Part 8 out of 10
weaknesses, moments of abandonment to the caprice of the minute, a
coquetry at which she herself mocked but never fought against. She was
never in revolt against things, nor against herself: she had come to a
gentle fatalism, and she was altogether kind, but a little weary.
* * * * *
She entertained a great deal, and--at least, in appearance--not very
selectively: but as, for the most part, her intimates belonged to the
same world, breathed the same atmosphere, had been fashioned by the same
habits, they were homogeneous and harmonious enough, and very different
from the polite assemblages that Christophe had known in France and
Germany. The majority were of old Italian families, vivified here and
there by foreign marriages; they all had a superficial cosmopolitanism
and a comfortable mixture of the four chief languages, and the
intellectual baggage of the four great nations of the West. Each nation
brought into the pool its personal characteristic, the Jews their
restlessness and the Anglo-Saxons their phlegm, but everything was
quickly absorbed in the Italian melting-pot. When centuries of great
plundering barons have impressed on a race the haughty and rapacious
profile of a bird of prey, the metal may change, but the imprint remains
the same. Many of the faces that seemed the most pronouncedly Italian,
with a Luini smile, or the voluptuous, calm gaze of a Titian, flowers of
the Adriatic, or the plains of Lombardy, had blossomed on the shrubs of
the North transplanted to the old Latin soil. Whatever colors be spread
on the palette of Rome, the color which stands out is always Roman.
Christophe could not analyze his impressions, but he admired the perfume
of an age-old culture, an ancient civilization exhaled by these people,
who were often mediocre, and, in some cases, less than mediocre. It was
a subtle perfume, springing from the smallest trifles. A graceful
courtesy, a gentleness of manners that could be charming and
affectionate, and at the same time malicious and consciously superior,
an elegant finesse in the use of the eyes, the smile, the alert,
nonchalant, skeptical, diverse, and easy intelligence. There was nothing
either stiff or familiar. Nothing literary. Here there was no fear of
meeting the psychologues of a Parisian drawing-room, ensconced behind
their eyeglasses, or the corporalism of a German pedant. They were men,
quite simply, and very human men, such as were the friends of Terence
and Scipio the Amilian....
It was fine to see. It was a life more of appearance than reality.
Beneath it lay an incurable frivolity which is common to the polite
society of every country. But what made this society characteristic of
its race was its indolence. The frivolity of the French is accompanied
by a fever of the nerves--a perpetual agitation of the mind, even when
it is empty. The brain of the Italian knows how to rest. It knows it
only too well. It is sweet to sleep in the warm shadows, on the soft
pillow of a padded Epicureanism, and a very supple, fairly curious, and,
at bottom, prodigiously indifferent intelligence.
All the men of this society were entirely lacking in decided opinions.
They dabbled in politics and art in the same dilettante fashion. Among
them were charming natures, handsome, fine-featured patrician, Italian
faces, with soft, intelligent eyes, men with gentle, quiet manners, who,
with exquisite taste and affectionate hearts, loved Nature, the old
masters, flowers, women, books, good food, their country, music.... They
loved everything. They preferred nothing. Sometimes one felt that they
loved nothing. Love played so large a part in their lives, but only on
condition that it never disturbed them. Their love was indolent and
lazy, like themselves; even in their passion it was apt to take on a
domestic character. Their solid, harmonious intelligence was fitted with
an inertia in which all the opposites of thought met without collision,
were tranquilly yoked together, smiling, cushioned, and rendered
harmless. They were afraid of any thorough belief, of taking sides, and
were at their ease in semi-solutions and half-thoughts. They were
conservative-liberal in temper of mind. They needed politics and art
half-way up the hill, like those health resorts where there is no danger
of asthma or palpitations. They recognized themselves in the lazy plays
of Goldoni, or the equally diffused light of Manzoni. Their amiable
indifference was never disturbed. Never could they have said like their
great ancestors: _"Primum vivere ..."_ but rather _"Dapprima,
To live in peace. That was the secret vow, the aim of even the most
energetic of those who controlled politics. A little Machiavelli, master
of himself and others, with a heart as cold as his head, a lucid, bored
intelligence, knowing how and daring to use all means to gain his ends,
ready to sacrifice all his friends to his ambition, would be capable of
sacrificing his ambition to one thing only: his _quieto vivere_.
They needed long periods of absolute lassitude. When they issued from
them, as from a good sleep, they were fresh and ready: these grave men,
these tranquil Madonnas would be taken with a sudden desire to talk, to
be gay, to plunge into social life; then they would break out into a
profusion of gestures and words, paradoxical sallies, burlesque humor:
they were always playing an _opera bouffe_. In that gallery of
Italian portraits rarely would you find the marks of thought, the
metallic brilliance of the eyes, faces stained with the perpetual labor
of the mind, such as are to be found in the North. And yet, here, as
elsewhere, there was no lack of souls turned in upon themselves, to feed
upon themselves, concealing their woes, and desires and cares seething
beneath the mask of indifference, and, voluptuously, drawing on a cloak
of torpor. And, in certain faces there would peep out, queerly,
disconcertingly, indications of some obscure malady of the spirit
peculiar to very ancient races--like the excavations in the Roman
There was great charm in the enigmatic indifference of these people, and
their calm, mocking eyes, wherein there slumbered hidden tragedy. But
Christophe was in no humor to recognize it. He was furious at seeing
Grazia surrounded by worldly people with their courteous, witty, and
empty manners. He hated them for it, and he was angry with her. He
sulked at her just as he sulked at Rome. His visits to her became less
and less frequent, and he began to make up his mind to go.
* * * * *
He did not go. Unknown to himself, he was beginning to feel the
attraction of Italian society, though it irritated him so much.
For the time being, he isolated himself and lounged about Rome and the
environment. The Roman light, the hanging gardens, the Campagna,
encircled, as by a golden scarf, by the sunlit sea, little by little
delivered up to him the secret of the enchanted land. He had sworn not
to move a step to see the monuments of the dead, which he affected to
despise: he used grumblingly to declare that he would wait until they
came to look for him. They came; he happened on them by chance on his
rambling through the City of many hills. Without having looked for it,
he saw the Forum red under the setting sun, and the half-ruined arches
of the Palatine and behind them the deep azure vault of heaven, a gulf
of blue light. He wandered in the vast Campagna, near the ruddy Tiber,
thick with mud, like moving earth,--and along the ruined aqueducts, like
the gigantic vertebrae of antediluvian monsters. Thick masses of black
clouds rolled across the blue sky. Peasants on horseback goaded across
the desert great herds of pearly-gray cattle with long horns; and along
the ancient road, straight, dusty, and bare, goat-footed shepherds, clad
in thick skins, walked in silence. On the far horizon, the Sabine Chain,
with its Olympian lines, unfolded its hills; and on the other edge of
the cup of the sky the old walls of the city, the front of Saint John's
Church, surmounted with statues which danced in black silhouette....
Silence.... A fiery sun.... The wind passed over the plain.... On a
headless, armless statue, almost inundated by the waving grass, a
lizard, with its heart beating tranquilly, lay motionless, absorbed,
drinking in its fill of light. And Christophe, with his head buzzing
with the sunshine (sometimes also with the _Castelli_ wine), sitting on
the black earth near the broken statue, smiling, sleepy, lost
in forgetfulness, breathed in the calm, tremendous force of Rome.--Until
nightfall.--Then, with his heart full of a sudden anguish, he fled from
the gloomy solitude in which the tragic light was sinking.... O earth,
burning earth, earth passionate and dumb! Beneath thy fevered peace I
still can hear the trumpeting of the legions. What a fury of life is
shining in thy bosom! What a mighty desire for an awakening!
Christophe found men in whose souls there burned brands of the age-old
fire. Beneath the ruse of the dead they had been preserved. It might
be thought that the fire had died down with the closing of Mazzini's
eyes. It was springing to life again. It was the same. Very few
wished to see it. It troubled the quiet of those who were asleep. It
gave a clear and brutal light. Those who bore it aloft,--young men (the
eldest was not thirty-five), a little band of the elect come from every
point of the horizon, men of free intellect who were all different in
temperament, education, opinions, and faith--were all united in worship
of this flame of the new life. The etiquette of parties, systems of
thought, mattered not to them: the great thing was to "think with
courage." To be frank, to be brave, in mind and deed. Rudely they
disturbed the sleep of their race. After the political resurrection of
Italy, awakened from death by the summons of her heroes, after her
recent economic resurrection, they had set themselves to pluck Italian
thought from the grave. They suffered, as from an insult, from the
indolent and timid indifference of the elect, their cowardice of mind
and verbolatry. Their _Voices_ rang hollow in the midst of
rhetoric and the moral slavery which for centuries had been gathering
into a crust upon the soul of their country. They breathed into it their
merciless realism and their uncompromising loyalty. Though upon occasion
they were capable of sacrificing their own personal intellectual
preferences to the duty of discipline which national life imposes on the
individual, yet they reserved their highest altar and their purest ardor
for the truth. They loved truth with fiery, pious hearts. Insulted by
his adversaries, defamed, threatened, one of the leaders of these young
men replied, with grand, calm dignity:
_"Respect the truth. I speak to you now, from my heart, with no shade
of bitterness. I forget the ill I have received at your hands and the
evil that I may have done you. Be true. There is no conscience, there is
no noble life, there is no capacity for sacrifice where there is not a
religious, a rigid, and a rigorous respect for truth. Strive, then, to
fulfil this difficult duty. Untruth corrupts whoever makes use of it
before it overcomes him against whom it is used. What does it matter
that you gain an immediate success? The roots of your soul will remain
withered in the air above the soil that is crumbled away with untruth.
We are on a plane superior to our disagreements, even though on your
lips your passion brings the name of our country. There is one thing
greater than a man's country, and that is the human conscience. There
are laws which you must not violate on pain of being bad Italians. You
see before you now only a man who is a seeker after truth: you must hear
his cry. You have before you now only a man who ardently desires to see
you great and pure, and to work with you. For, whether you will or no,
we all work in common with all those who in this world work truthfully.
That which comes out of our labors (and we cannot foresee what it will
be) will bear our common mark, the mark of us all, if we have labored
with truth. The essence of man lies in this, in his marvelous faculty
for seeking truth, seeing it, loving it, and sacrificing himself to
it.--Truth, that over all who possess it spends the magic breath of its
puissant health!..."_ [Footnote: The hymn to Truth here introduced is
an abridgment of an article by Giuseppe Prezzolini (_La Voce_,
April 13, 1911).]
The first time Christophe heard these words they seemed to him like an
echo of his own voice: and he felt that these men and he were brothers.
The chances of the conflict of the nations and ideas might one day fling
them into the position of adversaries in the melee; but, friends or
enemies, they were, and would always be, members of the same human
family. They knew it, even as he. They knew it, before he did. They knew
him before he knew them, for they had been friends of Olivier's.
Christophe discovered that his friend's writings--(a few volumes of
verse and critical essays)--which had only been read by a very few in
Paris, had been translated by these Italians, and were as familiar to
them as to himself.
