet: then he resumed his careless attitude in his
chair. He called a servant who was passing and gave him a card: and he went
on with his remarks as though nothing had happened: but his eyelids were
twitching nervously, and his eyes blinked as he looked this way and that
to see how people had taken it. Roussin had taken his stand in front of
Christophe, and he took him by the lapel of his coat and urged him in the
direction of the door. Christophe hung his head in his anger and shame,
and his eyes saw nothing but the wide expanse of shirt-front, and kept on
counting the diamond studs: and he could feel the big man's breath on his
"Come, come, my dear fellow!" said Roussin. "What's the matter with you?
Where are your manners? Control yourself! Do you know where you are? Come,
come, are you mad?"
"I'm damned if I ever set foot in your house again!" said Christophe,
breaking free: and he reached the door.
The people prudently made way for him. In the cloak-room a servant held
out a salver. It contained Lucien Levy-Coeur's card. He took it without
understanding what it meant, and read it aloud: then, suddenly, snorting
with rage, he fumbled in his pockets: mixed up with a varied assortment of
things, he pulled out three or four crumpled dirty cards:
"There! There!" he said, flinging them on the salver so violently that one
of them fell to the ground.
He left the house.
* * * * *
Olivier knew nothing about it. Christophe chose as his witnesses the first
men of his acquaintance who turned up, the musical critic, Theophile
Goujart, and a German, Doctor Barth, an honorary lecturer in a Swiss
University, whom he had met one night in a cafe; he had made friends with
him, though they had little in common: but they could talk to each other
about Germany. After conferring with Lucien Levy-Coeur's witnesses, pistols
were chosen. Christophe was absolutely ignorant about the use of arms, and
Goujart told him it would not be a bad thing for him to go and have a few
lessons: but Christophe refused, and while he was waiting for the day to
come went on with his work.
But his mind was distracted. He had a fixed idea, of which he was dimly
conscious, while it kept buzzing in his head like a bad dream.... "It was
unpleasant, yes, very unpleasant.... What was unpleasant?--Oh! the duel
to-morrow.... Just a joke! Nobody is ever hurt.... But it was possible....
Well, then, afterwards?... Afterwards, that was it, afterwards.... A cock
of the finger by that swine who hates me may wipe out my life.... So be
it!...--Yes, to-morrow, in a day or two, I may be lying in the loathsome
soil of Paris....--Bah! Here or anywhere, what does it matter!... Oh! Lord:
I'm not going to play the coward!--No, but it would be monstrous to waste
the mighty world of ideas that I feel springing to life in me for a
moment's folly.... What rot it is, these modern duels in which they try to
equalize the chances of the two opponents! That's a fine sort of equality
that sets the same value on the life of a mountebank as on mine! Why don't
they let us go for each other with fists and cudgels? There'd be some
pleasure in that. But this cold-blooded shooting!... And, of course, he
knows how to shoot, and I have never had a pistol in my hand.... They are
right: I must learn.... He'll try to kill me. I'll kill him."
He went out. There was a range a few yards away from the house. Christophe
asked for a pistol, and had it explained how he ought to hold it. With his
first shot he almost killed his instructor: he went on with a second and a
third, and fared no better: he lost patience, and went from bad to worse. A
few young men were standing by watching and laughing. He paid no heed to
them. With his German persistency he went on trying, and was so indifferent
to their laughter and so determined to succeed that, as always happens,
his blundering patience roused interest, and one of the spectators gave
him advice. In spite of his usual violence he listened to everything with
childlike docility; he managed to control his nerves, which were making
his hand tremble: he stiffened himself and knit his brows: the sweat was
pouring down his cheeks: he said not a word: but every now and then he
would give way to a gust of anger, and then go on shooting. He stayed there
for a couple of hours. At the end of that time he hit the bull's-eye. Few
things could have been more absorbing than the sight of such a power of
will mastering an awkward and rebellious body. It inspired respect. Some of
those who had scoffed at the outset had gone, and the others were silenced
one by one, and had not been able to tear themselves away. They took off
their hats to Christophe when he went away.
