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´╗┐Title: Against the Grain
Author: Huysmans, J.-K. (Joris-Karl), 1848-1907
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Against the Grain" ***

    Joris-Karl Huysmans

    Translated by John Howard


    Chapter 1
    Chapter 2
    Chapter 3
    Chapter 4
    Chapter 5
    Chapter 6
    Chapter 7
    Chapter 8
    Chapter 9
    Chapter 10
    Chapter 11
    Chapter 12
    Chapter 13
    Chapter 14
    Chapter 15
    Chapter 16

    Chapter 1

The Floressas Des Esseintes, to judge by the various portraits
preserved in the Chateau de Lourps, had originally been a family of
stalwart troopers and stern cavalry men. Closely arrayed, side by
side, in the old frames which their broad shoulders filled, they
startled one with the fixed gaze of their eyes, their fierce
moustaches and the chests whose deep curves filled the enormous shells
of their cuirasses.

These were the ancestors. There were no portraits of their descendants
and a wide breach existed in the series of the faces of this race.
Only one painting served as a link to connect the past and present--a
crafty, mysterious head with haggard and gaunt features, cheekbones
punctuated with a comma of paint, the hair overspread with pearls, a
painted neck rising stiffly from the fluted ruff.

In this representation of one of the most intimate friends of the Duc
d'Epernon and the Marquis d'O, the ravages of a sluggish and
impoverished constitution were already noticeable.

It was obvious that the decadence of this family had followed an
unvarying course. The effemination of the males had continued with
quickened tempo. As if to conclude the work of long years, the Des
Esseintes had intermarried for two centuries, using up, in such
consanguineous unions, such strength as remained.

There was only one living scion of this family which had once been so
numerous that it had occupied all the territories of the Ile-de-France
and La Brie. The Duc Jean was a slender, nervous young man of thirty,
with hollow cheeks, cold, steel-blue eyes, a straight, thin nose and
delicate hands.

By a singular, atavistic reversion, the last descendant resembled the
old grandsire, from whom he had inherited the pointed, remarkably fair
beard and an ambiguous expression, at once weary and cunning.

His childhood had been an unhappy one. Menaced with scrofula and
afflicted with relentless fevers, he yet succeeded in crossing the
breakers of adolescence, thanks to fresh air and careful attention. He
grew stronger, overcame the languors of chlorosis and reached his full

His mother, a tall, pale, taciturn woman, died of anaemia, and his
father of some uncertain malady. Des Esseintes was then seventeen
years of age.

He retained but a vague memory of his parents and felt neither
affection nor gratitude for them. He hardly knew his father, who
usually resided in Paris. He recalled his mother as she lay motionless
in a dim room of the Chateau de Lourps. The husband and wife would
meet on rare occasions, and he remembered those lifeless interviews
when his parents sat face to face in front of a round table faintly
lit by a lamp with a wide, low-hanging shade, for the _duchesse_ could
not endure light or sound without being seized with a fit of
nervousness. A few, halting words would be exchanged between them in
the gloom and then the indifferent _duc_ would depart to meet the
first train back to Paris.

Jean's life at the Jesuit school, where he was sent to study, was more
pleasant. At first the Fathers pampered the lad whose intelligence
astonished them. But despite their efforts, they could not induce him
to concentrate on studies requiring discipline. He nibbled at various
books and was precociously brilliant in Latin. On the contrary, he was
absolutely incapable of construing two Greek words, showed no aptitude
for living languages and promptly proved himself a dunce when obliged
to master the elements of the sciences.

His family gave him little heed. Sometimes his father visited him at
school. "How are you . . . be good . . . study hard . . . "--and he
was gone. The lad passed the summer vacations at the Chateau de
Lourps, but his presence could not seduce his mother from her
reveries. She scarcely noticed him; when she did, her gaze would rest
on him for a moment with a sad smile--and that was all. The moment
after she would again become absorbed in the artificial night with
which the heavily curtained windows enshrouded the room.

The servants were old and dull. Left to himself, the boy delved into
books on rainy days and roamed about the countryside on pleasant

It was his supreme delight to wander down the little valley to
Jutigny, a village planted at the foot of the hills, a tiny heap of
cottages capped with thatch strewn with tufts of sengreen and clumps
of moss. In the open fields, under the shadow of high ricks, he would
lie, listening to the hollow splashing of the mills and inhaling the
fresh breeze from Voulzie. Sometimes he went as far as the peat-bogs,
to the green and black hamlet of Longueville, or climbed wind-swept
hillsides affording magnificent views. There, below to one side, as
far as the eye could reach, lay the Seine valley, blending in the
distance with the blue sky; high up, near the horizon, on the other
side, rose the churches and tower of Provins which seemed to tremble
in the golden dust of the air.

Immersed in solitude, he would dream or read far into the night. By
protracted contemplation of the same thoughts, his mind grew sharp,
his vague, undeveloped ideas took on form. After each vacation, Jean
returned to his masters more reflective and headstrong. These changes
did not escape them. Subtle and observant, accustomed by their
profession to plumb souls to their depths, they were fully aware of
his unresponsiveness to their teachings. They knew that this student
would never contribute to the glory of their order, and as his family
was rich and apparently careless of his future, they soon renounced
the idea of having him take up any of the professions their school
offered. Although he willingly discussed with them those theological
doctrines which intrigued his fancy by their subtleties and
hair-splittings, they did not even think of training him for the
religious orders, since, in spite of their efforts, his faith remained
languid. As a last resort, through prudence and fear of the harm he
might effect, they permitted him to pursue whatever studies pleased
him and to neglect the others, being loath to antagonize this bold and
independent spirit by the quibblings of the lay school assistants.

Thus he lived in perfect contentment, scarcely feeling the parental
yoke of the priests. He continued his Latin and French studies when
the whim seized him and, although theology did not figure in his
schedule, he finished his apprenticeship in this science, begun at the
Chateau de Lourps, in the library bequeathed by his grand-uncle, Dom
Prosper, the old prior of the regular canons of Saint-Ruf.

But soon the time came when he must quit the Jesuit institution. He
attained his majority and became master of his fortune. The Comte de
Montchevrel, his cousin and guardian, placed in his hands the title to
his wealth. There was no intimacy between them, for there was no
possible point of contact between these two men, the one young, the
other old. Impelled by curiosity, idleness or politeness, Des
Esseintes sometimes visited the Montchevrel family and spent some dull
evenings in their Rue de la Chaise mansion where the ladies, old as
antiquity itself, would gossip of quarterings of the noble arms,
heraldic moons and anachronistic ceremonies.

The men, gathered around whist tables, proved even more shallow and
insignificant than the dowagers; these descendants of ancient,
courageous knights, these last branches of feudal races, appeared to
Des Esseintes as catarrhal, crazy, old men repeating inanities and
time-worn phrases. A _fleur de lis_ seemed the sole imprint on the
soft pap of their brains.

The youth felt an unutterable pity for these mummies buried in their
elaborate hypogeums of wainscoting and grotto work, for these tedious
triflers whose eyes were forever turned towards a hazy Canaan, an
imaginary Palestine.

After a few visits with such relatives, he resolved never again to set
foot in their homes, regardless of invitations or reproaches.

Then he began to seek out the young men of his own age and set.

One group, educated like himself in religious institutions, preserved
the special marks of this training. They attended religious services,
received the sacrament on Easter, frequented the Catholic circles and
concealed as criminal their amorous escapades. For the most part, they
were unintelligent, acquiescent fops, stupid bores who had tried the
patience of their professors. Yet these professors were pleased to
have bestowed such docile, pious creatures upon society.

The other group, educated in the state colleges or in the _lycees_,
were less hypocritical and much more courageous, but they were neither
more interesting nor less bigoted. Gay young men dazzled by operettas
and races, they played lansquenet and baccarat, staked large fortunes
on horses and cards, and cultivated all the pleasures enchanting to
brainless fools. After a year's experience, Des Esseintes felt an
overpowering weariness of this company whose debaucheries seemed to
him so unrefined, facile and indiscriminate without any ardent
reactions or excitement of nerves and blood.

He gradually forsook them to make the acquaintance of literary men, in
whom he thought he might find more interest and feel more at ease.
This, too, proved disappointing; he was revolted by their rancorous
and petty judgments, their conversation as obvious as a church door,
their dreary discussions in which they judged the value of a book by
the number of editions it had passed and by the profits acquired. At
the same time, he noticed that the free thinkers, the doctrinaires of
the bourgeoisie, people who claimed every liberty that they might
stifle the opinions of others, were greedy and shameless puritans
whom, in education, he esteemed inferior to the corner shoemaker.

His contempt for humanity deepened. He reached the conclusion that the
world, for the most part, was composed of scoundrels and imbeciles.
Certainly, he could not hope to discover in others aspirations and
aversions similar to his own, could not expect companionship with an
intelligence exulting in a studious decrepitude, nor anticipate
meeting a mind as keen as his among the writers and scholars.

Irritated, ill at ease and offended by the poverty of ideas given and
received, he became like those people described by Nicole--those who
are always melancholy. He would fly into a rage when he read the
patriotic and social balderdash retailed daily in the newspapers, and
would exaggerate the significance of the plaudits which a sovereign
public always reserves for works deficient in ideas and style.

Already, he was dreaming of a refined solitude, a comfortable desert,
a motionless ark in which to seek refuge from the unending deluge of
human stupidity.

A single passion, woman, might have curbed his contempt, but that,
too, had palled on him. He had taken to carnal repasts with the
eagerness of a crotchety man affected with a depraved appetite and
given to sudden hungers, whose taste is quickly dulled and surfeited.
Associating with country squires, he had taken part in their lavish
suppers where, at dessert, tipsy women would unfasten their clothing
and strike their heads against the tables; he had haunted the green
rooms, loved actresses and singers, endured, in addition to the
natural stupidity he had come to expect of women, the maddening vanity
of female strolling players. Finally, satiated and weary of this
monotonous extravagance and the sameness of their caresses, he had
plunged into the foul depths, hoping by the contrast of squalid misery
to revive his desires and stimulate his deadened senses.

Whatever he attempted proved vain; an unconquerable ennui oppressed
him. Yet he persisted in his excesses and returned to the perilous
embraces of accomplished mistresses. But his health failed, his
nervous system collapsed, the back of his neck grew sensitive, his
hand, still firm when it seized a heavy object, trembled when it held
a tiny glass.

The physicians whom he consulted frightened him. It was high time to
check his excesses and renounce those pursuits which were dissipating
his reserve of strength! For a while he was at peace, but his brain
soon became over-excited. Like those young girls who, in the grip of
puberty, crave coarse and vile foods, he dreamed of and practiced
perverse loves and pleasures. This was the end! As though satisfied
with having exhausted everything, as though completely surrendering to
fatigue, his senses fell into a lethargy and impotence threatened him.

He recovered, but he was lonely, tired, sobered, imploring an end to
his life which the cowardice of his flesh prevented him from

Once more he was toying with the idea of becoming a recluse, of living
in some hushed retreat where the turmoil of life would be muffled--as
in those streets covered with straw to prevent any sound from reaching

It was time to make up his mind. The condition of his finances
terrified him. He had spent, in acts of folly and in drinking bouts,
the greater part of his patrimony, and the remainder, invested in
land, produced a ridiculously small income.

He decided to sell the Chateau de Lourps, which he no longer visited
and where he left no memory or regret behind. He liquidated his other
holdings, bought government bonds and in this way drew an annual
interest of fifty thousand francs; in addition, he reserved a sum of
money which he meant to use in buying and furnishing the house where
he proposed to enjoy a perfect repose.

Exploring the suburbs of the capital, he found a place for sale at the
top of Fontenay-aux-Roses, in a secluded section near the fort, far
from any neighbors. His dream was realized! In this country place so
little violated by Parisians, he could be certain of seclusion. The
difficulty of reaching the place, due to an unreliable railroad
passing by at the end of the town, and to the little street cars which
came and went at irregular intervals, reassured him. He could picture
himself alone on the bluff, sufficiently far away to prevent the
Parisian throngs from reaching him, and yet near enough to the capital
to confirm him in his solitude. And he felt that in not entirely
closing the way, there was a chance that he would not be assailed by a
wish to return to society, seeing that it is only the impossible, the
unachievable that arouses desire.

He put masons to work on the house he had acquired. Then, one day,
informing no one of his plans, he quickly disposed of his old
furniture, dismissed his servants, and left without giving the
concierge any address.

    Chapter 2

More than two months passed before Des Esseintes could bury himself in
the silent repose of his Fontenay abode. He was obliged to go to Paris
again, to comb the city in his search for the things he wanted to buy.

What care he took, what meditations he surrendered himself to, before
turning over his house to the upholsterers!

He had long been a connoisseur in the sincerities and evasions of
color-tones. In the days when he had entertained women at his home, he
had created a boudoir where, amid daintily carved furniture of pale,
Japanese camphor-wood, under a sort of pavillion of Indian rose-tinted
satin, the flesh would color delicately in the borrowed lights of the
silken hangings.

This room, each of whose sides was lined with mirrors that echoed each
other all along the walls, reflecting, as far as the eye could reach,
whole series of rose boudoirs, had been celebrated among the women who
loved to immerse their nudity in this bath of warm carnation, made
fragrant with the odor of mint emanating from the exotic wood of the

Aside from the sensual delights for which he had designed this
chamber, this painted atmosphere which gave new color to faces grown
dull and withered by the use of ceruse and by nights of dissipation,
there were other, more personal and perverse pleasures which he
enjoyed in these languorous surroundings,--pleasures which in some way
stimulated memories of his past pains and dead ennuis.

As a souvenir of the hated days of his childhood, he had suspended
from the ceiling a small silver-wired cage where a captive cricket
sang as if in the ashes of the chimneys of the Chateau de Lourps.
Listening to the sound he had so often heard before, he lived over
again the silent evenings spent near his mother, the wretchedness of
his suffering, repressed youth. And then, while he yielded to the
voluptuousness of the woman he mechanically caressed, whose words or
laughter tore him from his revery and rudely recalled him to the
moment, to the boudoir, to reality, a tumult arose in his soul, a need
of avenging the sad years he had endured, a mad wish to sully the
recollections of his family by shameful action, a furious desire to
pant on cushions of flesh, to drain to their last dregs the most
violent of carnal vices.

On rainy autumnal days when melancholy oppressed him, when a hatred of
his home, the muddy yellow skies, the macadam clouds assailed him, he
took refuge in this retreat, set the cage lightly in motion and
watched it endlessly reflected in the play of the mirrors, until it
seemed to his dazed eyes that the cage no longer stirred, but that the
boudoir reeled and turned, filling the house with a rose-colored

In the days when he had deemed it necessary to affect singularity, Des
Esseintes had designed marvelously strange furnishings, dividing his
salon into a series of alcoves hung with varied tapestries to relate
by a subtle analogy, by a vague harmony of joyous or sombre, delicate
or barbaric colors to the character of the Latin or French books he
loved. And he would seclude himself in turn in the particular recess
whose _decor_ seemed best to correspond with the very essence of the
work his caprice of the moment induced him to read.

He had constructed, too, a lofty high room intended for the reception
of his tradesmen. Here they were ushered in and seated alongside each
other in church pews, while from a pulpit he preached to them a sermon
on dandyism, adjuring his bootmakers and tailors implicitly to obey
his briefs in the matter of style, threatening them with pecuniary
excommunication if they failed to follow to the letter the
instructions contained in his monitories and bulls.

He acquired the reputation of an eccentric, which he enhanced by
wearing costumes of white velvet, and gold-embroidered waistcoats, by
inserting, in place of a cravat, a Parma bouquet in the opening of his
shirt, by giving famous dinners to men of letters, one of which, a
revival of the eighteenth century, celebrating the most futile of his
misadventures, was a funeral repast.

In the dining room, hung in black and opening on the transformed
garden with its ash-powdered walks, its little pool now bordered with
basalt and filled with ink, its clumps of cypresses and pines, the
dinner had been served on a table draped in black, adorned with
baskets of violets and scabiouses, lit by candelabra from which green
flames blazed, and by chandeliers from which wax tapers flared.

To the sound of funeral marches played by a concealed orchestra, nude
negresses, wearing slippers and stockings of silver cloth with
patterns of tears, served the guests.

Out of black-edged plates they had drunk turtle soup and eaten Russian
rye bread, ripe Turkish olives, caviar, smoked Frankfort black
pudding, game with sauces that were the color of licorice and
blacking, truffle gravy, chocolate cream, puddings, nectarines, grape
preserves, mulberries and black-heart cherries; they had sipped, out
of dark glasses, wines from Limagne, Roussillon, Tenedos, Val de Penas
and Porto, and after the coffee and walnut brandy had partaken of kvas
and porter and stout.

The farewell dinner to a temporarily dead virility--this was what he
had written on invitation cards designed like bereavement notices.

But he was done with those extravagances in which he had once gloried.
Today, he was filled with a contempt for those juvenile displays, the
singular apparel, the appointments of his bizarre chambers. He
contented himself with planning, for his own pleasure, and no longer
for the astonishment of others, an interior that should be comfortable
although embellished in a rare style; with building a curious, calm
retreat to serve the needs of his future solitude.

When the Fontenay house was in readiness, fitted up by an architect
according to his plans, when all that remained was to determine the
color scheme, he again devoted himself to long speculations.

He desired colors whose expressiveness would be displayed in the
artificial light of lamps. To him it mattered not at all if they were
lifeless or crude in daylight, for it was at night that he lived,
feeling more completely alone then, feeling that only under the
protective covering of darkness did the mind grow really animated and
active. He also experienced a peculiar pleasure in being in a richly
illuminated room, the only patch of light amid the shadow-haunted,
sleeping houses. This was a form of enjoyment in which perhaps entered
an element of vanity, that peculiar pleasure known to late workers
when, drawing aside the window curtains, they perceive that everything
about them is extinguished, silent, dead.

Slowly, one by one, he selected the colors.

Blue inclines to a false green by candle light: if it is dark, like
cobalt or indigo, it turns black; if it is bright, it turns grey; if
it is soft, like turquoise, it grows feeble and faded.

There could be no question of making it the dominant note of a room
unless it were blended with some other color.

Iron grey always frowns and is heavy; pearl grey loses its blue and
changes to a muddy white; brown is lifeless and cold; as for deep
green, such as emperor or myrtle, it has the same properties as blue
and merges into black. There remained, then, the paler greens, such as
peacock, cinnabar or lacquer, but the light banishes their blues and
brings out their yellows in tones that have a false and undecided

No need to waste thought on the salmon, the maize and rose colors
whose feminine associations oppose all ideas of isolation! No need to
consider the violet which is completely neutralized at night; only the
red in it holds its ground--and what a red! a viscous red like the
lees of wine. Besides, it seemed useless to employ this color, for by
using a certain amount of santonin, he could get an effect of violet
on his hangings.

These colors disposed of, only three remained: red, orange, yellow.

Of these, he preferred orange, thus by his own example confirming the
truth of a theory which he declared had almost mathematical
correctness--the theory that a harmony exists between the sensual
nature of a truly artistic individual and the color which most vividly
impresses him.

Disregarding entirely the generality of men whose gross retinas are
capable of perceiving neither the cadence peculiar to each color nor
the mysterious charm of their nuances of light and shade; ignoring the
bourgeoisie, whose eyes are insensible to the pomp and splendor of
strong, vibrant tones; and devoting himself only to people with
sensitive pupils, refined by literature and art, he was convinced that
the eyes of those among them who dream of the ideal and demand
illusions are generally caressed by blue and its derivatives, mauve,
lilac and pearl grey, provided always that these colors remain soft
and do not overstep the bounds where they lose their personalities by
being transformed into pure violets and frank greys.

Those persons, on the contrary, who are energetic and incisive, the
plethoric, red-blooded, strong males who fling themselves unthinkingly
into the affair of the moment, generally delight in the bold gleams of
yellows and reds, the clashing cymbals of vermilions and chromes that
blind and intoxicate them.

But the eyes of enfeebled and nervous persons whose sensual appetites
crave highly seasoned foods, the eyes of hectic and over-excited
creatures have a predilection toward that irritating and morbid color
with its fictitious splendors, its acid fevers--orange.

Thus, there could be no question about Des Esseintes' choice, but
unquestionable difficulties still arose. If red and yellow are
heightened by light, the same does not always hold true of their
compound, orange, which often seems to ignite and turns to nasturtium,
to a flaming red.

He studied all their nuances by candlelight, discovering a shade
which, it seemed to him, would not lose its dominant tone, but would
stand every test required of it. These preliminaries completed, he
sought to refrain from using, for his study at least, oriental stuffs
and rugs which have become cheapened and ordinary, now that rich
merchants can easily pick them up at auctions and shops.

He finally decided to bind his walls, like books, with coarse-grained
morocco, with Cape skin, polished by strong steel plates under a
powerful press.

When the wainscoting was finished, he had the moulding and high
plinths painted in indigo, a lacquered indigo like that which
coachmakers employ for carriage panels. The ceiling, slightly rounded,
was also lined with morocco. In the center was a wide opening
resembling an immense bull's eye encased in orange skin--a circle of
the firmament worked out on a background of king blue silk on which
were woven silver seraphim with out-stretched wings. This material had
long before been embroidered by the Cologne guild of weavers for an
old cope.

The setting was complete. At night the room subsided into a restful,
soothing harmony. The wainscoting preserved its blue which seemed
sustained and warmed by the orange. And the orange remained pure,
strengthened and fanned as it was by the insistent breath of the

Des Esseintes was not deeply concerned about the furniture itself. The
only luxuries in the room were books and rare flowers. He limited
himself to these things, intending later on to hang a few drawings or
paintings on the panels which remained bare; to place shelves and book
racks of ebony around the walls; to spread the pelts of wild beasts
and the skins of blue fox on the floor; to install, near a massive
fifteenth century counting-table, deep armchairs and an old chapel
reading-desk of forged iron, one of those old lecterns on which the
deacon formerly placed the antiphonary and which now supported one of
the heavy folios of Du Cange's _Glossarium mediae et infimae

The windows whose blue fissured panes, stippled with fragments of
gold-edged bottles, intercepted the view of the country and only
permitted a faint light to enter, were draped with curtains cut from
old stoles of dark and reddish gold neutralized by an almost dead
russet woven in the pattern.

The mantel shelf was sumptuously draped with the remnant of a
Florentine dalmatica. Between two gilded copper monstrances of
Byzantine style, originally brought from the old Abbaye-au-Bois de
Bievre, stood a marvelous church canon divided into three separate
compartments delicately wrought like lace work. It contained, under
its glass frame, three works of Baudelaire copied on real vellum, with
wonderful missal letters and splendid coloring: to the right and left,
the sonnets bearing the titles of _La Mort des Amants_ and _L'Ennemi_;
in the center, the prose poem entitled, _Anywhere Out of the
World--n'importe ou, hors du monde_.

    Chapter 3

After selling his effects, Des Esseintes retained the two old
domestics who had tended his mother and filled the offices of steward
and house porter at the Chateau de Lourps, which had remained deserted
and uninhabited until its disposal.

These servants he brought to Fontenay. They were accustomed to the
regular life of hospital attendants hourly serving the patients their
stipulated food and drink, to the rigid silence of cloistral monks who
live behind barred doors and windows, having no communication with the
outside world.

The man was assigned the task of keeping the house in order and of
procuring provisions, the woman that of preparing the food. He
surrendered the second story to them, forced them to wear heavy felt
coverings over their shoes, put sound mufflers along the well-oiled
doors and covered their floor with heavy rugs so that he would never
hear their footsteps overhead.

He devised an elaborate signal code of bells whereby his wants were
made known. He pointed out the exact spot on his bureau where they
were to place the account book each month while he slept. In short,
matters were arranged in such wise that he would not be obliged to see
or to converse with them very often.

Nevertheless, since the woman had occasion to walk past the house so
as to reach the woodshed, he wished to make sure that her shadow, as
she passed his windows, would not offend him. He had designed for her
a costume of Flemish silk with a white bonnet and large, black,
lowered hood, such as is still worn by the nuns of Ghent. The shadow
of this headdress, in the twilight, gave him the sensation of being in
a cloister, brought back memories of silent, holy villages, dead
quarters enclosed and buried in some quiet corner of a bustling town.

The hours of eating were also regulated. His instructions in this
regard were short and explicit, for the weakened state of his stomach
no longer permitted him to absorb heavy or varied foods.

In winter, at five o'clock in the afternoon, when the day was drawing
to a close, he breakfasted on two boiled eggs, toast and tea. At
eleven o'clock he dined. During the night he drank coffee, and
sometimes tea and wine, and at five o'clock in the morning, before
retiring, he supped again lightly.

His meals, which were planned and ordered once for all at the
beginning of each season, were served him on a table in the middle of
a small room separated from his study by a padded corridor,
hermetically sealed so as to permit neither sound nor odor to filter
into either of the two rooms it joined.

With its vaulted ceiling fitted with beams in a half circle, its
bulkheads and floor of pine, and the little window in the wainscoting
that looked like a porthole, the dining room resembled the cabin of a

Like those Japanese boxes which fit into each other, this room was
inserted in a larger apartment--the real dining room constructed by
the architect.

It was pierced by two windows. One of them was invisible, hidden by a
partition which could, however, be lowered by a spring so as to permit
fresh air to circulate around this pinewood box and to penetrate into
it. The other was visible, placed directly opposite the porthole built
in the wainscoting, but it was blocked up. For a long aquarium
occupied the entire space between the porthole and the genuine window
placed in the outer wall. Thus the light, in order to brighten the
room, traversed the window, whose panes had been replaced by a plate
glass, the water, and, lastly, the window of the porthole.

In autumn, at sunset, when the steam rose from the samovar on the
table, the water of the aquarium, wan and glassy all during the
morning, reddened like blazing gleams of embers and lapped restlessly
against the light-colored wood.

Sometimes, when it chanced that Des Esseintes was awake in the
afternoon, he operated the stops of the pipes and conduits which
emptied the aquarium, replacing it with pure water. Into this, he
poured drops of colored liquids that made it green or brackish,
opaline or silvery--tones similar to those of rivers which reflect the
color of the sky, the intensity of the sun, the menace of rain--which
reflect, in a word, the state of the season and atmosphere.

When he did this, he imagined himself on a brig, between decks, and
curiously he contemplated the marvelous, mechanical fish, wound like
clocks, which passed before the porthole or clung to the artificial
sea-weed. While he inhaled the odor of tar, introduced into the room
shortly before his arrival, he examined colored engravings, hung on
the walls, which represented, just as at Lloyd's office and the
steamship agencies, steamers bound for Valparaiso and La Platte, and
looked at framed pictures on which were inscribed the itineraries of
the Royal Mail Steam Packet, the Lopez and the Valery Companies, the
freight and port calls of the Atlantic mail boats.

If he tired of consulting these guides, he could rest his eyes by
gazing at the chronometers and sea compasses, the sextants, field
glasses and cards strewn on a table on which stood a single volume,
bound in sealskin. The book was "The Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym",
specially printed for him on laid paper, each sheet carefully
selected, with a sea-gull watermark.

Or, he could look at fishing rods, tan-colored nets, rolls of russet
sail, a tiny, black-painted cork anchor--all thrown in a heap near the
door communicating with the kitchen by a passage furnished with
cappadine silk which reabsorbed, just as in the corridor which
connected the dining room with his study, every odor and sound.

Thus, without stirring, he enjoyed the rapid motions of a long sea
voyage. The pleasure of travel, which only exists as a matter of fact
in retrospect and seldom in the present, at the instant when it is
being experienced, he could fully relish at his ease, without the
necessity of fatigue or confusion, here in this cabin whose studied
disorder, whose transitory appearance and whose seemingly temporary
furnishings corresponded so well with the briefness of the time he
spent there on his meals, and contrasted so perfectly with his study,
a well-arranged, well-furnished room where everything betokened a
retired, orderly existence.

Movement, after all, seemed futile to him. He felt that imagination
could easily be substituted for the vulgar realities of things. It was
possible, in his opinion, to gratify the most extravagant, absurd
desires by a subtle subterfuge, by a slight modification of the object
of one's wishes. Every epicure nowadays enjoys, in restaurants
celebrated for the excellence of their cellars, wines of capital taste
manufactured from inferior brands treated by Pasteur's method. For
they have the same aroma, the same color, the same bouquet as the rare
wines of which they are an imitation, and consequently the pleasure
experienced in sipping them is identical. The originals, moreover, are
usually unprocurable, for love or money.

Transposing this insidious deviation, this adroit deceit into the
realm of the intellect, there was not the shadow of a doubt that
fanciful delights resembling the true in every detail, could be
enjoyed. One could revel, for instance, in long explorations while
near one's own fireside, stimulating the restive or sluggish mind, if
need be, by reading some suggestive narrative of travel in distant
lands. One could enjoy the beneficent results of a sea bath, too, even
in Paris. All that is necessary is to visit the Vigier baths situated
in a boat on the Seine, far from the shore.

There, the illusion of the sea is undeniable, imperious, positive. It
is achieved by salting the water of the bath; by mixing, according to
the Codex formula, sulphate of soda, hydrochlorate of magnesia and
lime; by extracting from a box, carefully closed by means of a screw,
a ball of thread or a very small piece of cable which had been
specially procured from one of those great rope-making establishments
whose vast warehouses and basements are heavy with odors of the sea
and the port; by inhaling these perfumes held by the ball or the cable
end; by consulting an exact photograph of the casino; by eagerly
reading the Joanne guide describing the beauties of the seashore where
one would wish to be; by being rocked on the waves, made by the eddy
of fly boats lapping against the pontoon of baths; by listening to the
plaint of the wind under the arches, or to the hollow murmur of the
omnibuses passing above on the Port Royal, two steps away.

The secret lies in knowing how to proceed, how to concentrate deeply
enough to produce the hallucination and succeed in substituting the
dream reality for the reality itself.

Artifice, besides, seemed to Des Esseintes the final distinctive mark
of man's genius.

Nature had had her day, as he put it. By the disgusting sameness of
her landscapes and skies, she had once for all wearied the considerate
patience of aesthetes. Really, what dullness! the dullness of the
specialist confined to his narrow work. What manners! the manners of
the tradesman offering one particular ware to the exclusion of all
others. What a monotonous storehouse of fields and trees! What a banal
agency of mountains and seas!

There is not one of her inventions, no matter how subtle or imposing
it may be, which human genius cannot create; no Fontainebleau forest,
no moonlight which a scenic setting flooded with electricity cannot
produce; no waterfall which hydraulics cannot imitate to perfection;
no rock which pasteboard cannot be made to resemble; no flower which
taffetas and delicately painted papers cannot simulate.

There can be no doubt about it: this eternal, driveling, old woman is
no longer admired by true artists, and the moment has come to replace
her by artifice.

Closely observe that work of hers which is considered the most
exquisite, that creation of hers whose beauty is everywhere conceded
the most perfect and original--woman. Has not man made, for his own
use, an animated and artificial being which easily equals woman, from
the point of view of plastic beauty? Is there a woman, whose form is
more dazzling, more splendid than the two locomotives that pass over
the Northern Railroad lines?

One, the Crampton, is an adorable, shrill-voiced blonde, a trim,
gilded blonde, with a large, fragile body imprisoned in a glittering
corset of copper, and having the long, sinewy lines of a cat. Her
extraordinary grace is frightening, as, with the sweat of her hot
sides rising upwards and her steel muscles stiffening, she puts in
motion the immense rose-window of her fine wheels and darts forward,
mettlesome, along rapids and floods.