Later on he was to discover the impassable distance which divided these
men from Olivier. In their way of judging others they were entirely
Italian, incapable of the effort necessary to see beyond themselves,
rooted in the ideas of their race. At bottom, in all good faith, in
foreign literature they only sought what their national instinct was
willing to find in it; often they only took out of it what they
themselves had unconsciously read into it. Mediocre as critics, and as
psychologists contemptible, they were too single-minded, too full of
themselves and their passions, even when they were the most enamored of
truth. Italian idealism cannot forget itself: it is not interested in
the impersonal dreams of the North; it leads everything back to itself,
its desires, its pride of race, and transfigures them. Consciously or
unconsciously, it is always toiling for the _terza Roma_. It must
be said that for many centuries it has not taken much trouble to realize
it. These splendid Italians, who are cut out for action, only act
through passion, and soon weary of it: but when the breath of passion
rushes in their veins it raises them higher than all other nations; as
has been seen, for example, in their _Risorgimento_.--Some such
great wind as that had begun to pass over the young men of Italy of all
parties: nationalists, socialists, neo-Catholics, free idealists, all the
unyielding Italians, all, in hope and will, citizens of Imperial Rome,
Queen of the universe.
At first Christophe saw only their generous ardor and the common
antipathies which united him and them. They could not but join with him
in their contempt for the fashionable society, against which Christophe
raged on account of Grazia's preferences. More than he they hated the
spirit of prudence, the apathy, the compromise, and buffoonery, the
things half said, the amphibious thoughts, the subtle dawdling of the
mind between all possibilities, without deciding on any one, the fine
phrases, the sweetness of it all. They were all self-taught men who had
pieced themselves together with everything they could lay their hands
on, but had had neither means nor leisure to put the finishing touch to
their work, and they were prone to exaggerate their natural coarseness
and their rather bitter tone fitting to rough _contadini._ They
wished to provoke active hostility. Anything rather than indifference.
In order to rouse the energy of their race they would gladly have
consented to be among the first victims to it.
Meanwhile they were not liked, and they did nothing to gain liking.
Christophe met with but small success when he tried to talk to Grazia of
his new friends. They were repugnant to her order-loving, peace-loving
nature. He had to recognize when he was with her that they had a way of
upholding the best of causes which sometimes provoked a desire in the
best of people to declare themselves hostile to it. They were ironical
and aggressive, in criticism harsh to the point of insult, even with
people whom they had no desire to hurt. Having reached the sphere of
publication before they had come to maturity, they passed with equal
intolerance from one infatuation to another. Passionately sincere,
giving themselves unreservedly, without stint or thought of economy,
they were consumed by their excessive intellectuality, their precocious
and blindly obstinate endeavors. It is not well for young ideas, hardly
out of the pod, to be exposed to the raw sunlight. The soul is scorched
by it. Nothing is made fruitful save with time and silence. Time and
silence these men had not allowed themselves. It is the misfortune of
only too many Italian talents. Violent, hasty action is an intoxicant.
The mind that has once tasted it is hard put to it to break the habit;
and its normal growth is then in great peril of being forced and forever
Christophe appreciated the acid freshness of such green frankness in
contrast with the insipidity of the people who frequented the middle
way, the _via di mezzo,_ who are in perpetual fear of being
compromised, and have a subtle talent for saying neither "Yes" nor "No."
But very soon he came to see that such people also, with their calm,
courteous minds, have their worth. The perpetual state of conflict in
which his new friends lived was very tiring. Christophe began by
thinking it his duty to go to Grazia's house to defend them. Sometimes
he went there to forget them. No doubt he was like them, too much like
them. They were now what he had been twenty years ago. And life never
goes back. At heart Christophe well knew that, for his own part, he had
forever said good-by to such violence, and that he was going towards
peace, whose secret seemed to lie for him in Grazia's eyes. Why, then,
was he in revolt against her?... Ah! In the egoism of his love he longed
to be the only one to enjoy her peace. He could not bear Grazia to
dispense its benefits without marking how to all comers she extended the
same prodigally gracious welcome.
* * * * *
She read his thoughts, and, with her charming frankness, she said to him
"You are angry with me for being what I am? You must not idealize me, my
dear. I am a woman, and no better than another. I don't go out of my way
for society; but I admit that I like it, just as I like going sometimes
to an indifferent play, or reading foolish books, which you despise,
though I find them soothing and amusing. I cannot refuse anything."
"How can you endure these idiots?"
"Life has taught me not to be too nice. One must not ask too much. It is
a good deal, I assure you, when one finds honest people, with no harm in
them, kindly people.... (naturally, of course, supposing one expects
nothing of them; I know perfectly well that if I had need of them, I
should not find many to help me...). And yet they are fond of me, and
when I find a little real affection, I hold the rest cheap. You are
angry with me? Forgive me for being an ordinary person. I can at least
see the difference between what is best and what is not so good in
myself. And what you have is the best."
"I want everything," he said gloweringly.
However, he felt that what she said was true. He was so sure of her
affection that, after long hesitation, over many weeks, he asked her one
"Will you ever...?"
"What is it?"
He went on:
"... and I yours."
"But you are mine, my dear."
"You know what I mean."
She was a little unhappy: but she took his hands and looked at him
"No, my dear," she said tenderly.
He could not speak. She saw that he was hurt.
"Forgive me. I have hurt you. I knew that you would say that to me. We
must speak out frankly and in all truth, like good friends."
"Friends," he said sadly. "Nothing more?"
"You are ungrateful. What more do you want? To marry me?... Do you
remember the old days when you had eyes only for my pretty cousin? I was
sad then because you would not understand what I felt for you. Our whole
lives might have been changed. Now I think it was better as it has been;
it is better that we should never expose our friendship to the test of
common life, the daily life, in which even the purest must be
"You say that because you love me less."
"Oh no! I love you just the same."
"Ah! That is the first time you have told me."
"There must be nothing hidden from us now. You see, I have not much
faith in marriage left. Mine, I know, was not a very good example. But I
have thought and looked about me. Happy marriages are very rare. It is a
little against nature. You cannot bind together the wills of two people
without mutilating one of them, if not both, and it does not even bring
the suffering through which it is well and profitable for the soul
"Ah!" he said. "But I can see in it a fine thing--the union of two
sacrifices, two souls merged into one."
"A fine thing, in your dreams. In reality you would suffer more than any
"What! You think I could never have a wife, a family, children?... Don't
say that! I should love them so! You think it impossible for me to have
"I don't know. I don't think so. Perhaps with a good woman, not very
intelligent, not very beautiful, who would be devoted to you, and would
not understand you."
"How unkind of you!... But you are wrong to make fun of it. A good woman
is a fine thing, even if she has no mind."
"I agree. Shall I find you one?"
"Please! No. You are hurting me. How can you talk like that?"
"What have I said?"
"You don't love me at all, not at all. You can't if you can think of my
marrying another woman."
"On the contrary, it is because I love you that I should be happy to do
anything which could make you happy."
"Then, if that is true...."
"No, no. Don't go back to that. I tell you, it would make you
"Don't worry about me. I swear to you that I shall be happy! Speak the
truth: do you think that you would be unhappy with me?"
"Oh! Unhappy? No, my dear. I respect and admire you too much ever to be
unhappy with you.... But, I will tell you: I don't think anything could
make me very unhappy now. I have seen too much. I have become
philosophical.... But, frankly--(You want me to? You won't be
angry?)--well. I know my own weakness. I should, perhaps, be foolish
enough, after a few months, not to be perfectly happy with you; and I
will not have that, just because my affection for you is the most holy
thing in the world, and I will not have it tarnished."
Sadly, he said:
"Yes, you say that, to sweeten the pill. You don't like me. There are
things in me which are odious to you."
"No, no. I assure you. Don't look so hang-dog. You are the dearest,
"Then I don't understand. Why couldn't we agree?"
"Because we are too different--both too decided, too individual."
"That is why I love you."
"I too. But that is why we should find ourselves conflicting."
"No." "Yes. Or, rather, as I know that you are bigger than I, I should
reproach myself with embarrassing you with my smaller personality, and
then I should be stifled. I should say nothing, and I should suffer."
Tears came to Christophe's eyes.
"Oh! I won't have that. Never! I would rather be utterly miserable than
have you suffering through my fault, for my sake."
"My dear, you mustn't feel it like that.... You know, I say all that,
but I may be flattering myself.... Perhaps I should not be so good as to
sacrifice myself for you."
"All the better."
"But, then, I should sacrifice you, and that would be misery for me....
You see, there is no solving the difficulty either way. Let us stay as
we are. Could there be anything better than our friendship?"
He nodded his head and smiled a little bitterly.
"Yes. That is all very well. But at bottom you don't love me enough."
She smiled too, gently, with a little melancholy, and said, with a sigh:
"Perhaps. You are right. I am no longer young. I am tired. Life wears
one out unless one is very strong, like you.... Oh! you, there are times
when I look at you and you seem to be a boy of eighteen."
"Alas! With my old face, my wrinkles, my dull skin!"
"I know that you have suffered as much as I--perhaps more. I can see
that. But sometimes you look at me with the eyes of a boy, and I feel
you giving out a fresh stream of life. I am worn out. When I think of my
old eagerness, then--alas! As one said, 'Those were great days. I was
very unhappy!' I hold to life only by a thread. I should never be bold
enough to try marriage again. Ah! Then! Then!... If you had only given a
"Well, then, well, tell me...."
"No. It is not worth the trouble."
"Then, if in the old days, if I had...."
"Yes. If you had...? I said nothing."
"I understood. You are cruel."
"Take it, then, that in the old days I was a fool."
"You are making it worse and worse."
"Poor Christophe! I can't say a word but it hurts you. I shan't say any
"You must.... Tell me.... Tell me something."
"Then you must not be sad."
"How can I be anything else?"
"You have no reason to be sad, I assure you."
"Because you have a friend who loves you."
"If I tell you so, won't you believe me?"
"Tell me, then."
"You won't be sad any longer? You won't be insatiable? You will be
content with our dear friendship?"
"Oh! Ungrateful! And you say you love me? Really, I think I love you
better than you love me."
"Ah! If it were possible."
He said that with such an outburst of lover's egoism that she laughed.
He too. He insisted:
For a moment she was silent, looking at him, then suddenly she brought
her face close to Christophe's and kissed him. It was so unexpected! His
heart leaped within him. He tried to take her in his arms. But she had
escaped. At the door of the little room she laid her finger on her
* * * * *
From that moment on he did not again speak to her of his love, and he
was less awkward in his relation with her. Their alternations of
strained silence and ill-suppressed violence were succeeded by a simple
restful intimacy. That is the advantage of frankness in friendship. No
more hidden meanings, no more illusions, no more fears. Each knew the
other's innermost thoughts. Now when Christophe was with Grazia in the
company of strangers who irritated him and he lost patience at hearing
her exchange with them the empty remarks usual in polite society, she
would notice it and look at him and smile. It was enough to let him know
that they were together, and he would find his peace restored.