When he reached home Christophe found his friend Mooch waiting anxiously.
Mooch had heard of the quarrel, and had come at once: he wanted to know
how it had originated. In spite of Christophe's reticence and desire
not to attach any blame to Olivier, he guessed the reason. He was very
cool-headed, and knew both the friends, and had no doubt of Olivier's
innocence of the treachery ascribed to him. He looked into the matter, and
had no difficulty in finding out that the whole trouble arose from the
scandal-mongering of Colette and Lucien Levy-Coeur. He rushed back with
his evidence to Christophe, thinking that he could in that way prevent
the duel. But the result was exactly the opposite of what he expected:
Christophe was only the more rancorous against Levy-Coeur when he learned
that it was through him that he had come to doubt his friend. To get rid of
Mooch, who kept on imploring him not to fight, he promised him everything
he asked. But he had made up his mind. He was quite happy now: he was going
to fight for Olivier, not for himself!
A remark made by one of the seconds as the carriage was going along a road
through the woods suddenly caught Christophe's attention. He tried to find
out what they were thinking, and saw how little they really cared about
him. Professor Barth was wondering when the affair would be over, and
whether he would be back in time to finish a piece of work he had begun
on the manuscripts in the _Bibliotheque Nationale_. Of Christophe's three
companions, he was the most interested in the result of the encounter as
a matter of German national pride. Goujart paid no attention either to
Christophe or the other German, but discussed certain scabrous subjects
in connection with the coarser branches of physiology with Dr. Jullien, a
young physician from Toulouse, who had recently come to live next door to
Christophe, and occasionally borrowed his spirit-lamp, or his umbrella, or
his coffee-cups, which he invariably returned broken. In return he gave him
free consultations, tried medicines on him, and laughed at his simplicity.
Under his impassive manner, that would have well become a Castilian
hidalgo, there was a perpetual love of teasing. He was highly delighted
with the adventure of the duel, which struck him as sheer burlesque: and
he was amusing himself with fancying the mess that Christophe would make
of it. He thought it a great joke to be driving through the woods at the
expense of good old Krafft.--That, clearly, was what was in the minds of
the trio: they regarded it as a jolly excursion which cost them nothing.
Not one of them attached the least importance to the duel. But, on the
other hand, they were just as calmly prepared for anything that might come
They reached the appointed spot before the others. It was a little inn in
the heart of the forest. It was a pleasure-resort, more or less unclean, to
which Parisians used to resort to cleanse their honor when the dirt on it
became too apparent. The hedges were bright with the pure flowers of the
eglantine. In the shade of the bronze-leaved oak-trees there were rows
of little tables. At one of these tables were seated three bicyclists:
a painted woman, in knickerbockers, with black socks: and two men in
flannels, who were stupefied by the heat, and every now and then gave out
growls and grunts as though they had forgotten how to speak.
The arrival of the carriage produced a little buzz of excitement in the
inn. Goujart, who knew the house and the people of old, declared that he
would look after everything. Barth dragged Christophe into an arbor and
ordered beer. The air was deliciously warm and soft, and resounding with
the buzzing of bees. Christophe forgot why he had come. Barth emptied the
bottle, and said, after a short silence:
"I know what I'll do."
He drank and went on:
"I shall have plenty of time: I'll go on to Versailles when it's all over."
Goujart was heard haggling with the landlady over the price of the
dueling-ground. Jullien had not been wasting his time: as he passed near
the bicyclists he broke into noisy and ecstatic comment on the woman's bare
legs: and there was exchanged a perfect deluge of filthy epithets in which
Jullien did not come off worst. Barth said in a whisper:
"The French are a low-minded lot. Brother, I drink to your victory."
He clinked his glass against Christophe's. Christophe was dreaming: scraps
of music were floating in his mind, mingled with the harmonious humming of
insects. He was very sleepy.