The other, the Engerth, is a nobly proportioned dusky brunette
emitting raucous, muffled cries. Her heavy loins are strangled in a
cast-iron breast-plate. A monstrous beast with a disheveled mane of
black smoke and with six low, coupled wheels! What irresistible power
she has when, causing the earth to tremble, she slowly and heavily
drags the unwieldy queue of her merchandise!

Unquestionably, there is not one among the frail blondes and majestic
brunettes of the flesh that can vie with their delicate grace and
terrific strength.

Such were Des Esseintes' reflections when the breeze brought him the
faint whistle of the toy railroad winding playfully, like a spinning
top, between Paris and Sceaux. His house was situated at a twenty
minutes' walk from the Fontenay station, but the height on which it
was perched, its isolation, made it immune to the clatter of the noisy
rabble which the vicinity of a railway station invariably attracts on
a Sunday.

As for the village itself, he hardly knew it. One night he had gazed
through his window at the silent landscape which slowly unfolded, as
it dipped to the foot of a slope, on whose summit the batteries of the
Verrieres woods were trained.

In the darkness, to left and right, these masses, dim and confused,
rose tier on tier, dominated far off by other batteries and forts
whose high embankments seemed, in the moonlight, bathed in silver
against the sombre sky.

Where the plain did not fall under the shadow of the hills, it seemed
powdered with starch and smeared with white cold cream. In the warm
air that fanned the faded grasses and exhaled a spicy perfume, the
trees, chalky white under the moon, shook their pale leaves, and
seemed to divide their trunks, whose shadows formed bars of black on
the plaster-like ground where pebbles scintillated like glittering

Because of its enameled look and its artificial air, the landscape did
not displease Des Esseintes. But since that afternoon spent at
Fontenay in search of a house, he had never ventured along its roads
in daylight. The verdure of this region inspired him with no interest
whatever, for it did not have the delicate and doleful charm of the
sickly and pathetic vegetation which forces its way painfully through
the rubbish heaps of the mounds which had once served as the ramparts
of Paris. That day, in the village, he had perceived corpulent,
bewhiskered _bourgeois_ citizens and moustached uniformed men with
heads of magistrates and soldiers, which they held as stiffly as
monstrances in churches. And ever since that encounter, his
detestation of the human face had been augmented.

During the last month of his stay in Paris, when he was weary of
everything, afflicted with hypochondria, the prey of melancholia, when
his nerves had become so sensitive that the sight of an unpleasant
object or person impressed itself deeply on his brain--so deeply that
several days were required before the impression could be effaced--the
touch of a human body brushing against him in the street had been an
excruciating agony.

The very sight of certain faces made him suffer. He considered the
crabbed expressions of some, insulting. He felt a desire to slap the
fellow who walked, eyes closed, with such a learned air; the one who
minced along, smiling at his image in the window panes; and the one
who seemed stimulated by a whole world of thought while devouring,
with contracted brow, the tedious contents of a newspaper.

Such an inveterate stupidity, such a scorn for literature and art,
such a hatred for all the ideas he worshipped, were implanted and
anchored in these merchant minds, exclusively preoccupied with the
business of swindling and money-making, and accessible only to ideas
of politics--that base distraction of mediocrities--that he returned
enraged to his home and locked himself in with his books.

He hated the new generation with all the energy in him. They were
frightful clodhoppers who seemed to find it necessary to talk and
laugh boisterously in restaurants and cafes. They jostled you on
sidewalks without begging pardon. They pushed the wheels of their
perambulators against your legs, without even apologizing.

    Chapter 4

A portion of the shelves which lined the walls of his orange and blue
study was devoted exclusively to those Latin works assigned to the
generic period of "The Decadence" by those whose minds have absorbed
the deplorable teachings of the Sorbonne.

The Latin written in that era which professors still persist in
calling the Great Age, hardly stimulated Des Esseintes. With its
carefully premeditated style, its sameness, its stripping of supple
syntax, its poverty of color and nuance, this language, pruned of all
the rugged and often rich expressions of the preceding ages, was
confined to the enunciation of the majestic banalities, the empty
commonplaces tiresomely reiterated by the rhetoricians and poets; but
it betrayed such a lack of curiosity and such a humdrum tediousness,
such a drabness, feebleness and jaded solemnity that to find its
equal, it was necessary, in linguistic studies, to go to the French
style of the period of Louis XIV.

The gentle Vergil, whom instructors call the Mantuan swan, perhaps
because he was not born in that city, he considered one of the most
terrible pedants ever produced by antiquity. Des Esseintes was
exasperated by his immaculate and bedizened shepherds, his Orpheus
whom he compares to a weeping nightingale, his Aristaeus who simpers
about bees, his Aeneas, that weak-willed, irresolute person who walks
with wooden gestures through the length of the poem. Des Esseintes
would gladly have accepted the tedious nonsense which those
marionettes exchange with each other off-stage; or even the poet's
impudent borrowings from Homer, Theocritus, Ennius and Lucretius; the
plain theft, revealed to us by Macrobius, of the second song of the
_Aeneid_, copied almost word for word from one of Pisander's poems; in
fine, all the unutterable emptiness of this heap of verses. The thing
he could not forgive, however, and which infuriated him most, was the
workmanship of the hexameters, beating like empty tin cans and
extending their syllabic quantities measured according to the
unchanging rule of a pedantic and dull prosody. He disliked the
texture of those stiff verses, in their official garb, their abject
reverence for grammar, their mechanical division by imperturbable
caesuras, always plugged at the end in the same way by the impact of a
dactyl against a spondee.

Borrowed from the perfected forge of Catullus, this unvarying
versification, lacking imagination, lacking pity, padded with useless
words and refuse, with pegs of identical and anticipated assonances,
this ceaseless wretchedness of Homeric epithet which designates
nothing whatever and permits nothing to be seen, all this impoverished
vocabulary of muffled, lifeless tones bored him beyond measure.

It is no more than just to add that, if his admiration for Vergil was
quite restrained, and his attraction for Ovid's lucid outpourings even
more circumspect, there was no limit to his disgust at the elephantine
graces of Horace, at the prattle of this hopeless lout who smirkingly
utters the broad, crude jests of an old clown.

Neither was he pleased, in prose, with the verbosities, the redundant
metaphors, the ludicrous digressions of Cicero. There was nothing to
beguile him in the boasting of his apostrophes, in the flow of his
patriotic nonsense, in the emphasis of his harangues, in the
ponderousness of his style, fleshy but ropy and lacking in marrow and
bone, in the insupportable dross of his long adverbs with which he
introduces phrases, in the unalterable formula of his adipose periods
badly sewed together with the thread of conjunctions and, finally, in
his wearisome habits of tautology. Nor was his enthusiasm wakened for
Caesar, celebrated for his laconic style. Here, on the contrary, was
disclosed a surprising aridity, a sterility of recollection, an
incredibly undue constipation.

He found pasture neither among them nor among those writers who are
peculiarly the delight of the spuriously literate: Sallust, who is
less colorless than the others; sentimental and pompous Titus Livius;
turgid and lurid Seneca; watery and larval Suetonius; Tacitus who, in
his studied conciseness, is the keenest, most wiry and muscular of
them all. In poetry, he was untouched by Juvenal, despite some
roughshod verses, and by Persius, despite his mysterious insinuations.
In neglecting Tibullus and Propertius, Quintilian and the Plinies,
Statius, Martial, even Terence and Plautus whose jargon full of
neologisms, compound words and diminutives, could please him, but
whose low comedy and gross humor he loathed, Des Esseintes only began
to be interested in the Latin language with Lucan. Here it was
liberated, already more expressive and less dull. This careful armor,
these verses plated with enamel and studded with jewels, captivated
him, but the exclusive preoccupation with form, the sonorities of
tone, the clangor of metals, did not entirely conceal from him the
emptiness of the thought, the turgidity of those blisters which emboss
the skin of the _Pharsale_.

Petronius was the author whom he truly loved and who caused him
forever to abandon the sonorous ingenuities of Lucan, for he was a
keen observer, a delicate analyst, a marvelous painter. Tranquilly,
without prejudice or hate, he described Rome's daily life, recounting
the customs of his epoch in the sprightly little chapters of the

Observing the facts of life, stating them in clear, definite form, he
revealed the petty existence of the people, their happenings, their
bestialities, their passions.

One glimpses the inspector of furnished lodgings who has inquired
after the newly arrived travellers; bawdy houses where men prowl
around nude women, while through the half-open doors of the rooms
couples can be seen in dalliance; the society of the time, in villas
of an insolent luxury, a revel of richness and magnificence, or in the
poor quarters with their rumpled, bug-ridden folding-beds; impure
sharpers, like Ascylte and Eumolpe in search of a rich windfall; old
incubi with tucked-up dresses and plastered cheeks of white lead and
red acacia; plump, curled, depraved little girls of sixteen; women who
are the prey of hysterical attacks; hunters of heritages offering
their sons and daughters to debauched testators. All pass across the
pages. They debate in the streets, rub elbows in the baths, beat each
other unmercifully as in a pantomime.

And all this recounted in a style of strange freshness and precise
color, drawing from all dialects, borrowing expressions from all the
languages that were drifting into Rome, extending all the limits,
removing all the handicaps of the so-called Great Age. He made each
person speak his own idiom: the uneducated freedmen, the vulgar Latin
argot of the streets; the strangers, their barbarous patois, the
corrupt speech of the African, Syrian and Greek; imbecile pedants,
like the Agamemnon of the book, a rhetoric of artificial words. These
people are depicted with swift strokes, wallowing around tables,
exchanging stupid, drunken speech, uttering senile maxims and inept

This realistic novel, this slice of Roman life, without any
preoccupation, whatever one may say of it, with reform and satire,
without the need of any studied end, or of morality; this story
without intrigue or action, portraying the adventures of evil persons,
analyzing with a calm finesse the joys and sorrows of these lovers and
couples, depicting life in a splendidly wrought language without
surrendering himself to any commentary, without approving or cursing
the acts and thoughts of his characters, the vices of a decrepit
civilization, of an empire that cracks, struck Des Esseintes. In the
keenness of the observation, in the firmness of the method, he found
singular comparisons, curious analogies with the few modern French
novels he could endure.

Certainly, he bitterly regretted the _Eustion_ and the _Albutiae_,
those two works by Petronius mentioned by Planciade Fulgence which are
forever lost. But the bibliophile in him consoled the student, when he
touched with worshipful hands the superb edition of the _Satyricon_
which he possessed, the octavo bearing the date 1585 and the name of
J. Dousa of Leyden.

Leaving Petronius, his Latin collection entered into the second
century of the Christian era, passed over Fronto, the declaimer, with
his antiquated terms; skipped the _Attic Nights_ of Aulus Gellius, his
disciple and friend,--a clever, ferreting mind, but a writer entangled
in a glutinous vase; and halted at Apuleius, of whose works he owned
the first edition printed at Rome in 1469.

This African delighted him. The Latin language was at its richest in
the _Metamorphoses_; it contained ooze and rubbish-strewn water
rushing from all the provinces, and the refuse mingled and was
confused in a bizarre, exotic, almost new color. Mannerisms, new
details of Latin society found themselves shaped into neologisms
specially created for the needs of conversation, in a Roman corner of
Africa. He was amused by the southern exuberance and joviality of a
doubtlessly corpulent man. He seemed a salacious, gay crony compared
with the Christian apologists who lived in the same century--the
soporific Minucius Felix, a pseudo-classicist, pouring forth the still
thick emulsions of Cicero into his _Octavius_; nay, even
Tertullian--whom he perhaps preserved for his Aldine edition, more
than for the work itself.

Although he was sufficiently versed in theology, the disputes of the
Montanists against the Catholic Church, the polemics against the
gnostics, left him cold. Despite Tertullian's curious, concise style
full of ambiguous terms, resting on participles, clashing with
oppositions, bristling with puns and witticisms, dappled with vocables
culled from the juridical science and the language of the Fathers of
the Greek Church, he now hardly ever opened the _Apologetica_ and the
_Treatise on Patience_. At the most, he read several pages of _De
culta feminarum_, where Tertullian counsels women not to bedeck
themselves with jewels and precious stuffs, forbidding them the use of
cosmetics, because these attempt to correct and improve nature.

These ideas, diametrically opposed to his own, made him smile. Then
the role played by Tertullian, in his Carthage bishopric, seemed to
him suggestive in pleasant reveries. More even than his works did the
man attract him.

He had, in fact, lived in stormy times, agitated by frightful
disorders, under Caracalla, under Macrinus, under the astonishing High
Priest of Emesa, Elagabalus, and he tranquilly prepared his sermons,
his dogmatic writings, his pleadings, his homelies, while the Roman
Empire shook on its foundations, while the follies of Asia, while the
ordures of paganism were full to the brim. With the utmost sang-froid,
he recommended carnal abstinence, frugality in food, sobriety in
dress, while, walking in silver powder and golden sand, a tiara on his
head, his garb figured with precious stones, Elagabalus worked, amid
his eunuchs, at womanish labor, calling himself the Empress and
changing, every night, his Emperor, whom he preferably chose among
barbers, scullions and circus drivers.

This antithesis delighted him. Then the Latin language, arrived at its
supreme maturity under Petronius, commenced to decay; the Christian
literature replaced it, bringing new words with new ideas, unemployed
constructions, strange verbs, adjectives with subtle meanings,
abstract words until then rare in the Roman language and whose usage
Tertullian had been one of the first to adopt.

But there was no attraction in this dissolution, continued after
Tertullian's death by his pupil, Saint Cyprian, by Arnobius and by
Lactantius. There was something lacking; it made clumsy returns to
Ciceronian magniloquence, but had not yet acquired that special flavor
which in the fourth century, and particularly during the centuries
following, the odor of Christianity would give the pagan tongue,
decomposed like old venison, crumbling at the same time that the old
world civilization collapsed, and the Empires, putrefied by the sanies
of the centuries, succumbed to the thrusts of the barbarians.

Only one Christian poet, Commodianus, represented the third century in
his library. The _Carmen apologeticum_, written in 259, is a
collection of instructions, twisted into acrostics, in popular
hexameters, with caesuras introduced according to the heroic verse
style, composed without regard to quantity or hiatus and often
accompanied by such rhymes as the Church Latin would later supply in
such abundance.

These sombre, tortuous, gamy verses, crammed with terms of ordinary
speech, with words diverted from their primitive meaning, claimed and
interested him even more than the soft and already green style of the
historians, Ammianus Marcellinus and Aurelius Victorus, Symmachus the
letter writer, and Macrobius the grammarian and compiler. Them he even
preferred to the genuinely scanned lines, the spotted and superb
language of Claudian, Rutilius and Ausonius.

They were then the masters of art. They filled the dying Empire with
their cries; the Christian Ausonius with his _Centon Nuptial_, and his
exuberant, embellished _Mosella_; Rutilius, with his hymns to the
glory of Rome, his anathemas against the Jews and the monks, his
journey from Italy into Gaul and the impressions recorded along the
way, the intervals of landscape reflected in the water, the mirage of
vapors and the movement of mists that enveloped the mountains.

Claudian, a sort of avatar of Lucan, dominates the fourth century with
the terrible clarion of his verses: a poet forging a loud and sonorous
hexameter, striking the epithet with a sharp blow amid sheaves of
sparks, achieving a certain grandeur which fills his work with a
powerful breath. In the Occidental Empire tottering more and more in
the perpetual menace of the Barbarians now pressing in hordes at the
Empire's yielding gates, he revives antiquity, sings of the abduction
of Proserpine, lays on his vibrant colors and passes with all his
torches alight, into the obscurity that was then engulfing his world.

Paganism again lives in his verse, sounding its last fanfare, lifting
its last great poet above the Christianity which was soon entirely to
submerge the language, and which would forever be sole master of art.
The new Christian spirit arose with Paulinus, disciple of Ausonius;
Juvencus, who paraphrases the gospels in verse; Victorinus, author of
the _Maccabees_; Sanctus Burdigalensis who, in an eclogue imitated
from Vergil, makes his shepherds Egon and Buculus lament the maladies
of their flock; and all the saints: Hilaire of Poitiers, defender of
the Nicean faith, the Athanasius of the Occident, as he has been
called; Ambrosius, author of the indigestible homelies, the wearisome
Christian Cicero; Damasus, maker of lapidary epigrams; Jerome,
translator of the Vulgate, and his adversary Vigilantius, who attacks
the cult of saints and the abuse of miracles and fastings, and already
preaches, with arguments which future ages were to repeat, against the
monastic vows and celibacy of the priests.

Finally, in the fifth century came Augustine, bishop of Hippo. Des
Esseintes knew him only too well, for he was the Church's most reputed
writer, founder of Christian orthodoxy, considered an oracle and
sovereign master by Catholics. He no longer opened the pages of this
holy man's works, although he had sung his disgust of the earth in the
_Confessions_, and although his lamenting piety had essayed, in the
_City of God_, to mitigate the frightful distress of the times by
sedative promises of a rosier future. When Des Esseintes had studied
theology, he was already sick and weary of the old monk's preachings
and jeremiads, his theories on predestination and grace, his combats
against the schisms.

He preferred to thumb the _Psychomachia_ of Prudentius, that first
type of the allegorical poem which was later, in the Middle Ages, to
be used continually, and the works of Sidonius Apollinaris whose
correspondence interlarded with flashes of wit, pungencies, archaisms
and enigmas, allured him. He willingly re-read the panegyrics in which
this bishop invokes pagan deities in substantiation of his
vainglorious eulogies; and, in spite of everything, he confessed a
weakness for the affectations of these verses, fabricated, as it were,
by an ingenious mechanician who operates his machine, oils his wheels
and invents intricate and useless parts.

After Sidonius, he sought Merobaudes, the panegyrist; Sedulius, author
of the rhymed poems and abecedarian hymns, certain passages of which
the Church has appropriated for its services; Marius Victorius, whose
gloomy treatise on the _Pervesity of the Times_ is illumed, here and
there, with verses that gleam with phosphorescence; Paulinus of Pella,
poet of the shivering _Eucharisticon_; and Orientius, bishop of Auch,
who, in the distichs of his _Monitories_, inveighs against the
licentiousness of women whose faces, he claims, corrupt the people.

The interest which Des Esseintes felt for the Latin language did not
pause at this period which found it drooping, thoroughly putrid,
losing its members and dropping its pus, and barely preserving through
all the corruption of its body, those still firm elements which the
Christians detached to marinate in the brine of their new language.

The second half of the fifth century had arrived, the horrible epoch
when frightful motions convulsed the earth. The Barbarians sacked
Gaul. Paralyzed Rome, pillaged by the Visigoths, felt its life grow
feeble, perceived its extremities, the occident and the orient, writhe
in blood and grow more exhausted from day to day.

In this general dissolution, in the successive assassination of the
Caesars, in the turmoil of carnage from one end of Europe to another,
there resounded a terrible shout of triumph, stifling all clamors,
silencing all voices. On the banks of the Danube, thousands of men
astride on small horses, clad in rat-skin coats, monstrous Tartars
with enormous heads, flat noses, chins gullied with scars and gashes,
and jaundiced faces bare of hair, rushed at full speed to envelop the
territories of the Lower Empire like a whirlwind.

Everything disappeared in the dust of their gallopings, in the smoke
of the conflagrations. Darkness fell, and the amazed people trembled,
as they heard the fearful tornado which passed with thunder crashes.
The hordes of Huns razed Europe, rushed toward Gaul, overran the
plains of Chalons where Aetius pillaged it in an awful charge. The
plains, gorged with blood, foamed like a purple sea. Two hundred
thousand corpses barred the way, broke the movement of this avalanche
which, swerving, fell with mighty thunderclaps, against Italy whose
exterminated towns flamed like burning bricks.

The Occidental Empire crumbled beneath the shock; the moribund life
which it was pursuing to imbecility and foulness, was extinguished.
For another reason, the end of the universe seemed near; such cities
as had been forgotten by Attila were decimated by famine and plague.
The Latin language in its turn, seemed to sink under the world's

Years hastened on. The Barbarian idioms began to be modulated, to
leave their vein-stones and form real languages. Latin, saved in the
debacle by the cloisters, was confined in its usage to the convents
and monasteries.

Here and there some poets gleamed, dully and coldly: the African
Dracontius with his _Hexameron_, Claudius Memertius, with his
liturgical poetry; Avitus of Vienne; then, the biographers like
Ennodius, who narrates the prodigies of that perspicacious and
venerated diplomat, Saint Epiphanius, the upright and vigilant pastor;
or like Eugippus, who tells of the life of Saint Severin, that
mysterious hermit and humble ascetic who appeared like an angel of
grace to the distressed people, mad with suffering and fear; writers
like Veranius of Gevaudan who prepared a little treatise on
continence; like Aurelianus and Ferreolus who compiled the
ecclesiastical canons; historians like Rotherius, famous for a lost
history of the Huns.

Des Esseintes' library did not contain many works of the centuries
immediately succeeding. Notwithstanding this deficiency, the sixth
century was represented by Fortunatus, bishop of Poitiers, whose hymns
and _Vexila regis_, carved out of the old carrion of the Latin
language and spiced with the aromatics of the Church, haunted him on
certain days; by Boethius, Gregory of Tours, and Jornandez. In the
seventh and eighth centuries since, in addition to the low Latin of
the Chroniclers, the Fredegaires and Paul Diacres, and the poems
contained in the Bangor antiphonary which he sometimes read for the
alphabetical and mono-rhymed hymn sung in honor of Saint Comgill, the
literature limited itself almost exclusively to biographies of saints,
to the legend of Saint Columban, written by the monk, Jonas, and to
that of the blessed Cuthbert, written by the Venerable Bede from the
notes of an anonymous monk of Lindisfarn, he contented himself with
glancing over, in his moments of tedium, the works of these
hagiographers and in again reading several extracts from the lives of
Saint Rusticula and Saint Radegonda, related, the one by Defensorius,
the other by the modest and ingenious Baudonivia, a nun of Poitiers.

But the singular works of Latin and Anglo-Saxon literature allured him
still further. They included the whole series of riddles by Adhelme,
Tatwine and Eusebius, who were descendants of Symphosius, and
especially the enigmas composed by Saint Boniface, in acrostic
strophes whose solution could be found in the initial letters of the

His interest diminished with the end of those two centuries. Hardly
pleased with the cumbersome mass of Carlovingian Latinists, the
Alcuins and the Eginhards, he contented himself, as a specimen of the
language of the ninth century, with the chronicles of Saint Gall,
Freculfe and Reginon; with the poem of the siege of Paris written by
Abbo le Courbe; with the didactic _Hortulus_, of the Benedictine
Walafrid Strabo, whose chapter consecrated to the glory of the gourd
as a symbol of fruitfulness, enlivened him; with the poem in which
Ermold the Dark, celebrating the exploits of Louis the Debonair, a
poem written in regular hexameters, in an austere, almost forbidding
style and in a Latin of iron dipped in monastic waters with straws of
sentiment, here and there, in the unpliant metal; with the _De viribus
herbarum_, the poem of Macer Floridus, who particularly delighted him
because of his poetic recipes and the very strange virtues which he
ascribes to certain plants and flowers; to the aristolochia, for
example, which, mixed with the flesh of a cow and placed on the lower
part of a pregnant woman's abdomen, insures the birth of a male child;
or to the borage which, when brewed into an infusion in a dining room,
diverts guests; or to the peony whose powdered roots cure epilepsy; or
to the fennel which, if placed on a woman's breasts, clears her water
and stimulates the indolence of her periods.

Apart from several special, unclassified volumes, modern or dateless,
certain works on the Cabbala, medicine and botany, certain odd tomes
containing undiscoverable Christian poetry, and the anthology of the
minor Latin poets of Wernsdorf; apart from _Meursius_, the manual of
classical erotology of Forberg, and the diaconals used by confessors,
which he dusted at rare intervals, his Latin library ended at the
beginning of the tenth century.

And, in fact, the curiosity, the complicated naivete of the Christian
language had also foundered. The balderdash of philosophers and
scholars, the logomachy of the Middle Ages, thenceforth held absolute
sway. The sooty mass of chronicles and historical books and
cartularies accumulated, and the stammering grace, the often exquisite
awkwardness of the monks, placing the poetic remains of antiquity in a
ragout, were dead. The fabrications of verbs and purified essences, of
substantives breathing of incense, of bizarre adjectives, coarsely
carved from gold, with the barbarous and charming taste of Gothic
jewels, were destroyed. The old editions, beloved by Des Esseintes,
here ended; and with a formidable leap of centuries, the books on his
shelves went straight to the French language of the present century.

    Chapter 5

The afternoon was drawing to its close when a carriage halted in front
of the Fontenay house. Since Des Esseintes received no visitors, and
since the postman never even ventured into these uninhabited parts,
having no occasion to deliver any papers, magazines or letters, the
servants hesitated before opening the door. Then, as the bell was rung
furiously again, they peered through the peep-hole cut into the wall,
and perceived a man, concealed, from neck to waist, behind an immense
gold buckler.

They informed their master, who was breakfasting.

"Ask him in," he said, for he recalled having given his address to a
lapidary for the delivery of a purchase.

The man bowed and deposited the buckler on the pinewood floor of the
dining room. It oscillated and wavered, revealing the serpentine head
of a tortoise which, suddenly terrified, retreated into its shell.

This tortoise was a fancy which had seized Des Esseintes some time
before his departure from Paris. Examining an Oriental rug, one day,
in reflected light, and following the silver gleams which fell on its
web of plum violet and alladin yellow, it suddenly occurred to him how
much it would be improved if he could place on it some object whose
deep color might enhance the vividness of its tints.

Possessed by this idea, he had been strolling aimlessly along the
streets, when suddenly he found himself gazing at the very object of
his wishes. There, in a shop window on the Palais Royal, lay a huge
tortoise in a large basin. He had purchased it. Then he had sat a long
time, with eyes half-shut, studying the effect.

Decidedly, the Ethiopic black, the harsh Sienna tone of this shell
dulled the rug's reflections without adding to it. The dominant silver
gleams in it barely sparkled, crawling with lack-lustre tones of dead
zinc against the edges of the hard, tarnished shell.

He bit his nails while he studied a method of removing these discords
and reconciling the determined opposition of the tones. He finally
discovered that his first inspiration, which was to animate the fire
of the weave by setting it off against some dark object, was
erroneous. In fact, this rug was too new, too petulant and gaudy. The
colors were not sufficiently subdued. He must reverse the process,
dull the tones, and extinguish them by the contrast of a striking
object, which would eclipse all else and cast a golden light on the
pale silver. Thus stated, the problem was easier to solve. He
therefore decided to glaze the shell of the tortoise with gold.

The tortoise, just returned by the lapidary, shone brilliantly,
softening the tones of the rug and casting on it a gorgeous reflection
which resembled the irradiations from the scales of a barbaric
Visigoth shield.

At first Des Esseintes was enchanted with this effect. Then he
reflected that this gigantic jewel was only in outline, that it would
not really be complete until it had been incrusted with rare stones.

From a Japanese collection he chose a design representing a cluster of
flowers emanating spindle-like, from a slender stalk. Taking it to a
jeweler, he sketched a border to enclose this bouquet in an oval
frame, and informed the amazed lapidary that every petal and every
leaf was to be designed with jewels and mounted on the scales of the

The choice of stones made him pause. The diamond has become
notoriously common since every tradesman has taken to wearing it on
his little finger. The oriental emeralds and rubies are less
vulgarized and cast brilliant, rutilant flames, but they remind one of
the green and red antennae of certain omnibuses which carry signal
lights of these colors. As for topazes, whether sparkling or dim, they
are cheap stones, precious only to women of the middle class who like
to have jewel cases on their dressing-tables. And then, although the
Church has preserved for the amethyst a sacerdotal character which is
at once unctuous and solemn, this stone, too, is abused on the
blood-red ears and veined hands of butchers' wives who love to adorn
themselves inexpensively with real and heavy jewels. Only the
sapphire, among all these stones, has kept its fires undefiled by any
taint of commercialism. Its sparks, crackling in its limpid, cold
depths have in some way protected its shy and proud nobility from
pollution. Unfortunately, its fresh fire does not sparkle in
artificial light: the blue retreats and seems to fall asleep, only
awakening to shine at daybreak.

None of these satisfied Des Esseintes at all. They were too civilized
and familiar. He let trickle through his fingers still more
astonishing and bizarre stones, and finally selected a number of real
and artificial ones which, used together, should produce a fascinating
and disconcerting harmony.

This is how he composed his bouquet of flowers: the leaves were set
with jewels of a pronounced, distinct green; the chrysoberyls of
asparagus green; the chrysolites of leek green; the olivines of olive
green. They hung from branches of almandine and _ouwarovite_ of a
violet red, darting spangles of a hard brilliance like tartar micas
gleaming through forest depths.

For the flowers, separated from the stalk and removed from the bottom
of the sheaf, he used blue cinder. But he formally waived that
oriental turquoise used for brooches and rings which, like the banal
pearl and the odious coral, serves to delight people of no importance.
He chose occidental turquoises exclusively, stones which, properly
speaking, are only a fossil ivory impregnated with coppery substances
whose sea blue is choked, opaque, sulphurous, as though yellowed by

This done, he could now set the petals of his flowers with transparent
stones which had morbid and vitreous sparks, feverish and sharp

He composed them entirely with Ceylon snap-dragons, cymophanes and
blue chalcedony.

These three stones darted mysterious and perverse scintillations,
painfully torn from the frozen depths of their troubled waters.

The snap-dragon of a greenish grey, streaked with concentric veins
which seem to stir and change constantly, according to the
dispositions of light.

The cymophane, whose azure waves float over the milky tint swimming in
its depths.

The blue chalcedony which kindles with bluish phosphorescent fires
against a dead brown, chocolate background.

The lapidary made a note of the places where the stones were to be
inlaid. "And the border of the shell?" he asked Des Esseintes.

At first he had thought of some opals and hydrophanes; but these
stones, interesting for their hesitating colors, for the evasions of
their flames, are too refractory and faithless; the opal has a quite
rheumatic sensitiveness; the play of its rays alters according to the
humidity, the warmth or cold; as for the hydrophane, it only burns in
water and only consents to kindle its embers when moistened.

He finally decided on minerals whose reflections vary; for the
Compostelle hyacinth, mahogany red; the beryl, glaucous green; the
balas ruby, vinegar rose; the Sudermanian ruby, pale slate. Their
feeble sparklings sufficed to light the darkness of the shell and
preserved the values of the flowering stones which they encircled with
a slender garland of vague fires.

Des Esseintes now watched the tortoise squatting in a corner of the
dining room, shining in the shadow.

He was perfectly happy. His eyes gleamed with pleasure at the
resplendencies of the flaming corrollae against the gold background.
Then, he grew hungry--a thing that rarely if ever happened to him--and
dipped his toast, spread with a special butter, in a cup of tea, a
flawless blend of Siafayoune, Moyoutann and Khansky--yellow teas which
had come from China to Russia by special caravans.

This liquid perfume he drank in those Chinese porcelains called
egg-shell, so light and diaphanous they are. And, as an accompaniment
to these adorable cups, he used a service of solid silver, slightly
gilded; the silver showed faintly under the fatigued layer of gold,
which gave it an aged, quite exhausted and moribund tint.

After he had finished his tea, he returned to his study and had the
servant carry in the tortoise which stubbornly refused to budge.

The snow was falling. By the lamp light, he saw the icy patterns on
the bluish windows, and the hoar-frost, like melted sugar,
scintillating in the stumps of bottles spotted with gold.