The presence of the beloved robs the imagination of its poisoned dart:
the fever of desire is cooled: the soul becomes absorbed in the chaste
possession of the loved presence.--Besides, Grazia shed on all about her
the silent charm of her harmonious nature. Any exaggeration of voice or
gesture, even if it were involuntary, wounded her, as a thing that was
not simple and beautiful. In this way she influenced Christophe little
by little. Though at first he tugged at the bridle put upon his
eagerness, he slowly gained the mastery of himself, and he was all the
stronger since his force was not wasted in useless violence.
Their souls met and mingled. Grazia, who had smilingly surrendered to
the sweetness of living, was awaked from her slumber by contact with
Christophe's moral energy. She took a more direct and less passive
interest in the things of the mind. She used to read very little,
preferring to browse indolently over the same old books, but now she
began to be curious about new ideas, and soon came to feel their
attraction. The wealth of the world of modern ideas, which was not
unknown to her though she had never cared to adventure in it alone, no
longer frightened her now that she had a companion and guide. Insensibly
she suffered herself, while she protested against it, to be drawn on to
an understanding of the young Italians, whose ardent iconoclasm had
always been distasteful to her.
But Christophe profited the more by this mutual perception. It has often
been observed in love that the weaker of the two gives the most: it is
not that the other loves less, but, being stronger, must take more. So
Christophe had already been enriched by Olivier's mind. But this new
mystic marriage was far more fruitful; for Grazia brought him for her
dowry the rarest treasure, that Olivier had never possessed--joy. The
joy of the soul and of the eyes. Light. The smile of the Latin sky, that
loves the ugliness of the humblest things, and sets the stones of the
old walls flowering, and endows even sadness with its calm radiance.
The budding spring entered into alliance with her. The dream of new life
was teeming in the warmth of the slumbering air. The young green was
wedding with the silver-gray of the olive-trees. Beneath the dark red
arches of the ruined aqueducts flowered the white almond-trees. In the
awakening Campagna waved the seas of grass and the triumphant flames of
the poppies. Down the lawns of the villas flowed streams of purple
anemones and sheets of violets. The glycine clambered up the
umbrella-shaped pines, and the wind blowing over the city brought the
scent of the roses of the Palatine.
They went for walks together. When she was able to shake off the almost
Oriental torpor, in which for hours together she would muse, she became
another creature: she loved walking; she was tall, with a fine length of
leg, and a strong, supple figure, and she looked like a Diana of
Primatice.--Most often they would go to one of the villas, left like
flotsam from the shipwreck of the Splendid Rome of the _setticento_
under the assault of the flood of the Piedmontese barbarians. They
preferred, above all, the Villa Mattei, that promontory of ancient Rome,
beneath which the last waves of the deserted Campagna sink and die. They
used to go down the avenue of oaks that, with its deep vault, frames the
blue, the pleasant chains of the Alban hills, softly swelling like a
beating heart. Along the path through the leaves they could see the
tombs of Roman husbands and wives, lying sadly there, with hands clasped
in fidelity. They used to sit down at the end of the avenue, under an
arbor of roses against a white sarcophagus. Behind them the desert.
Profound peace. The murmuring of a slow-dropping fountain, trickling
languidly, so languidly that it seemed on the point of dying. They would
talk in whispers. Grazia's eyes would trustfully gaze into the eyes of
her friend. Christophe would tell her of his life, his struggles, his
past sorrows; and there was no more sadness in them. In her presence,
with her eyes upon him, everything was simple, everything seemed
inevitable.... She, in her turn, would tell of her life. He hardly heard
what she said, but none of her thoughts were lost upon him. His soul and
hers were wedded. He saw with her eyes. Everywhere he saw her eyes, her
tranquil eyes, in the depths of which there burned an ardent fire; he
saw them in the fair, mutilated faces of the antique statues and in the
riddle of their silent gaze: he saw them in the sky of Rome, lovely
laughing around the matted crests of the cypress-trees and through the
fingers of the _lecci,_ black, shining, riddled with the sun's arrows.
Through Grazia's eyes the meaning of Latin art reached his heart. Till
then Christophe had been entirely indifferent to the work of the
Italians. The barbarian idealist, the great bear from the German
forests, had not yet learned to taste the delicious savor of the lovely
gilded marbles, golden as honey. The antiques of the Vatican were
frankly repulsive to him. He was disgusted by their stupid faces, their
effeminate or massive proportions, their banal, rounded modeling, all
the Gitons and gladiators. Hardly more than a few portrait-statues found
favor in his sight, and the originals had absolutely no interest for
him. He was no more kindly towards the pale, grimacing Florentines and
their sick Madonnas and pre-Raphaelite Venuses, anaemic, consumptive,
affected, and tormented. And the bestial stupidity of the red, sweating
bullies and athletes let loose upon the world by the example of the
Sistine Chapel made him think of cast-iron. Only for Michael Angelo did
he have a secret feeling of pious sympathy with his tragic sufferings,
his divine contempt, and the loftiness of his chaste passions. With a
pure barbaric love, like that of the master, he loved the religious
nudity of his youths, his shy, wild virgins, like wild creatures caught
in a trap, the sorrowful Aurora, the wild-eyed Madonna, with her Child
biting at her breast, and the lovely Lia, whom he would fain have had to
wife. But in the soul of the tormented hero he found nothing more than
the echo of his own.
Grazia opened the gates of a new world of art for him. He entered into
the sovereign serenity of Raphael and Titian. He saw the imperial
splendor of the classic genius, which, like a lion, reigns over the
universe of form conquered and mastered. The flashing vision of the
great Venetian which goes straight to the heart of life, and with its
lightning cleaves the hovering mists that veil it, the masterful might
of these Latin minds that cannot only conquer, but also conquer
themselves, and in victory impose upon themselves the straitest
discipline, and, on the field of battle, have the art exactly to choose
their rightful booty from among the spoils of the enemy overthrown--the
Olympian portraits and the _stanze_ of Raphael filled Christophe's
heart with music richer than Wagner's, the music of serene lives, noble
architecture, harmonious grouping, the music which shines forth from the
perfect beauty of face, hands, feet, draperies, and gestures.
Intelligence. Love. The stream of love which springs from those youthful
souls and bodies. The might of the spirit and delight. Young tenderness,
ironic wisdom, the warm obsessing odor of amorous bodies, the luminous
smile in which the shadows are blotted out and passion slumbers. The
quivering force of life rearing and reined in, like the horses of the
Sun, by the sturdy hand of the master....
And Christophe wondered:
"Is it impossible to unite, as they have done, the force and the peace
of the Romans? Nowadays the best men aspire only to force or peace, one
to the detriment of the other. Of all men the Italians seem most utterly
to have lost the sense of harmony which Poussin, Lorraine, and Goethe
understood. Must a stranger once more reveal to them its work?... And
what man shall teach it to our musicians? Music has not yet had its
Raphael. Mozart is only a child, a little German bourgeois, with
feverish hands and sentimental soul, who uses too many words, too many
gestures, and chatters and weeps and laughs over nothing. And neither
the Gothic Bach nor the Prometheus of Bonn, struggling with the vulture,
nor his offspring of Titans piling Pelion on Ossa, and hurling
imprecations at the Heavens, hare ever seen the smile of God...."
After he had seen it, Christophe was ashamed of his own music; his vain
agitation, his turgid passions, his indiscreet exclamations, his parade
of himself, his lack of moderation, seemed to him both pitiable and
shameful. A flock of sheep without a shepherd, a kingdom without a
king.--A man must be the king of his tumultuous soul....
During these months Christophe seemed to have forgotten music. He hardly
wrote at all, feeling no need for it. His mind, fertilized by Rome, was
in a period of gestation. He spent days together in a dreamy state of
semi-intoxication. Nature, like himself, was in the early spring-time,
when the languor of the awakening is mixed with a voluptuous dizziness.
Nature and he lay dreaming, locked in each other's arms, like lovers
embracing in their sleep. The feverish enigma of the Campagna was no
longer hostile and disturbing to him; he had made himself master of its
tragic beauty; in his arms he held Demeter, sleeping.
* * * * *
During April he received an invitation from Paris to go there and
conduct a series of concerts. Without troubling to think it over, he
decided to refuse, but thought it better to mention it to Grazia. It was
very sweet to him to consult her about his life, for it gave him the
illusion that she shared it.
This time she gave him a shock of disillusion. She made him explain the
whole matter to her, and advised him to accept. He was very hurt, and
saw in her advice the proof of her indifference.
Probably Grazia was sorry to give him such advice. But why did
Christophe ask her for it? The more he turned to her and asked her to
decide for him, the more she thought herself responsible for her
friend's actions. As a result of their interchange of ideas she had
gained from Christophe a little of his will-power: he had revealed to
her duty and the beauty of action. At least she had recognized duty as
far as her friend was concerned, and she would not have him fail in it.
Better than he, she knew the power of languor given off by the Italian
soil, which, like the insidious poison of its warm _scirocco_,
creeps into the veins and sends the will to sleep. How often had she not
felt its maleficent charm, and had no power to resist it! All her
friends were more or less tainted by this malaria of the soul. Stronger
men than they had in old days fallen victim to it: it had rusted away
the brass of the Roman she-wolf. Rome breathes forth death: it is too
full of graves. It is healthier to stay there for a little time than to
live there. Too easily does one slip out of one's own time, a dangerous
taste for the still young forces that have a vast duty to accomplish.
Grazia saw clearly that the society about her had not a life-giving air
for an artist. And although she had more friendship for Christophe than
for any other ... (dared she confess it?) ... she was not, at heart,
sorry for him to go. Alas! He wearied her with the very qualities that
she most loved in him, his overflowing intelligence, his abundance of
vitality, accumulated for years, and now brimming over: her tranquillity
was disturbed by it. And he wearied her, too, perhaps, because she was
always conscious of the menace of his love, beautiful and touching, but
ever-present: so that she had always to be on her guard against it; it
was more prudent to keep him at a distance. She did not admit it to
herself, and thought she had no consideration for anything but
There was no lack of sound reasons at hand. In Italy just then it was
difficult for a musician to live: the air was circumscribed. The musical
life of the country was suppressed and deformed. The factory of the
theater scattered its heavy ashes and its burning smoke upon the soil,
whose flowers in old days had perfumed all Europe. If a man refused to
enroll himself in the train of the brawlers, and could not, or would
not, enter the factory, he was condemned to exile or a stifled
existence. Genius was by no means dried up. But it was left to stagnate
unprofitably and to go to ruin. Christophe had met more than one young
musician in whom there lived again the soul of the melodious masters of
the race and the instinct of beauty which filled the wise and simple art
of the past. But who gave a thought to them? They could neither get
their work played nor published. No interest was taken in the symphony.