The wheels of another carriage crunched over the gravel of the drive.
Christophe saw Lucien Levy-Coeur's pale face, with its inevitable smile:
and his anger leaped up in him. He got up, and Barth followed him.
Levy-Coeur, with his neck swathed in a high stock, was dressed with a
scrupulous care which was strikingly in contrast with his adversary's
untidiness. He was followed by Count Bloch, a sportsman well known for
his mistresses, his collection of old pyxes, and his ultra-Royalist
opinions,--Leon Mouey, another man of fashion, who had reached his position
as Deputy through literature, and was a writer from political ambition: he
was young, bald, clean-shaven, with a lean bilious face: he had a long
nose, round eyes, and a head like a bird's,--and Dr. Emmanuel, a fine type
of Semite, well-meaning and cold, a member of the Academy of Medicine, a
chief-surgeon in a hospital, famous for a number of scientific books, and
the medical skepticism which made him listen with ironic pity to the
plaints of his patients without making the least attempt to cure them.
The newcomers saluted the other three courteously. Christophe barely
responded, but was annoyed by the eagerness and the exaggerated politeness
with which they treated Levy-Coeur's seconds. Jullien knew Emmanuel, and
Goujart knew Mouey, and they approached them obsequiously smiling. Mouey
greeted them with cold politeness and Emmanuel jocularly and without
ceremony. As for Count Bloch, he stayed by Levy-Coeur, and with a rapid
glance he took in the condition of the clothes and linen of the three men
of the opposing camp, and, hardly opening his lips, passed abrupt humorous
comment on them with, his friend,--and both of them stood calm and correct.
Lucien Levy-Coeur stood at his ease waiting for Count Bloch, who had the
ordering of the duel, to give the signal. He regarded the affair as a mere
formality. He was an excellent shot, and was fully aware of his adversary's
want of skill. He would not be foolish enough to make use of his advantage
and hit him, always supposing, as was not very probable, that the seconds
did not take good care that no harm came of the encounter: for he knew that
nothing is so stupid as to let an enemy appear to be a victim, when a much
surer and better method is to wipe him out of existence without any fuss
being made. But Christophe stood waiting, stripped to his shirt, which was
open to reveal his thick neck, while his sleeves were rolled up to show his
strong wrists, head down, with his eyes glaring at Levy-Coeur: he stood
taut, with murder written implacably on every feature: and Count Bloch, who
watched him carefully, thought what a good thing it was that civilization
had as far as possible suppressed the risks of fighting.
After both men had fired, of course without result, the seconds hurried
forward and congratulated the adversaries. Honor was satisfied.--Not so
Christophe. He stayed there, pistol in hand, unable to believe that it was
all over. He was quite ready to repeat his performance at the range the
evening before, and go on shooting until one or other of them had hit the
target. When he heard Goujart proposing that he should shake hands with his
adversary, who advanced chivalrously towards him with his perpetual smile,
he was exasperated by the pretense of the whole thing. Angrily he hurled
his pistol away, pushed Goujart aside, and flung himself upon Lucien
Levy-Coeur. They were hard put to it to keep him from going on with the
fight with his fists.
The seconds intervened while Levy-Coeur escaped. Christophe broke away from
them, and, without listening to their laughing expostulation, he strode
along in the direction of the forest, talking loudly and gesticulating
wildly. He did not even notice that he had left his hat and coat on the
dueling-ground. He plunged into the woods. He heard his seconds laughing
and calling him: then they tired of it, and did not worry about him any
more. Very soon he heard the wheels of the carriages rumbling away and
away, and knew that they had gone. He was left alone among the silent
trees. His fury had subsided. He flung himself down on the ground and
sprawled on the grass.