A deep silence enveloped the cottage drooping in shadow.

Des Esseintes fell into revery. The fireplace piled with logs gave
forth a smell of burning wood. He opened the window slightly.

Like a high tapestry of black ermine, the sky rose before him, black
flecked with white.

An icy wind swept past, accelerated the crazy flight of the snow, and
reversed the color order.

The heraldic tapestry of heaven returned, became a true ermine, a
white flecked with black, in its turn, by the specks of darkness
dispersed among the flakes.

He closed the window. This abrupt transition from torrid warmth to
cold winter affected him. He crouched near the fire and it occurred to
him that he needed a cordial to revive his flagging spirits.

He went to the dining room where, built in one of the panels, was a
closet containing a number of tiny casks, ranged side by side, and
resting on small stands of sandal wood.

This collection of barrels he called his mouth organ.

A stem could connect all the spigots and control them by a single
movement, so that once attached, he had only to press a button
concealed in the woodwork to turn on all the taps at the same time and
fill the mugs placed underneath.

The organ was now open. The stops labelled flute, horn, celestial
voice, were pulled out, ready to be placed. Des Esseintes sipped here
and there, enjoying the inner symphonies, succeeded in procuring
sensations in his throat analogous to those which music gives to the

Moreover, each liquor corresponded, according to his thinking, to the
sound of some instrument. Dry curacoa, for example, to the clarinet
whose tone is sourish and velvety; _kummel_ to the oboe whose sonorous
notes snuffle; mint and anisette to the flute, at once sugary and
peppery, puling and sweet; while, to complete the orchestra,
_kirschwasser_ has the furious ring of the trumpet; gin and whiskey
burn the palate with their strident crashings of trombones and
cornets; brandy storms with the deafening hubbub of tubas; while the
thunder-claps of the cymbals and the furiously beaten drum roll in the
mouth by means of the _rakis de Chio_.

He also thought that the comparison could be continued, that quartets
of string instruments could play under the palate, with the violin
simulated by old brandy, fumous and fine, piercing and frail; the
tenor violin by rum, louder and more sonorous; the cello by the
lacerating and lingering ratafia, melancholy and caressing; with the
double-bass, full-bodied, solid and dark as the old bitters. If one
wished to form a quintet, one could even add a fifth instrument with
the vibrant taste, the silvery detached and shrill note of dry cumin
imitating the harp.

The comparison was further prolonged. Tone relationships existed in
the music of liquors; to cite but one note, benedictine represents, so
to speak, the minor key of that major key of alcohols which are
designated in commercial scores, under the name of green Chartreuse.

These principles once admitted, he succeeded, after numerous
experiments, in enjoying silent melodies on his tongue, mute funeral
marches, in hearing, in his mouth, solos of mint, duos of ratafia and

He was even able to transfer to his palate real pieces of music,
following the composer step by step, rendering his thought, his
effects, his nuances, by combinations or contrasts of liquors, by
approximative and skilled mixtures.

At other times, he himself composed melodies, executed pastorals with
mild black-currant which evoked, in his throat, the trillings of
nightingales; with the tender chouva cocoa which sang saccharine songs
like "The romance of Estelle" and the "Ah! Shall I tell you, mama," of
past days.

But on this evening Des Esseintes was not inclined to listen to this
music. He confined himself to sounding one note on the keyboard of his
organ, by swallowing a little glass of genuine Irish whiskey.

He sank into his easy chair and slowly inhaled this fermented juice of
oats and barley: a pronounced taste of creosote was in his mouth.

Gradually, as he drank, his thought followed the now revived
sensitiveness of his palate, fitted its progress to the flavor of the
whiskey, re-awakened, by a fatal exactitude of odors, memories effaced
for years.

This carbolic tartness forcibly recalled to him the same taste he had
had on his tongue in the days when dentists worked on his gums.

Once abandoned on this track, his revery, at first dispersed among all
the dentists he had known, concentrated and converged on one of them
who was more firmly engraved in his memory.

It had happened three years ago. Seized, in the middle of the night,
with an abominable toothache, he put his hand to his cheek, stumbled
against the furniture, pacing up and down the room like a demented

It was a molar which had already been filled; no remedy was possible.
Only a dentist could alleviate the pain. He feverishly waited for the
day, resolved to bear the most atrocious operation provided it would
only ease his sufferings.

Holding a hand to his jaw, he asked himself what should be done. The
dentists who treated him were rich merchants whom one could not see at
any time; one had to make an appointment. He told himself that this
would never do, that he could not endure it. He decided to patronize
the first one he could find, to hasten to a popular tooth-extractor,
one of those iron-fisted men who, if they are ignorant of the useless
art of dressing decaying teeth and of filling holes, know how to pull
the stubbornest stump with an unequalled rapidity. There, the office
is opened early in the morning and one is not required to wait. Seven
o'clock struck at last. He hurried out, and recollecting the name of a
mechanic who called himself a dentist and dwelt in the corner of a
quay, he rushed through the streets, holding his cheek with his hands
repressing the tears.

Arrived in front of the house, recognizable by an immense wooden
signboard where the name of "Gatonax" sprawled in enormous
pumpkin-colored letters, and by two little glass cases where false
teeth were carefully set in rose-colored wax, he gasped for breath. He
perspired profusely. A horrible fear shook him, a trembling crept
under his skin; suddenly a calm ensued, the suffering ceased, the
tooth stopped paining.

He remained, stupefied, on the sidewalk; finally, he stiffened against
the anguish, mounted the dim stairway, running up four steps at a time
to the fourth story. He found himself in front of a door where an
enamel plate repeated, inscribed in sky-blue lettering, the name on
the signboard. He rang the bell and then, terrified by the great red
spittles which he noticed on the steps, he faced about, resolved to
endure his toothache all his life. At that moment an excruciating cry
pierced the partitions, filled the cage of the doorway and glued him
to the spot with horror, at the same time that a door was opened and
an old woman invited him to enter.

His feeling of shame quickly changed to fear. He was ushered into a
dining room. Another door creaked and in entered a terrible grenadier
dressed in a frock-coat and black trousers. Des Esseintes followed him
to another room.

From this instant, his sensations were confused. He vaguely remembered
having sunk into a chair opposite a window, having murmured, as he put
a finger to his tooth: "It has already been filled and I am afraid
nothing more can be done with it."

The man immediately suppressed these explanations by introducing an
enormous index finger into his mouth. Muttering beneath his waxed
fang-like moustaches, he took an instrument from the table.

Then the play began. Clinging to the arms of his seat, Des Esseintes
felt a cold sensation in his cheek, and began to suffer unheard
agonies. Then he beheld stars. He stamped his feet frantically and
bleated like a sheep about to be slaughtered.

A snapping sound was heard, the molar had broken while being
extracted. It seemed that his head was being shattered, that his skull
was being smashed; he lost his senses, howled as loudly as he could,
furiously defending himself from the man who rushed at him anew as if
he wished to implant his whole arm in the depths of his bowels,
brusquely recoiled a step and, lifting the tooth attached to the jaw,
brutally let him fall back into the chair. Breathing heavily, his form
filling the window, he brandished at one end of his forceps, a blue
tooth with blood at one end.

Faint and prostrate, Des Esseintes spat blood into a basin, refused
with a gesture, the tooth which the old woman was about to wrap in a
piece of paper and fled, after paying two francs. Expectorating blood,
in his turn, down the steps, he at length found himself in the street,
joyous, feeling ten years younger, interested in every little

"Phew!" he exclaimed, saddened by the assault of these memories. He
rose to dissipate the horrible spell of this vision and, returning to
reality, began to be concerned with the tortoise.

It did not budge at all and he tapped it. The animal was dead.
Doubtless accustomed to a sedentary existence, to a humble life spent
underneath its poor shell, it had been unable to support the dazzling
luxury imposed on it, the rutilant cope with which it had been
covered, the jewels with which its back had been paved, like a pyx.

    Chapter 6

With the sharpening of his desire to withdraw from a hated age, he
felt a despotic urge to shun pictures representing humanity striving
in little holes or running to and fro in quest of money.

With his growing indifference to contemporary life he had resolved not
to introduce into his cell any of the ghosts of distastes or regrets,
but had desired to procure subtle and exquisite paintings, steeped in
ancient dreams or antique corruptions, far removed from the manner of
our present day.

For the delight of his spirit and the joy of his eyes, he had desired
a few suggestive creations that cast him into an unknown world,
revealing to him the contours of new conjectures, agitating the
nervous system by the violent deliriums, complicated nightmares,
nonchalant or atrocious chimerae they induced.

Among these were some executed by an artist whose genius allured and
entranced him: Gustave Moreau.

Des Esseintes had acquired his two masterpieces and, at night, used to
sink into revery before one of them--a representation of Salome,
conceived in this fashion:

A throne, resembling the high altar of a cathedral, reared itself
beneath innumerable vaults leaping from heavy Romanesque pillars,
studded with polychromatic bricks, set with mosaics, incrusted with
lapis lazuli and sardonyx, in a palace that, like a basilica, was at
once Mohammedan and Byzantine in design.

In the center of the tabernacle, surmounting an altar approached by
semi-circular steps, sat Herod the Tetrarch, a tiara upon his head,
his legs pressed closely together, his hands resting upon his knees.

His face was the color of yellow parchment; it was furrowed with
wrinkles, ravaged with age. His long beard floated like a white cloud
upon the star-like clusters of jewels constellating the orphrey robe
fitting tightly over his breast.

Around this form, frozen into the immobile, sacerdotal, hieratic pose
of a Hindoo god, burned perfumes wafting aloft clouds of incense which
were perforated, like phosphorescent eyes of beasts, by the fiery rays
of the stones set in the throne. Then the vapor rolled up, diffusing
itself beneath arcades where the blue smoke mingled with the gold
powder of the long sunbeams falling from the domes.

In the perverse odor of the perfumes, in the overheated atmosphere of
the temple, Salome, her left arm outstretched in a gesture of command,
her right arm drawn back and holding a large lotus on a level with her
face, slowly advances on her toes, to the rhythm of a stringed
instrument played by a woman seated on the ground.

Her face is meditative, solemn, almost august, as she commences the
lascivious dance that will awaken the slumbering senses of old Herod.
Diamonds scintillate against her glistening skin. Her bracelets, her
girdles, her rings flash. On her triumphal robe, seamed with pearls,
flowered with silver and laminated with gold, the breastplate of
jewels, each link of which is a precious stone, flashes serpents of
fire against the pallid flesh, delicate as a tea-rose: its jewels like
splendid insects with dazzling elytra, veined with carmine, dotted
with yellow gold, diapered with blue steel, speckled with peacock

With a tense concentration, with the fixed gaze of a somnambulist, she
beholds neither the trembling Tetrarch, nor her mother, the fierce
Herodias who watches her, nor the hermaphrodite, nor the eunuch who
sits, sword in hand, at the foot of the throne--a terrible figure,
veiled to his eyes, whose breasts droop like gourds under his
orange-checkered tunic.

This conception of Salome, so haunting to artists and poets, had
obsessed Des Esseintes for years. How often had he read in the old
Bible of Pierre Variquet, translated by the theological doctors of the
University of Louvain, the Gospel of Saint Matthew who, in brief and
ingenuous phrases, recounts the beheading of the Baptist! How often
had he fallen into revery, as he read these lines:

    But when Herod's birthday was kept, the
    daughter of Herodias danced before them, and
    pleased Herod.

    Whereupon he promised with an oath to give
    her whatsoever she would ask.

    And she, being before instructed of her
    mother, said: Give me here John Baptist's
    head in a charger.

    And the king was sorry: nevertheless, for
    the oath's sake, and them which sat with him
    at meat, he commanded it to be given her.

    And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.

    And his head was brought in a charger, and
    given to the damsel: and she brought it to
    her mother.

But neither Saint Matthew, nor Saint Mark, nor Saint Luke, nor the
other Evangelists had emphasized the maddening charms and depravities
of the dancer. She remained vague and hidden, mysterious and swooning
in the far-off mist of the centuries, not to be grasped by vulgar and
materialistic minds, accessible only to disordered and volcanic
intellects made visionaries by their neuroticism; rebellious to
painters of the flesh, to Rubens who disguised her as a butcher's wife
of Flanders; a mystery to all the writers who had never succeeded in
portraying the disquieting exaltation of this dancer, the refined
grandeur of this murderess.

In Gustave Moreau's work, conceived independently of the Testament
themes, Des Esseintes as last saw realized the superhuman and exotic
Salome of his dreams. She was no longer the mere performer who wrests
a cry of desire and of passion from an old man by a perverted twisting
of her loins; who destroys the energy and breaks the will of a king by
trembling breasts and quivering belly. She became, in a sense, the
symbolic deity of indestructible lust, the goddess of immortal
Hysteria, of accursed Beauty, distinguished from all others by the
catalepsy which stiffens her flesh and hardens her muscles; the
monstrous Beast, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, baneful, like
the Helen of antiquity, fatal to all who approach her, all who behold
her, all whom she touches.

Thus understood, she was associated with the theogonies of the Far
East. She no longer sprang from biblical traditions, could no longer
even be assimilated with the living image of Babylon, the royal
Prostitute of the Apocalypse, garbed like her in jewels and purple,
and painted like her; for she was not hurled by a fatidical power, by
a supreme force, into the alluring vileness of debauchery.

The painter, moreover, seems to have wished to affirm his desire of
remaining outside the centuries, scorning to designate the origin,
nation and epoch, by placing his Salome in this extraordinary palace
with its confused and imposing style, in clothing her with sumptuous
and chimerical robes, in crowning her with a fantastic mitre shaped
like a Phoenician tower, such as Salammbo bore, and placing in her
hand the sceptre of Isis, the tall lotus, sacred flower of Egypt and

Des Esseintes sought the sense of this emblem. Had it that phallic
significance which the primitive cults of India gave it? Did it
enunciate an oblation of virginity to the senile Herod, an exchange of
blood, an impure and voluntary wound, offered under the express
stipulation of a monstrous sin? Or did it represent the allegory of
fecundity, the Hindoo myth of life, an existence held between the
hands of woman, distorted and trampled by the palpitant hands of man
whom a fit of madness seizes, seduced by a convulsion of the flesh?

Perhaps, too, in arming his enigmatic goddess with the venerated
lotus, the painter had dreamed of the dancer, the mortal woman with
the polluted Vase, from whom spring all sins and crimes. Perhaps he
had recalled the rites of ancient Egypt, the sepulchral ceremonies of
the embalming when, after stretching the corpse on a bench of jasper,
extracting the brain with curved needles through the chambers of the
nose, the chemists and the priests, before gilding the nails and teeth
and coating the body with bitumens and essences, inserted the chaste
petals of the divine flower in the sexual parts, to purify them.

However this may be, an irresistible fascination emanated from this
painting; but the water-color entitled _The Apparition_ was perhaps
even more disturbing.

There, the palace of Herod arose like an Alhambra on slender,
iridescent columns with moorish tile, joined with silver beton and
gold cement. Arabesques proceeded from lozenges of lapis lazuli, wove
their patterns on the cupolas where, on nacreous marquetry, crept
rainbow gleams and prismatic flames.

The murder was accomplished. The executioner stood impassive, his
hands on the hilt of his long, blood-stained sword.

The severed head of the saint stared lividly on the charger resting on
the slabs; the mouth was discolored and open, the neck crimson, and
tears fell from the eyes. The face was encircled by an aureole worked
in mosaic, which shot rays of light under the porticos and illuminated
the horrible ascension of the head, brightening the glassy orbs of the
contracted eyes which were fixed with a ghastly stare upon the dancer.

With a gesture of terror, Salome thrusts from her the horrible vision
which transfixes her, motionless, to the ground. Her eyes dilate, her
hands clasp her neck in a convulsive clutch.

She is almost nude. In the ardor of the dance, her veils had become
loosened. She is garbed only in gold-wrought stuffs and limpid stones;
a neck-piece clasps her as a corselet does the body and, like a superb
buckle, a marvelous jewel sparkles on the hollow between her breasts.
A girdle encircles her hips, concealing the upper part of her thighs,
against which beats a gigantic pendant streaming with carbuncles and

All the facets of the jewels kindle under the ardent shafts of light
escaping from the head of the Baptist. The stones grow warm, outlining
the woman's body with incandescent rays, striking her neck, feet and
arms with tongues of fire,--vermilions like coals, violets like jets
of gas, blues like flames of alcohol, and whites like star light.

The horrible head blazes, bleeding constantly, clots of sombre purple
on the ends of the beard and hair. Visible for Salome alone, it does
not, with its fixed gaze, attract Herodias, musing on her finally
consummated revenge, nor the Tetrarch who, bent slightly forward, his
hands on his knees, still pants, maddened by the nudity of the woman
saturated with animal odors, steeped in balms, exuding incense and

Like the old king, Des Esseintes remained dumbfounded, overwhelmed and
seized with giddiness, in the presence of this dancer who was less
majestic, less haughty but more disquieting than the Salome of the oil

In this insensate and pitiless image, in this innocent and dangerous
idol, the eroticism and terror of mankind were depicted. The tall
lotus had disappeared, the goddess had vanished; a frightful nightmare
now stifled the woman, dizzied by the whirlwind of the dance,
hypnotized and petrified by terror.

It was here that she was indeed Woman, for here she gave rein to her
ardent and cruel temperament. She was living, more refined and savage,
more execrable and exquisite. She more energetically awakened the
dulled senses of man, more surely bewitched and subdued his power of
will, with the charm of a tall venereal flower, cultivated in
sacrilegious beds, in impious hothouses.

Des Esseintes thought that never before had a water color attained
such magnificent coloring; never before had the poverty of colors been
able to force jeweled corruscations from paper, gleams like stained
glass windows touched by rays of sunlight, splendors of tissue and
flesh so fabulous and dazzling. Lost in contemplation, he sought to
discover the origins of this great artist and mystic pagan, this
visionary who succeeded in removing himself from the world
sufficiently to behold, here in Paris, the splendor of these cruel
visions and the enchanting sublimation of past ages.

Des Esseintes could not trace the genesis of this artist. Here and
there were vague suggestions of Mantegna and of Jacopo de Barbari;
here and there were confused hints of Vinci and of the feverish colors
of Delacroix. But the influences of such masters remained negligible.
The fact was that Gustave Moreau derived from no one else. He remained
unique in contemporary art, without ancestors and without possible
descendants. He went to ethnographic sources, to the origins of myths,
and he compared and elucidated their intricate enigmas. He reunited
the legends of the Far East into a whole, the myths which had been
altered by the superstitions of other peoples; thus justifying his
architectonic fusions, his luxurious and outlandish fabrics, his
hieratic and sinister allegories sharpened by the restless perceptions
of a pruriently modern neurosis. And he remained saddened, haunted by
the symbols of perversities and superhuman loves, of divine
stuprations brought to end without abandonment and without hope.

His depressing and erudite productions possessed a strange
enchantment, an incantation that stirred one to the depths, just as do
certain poems of Baudelaire, caused one to pause disconcerted, amazed,
brooding on the spell of an art which leaped beyond the confines of
painting, borrowing its most subtle effects from the art of writing,
its most marvelous stokes from the art of Limosin, its most exquisite
refinements from the art of the lapidary and the engraver. These two
pictures of Salome, for which Des Esseintes' admiration was boundless,
he had hung on the walls of his study on special panels between the
bookshelves, so that they might live under his eyes.

But these were not the only pictures he had acquired to divert his

Although he had surrendered to his servants the second story of his
house, which he himself never used at all, the ground floor had
required a number of pictures to fit the walls.

It was thus arranged:

A dressing room, communicating with the bedroom, occupied one of the
corners of the house. One passed from the bedroom to the library, and
from the library into the dining room, which formed the other corner.

These rooms, whose windows looked out on the Aunay Valley, composed
one of the sides of the dwelling.

The other side of the house had four rooms arranged in the same order.
Thus, the kitchen formed an angle, and corresponded with the dining
room; a long corridor, which served as the entrance, with the library;
a small dressing room, with the bedroom; and the toilet, forming a
second angle, with the dressing room.

These rooms received the light from the side opposite the Aunay Valley
and faced the Towers of Croy and Chatillon.

As for the staircase, it was built outside, against one of the sides
of the house, and the footsteps of his servants in ascending or
descending thus reached Des Esseintes less distinctly.

The dressing room was tapestried in deep red. On the walls, in ebony
frames, hung the prints of Jan Luyken, an old Dutch engraver almost
unknown in France.

He possessed of the work of this artist, who was fantastic and
melancholy, vehement and wild, the series of his _Religious
Persecutions_, horrible prints depicting all the agonies invented by
the madness of religions: prints pregnant with human sufferings,
showing bodies roasting on fires, skulls slit open with swords,
trepaned with nails and gashed with saws, intestines separated from
the abdomen and twisted on spools, finger nails slowly extracted with
pincers, eyes gouged, limbs dislocated and deliberately broken, and
bones bared of flesh and agonizingly scraped by sheets of metal.

These works filled with abominable imaginings, offensive with their
odors of burning, oozing with blood and clamorous with cries of horror
and maledictions, gave Des Esseintes, who was held fascinated in this
red room, the creeping sensations of goose-flesh.

But in addition to the tremblings they occasioned, beyond the terrible
skill of this man, the extraordinary life which animates his
characters, one discovered, among his astonishing, swarming
throngs--among his mobs of people delineated with a dexterity which
recalled Callot, but which had a strength never possessed by that
amusing dauber--curious reconstructions of bygone ages. The
architecture, costumes and customs during the time of the Maccabeans,
of Rome under the Christian persecutions, of Spain under the
Inquisition, of France during the Middle Ages, at the time of Saint
Bartholomew and the Dragonnades, were studied with a meticulous care
and noted with scientific accuracy.

These prints were veritable treasures of learning. One could gaze at
them for hours without experiencing any sense of weariness. Profoundly
suggestive in reflections, they assisted Des Esseintes in passing many
a day when his books failed to charm him.

Luyken's life, too, fascinated him, by explaining the hallucination of
his work. A fervent Calvinist, a stubborn sectarian, unbalanced by
prayers and hymns, he wrote religious poetry which he illustrated,
paraphrased the psalms in verse, lost himself in the reading of the
Bible from which he emerged haggard and frenzied, his brain haunted by
monstrous subjects, his mouth twisted by the maledictions of the
Reformation and by its songs of terror and hate.

And he scorned the world, surrendering his wealth to the poor and
subsisting on a slice of bread. He ended his life in travelling, with
an equally fanatical servant, going where chance led his boat,
preaching the Gospel far and wide, endeavoring to forego nourishment,
and eventually becoming almost demented and violent.

Other bizarre sketches were hung in the larger, adjoining room, as
well as in the corridor, both of which had woodwork of red cedar.

There was Bresdin's _Comedy of Death_ in which, in the fantastic
landscape bristling with trees, brushwood and tufts of grass
resembling phantom, demon forms, teeming with rat-headed, pod-tailed
birds, on earth covered with ribs, skulls and bones, gnarled and
cracked willows rear their trunks, surmounted by agitated skeletons
whose arms beat the air while they intone a song of victory. A Christ
speeds across a clouded sky; a hermit in the depths of a cave
meditates, holding his head in his hands; one wretch dies, exhausted
by long privation and enfeebled by hunger, lying on his back, his legs
outstretched in front of a pond.

The _Good Samaritan_, by the same artist, is a large engraving on
stone: an incongruous medley of palms, sorbs and oaks grown together,
heedless of seasons and climates, peopled with monkeys and owls,
covered with old stumps as misshapen as the roots of the mandrake;
then a magical forest, cut in the center near a glade through which a
stream can be seen far away, behind a camel and the Samaritan group;
then an elfin town appearing on the horizon of an exotic sky dotted
with birds and covered with masses of fleecy clouds.

It could be called the design of an uncertain, primitive Durer with an
opium-steeped brain. But although he liked the finesse of the detail
and the imposing appearance of this print, Des Esseintes had a special
weakness for the other frames adorning the room.

They were signed: Odilon Redon.

They enclosed inconceivable apparitions in their rough, gold-striped
pear-tree wood. A head of a Merovingian style, resting against a bowl,
a bearded man, at once resembling a Buddhist priest and an orator at a
public reunion, touching the ball of a gigantic cannon with his
fingers; a frightful spider revealing a human face in its body. The
charcoal drawings went even farther into dream terrors. Here, an
enormous die in which a sad eye winked; there, dry and arid
landscapes, dusty plains, shifting ground, volcanic upheavals catching
rebellious clouds, stagnant and livid skies. Sometimes the subjects
even seemed to have borrowed from the cacodemons of science, reverting
to prehistoric times. A monstrous plant on the rocks, queer blocks
everywhere, glacial mud, figures whose simian shapes, heavy jaws,
beetling eyebrows, retreating foreheads and flat skulls, recalled the
ancestral heads of the first quaternary periods, when inarticulate man
still devoured fruits and seeds, and was still contemporaneous with
the mammoth, the rhinoceros and the big bear. These designs were
beyond anything imaginable; they leaped, for the most part, beyond the
limits of painting and introduced a fantasy that was unique, the
fantasy of a diseased and delirious mind.

And, indeed, certain of these faces, with their monstrous, insane
eyes, certain of these swollen, deformed bodies resembling carafes,
induced in Des Esseintes recollections of typhoid, memories of
feverish nights and of the shocking visions of his infancy which
persisted and would not be suppressed.

Seized with an indefinable uneasiness in the presence of these
sketches, the same sensation caused by certain _Proverbs_ of Goya
which they recalled, or by the reading of Edgar Allen Poe's tales,
whose mirages of hallucination and effects of fear Odilon Redon seemed
to have transposed to a different art, he rubbed his eyes and turned
to contemplate a radiant figure which, amid these tormenting sketches,
arose serene and calm--a figure of Melancholy seated near the disk of
a sun, on the rocks, in a dejected and gloomy posture.

The shadows were dispersed as though by an enchantment. A charming
sadness, a languid and desolate feeling flowed through him. He
meditated long before this work which, with its dashes of paint
flecking the thick crayon, spread a brilliance of sea-green and of
pale gold among the protracted darkness of the charcoal prints.

In addition to this series of the works of Redon which adorned nearly
every panel of the passage, he had hung a disturbing sketch by El
Greco in his bedroom. It was a Christ done in strange tints, in a
strained design, possessing a wild color and a disordered energy: a
picture executed in the painter's second manner when he had been
tormented by the necessity of avoiding imitation of Titian.

This sinister painting, with its wax and sickly green tones, bore an
affinity to certain ideas Des Esseintes had with regard to furnishing
a room.

According to him, there were but two ways of fitting a bedroom. One
could either make it a sense-stimulating alcove, a place for nocturnal
delights, or a cell for solitude and repose, a retreat for thought, a
sort of oratory.

For the first instance, the Louis XV style was inevitable for the
fastidious, for the cerebrally morbid. Only the eighteenth century had
succeeded in enveloping woman with a vicious atmosphere, imitating her
contours in the undulations and twistings of wood and copper,
accentuating the sugary languor of the blond with its clear and lively
_decors_, attenuating the pungency of the brunette with its tapestries
of aqueous, sweet, almost insipid tones.

He had once had such a room in Paris, with a lofty, white, lacquered
bed which is one stimulant the more, a source of depravity to old
roues, leering at the false chastity and hypocritical modesty of
Greuze's tender virgins, at the deceptive candor of a bed evocative of
babes and chaste maidens.

For the second instance,--and now that he wished to put behind him the
irritating memories of his past life, this was the only possible
expedient--he was compelled to design a room that would be like a
monastic cell. But difficulties faced him here, for he refused to
accept in its entirety the austere ugliness of those asylums of
penitence and prayer.

By dint of studying the problem in all its phases, he concluded that
the end to be attained could thus be stated: to devise a sombre effect
by means of cheerful objects, or rather to give a tone of elegance and
distinction to the room thus treated, meanwhile preserving its
character of ugliness; to reverse the practice of the theatre, whose
vile tinsel imitates sumptuous and costly textures; to obtain the
contrary effect by use of splendid fabrics; in a word, to have the
cell of a Carthusian monk which should possess the appearance of
reality without in fact being so.

Thus he proceeded. To imitate the stone-color of ochre and clerical
yellow, he had his walls covered with saffron silk; to stimulate the
chocolate hue of the dadoes common to this type of room, he used
pieces of violet wood deepened with amarinth. The effect was
bewitching, while recalling to Des Esseintes the repellant rigidity of
the model he had followed and yet transformed. The ceiling, in turn,
was hung with white, unbleached cloth, in imitation of plaster, but
without its discordant brightness. As for the cold pavement of the
cell, he was able to copy it, by means of a bit of rug designed in red
squares, with whitish spots in the weave to imitate the wear of
sandals and the friction of boots.

Into this chamber he introduced a small iron bed, the kind used by
monks, fashioned of antique, forged and polished iron, the head and
foot adorned with thick filigrees of blossoming tulips enlaced with
vine branches and leaves. Once this had been part of a balustrade of
an old hostel's superb staircase.

For his table, he installed an antique praying-desk the inside of
which could contain an urn and the outside a prayer book. Against the
wall, opposite it, he placed a church pew surmounted by a tall dais
with little benches carved out of solid wood. His church tapers were
made of real wax, procured from a special house which catered
exclusively to houses of worship, for Des Esseintes professed a
sincere repugnance to gas, oil and ordinary candles, to all modern
forms of illumination, so gaudy and brutal.

Before going to sleep in the morning, he would gaze, with his head on
the pillows, at his El Greco whose barbaric color rebuked the smiling,
yellow material and recalled it to a more serious tone. Then he could
easily imagine himself living a hundred leagues removed from Paris,
far from society, in cloistral security.

And, all in all, the illusion was not difficult, since he led an
existence that approached the life of a monk. Thus he had the
advantages of monasticism without the inconveniences of its vigorous
discipline, its lack of service, its dirt, its promiscuity and its
monotonous idleness. Just as he had transformed his cell into a
comfortable chamber, so had he made his life normal, pleasant,
surrounded by comforts, occupied and free.

Like a hermit he was ripe for isolation, since life harassed him and
he no longer desired anything of it. Again like a monk, he was
depressed and in the grip of an obsessing lassitude, seized with the
need of self-communion and with a desire to have nothing in common
with the profane who were, for him, the utilitarian and the imbecile.

Although he experienced no inclination for the state of grace, he felt
a genuine sympathy for those souls immured in monasteries, persecuted
by a vengeful society which can forgive neither the merited scorn with
which it inspires them, nor the desire to expiate, to atone by long
silences, for the ever growing shamelessness of its ridiculous or
trifling gossipings.

    Chapter 7

Ever since the night when he had evoked, for no apparent reason, a
whole train of melancholy memories, pictures of his past life returned
to Des Esseintes and gave him no peace.

He found himself unable to understand a single word of the books he
read. He could not even receive impressions through his eyes. It
seemed to him that his mind, saturated with literature and art,
refused to absorb any more.

He lived within himself, nourished by his own substance, like some
torpid creature which hibernates in caves. Solitude had reacted upon
his brain like a narcotic. After having strained and enervated it, his
mind had fallen victim to a sluggishness which annihilated his plans,
broke his will power and invoked a cortege of vague reveries to which
he passively submitted.

The confused medley of meditations on art and literature in which he
had indulged since his isolation, as a dam to bar the current of old
memories, had been rudely swept away, and the onrushing, irresistible
wave crashed into the present and future, submerging everything
beneath the blanket of the past, filling his mind with an immensity of
sorrow, on whose surface floated, like futile wreckage, absurd trifles
and dull episodes of his life.