There were no ears for music except it were presented with a painted
face!... So discouraged, they sang for themselves, and soon sang no
more. What was the good of it? Sleep....--Christophe would have asked
nothing better than to help them. While they admitted that he could do
so, their umbrageous pride would not consent to it. Whatever he did, he
was a foreigner to them; and for Italians of long descent, in spite of
the warm welcome they will give him, every foreigner is really a
barbarian. They thought that the wretched condition of their art was a
question to be threshed out among themselves, and while, they extended
all kind of friendly tributes to Christophe, they could not admit him as
one of themselves.--What could he do? He could not compete with them and
dispute with them their meager place in the sun, where they were by no
Besides, genius cannot do without its food. The musician must have
music--music to hear, music to make heard. A temporary withdrawal is
valuable to the mind by forcing it to recuperate. But this can only be
on condition that it will return. Solitude is noble, but fatal to an
artist who has not the strength to break out of it. An artist must live
the life of his own time, even if it be clamorous and impure: he must
forever be giving and receiving, and giving, and giving, and again
receiving.--Italy, at the time of Christophe's sojourn, was no longer
the great market of the arts that once it was, and perhaps will be
again. Nowadays the meeting-place of ideas, the exchange of the thought
and spirit of the nations, are in the North. He who has the will to live
must live in the North.
Left to himself, Christophe would have shuddered away from the rout. But
Grazia felt his duty more clearly than he could see it. And she demanded
more of him than of herself: no doubt because she valued him more
highly, but also because it suited her. She delegated her energy upon
him, and so maintained her tranquillity.--He had not the heart to be
angry with her for it. Like Mary, hers was the better part. Each of us
has his part to play in life. Christophe's was action. For her it was
enough to be. He asked no more of her.
He asked nothing but to love her, if it were possible, a little less for
himself, and a little more for her. For he did not altogether like her
having so little egoism in her friendship as to think only of the
interests of her friend--who asked only to be allowed to give no thought
* * * * *
He went away from her. And yet he did not leave her. As an old trouvere
says: "_The lover does not leave his beloved but with the sanction of
He was sick at heart as he reached Paris. It was the first time he had
been there since the death of Olivier. He had wished never to see the
city again. In the cab which took him from the station to his hotel he
hardly dared look out of the window; for the first few days he stayed in
his room and could not bring himself to go out. He was fearful of the
memories lying in wait for him outside. But what exactly did he dread?
Did he really know? Was it, as he tried to believe, the terror of seeing
the dead spring to life again exactly as they had been? Or was it--the
greater sorrow of being forced to know that they were dead?... Against
this renewal of grief all the half-unconscious ruses of instinct had
taken up arms. It was for this reason--(though perhaps he knew it
not)--that he had chosen a hotel in a district far removed from that in
which he had lived. And when for the first time he went out into the
streets, having to conduct rehearsals at the concert-hall, when once
more he came in contact with the life of Paris, he walked for a long
time with his eyes closed, refusing to see what he did see, insisting on
seeing only what he had seen in old days. He kept on saying to himself:
"I know that. I know that...."
In art as in politics there was the same intolerant anarchy. The same
Fair in the market-place. Only the actors had changed their parts. The
revolutionaries of his day had become bourgeois, and the supermen had
become men of fashion. The old independents were trying to stifle the
new independents. The young men of twenty years ago were now more
conservative than the old conservatives whom they had fought, and their
critics refused the newcomers the right to live. Apparently nothing was
But everything had changed....
* * * * *
"My dear, forgive me. It is good of you not to be angry with me for my
silence. Your letter has helped me greatly. I have been through several
weeks of terrible distress. I had nothing. I had lost you. Here I was
feeling terribly the absence of those whom I have lost. All my old
friends of whom I used to tell you have disappeared--Philomela--(you
remember the singing voice that dear, sad night when, as I wandered
through a gay crowd, I saw your eyes in a mirror gazing at
me)--Philomela has realized her very reasonable dream: she inherited a
little money, and has a farm in Normandy. M. Arnaud has retired and gone
back to the provinces with his wife, to a little town near Angers. Of
the famous men of my day many are dead or gone under; none are left save
the same old puppets who twenty years ago were playing the juvenile lead
in art and politics, and with the same false faces are still playing it.
Outside these masks there are none whom I recognize. They seem to me to
be grimacing over a grave. It is a terrible feeling.--More than this:
during the first few days after my arrival I suffered physically from
the ugliness of things, from the gray light of the North after your
golden sun: the masses of dull houses, the vulgar lines of certain domes
and monuments, which had never struck me before, hurt me cruelly. Nor
was the moral atmosphere any more to my taste.
"And yet I have no complaint to make of the Parisians. They have given
me a welcome altogether different from that which I received before. In
my absence I seem to have become a kind of celebrity. I will say nothing
of that, for I know what it is worth. I am touched by all the pleasant
things which these people say and write of me, and am obliged to them.
But what shall I say to you? I felt much nearer the people who attacked
me in old days than I do to the people who laud me now.... It is my own
fault, I know. Don't scold me. I had a moment of uneasiness. It was to
be expected. It is done now. I understand. Yes. You are right to have
sent me back among men. I was in a fair way to be buried in my solitude.
It is unhealthy to play at Zarathustra. The flood of life moves on,
moves on away from us. There comes a time when one is as a desert. Many
weary days in the burning sun are needed to dig a new channel in the
sand, to dig down to the river.--It has been done. I am no longer dizzy.
I am in the current again. I look and see.
"My dear, what a strange people are the French! Twenty years ago I
thought they were finished.... They are just beginning again. My dear
comrade, Jeannin, foretold it. But I thought he was deceiving himself.
How could one believe it then! France was, like their Paris, full of
broken houses, plaster, and holes. I said: 'They have destroyed
everything.... What a race of rodents!'--a race of beavers. Just when
you think them prostrate on their ruins, lo, they are using the ruins to
lay the foundations of a new city. I can see it now in the scaffoldings
which are springing up on all sides....
_"Wenn ein Ding geschehen Selbst die Narren es verstehen,..."_
[Footnote: "When a thing has happened, even the fools can see it."]
"In truth there is just the same French disorder. One needs to be used
to it to see in the rout seething up from all directions, the bands of
workmen, each going about his appointed task. There are also people who
can do nothing without vilifying what their neighbors are doing. All
this is calculated to upset the stoutest head. But when you have lived,
as I have, nearly ten years with them, you cannot be deceived by their
uproar. You see then that it is their way of spurring themselves on to
work. They talk, but they work, and as each builder's yard sets about
building a house, in the end you find that the city has been re-builded.
What is most remarkable is that, taken together, all these buildings are
not discordant. They may maintain opposing theses, but all their minds
are cast in the same mold. So that, beneath their anarchy, there are
common instincts, a racial logic which takes the place of discipline,
and this discipline is, when all is told, probably more solid than that
of a Prussian regiment.
"Everywhere the same enthusiasm, the same constructive fever: in
politics, where Socialists and Nationalists vie with one another in
tightening up the wheels of slackened power; in art, which some wish to
make into an old aristocratic mansion for the privileged few, and others
a vast hall open to the people, a hall where the collective soul can
sing; they are reconstructors of the past, or constructors of the
future. But whatever they do, these ingenious creatures are forever
building the same cells. They have the instincts of beavers or bees, and
through the ages are forever doing the same things, returning to the
same forms. The most revolutionary among them are perhaps those who most
closely cling, though they may not know it, to the most ancient
traditions. Among the syndicates and the most striking of the young
writers I have found purely medieval souls.
"Now that I have grown used to their tumultuous ways, I can watch them
working with pleasure. Let us be frank: I am too old a bear ever to feel
at ease in any of their houses: I need the open air. But what good
workers they are! That is their highest virtue. It laves the most
mediocre and the most corrupt: and then, in their artists, what a sense
of beauty! I remarked that much less in the old days. You taught me to
see. My eyes were opened in the light of Rome. Your Renaissance men have
helped me to understand these. A page of Debussy, a torso of Rodin, a
phrase of Suares, these are all in the direct line from your
"Not that there is not much that is distasteful to me here. I have found
my old friends of the market-place, who used to drive me to fury. They
have not changed. But, alas! I have changed. I cannot be severe. When I
feel myself wanting to judge one of them harshly I say to myself: 'You
have no right. You have done worse than these men, though you thought
yourself so strong.' Also, I have learned that nothing exists in vain,
and that even the vilest have their place in the scheme of the tragedy.
The depraved dilettantists, the foetid amoralists, have accomplished
their termitic task; the tottering ruins must be brought down before
they can be built up again. The Jews have been true to their sacred
mission, which is, in the midst of other races, to be a foreign race,
the race which, from end to end of the world, is to link up the network
of human unity. They break down the intellectual barriers between the
nations, to give Divine Reason an open field. The worst agents of
corruption, the ironic destroyers who ruin our old beliefs and kill our
well-beloved dead, toil, unwittingly, in the holy work of new life. So
the ferocious self-interest of the cosmopolitan bankers, whose labors
are attended with such and so many disasters, build, whether they will
or no, the future peace of the world, side by side with the
revolutionaries who combat them, far more surely than the idiotic
"You see, I am getting old. I have lost my bite. My teeth have lost
their sharpness. When I go to the theater I am now only one of those
simple spectators who apostrophize the actors and cry shame on the
"My tranquil Grace, I am only talking about myself: and yet I think only
of you. If you knew how importunate is my ego! It is oppressive and
absorbing. It is like a millstone that God has tied round my neck. How I
should have loved to lay it at your feet! But what would you have done
with it? It is a poor kind of present.... Your feet were made to tread
the soft earth and the sand sinking beneath the tread. I see your feet
carelessly passing over the lawns dappled with anemones.... (Have you
been again to the Villa Doria?)... And you are tired! I see you now
half-reclining in your favorite retreat, in your drawing-room, propped
up on your elbow, holding a book which you do not read. You listen to me
kindly, without paying much attention to what I say; for I am tiresome,
and, for patience, you turn every now and then to your own thoughts; but
you are courteous, and, taking care not to upset me, when a chance word
brings you back from your distant journeying, your eyes, so absent
before, quickly take on an expression of interest. And I am as far from
what I am saying as you: I, too, hardly hear the sound of my words: and
while I follow their reflection in your lovely face, in my heart I
listen to other words which I do not speak to you. Those words, my
tranquil Grace, unlike the others, you hear quite clearly, but you
pretend not to hear them.
"Adieu. I think you will see me again in a little while, I shall not
languish here. What should I do now that my concerts are over?--I kiss
your children on their little cheeks. They are yours and you. I must be
* * * * *
"Tranquil Grace" replied:
"I received your letter in the little corner of the drawing-room that
you remember so well, and I read it, as I am clever at reading, by
letting your letter fall every now and then and resting. Don't laugh at
me. I did that to make it last a long time. In that way we spent a whole
afternoon together. The children asked me what it was I kept on reading.
I told them it was a letter from you. Aurora looked at the paper
pityingly and said: 'How tiresome it must be to write such a long
letter!' I tried to make her understand that it was not an imposition I
had set you, but a conversation we were having together. She listened
without a word, then ran away with her brother to play in the next room,
and a little later, when Lionello began to shout, I heard Aurora say:
'You mustn't make such a noise: mamma is talking to M. Christophe.'