Shortly afterwards Mooch arrived at the inn. He had been pursuing
Christophe since the early morning. He was told that his friend was in the
woods, and went to look for him. He beat all the thickets, and awoke all
the echoes, and was going away in despair when he heard him singing: he
found his way by the voice, and at last came upon him in a little clearing
with his arms and legs in the air, rolling about like a young calf. When
Christophe saw him he shouted merrily, called him "dear old Moloch," and
told him how he had shot his adversary full of holes until he was like a
sieve: he made him tuck in his tuppenny, and then join him in a game of
leap-frog: and when he jumped over him he gave him a terrific thump.
Mooch was not very good at it, but he enjoyed the game almost as much as
Christophe.--They returned to the inn arm-in-arm, and caught the train
back to Paris at the nearest station.
Olivier knew nothing of what had happened. He was surprised at Christophe's
tenderness: he could not understand his sudden change. It was not until
the next day, when he saw the newspapers, that he knew that Christophe
had fought a duel. It made him almost ill to think of the danger that
Christophe had run. He wanted to know why the duel had been fought.
Christophe refused to tell him anything. When he was pressed he said with
"It was for you."
Olivier could not get a word more out of him. Mooch told him all about it.
Olivier was horrified, quarreled with Colette, and begged Christophe to
forgive his imprudence. Christophe was incorrigible, and quoted for his
benefit an old French saying, which he adapted so as to infuriate poor
Mooch, who was present to share in the happiness of the friends:
"My dear boy, let this teach you to be careful....
"_From an idle chattering girl,
From a wheedling, hypocritical Jew,
From a painted friend,
From a familiar foe,
And from flat wine,
Libera Nos, Domine!_"
Their friendship was re-established. The danger of losing it, which had
come so near, made it only the more dear. Their small misunderstandings
had vanished: the very differences between them made them more attractive
to each other. In his own soul Christophe embraced the souls of the two
countries, harmoniously united. He felt that his heart was rich and full:
and, as usual with him, his abundant happiness expressed itself in a flow
Olivier marveled at it. Being too critical in mind, he was never far from
believing that music, which he adored, had said its last word. He was
haunted by the morbid idea that decadence must inevitably succeed a certain
degree of progress: and he trembled lest the lovely art, which made him
love life, should stop short, and dry up, and disappear into the ground.
Christophe would scoff at such pusillanimous ideas. In a spirit of
contradiction he would pretend that nothing had been done before he
appeared on the scene, and that everything remained to be done. Olivier
would instance French music, which seemed to have reached a point of
perfection and ultimate civilization beyond which there could not possibly
be anything. Christophe would shrug his shoulders:
"French music?... There has never been any.... And yet you have such fine
things to do in the world! You can't really be musicians, or you would have
discovered that. Ah! if only I were a Frenchman!..."
And he would set out all the things that a Frenchman might turn into music:
"You involve yourselves in forms which do not suit you, and you do nothing
at all with those which are admirably fitted for your use. You are a
people of elegance, polite poetry, beautiful gestures, beautiful walking
movements, beautiful attitudes, fashion, clothes, and you never write
ballets nowadays, though you ought to be able to create an inimitable art
of poetic dancing....--You are a people of laughter and comedy, and you
never write comic operas, or else you leave it to minor musicians, the
confectioners of music. Ah! if I were a Frenchman I would set Rabelais to
music, I would write comic epics....--You are a people of story-tellers,
and you never write novels in music: (for I don't count the feuilletons
of Ghistave Charpentier). You make no use of your gift of psychological
analysis, your insight into character. Ah! if I were a Frenchman I would
give you portraits in music.... (Would you like me to sketch the girl
sitting in the garden under the lilac?).... I would write you Stendhal for
a string quartet....--You are the greatest democracy in Europe, and you
have no theater for the people, no music for the people. Ah! if I were a
Frenchman, I would set your Revolution to music: the 14th July, the 10th
August, Valmy, the Federation, I would express the people in music! Not
in the false form of Wagnerian declamation. I want symphonies, choruses,
dances. Not speeches! I'm sick of them. There's no reason why people
should always be talking in a music drama! Bother the words! Paint in bold
strokes, in vast symphonies with choruses, immense landscapes in music,
Homeric and Biblical epics, fire, earth, water, and sky, all bright and
shining, the fever which makes hearts burn, the stirring of the instincts
and destinies of a race, the triumph of Rhythm, the emperor of the world,
who enslaves thousands of men, and hurls armies down to death.... Music
everywhere, music in everything! If you were musicians you would have
music for every one of your public holidays, for your official ceremonies,
for the trades unions, for the student associations, for your family
festivals.... But, above all, above all, if you were musicians, you would
make pure music, music which has no definite meaning, music which has no
definite use, save only to give warmth, and air, and life. Make sunlight
for yourselves! _Sat prata_.... (What is that in Latin?).... There has been
rain enough. Your music gives me a cold. One can't see in it: light your
lanterns.... You complain of the Italian _porcherie_, who invade your
theaters and conquer the public, and turn you out of your own house?