The book he held in his hands fell to his knees. He abandoned himself
to the mood which dominated him, watching the dead years of his life
filled with so many disgusts and fears, move past. What a life he had
lived! He thought of the evenings spent in society, the horse races,
card parties, love affairs ordered in advance and served at the stroke
of midnight, in his rose-colored boudoir! He recalled faces,
expressions, vain words which obsessed him with the stubbornness of
popular melodies which one cannot help humming, but which suddenly and
inexplicably end by boring one.

This phase had not lasted long. His memory gave him respite and he
plunged again into his Latin studies, so as to efface the impressions
of such recollections.

But almost instantly the rushing force of his memories swept him into
a second phase, that of his childhood, especially of the years spent
at the school of the Fathers.

Although more remote, they were more positive and more indelibly
stamped on his brain. The leafy park, the long walks, the flower beds,
the benches--all the actual details of the monastery rose before him,
here in his room.

The gardens filled and he heard the ringing cries of the students,
mingling with the laughter of the professors as they played tennis,
with their cassocks tucked up between their knees, or perhaps chatted
under the trees with the youngsters, without any posturing or hauteur,
as though they were companions of the same age.

He recalled the easy yoke of the monks who declined to administer
punishment by inflicting the committment of five hundred or a thousand
lines while the others were at play, being satisfied with making those
delinquents prepare the lesson that had not been mastered, and most
often simply having recourse to a gentle admonition. They surrounded
the children with an active but gentle watch, seeking to please them,
consenting to whatever expeditions they wished to take on Tuesdays,
taking the occasion of every minor holiday not formally observed by
the Church to add cakes and wine to the ordinary fare, and to
entertain them with picnics. It was a paternal discipline whose
success lay in the fact that they did not seek to domineer over the
pupils, that they gossiped with them, treating them as men while
showering them with the attentions paid a spoiled child.

In this manner, the monks succeeded in assuming a real influence over
the youngsters; in molding, to some extent, the minds which they were
cultivating; in directing them, in a sense; in instilling special
ideas; in assuring the growth of their thoughts by insinuating,
wheedling methods with which they continued to flatter them throughout
their careers, taking pains not to lose sight of them in their later
life, and by sending them affectionate letters like those which the
Dominican Lacordaire so skillfully wrote to his former pupils of

Des Esseintes took note of this system which had been so fruitlessly
expended on him. His stubborn, captious and inquisitive character,
disposed to controversies, had prevented him from being modelled by
their discipline or subdued by their lessons. His scepticism had
increased after he left the precincts of the college. His association
with a legitimist, intolerant and shallow society, his conversations
with unintelligent church wardens and abbots, whose blunders tore away
the veil so subtly woven by the Jesuits, had still more fortified his
spirit of independence and increased his scorn for any faith whatever.

He had deemed himself free of all bonds and constraints. Unlike most
graduates of _lycees_ or private schools, he had preserved a vivid
memory of his college and of his masters. And now, as he considered
these matters, he asked himself if the seeds sown until now on barren
soil were not beginning to take root.

For several days, in fact, his soul had been strangely perturbed. At
moments, he felt himself veering towards religion. Then, at the
slightest approach of reason, his faith would dissolve. Yet he
remained deeply troubled.

Analyzing himself, he was well aware that he would never possess a
truly Christian spirit of humility and penitence. He knew without a
doubt that he would never experience that moment of grace mentioned by
Lacordaire, "when the last shaft of light penetrates the soul and
unites the truths there lying dispersed." He never felt the need of
mortification and of prayer, without which no conversion in possible,
if one is to believe the majority of priests. He had no desire to
implore a God whose forgiveness seemed most improbable. Yet the
sympathy he felt for his old teachers lent him an interest in their
works and doctrines. Those inimitable accents of conviction, those
ardent voices of men of indubitably superior intelligence returned to
him and led him to doubt his own mind and strength. Amid the solitude
in which he lived, without new nourishment, without any fresh
experiences, without any renovation of thought, without that exchange
of sensations common to society, in this unnatural confinement in
which he persisted, all the questionings forgotten during his stay in
Paris were revived as active irritants. The reading of his beloved
Latin works, almost all of them written by bishops and monks, had
doubtless contributed to this crisis. Enveloped in a convent-like
atmosphere, in a heady perfume of incense, his nervous brain had grown
excitable. And by an association of ideas, these books had driven back
the memories of his life as a young man, revealing in full light the
years spent with the Fathers.

"There is no doubt about it," Des Esseintes mused, as he reasoned the
matter and followed the progress of this introduction of the Jesuitic
spirit into Fontenay. "Since my childhood, although unaware of it, I
have had this leaven which has never fermented. The weakness I have
always borne for religious subjects is perhaps a positive proof of
it." But he sought to persuade himself to the contrary, disturbed at
no longer being his own master. He searched for motives; it had
required a struggle for him to abandon things sacerdotal, since the
Church alone had treasured objects of art--the lost forms of past
ages. Even in its wretched modern reproductions, she had preserved the
contours of the gold and silver ornaments, the charm of chalices
curving like petunias, and the charm of pyxes with their chaste sides;
even in aluminum and imitation enamels and colored glasses, she had
preserved the grace of vanished modes. In short, most of the precious
objects now to be found in the Cluny museum, which have miraculously
escaped the crude barbarism of the philistines, come from the ancient
French abbeys. And just as the Church had preserved philosophy and
history and letters from barbarism in the Middle Ages, so had she
saved the plastic arts, bringing to our own days those marvelous
fabrics and jewelries which the makers of sacred objects spoil to the
best of their ability, without being able to destroy the originally
exquisite form. It followed, then, that there was nothing surprising
in his having bought these old trinkets, in his having, together with
a number of other collectors, purchased such relics from the antique
shops of Paris and the second-hand dealers of the provinces.

But these reasons he evoked in vain. He did not wholly succeed in
convincing himself. He persisted in considering religion as a superb
legend, a magnificent imposture. Yet, despite his convictions, his
scepticism began to be shattered.

This was the singular fact he was obliged to face: he was less
confident now than in childhood, when he had been directly under the
influence of the Jesuits, when their instruction could not be shunned,
when he was in their hands and belonged to them body and soul, without
family ties, with no outside influence powerful enough to counteract
their precepts. Moreover, they had inculcated in him a certain
tendency towards the marvelous which, interned and exercised in the
close quarters of his fixed ideas, had slowly and obscurely developed
in his soul, until today it was blossoming in his solitude, affecting
his spirit, regardless of arguments.

By examining the process of his reasoning, by seeking to unite its
threads and to discover its sources and causes, he concluded that his
previous mode of living was derived from the education he had
received. Thus, his tendencies towards artificiality and his craving
for eccentricity, were no more than the results of specious studies,
spiritual refinements and quasi-theological speculations. They were,
in the last analysis, ecstacies, aspirations towards an ideal, towards
an unknown universe as desirable as that promised us by the Holy

He curbed his thoughts sharply and broke the thread of his

"Well!" he thought, vexed, "I am even more affected than I had
imagined. Here am I arguing with myself like a very casuist!"

He was left pensive, agitated by a vague fear. Certainly, if
Lacordaire's theory were sound, he had nothing to be afraid of, since
the magic touch of conversion is not to be consummated in a moment. To
bring about the explosion, the ground must be constantly and
assiduously mined. But just as the romancers speak of the thunderclap
of love, so do theologians also speak of the thunderclap of
conversion. No one was safe, should one admit the truth of this
doctrine. There was no longer any need of self-analysis, of paying
heed to presentiments, of taking preventive measures. The psychology
of mysticism was void. Things were so because they were so, and that
was all.

"I am really becoming stupid," thought Des Esseintes. "The very fear
of this malady will end by bringing it on, if this continues."

He partially succeeded in shaking off this influence. The memories of
his life with the Jesuits waned, only to be replaced by other
thoughts. He was entirely dominated by morbid abstractions. Despite
himself, he thought of the contradictory interpretations of the
dogmas, of the lost apostasies of Father Labbe, recorded in the works
on the Decrees. Fragments of these schisms, scraps of these heresies
which for centuries had divided the Churches of the Orient and the
Occident, returned to him.

Here, Nestorius denied the title of "Mother of God" to the Virgin
because, in the mystery of the Incarnation, it was not God but rather
a human being she had nourished in her womb; there, Eutyches declared
that Christ's image could not resemble that of other men, since
divinity had chosen to dwell in his body and had consequently entirely
altered the form of everything. Other quibblers maintained that the
Redeemer had had no body at all and that this expression of the holy
books must be taken figuratively, while Tertullian put forth his
famous, semi-materialistic axiom: "Only that which is not, has no
body; everything which is, has a body fitting it." Finally, this
ancient question, debated for years, demanded an answer: was Christ
hanged on the cross, or was it the Trinity which had suffered as one
in its triple hypostasis, on the cross at Calvary? And mechanically,
like a lesson long ago learned, he proposed the questions to himself
and answered them.

For several days his brain was a swarm of paradoxes, subtleties and
hair-splittings, a skein of rules as complicated as the articles of
the codes that involved the sense of everything, indulged in puns and
ended in a most tenuous and singular celestial jurisprudence. The
abstract side vanished, in its turn, and under the influence of the
Gustave Moreau paintings of the wall, yielded to a concrete succession
of pictures.

Before him he saw marching a procession of prelates. The
archimandrites and patriarchs, their white beards waving during the
reading of the prayers, lifted golden arms to bless kneeling throngs.
He saw silent files of penitents marching into dim crypts. Before him
rose vast cathedrals where white monks intoned from pulpits. Just as
De Quincey, having taken a dose of opium and uttered the word "Consul
Romanus," evoked entire pages of Livius, and beheld the solemn advance
of the consuls and the magnificent, pompous march of the Roman armies,
so he, at a theological expression, paused breathless as he viewed the
onrush of penitents and the churchly apparitions which detached
themselves from the glowing depths of the basilica. These scenes held
him enchanted. They moved from age to age, culminating in the modern
religious ceremonies, bathing his soul in a tender, mournful infinity
of music.

On this plane, no reasonings were necessary; there were no further
contests to be endured. He had an indescribable impression of respect
and fear. His artistic sense was conquered by the skillfully
calculated Catholic rituals. His nerves quivered at these memories.
Then, in sudden rebellion, in a sudden reversion, monstrous ideas were
born in him, fancies concerning those sacrileges warned against by the
manual of the Father confessors, of the scandalous, impure desecration
of holy water and sacred oil. The Demon, a powerful rival, now stood
against an omnipotent God. A frightful grandeur seemed to Des
Esseintes to emanate from a crime committed in church by a believer
bent, with blasphemously horrible glee and sadistic joy, over such
revered objects, covering them with outrages and saturating them in

Before him were conjured up the madnesses of magic, of the black mass,
of the witches' revels, of terrors of possessions and of exorcisms. He
reached the point where he wondered if he were not committing a
sacrilege in possessing objects which had once been consecrated: the
Church canons, chasubles and pyx covers. And this idea of a state of
sin imparted to him a mixed sensation of pride and relief. The
pleasures of sacrilege were unravelled from the skein of this idea,
but these were debatable sacrileges, in any case, and hardly serious,
since he really loved these objects and did not pollute them by
misuse. In this wise he lulled himself with prudent and cowardly
thoughts, the caution of his soul forbidding obvious crimes and
depriving him of the courage necessary to the consummation of
frightful and deliberate sins.

Little by little this tendency to ineffectual quibbling disappeared.
In his mind's eye he saw the panorama of the Church with its
hereditary influence on humanity through the centuries. He imagined it
as imposing and suffering, emphasizing to man the horror of life, the
infelicity of man's destiny; preaching patience, penitence and the
spirit of sacrifice; seeking to heal wounds, while it displayed the
bleeding wounds of Christ; bespeaking divine privileges; promising the
richest part of paradise to the afflicted; exhorting humanity to
suffer and to render to God, like a holocaust, its trials and
offenses, its vicissitudes and pains. Thus the Church grew truly
eloquent, the beneficent mother of the oppressed, the eternal menace
of oppressors and despots.

Here, Des Esseintes was on firm ground. He was thoroughly satisfied
with this admission of social ordure, but he revolted against the
vague hope of remedy in the beyond. Schopenhauer was more true. His
doctrine and that of the Church started from common premises. He, too,
based his system on the vileness of the world; he, too, like the
author of the _Imitation of Christ_, uttered that grievous outcry:
"Truly life on earth is wretched." He, also, preached the nothingness
of life, the advantages of solitude, and warned humanity that no
matter what it does, in whatever direction it may turn, it must remain
wretched, the poor by reason of the sufferings entailed by want, the
rich by reason of the unconquerable weariness engendered by abundance;
but this philosophy promised no universal remedies, did not entice one
with false hopes, so as to minimize the inevitable evils of life.

He did not affirm the revolting conception of original sin, nor did he
feel inclined to argue that it is a beneficent God who protects the
worthless and wicked, rains misfortunes on children, stultifies the
aged and afflicts the innocent. He did not exalt the virtues of a
Providence which has invented that useless, incomprehensible, unjust
and senseless abomination, physical suffering. Far from seeking to
justify, as does the Church, the necessity of torments and
afflictions, he cried, in his outraged pity: "If a God has made this
world, I should not wish to be that God. The world's wretchedness
would rend my heart."

Ah! Schopenhauer alone was right. Compared with these treatises of
spiritual hygiene, of what avail were the evangelical pharmacopoeias?
He did not claim to cure anything, and he offered no alleviation to
the sick. But his theory of pessimism was, in the end, the great
consoler of choice intellects and lofty souls. He revealed society as
it is, asserted woman's inherent stupidity, indicated the safest
course, preserved you from disillusionment by warning you to restrain
hopes as much as possible, to refuse to yield to their allurement, to
deem yourself fortunate, finally, if they did not come toppling about
your ears at some unexpected moment.

Traversing the same path as the _Imitation_, this theory, too, ended
in similar highways of resignation and indifference, but without going
astray in mysterious labyrinths and remote roads.

But if this resignation, which was obviously the only outcome of the
deplorable condition of things and their irremediability, was open to
the spiritually rich, it was all the more difficult of approach to the
poor whose passions and cravings were more easily satisfied by the
benefits of religion.

These reflections relieved Des Esseintes of a heavy burden. The
aphorisms of the great German calmed his excited thoughts, and the
points of contact in these two doctrines helped him to correlate them;
and he could never forget that poignant and poetic Catholicism in
which he had bathed, and whose essence he had long ago absorbed.

These reversions to religion, these intimations of faith tormented him
particularly since the changes that had lately taken place in his
health. Their progress coincided with that of his recent nervous

He had been tortured since his youth by inexplicable aversions, by
shudderings which chilled his spine and made him grit his teeth, as,
for example, when he saw a girl wringing wet linen. These reactions
had long persisted. Even now he suffered poignantly when he heard the
tearing of cloth, the rubbing of a finger against a piece of chalk, or
a hand touching a bit of moire.

The excesses of his youthful life, the exaggerated tension of his mind
had strangely aggravated his earliest nervous disorder, and had
thinned the already impoverished blood of his race. In Paris, he had
been compelled to submit to hydrotherapic treatments for his trembling
fingers, frightful pains, neuralgic strokes which cut his face in two,
drummed maddeningly against his temples, pricked his eyelids
agonizingly and induced a nausea which could be dispelled only by
lying flat on his back in the dark.

These afflictions had gradually disappeared, thanks to a more
regulated and sane mode of living. They now returned in another form,
attacking his whole body. The pains left his head, but affected his
inflated stomach. His entrails seemed pierced by hot bars of iron. A
nervous cough racked him at regular intervals, awakening and almost
strangling him in his bed. Then his appetite forsook him; gaseous, hot
acids and dry heats coursed through his stomach. He grew swollen, was
choked for breath, and could not endure his clothes after each attempt
at eating.

He shunned alcoholic beverages, coffee and tea, and drank only milk.
And he took recourse to baths of cold water and dosed himself with
assafoetida, valerian and quinine. He even felt a desire to go out,
and strolled about the country when the rainy days came to make it
desolate and still. He obliged himself to take exercise. As a last
resort, he temporarily abandoned his books and, corroded with ennui,
determined to make his listless life tolerable by realizing a project
he had long deferred through laziness and a dislike of change, since
his installment at Fontenay.

Being no longer able to intoxicate himself with the felicities of
style, with the delicious witchery of the rare epithet which, while
remaining precise, yet opens to the imagination of the initiate
infinite and distant vistas, he determined to give the finishing
touches to the decorations of his home. He would procure precious
hot-house flowers and thus permit himself a material occupation which
might distract him, calm his nerves and rest his brain. He also hoped
that the sight of their strange and splendid nuances would in some
degree atone for the fanciful and genuine colors of style which he was
for the time to lose from his literary diet.

    Chapter 8

He had always been passionately fond of flowers, but during his
residence at Jutigny, that love had been lavished upon flowers of all
sorts; he had never cultivated distinctions and discriminations in
regard to them. Now his taste in this direction had grown refined and

For a long time he had scorned the popular plants which grow in flat
baskets, in watered pots, under green awnings or under the red
parasols of Parisian markets.

Simultaneous with the refinement of his literary taste and his
preoccupations with art, which permitted him to be content only in the
presence of choice creations, distilled by subtly troubled brains, and
simultaneous with the weariness he began to feel in the presence of
popular ideas, his love for flowers had grown purged of all impurities
and lees, and had become clarified.

He compared a florist's shop to a microcosm wherein all the categories
of society are represented. Here are poor common flowers, the kind
found in hovels, which are truly at home only when resting on ledges
of garret windows, their roots thrust into milk bottles and old pans,
like the gilly-flower for example.

And one also finds stupid and pretentious flowers like the rose which
belongs in the porcelain flowerpots painted by young girls.

Then, there are flowers of noble lineage like the orchid, so delicate
and charming, at once cold and palpitating, exotic flowers exiled in
the heated glass palaces of Paris, princesses of the vegetable kingdom
living in solitude, having absolutely nothing in common with the
street plants and other bourgeois flora.

He permitted himself to feel a certain interest and pity only for the
popular flowers enfeebled by their nearness to the odors of sinks and
drains in the poor quarters. In revenge he detested the bouquets
harmonizing with the cream and gold rooms of pretentious houses. For
the joy of his eyes he reserved those distinguished, rare blooms which
had been brought from distant lands and whose lives were sustained by
artful devices under artificial equators.

But this very choice, this predilection for the conservatory plants
had itself changed under the influence of his mode of thought.
Formerly, during his Parisian days, his love for artificiality had led
him to abandon real flowers and to use in their place replicas
faithfully executed by means of the miracles performed with India
rubber and wire, calico and taffeta, paper and silk. He was the
possessor of a marvelous collection of tropical plants, the result of
the labors of skilful artists who knew how to follow nature and
recreate her step by step, taking the flower as a bud, leading it to
its full development, even imitating its decline, reaching such a
point of perfection as to convey every nuance--the most fugitive
expressions of the flower when it opens at dawn and closes at evening,
observing the appearance of the petals curled by the wind or rumpled
by the rain, applying dew drops of gum on its matutinal corollas;
shaping it in full bloom, when the branches bend under the burden of
their sap, or showing the dried stem and shrivelled cupules, when
calyxes are thrown off and leaves fall to the ground.

This wonderful art had held him entranced for a long while, but now he
was dreaming of another experiment.

He wished to go one step beyond. Instead of artificial flowers
imitating real flowers, natural flowers should mimic the artificial

He directed his ideas to this end and had not to seek long or go far,
since his house lay in the very heart of a famous horticultural
region. He visited the conservatories of the Avenue de Chatillon and
of the Aunay valley, and returned exhausted, his purse empty,
astonished at the strange forms of vegetation he had seen, thinking of
nothing but the species he had acquired and continually haunted by
memories of magnificent and fantastic plants.

The flowers came several days later.

Des Esseintes holding a list in his hands, verified each one of his
purchases. The gardeners from their wagons brought a collection of
caladiums which sustained enormous heartshaped leaves on turgid hairy
stalks; while preserving an air of relationship with its neighbor, no
one leaf repeated the same pattern.

Others were equally extraordinary. The roses like the _Virginale_
seemed cut out of varnished cloth or oil-silks; the white ones, like
the _Albano_, appeared to have been cut out of an ox's transparent
pleura, or the diaphanous bladder of a pig. Some, particularly the
_Madame Mame_, imitated zinc and parodied pieces of stamped metal
having a hue of emperor green, stained by drops of oil paint and by
spots of white and red lead; others like the _Bosphorous_, gave the
illusion of a starched calico in crimson and myrtle green; still
others, like the _Aurora Borealis_, displayed leaves having the color
of raw meat, streaked with purple sides, violet fibrils, tumefied
leaves from which oozed blue wine and blood.

The _Albano_ and the _Aurora_ sounded the two extreme notes of
temperament, the apoplexy and chlorosis of this plant.

The gardeners brought still other varieties which had the appearance
of artificial skin ridged with false veins, and most of them looked as
though consumed by syphilis and leprosy, for they exhibited livid
surfaces of flesh veined with scarlet rash and damasked with
eruptions. Some had the deep red hue of scars that have just closed or
the dark tint of incipient scabs. Others were marked with matter
raised by scaldings. There were forms which exhibited shaggy skins
hollowed by ulcers and relieved by cankers. And a few appeared
embossed with wounds, covered with black mercurial hog lard, with
green unguents of belladonna smeared with grains of dust and the
yellow micas of iodoforme.

Collected in his home, these flowers seemed to Des Esseintes more
monstrous than when he had beheld them, confused with others among the
glass rooms of the conservatory.

"_Sapristi!_" he exclaimed enthusiastically.

A new plant, modelled like the Caladiums, the _Alocasia Metallica_,
excited him even more. It was coated with a layer of bronze green on
which glanced silver reflections. It was the masterpiece of
artificiality. It could be called a piece of stove pipe, cut by a
chimney-maker into the form of a pike head.

The men next brought clusters of leaves, lozenge-like in shape and
bottle-green in color. In the center rose a rod at whose end a
varnished ace of hearts swayed. As though meaning to defy all
conceivable forms of plants, a fleshy stalk climbed through the heart
of this intense vermilion ace--a stalk that in some specimens was
straight, in others showed ringlets like a pig's tail.

It was the _Anthurium_, an aroid recently imported into France from
Columbia; a variety of that family to which also belonged an
_Amorphophallus_, a Cochin China plant with leaves shaped like
fish-knives, with long dark stems seamed with gashes, like lambs
flecked with black.

Des Esseintes exulted.

They brought a new batch of monstrosities from the wagon:
_Echinopses_, issuing from padded compresses with rose-colored flowers
that looked like the pitiful stumps; gaping _Nidularia_ revealing
skinless foundations in steel plates; _Tillandsia Lindeni_, the color
of wine must, with jagged scrapers; _Cypripedia_, with complicated
contours, a crazy piece of work seemingly designed by a crazy
inventor. They looked like sabots or like a lady's work-table on which
lies a human tongue with taut filaments, such as one sees designed on
the illustrated pages of works treating of the diseases of the throat
and mouth; two little side-pieces, of a red jujube color, which
appeared to have been borrowed from a child's toy mill completed this
singular collection of a tongue's underside with the color of slate
and wine lees, and of a glossy pocket from whose lining oozed a
viscous glue.

He could not remove his eyes from this unnatural orchid which had been
brought from India. Then the gardeners, impatient at his
procrastinations, themselves began to read the labels fastened to the
pots they were carrying in.

Bewildered, Des Esseintes looked on and listened to the cacophonous
sounds of the names: the _Encephalartos horridus_, a gigantic iron
rust-colored artichoke, like those put on portals of chateaux to foil
wall climbers; the _Cocos Micania_, a sort of notched and slender palm
surrounded by tall leaves resembling paddles and oars; the _Zamia
Lehmanni_, an immense pineapple, a wondrous Chester leaf, planted in
sweet-heather soil, its top bristling with barbed javelins and jagged
arrows; the _Cibotium Spectabile_, surpassing the others by the
craziness of its structure, hurling a defiance to revery, as it
darted, through the palmated foliage, an enormous orang-outang tail, a
hairy dark tail whose end was twisted into the shape of a bishop's

But he gave little heed, for he was impatiently awaiting the series of
plants which most bewitched him, the vegetable ghouls, the carnivorous
plants; the _Antilles Fly-Trap_, with its shaggy border, secreting a
digestive liquid, armed with crooked prickles coiling around each
other, forming a grating about the imprisoned insect; the _Drosera_ of
the peat-bogs, provided with glandular hair; the _Sarracena_ and the
_Cephalothus_, opening greedy horns capable of digesting and absorbing
real meat; lastly, the _Nepenthes_, whose capricious appearance
transcends all limits of eccentric forms.

He never wearied of turning in his hands the pot in which this floral
extravagance stirred. It imitated the gum-tree whose long leaf of dark
metallic green it possessed, but it differed in that a green string
hung from the end of its leaf, an umbilic cord supporting a greenish
urn, streaked with jasper, a sort of German porcelain pipe, a strange
bird's nest which tranquilly swung about, revealing an interior
covered with hair.

"This is really something worth while," Des Esseintes murmured.

He was forced to tear himself away, for the gardeners, anxious to
leave, were emptying the wagons of their contents and depositing,
without any semblance of order, the tuberous _Begonias_ and black
_Crotons_ stained like sheet iron with Saturn red.

Then he perceived that one name still remained on his list. It was the
_Cattleya_ of New Granada. On it was designed a little winged bell of
a faded lilac, an almost dead mauve. He approached, placed his nose
above the plant and quickly recoiled. It exhaled an odor of toy boxes
of painted pine; it recalled the horrors of a New Year's Day.

He felt that he would do well to mistrust it and he almost regretted
having admitted, among the scentless plants, this orchid which evoked
the most disagreeable memories.

As soon as he was alone his gaze took in this vegetable tide which
foamed in the vestibule. Intermingled with each other, they crossed
their swords, their krisses and stanchions, taking on a resemblance to
a green pile of arms, above which, like barbaric penons, floated
flowers with hard dazzling colors.

The air of the room grew rarefied. Then, in the shadowy dimness of a
corner, near the floor, a white soft light crept.

He approached and perceived that the phenomenon came from the
_Rhizomorphes_ which threw out these night-lamp gleams while

"These plants are amazing," he reflected. Then he drew back to let his
eye encompass the whole collection at a glance. His purpose was
achieved. Not one single specimen seemed real; the cloth, paper,
porcelain and metal seemed to have been loaned by man to nature to
enable her to create her monstrosities. When unable to imitate man's
handiwork, nature had been reduced to copying the inner membranes of
animals, to borrowing the vivid tints of their rotting flesh, their
magnificent corruptions.

"All is syphilis," thought Des Esseintes, his eye riveted upon the
horrible streaked stainings of the Caladium plants caressed by a ray
of light. And he beheld a sudden vision of humanity consumed through
the centuries by the virus of this disease. Since the world's
beginnings, every single creature had, from sire to son, transmitted
the imperishable heritage, the eternal malady which has ravaged man's
ancestors and whose effects are visible even in the bones of old
fossils that have been exhumed.

The disease had swept on through the centuries gaining momentum. It
even raged today, concealed in obscure sufferings, dissimulated under
symptoms of headaches and bronchitis, hysterics and gout. It crept to
the surface from time to time, preferably attacking the ill-nourished
and the poverty stricken, spotting faces with gold pieces, ironically
decorating the faces of poor wretches, stamping the mark of money on
their skins to aggravate their unhappiness.

And here on the colored leaves of the plants it was resurgent in its
original splendor.

"It is true," pursued Des Esseintes, returning to the course of
reasoning he had momentarily abandoned, "it is true that most often
nature, left alone, is incapable of begetting such perverse and sickly
specimens. She furnishes the original substance, the germ and the
earth, the nourishing womb and the elements of the plant which man
then sets up, models, paints, and sculpts as he wills. Limited,
stubborn and formless though she be, nature has at last been subjected
and her master has succeeded in changing, through chemical reaction,
the earth's substances, in using combinations which had been long
matured, cross-fertilization processes long prepared, in making use of
slips and graftings, and man now forces differently colored flowers in
the same species, invests new tones for her, modifies to his will the
long-standing form of her plants, polishes the rough clods, puts an
end to the period of botch work, places his stamp on them, imposes on
them the mark of his own unique art."

"It cannot be gainsaid," he thought, resuming his reflections, "that
man in several years is able to effect a selection which slothful
nature can produce only after centuries. Decidedly the horticulturists
are the real artists nowadays."

He was a little tired and he felt stifled in this atmosphere of
crowded plants. The promenades he had taken during the last few days
had exhausted him. The transition had been too sudden from the tepid
atmosphere of his room to the out-of-doors, from the placid
tranquillity of a reclusive life to an active one. He left the
vestibule and stretched out on his bed to rest, but, absorbed by this
new fancy of his, his mind, even in his sleep, could not lessen its
tension and he was soon wandering among the gloomy insanities of a

He found himself in the center of a walk, in the heart of the wood;
twilight had fallen. He was strolling by the side of a woman whom he
had never seen before. She was emaciated and had flaxen hair, a
bulldog face, freckles on her cheeks, crooked teeth projecting under a
flat nose. She wore a nurse's white apron, a long neckerchief, torn in
strips on her bosom; half-shoes like those worn by Prussian soldiers
and a black bonnet adorned with frillings and trimmed with a rosette.

There was a foreign look about her, like that of a mountebank at a

He asked himself who the woman could be; he felt that she had long
been an intimate part of his life; vainly he sought her origin, her
name, her profession, her reason for being. No recollection of this
liaison, which was inexplicable and yet positive, rewarded him.

He was searching his past for a clue, when a strange figure suddenly
appeared on horse-back before them, trotting about for a moment and
then turning around in its saddle. Des Esseintes' heart almost stopped
beating and he stood riveted to the spot with horror. He nearly
fainted. This enigmatic, sexless figure was green; through her violet
eyelids the eyes were terrible in their cold blue; pimples surrounded
her mouth; horribly emaciated, skeleton arms bared to the elbows
issued from ragged tattered sleeves and trembled feverishly; and the
skinny legs shivered in shoes that were several sizes too large.

The ghastly eyes were fixed on Des Esseintes, penetrating him,
freezing his very marrow; wilder than ever, the bulldog woman threw
herself at him and commenced to howl like a dog at the killing, her
head hanging on her rigid neck.

Suddenly he understood the meaning of the frightful vision. Before him
was the image of Syphilis.

Pursued by fear and quite beside himself, he sped down a pathway at
top speed and gained a pavillion standing among the laburnums to the
left, where he fell into a chair, in the passage way.

After a few moments, when he was beginning to recover his breath, the
sound of sobbing made him lift his head. The bulldog woman was in
front of him and, grotesque and woeful, while warm tears fell from her
eyes, she told him that she had lost her teeth in her flight. As she
spoke she drew clay pipes from the pocket of her nurse's apron,
breaking them and shoving pieces of the stems into the hollows of her

"But she is really absurd," Des Esseintes told himself. "These stems
will never stick." And, as a matter of fact, they dropped out one
after another.

At this moment were heard the galloping sounds of an approaching
horse. A fearful terror pierced Des Esseintes. His limbs gave way. The
galloping grew louder. Despair brought him sharply to his senses. He
threw himself upon the woman who was stamping on the pipe bowls,
entreating her to be silent, not to give notice of their presence by
the sound of her shoes. She writhed and struggled in his grip; he led
her to the end of the corridor, strangling her to prevent her from
crying out. Suddenly he noticed the door of a coffee house, with green
Venetian shutters. It was unlocked; he pushed it, rushed in headlong
and then paused.