"What you tell me about the French interests me, but it does not
surprise me. You remember that I often used to reproach you with being
unjust towards them. It is impossible to like them. But what an
intelligent people they are! There are mediocre nations who are
preserved by their goodness of heart or their physical vigor. The French
are saved by their intelligence. It laves all their weaknesses, and
regenerates them. When you think they are down, beaten, perverted, they
find new youth in the ever-bubbling spring of their minds.
"But I must scold you. You ask my pardon for speaking only of yourself.
You are an _ingannatore_. You tell me nothing about yourself.
Nothing of what you have been doing. Nothing of what you have been
seeing. My cousin Colette--(why did not you go and see her?)--had to
send me press-cuttings about your concerts, or I should have known
nothing of your success. You only mentioned it by the way. Are you so
detached from everything?... It is not true. Tell me that it pleased
you.... It must please you, if only because it pleases me. I don't like
you to have a disillusioned air. The tone of your letter is melancholic.
That must not be.... It is good that you are more just to others. But
that is no reason why you should abase yourself, as you do, by saying
that you are worse than the worst of them. A good Christian would
applaud you. I tell you it is a bad thing. I am not a good Christian. I
am a good Italian, and I don't like you tormenting yourself with the
past. The present is quite enough. I don't know exactly what it was that
you did. You told me the story in a very few words, and I think I
guessed the rest. It was not a nice story, but you are none the less
dear to me for it. My poor, dear Christophe, a woman does not reach my
age without knowing that an honest man is often very weak. If one did
not know his weakness one would not love him so much. Don't think any
more about what you have done. Think of what you are going to do.
Repentance is quite useless. Repentance means going back. And in good as
in evil, we must always go forward. _Sempre avanti, Savoia!_... So
you think I am going to let you come back to Rome! You have nothing to
do here. Stay in Paris, work, do: play your part in its artistic life. I
will not have you throw it all up. I want you to make beautiful things,
I want them to succeed, I want you to be strong and to help the new
young Christophes who are setting out on the same struggles, and passing
through the same trials. Look for them, help them, be kinder to your
juniors than your seniors were to you.--In fine, I want you to be strong
because I know that you are strong: you have no idea of the strength
that gives me.
"Almost every day I go with the children to the Villa Borghese.
Yesterday we drove to Ponte Molle, and walked round the tower of Monte
Mario. You slander my powers of walking and my legs cry out against you:
'What did the fellow mean by saying at the Villa Doria that we get tired
in ten paces? He knows nothing about it. If we are not prone to give
ourselves trouble, it is because we are lazy, and not because we
cannot....' You forget, my dear, that I am a little peasant....
"Go and see my cousin Colette. Are you still angry with her? She is a
good creature at heart, and she swears by you! Apparently the Parisian
women are crazy about your music. (Perhaps they were in the old days.)
My Berne bear may, and he will, be the lion of Paris. Have you had
letters? And declarations? You don't mention any woman. Can you be in
love? Tell me. I am not jealous. Your friend,
* * * * *
"... So you think I am likely to be pleased with your last sentence! I
would to God you were jealous! But don't look to me to make you so. I
have no taste for these mad Parisiennes, as you call them. Mad? They
would like to be so. But they are nothing like it. You need not hope
that they will turn my head. There would be more chance of it perhaps if
they were indifferent to my music. But it is only too true that they
love it; and how am I to keep my illusions? When any one tells you that
he understands you, you may be very sure that he will never do so....
"Don't take my joking too seriously. The feeling I have for you does not
make me unjust to other women. I have never had such true sympathy for
them as I have now since I ceased to look at them with lover's eyes. The
tremendous effort they have been making during the last thirty years to
escape from the degrading and unwholesome semi-domesticity, to which our
stupid male egoism condemned them, to their and our unhappiness, seems
to me to be one of the most splendid facts of our time. In a town like
this one learns to admire the new generation of young women, who, in
spite of so many obstacles, with so much fresh ardor rush on to the
conquest of knowledge and diplomas,--the knowledge, the diplomas which,
they think, must liberate them, open to them the arcana of the unknown
world and make them the equals of men....
"No doubt their faith is illusory and rather ridiculous. But progress is
never realized as we expect it to be: it is none the less realized
because it takes entirely different paths from those we have marked out
for it. This effort of the women will not be wasted. It will make women
completer and more human, as they were in the great ages. They will no
longer be without interest in the living questions of the world, as most
scandalously and monstrously they have been, for it is intolerable that
a woman, though she be never so careful in her domestic duties, should
think herself absolved from thinking of her civic duties in the modern
city. Their great-great-grandmothers of the time of Joan of Arc and
Catherine Sforza were not of this way of thinking. Woman has withered.
We have refused her air and sun. She is taking them from us again by
force. Ah! the brave little creatures!... Of course, many of those who
are now struggling will die and many will be led astray. It is an age of
crisis. The effort is too violent for those whose strength has too much
gone to seed. When a plant has been for a long time without water, the
first shower of rain is apt to scald it. But what would you? It is the
price of progress. Those who come after will flourish through their
sufferings. The poor little warlike virgins of our time, many of whom
will never marry, will be more fruitful for posterity than the
generations of matrons who gave birth before them; for, at the cost of
their sacrifices, there will issue from them the women of a new classic
"I have not found these working bees in your cousin Colette's
drawing-room. What whim was it made you send me to her? I had to obey
you; but it is not well: you are abusing your power. I had refused three
of her invitations, left two of her letters unanswered. She came and
hunted me up at one of my rehearsals--(they were going through my sixth
symphony). I saw her, during the interval, come in with her nose in the
air, sniffing and crying: 'That smacks of love! Ah! How I love such
"She has changed, physically; only her cat-like eyes with their bulging
pupils, and her fantastic nose, always wrinkling up and never still, are
the same. But her face is wider, big-boned, highly colored, and
coarsened. Sport has transformed her. She gives herself up to sport of
all kinds. Her husband, as you know, is one of the swells at the
Automobile Club and the Aero Club. There is not an aviation meeting, nor
a race by air, land, or water, but the Stevens-Delestrades think
themselves compelled to be present at it. They are always out on the
highways and byways. Conversation is quite impossible; they talk of
nothing but Racing, Rowing, Rugby, and the Derby. They belong to a new
race of people. The days of _Pelleas_ are forever gone for the
women. Souls are no longer in fashion. All the girls hoist a red,
swarthy complexion, tanned by driving in the open air and playing games
in the sun: they look at you with eyes like men's eyes: they laugh and
their laughter is a little coarse. In tone they have become more brutal,
more crude. Every now and then your cousin will quite calmly say the
most shocking things. She is a great eater, where she used to eat hardly
anything. She still complains about her digestion, merely out of habit,
but she never misses a mouthful for it. She reads nothing. No one reads
among these people. Only music has found favor in their sight. Music has
even profited by the neglect of literature. When these people are worn
out, music is a Turkish bath to them, a warm vapor, massage, tobacco.
They have no need to think. They pass from sport to love, and love also
is a sport. But the most popular sport among their esthetic
entertainments is dancing. Russian dancing, Greek dancing, Swiss
dancing, American dancing, everything is set to a dance in Paris:
Beethoven's symphonies, the tragedies of Aschylus, the _Clavecin bien
Tempere_, the antiques of the Vatican, _Orpheus_, Tristan, the
Passion, and gymnastics. These people are suffering from vertigo.
"The queer thing is to see how your cousin reconciles everything, her
estheticism, her sport, and her practical sense (for she has inherited
from her mother her sense of business and her domestic despotism). All
these things ought to make an incredible mixture, but she is quite at
her ease with them all: her most foolish eccentricities leave her mind
quite clear, just as she keeps her eyes and hands sure when she goes
whirling along in her motor. She is a masterful woman: her husband, her
guests, her servants, she leads them all, with drums beating and colors
flying. She is also busy with politics: she is for 'Monseigneur'; not
that I believe her to be a royalist, but it is another excuse for
bestirring herself. And although she is incapable of reading more than
ten pages of a book, she arranges the elections to the Academies.--She
set about extending her patronage to me. You may guess that that was not
at all to my liking. What is most exasperating is that the fact of my
having visited her in obedience to you has absolutely convinced her of
her power over me. I take my revenge in thrusting home truths at her.
She only laughs, and is never at a loss for a reply. 'She is a good
creature at heart....' Yes, provided she is occupied. She admits that
herself: if the machine has nothing to grind she is capable of anything
and everything to keep it going.--I have been to her house twice. I
shall not go again. Twice is enough to prove my obedience to you. You
don't want me to die? I leave her house broken, crushed, cramped. Last
time I saw her I had a frightful nightmare after it: I dreamed I was her
husband, all my life tied to that living whirlwind.... A foolish dream,
and it need not trouble her real husband, for of all who go to the house
he is the last to be seen with her, and when they are together they only
talk of sport. They get on very well.
"How could these people make my music a success? I try not to understand.
I suppose it shocked them in a new way. They liked it for
brutalizing them. For the time being they like art with a body to it.
But they have not the faintest conception of the soul in the body: they
will pass from the infatuation of to-day to the indifference of
to-morrow, from the indifference of to-morrow to the abuse of the day
after, without ever having known it. That is the history of all artists.
I am under no illusion as to my success, and have not been for a long
time: and they will make me pay for it.--Meanwhile I see the most
curious things going on. The most enthusiastic of my admirers is ... (I
give him you among a thousand) ... our friend Levy-Coeur. You remember
the gentleman with whom I fought a ridiculous duel? Now he instructs
those who used not to understand me. He does it very well too. He is the
most intelligent of all the men talking about me. You may judge what the
others are worth. There is nothing to be proud of, I assure you.
"I don't want to be proud of it. I am too humiliated when I hear the
work for which I am belauded. I see myself in it, and what I see is not
beautiful. What a merciless mirror is a piece of music to those who can
see into it! Happily they are blind and deaf. I have put so much of my
troubles and weaknesses into my work that sometimes it seems to me
wicked to let loose upon the world such hordes of demons. I am comforted
when I see the tranquillity of the audience: they are trebly armored:
nothing can reach them: were it not so, I should be damned.... You
reproach me with being too hard on myself. You do not know me as I know
myself. They see what we are: they do not see what we might have been,
and we are honored for what is not so much the effect of our qualities
as of the events that bear us along, and the forces which control us.
Let me tell you a story....
"The other evening I was in one of the cafes where they play fairly good
music, though in a queer way: with five or six instruments, filled out
with a piano, they play all the symphonies, the masses, the oratorios.