It is your own fault! The public are sick of your crepuscular art, your
harmonized neurasthenia, your contrapuntal pedantry. The public goes where
it can find life, however coarse and gross. Why do you run away from life?
Your Debussy is a bad man, however great he may be as an artist. He aids
and abets you in your torpor. You want roughly waking up."
"What about Strauss?"
"No better. Strauss would finish you off. You need the digestion of my
fellow-countrymen to be able to bear such immoderate drinking. And even
they cannot bear it.... Strauss's _Salome_!... A masterpiece.... I should
not like to have written it.... I think of my old grandfather and uncle
Gottfried, and with what respect and loving tenderness they used to talk
to me about the lovely art of sound!... But to have the handling of such
divine powers, and to turn them to such uses!... A flaming, consuming
meteor! An Isolde, who is a Jewish prostitute. Bestial and mournful lust.
The frenzy of murder, pillage, incest, and untrammeled instincts which is
stirring in the depths of German decadence.... And, on the other hand,
the spasm of a voluptuous and melancholy suicide, the death-rattle which
sounds through your French decadence.... On the one hand, the beast: on the
other, the prey. Where is man?... Your Debussy is the genius of good taste:
Strauss is the genius of bad taste. Debussy is rather insipid. But Strauss
is very unpleasant. One is a silvery thread of stagnant water, losing
itself in the reeds, and giving off an unhealthy aroma. The other is a
mighty muddy flood.... Ah! the musty base Italianism and neo-Meyerbeerism,
the filthy masses of sentiment which are borne on by the torrent!... An
odious masterpiece!... Salome, the daughter of Ysolde.... And whose mother
will Salome be in her turn?"
"Yes," said Olivier, "I wish we could jump fifty years. This headlong
gallop towards the precipice must end one way or another: either the horse
must stop or fall. Then we shall breathe again. Thank Heaven, the earth
will not cease to flower, nor the sky to give light, with or without music!
What have we to do with an art so inhuman!... The West is burning away....
Soon.... Very soon.... I see other stars arising in the furthest depths of
"Bother the East!" said Christophe. "The West has not said its last word
yet. Do you think I am going to abdicate? I have enough to say to keep
you going for centuries. Hurrah for life! Hurrah for joy! Hurrah for the
courage which drives us on to struggle with our destiny! Hurrah for love
which maketh the heart big! Hurrah for friendship which rekindles our
faith,--friendship, a sweeter thing than love! Hurrah for the day! Hurrah
for the night! Glory be to the sun! _Laus Deo_, the God of joy, the God of
dreams and actions, the God who created music! Hosannah!..."
With that he sat down at his desk and wrote down everything that was in his
head, without another thought for what he had been saying.
* * * * *
At that time Christophe was in a condition in which all the elements of his
life were perfectly balanced. He did not bother his head with esthetic
discussions as to the value of this or that musical form, nor with reasoned
attempts to create a new form: he did not even have to cast about for
subjects for translation into music. One thing was as good as another. The
flood of music welled forth without Christophe knowing exactly what feeling
he was expressing. He was happy: that was all: happy in expanding, happy in
having expanded, happy in feeling within himself the pulse of universal
His fullness of joy was communicated to those about him.