Before him, in the center of a vast glade, huge white pierrots were
leaping rabbit-like under the rays of the moon.

Tears of discouragement welled to his eyes; never, no never would he
succeed in crossing the threshold. "I shall be crushed," he thought.
And as though to justify his fears, the ranks of tall pierrots swarmed
and multiplied; their somersaults now covered the entire horizon, the
whole sky on which they landed now on their heads, now on their feet.

Then the hoof beats paused. He was in the passage, behind a round
skylight. More dead than alive, Des Esseintes turned about and through
the round window beheld projecting erect ears, yellow teeth, nostrils
from which breathed two jets of vapor smelling of phenol.

He sank to the ground, renouncing all ideas of flight or of
resistance. He closed his eyes so as not to behold the horrible gaze
of Syphilis which penetrated through the wall, which even pierced his
closed lids, which he felt gliding over his moist spine, over his body
whose hair bristled in pools of cold sweat. He waited for the worst
and even hoped for the _coup de grace_ to end everything. A moment
which seemed to last a century passed. Shuddering, he opened his eyes.
Everything had vanished. Without any transition, as though by some
stage device, a frightful mineral landscape receded into the distance,
a wan, dead, waste, gullied landscape. A light illumined this desolate
site, a peaceful white light that recalled gleams of phosphorus
dissolved in oil.

Something that stirred on the ground became a deathly pale, nude woman
whose feet were covered with green silk stockings.

He contemplated her with curiosity. As though frizzed by overheated
irons, her hair curled, becoming straight again at the end; her
distended nostrils were the color of roast veal. Her eyes were
desirous, and she called to him in low tones.

He had no time to answer, for already the woman was changing.
Flamboyant colors passed and repassed in her eyes. Her lips were
stained with a furious Anthurium red. The nipples of her breasts
flashed, painted like two pods of red pepper.

A sudden intuition came to him. "It is the Flower," he said. And his
reasoning mania persisted in his nightmare.

Then he observed the frightful irritation of the breasts and mouth,
discovered spots of bister and copper on the skin of her body, and
recoiled bewildered. But the woman's eyes fascinated him and he
advanced slowly, attempting to thrust his heels into the earth so as
not to move, letting himself fall, and yet lifting himself to reach
her. Just as he touched her, the dark _Amorphophalli_ leaped up from
all sides and thrust their leaves into his abdomen which rose and fell
like a sea. He had broken all the plants, experiencing a limitless
disgust in seeing these warm, firm stems stirring in his hands.
Suddenly the detested plants had disappeared and two arms sought to
enlace him. A terrible anguish made his heart beat furiously, for the
eyes, the horrible eyes of the woman, had become a clear, cold and
terrible blue. He made a superhuman effort to free himself from her
embrace, but she held him with an irresistible movement. He beheld the
wild _Nidularium_ which yawned, bleeding, in steel plates.

With his body he touched the hideous wound of this plant. He felt
himself dying, awoke with a start, suffocating, frozen, mad with fear
and sighing: "Ah! thank God, it was but a dream!"

    Chapter 9

These nightmares attacked him repeatedly. He was afraid to fall
asleep. For hours he remained stretched on his bed, now a prey to
feverish and agitated wakefulness, now in the grip of oppressive
dreams in which he tumbled down flights of stairs and felt himself
sinking, powerless, into abysmal depths.

His nervous attacks, which had abated for several days, became acute,
more violent and obstinate than ever, unearthing new tortures.

The bed covers tormented him. He stifled under the sheets, his body
smarted and tingled as though stung by swarms of insects. These
symptoms were augmented by a dull pain in his jaws and a throbbing in
his temples which seemed to be gripped in a vise.

His alarm increased; but unfortunately the means of subduing the
inexorable malady were not at hand. He had unsuccessfully sought to
install a hydropathic apparatus in his dressing room. But the
impossibility of forcing water to the height on which his house was
perched, and the difficulty of procuring water even in the village
where the fountains functioned sparingly and only at certain hours of
the day, caused him to renounce the project. Since he could not have
floods of water playing on him from the nozzle of a hose, (the only
efficacious means of overcoming his insomnia and calming his nerves
through its action on his spinal column) he was reduced to brief
sprays or to mere cold baths, followed by energetic massages applied
by his servant with the aid of a horse-hair glove.

But these measures failed to stem the march of his nervous disorder.
At best they afforded him a few hours' relief, dearly paid for by the
return of the attacks in an even more virulent form.

His ennui passed all bounds. His pleasure in the possession of his
wonderful flowers was exhausted. Their textures and nuances palled on
him. Besides, despite the care he lavished on them, most of his plants
drooped. He had them removed from his rooms, but in his state of
extreme excitability, their very absence exasperated him, for his eyes
were pained by the void.

To while away the interminable hours, he had recourse to his
portfolios of prints, and arranged his Goyas. The first impressions of
certain plates of the _Caprices_, recognizable as proofs by their
reddish hues, which he had bought at auction at a high price,
comforted him, and he lost himself in them, following the painter's
fantasies, distracted by his vertiginous scenes, his witches astride
on cats, his women striving to pluck out the teeth of a hanged man,
his bandits, his succubi, his demons and dwarfs.

Then he examined his other series of etchings and aquatints, his
_Proverbs_ with their macabre horror, his war subjects with their wild
rage, finally his plate of the Garot, of which he cherished a
marvelous trial proof, printed on heavy water-marked paper, unmounted.

Goya's savage verve and keenly fanciful talent delighted him, but the
universal admiration his works had won nevertheless estranged him
slightly. And for years he had refused to frame them for fear that the
first blundering fool who caught sight of them might deem it necessary
to fly into banal and facile raptures before them.

The same applied to his Rembrandts which he examined from time to
time, half secretly; and if it be true that the loveliest tune
imaginable becomes vulgar and insupportable as soon as the public
begins to hum it and the hurdy-gurdies make it their own, the work of
art which does not remain indifferent to the spurious artists, which
is not contested by fools, and which is not satisfied with awakening
the enthusiasm of the few, by this very fact becomes profaned, trite,
almost repulsive to the initiate.

This promiscuity in admiration, furthermore, was one of the greatest
sources of regret in his life. Incomprehensible successes had forever
spoiled for him many pictures and books once cherished and dear.
Approved by the mob, they began to reveal imperceptible defects to
him, and he rejected them, wondering meanwhile if his perceptions were
not growing blunted.

He closed his portfolios and, completely disconcerted, again plunged
into melancholy. To divert the current of his thoughts and cool his
brain, he sought books that would soothe him and turned to the
romances of Dickens, those charming novels which are so satisfying to
invalids and convalescents who might grow fatigued by works of a more
profound and vigorous nature.

But they produced an effect contrary to his expectations. These chaste
lovers, these protesting heroines garbed to the neck, loved among the
stars, confined themselves to lowered eyes and blushes, wept tears of
joy and clasped hands--an exaggeration of purity which threw him into
an opposite excess. By the law of contrast, he leaped from one extreme
to the other, let his imagination dwell on vibrant scenes between
human lovers, and mused on their sensual kisses and passionate

His mind wandered off from his book to worlds far removed from the
English prude: to wanton peccadilloes and salacious practices
condemned by the Church. He grew excited. The impotence of his mind
and body which he had supposed final, vanished. Solitude again acted
on his disordered nerves; he was once more obsessed, not by religion
itself, but by the acts and sins it forbids, by the subject of all its
obsecrations and threats. The carnal side, atrophied for months, which
had been stirred by the enervation of his pious readings, then brought
to a crisis by the English cant, came to the surface. His stimulated
senses carried him back to the past and he wallowed in memories of his
old sin.

He rose and pensively opened a little box of vermeil with a lid of

It was filled with violet bonbons. He took one up and pressed it
between his fingers, thinking of the strange properties of this
sugary, frosted sweetmeat. When his virility had been impaired, when
the thought of woman had roused in him no sharp regret or desire, he
had only to put one in his mouth, let it melt, and almost at once it
induced misty, languishing memories, infinitely tender.

These bonbons invented by Siraudin and bearing the ridiculous name of
"Perles des Pyrenees" were each a drop of sarcanthus perfume, a drop
of feminine essence crystallized in a morsel of sugar. They penetrated
the papillae of the tongue, recalling the very savor of voluptuous

Usually he smiled as he inhaled this love aroma, this shadow of a
caress which for a moment restored the delights of women he had once
adored. Today they were not merely suggestive, they no longer served
as a delicate hint of his distant riotous past. They were become
powerful, thrusting aside the veils, exposing before his eyes the
importunate, corporeal and brutal reality.

At the head of the procession of mistresses whom the fragrance of the
bonbons helped to place in bold relief, one paused, displaying long
white teeth, a satiny rose skin, a snub nose, mouse-colored eyes, and
close-cropped blond hair.

This was Miss Urania, an American, with a vigorous body, sinewy limbs,
muscles of steel and arms of iron.

She had been one of the most celebrated acrobats of the Circus.

Des Esseintes had watched her attentively through many long evenings.
At first, she had seemed to him what she really was, a strong and
beautiful woman, but the desire to know her never troubled him. She
possessed nothing to recommend her in the eyes of a blase man, and yet
he returned to the Circus, allured by he knew not what, importuned by
a sentiment difficult to define.

Gradually, as he watched her, a fantastic idea seized him. Her
graceful antics and arch feminine ways receded to the background of
his mind, replaced by her power and strength which had for him all the
charm of masculinity. Compared with her, Des Esseintes seemed to
himself a frail, effeminate creature, and he began to desire her as
ardently as an anaemic young girl might desire some loutish Hercules
whose arms could crush her in a strong embrace.

One evening he finally decided to communicate with her and dispatched
one of the attendants on this errand. Miss Urania deemed it necessary
not to yield before a preliminary courtship; but she showed herself
amenable, as it was common gossip that Des Esseintes was rich and that
his name was instrumental in establishing women.

But as soon as his wishes were granted, his disappointment surpassed
any he had yet experienced. He had persuaded himself that the American
woman would be as bestial and stupid as a wrestler at a county fair,
and instead her stupidity was of an altogether feminine nature.
Certainly, she lacked education and tact, had neither good sense nor
wit, and displayed an animal voracity at table, but she possessed all
the childish traits of a woman. Her manner and speech were coquettish
and affected, those of a silly, scandal-loving young girl. There was
absolutely nothing masculine about her.

Furthermore, she was withdrawn and puritanical in her embraces,
displaying none of the brute force he had dreaded yet longed for, and
she was subject to none of the perturbations of his sex.

Des Esseintes inevitably returned to the masculine role he had
momentarily abandoned.

His impression of femininity, weakness, need of protection, of fear
even, disappeared. The illusion was no longer possible! Miss Urania
was an ordinary mistress, in no wise justifying the cerebral curiosity
she had at first awakened in him.

Although the charm of her firm skin and magnificent beauty had at
first astonished and captivated Des Esseintes, he lost no time in
terminating this liaison, for his impotence was prematurely hastened
by the frozen and prudish caresses of this woman.

And yet she was the first of all the women he had loved, now flitting
through his revery, to stand out. But if she was more strongly
imprinted on his memory than a host of others whose allurements had
been less spurious and more seductive, the reason must be ascribed to
her healthy animalism, to her exuberance which contrasted so
strikingly with the perfumed anaemia of the others, a faint suggestion
of which he found in the delicate Siraudin bonbon.

Miss Urania haunted him by reason of her very difference, but almost
instantly, offended by the intrusion of this natural, crude aroma, the
antithesis of the scented confection, Des Esseintes returned to more
civilized exhalations and his thoughts reverted to his other
mistresses. They pressed upon him in a throng; but above them all rose
a woman whose startling talents had satisfied him for months.

She was a little, slender brunette, with black eyes and burnished hair
parted on one side and sleeked down over her head. He had known her in
a cafe where she gave ventriloqual performances.

Before the amazed patrons, she caused her tiny cardboard figures,
placed near each other on chairs, to talk; she conversed with the
animated mannikins while flies buzzed around the chandeliers. Then one
heard the rustling of the tense audience, surprised to find itself
seated and instinctively recoiling when they heard the rumbling of
imaginary carriages.

Des Esseintes had been fascinated. He lost no time in winning over the
ventriloquist, tempting her with large sums of money. She delighted
him by the very contrast she exhibited to the American woman. This
brunette used strong perfumes and burned like a crater. Despite all
her blandishments, Des Esseintes wearied of her in a few short hours.
But this did not prevent him from letting himself be fleeced, for the
phenomenon of the ventriloquist attracted him more than did the charms
of the mistress.

Certain plans he had long pondered upon ripened, and he decided to
bring them to fruition.

One evening he ordered a tiny sphinx brought in--a sphinx carved from
black marble and resting in the classic pose with outstretched paws
and erect head. He also purchased a chimera of polychrome clay; it
brandished its mane of hair, and its sides resembled a pair of
bellows. These two images he placed in a corner of the room. Then he
extinguished the lamps, permitting the glowing embers to throw a dim
light around the room and to magnify the objects which were almost
immersed in gloom.

Then he stretched out on a couch beside the woman whose motionless
figure was touched by the ember gleams, and waited.

With strange intonations that he had long and patiently taught her,
she animated the two monsters; she did not even move her lips, she did
not even glance in their direction.

And in the silence followed the marvelous dialogue of the Chimera and
the Sphinx; it was recited in deep guttural tones which were at first
raucous, then turned shrill and unearthly.

"Here, Chimera, pause!"


Lulled by the admirable prose of Flaubert, he listened; he panted and
shivering sensations raced through his frame, when the Chimera uttered
the magical and solemn phrase:

"New perfumes I seek, stranger flowers I seek, pleasures not yet

Ah! it was to him that this voice, mysterious as an incantation,
spoke; it was to him that this voice recounted her feverish agitation
for the unknown, her insatiable ideals, her imperative need to escape
from the horrible reality of existence, to leap beyond the confines of
thought, to grope towards the mists of elusive, unattainable art. The
poignant tragedy of his past failures rent his heart. Gently he
clasped the silent woman at his side, he sought refuge in her
nearness, like a child who is inconsolable; he was blind to the
sulkiness of the comedienne obliged to perform off-scene, in her
leisure moments, far from the spotlight.

Their liaison continued, but his spells of exhaustion soon became
acute. His brain no longer sufficed to stimulate his benumbed body. No
longer did his nerves obey his will; and now the crazy whims of
dotards dominated him. Terrified by the approach of a disastrous
weakness in the presence of his mistress, he resorted to fear--that
oldest, most efficacious of excitants.

A hoarse voice from behind the door would exclaim, while he held the
woman in his arms: "Open the door, woman, I know you're in there, and
with whom. Just wait, wait!" Instantly, like a libertine stirred by
fear of discovery in the open, he recovered his strength and hurled
himself madly upon the ventriloquist whose voice continued to bluster
outside the room. In this wise he experienced the pleasures of a
panic-stricken person.

But this state, unfortunately, did not last long, and despite the sums
he paid her, the ventriloquist parted to offer herself to someone less
exigent and less complex.

He had regretted her defection, and now, recalling her, the other
women seemed insipid, their childish graces and monotonous coquetry
disgusting him.

In the ferment of his disordered brain, he delighted in mingling with
these recollections of his past, other more gloomy pleasures, as
theology qualifies the evocation of past, disgraceful acts. With the
physical visions he mingled spiritual ardors brought into play and
motivated by his old readings of the casuists, of the Busembaums and
the Dianas, of the Liguoris and the Sanchezes, treating of
transgressions against the sixth and ninth commandments of the

In awakening an almost divine ideal in this soul steeped in her
precepts--a soul possibly predisposed to the teachings of the Church
through hereditary influences dating back from the reign of Henry III,
religion had also stirred the illegitimate, forbidden enjoyment of the
senses. Licentious and mystical obsessions haunted his brain, they
mingled confusedly, and he would often be troubled by an unappeasable
desire to shun the vulgarities of the world and to plunge, far from
the customs and modes held in such reverence, into convulsions and
raptures which were holy or infernal and which, in either case, proved
too exhausting and enervating.

He would arise prostrate from such reveries, fatigued and all but
lifeless. He would light the lamps and candles so as to flood the room
with light, for he hoped that by so doing he might possibly diminish
the intolerably persistent and dull throbbing of his arteries which
beat under his neck with redoubled strokes.

    Chapter 10

During the course of this malady which attacks impoverished races,
sudden calms succeed an attack. Strangely enough, Des Esseintes awoke
one morning recovered; no longer was he tormented by the throbbing of
his neck or by his racking cough. Instead, he had an ineffable
sensation of contentment, a lightness of mind in which thought was
sparklingly clear, turning from a turbid, opaque, green color to a
liquid iridescence magical with tender rainbow tints.

This lasted several days. Then hallucinations of odor suddenly

His room was aromatic with the fragrance of frangipane; he tried to
ascertain if a bottle were not uncorked--no! not a bottle was to be
found in the room, and he passed into his study and thence to the
kitchen. Still the odor persisted.

Des Esseintes rang for his servant and asked if he smelled anything.
The domestic sniffed the air and declared he could not detect any
perfume. There was no doubt about it: his nervous attacks had returned
again, under the appearance of a new illusion of the senses.

Fatigued by the tenacity of this imaginary aroma, he resolved to steep
himself in real perfumes, hoping that this homeopathic treatment would
cure him or would at least drown the persistent odor.

He betook himself to his dressing room. There, near an old baptistery
which he used as a wash basin, under a long mirror of forged iron,
which, like the edge of a well silvered by the moon, confined the
green dull surface of the mirror, were bottles of every conceivable
size and form, placed on ivory shelves.

He set them on the table and divided them into two series: one of the
simple perfumes, pure extracts or spirits, the other of compound
perfumes, designated under the generic term of bouquets.

He sank into an easy chair and meditated.

He had long been skilled in the science of smell. He believed that
this sense could give one delights equal to those of hearing and
sight; each sense being susceptible, if naturally keen and if properly
cultivated, to new impressions, which it could intensify, coordinate
and compose into that unity which constitutes a creative work. And it
was not more abnormal and unnatural that an art should be called into
existence by disengaging odors than that another art should be evoked
by detaching sound waves or by striking the eye with diversely colored
rays. But if no person could discern, without intuition developed by
study, a painting by a master from a daub, a melody of Beethoven from
one by Clapisson, no more could any one at first, without preliminary
initiation, help confusing a bouquet invented by a sincere artist with
a pot pourri made by some manufacturer to be sold in groceries and

In this art, the branch devoted to achieving certain effects by
artificial methods particularly delighted him.

Perfumes, in fact, rarely come from the flowers whose names they bear.
The artist who dared to borrow nature's elements would only produce a
bastard work which would have neither authenticity nor style, inasmuch
as the essence obtained by the distillation of flowers would bear but
a distant and vulgar relation to the odor of the living flower,
wafting its fragrance into the air.

Thus, with the exception of the inimitable jasmine which it is
impossible to counterfeit, all flowers are perfectly represented by
the blend of aromatic spirits, stealing the very personality of the
model, and to it adding that nuance the more, that heady scent, that
rare touch which entitled a thing to be called a work of art.

To resume, in the science of perfumery, the artist develops the
natural odor of the flowers, working over his subject like a jeweler
refining the lustre of a gem and making it precious.

Little by little, the arcana of this art, most neglected of all, was
revealed to Des Esseintes who could now read this language, as
diversified and insinuating as that of literature, this style with its
unexpected concision under its vague flowing appearance.

To achieve this end he had first been compelled to master the grammar
and understand the syntax of odors, learning the secret of the rules
that regulate them, and, once familiarized with the dialect, he
compared the works of the masters, of the Atkinsons and Lubins, the
Chardins and Violets, the Legrands and Piesses; then he separated the
construction of their phrases, weighed the value of their words and
the arrangement of their periods.

Later on, in this idiom of fluids, experience was able to support
theories too often incomplete and banal.

Classic perfumery, in fact, was scarcely diversified, almost colorless
and uniformly issuing from the mold cast by the ancient chemists. It
was in its dotage, confined to its old alambics, when the romantic
period was born and had modified the old style, rejuvenating it,
making it more supple and malleable.

Step by step, its history followed that of our language. The perfumed
Louis XIII style, composed of elements highly prized at that time, of
iris powder, musk, chive and myrtle water already designated under the
name of "water of the angels," was hardly sufficient to express the
cavalier graces, the rather crude tones of the period which certain
sonnets of Saint-Amand have preserved for us. Later, with myrrh and
olibanum, the mystic odors, austere and powerful, the pompous gesture
of the great period, the redundant artifices of oratorial art, the
full, sustained harmonious style of Bossuet and the masters of the
pulpit were almost possible. Still later, the sophisticated, rather
bored graces of French society under Louis XV, more easily found their
interpretation in the almond which in a manner summed up this epoch;
then, after the ennui and jadedness of the first empire, which misused
Eau de Cologne and rosemary, perfumery rushed, in the wake of Victor
Hugo and Gautier, towards the Levant. It created oriental
combinations, vivid Eastern nosegays, discovered new intonations,
antitheses which until then had been unattempted, selected and made
use of antique nuances which it complicated, refined and assorted. It
resolutely rejected that voluntary decrepitude to which it had been
reduced by the Malesherbes, the Boileaus, the Andrieuxes and the
Baour-Lormians, wretched distillers of their own poems.

But this language had not remained stationery since the period of
1830. It had continued to evolve and, patterning itself on the
progress of the century, had advanced parallel with the other arts.
It, too, had yielded to the desires of amateurs and artists, receiving
its inspiration from the Chinese and Japanese, conceiving fragrant
albums, imitating the _Takeoka_ bouquets of flowers, obtaining the
odor of _Rondeletia_ from the blend of lavender and clove; the
peculiar aroma of Chinese ink from the marriage of patchouli and
camphor; the emanation of Japanese _Hovenia_ by compounds of citron,
clove and neroli.

Des Esseintes studied and analyzed the essences of these fluids,
experimenting to corroborate their texts. He took pleasure in playing
the role of a psychologist for his personal satisfaction, in taking
apart and re-assembling the machinery of a work, in separating the
pieces forming the structure of a compound exhalation, and his sense
of smell had thereby attained a sureness that was all but perfect.

Just as a wine merchant has only to smell a drop of wine to recognize
the grape, as a hop dealer determines the exact value of hops by
sniffing a bag, as a Chinese trader can immediately tell the origin of
the teas he smells, knowing in what farms of what mountains, in what
Buddhistic convents it was cultivated, the very time when its leaves
were gathered, the state and the degree of torrefaction, the effect
upon it of its proximity to the plum-tree and other flowers, to all
those perfumes which change its essence, adding to it an unexpected
touch and introducing into its dryish flavor a hint of distant fresh
flowers; just so could Des Esseintes, by inhaling a dash of perfume,
instantly explain its mixture and the psychology of its blend, and
could almost give the name of the artist who had composed and given it
the personal mark of his individual style.

Naturally he had a collection of all the products used by perfumers.
He even had the real Mecca balm, that rare balm cultivated only in
certain parts of Arabia Petraea and under the monopoly of the ruler.

Now, seated in his dressing room in front of his table, he thought of
creating a new bouquet; and he was overcome by that moment of wavering
confidence familiar to writers when, after months of inaction, they
prepare for a new work.

Like Balzac who was wont to scribble on many sheets of paper so as to
put himself in a mood for work, Des Esseintes felt the necessity of
steadying his hand by several initial and unimportant experiments.
Desiring to create heliotrope, he took down bottles of vanilla and
almond, then changed his idea and decided to experiment with sweet

He groped for a long time, unable to effect the proper combinations,
for orange is dominant in the fragrance of this flower. He attempted
several combinations and ended in achieving the exact blend by joining
tuberose and rose to orange, the whole united by a drop of vanilla.

His hesitation disappeared. He felt alert and ready for work; now he
made some tea by blending cassie with iris, then, sure of his
technique, he decided to proceed with a fulminating phrase whose
thunderous roar would annihilate the insidious odor of almond still
hovering over his room.

He worked with amber and with Tonkin musk, marvelously powerful; with
patchouli, the most poignant of vegetable perfumes whose flower, in
its habitat, wafts an odor of mildew. Try what he would, the
eighteenth century obsessed him; the panier robes and furbelows
appeared before his eyes; memories of Boucher's _Venus_ haunted him;
recollections of Themidor's romance, of the exquisite Rosette pursued
him. Furious, he rose and to rid himself of the obsession, with all
his strength he inhaled that pure essence of spikenard, so dear to
Orientals and so repulsive to Europeans because of its pronounced odor
of valerian. He was stunned by the violence of the shock. As though
pounded by hammer strokes, the filigranes of the delicate odor
disappeared; he profited by the period of respite to escape the dead
centuries, the antiquated fumes, and to enter, as he formerly had
done, less limited or more recent works.

He had of old loved to lull himself with perfumes. He used effects
analogous to those of the poets, and employed the admirable order of
certain pieces of Baudelaire, such as _Irreparable_ and _le Balcon_,
where the last of the five lines composing the strophe is the echo of
the first verse and returns, like a refrain, to steep the soul in
infinite depths of melancholy and languor.

He strayed into reveries evoked by those aromatic stanzas, suddenly
brought to his point of departure, to the motive of his meditation, by
the return of the initial theme, reappearing, at stated intervals, in
the fragrant orchestration of the poem.

He actually wished to saunter through an astonishing, diversified
landscape, and he began with a sonorous, ample phrase that suddenly
opened a long vista of fields for him.

With his vaporizers, he injected an essence formed of ambrosia,
lavender and sweet peas into this room; this formed an essence which,
when distilled by an artist, deserves the name by which it is known:
"extract of wild grass"; into this he introduced an exact blend of
tuberose, orange flower and almond, and forthwith artificial lilacs
sprang into being, while the linden-trees rustled, their thin
emanations, imitated by extract of London tilia, drooping earthward.

Into this _decor_, arranged with a few broad lines, receding as far as
the eye could reach, under his closed lids, he introduced a light rain
of human and half feline essences, possessing the aroma of petticoats,
breathing of the powdered, painted woman, the stephanotis, ayapana,
opopanax, champaka, sarcanthus and cypress wine, to which he added a
dash of syringa, in order to give to the artificial life of paints
which they exhaled, a suggestion of natural dewy laughter and
pleasures enjoyed in the open air.

Then, through a ventilator, he permitted these fragrant waves to
escape, only preserving the field which he renewed, compelling it to
return in his strophes like a ritornello.

The women had gradually disappeared. Now the plain had grown solitary.
Suddenly, on the enchanted horizon, factories appeared whose tall
chimneys flared like bowls of punch.

The odor of factories and of chemical products now passed with the
breeze which was simulated by means of fans; nature exhaled its sweet
effluvia amid this putrescence.

Des Esseintes warmed a pellet of storax, and a singular odor, at once
repugnant and exquisite, pervaded the room. It partook of the
delicious fragrance of jonquil and of the stench of gutta percha and
coal oil. He disinfected his hands, inserted his resin in a
hermetically sealed box, and the factories disappeared.

Then, among the revived vapors of the lindens and meadow grass, he
threw several drops of new mown hay, and, amid this magic site for the
moment despoiled of its lilacs, sheaves of hay were piled up,
introducing a new season and scattering their fine effluence into
these summer odors.

At last, when he had sufficiently enjoyed this sight, he suddenly
scattered the exotic perfumes, emptied his vaporizers, threw in his
concentrated spirits, poured his balms, and, in the exasperated and
stifling heat of the room there rose a crazy sublimated nature, a
paradoxical nature which was neither genuine nor charming, reuniting
the tropical spices and the peppery breath of Chinese sandal wood and
Jamaica hediosmia with the French odors of jasmine, hawthorn and
verbena. Regardless of seasons and climates he forced trees of diverse
essences into life, and flowers with conflicting fragrances and
colors. By the clash of these tones he created a general, nondescript,
unexpected, strange perfume in which reappeared, like an obstinate
refrain, the decorative phrase of the beginning, the odor of the
meadows fanned by the lilacs and lindens.

Suddenly a poignant pain seized him; he felt as though wimbles were
drilling into his temples. Opening his eyes he found himself in his
dressing room, seated in front of his table. Stupefied, he painfully
walked across the room to the window which he half opened. A puff of
wind dispelled the stifling atmosphere which was enveloping him. To
exercise his limbs, he walked up and down gazing at the ceiling where
crabs and sea-wrack stood out in relief against a background as light
in color as the sands of the seashore. A similar _decor_ covered the
plinths and bordered the partitions which were covered with Japanese
sea-green crepe, slightly wrinkled, imitating a river rippled by the
wind. In this light current swam a rose petal, around which circled a
school of tiny fish painted with two strokes of the brush.

But his eyelids remained heavy. He ceased to pace about the short
space between the baptistery and the bath; he leaned against the
window. His dizziness ended. He carefully stopped up the vials, and
used the occasion to arrange his cosmetics. Since his arrival at
Fontenay he had not touched them; and now was quite astonished to
behold once more this collection formerly visited by so many women.
The flasks and jars were lying heaped up against each other. Here, a
porcelain box contained a marvelous white cream which, when applied on
the cheeks, turns to a tender rose color, under the action of the
air--to such a true flesh-color that it procures the very illusion of
a skin touched with blood; there, lacquer objects incrusted with
mother of pearl enclosed Japanese gold and Athenian green, the color
of the cantharis wing, gold and green which change to deep purple when
wetted; there were jars filled with filbert paste, the serkis of the
harem, emulsions of lilies, lotions of strawberry water and elders for
the complexion, and tiny bottles filled with solutions of Chinese ink
and rose water for the eyes. There were tweezers, scissors, rouge and
powder-puffs, files and beauty patches.

He handled this collection, formerly bought to please a mistress who
swooned under the influence of certain aromatics and balms,--a
nervous, unbalanced woman who loved to steep the nipples of her
breasts in perfumes, but who never really experienced a delicious and
overwhelming ecstacy save when her head was scraped with a comb or
when she could inhale, amid caresses, the odor of perspiration, or the
plaster of unfinished houses on rainy days, or of dust splashed by
huge drops of rain during summer storms.

He mused over these memories, and one afternoon spent at Pantin
through idleness and curiosity, in company with this woman at the home
of one of her sisters, returned to him, stirring in him a forgotten
world of old ideas and perfumes; while the two women prattled and
displayed their gowns, he had drawn near the window and had seen,
through the dusty panes, the muddy street sprawling before him, and
had heard the repeated sounds of galoches over the puddles of the

This scene, already far removed, came to him suddenly, strangely and
vividly. Pantin was there before him, animated and throbbing in this
greenish and dull mirror into which his unseeing eyes plunged. A
hallucination transported him far from Fontenay. Beside reflecting the
street, the mirror brought back thoughts it had once been instrumental
in evoking, and plunged in revery, he repeated to himself this
ingenious, sad and comforting composition he had formerly written upon
returning to Paris:

"Yes, the season of downpours is come. Now behold water-spouts
vomiting as they rush over the pavements, and rubbish marinates in
puddles that fill the holes scooped out of the macadam.

"Under a lowering sky, in the damp air, the walls of houses have black
perspiration and their air-holes are fetid; the loathsomeness of
existence increases and melancholy overwhelms one; the seeds of
vileness which each person harbors in his soul, sprout. The craving
for vile debaucheries seizes austere people and base desires grow
rampant in the brains of respectable men.