It is just like the stonecutters in Rome, where they sell the Medici
chapel as an ornament for the mantelpiece. Apparently this is useful to
art, which, if it is to circulate among men, must be turned into base
coin. For the rest there is no deception in these concerts. The programs
are copious, the musicians conscientious. I found a violoncellist there
and entered into conversation with him: his eyes reminded me strangely
of my father's; he told me the story of his life. He was the grandson of
a peasant, the son of a small official, a clerk in a _mairie_ in a
village in the North. They wanted to make him a gentleman, a lawyer, and
he was sent to school in the neighboring town. He was a sturdy country
boy, not at all fitted for being cooped up over the small work of a
notary's office, and he could not stay caged in: he used to jump over
the wall, and wander through the fields, and run after the girls, and
spend his strength in brawling: the rest of the time he lounged and
dreamed of things he would never do. Only one thing had any attraction
for him: music. God knows why! There was not a single musician in his
family, except a rather cracked great-uncle, one of those odd,
provincial characters, whose often remarkable intelligence and gifts are
spent, in their proud isolation, on whims, and cranks, and trivialities.
This great-uncle had invented a new system of notation--(yet
another!)--which was to revolutionize music; he even claimed to have
found a system of stenography by which words, tune, and accompaniment
could be written simultaneously; but he never managed to transcribe it
correctly himself. They just laughed at the old man in the family, but
all the same, they were proud of him. They thought: 'He is an old
madman. Who knows? Perhaps he is a genius.'--It was no doubt from him
that the grandnephew had his mania for music. What music could he hear
in the little town?... But bad music can inspire a love as pure as good
"The unhappy part of it was that there seemed no possibility of
confessing to such a passion in such surroundings: and the boy had not
his great-uncle's cracked brains. He hid away to read the old lunatic's
lucubrations which formed the basis of his queer musical education. Vain
and fearful of his father and of public opinion, he would say nothing of
his ambitions until he had succeeded. He was crushed by his family, and
did as so many French people of the middle-class have to do when, out of
weakness or kindness, they dare not oppose the will of their relations:
they submit to all appearance, and live their true life in perpetual
secrecy. Instead of following his bent, he struggled on, against his
inclination, in the work they had marked out for him. He was as
incapable of succeeding in it as he was of coming to grief. Somehow or
other he managed to pass the necessary examinations. The main advantage
to him was that he escaped from the spying of his father and the
neighbors. The law crushed him: he was determined not to spend his life
in it. But while his father was alive he dared not declare his desire.
Perhaps it was not altogether distasteful to him to have to wait a
little before he took the decisive step. He was one of those men who all
their lives long dazzle themselves with what they will do later on, with
the things they could do. For the moment he did nothing. He lost his
bearings, and, intoxicated by his new life in Paris, gave himself up
with all his young peasant brutality to his two passions, woman and
music; he was crazed with the concerts he went to, no less than with
pleasure. He wasted years doing this without even turning to account the
means at hand of completing his musical education. His umbrageous pride,
his unfortunate independent and susceptible character kept him from
taking any course of lessons or asking anybody's advice.
"When his father died he sent Themis and Justinian packing. He began to
compose without having had the courage to acquire the necessary
technique. His inveterate habit of idle lounging and his taste for
pleasure had made him incapable of any serious effort. He felt keenly:
but his idea, and its form, would at once slip away: when all was told
he expressed nothing but the commonplace. The worst of all was that
there was really something great in this mediocrity. I read two of his
old compositions. Here and there were striking ideas, left in the rough
and then deformed. They were like fireflies over a bog.... And what a
strange mind he had! He tried to explain Beethoven's sonatas to me. He
saw them as absurd, childish stories. But such passion as there was in
him, such profound seriousness! Tears would come to his eyes as he
talked. He would die for the thing he loves. He is, touching and
grotesque. Just as I was on the point of laughing in his face, I wanted
to take him to my arms.... He is fundamentally honest, and has a healthy
contempt for the charlatanry of the Parisian groups and their sham
reputations,--(though at the same time he cannot help having the
bourgeois admiration for successful men)....
"He had a small legacy. In a few months it was all gone, and, finding
himself without resources, he had, like so many others of his kind, the
criminal honesty to marry a girl, also without resources, whom he had
seduced; she had a fine voice, and played music without any love for it.
He had to live on her voice and her mediocre talent until he had learned
how to play the 'cello. Naturally it was not long before they saw their
mediocrity, and could not bear each other. They had a little girl. The
father transferred his power of illusion to the child, and thought that
she would be what he had failed to be. The little girl took after her
mother: she was made to play the piano, though she had not a shadow of
talent; she adored her father, and applied herself to her work to please
him. For several years they plied the hotels in the watering-places,
picking up more insults than money. The child was ailing and overworked,
and died. The wife grew desperate, and became more shrewish every day.
So his life became one of endless misery, with no hope of escape,
brightened only by an ideal which he knew himself to be incapable of
"And, my dear, when I saw that poor broken devil, whose life has been
nothing but a series of disappointments, I thought: 'That is what I
might have been.' There was much in common in our boyhood, and certain
adventures in our two lives are the same; I have even found a certain
kinship in some of our musical ideas: but his have stopped short. What
is it that has kept me from foundering as he has done? My will, no
doubt. But also the chances of life. And even taking my will, is that
due only to my merits? Is it not rather due to my descent, my friends,
and God who has aided me?... Such thoughts make a man humble. With such
thoughts he feels brotherly to all who love his art, and suffer for it.
"Prom lowest to highest the distance is not so great....
"On that I thought of what you said in your letter. You are right: an
artist has no right to hold aloof, so long as he can help others. So I
shall stay: I shall force myself to spend a few months in every year
here, or in Vienna, or Berlin, although it is hard for me to grow
accustomed to these cities again. But I must not abdicate. If I do not
succeed in being of any great service, as I have good reason to think I
shall not, perhaps my sojourn in these cities will be useful to me,
myself. And I shall console myself with the thought that it was your
wish. Besides ... (I will not lie)... I am beginning to find it pleasant.
Adieu, tyrant. You have triumphed. I am beginning not only to do what
you want me to do, but to love doing it.
* * * * *
So he stayed, partly to please her, but also because his artistic
curiosity was reawakened, and was drawn on to contemplation of the
renewal of art. Everything that he saw and did he presented for Grazia's
scrutiny in his letters. He knew that he was deceiving himself as to the
interest she would take in it all; he suspected her of a certain
indifference. But he was grateful to her for not letting him see it too
She answered him regularly once a fortnight. Affectionate, composed
letters, like her gestures. When she told him of her life she never
discarded her tender, proud reserve. She knew the violence with which
her words went resounding through Christophe's heart. She preferred that
he should think her cold, rather than to send him flying to heights
whither she did not wish to follow him. But she was too womanly not to
know the secret of not discouraging her friend's love, and of, at once,
by gentle words, soothing the dismay and disappointment caused by her
indifferent words. Christophe soon divined her tactics, and by a
counter-trick tried in his turn to control his warmth and to write more
composedly, so that Grazia's replies should not be so studiously
The longer he stayed in Paris the greater grew his interest in the new
activity stirring in that gigantic ant-heap. He was the more interested
in it all as in the young ants he found less sympathy with himself. He
was not deceived: his success was a Pyrrhic victory. After an absence of
ten years his return had created a sensation in Parisian society. But by
an ironic turn of events, such as is by no means rare, he found himself
patronized by his old enemies the snobs, and people of fashion: the
artists were either mutely hostile or distrustful of him. He won his way
by his name, which already belonged to the past, by his considerable
accomplishment, by his tone of passionate conviction, and the violence
of his sincerity. But if people were forced to reckon with him, to
admire or respect him, they did not understand or love him. He was
outside the art of the time. A monster, a living anachronism. He had
always been that. His ten years of solitude had accentuated the
contrast. During his absence in Europe, and especially in Paris, a
great work of reconstruction had been carried through. A new order was
springing to life. A generation was arising, desirous rather of action
than of understanding, hungry rather for happiness than for truth. It
wished to live, to grasp life, even at the cost of a lie. Lies of
pride--all manner of pride: pride of race, pride of caste, pride of
religion, pride of culture and art--all were food to this generation,
provided that they were armor of steel, provided that they could be
turned to sword and buckler, and that, sheltered by them, they could
march on to victory.
So to this generation it was distasteful to hear the great voice of
torment reminding it of the existence of sorrow and doubt, those
whirlwinds that had troubled the night that was hardly gone, and, in
spite of its denials, went on menacing the universe, the whirlwinds that
it wished to forget. These young people turned away in despite, and they
shouted at the top of their voices to deafen themselves. But the voice
was heard above them all. And they were angry.
Christophe, on the other hand, regarded them with a friendly eye. He
hailed the upward movement of the world towards happiness. The
deliberate narrowness of its impulse affected him not at all. When a man
wishes to go straight to his goal, he must look straight in front of
him. For his part, sitting at the turning of the world, he was rejoiced
to see behind him the tragic splendor of the night, and, in front of
him, the smile of young hope, the uncertain beauty of the fresh, fevered
dawn. And he was at the stationary point of the axis of the pendulum
while the clock was beginning to go again. Without following its onward
march, he listened joyfully to the beating of the rhythm of life. He
joined in the hope of those who denied his past agonies. What would be,
would be, as he had dreamed. Ten years before, in night and suffering,
Olivier--the little Gallic cock--had with his frail song announced the
distant day. The singer was no more; but his song was coming to pass. In
the garden of Prance the birds were singing. And, above all the singing,
clearer, louder, happier, Christophe suddenly heard the voice of Olivier
come to life again.
* * * * *
He was absently reading a book of poems at a bookstall. The name of the
author was unknown to him. Certain words struck him and he went on
reading. As he read on between the uncut pages he seemed to recognize a
friendly voice, the features of a friend.... He could not define his
feeling, nor could he bring himself to put the book down, and so he
bought it. When he reached his room he resumed his reading. At once the
old obsession descended on him. The impetuous rhythm of the poem evoked,
with a visionary precision, the universe and age-old souls--the gigantic
trees of which we are all the leaves and the fruit--the nations. From
the pages there arose the superhuman figure of the Mother--she who was
before us, she who will be after us. She who reigns, like the Byzantine
Madonnas, lofty as the mountains, at whose feet kneel and pray ant-like
human beings. The poet was hymning the homeric struggle of the great
goddesses, whose lances had clashed together since the beginning of the
ages: the eternal Iliad which is to that of Troy what the Alps are to
the little hills of Greece.
Such an epic of warlike pride and action was far removed from the ideas
of a European soul like Christophe's. And yet, in gleams, in the vision
of the French soul--the graceful virgin, who bears the Aegis, Athena,
with blue eyes shining through the darkness, the goddess of work, the
incomparable artist, sovereign reason, whose glittering lance hurls down
the tumultuously shouting barbarians--Christophe perceived an
expression, a smile that he knew and had loved. But just as he was on
the point of fixing it the vision died away. And while he was
exasperated by this vain pursuit, lo! as he turned a page, he came on a
story which Olivier had told him a few days before his death....
He was struck dumb. He ran to the publishers, and asked for the poet's
address. It was refused, as is the custom. He lost his temper. In vain.
Finally he remembered that he could find what he wanted in a year-book.