The house with its closed garden was too small for him. He had the view out
over the garden of the neighboring convent with the solitude of its great
avenues and century-old trees: but it was too good to last. In front of
Christophe's windows they were building a six-story house, which shut out
the view and completely hemmed him in. In addition, he had the pleasure of
hearing the creaking of pulleys, the chipping of stones, the hammering of
nails, all day long from morning to night. Among the workmen he found his
old friend the slater, whose acquaintance he had made on the roof. They
made signs to each other, and once, when he met him in the street, he took
the man to a wineshop, and they drank together, much to the surprise of
Olivier, who was a little scandalized. He found the man's drollery and
unfailing good-humor very entertaining, but did not curse him any the less,
with his troop of workmen and stupid idiots who were raising a barricade
in front of the house and robbing him of air and light. Olivier did not
complain much: he could quite easily adapt himself to a limited horizon:
he was like the stove of Descartes, from which the suppressed ideas darted
upward to the free sky. But Christophe needed more air. Shut up in that
confined space, he avenged himself by expanding into the lives of those
about him. He drank in their inmost life, and turned it into music. Olivier
used to tell him that he looked like a lover.
"If I were in love," Christophe would reply, "I should see nothing, love
nothing, be interested in nothing outside my love."
"What is the matter with you, then?"
"I'm very well. I'm hungry."
"Lucky Christophe!" Olivier would sigh. "I wish you could hand a little of
your appetite over to us."
Health, like sickness, is contagious. The first to feel the benefit of
Christophe's vitality was naturally Olivier. Vitality was what he most
lacked. He retired from the world because its vulgarity revolted him.
Brilliantly clever though he was, and in spite of his exceptional artistic
gifts, he was too delicate to be a great artist. Great artists do not feel
disgust: the first law for every healthy being is to live: and that law
is even more imperative for a man of genius: for such a man lives more.
Olivier fled from life: he drifted along in a world of poetic fictions that
had no body, no flesh and blood, no relation to reality. He was one of
those literary men who, in quest of beauty, have to go outside time, into
the days that are no more, or the days that have never been. As though the
wine of life were not as intoxicating, and its vintages as rich nowadays as
ever they were! But men who are weary in soul recoil from direct contact
with life: they can only bear to see it through the veil of visions spun
by the backward movement of time, and hear it in the echo which sends back
and distorts the dead words of those who were once alive.--Christophe's
friendship gradually dragged Olivier out of this Limbo of art. The sun's
rays pierced through to the innermost recesses of his soul in which he was
* * * * *
Elsberger, the engineer, also succumbed to Christophe's contagious
optimism. It was not shown in any change in his habits: they were too
inveterate: and it was too much to expect him to become enterprising enough
to leave France and go and seek his fortune elsewhere. But he was shaken
out of his apathy: he recovered his taste for research, and reading, and
the scientific work which he had long neglected. He would have been much
astonished had he been told that Christophe had something to do with
his new interest in his work: and certainly no one would have been more
surprised than Christophe.
* * * * *
But of all the inhabitants of the house, Christophe was the soonest
intimate with the little couple on the second floor. More than once as he
passed their door he had stopped to listen to the sound of the piano which
Madame Arnaud used to play quite well when she was alone. Then he gave them
tickets for his concert, for which they thanked him effusively. And after
that he used to go and sit with them occasionally in the evening. He
had never heard Madame Arnaud playing again: she was too shy to play in
company: and even when she was alone, now that she knew she could be heard
on the stairs, she kept the soft pedal down. But Christophe used to play to
them, and they would talk about it for hours together. The Arnauds used to
speak of music with such eagerness and freshness of feeling that he was
enchanted with them. He had not thought it possible for French people to
care so much for music.