"And yet I warm myself, here before a cheerful fire. From a basket of
blossoming flowers comes the aroma of balsamic benzoin, geranium and
the whorl-flowered bent-grass which permeates the room. In the very
month of November, at Pantin, in the rue de Paris, springtime
persists. Here in my solitude I laugh at the fears of families which,
to shun the approaching cold weather, escape on every steamer to
Cannes and to other winter resorts.

"Inclement nature does nothing to contribute to this extraordinary
phenomenon. It must be said that his artificial season at Pantin is
the result of man's ingenuity.

"In fact, these flowers are made of taffeta and are mounted on wire.
The springtime odor filters through the window joints, exhaled from
the neighboring factories, from the perfumeries of Pinaud and Saint

"For the workmen exhausted by the hard labors of the plants, for the
young employes who too often are fathers, the illusion of a little
healthy air is possible, thanks to these manufacturers.

"So, from this fabulous subterfuge of a country can an intelligent
cure arise. The consumptive men about town who are sent to the South
die, their end due to the change in their habits and to the nostalgia
for the Parisian excesses which destroyed them. Here, under an
artificial climate, libertine memories will reappear, the languishing
feminine emanations evaporated by the factories. Instead of the deadly
ennui of provincial life, the doctor can thus platonically substitute
for his patient the atmosphere of the Parisian women and of boudoirs.
Most often, all that is necessary to effect the cure is for the
subject to have a somewhat fertile imagination.

"Since, nowadays, nothing genuine exists, since the wine one drinks
and the liberty one boldly proclaims are laughable and a sham, since
it really needs a healthy dose of good will to believe that the
governing classes are respectable and that the lower classes are
worthy of being assisted or pitied, it seems to me," concluded Des
Esseintes, "to be neither ridiculous nor senseless, to ask of my
fellow men a quantity of illusion barely equivalent to what they spend
daily in idiotic ends, so as to be able to convince themselves that
the town of Pantin is an artificial Nice or a Menton.

"But all this does not prevent me from seeing," he said, forced by
weakness from his meditations, "that I must be careful to mistrust
these delicious and abominable practices which may ruin my
constitution." He sighed. "Well, well, more pleasures to moderate,
more precautions to be taken."

And he passed into his study, hoping the more easily to escape the
spell of these perfumes.

He opened the window wide, glad to be able to breath the air. But it
suddenly seemed to him that the breeze brought in a vague tide of
bergamot with which jasmine and rose water were blent. Agitated, he
asked himself whether he was not really under the yoke of one of those
possessions exercised in the Middle Ages. The odor changed and was
transformed, but it persisted. A faint scent of tincture of tolu, of
balm of Peru and of saffron, united by several drams of amber and
musk, now issued from the sleeping village and suddenly, the
metamorphosis was effected, those scattered elements were blent, and
once more the frangipane spread from the valley of Fontenay as far as
the fort, assailing his exhausted nostrils, once more shattering his
helpless nerves and throwing him into such a prostration that he fell
unconscious on the window sill.

    Chapter 11

The servants were seized with alarm and lost no time in calling the
Fontenay physician who was completely at sea about Des Esseintes'
condition. He mumbled a few medical terms, felt his pulse, examined
the invalid's tongue, unsuccessfully sought to make him speak,
prescribed sedatives and rest, promised to return on the morrow and,
at the negative sign made by Des Esseintes who recovered enough
strength to chide the zeal of his servants and to bid farewell to this
intruder, he departed and was soon retailing through the village the
eccentricities of this house whose decorations had positively amazed
him and held him rooted to the spot.

To the great astonishment of the domestics, who no longer dared stir
from the servants' quarters, their master recovered in a few days, and
they surprised him drumming against the window panes, gazing at the
sky with a troubled look.

One afternoon the bells were peremptorily rung and Des Esseintes
commanded his trunks to be packed for a long voyage.

While the man and the woman were choosing, under his guidance, the
necessary equipment, he feverishly paced up and down the cabin of the
dining room, consulted the timetables of the steamers, walked through
his study where he continued to gaze at the clouds with an air at once
impatient and satisfied.

For a whole week, the weather had been atrocious. Streams of soot
raced unceasing across the grey fields of the sky-masses of clouds
like rocks torn from the earth.

At intervals, showers swept downward, engulfing the valley with
torrents of rain.

Today, the appearance of the heavens had changed. The rivers of ink
had evaporated and vanished, and the harsh contours of the clouds had
softened. The sky was uniformly flat and covered with a brackish film.
Little by little, this film seemed to drop, and a watery haze covered
the country side. The rain no longer fell in cataracts as on the
preceding evening; instead, it fell incessantly, fine, sharp and
penetrating; it inundated the walks, covered the roads with its
innumerable threads which joined heaven and earth. The livid sky threw
a wan leaden light on the village which was now transformed into a
lake of mud pricked by needles of water that dotted the puddles with
drops of bright silver. In this desolation of nature, everything was
gray, and only the housetops gleamed against the dead tones of the

"What weather!" sighed the aged domestic, placing on a chair the
clothes which his master had requested of him--an outfit formerly
ordered from London.

Des Esseintes' sole response was to rub his hands and to sit down in
front of a book-case with glass doors. He examined the socks which had
been placed nearby for his inspection. For a moment he hesitated on
the color; then he quickly studied the melancholy day and earnestly
bethought himself of the effect he desired. He chose a pair the color
of feuillemort, quickly slipped them on, put on a pair of buttoned
shoes, donned the mouse grey suit which was checquered with a lava
gray and dotted with black, placed a small hunting cap on his head and
threw a blue raincoat over him. He reached the railway station,
followed by the servant who almost bent under the weight of a trunk, a
valise, a carpet bag, a hat box and a traveling rug containing
umbrellas and canes. He informed his servant that the date of his
return was problematical, that he might return in a year, in a month,
in a week, or even sooner, and enjoined him to change nothing in the
house. He gave a sum of money which he thought would be necessary for
the upkeep of the house during his absence, and climbed into the
coach, leaving the old man astounded, arms waving and mouth gaping,
behind the rail, while the train got under way.

He was alone in his compartment; a vague and dirty country side, such
as one sees through an aquarium of troubled water, receded rapidly
behind the train which was lashed by the rain. Plunged in his
meditations, Des Esseintes closed his eyes.

Once more, this so ardently desired and finally attained solitude had
ended in a fearful distress. This silence which formerly would have
appeared as a compensation for the stupidities heard for years, now
weighed on him with an unendurable burden. One morning he had
awakened, as uneasy as a prisoner in his cell; his lips had sought to
articulate sounds, tears had welled to his eyes and he had found it
impossible to breathe, suffocating like a person who had sobbed for

Seized with a desire to walk, to behold a human figure, to speak to
someone, to mingle with life, he had proceeded to call his domestics,
employing a specious pretext; but conversation with them was
impossible. Besides the fact that these old people, bowed down by
years of silence and the customs of attendants, were almost dumb, the
distance at which Des Esseintes had always kept them was hardly
conducive to inducing them to open their mouths now. Too, they
possessed dull brains and were incapable of answering his questions
other than by monosyllables.

It was impossible, therefore, to find any solace in their society; but
a new phenomenon now occurred. The reading of the novels of Dickens,
which he had lately undertaken to soothe his nerves and which had only
produced effects the opposite of those hoped for, began slowly to act
in an unexpected manner, bringing on visions of English existence on
which he mused for hours; little by little, in these fictive
contemplations, ideas insinuated themselves, ideas of the voyage
brought to an end, of verified dreams on which was imposed the desire
to experience new impressions, and thus escape the exhausting cerebral
debauches intent upon beating in the void.

With its mist and rain, this abominable weather aided his thoughts
still more, by reinforcing the memories of his readings, by placing
under his eyes the unfading image of a land of fog and mud, and by
refusing to let his ideas wander idly.

One day, able to endure it no longer, he had instantly decided. Such
was his haste that he even took flight before the designated time, for
he wished to shun the present moment, wished to find himself jostled
and shouldered in the hubbub of crowded streets and railway stations.

"I breathe!" he exclaimed when the train moderated its waltz and
stopped in the Sceaux station rotunda, panting while its wheels
performed its last pirouettes.

Once in the boulevard d'Enfer, he hailed a coachman. In some strange
manner he extracted a pleasure from the fact that he was so hampered
with trunks and rugs. By promising a substantial tip, he reached an
understanding with the man of the brown trousers and red waistcoat.

"At once!" he commanded. "And when you reach the rue de Rivoli, stop
in front of _Galignani's Messenger_." Before departing, he desired to
buy a Baedeker or Murray guide of London.

The carriage got under way heavily, raising rings of mud around its
wheels and moving through marsh-like ground. Beneath the gray sky
which seemed suspended over the house tops, water gushed down the
thick sides of the high walls, spouts overflowed, and the streets were
coated with a slimy dirt in which passersby slipped. Thickset men
paused on sidewalks bespattered by passing omnibuses, and women, their
skirts tucked up to the knees, bent under umbrellas, flattened
themselves against the shops to avoid being splashed.

The rain entered diagonally through the carriage doors. Des Esseintes
was obliged to lift the carriage windows down which the water ran,
while drops of mud furrowed their way like fireworks on each side of
the _fiacre_. To the monotonous sound of sacks of peas shaking against
his head through the action of the showers pattering against the
trunks and on the carriage rug, Des Esseintes dreamed of his voyage.
This already was a partial realization of his England, enjoyed in
Paris through the means of this frightful weather: a rainy, colossal
London smelling of molten metal and of soot, ceaselessly steaming and
smoking in the fog now spread out before his eyes; then rows of docks
sprawled ahead, as far as the eye could reach, docks full of cranes,
hand winches and bales, swarming with men perched on masts or astride
yard sails, while myriads of other men on the quays pushed hogsheads
into cellars.

All this was transpiring in vast warehouses along the river banks
which were bathed by the muddy and dull water of an imaginary Thames,
in a forest of masts and girders piercing the wan clouds of the
firmament, while trains rushed past at full speed or rumpled
underground uttering horrible cries and vomiting waves of smoke, and
while, through every street, monstrous and gaudy and infamous
advertisements flared through the eternal twilight, and strings of
carriages passed between rows of preoccupied and taciturn people whose
eyes stared ahead and whose elbows pressed closely against their

Des Esseintes shivered deliciously to feel himself mingling in this
terrible world of merchants, in this insulating mist, in this
incessant activity, in this pitiless gearing which ground millions of
the disinherited, urged by the comfort-distilling philanthropists to
recite Biblical verses and to sing psalms.

Then the vision faded suddenly with a jolt of the _fiacre_ which made
him rebound in his seat. He gazed through the carriage windows. Night
had fallen; gas burners blinked through the fog, amid a yellowish
halo; ribbons of fire swam in puddles of water and seemed to revolve
around wheels of carriages moving through liquid and dirty flame. He
endeavored to get his bearings, perceived the Carrousel and suddenly,
unreasoningly, perhaps through the simple effect of the high fall from
fanciful spaces, his thought reverted to a very trivial incident. He
remembered that his domestic had neglected to put a tooth brush in his
belongings. Then, he passed in review the list of objects packed up;
everything had been placed in his valise, but the annoyance of having
omitted this brush persisted until the driver, pulling up, broke the
chain of his reminiscences and regrets.

He was in the rue de Rivoli, in front of _Galignani's Messenger_.
Separated by a door whose unpolished glass was covered with
inscriptions and with strips of passe-partout framing newspaper
clippings and telegrams, were two vast shop windows crammed with
albums and books. He drew near, attracted by the sight of these books
bound in parrot-blue and cabbage-green paper, embossed with silver and
golden letterings. All this had an anti-Parisian touch, a mercantile
appearance, more brutal and yet less wretched than those worthless
bindings of French books; here and there, in the midst of the opened
albums, reproducing humorous scenes from Du Maurier and John Leech, or
the delirious cavalcades of Caldecott, some French novels appeared,
blending placid and satisfied vulgarities to these rich verjuice hues.
He tore himself away from his contemplation, opened the door and
entered a large library which was full of people. Seated strangers
unfolded maps and jabbered in strange languages. A clerk brought him a
complete collection of guides. He, in turns, sat down to examine the
books with their flexible covers. He glanced through them and paused
at a page of the Baedeker describing the London museums. He became
interested in the laconic and exact details of the guide books, but
his attention wandered away from the old English paintings to the
moderns which attracted him much more. He recalled certain works he
had seen at international expositions, and imagined that he might
possibly behold them once more at London: pictures by Millais--the
_Eve of Saint Agnes_ with its lunar clear green; pictures by Watts,
strange in color, checquered with gamboge and indigo, pictures
sketched by a sick Gustave Moreau, painted by an anaemic Michael
Angelo and retouched by a Raphael submerged in blue. Among other
canvasses, he recalled a _Denunciation of Cain_, an _Ida_, some _Eves_
where, in the strange and mysterious mixture of these three masters,
rose the personality, at once refined and crude, of a learned and
dreamy Englishman tormented by the bewitchment of cruel tones.

These canvasses thronged through his memory. The clerk, astonished by
this client who was so lost to the world, asked him which of the
guides he would take. Des Esseintes remained dumbfounded, then excused
himself, bought a Baedeker and departed. The dampness froze him to the
spot; the wind blew from the side, lashing the arcades with whips of
rain. "Proceed to that place," he said to the driver, pointing with
his finger to the end of a passage where a store formed the angle of
the rue de Rivoli and the rue Castiglione and, with its whitish panes
of glass illumed from within, resembled a vast night lamp burning
through the wretchedness of this mist, in the misery of this crazy

It was the _Bodega_. Des Esseintes strayed into a large room sustained
by iron pillars and lined, on each side of its walls, with tall
barrels placed on their ends upon gantries, hooped with iron, their
paunches with wooden loopholes imitating a rack of pipes and from
whose notches hung tulip-shaped glasses, upside down. The lower sides
were bored and hafted with stone cocks. These hogsheads painted with a
royal coat of arms displayed the names of their drinks, the contents,
and the prices on colored labels and stated that they were to be
purchased by the cask, by the bottle or by the glass.

In the passage between these rows of casks, under the gas jets which
flared at one end of an ugly iron-gray chandelier, tables covered with
baskets of Palmers biscuits, hard and salty cakes, plates piled with
mince pies and sandwiches concealing strong, mustardy concoctions
under their unsavory covers, succeeded each other between a row of
seats and as far as the end of this cellar which was lined with still
more hogsheads carrying tiny barrels on their tops, resting on their
sides and bearing their names stamped with hot metal into the oak.

An odor of alcohol assailed Des Esseintes upon taking a seat in this
room heavy with strong wines. He looked about him. Here, the tuns were
placed in a straight line, exhibiting the whole series of ports, the
sweet or sour wines the color of mahogany or amaranth, and
distinguished by such laudatory epithets as _old port_, _light
delicate_, _Cockburn's very fine_, _magnificent old Regina_. There,
protruding formidable abdomens pressed closely against each other,
huge casks contained the martial Spanish wines, sherry and its
derivatives, the _san lucar_, _pasto_, _pale dry_, _oloroso_ and

The cellar was filled with people. Leaning on his elbows on a corner
of the table, Des Esseintes sat waiting for his glass of port ordered
of a gentleman who was opening explosive sodas contained in oval
bottles which recalled, while exaggerating, the capsules of gelatine
and gluten used by pharmacies to conceal the taste of certain

Englishmen were everywhere,--awkward pale clergymen garbed in black
from head to foot, with soft hats, laced shoes, very long coats dotted
in the front with tiny buttons, clean-shaved chins, round spectacles,
greasy flat hair; faces of tripe dealers and mastiff snouts with
apoplectic necks, ears like tomatoes, vinous cheeks, blood-shot crazy
eyes, whiskers that looked like those of some big monkeys; farther
away, at the end of the wine store, a long row of tow-headed
individuals, their chins covered with white hair like the end of an
artichoke, reading, through a microscope, the tiny roman type of an
English newspaper; opposite him, a sort of American commodore, dumpy
and thick-set, with smoked skin and bulbous nose, was sleeping, a
cigar planted in the hairy aperture of his mouth. Opposite were frames
hanging on the wall enclosing advertisements of Champagne, the trade
marks of Perrier and Roederer, Heidsieck and Mumm, and a hooded head
of a monk, with the name of Dom Perignon, Rheims, written in Gothic

A certain enervation enveloped Des Esseintes in this guard house
atmosphere; stunned by the prattle of the Englishmen conversing among
themselves, he fell into a revery, evoking, before the purple port
which filled the glasses, the creatures of Dickens that love this
drink so very much, imaginatively peopling the cellar with new
personages, seeing here, the white head of hair and the ruddy
complexion of Mr. Wickfield; there, the phlegmatic, crafty face and
the vengeful eye of Mr. Tulkinghorn, the melancholy solicitor in
_Bleak House_. Positively, all of them broke away from his memory and
installed themselves in the _Bodega_, with their peculiar
characteristics and their betraying gestures. His memories, brought to
life by his recent readings, attained a startling precision. The city
of the romancer, the house illumined and warmed, so perfectly tended
and isolated, the bottles poured slowly by little Dorrit and Dora
Copperfield and Tom Pinch's sister, appeared to him sailing like an
ark in a deluge of mire and soot. Idly he wandered through this
imaginary London, happy to be sheltered, as he listened to the
sinister shrieks of tugs plying up and down the Thames. His glass was
empty. Despite the heavy fumes in this cellar, caused by the cigars
and pipes, he experienced a cold shiver when he returned to the
reality of the damp and fetid weather.

He called for a glass of amontillado, and suddenly, beside this pale,
dry wine, the lenitive, sweetish stories of the English author were
routed, to be replaced by the pitiless revulsives and the grievous
irritants of Edgar Allen Poe; the cold nightmares of _The Cask of
Amontillado_, of the man immured in a vault, assailed him; the
ordinary placid faces of American and English drinkers who occupied
the room, appeared to him to reflect involuntary frightful thoughts,
to be harboring instinctive, odious plots. Then he perceived that he
was left alone here and that the dinner hour was near. He payed his
bill, tore himself from his seat and dizzily gained the door. He
received a wet slap in the face upon leaving the place. The street
lamps moved their tiny fans of flame which failed to illuminate; the
sky had dropped to the very houses. Des Esseintes viewed the arcades
of the rue de Rivoli, drowned in the gloom and submerged by water, and
it seemed to him that he was in the gloomy tunnel under the Thames.
Twitchings of his stomach recalled him to reality. He regained his
carriage, gave the driver the address of the tavern in the rue
d'Amsterdam near the station, and looked at his watch: seven o'clock.
He had just time to eat dinner; the train would not leave until ten
minutes of nine, and he counted on his fingers, reckoning the hours of
travel from Dieppe to Newhaven, saying to himself: "If the figures of
the timetable are correct, I shall be at London tomorrow at

The _fiacre_ stopped in front of the tavern. Once more, Des Esseintes
alighted and entered a long dark plain room, divided into partitions
as high as a man's waist,--a series of compartments resembling stalls.
In this room, wider towards the door, many beer pumps stood on a
counter, near hams having the color of old violins, red lobsters,
marinated mackerel, with onions and carrots, slices of lemon, bunches
of laurel and thym, juniper berries and long peppers swimming in thick

One of these boxes was unoccupied. He took it and called a young
black-suited man who bent forward, muttering something in a jargon he
could not understand. While the cloth was being laid, Des Esseintes
viewed his neighbors. They were islanders, just as at the _Bodega_,
with cold faience eyes, crimson complexions, thoughtful or haughty
airs. They were reading foreign newspapers. The only ones eating were
unescorted women in pairs, robust English women with boyish faces,
large teeth, ruddy apple cheeks, long hands and legs. They attacked,
with genuine ardor, a rumpsteak pie, a warm meat dish cooked in
mushroom sauce and covered with a crust, like a pie.

After having lacked appetite for such a long time, he remained amazed
in the presence of these hearty eaters whose voracity whetted his
hunger. He ordered oxtail soup and enjoyed it heartily. Then he
glanced at the menu for the fish, ordered a haddock and, seized with a
sudden pang of hunger at the sight of so many people relishing their
food, he ate some roast beef and drank two pints of ale, stimulated by
the flavor of a cow-shed which this fine, pale beer exhaled.

His hunger persisted. He lingered over a piece of blue Stilton cheese,
made quick work of a rhubarb tart, and to vary his drinking, quenched
his thirst with porter, that dark beer which smells of Spanish
licorice but which does not have its sugary taste.

He breathed deeply. Not for years had he eaten and drunk so much. This
change of habit, this choice of unexpected and solid food had awakened
his stomach from its long sleep. He leaned back in his chair, lit a
cigarette and prepared to sip his coffee into which gin had been

The rain continued to fall. He heard it patter on the panes which
formed a ceiling at the end of the room; it fell in cascades down the
spouts. No one was stirring in the room. Everybody, utterly weary, was
indulging himself in front of his wine glass.

Tongues were now wagging freely. As almost all the English men and
women raised their eyes as they spoke, Des Esseintes concluded that
they were talking of the bad weather; not one of them laughed. He
threw a delighted glance on their suits whose color and cut did not
perceivably differ from that of others, and he experienced a sense of
contentment in not being out of tune in this environment, of being, in
some way, though superficially, a naturalized London citizen. Then he
suddenly started. "And what about the train?" he asked himself. He
glanced at his watch: ten minutes to eight. "I still have nearly a
half-hour to remain here." Once more, he began to muse upon the plan
he had conceived.

In his sedentary life, only two countries had ever attracted him:
Holland and England.

He had satisfied the first of his desires. Unable to keep away, one
fine day he had left Paris and visited the towns of the Low Lands, one
by one.

In short, nothing but cruel disillusions had resulted from this trip.
He had fancied a Holland after the works of Teniers and Steen, of
Rembrandt and Ostade, in his usual way imagining rich, unique and
incomparable Ghettos, had thought of amazing kermesses, continual
debauches in the country sides, intent for a view of that patriarchal
simplicity, that jovial lusty spirit celebrated by the old masters.

Certainly, Haarlem and Amsterdam had enraptured him. The unwashed
people, seen in their country farms, really resembled those types
painted by Van Ostade, with their uncouth children and their old fat
women, embossed with huge breasts and enormous bellies. But of the
unrestrained joys, the drunken family carousals, not a whit. He had to
admit that the Dutch paintings at the Louvre had misled him. They had
simply served as a springing board for his dreams. He had rushed
forward on a false track and had wandered into capricious visions,
unable to discover in the land itself, anything of that real and
magical country which he had hoped to behold, seeing nothing at all,
on the plots of ground strewn with barrels, of the dances of
petticoated and stockinged peasants crying for very joy, stamping
their feet out of sheer happiness and laughing loudly.

Decidedly nothing of all this was visible. Holland was a country just
like any other country, and what was more, a country in no wise
primitive, not at all simple, for the Protestant religion with its
formal hypocricies and solemn rigidness held sway here.

The memory of that disenchantment returned to him. Once more he
glanced at his watch: ten minutes still separated him from the train's
departure. "It is about time to ask for the bill and leave," he told

He felt an extreme heaviness in his stomach and through his body.
"Come!" he addressed himself, "let us drink and screw up our courage."
He filled a glass of brandy, while asking for the reckoning. An
individual in black suit and with a napkin under one arm, a sort of
majordomo with a bald and sharp head, a greying beard without
moustaches, came forward. A pencil rested behind his ear and he
assumed an attitude like a singer, one foot in front of the other; he
drew a note book from his pocket, and without glancing at his paper,
his eyes fixed on the ceiling, near a chandelier, wrote while
counting. "There you are!" he said, tearing the sheet from his note
book and giving it to Des Esseintes who looked at him with curiosity,
as though he were a rare animal. What a surprising John Bull, he
thought, contemplating this phlegmatic person who had, because of his
shaved mouth, the appearance of a wheelsman of an American ship.

At this moment, the tavern door opened. Several persons entered
bringing with them an odor of wet dog to which was blent the smell of
coal wafted by the wind through the opened door. Des Esseintes was
incapable of moving a limb. A soft warm languor prevented him from
even stretching out his hand to light a cigar. He told himself: "Come
now, let us get up, we must take ourselves off." Immediate objections
thwarted his orders. What is the use of moving, when one can travel on
a chair so magnificently? Was he not even now in London, whose aromas
and atmosphere and inhabitants, whose food and utensils surrounded
him? For what could he hope, if not new disillusionments, as had
happened to him in Holland?

He had but sufficient time to race to the station. An overwhelming
aversion for the trip, an imperious need of remaining tranquil, seized
him with a more and more obvious and stubborn strength. Pensively, he
let the minutes pass, thus cutting off all retreat, and he said to
himself, "Now it would be necessary to rush to the gate and crowd into
the baggage room! What ennui! What a bore that would be!" Then he
repeated to himself once more, "In fine, I have experienced and seen
all I wished to experience and see. I have been filled with English
life since my departure. I would be mad indeed to go and, by an
awkward trip, lose those imperishable sensations. How stupid of me to
have sought to disown my old ideas, to have doubted the efficacy of
the docile phantasmagories of my brain, like a very fool to have
thought of the necessity, of the curiosity, of the interest of an

"Well!" he exclaimed, consulting his watch, "it is now time to return

This time, he arose and left, ordered the driver to bring him back to
the Sceaux station, and returned with his trunks, packages, valises,
rugs, umbrellas and canes, to Fontenay, feeling the physical
stimulation and the moral fatigue of a man coming back to his home
after a long and dangerous voyage.

    Chapter 12

During the days following his return, Des Esseintes contemplated his
books and experienced, at the thought that he might have been
separated from them for a long period, a satisfaction as complete as
that which comes after a protracted absence. Under the touch of this
sentiment, these objects possessed a renewed novelty to his mind, and
he perceived in them beauties forgotten since the time he had
purchased them.

Everything there, books, bric-a-brac and furniture, had an individual
charm for him. His bed seemed the softer by comparison with the hard
bed he would have occupied in London. The silent, discreet
ministrations of his servants charmed him, exhausted as he was at the
thought of the loud loquacity of hotel attendants. The methodical
organization of his life made him feel that it was especially to be
envied since the possibility of traveling had become imminent.

He steeped himself in this bath of habitude, to which artificial
regrets insinuated a tonic quality.

But his books chiefly preoccupied him. He examined them, re-arranged
them on the shelves, anxious to learn if the hot weather and the rains
had damaged the bindings and injured the rare paper.

He began by moving all his Latin books; then he arranged in a new
order the special works of Archelaus, Albert le Grand, Lully and
Arnaud de Villanova treating of cabbala and the occult sciences;
finally he examined his modern books, one by one, and was happy to
perceive that all had remained intact.

This collection had cost him a considerable sum of money. He would not
suffer, in his library, the books he loved to resemble other similar
volumes, printed on cotton paper with the watermarks of _Auvergne_.

Formerly in Paris he had ordered made, for himself alone, certain
volumes which specially engaged mechanics printed from hand presses.
Sometimes, he applied to Perrin of Lyons, whose graceful, clear type
was suitable for archaic reprints of old books. At other times he
dispatched orders to England or to America for the execution of modern
literature and the works of the present century. Still again, he
applied to a house in Lille, which for centuries had possessed a
complete set of Gothic characters; he also would send requisitions to
the old Enschede printing house of Haarlem whose foundry still has the
stamps and dies of certain antique letters.

He had followed the same method in selecting his papers. Finally
growing weary of the snowy Chinese and the nacreous and gilded
Japanese papers, the white Whatmans, the brown Hollands, the
buff-colored Turkeys and Seychal Mills, and equally disgusted with all
mechanically manufactured sheets, he had ordered special laid paper in
the mould, from the old plants of Vire which still employ the pestles
once in use to grind hemp. To introduce a certain variety into his
collection, he had repeatedly brought from London prepared stuffs,
paper interwoven with hairs, and as a mark of his disdain for
bibliophiles, he had a Lubeck merchant prepare for him an improved
candle paper of bottle-blue tint, clear and somewhat brittle, in the
pulp of which the straw was replaced by golden spangles resembling
those which dot Danzig brandy.

Under these circumstances he had succeeded in procuring unique books,
adopting obsolete formats which he had bound by Lortic, by
Trautz-Bauzonnet or Chambolle, by the successors of Cape, in
irreproachable covers of old silk, stamped cow hide, Cape goat skin,
in full bindings with compartments and in mosaic designs, protected by
tabby or moire watered silk, ecclesiastically ornamented with clasps
and corners, and sometimes even enamelled by Gruel Engelmann with
silver oxide and clear enamels.

Thus, with the marvelous episcopal lettering used in the old house of
Le Clere, he had Baudelaire's works printed in a large format
recalling that of ancient missals, on a very light and spongy Japan
paper, soft as elder pith and imperceptibly tinted with a light rose
hue through its milky white. This edition, limited to one copy,
printed with a velvety black Chinese ink, had been covered outside and
then recovered within with a wonderful genuine sow skin, chosen among
a thousand, the color of flesh, its surface spotted where the hairs
had been and adorned with black silk stamped in cold iron in
miraculous designs by a great artist.

That day, Des Esseintes took this incomparable book from his shelves
and handled it devotedly, once more reading certain pieces which
seemed to him, in this simple but inestimable frame, more than
ordinarily penetrating.

His admiration for this writer was unqualified. According to him,
until Baudelaire's advent in literature, writers had limited
themselves to exploring the surfaces of the soul or to penetrating
into the accessible and illuminated caverns, restoring here and there
the layers of capital sins, studying their veins, their growths, and
noting, like Balzac for example, the layers of strata in the soul
possessed by the monomania of a passion, by ambition, by avarice, by
paternal stupidity, or by senile love.

What had been treated heretofore was the abundant health of virtues
and of vices, the tranquil functioning of commonplace brains, and the
practical reality of contemporary ideas, without any ideal of sickly
depravation or of any beyond. In short, the discoveries of those
analysts had stopped at the speculations of good or evil classified by
the Church. It was the simple investigation, the conventional
examination of a botanist minutely observing the anticipated
development of normal efflorescence abounding in the natural earth.

Baudelaire had gone farther. He had descended to the very bowels of
the inexhaustible mine, had involved his mind in abandoned and
unfamiliar levels, and come to those districts of the soul where
monstrous vegetations of thought extend their branches.

There, near those confines, the haunt of aberrations and of sickness,
of the mystic lockjaw, the warm fever of lust, and the typhoids and
vomits of crime, he had found, brooding under the gloomy clock of
Ennui, the terrifying spectre of the age of sentiments and ideas.

He had revealed the morbid psychology of the mind which has attained
the October of its sensations, recounted the symptoms of souls
summoned by grief and licensed by spleen, and shown the increasing
decay of impressions while the enthusiasms and beliefs of youth are
enfeebled and the only thing remaining is the arid memory of miseries
borne, intolerances endured and affronts suffered by intelligences
oppressed by a ridiculous destiny.

He had pursued all the phases of that lamentable autumn, studying the
human creature, quick to exasperation, ingenious in deceiving himself,
compelling his thoughts to cheat each other so as to suffer the more
keenly, and frustrating in advance all possible joy by his faculty of
analysis and observation.

Then, in this vexed sensibility of the soul, in this ferocity of
reflection that repels the restless ardor of devotions and the
well-meaning outrages of charity, he gradually saw arising the horror
of those senile passions, those ripe loves, where one person yields
while the other is still suspicious, where lassitude denies such
couples the filial caresses whose apparent youthfulness seems new, and
the maternal candors whose gentleness and comfort impart, in a sense,
the engaging remorse of a vague incest.