He did find it, and went at once to the author's house. When he wanted
anything he found it impossible to wait.
It was in the Batignolles district on the top floor. There were several
doors opening on to a common landing. Christophe knocked at the door
which had been pointed out to him. The next door opened. A young woman,
not at all pretty, very dark, with low-growing hair and a sallow
complexion--a shriveled face with very sharp eyes--asked what he wanted.
She looked suspicious. Christophe told her why he had come, and, in
answer to her next question, gave his name. She came out of her room and
opened the other door with a key which she had in her pocket. But she
did not let Christophe enter immediately. She told him to wait in the
corridor, and went in alone, shutting the door in his face. At last
Christophe reached the well-guarded sanctum. He crossed a half-empty
room which served as a dining-room and contained only a few shabby
pieces of furniture, while near the curtainless window several birds
were twittering in an aviary. In the next room, on a threadbare divan,
lay a man. He sat up to welcome Christophe. At once Christophe
recognized the emaciated face, lit up by the soul, the lovely velvety
black eyes burning with a feverish flame, the long, intelligent hands,
the misshapen body, the shrill, husky voice.... Emmanuel! The little
cripple boy who had been the innocent cause.... And Emmanuel, suddenly
rising to his feet, had also recognized Christophe.
They stood for a moment without speaking. Both of them saw Olivier....
They could not bring themselves to shake hands. Emmanuel had stepped
backward. After ten long years, an unconfessed rancor, the old jealousy
that he had had of Christophe, leaped forth from the obscure depths of
instinct. He stood still, defiant and hostile.--But when he saw
Christophe's emotion, when on his lips he read the name that was in
their thoughts: "Olivier"--it was stronger than he: he flung himself
into the arms held out towards him.
"I knew you were in Paris. But how did you find me?"
Christophe said: "I read your last book: through it I heard _his_
"Yes," said Emmanuel. "You recognized it? I owe everything that I am now
(He avoided pronouncing the name.)
After a moment he went on gloomily:
"He loved you more than me."
"If a man loves truly there is neither more nor less: he gives himself
to all those whom he loves."
Emmanuel looked at Christophe: the tragic seriousness of his stubborn
eyes was suddenly lit up with a profound sweetness. He took Christophe's
hand and made him sit on the divan by his side.
Each told the story of his life. From fourteen to twenty-five Emmanuel
had practised many trades: printer, upholsterer, pedlar, bookseller's
assistant, lawyer's clerk, secretary to a politician, journalist.... In
all of them he had found the means of learning feverishly, here and
there finding the support of good people who were struck by the little
man's energy, more often falling into the hands of people who exploited
his poverty and his gifts, turning his worst experiences to profit, and
succeeding in fighting his way through without too much bitterness,
leaving behind him only the remains of his feeble health. His singular
aptitude for the dead languages (not so rare as one is inclined to
believe in a race imbued with humanistic traditions) gained him the
interest and support of an old Hellenizing priest. These studies, which
he had no time to push very far, served him as mental discipline and a
school of style. This man, who had risen from the dregs of the people,
whose whole education had been won by his own efforts, haphazard, so
that there were great gaps in it, had acquired a gift of verbal
expression, a mastery of thought over form, such as ten years of a
university education cannot give to the young bourgeois. He attributed
it all to Olivier. And yet others had helped him more effectively. But
from Olivier came the spark which in the night of this man's soul had
lighted the eternal flame. The rest had but poured oil into the lamp.
"I only began to understand him from the moment when he passed away. But
everything he ever said had become a part of me. His light never left
He spoke of his work and the task which he declared had been left to him
by Olivier; the awakening of the French, the kindling of that torch of
heroic idealism of which Olivier had been the herald: he wished to make
himself the resounding voice which should hover above the battlefield
and declare the approaching victory: he sang the epic of the new-birth
of his race.
His poems were the product of that strange race that, through the ages,
has so strongly preserved its old Celtic aroma, while it has ever taken
a bizarre pride in clothing its ideas with the cast-off clothes and laws
of the Roman conqueror. There were to be found in it absolutely pure the
Gallic audacity, the spirit of heroic reason, of irony, the mixture of
braggadocio and crazy bravura, which set out to pluck the beards of the
Roman senators, and pillaged the temple of Delphi, and laughingly hurled
its javelins at the sky. But this little Parisian dwarf had had to shape
his passions, as his periwigged grandfathers had done, and as no doubt
his great-grandnephews would do, in the bodies of the heroes and gods of
Greece, two thousand years dead. It is a curious instinct in these
people which accords well with their need of the absolute: as they
impose their ideas on the remains of the ages, they seem to themselves
to be imposing them on the ages. The constraint of his classic form only
gave Emmanuel's passions a more violent impulse. Olivier's calm
confidence in the destinies of France had been transformed in his little
protege into a burning faith, hungering for action and sure of triumph.
He willed it, he said it, he clamored for it. It was by his exalted
faith and his optimism that he had uplifted the souls of the French
public. His book had been as effective as a battle. He had made a breach
in the ranks of skepticism and fear. The whole younger generation had
thronged to follow him towards the new destiny....
He grew excited as he talked: his eyes burned, his pale face glowed pink
in patches, and his voice rose to a scream. Christophe could not help
noticing the contrast between the devouring fire and the wretched body
that was its pyre. He was only half-conscious of the irony of this
stroke of fate. The singer of energy, the poet who hymned the generation
of intrepid sport, of action, war, could hardly walk without losing his
breath, was extremely temperate, lived on a strict diet, drank water,
could not smoke, lived without women, bore every passion in his body,
and was reduced by his health to asceticism.
Christophe watched Emmanuel, and he felt a mixture of admiration and
brotherly pity. He tried not to show it: but no doubt his eyes betrayed
his feeling. Emmanuel's pride, which ever kept an open wound in his
side, made him think he read commiseration in Christophe's eyes, and
that was more odious to him than hatred. The fire in him suddenly died
down. He stopped talking. Christophe tried in vain to win back his
confidence. His soul had closed up. Christophe saw that he was wounded.
The hostile silence dragged on. Christophe got up. Emmanuel took him to
the door without a word. His step declared his infirmity: he knew it: it
was a point of pride with him to appear indifferent: but he thought
Christophe was watching him, and his rancor grew.
Just as he was coldly shaking hands with his guest, and saying good-by,
an elegant young lady rang at the door. She was escorted by a
pretentious nincompoop whom Christophe recognized as a man he had seen
at theatrical first-nights, smiling, chattering, waving his hand,
kissing the hands of the ladies, and from his stall shedding smiles all
over the theater: not knowing his name, he had called him "the
buck."--The buck and his companion, on seeing Emmanuel, flung themselves
on the _"cher maitre"_ with obsequious and familiar effusiveness.
As Christophe walked away he heard Emmanuel in his dry voice saying that
he was too busy to see any one. He admired the man's gift of being
disagreeable. He did not know Emmanuel's reasons for scowling at the
rich snobs who came to gratify him with their indiscreet visits; they
were prodigal of fine phrases and eulogy; but they no more thought of
helping him in his poverty than the famous friends of Cesar Franck ever
dreamed of releasing him from the piano-lessons which he had to give up
to the last to make a living.
Christophe went several times again to see Emmanuel. He never succeeded
in restoring the intimacy of his first visit. Emmanuel showed no
pleasure in seeing him, and maintained a suspicious reserve. Every now
and then he would be carried away by the generous need of expansion of
his genius: a remark of Christophe's would shake him to the very roots
of his being: then he would abandon himself to a fit of enthusiastic
confidence: and over his secret soul his idealism would cast the glowing
light of a flashing poetry. Then, suddenly, he would fall back: he would
shrivel up into sulky silence: and Christophe would find him hostile
They were divided by too many things. Not the least was the difference
in their ages. Christophe was on the way to full consciousness and
mastery of himself. Emmanuel was still in process of formation and more
chaotic than Christophe had ever been. The originality of his face came
from the contradictory elements that were at grips in him; a mighty
stoicism, struggling to tame a nature consumed by atavistic
desires,--(he was the son of a drunkard and a prostitute);--a frantic
imagination which tugged against the bit of a will of steel; an immense
egoism, and an immense love for others, and of the two it were
impossible to tell which would be the conqueror; an heroic idealism and
a morbid thirst for glory which made him impatient of other
superiorities. If Olivier's ideas, and his independence, and his
disinterestedness were in him, if Emmanuel was superior to his master by
his plebeian vitality which knew not disgust in the face of action, by
his poetic genius and his thicker skin, which protected him from disgust
of all kinds, yet he was very far from reaching the serenity of
Antoinette's brother: his character was vain and uneasy: and the
restlessness of other people only augmented his own.
He lived in a stormy alliance with a young woman who was his neighbor,
the woman who had received Christophe on his first visit. She loved
Emmanuel, and was jealously busy over him, looked after his house,
copied out his work, and wrote to his dictation. She was not beautiful,
and she bore the burden of a passionate soul. She came of the people,
and for a long time worked in a bookbinding workshop, then in the
post-office. Her childhood had been spent in the stifling atmosphere
common to all the poor workpeople of Paris: souls and bodies all huddled
together, harassing work, perpetual promiscuity, no air, no silence,
never any solitude, no opportunity for recuperation or of defending the
inner sanctuary of the heart. She was proud in spirit, with her mind
ever seething with a religious fervor for a confused ideal of truth. Her
eyes were worn out with copying out at night, sometimes without a lamp,
by moonlight, _Les Miserables_ of Hugo. She had met Emmanuel at a
time when he was more unhappy than she, ill and without resources; and
she had devoted herself to him. This passion was the first, the only
living love of her life. So she attached herself to him with a hungry
tenacity. Her affection was a terrible trial to Emmanuel, who rather
submitted to than shared it. He was touched by her devotion: he knew
that she was his best friend, the only creature to whom he was
everything, who could not do without him. But this very feeling
overwhelmed him. He needed liberty and isolation; her eyes always
greedily beseeching a look obsessed him: he used to speak harshly to
her, and longed to say: "Go!" He was irritated by her ugliness and her
clumsy manners. Though he had seen but little of fashionable society,
and though he heartily despised it,--(for he suffered at appearing even
uglier and more ridiculous there),--he was sensitive to elegance, and
alive to the attraction of women who felt towards him (he had no doubt
of it) exactly as he felt towards his friend. He tried to show her an
affection which he did not possess or, at least, which was continually
obscured by gusts of involuntary hatred. He could not do it: he had a
great generous heart in his bosom, hungering to do good, and also a
demon of violence, capable of much evil. This inward struggle and his
consciousness of his inability to end it to his advantage plunged him
into a state of acute irritation, which he vented on Christophe.
Emmanuel could not help feeling a double antipathy towards Christophe;
firstly because of his old jealousy (one of those childish passions
which still subsist, though we may forget the cause of them): secondly,
because of his fierce nationalism. In France he had embodied all the
dreams of justice, pity, and human brotherhood conceived by the best men
of the preceding age. He did not set France against the rest of Europe
as an enemy whose fortune is swelled by the ruin of the other nations,
but placed her at their head, as the legitimate sovereign who reigns for
the good of all--the sword of the ideal, the guide of the human race.