"That," Olivier would say, "is because you have only come across
"I'm perfectly aware," Christophe would reply, "that professed musicians
are the very people who care least for music: but you can't make me believe
that there are many people like you in France."
"A few thousands at any rate."
"I suppose it's an epidemic, the latest fashion."
"It is not a matter of fashion," said Arnaud. "_He who does not rejoice to
hear a sweet accord of instruments, or the sweetness of the natural voice,
and is not moved by it, and does not tremble from head to foot with its
sweet ravishment, and is not taken completely out of himself, does thereby
show himself to have a twisted, vicious, and depraved soul, and of such an
one we should beware as of a man ill-born...._"
"I know that," said Christophe. "It is my friend Shakespeare."
"No," said Arnaud gently. "It is a Frenchman who lived before him, Ronsard.
That will show you that, if it is the fashion in France to care for music,
it is no new thing."
But what astonished Christophe was not so much that people in France should
care for music, as that almost without exception they cared for the same
music as the people in Germany. In the world of Parisian snobs and artists,
in which he had moved at first, it had been the mode to treat the German
masters as distinguished foreigners, by all means to be admired, but to be
kept at a distance: they were always ready to poke fun at the dullness of a
Gluck, and the barbarity of a Wagner: against them they set up the subtlety
of the French composers. And in the end Christophe had begun to wonder
whether a Frenchman could have the least understanding of German music, to
judge by the way it was rendered in France. Only a short time before he had
come away perfectly scandalized from a performance of an opera of Gluck's:
the ingenious Parisians had taken it into their heads to deck the old
fellow up, and cover him with ribbons, and pad out his rhythms, and bedizen
his music with, impressionistic settings, and charming little dancing
girls, forward and wanton.... Poor Gluck! There was nothing left of his
eloquent and sublime feeling, his moral purity, his naked sorrow. Was it
that the French could not understand these things?--And now Christophe
could see how deeply and tenderly his new friends loved the very inmost
quality of the Germanic spirit, and the old German _lieder_, and the German
classics. And he asked them if it was not the fact that the great Germans
were as foreigners to them, and that a Frenchman could only really love the
artists of his own nationality.
"Not at all!" they protested. "It is only the critics who take upon
themselves to speak for us. They always follow the fashion, and they want
us to follow it too. But we don't worry about them any more than they worry
about us. They're funny little people, trying to teach us what is and is
not French--us, who are French of the old stock of France!... They come and
tell us that our France is in Rameau,--or Racine,--and nowhere else. As
though we did not know,--(and thousands like us in the provinces, and in
Paris). How often Beethoven, Mozart, and Gluck, have sat with us by the
fireside, and watched with us by the bedside of those we love, and shared
our troubles, and revived our hopes, and been one of ourselves! If we
dared say exactly what we thought, it is much more likely that the French
artists, who are set up on a pedestal by our Parisian critics, are
strangers among us."
"The truth is," said Olivier, "that if there are frontiers in art, they are
not so much barriers between races as barriers between classes. I'm not so
sure that there is a French art or a German art: but there is certainly
one art for the rich and another for the poor. Gluck was a great man of
the middle-classes: he belongs to our class. A certain French artist,
whose name I won't mention, is not of our class: though he was of the
middle-class by birth, he is ashamed of us, and denies us: and we deny
What Olivier said was true. The better Christophe got to know the French,
the more he was struck by the resemblance between the honest men of France
and the honest men of Germany. The Arnauds reminded him of dear old Schulz
with his pure, disinterested love of art, his forgetfulness of self, his
devotion to beauty. And he loved them in memory of Schulz.
* * * * *
At the same time as he realized the absurdity of moral frontiers between
the honest men of different nationalities, Christophe began to see the
absurdity of the frontiers that lay between the different ideas of honest
men of the same nationality. Thanks to him, though without any deliberate
effort on his part, the Abbe Corneille and M. Watelet, two men who seemed
very far indeed from understanding each other, made friends.