In magnificent pages he exposed his hybrid loves who were exasperated
by the impotence in which they were overwhelmed, the hazardous deceits
of narcotics and poisons invoked to aid in calming suffering and
conquering ennui. At an epoch when literature attributed unhappiness
of life almost exclusively to the mischances of unrequited love or to
the jealousies that attend adulterous love, he disregarded such
puerile maladies and probed into those wounds which are more fatal,
more keen and deep, which arise from satiety, disillusion and scorn in
ruined souls whom the present tortures, the past fills with loathing
and the future frightens and menaces with despair.

And the more Des Esseintes read Baudelaire, the more he felt the
ineffable charm of this writer who, in an age when verse served only
to portray the external semblance of beings and things, had succeeded
in expressing the inexpressible in a muscular and brawny language;
who, more than any other writer possessed a marvelous power to define
with a strange robustness of expression, the most fugitive and
tentative morbidities of exhausted minds and sad souls.

After Baudelaire's works, the number of French books given place in
his shelves was strictly limited. He was completely indifferent to
those works which it is fashionable to praise. "The broad laugh of
Rabelais," and "the deep comedy of Moliere," did not succeed in
diverting him, and the antipathy he felt against these farces was so
great that he did not hesitate to liken them, in the point of art, to
the capers of circus clowns.

As for old poetry, he read hardly anything except Villon, whose
melancholy ballads touched him, and, here and there, certain fragments
from d'Aubigne, which stimulated his blood with the incredible
vehemence of their apostrophes and curses.

In prose, he cared little for Voltaire and Rousseau, and was unmoved
even by Diderot, whose so greatly praised _Salons_ he found strangely
saturated with moralizing twaddle and futility; in his hatred toward
all this balderdash, he limited himself almost exclusively to the
reading of Christian eloquence, to the books of Bourdaloue and Bossuet
whose sonorously embellished periods were imposing; but, still more,
he relished suggestive ideas condensed into severe and strong phrases,
such as those created by Nicole in his reflections, and especially
Pascal, whose austere pessimism and attrition deeply touched him.

Apart from such books as these, French literature began in his library
with the nineteenth century.

This section was divided into two groups, one of which included the
ordinary, secular literature, and the other the Catholic literature, a
special but little known literature published by large publishing
houses and circulated to the four corners of the earth.

He had had the hardihood to explore such crypts as these, just as in
the secular art he had discovered, under an enormous mass of insipid
writings, a few books written by true masters.

The distinctive character of this literature was the constant
immutability of its ideas and language. Just as the Church perpetuated
the primitive form of holy objects, so she has preserved the relics of
her dogmas, piously retaining, as the frame that encloses them, the
oratorical language of the celebrated century. As one of the Church's
own writers, Ozanam, has put it, the Christian style needed only to
make use of the dialect employed by Bourdaloue and by Bossuet to the
exclusion of all else.

In spite of this statement, the Church, more indulgent, closed its
eyes to certain expressions, certain turns of style borrowed from the
secular language of the same century, and the Catholic idiom had
slightly purified itself of its heavy and massive phrases, especially
cleaning itself, in Bossuet, of its prolixity and the painful rallying
of its pronouns; but here ended the concessions, and others would
doubtless have been purposeless for the prose sufficed without this
ballast for the limited range of subjects to which the Church confined

Incapable of grappling with contemporary life, of rendering the most
simple aspects of things and persons visible and palpable, unqualified
to explain the complicated wiles of intellects indifferent to the
benefits of salvation, this language was nevertheless excellent when
it treated of abstract subjects. It proved valuable in the argument of
controversy, in the demonstration of a theory, in the obscurity of a
commentary and, more than any other style, had the necessary authority
to affirm, without any discussion, the intent of a doctrine.

Unfortunately, here as everywhere, the sanctuary had been invaded by a
numerous army of pedants who smirched by their ignorance and lack of
talent the Church's noble and austere attire. Further to profane it,
devout women had interfered, and stupid sacristans and foolish
_salons_ had acclaimed as works of genius the wretched prattle of such

Among such works, Des Esseintes had had the curiosity to read those of
Madame Swetchine, the Russian, whose house in Paris was the rendezvous
of the most fervent Catholics. Her writings had filled him with
insufferably horrible boredom; they were more than merely wretched:
they were wretched in every way, resembling the echoes of a tiny
chapel where the solemn worshippers mumble their prayers, asking news
of one another in low voices, while they repeat with a deeply
mysterious air the common gossip of politics, weather forecasts and
the state of the weather.

But there was even worse: a female laureate licensed by the Institute,
Madame Augustus Craven, author of _Recit d'une soeur_, of _Eliane_ and
_Fleaurange_, puffed into reputation by the whole apostolic press.
Never, no, never, had Des Esseintes imagined that any person could
write such ridiculous nonsense. In the point of conception, these
books were so absurd, and were written in such a disgusting style,
that by these tokens they became almost remarkable and rare.

It was not at all among the works of women that Des Esseintes, whose
soul was completely jaded and whose nature was not inclined to
sentimentality, could come upon a literary retreat suited to his

Yet he strove, with a diligence that no impatience could overcome, to
enjoy the works of a certain girl of genius, the blue-stocking pucelle
of the group, but his efforts miscarried. He did not take to the
_Journal_ and the _Lettres_ in which Eugenie de Guerin celebrates,
without discretion, the amazing talent of a brother who rhymed, with
such cleverness and grace that one must go to the works of de Jouy and
Ecouchard Lebrun to find anything so novel and daring.

He had also unavailingly attempted to comprehend the delights of those
works in which one may find such things as these:

    This morning I hung on papa's bed a cross which a little
    girl had given him yesterday.


    Mimi and I are invited by Monsieur Roquiers to attend the
    consecration of a bell tomorrow. This does not displease
    me at all.

Or wherein we find such important events as these:

    On my neck I have hung a medal of the Holy Virgin which
    Louise had brought me, as an amulet against cholera.

Or poetry of this sort:

    O the lovely moonbeam which fell on the Bible I was reading!

And, finally, such fine and penetrating observations as these:

    When I see a man pass before a crucifix, lift his hat and
    make the sign of the Cross, I say to myself, 'There goes a

And she continued in this fashion, without pause, until after Maurice
de Guerin had died, after which his sister bewailed him in other
pages, written in a watery prose strewn here and there with bits of
poems whose humiliating poverty ended by moving Des Esseintes to pity.

Ah! it was hardly worth mentioning, but the Catholic party was not at
all particular in the choice of its proteges and not at all artistic.
Without exception, all these writers wrote in the pallid white prose
of pensioners of a monastery, in a flowing movement of phrase which no
astringent could counterbalance.

So Des Esseintes, horror-stricken at such insipidities, entirely
forsook this literature. But neither did he find atonement for his
disappointments among the modern masters of the clergy. These latter
were one-sided divines or impeccably correct controversialists, but
the Christian language in their orations and books had ended by
becoming impersonal and congealing into a rhetoric whose every
movement and pause was anticipated, in a sequence of periods
constructed after a single model. And, in fact, Des Esseintes
discovered that all the ecclesiastics wrote in the same manner, with a
little more or a little less abandon or emphasis, and there was seldom
any variations between the bodiless patterns traded by Dupanloup or
Landriot, La Bouillerie or Gaume, by Dom Gueranger or Ratisbonne, by
Freppel or Perraud, by Ravignan or Gratry, by Olivain or Dosithee, by
Didon or Chocarne.

Des Esseintes had often pondered upon this matter. A really authentic
talent, a supremely profound originality, a well-anchored conviction,
he thought, was needed to animate this formal style which was too
frail to support any thought that was unforseen or any thesis that was

Yet, despite all this, there were several writers whose burning
eloquence fused and shaped this language, notably Lacordaire, who was
one of the few really great writers the Church had produced for many

Immured, like his colleagues, in the narrow circle of orthodox
speculations, likewise obliged to dissipate his energies in the
exclusive consideration of those theories which had been expressed and
consecrated by the Fathers of the Church and developed by the masters
of the pulpit, he succeeded in inbuing them with novelty and in
rejuvenating, almost in modifying them, by clothing them in a more
personal and stimulating form. Here and there in his _Conferences de
Notre-Dame_, were treasures of expression, audacious usages of words,
accents of love, rapid movements, cries of joy and distracted
effusions. Then, to his position as a brilliant and gentle monk whose
ingenuity and labors had been exhausted in the impossible task of
conciliating the liberal doctrines of society with the authoritarian
dogmas of the Church, he added a temperament of fierce love and suave
diplomatic tenderness. In his letters to young men may be found the
caressing inflections of a father exhorting his sons with smiling
reprimands, the well-meaning advice and the indulgent forgiveness.
Some of these Des Esseintes found charming, confessing as they did the
monk's yearning for affection, while others were even imposing when
they sought to sustain courage and dissipate doubts by the inimitable
certainties of Faith. In fine, this sentiment of paternity, which gave
his pen a delicately feminine quality, lent to his prose a
characteristically individual accent discernible among all the
clerical literature.

After Lacordaire, ecclesiastics and monks possessing any individuality
were extremely rare. At the very most, a few pages of his pupil, the
Abbe Peyreyve, merited reading. He left sympathetic biographies of his
master, wrote a few loveable letters, composed treatises in the
sonorous language of formal discourse, and delivered panegyrics in
which the declamatory tone was too broadly stressed. Certainly the
Abbe Peyreyve had neither the emotion nor the ardor of Lacordaire. He
was too much a priest and too little a man. Yet, here and there in the
rhetoric of his sermons, flashed interesting effects of large and
solid phrasing or touches of nobility that were almost venerable.

But to find writers of prose whose works justify close study, one was
obliged to seek those who had not submitted to Ordination; to the
secular writers whom the interests of Catholicism engaged and devoted
to its cause.

With the Comte de Falloux, the episcopal style, so stupidly handled by
the prelates, recruited new strength and in a manner recovered its
masculine vigor. Under his guise of moderation, this academician
exuded gall. The discourse which he delivered to Parliament in 1848
was diffuse and abject, but his articles, first printed in the
_Correspondant_ and since collected into books, were mordant and
discerning under the exaggerated politeness of their form. Conceived
as harangues, they contained a certain strong muscular energy and were
astonishing in the intolerance of their convictions.

A dangerous polemist because of his ambuscades, a shrewd logician,
executing flanking movements and attacking unexpectedly, the Comte de
Falloux had also written striking, penetrating pages on the death of
Madame Swetchine, whose tracts he had collected and whom he revered as
a saint.

But the true temperament of the writer was betrayed in the two
brochures which appeared in 1848 and 1880, the latter entitled
_l'Unite nationale_.

Moved by a cold rage, the implacable legitimist this time fought
openly, contrary to his custom, and hurled against the infidels, in
the form of a peroration, such fulminating invectives as these:

"And you, systematic Utopians, who make an abstraction of human
nature, fomentors of atheism, fed on chimerae and hatreds,
emancipators of woman, destroyers of the family, genealogists of the
simian race, you whose name was but lately an outrage, be satisfied:
you shall have been the prophets, and your disciples will be the
high-priests of an abominable future!"

The other brochure bore the title _le Parti catholique_ and was
directed against the despotism of the _Univers_ and against Veuillot
whose name he refused to mention. Here the sinuous attacks were
resumed, venom filtered beneath each line, when the gentleman, clad in
blue answered the sharp physical blows of the fighter with scornful

These contestants represented the two parties of the Church, the two
factions whose differences were resolved into virulent hatreds. De
Falloux, the more haughty and cunning, belonged to the liberal camp
which already claimed Montalembert and Cochin, Lacordaire and De
Broglie. He subscribed to the principles of the _Correspondant_, a
review which attempted to cover the imperious theories of the Church
with a varnish of tolerance. Veuillot, franker and more open, scorned
such masks, unhesitatingly admitted the tyranny of the ultramontaine
doctrines and confessed, with a certain compunction, the pitiless yoke
of the Church's dogma.

For the conduct of this verbal warfare, Veuillot had made himself
master of a special style, partly borrowed from La Bruyere and Du
Gros-Caillou. This half-solemn, half-slang style, had the force of a
tomahawk in the hands of this vehement personality. Strangely
headstrong and brave, he had overwhelmed both free thinkers and
bishops with this terrible weapon, charging at his enemies like a
bull, regardless of the party to which they belonged. Distrusted by
the Church, which would tolerate neither his contraband style nor his
fortified theories, he had nevertheless overawed everybody by his
powerful talent, incurring the attack of the entire press which he
effectively thrashed in his _Odeurs de Paris_, coping with every
assault, freeing himself with a kick of the foot of all the wretched
hack-writers who had presumed to attack him.

Unfortunately, this undisputed talent only existed in pugilism. At
peace, Veuillot was no more than a mediocre writer. His poetry and
novels were pitiful. His language was vapid, when it was not engaged
in a striking controversy. In repose, he changed, uttering banal
litanies and mumbling childish hymns.

More formal, more constrained and more serious was the beloved
apologist of the Church, Ozanam, the inquisitor of the Christian
language. Although he was very difficult to understand, Des Esseintes
never failed to be astonished by the insouciance of this writer, who
spoke confidently of God's impenetrable designs, although he felt
obliged to establish proof of the improbable assertions he advanced.
With the utmost self-confidence, he deformed events, contradicted,
with greater impudence even than the panegyrists of other parties, the
known facts of history, averred that the Church had never concealed
the esteem it had for science, called heresies impure miasmas, and
treated Buddhism and other religions with such contempt that he
apologized for even soiling his Catholic prose by onslaught on their

At times, religious passion breathed a certain ardor into his
oratorical language, under the ice of which seethed a violent current;
in his numerous writings on Dante, on Saint Francis, on the author of
_Stabat Mater_, on the Franciscan poets, on socialism, on commercial
law and every imaginable subject, this man pleaded for the defense of
the Vatican which he held indefectible, and judged causes and opinions
according to their harmony or discord with those that he advanced.

This manner of viewing questions from a single viewpoint was also the
method of that literary scamp, Nettement, whom some people would have
made the other's rival. The latter was less bigoted than the master,
affected less arrogance and admitted more worldly pretentions. He
repeatedly left the literary cloister in which Ozanam had imprisoned
himself, and had read secular works so as to be able to judge of them.
This province he entered gropingly, like a child in a vault, seeing
nothing but shadow around him, perceiving in this gloom only the gleam
of the candle which illumed the place a few paces before him.

In this gloom, uncertain of his bearings, he stumbled at every turn,
speaking of Murger who had "the care of a chiselled and carefully
finished style"; of Hugo who sought the noisome and unclean and to
whom he dared compare De Laprade; of Paul Delacroix who scorned the
rules; of Paul Delaroche and of the poet Reboul, whom he praised
because of their apparent faith.

Des Esseintes could not restrain a shrug of the shoulders before these
stupid opinions, covered by a borrowed prose whose already worn
texture clung or became torn at each phrase.

In a different way, the works of Poujoulat and Genoude, Montalembert,
Nicolas and Carne failed to inspire him with any definite interest.
His taste for history was not pronounced, even when treated with the
scholarly fidelity and harmonious style of the Duc de Broglie, nor was
his penchant for the social and religious questions, even when
broached by Henry Cochin, who revealed his true self in a letter where
he gave a stirring account of the taking of the veil at the
Sacre-Coeur. He had not touched these books for a long time, and the
period was already remote when he had thrown with his waste paper the
puerile lucubrations of the gloomy Pontmartin and the pitiful Feval;
and long since he had given to his servants, for a certain vulgar
usage, the short stories of Aubineau and Lasserre, in which are
recorded wretched hagiographies of miracles effected by Dupont of
Tours and by the Virgin.

In no way did Des Esseintes derive even a fugitive distraction from
his boredom from this literature. The mass of books which he had once
studied he had thrown into dim corners of his library shelves when he
left the Fathers' school. "I should have left them in Paris," he told
himself, as he turned out some books which were particularly
insufferable: those of the Abbe Lamennais and that impervious
sectarian so magisterially, so pompously dull and empty, the Comte
Joseph de Maistre.

A single volume remained on a shelf, within reach of his hand. It was
the _Homme_ of Ernest Hello. This writer was the absolute opposite of
his religious confederates. Almost isolated among the pious group
terrified by his conduct, Ernest Hello had ended by abandoning the
open road that led from earth to heaven. Probably disgusted by the
dullness of the journey and the noisy mob of those pilgrims of letters
who for centuries followed one after the other upon the same highway,
marching in each other's steps, stopping at the same places to
exchange the same commonplace remarks on religion, on the Church
Fathers, on their similar beliefs, on their common masters, he had
departed through the byways to wander in the gloomy glade of Pascal,
where he tarried long to recover his breath before continuing on his
way and going even farther in the regions of human thought than the
Jansenist, whom he derided.

Tortuous and precious, doctoral and complex, Hello, by the piercing
cunning of his analysis, recalled to Des Esseintes the sharp, probing
investigations of some of the infidel psychologists of the preceding
and present century. In him was a sort of Catholic Duranty, but more
dogmatic and penetrating, an experienced manipulation of the
magnifying glass, a sophisticated engineer of the soul, a skillful
watchmaker of the brain, delighting to examine the mechanism of a
passion and elucidate it by details of the wheel work.

In this oddly formed mind existed unsurmised relationships of
thoughts, harmonies and oppositions; furthermore, he affected a wholly
novel manner of action which used the etymology of words as a
spring-board for ideas whose associations sometimes became tenuous,
but which almost constantly remained ingenious and sparkling.

Thus, despite the awkwardness of his structure, he dissected with a
singular perspicacity, the _Avare_, "the ordinary man," and "the
passion of unhappiness," revealing meanwhile interesting comparisons
which could be constructed between the operations of photography and
of memory.

But such skill in handling this perfected instrument of analysis,
stolen from the enemies of the Church, represented only one of the
temperamental phases of this man.

Still another existed. This mind divided itself in two parts and
revealed, besides the writer, the religious fanatic and Biblical

Like Hugo, whom he now and again recalled in distortions of phrases
and words, Ernest Hello had delighted in imitating Saint John of
Patmos. He pontificated and vaticinated from his retreat in the rue
Saint-Sulpice, haranguing the reader with an apocalyptic language
partaking in spots of the bitterness of an Isaiah.

He affected inordinate pretentions of profundity. There were some
fawning and complacent people who pretended to consider him a great
man, the reservoir of learning, the encyclopedic giant of the age.
Perhaps he was a well, but one at whose bottom one often could not
find a drop of water.

In his volume _Paroles de Dieu_, he paraphrased the Holy Scriptures,
endeavoring to complicate their ordinarily obvious sense. In his other
book _Homme_, and in his brochure _le Jour du Seigneur_, written in a
biblical style, rugged and obscure, he sought to appear like a
vengeful apostle, prideful and tormented with spleen, but showed
himself a deacon touched with a mystic epilepsy, or like a talented
Maistre, a surly and bitter sectarian.

But, thought Des Esseintes, this sickly shamelessness often obstructed
the inventive sallies of the casuist. With more intolerance than even
Ozanam, he resolutely denied all that pertained to his clan,
proclaimed the most disconcerting axioms, maintained with a
disconcerting authority that "geology is returning toward Moses," and
that natural history, like chemistry and every contemporary science,
verifies the scientific truth of the Bible. The proposition on each
page was of the unique truth and the superhuman knowledge of the
Church, and everywhere were interspersed more than perilous aphorisms
and raging curses cast at the art of the last century.

To this strange mixture was added the love of sanctimonious delights,
such as a translation of the _Visions_ by Angele de Foligno, a book of
an unparalleled fluid stupidity, with selected works of Jean Rusbrock
l'Admirable, a mystic of the thirteenth century whose prose offered an
incomprehensible but alluring combination of dusky exaltations,
caressing effusions, and poignant transports.

The whole attitude of this presumptuous pontiff, Hello, had leaped
from a preface written for this book. He himself remarked that
"extraordinary things can only be stammered," and he stammered in good
truth, declaring that "the holy gloom where Rusbrock extends his eagle
wings is his ocean, his prey, his glory, and for such as him the far
horizons would be a too narrow garment."

However this might be, Des Esseintes felt himself intrigued toward
this ill-balanced but subtile mind. No fusion had been effected
between the skilful psychologist and the pious pedant, and the very
jolts and incoherencies constituted the personality of the man.

With him was recruited the little group of writers who fought on the
front battle line of the clerical camp. They did not belong to the
regular army, but were more properly the scouts of a religion which
distrusted men of such talent as Veuillot and Hello, because they did
not seem sufficiently submissive and shallow. What the Church really
desires is soldiers who do not reason, files of such blind combatants
and such mediocrities as Hello describes with the rage of one who has
submitted to their yoke. Thus it was that Catholicism had lost no time
in driving away one of its partisans, an enraged pamphleteer who wrote
in a style at once rare and exasperated, the savage Leon Bloy; and
caused to be cast from the doors of its bookshops, as it would a
plague or a filthy vagrant, another writer who had made himself hoarse
with celebrating its praises, Barbey d'Aurevilly.

It is true that the latter was too prone to compromise and not
sufficiently docile. Others bent their heads under rebukes and
returned to the ranks; but he was the _enfant terrible_, and was
unrecognized by the party. In a literary way, he pursued women whom he
dragged into the sanctuary. Nay, even that vast disdain was invoked,
with which Catholicism enshrouds talent to prevent excommunication
from putting beyond the pale of the law a perplexing servant who,
under pretext of honoring his masters, broke the window panes of the
chapel, juggled with the holy pyxes and executed eccentric dances
around the tabernacle.

Two works of Barbey d'Aurevilly specially attracted Des Esseintes, the
_Pretre marie_ and the _Diaboliques_. Others, such as the _Ensorcele_,
the _Chevalier des touches_ and _Une Vieille Maitresse_, were
certainly more comprehensive and more finely balanced, but they left
Des Esseintes untouched, for he was really interested only in
unhealthy works which were consumed and irritated by fever.

In these all but healthy volumes, Barbey d'Aurevilly constantly
hesitated between those two pits which the Catholic religion succeeds
in reconciling: mysticism and sadism.

In these two books which Des Esseintes was thumbing, Barbey had lost
all prudence, given full rein to his steed, and galloped at full speed
over roads to their farthest limits.

All the mysterious horror of the Middle Ages hovered over that
improbable book, the _Pretre marie_; magic blended with religion,
black magic with prayer and, more pitiless and savage than the Devil
himself, the God of Original Sin incessantly tortured the innocent
Calixte, His reprobate, as once He had caused one of his angels to
mark the houses of unbelievers whom he wished to slay.

Conceived by a fasting monk in the grip of delirium, these scenes were
unfolded in the uneven style of a tortured soul. Unfortunately, among
those disordered creatures that were like galvanized Coppelias of
Hoffmann, some, like Neel de Nehou, seemed to have been imagined in
moments of exhaustion following convulsions, and were discordant notes
in this harmony of sombre madness, where they were as comical and
ridiculous as a tiny zinc figure playing on a horn on a timepiece.

After these mystic divagations, the writer had experienced a period of
calm. Then a terrible relapse followed.

This belief that man is a Buridanesque donkey, a being balanced
between two forces of equal attraction which successively remain
victorious and vanquished, this conviction that human life is only an
uncertain combat waged between hell and heaven, this faith in two
opposite beings, Satan and Christ, was fatally certain to engender
such inner discords of the soul, exalted by incessant struggle,
excited at once by promises and menaces, and ending by abandoning
itself to whichever of the two forces persisted in the pursuit the
more relentlessly.

In the _Pretre marie_, Barbey d'Aurevilly sang the praises of Christ,
who had prevailed against temptations; in the _Diaboliques_, the
author succumbed to the Devil, whom he celebrated; then appeared
sadism, that bastard of Catholicism, which through the centuries
religion has relentlessly pursued with its exorcisms and stakes.

This condition, at once fascinating and ambiguous, can not arise in
the soul of an unbeliever. It does not merely consist in sinking
oneself in the excesses of the flesh, excited by outrageous
blasphemies, for in such a case it would be no more than a case of
satyriasis that had reached its climax. Before all, it consists in
sacrilegious practice, in moral rebellion, in spiritual debauchery, in
a wholly ideal aberration, and in this it is exemplarily Christian. It
also is founded upon a joy tempered by fear, a joy analogous to the
satisfaction of children who disobey their parents and play with
forbidden things, for no reason other than that they had been
forbidden to do so.

In fact, if it did not admit of sacrilege, sadism would have no reason
for existence. Besides, the sacrilege proceeding from the very
existence of a religion, can only be intentionally and pertinently
performed by a believer, for no one would take pleasure in profaning a
faith that was indifferent or unknown to him.

The power of sadism and the attraction it presents, lies entirely then
in the prohibited enjoyment of transferring to Satan the praises and
prayers due to God; it lies in the non-observance of Catholic precepts
which one really follows unwillingly, by committing in deeper scorn of
Christ, those sins which the Church has especially cursed, such as
pollution of worship and carnal orgy.

In its elements, this phenomenon to which the Marquis de Sade has
bequeathed his name is as old as the Church. It had reared its head in
the eighteenth century, recalling, to go back no farther, by a simple
phenomenon of atavism the impious practices of the Sabbath, the
witches' revels of the Middle Ages.

By having consulted the _Malleus maleficorum_, that terrible code of
Jacob Sprenger which permits the Church wholesale burnings of
necromancers and sorcerers, Des Esseintes recognized in the witches'
Sabbath, all the obscene practices and all the blasphemies of sadism.
In addition to the unclean scenes beloved by Malin, the nights
successively and lawfully consecrated to excessive sensual orgies and
devoted to the bestialities of passion, he once more discovered the
parody of the processions, the insults and eternal threats levelled at
God and the devotion bestowed upon His rival, while amid cursing of
the wine and the bread, the black mass was being celebrated on the
back of a woman on all fours, whose stained bare thighs served as the
altar from which the congregation received the communion from a black
goblet stamped with an image of a goat.

This profusion of impure mockeries and foul shames were marked in the
career of the Marquis de Sade, who garnished his terrible pleasures
with outrageous sacrileges.

He cried out to the sky, invoked Lucifer, shouted his contempt of God,
calling Him rogue and imbecile, spat upon the communion, endeavored to
contaminate with vile ordures a Divinity who he prayed might damn him,
the while he declared, to defy Him the more, that He did not exist.

Barbey d'Aurevilly approached this psychic state. If he did not
presume as far as De Sade in uttering atrocious curses against the
Saviour; if, more prudent or more timid, he claimed ever to honor the
Church, he none the less addressed his suit to the Devil as was done
in medieval times and he, too, in order to brave God, fell into
demoniac nymphomania, inventing sensual monstrosities, even borrowing
from bedroom philosophy a certain episode which he seasoned with new
condiments when he wrote the story _le Diner d'un athee_.

This extravagant book pleased Des Esseintes. He had caused to be
printed, in violet ink and in a frame of cardinal purple, on a genuine
parchment which the judges of the Rota had blessed, a copy of the
_Diaboliques_, with characters whose quaint quavers and flourishes in
turned up tails and claws affected a satanic form.

After certain pieces of Baudelaire that, in imitation of the clamorous
songs of nocturnal revels, celebrated infernal litanies, this volume
alone of all the works of contemporary apostolic literature testified
to this state of mind, at once impious and devout, toward which
Catholicism often thrust Des Esseintes.

With Barbey d'Aurevilly ended the line of religious writers; and in
truth, that pariah belonged more, from every point of view, to secular
literature than to the other with which he demanded a place that was
denied him. His language was the language of disheveled romanticism,
full of involved expressions, unfamiliar turns of speech, delighted
with extravagant comparisons and with whip strokes and phrases which
exploded, like the clangor of noisy bells, along the text. In short,
d'Aurevilly was like a stallion among the geldings of the
ultramontaine stables.

Des Esseintes reflected in this wise while re-reading, here and there,
several passages of the book and, comparing its nervous and changing
style with the fixed manner of other Church writers, he thought of the
evolution of language which Darwin has so truly revealed.

Compelled to live in a secular atmosphere, raised in the heart of the
romantic school, constantly being in the current of modern literature
and accustomed to reading contemporary publications, Barbey
d'Aurevilly had acquired a dialect which although it had sustained
numerous and profound changes since the Great Age, had nevertheless
renewed itself in his works.

The ecclesiastical writers, on the contrary, confined within specific
limitations, restricted to ancient Church literature, knowing nothing
of the literary progress of the centuries and determined if need be to
blind their eyes the more surely not to see, necessarily were
constrained to the use of an inflexible language, like that of the
eighteenth century which descendants of the French who settled in
Canada still speak and write today, without change of phrasing or
words, having succeeded in preserving their original idiom by
isolation in certain metropolitan centres, despite the fact that they
are enveloped upon every side by English-speaking peoples.

Meanwhile the silvery sound of a clock that tolled the angelus
announced breakfast time to Des Esseintes. He abandoned his books,
pressed his brow and went to the dining room, saying to himself that,
among all the volumes he had just arranged, the works of Barbey
d'Aurevilly were the only ones whose ideas and style offered the
gaminess he so loved to savor in the Latin and decadent, monastic
writers of past ages.

    Chapter 13

As the season advanced, the weather, far from improving, grew worse.
Everything seemed to go wrong that year. After the squalls and mists,
the sky was covered with a white expanse of heat, like plates of sheet
iron. In two days, without transition, a torrid heat, an atmosphere of
frightful heaviness, succeeded the damp cold of foggy days and the
streaming of the rains. As though stirred by furious pokers, the sun
showed like a kiln-hole, darting a light almost white-hot, burning
one's face. A hot dust rose from the roads, scorching the dry trees,
and the yellowed lawns became a deep brown. A temperature like that of
a foundry hung over the dwelling of Des Esseintes.

Half naked, he opened a window and received the air like a furnace
blast in his face. The dining room, to which he fled, was fiery, and
the rarefied air simmered. Utterly distressed, he sat down, for the
stimulation that had seized him had ended since the close of his

Like all people tormented by nervousness, heat distracted him. And his
anaemia, checked by cold weather, again became pronounced, weakening
his body which had been debilitated by copious perspiration.

The back of his shirt was saturated, his perinaeum was damp, his feet
and arms moist, his brow overflowing with sweat that ran down his
cheeks. Des Esseintes reclined, annihilated, on a chair.

The sight of the meat placed on the table at that moment caused his
stomach to rise. He ordered the food removed, asked for boiled eggs,
and tried to swallow some bread soaked in eggs, but his stomach would
have none of it. A fit of nausea overcame him. He drank a few drops of
wine that pricked his stomach like points of fire. He wet his face;
the perspiration, alternately warm and cold, coursed along his
temples. He began to suck some pieces of ice to overcome his troubled
heart--but in vain.

So weak was he that he leaned against the table. He rose, feeling the
need of air, but the bread had slowly risen in his gullet and remained
there. Never had he felt so distressed, so shattered, so ill at ease.
To add to his discomfort, his eyes distressed him and he saw objects
in double. Soon he lost his sense of distance, and his glass seemed to
be a league away. He told himself that he was the play-thing of
sensorial illusions and that he was incapable of reacting. He
stretched out on a couch, but instantly he was cradled as by the
tossing of a moving ship, and the affection of his heart increased. He
rose to his feet, determined to rid himself, by means of a digestive,
of the food which was choking him.

He again reached the dining room and sadly compared himself, in this
cabin, to passengers seized with sea-sickness. Stumbling, he made his
way to the closet, examined the mouth organ without opening any of the
stops, but instead took from a high shelf a bottle of benedictine
which he kept because of its form which to him seemed suggestive of
thoughts that were at once gently wanton and vaguely mystic.