Rather than see her commit an injustice he would have preferred to see
her dead. But he had no doubt of her. He was exclusively French in
culture and in heart, nourished wholly by the French tradition, the
profound reasons of which he found in his own instinct. Quite sincerely
he ignored foreign thought, for which he had a sort of disdainful
condescension,--and was exasperated if a foreigner did not accept his
Christophe saw all that, but, being older and better versed in life, he
did not worry about it. If such pride of race could not but be
injurious, Christophe was not touched by it: he could appreciate the
illusions of filial love, and never dreamed of criticising the
exaggerations of a sacred feeling. Besides, humanity is profited by the
vain belief of the nations in their mission. Of all the reasons at hand
for feeling himself estranged from Emmanuel only one hurt him:
Emmanuel's voice, which at times rose to a shrill, piercing scream.
Christophe's ears suffered cruelly. He could not help making a face when
it happened. He tried to prevent Emmanuel's seeing it. He endeavored to
hear the music and not the instrument. There was such a beauty of
heroism shining forth from the crippled poet when he evoked the
victories of the mind, the forerunners of other victories, the conquest
of the air, the "flying God" who should upraise the peoples, and, like
the star of Bethlehem, lead them in his train, in ecstasies, towards far
distant spaces or near revenge. The splendor of these visions of energy
did not prevent Christophe's seeing their danger, and foreknowing
whither this change and the growing clamor of the new Marseillaise would
lead. He thought, with a little irony, (with no regret for past or fear
of the future), that the song would find an echo that the singer could
not foresee, and that a day would come when men would sigh for the
vanished days of the Market-Place.--How free they were then! The golden
age of liberty! Never would its like be known again. The world was
moving on to the age of strength, of health, of virile action, and
perhaps of glory, but also of harsh authority and narrow order. We shall
have called it enough with our prayers, the age of iron, the classic
age! The great classic ages--Louis XIV. or Napoleon--seem now at a
distance the peaks of humanity. And perhaps the nation therein most
victoriously realized its ideal State. But go and ask the heroes of
those times what they thought of them! Your Nicolas Poussin went to live
and die in Rome; he was stifled in your midst. Your Pascal, your Racine,
said farewell to the world. And among the greatest, how many others
lived apart in disgrace, and oppressed! Even the soul of a man like
Moliere hid much bitterness.--For your Napoleon, whom you so greatly
regret, your fathers do not seem to have had any doubt as to their
happiness, and the master himself was under no illusion; he knew that
when he disappeared the world would say: "Ouf!"... What a wilderness of
thought surrounds the _Imperator!_ Over the immensity of the sands,
the African sun....
Christophe did not say all that was in his mind. A few hints were enough
to set Emmanuel in a fury, and he did not try the experiment again. But
it was in vain that he kept his thoughts to himself: Emmanuel knew what
he was thinking. More than that, he was obscurely conscious that
Christophe saw farther than he. And he was only irritated by it. Young
people never forgive their elders for forcing them to see what they will
see in twenty years' time.
Christophe read his heart, and said to himself:
"He is right. Every man his own faith. A man must believe what he
believes. God keep me from disturbing his confidence in the future!"
But his mere presence upset Emmanuel. When two personalities are
together, however hard they try to efface themselves, one always crushes
the other, and the other always feels rancor and humiliation. Emmanuel's
pride was hurt by Christophe's superiority in experience and character.
And perhaps also he was keeping back the love which he felt growing in
himself for him.
He became more and more shy. He locked his door, and did not answer
letters.--Christophe had to give up seeing him.
* * * * *
During the first days of July Christophe reckoned up what he had gained
by his few months' stay in Paris: many new ideas, but few friends.
Brilliant and derisory successes, in which he saw his own image and the
image of his work weakened or caricatured in mediocre minds; and there
is but scant pleasure in that. And he failed to win the sympathy of
those by whom he would have loved to be understood; they had not
welcomed his advances; he could not throw in his lot with them, however
much he desired to share their hopes and to be their ally; it was as
though their uneasy vanity shunned his friendship and found more
satisfaction in having him for an enemy. In short, he had let the tide
of his own generation pass without passing with it, and the tide of the
next generation would have nothing to do with him. He was isolated, and
was not surprised, for all his life he had been accustomed to it. But
now he thought he had won the right, after this fresh attempt, to return
to his Swiss hermitage, until he had realized a project which for some
time past had been taking shape. As he grew older he was tormented with
the desire to return and settle down in his own country. He knew nobody
there, and would find even less intellectual kinship than in this
foreign city: but none the less it was his country: you do not ask those
of your blood to think your thoughts: between them and you there are a
thousand secret ties; the senses learned to read in the same book of sky
and earth, and the heart speaks the same language.
He gaily narrated his disappointments to Grazia, and told her of his
intention of returning to Switzerland: jokingly he asked her permission
to leave Paris, and assured her that he was going during the following
week. But at the end of the letter there was a postscript saying:
"I have changed my mind. My departure is postponed."
Christophe had entire confidence in Grazia: he gave into her hands the
secret of his inmost thoughts. And yet there was a room in his heart of
which he kept the key: it contained the memories which did not belong
only to himself, but to those whom he had loved. He kept back everything
concerning Olivier. His reserve was not deliberate. The words would not
come from his lips whenever he tried to talk to Grazia about Olivier.
She had never known him....
Now, on the morning when he was writing to his friend, there came a
knock on the door. He went to open it, cursing at being interrupted. A
boy of fourteen or fifteen asked for M. Krafft. Christophe gruffly bade
him come in. He was fair, with blue eyes, fine features, not very tall,
with a slender, erect figure. He stood in front of Christophe, rather
shyly, and said not a word. Quickly he pulled himself together, and
raised his limpid eyes, and looked at him with keen interest. Christophe
smiled as he scanned the boy's charming face, and the boy smiled too.
"Well?" said Christophe. "What do you want?"
"I came," said the boy....
(And once more he became confused, blushed, and was silent.)
"I can see that you have come," said Christophe, laughing. "But why have
you come? Look at me. Are you afraid of me?"
The boy smiled once more, shook his head, and said:
"Bravo! Then tell me who you are."
"I am...." said the boy.
He stopped once more. His eyes wandered curiously round the room, and
lighted on a photograph of Olivier on the mantelpiece.
"Come!" said Christophe. "Courage!"
The boy said:
"I am his son."
Christophe started: he got up from his chair, took hold of the boy's
arm, and drew him to him; he sank back into his chair and held him in a
close embrace: their faces almost touched; and he gazed and gazed at
"My boy.... My poor boy...."
Suddenly he took his face in his hands and kissed his brow, eyes,
cheeks, nose, hair. The boy was frightened and shocked by such a violent
demonstration, and broke away from him. Christophe let him go. He hid
his face in his hand, and leaned his brow against the wall, and sat so
for the space of a few moments. The boy had withdrawn to the other end
of the room. Christophe raised his head. His face was at rest: he looked
at the boy with an affectionate smile.
"I frightened you," he said. "Forgive me.... You see, I loved him."
The boy was still frightened, and said nothing.
"How like you are to him!" said Christophe.... "And yet I should not
have recognized you. What is it that has changed?..."
"What is your name?"
"Oh! yes. I remember. Christophe Olivier Georges.... How old are you?"
"Fourteen! Is it so long ago?... It is as though it were yesterday--or
far back in the darkness of time.... How like you are to him! The same
features. It is the same, and yet another. The same colored eyes, but
not the same eyes. The same smile, the same lips, but not the same
voice. You are stronger. You hold yourself more erect: your face is
fuller, but you blush just as he used to do. Come, sit down, let us
talk. Who sent you to me?"
"You came of your own accord? How do you know about me?"
"People have talked to me about you."
"Ah!" said Christophe. "Does she know that you came to see me?"
Christophe said nothing for a moment; then he asked:
"Where do you live?"
"Near the Parc Monceau."
"You walked here? Yes? It is a long way. You must be tired."
"I am never tired."
"Good! Show me your arms."
(He felt them.)
"You are a strong boy.... What put it into your head to come and see
"My father loved you more than any one."
"Did she tell you so?"
(He corrected himself.)
"Did your mother tell you so?"
Christophe smiled pensively. He thought: "She too!... How they all loved
him! Why did they not let him see it?..."
He went on:
"Why did you wait so long before you came?"
"I wanted to come sooner. But I thought you would not want to see me."
"I saw you several weeks ago at the Chevillard concerts: I was with my
mother, sitting a little away from you: I bowed to you: you looked
through me, and frowned, and took no notice."
"I looked at you?... My poor boy, how could you think that?... I did not
see you. My eyes are tired. That is why I frown.... You don't think me
so cruel as that?"
"I think you could be cruel too, if you wanted to be."
"Really?" said Christophe. "In that case, if you thought I did not want
to see you, how did you dare to come?"
"Because I wanted to see you."
"And if I had refused to see you?"
"I shouldn't have let you do that." He said this with a little decided
air, at once shy and provoking.
Christophe burst out laughing, and Georges laughed too.
"You would have sent me packing! Think of that! You rogue!... No,
decidedly, you are not like your father."
A shadow passed over the boy's mobile face.
"You think I am not like him? But you said, just now...? You don't think
he would have loved me? You don't love me?"
"What difference does it make to you whether I love you or not?"
"A great deal of difference."
"Because I love you."
In a moment his eyes, his lips, all his features, took on a dozen
different expressions, like the shadows of the clouds on an April day
chasing over the fields before the spring winds. Christophe had the most
lovely joy in gazing at him and listening to him; it seemed to him that
all the cares of the past were washed away; his sorrowful experiences,
his trials, his sufferings and Olivier's sufferings, all were wiped out:
he was born again in this young shoot of Olivier's life.
They talked on. Georges knew nothing of Christophe's music until the
last few months, but since Christophe had been in Paris, he had never
missed a concert at which his work was played. He spoke of it with an
eager expression, his eyes shining and laughing, with the tears not far
behind: he was like a lover. He told Christophe that he adored music,
and that he wanted to be a composer. But after a question or two,
Christophe saw that the boy knew not even the elements of music. He
asked about his work. Young Jeannin was at the lycee; he said cheerfully
that he was not a good scholar.
"What are you best at? Literature or science?"
"Very much the same."
"What? What? Are you a dunce?"
The boy laughed frankly and said:
"I think so."
Then he added confidentially:
"But I know that I am not, all the same."
Christophe could not help laughing.
"Then why don't you work? Aren't you interested in anything?"
"No. I'm interested in everything."
"Well, then, why?"
"Everything is so interesting that there is no time...."
"No time? What the devil do you do?"
He made a vague gesture:
"Many things. I play music, and games, and I go to exhibitions. I
"You would do better to read your school-books."
"We never read anything interesting in school.... Besides, we travel.
Last month I went to England to see the Oxford and Cambridge match."
"That must help your work a great deal!"