But at this moment he remained indifferent, gazing with lack-lustre,
staring eyes at this squat, dark-green bottle which, at other times,
had brought before him images of the medieval priories by its
old-fashioned monkish paunch, its head and neck covered with a
parchment hood, its red wax stamp quartered with three silver mitres
against a field of azure and fastened at the neck, like a papal bull,
with bands of lead, its label inscribed in sonorous Latin, on paper
that seemed to have yellowed with age: _Liquor Monachorum
Benedictinorum Abbatiae Fiscannensis_.

Under this thoroughly abbatial robe, signed with a cross and the
ecclesiastic initials 'D.O.M.', pressed in between its parchments and
ligatures, slept an exquisitely fine saffron-colored liquid. It
breathed an aroma that seemed the quintessence of angelica and hyssop
blended with sea-weeds and of iodines and bromes hidden in sweet
essences, and it stimulated the palate with a spiritous ardor
concealed under a virginal daintiness, and charmed the sense of smell
by a pungency enveloped in a caress innocent and devout.

This deceit which resulted from the extraordinary disharmony between
contents and container, between the liturgic form of the flask and its
so feminine and modern soul, had formerly stimulated Des Esseintes to
revery and, facing the bottle, he was inclined to think at great
length of the monks who sold it, the Benedictines of the Abbey of
Fecamp who, belonging to the brotherhood of Saint-Maur which had been
celebrated for its controversial works under the rule of Saint Benoit,
followed neither the observances of the white monks of Citeaux nor of
the black monks of Cluny. He could not but think of them as being like
their brethren of the Middle Ages, cultivating simples, heating
retorts and distilling faultless panaceas and prescriptions.

He tasted a drop of this liquor and, for a few moments, had relief.
But soon the fire, which the dash of wine had lit in his bowels,
revived. He threw down his napkin, returned to his study, and paced
the floor. He felt as if he were under a pneumatic clock, and a
numbing weakness stole from his brain through his limbs. Unable to
endure it longer, he betook himself to the garden. It was the first
time he had done this since his arrival at Fontenay. There he found
shelter beneath a tree which radiated a circle of shadow. Seated on
the lawn, he looked around with a besotted air at the square beds of
vegetables planted by the servants. He gazed, but it was only at the
end of an hour that he really saw them, for a greenish film floated
before his eyes, permitting him only to see, as in the depths of
water, flickering images of shifting tones.

But when he recovered his balance, he clearly distinguished the onions
and cabbages, a garden bed of lettuce further off, and, in the
distance along the hedge, a row of white lillies recumbent in the
heavy air.

A smile played on his lips, for he suddenly recalled the strange
comparison of old Nicandre, who likened, in the point of form, the
pistils of lillies to the genital organs of a donkey; and he recalled
also a passage from Albert le Grand, in which that thaumaturgist
describes a strange way of discovering whether a girl is still a
virgin, by means of a lettuce.

These remembrances distracted him somewhat. He examined the garden,
interesting himself in the plants withered by the heat, and in the hot
ground whose vapors rose into the dusty air. Then, above the hedge
which separated the garden below from the embankment leading to the
fort, he watched the urchins struggling and tumbling on the ground.

He was concentrating his attention upon them when another younger,
sorry little specimen appeared. He had hair like seaweed covered with
sand, two green bubbles beneath his nose, and disgusting lips
surrounded by a dirty white frame formed by a slice of bread smeared
with cheese and filled with pieces of scallions.

Des Esseintes inhaled the air. A perverse appetite seized him. This
dirty slice made his mouth water. It seemed to him that his stomach,
refusing all other nourishment, could digest this shocking food, and
that his palate would enjoy it as though it were a feast.

He leaped up, ran to the kitchen and ordered a loaf, white cheese and
green onions to be brought from the village, emphasizing his desire
for a slice exactly like the one being eaten by the child. Then he
returned to sit beneath the tree.

The little chaps were fighting with one another. They struggled for
bits of bread which they shoved into their cheeks, meanwhile sucking
their fingers. Kicks and blows rained freely, and the weakest,
trampled upon, cried out.

At this sight, Des Esseintes recovered his animation. The interest he
took in this fight distracted his thoughts from his illness.
Contemplating the blind fury of these urchins, he thought of the cruel
and abominable law of the struggle of existence; and, although these
children were mean, he could not help being interested in their
futures, yet could not but believe that it had been better for them
had their mothers never given them birth.

In fact, all they could expect of life was rash, colic, fever, and
measles in their earliest years; slaps in the face and degrading
drudgeries up to thirteen years; deceptions by women, sicknesses and
infidelity during manhood and, toward the last, infirmities and
agonies in a poorhouse or asylum.

And the future was the same for every one, and none in his good senses
could envy his neighbor. The rich had the same passions, the same
anxieties, the same pains and the same illnesses, but in a different
environment; the same mediocre enjoyments, whether alcoholic, literary
or carnal. There was even a vague compensation in evils, a sort of
justice which re-established the balance of misfortune between the
classes, permitting the poor to bear physical suffering more easily,
and making it difficult for the unresisting, weaker bodies of the rich
to withstand it.

How vain, silly and mad it is to beget brats! And Des Esseintes
thought of those ecclesiastics who had taken vows of sterility, yet
were so inconsistent as to canonize Saint Vincent de Paul, because he
brought vain tortures to innocent creatures.

By means of his hateful precautions, Vincent de Paul had deferred for
years the death of unintelligent and insensate beings, in such a way
that when they later became almost intelligent and sentient to grief,
they were able to anticipate the future, to await and fear that death
of whose very name they had of late been ignorant, some of them going
as far to invoke it, in hatred of that sentence of life which the monk
inflicted upon them by an absurd theological code.

And since this old man's death, his ideas had prevailed. Abandoned
children were sheltered instead of being killed and yet their lives
daily became increasingly rigorous and barren! Then, under pretext of
liberty and progress, Society had discovered another means of
increasing man's miseries by tearing him from his home, forcing him to
don a ridiculous uniform and carry weapons, by brutalizing him in a
slavery in every respect like that from which he had compassionately
freed the negro, and all to enable him to slaughter his neighbor
without risking the scaffold like ordinary murderers who operate
single-handed, without uniforms and with weapons that are less swift
and deafening.

Des Esseintes wondered if there had ever been such a time as ours. Our
age invokes the causes of humanity, endeavors to perfect anaesthesia
to suppress physical suffering. Yet at the same time it prepares these
very stimulants to increase moral wretchedness.

Ah! if ever this useless procreation should be abolished, it were now.
But here, again, the laws enacted by men like Portalis and Homais
appeared strange and cruel.

In the matter of generation, Justice finds the agencies for deception
to be quite natural. It is a recognized and acknowledged fact. There
is scarcely a home of any station that does not confide its children
to the drain pipes, or that does not employ contrivances that are
freely sold, and which it would enter no person's mind to prohibit.
And yet, if these subterfuges proved insufficient, if the attempt
miscarried and if, to remedy matters, one had recourse to more
efficacious measures, ah! then there were not prisons enough, not
municipal jails enough to confine those who, in good faith, were
condemned by other individuals who had that very evening, on the
conjugal bed, done their utmost to avoid giving birth to children.

The deceit itself was not a crime, it seemed. The crime lay in the
justification of the deceit.

What Society considered a crime was the act of killing a being endowed
with life; and yet, in expelling a foetus, one destroyed an animal
that was less formed and living and certainly less intelligent and
more ugly than a dog or a cat, although it is permissible to strangle
these creatures as soon as they are born.

It is only right to add, for the sake of fairness, thought Des
Esseintes, that it is not the awkward man, who generally loses no time
in disappearing, but rather the woman, the victim of his stupidity,
who expiates the crime of having saved an innocent life.

Yet was it right that the world should be filled with such prejudice
as to wish to repress manoeuvres so natural that primitive man, the
Polynesian savage, for instance, instinctively practices them?

The servant interrupted the charitable reflections of Des Esseintes,
who received the slice of bread on a plate of vermeil. Pains shot
through his heart. He did not have the courage to eat this bread, for
the unhealthy excitement of his stomach had ceased. A sensation of
frightful decay swept upon him. He was compelled to rise. The sun
turned, and slowly fell upon the place that he had lately occupied.
The heat became more heavy and fierce.

"Throw this slice of bread to those children who are murdering each
other on the road," he ordered his servant. "Let the weakest be
crippled, be denied share in the prize, and be soundly thrashed into
the bargain, as they will be when they return to their homes with torn
trousers and bruised eyes. This will give them an idea of the life
that awaits them!"

And he entered the house and sank into his armchair.

"But I must try to eat something," he said. And he attempted to soak a
biscuit in old Constantia wine, several bottles of which remained in
his cellar.

That wine, the color of slightly burned onions, partaking of Malaga
and Port, but with a specially luscious flavor, and an after-taste of
grapes dried by fiery suns, had often comforted him, given a new
energy to his stomach weakened by the fasts which he was forced to
undergo. But this cordial, usually so efficacious, now failed. Then he
thought that an emollient might perhaps counteract the fiery pains
which were consuming him, and he took out the Nalifka, a Russian
liqueur, contained in a bottle frosted with unpolished glass. This
unctuous raspberry-flavored syrup also failed. Alas! the time was far
off when, enjoying good health, Des Esseintes had ridden to his house
in the hot summer days in a sleigh, and there, covered with furs
wrapped about his chest, forced himself to shiver, saying, as he
listened attentively to the chattering of his teeth: "Ah, how biting
this wind is! It is freezing!" Thus he had almost succeeded in
convincing himself that it was cold.

Unfortunately, such remedies as these had failed of their purpose ever
since his sickness became vital.

With all this, he was unable to make use of laudanum: instead of
allaying the pain, this sedative irritated him even to the degree of
depriving him of rest. At one time he had endeavored to procure
visions through opium and hashish, but these two substances had led to
vomitings and intense nervous disturbances. He had instantly been
forced to give up the idea of taking them, and without the aid of
these coarse stimulants, demand of his brain alone to transport him
into the land of dreams, far, far from life.

"What a day!" he said to himself, sponging his neck, feeling every
ounce of his strength dissolve in perspiration; a feverish agitation
still prevented him from remaining in one spot; once more he walked up
and down, trying every chair in the room in turn. Wearied of the
struggle, at last he fell against his bureau and leaning mechanically
against the table, without thinking of anything, he touched an
astrolabe which rested on a mass of books and notes and served as a
paper weight.

He had purchased this engraved and gilded copper instrument (it had
come from Germany and dated from the seventeenth century) of a
second-hand Paris dealer, after a visit to the Cluny Museum, where he
had stood for a long while in ecstatic admiration before a marvelous
astrolabe made of chiseled ivory, whose cabalistic appearance
enchanted him.

This paper weight evoked many reminiscences within him. Aroused and
actuated by the appearance of this trinket, his thoughts rushed from
Fontenay to Paris, to the curio shop where he had purchased it, then
returned to the Museum, and he mentally beheld the ivory astrolabe,
while his unseeing eyes continued to gaze upon the copper astrolabe on
the table.

Then he left the Museum and, without quitting the town, strolled down
the streets, wandered through the rue du Sommerard and the boulevard
Saint-Michel, branched off into the neighboring streets, and paused
before certain shops whose quite extraordinary appearance and
profusion had often attracted him.

Beginning with an astrolabe, this spiritual jaunt ended in the cafes
of the Latin Quarter.

He remembered how these places were crowded in the rue
Monsieur-le-Prince and at the end of the rue de Vaugirard, touching
the Odeon; sometimes they followed one another like the old _riddecks_
of the Canal-aux-Harengs, at Antwerp, each of which revealed a front,
the counterpart of its neighbor.

Through the half-opened doors and the windows dimmed with colored
panes or curtains, he had often seen women who walked about like
geese; others, on benches, rested their elbows on the marble tables,
humming, their temples resting between their hands; still others
strutted and posed in front of mirrors, playing with their false hair
pomaded by hair-dressers; others, again, took money from their purses
and methodically sorted the different denominations in little heaps.

Most of them had heavy features, hoarse voices, flabby necks and
painted eyes; and all of them, like automatons, moved simultaneously
upon the same impulse, flung the same enticements with the same tone
and uttered the identical queer words, the same odd inflections and
the same smile.

Certain ideas associated themselves in the mind of Des Esseintes,
whose reveries came to an end, now that he recalled this collection of
coffee-houses and streets.

He understood the significance of those cafes which reflected the
state of soul of an entire generation, and from it he discovered the
synthesis of the period.

And, in fact, the symptoms were certain and obvious. The houses of
prostitution disappeared, and as soon as one of them closed, a cafe
began to operate.

This restriction of prostitution which proved profitable to
clandestine loves, evidently arose from the incomprehensible illusions
of men in the matter of carnal life.

Monstrous as it may appear, these haunts satisfied an ideal.

Although the utilitarian tendencies transmitted by heredity and
developed by the precocious rudeness and constant brutalities of the
colleges had made the youth of the day strangely crude and as
strangely positive and cold, it had none the less preserved, in the
back of their heads, an old blue flower, an old ideal of a vague, sour

Today, when the blood clamored, youths could not bring themselves to
go through the formality of entering, ending, paying and leaving; in
their eyes, this was bestiality, the action of a dog attacking a bitch
without much ado. Then, too, vanity fled unsatisfied from these houses
where there was no semblance of resistance; there was no victory, no
hoped for preference, nor even largess obtained from the tradeswoman
who measured her caresses according to the price. On the contrary, the
courting of a girl of the cafes stimulated all the susceptibilities of
love, all the refinements of sentiment. One disputed with the others
for such a girl, and those to whom she granted a rendezvous, in
consideration of much money, were sincere in imagining that they had
won her from a rival, and in so thinking they were the objects of
honorary distinction and favor.

Yet this domesticity was as stupid, as selfish, as vile as that of
houses of ill-fame. Its creatures drank without being thirsty, laughed
without reason, were charmed by the caresses of a slut, quarrelled and
fought for no reason whatever, despite everything. The Parisian youth
had not been able to see that these girls were, from the point of
plastic beauty, graceful attitudes and necessary attire, quite
inferior to the women in the bawdy houses! "My God," Des Esseintes
exclaimed, "what ninnies are these fellows who flutter around the
cafes; for, over and above their silly illusions, they forget the
danger of degraded, suspicious allurements, and they are unaware of
the sums of money given for affairs priced in advance by the mistress,
of the time lost in waiting for an assignation deferred so as to
increase its value and cost, delays which are repeated to provide more
tips for the waiters."

This imbecile sentimentality, combined with a ferociously practical
sense, represented the dominant motive of the age. These very persons
who would have gouged their neighbors' eyes to gain ten _sous_, lost
all presence of mind and discrimination before suspicious looking
girls in restaurants who pitilessly harassed and relentlessly fleeced
them. Fathers devoted their lives to their businesses and labors,
families devoured one another on the pretext of trade, only to be
robbed by their sons who, in turn, allowed themselves to be fleeced by
women who posed as sweethearts to obtain their money.

In all Paris, from east to west and from north to south, there existed
an unbroken chain of female tricksters, a system of organized theft,
and all because, instead of satisfying men at once, these women were
skilled in the subterfuges of delay.

At bottom, one might say that human wisdom consisted in the
protraction of all things, in saying "no" before saying "yes," for one
could manage people only by trifling with them.

"Ah! if the same were but true of the stomach," sighed Des Esseintes,
racked by a cramp which instantly and sharply brought back his mind,
that had roved far off, to Fontenay.

    Chapter 14

Several days slowly passed thanks to certain measures which succeeded
in tricking the stomach, but one morning Des Esseintes could endure
food no longer, and he asked himself anxiously whether his already
serious weakness would not grow worse and force him to take to bed. A
sudden gleam of light relieved his distress; he remembered that one of
his friends, quite ill at one time, had made use of a Papin's digester
to overcome his anaemia and preserve what little strength he had.

He dispatched his servant to Paris for this precious utensil, and
following the directions contained in the prospectus which the
manufacturer had enclosed, he himself instructed the cook how to cut
the roast beef into bits, put it into the pewter pot, with a slice of
leek and carrot, and screw on the cover to let it boil for four hours.

At the end of this time the meat fibres were strained. He drank a
spoonful of the thick salty juice deposited at the bottom of the pot.
Then he felt a warmth, like a smooth caress, descend upon him.

This nourishment relieved his pain and nausea, and even strengthened
his stomach which did not refuse to accept these few drops of soup.

Thanks to this digester, his neurosis was arrested and Des Esseintes
said to himself: "Well, it is so much gained; perhaps the temperature
will change, the sky will throw some ashes upon this abominable sun
which exhausts me, and I shall hold out without accident till the
first fogs and frosts of winter."

In the torpor and listless ennui in which he was sunk, the disorder of
his library, whose arrangement had never been completed, irritated
him. Helpless in his armchair, he had constantly in sight the books
set awry on the shelves propped against each other or lying flat on
their sides, like a tumbled pack of cards. This disorder offended him
the more when he contrasted it with the perfect order of his religious
works, carefully placed on parade along the walls.

He tried to clear up the confusion, but after ten minutes of work,
perspiration covered him; the effort weakened him. He stretched
himself on a couch and rang for his servant.

Following his directions, the old man continued the task, bringing
each book in turn to Des Esseintes who examined it and directed where
it was to be placed.

This task did not last long, for Des Esseintes' library contained but
a very limited number of contemporary, secular works.

They were drawn through his brain as bands of metal are drawn through
a steel-plate from which they issue thin, light, and reduced to almost
imperceptible wires; and he had ended by possessing only those books
which could submit to such treatment and which were so solidly
tempered as to withstand the rolling-mill of each new reading. In his
desire to refine, he had restrained and almost sterilized his
enjoyment, ever accentuating the irremediable conflict existing
between his ideas and those of the world in which he had happened to
be born. He had now reached such a pass that he could no longer
discover any writings to content his secret longings. And his
admiration even weaned itself from those volumes which had certainly
contributed to sharpen his mind, making it so suspicious and subtle.

In art, his ideas had sprung from a simple point of view. For him
schools did not exist, and only the temperament of the writer
mattered, only the working of his brain interested him, regardless of
the subject. Unfortunately, this verity of appreciation, worthy of
Palisse, was scarcely applicable, for the simple reason that, even
while desiring to be free of prejudices and passion, each person
naturally goes to the works which most intimately correspond with his
own temperament, and ends by relegating all others to the rear.

This work of selection had slowly acted within him; not long ago he
had adored the great Balzac, but as his body weakened and his nerves
became troublesome, his tastes modified and his admirations changed.

Very soon, and despite the fact that he was aware of his injustice to
the amazing author of the _Comedie humaine_, Des Esseintes had reached
a point where he no longer opened Balzac's books; their healthy spirit
jarred on him. Other aspirations now stirred in him, somehow becoming

Yet when he probed himself he understood that to attract, a work must
have that character of strangeness demanded by Edgar Allen Poe; but he
ventured even further on this path and called for Byzantine flora of
brain and complicated deliquescences of language. He desired a
troubled indecision on which he might brood until he could shape it at
will to a more vague or determinate form, according to the momentary
state of his soul. In short, he desired a work of art both for what it
was in itself and for what it permitted him to endow it. He wished to
pass by means of it into a sphere of sublimated sensation which would
arouse in him new commotions whose cause he might long and vainly seek
to analyze.

In short, since leaving Paris, Des Esseintes was removing himself
further and further from reality, especially from the contemporary
world which he held in an ever growing detestation. This hatred had
inevitably reacted on his literary and artistic tastes, and he would
have as little as possible to do with paintings and books whose
limited subjects dealt with modern life.

Thus, losing the faculty of admiring beauty indiscriminately under
whatever form it was presented, he preferred Flaubert's _Tentation de
saint Antoine_ to his _Education sentimentale_; Goncourt's _Faustin_
to his _Germinie Lacerteux_; Zola's _Faute de l'abbe Mouret_ to his

This point of view seemed logical to him; these works less immediate,
but just as vibrant and human, enabled him to penetrate farther into
the depths of the temperaments of these masters who revealed in them
the most mysterious transports of their being with a more sincere
abandon; and they lifted him far above this trivial life which wearied
him so.

In them he entered into a perfect communion of ideas with their
authors who had written them when their state of soul was analogous to
his own.

In fact, when the period in which a man of talent is obliged to live
is dull and stupid, the artist, though unconsciously, is haunted by a
nostalgia of some past century.

Finding himself unable to harmonize, save at rare intervals, with the
environment in which he lives and not discovering sufficient
distraction in the pleasures of observation and analysis, in the
examination of the environment and its people, he feels in himself the
dawning of strange ideas. Confused desires for other lands awake and
are clarified by reflection and study. Instincts, sensations and
thoughts bequeathed by heredity, awake, grow fixed, assert themselves
with an imperious assurance. He recalls memories of beings and things
he has never really known and a time comes when he escapes from the
penitentiary of his age and roves, in full liberty, into another epoch
with which, through a last illusion, he seems more in harmony.

With some, it is a return to vanished ages, to extinct civilizations,
to dead epochs; with others, it is an urge towards a fantastic future,
to a more or less intense vision of a period about to dawn, whose
image, by an effect of atavism of which he is unaware, is a
reproduction of some past age.

In Flaubert this nostalgia is expressed in solemn and majestic
pictures of magnificent splendors, in whose gorgeous, barbaric frames
move palpitating and delicate creatures, mysterious and haughty--women
gifted, in the perfection of their beauty, with souls capable of
suffering and in whose depths he discerned frightful derangements, mad
aspirations, grieved as they were by the haunting premonition of the
dissillusionments their follies held in store.

The temperament of this great artist is fully revealed in the
incomparable pages of the _Tentation de saint Antoine_ and _Salammbo_
where, far from our sorry life, he evokes the splendors of old Asia,
the age of fervent prayer and mystic depression, of languorous
passions and excesses induced by the unbearable ennui resulting from
opulence and prayer.

In de Goncourt, it was the nostalgia of the preceding century, a
return to the elegances of a society forever lost. The stupendous
setting of seas beating against jetties, of deserts stretching under
torrid skies to distant horizons, did not exist in his nostalgic work
which confined itself to a boudoir, near an aulic park, scented with
the voluptuous fragrance of a woman with a tired smile, a perverse
little pout and unresigned, pensive eyes. The soul with which he
animated his characters was not that breathed by Flaubert into his
creatures, no longer the soul early thrown in revolt by the inexorable
certainty that no new happiness is possible; it was a soul that had
too late revolted, after the experience, against all the useless
attempts to invent new spiritual liaisons and to heighten the
enjoyment of lovers, which from immemorial times has always ended in

Although she lived in, and partook of the life of our time, Faustin,
by her ancestral influences, was a creature of the past century whose
cerebral lassitude and sensual excesses she possessed.

This book of Edmond de Goncourt was one of the volumes which Des
Esseintes loved best, and the suggestion of revery which he demanded
lived in this work where, under each written line, another line was
etched, visible to the spirit alone, indicated by a hint which
revealed passion, by a reticence permitting one to divine subtle
states of soul which no idiom could express. And it was no longer
Flaubert's language in its inimitable magnificence, but a morbid,
perspicacious style, nervous and twisted, keen to note the impalpable
impression that strikes the senses, a style expert in modulating the
complicated nuances of an epoch which in itself was singularly
complex. In short, it was the epithet indispensable to decrepit
civilizations, no matter how old they be, which must have words with
new meanings and forms, innovations in phrases and words for their
complex needs.

At Rome, the dying paganism had modified its prosody and transmuted
its language with Ausonius, with Claudian and Rutilius whose
attentive, scrupulous, sonorous and powerful style presented, in its
descriptive parts especially, reflections, hints and nuances bearing
an affinity with the style of de Goncourt.

At Paris, a fact unique in literary history had been consummated. That
moribund society of the eighteenth century, which possessed painters,
musicians and architects imbued with its tastes and doctrines, had not
been able to produce a writer who could truly depict its dying
elegances, the quintessence of its joys so cruelly expiated. It had
been necessary to await the arrival of de Goncourt (whose temperament
was formed of memories and regrets made more poignant by the sad
spectacle of the intellectual poverty and the pitiful aspirations of
his own time) to resuscitate, not only in his historical works, but
even more in _Faustin_, the very soul of that period; incarnating its
nervous refinements in this actress who tortured her mind and her
senses so as to savor to exhaustion the grievous revulsives of love
and of art.

With Zola, the nostalgia of the far-away was different. In him was no
longing for vanished ages, no aspiring toward worlds lost in the night
of time. His strong and solid temperament, dazzled with the luxuriance
of life, its sanguine forces and moral health, diverted him from the
artificial graces and painted chloroses of the past century, as well
as from the hierarchic solemnity, the brutal ferocity and misty,
effeminate dreams of the old orient. When he, too, had become obsessed
by this nostalgia, by this need, which is nothing less than poetry
itself, of shunning the contemporary world he was studying, he had
rushed into an ideal and fruitful country, had dreamed of fantastic
passions of skies, of long raptures of earth, and of fecund rains of
pollen falling into panting organs of flowers. He had ended in a
gigantic pantheism, had created, unwittingly perhaps, with this
Edenesque environment in which he placed his Adam and Eve, a marvelous
Hindoo poem, singing, in a style whose broad, crude strokes had
something of the bizarre brilliance of an Indian painting, the song of
the flesh, of animated living matter revealing, to the human creature,
by its passion for reproduction the forbidden fruits of love, its
suffocations, its instinctive caresses and natural attitudes.

With Baudelaire, these three masters had most affected Des Esseintes
in modern, French, secular literature. But he had read them so often,
had saturated himself in them so completely, that in order to absorb
them he had been compelled to lay them aside and let them remain
unread on his shelves.

Even now when the servant was arranging them for him, he did not care
to open them, and contented himself merely with indicating the place
they were to occupy and seeing that they were properly classified and
put away.

The servant brought him a new series of books. These oppressed him
more. They were books toward which his taste had gradually veered,
books which diverted him by their very faults from the perfection of
more vigorous writers. Here, too, Des Esseintes had reached the point
where he sought, among these troubled pages, only phrases which
discharged a sort of electricity that made him tremble; they
transmitted their fluid through a medium which at first sight seemed

Their imperfections pleased him, provided they were neither parasitic
nor servile, and perhaps there was a grain of truth in his theory that
the inferior and decadent writer, who is more subjective, though
unfinished, distills a more irritating aperient and acid balm than the
artist of the same period who is truly great. In his opinion, it was
in their turbulent sketches that one perceived the exaltations of the
most excitable sensibilities, the caprices of the most morbid
psychological states, the most extravagant depravities of language
charged, in spite of its rebelliousness, with the difficult task of
containing the effervescent salts of sensations and ideas.

Thus, after the masters, he betook himself to a few writers who
attracted him all the more because of the disdain in which they were
held by the public incapable of understanding them.

One of them was Paul Verlaine who had begun with a volume of verse,
the _Poemes Saturniens_, a rather ineffectual book where imitations of
Leconte de Lisle jostled with exercises in romantic rhetoric, but
through which already filtered the real personality of the poet in
such poems as the sonnet _Reve Familier_.

In searching for his antecedents, Des Esseintes discovered, under the
hesitant strokes of the sketches, a talent already deeply affected by
Baudelaire, whose influence had been accentuated later on, acquiesced
in by the peerless master; but the imitation was never flagrant.

And in some of his books, _Bonne Chanson_, _Fetes Galantes_, _Romances
sans paroles_, and his last volume, _Sagesse_, were poems where he
himself was revealed as an original and outstanding figure.

With rhymes obtained from verb tenses, sometimes even from long
adverbs preceded by a monosyllable from which they fell as from a rock
into a heavy cascade of water, his verses, divided by improbable
caesuras, often became strangely obscure with their audacious ellipses
and strange inaccuracies which none the less did not lack grace.

With his unrivalled ability to handle metre, he had sought to
rejuvenate the fixed poetic forms. He turned the tail of the sonnet
into the air, like those Japanese fish of polychrome clay which rest
on stands, their heads straight down, their tails on top. Sometimes he
corrupted it by using only masculine rhymes to which he seemed
partial. He had often employed a bizarre form--a stanza of three lines
whose middle verse was unrhymed, and a tiercet with but one rhyme,
followed by a single line, an echoing refrain like "Dansons la Gigue"
in _Streets_. He had employed other rhymes whose dim echoes are
repeated in remote stanzas, like faint reverberations of a bell.

But his personality expressed itself most of all in vague and
delicious confidences breathed in hushed accents, in the twilight. He
alone had been able to reveal the troubled Ultima Thules of the soul;
low whisperings of thoughts, avowals so haltingly and murmuringly
confessed that the ear which hears them remains hesitant, passing on
to the soul languors quickened by the mystery of this suggestion which
is divined rather than felt. Everything characteristic of Verlaine was
expressed in these adorable verses of the _Fetes Galantes_:

    Le soir tombait, un soir equivoque
    Les belles se pendant reveuses a nos
    Dirent alors des mots si specieux tout
    Que notre ame depuis ce temps
      tremble et s'etonne

It was no longer the immense horizon opened by the unforgettable
portals of Baudelaire; it was a crevice in the moonlight, opening on a
field which was more intimate and more restrained, peculiar to
Verlaine who had formulated his poetic system in those lines of which
Des Esseintes was so fond:

    Car nous voulons la nuance encore,
    Pas la couleur, rien que la nuance.
    Et tout le reste est litterature.

Des Esseintes had followed him with delight in his most diversified
works. After his _Romances sans paroles_ which had appeared in a
journal, Verlaine had preserved a long silence, reappearing later in
those charming verses, hauntingly suggestive of the gentle and cold
accents of Villon, singing of the Virgin, "removed from our days of
carnal thought and weary flesh." Des Esseintes often re-read _Sagesse_
whose poems provoked him to secret reveries, a fanciful love for a
Byzantine Madonna who, at a certain moment, changed into a distracted
modern Cydalise so mysterious and troubling that one could not know
whether she aspired toward depravities so monstrous that they became
irresistible, or whether she moved in an immaculate dream where the
adoration of the soul floated around her ever unavowed and ever pure.

There were other poets, too, who induced him to confide himself to
them: Tristan Corbiere who, in 1873, in the midst of the general
apathy had issued a most eccentric volume entitled: _Les Amours
jaunes_. Des Esseintes who, in his hatred of the banal and
commonplace, would gladly have accepted the most affected folly and
the most singular extravagance, spent many enjoyable hours with this
work where drollery mingled with a disordered energy, and where
disconcerting lines blazed out of poems so absolutely obscure as the
litanies of _Sommeil_, that they qualified their author for the name

    Obscene confesseur des devotes mort-nees.

The style was hardly French. The author wrote in the negro dialect,
was telegraphic in form, suppressed verbs, affected a teasing
phraseology, revelled in the impossible puns of a travelling salesman;
then out of this jumble, laughable conceits and sly affectations
emerged, and suddenly a cry of keen anguish rang out, like the
snapping string of a violoncello. And with all this, in his hard
rugged style, bristling with obsolescent words and unexpected
neologisms, flashed perfect originalities, treasures of expression and
superbly nomadic lines amputated of rhyme. Finally, over and above his
_Poemes Parisiens_, where Des Esseintes had discovered this profound
definition of woman:

    Eternel feminin de l'eternel jocrisse

Tristan Corbiere had celebrated in a powerfully concise style, the Sea
of Brittany, mermaids and the Pardon of Saint Anne. And he had even
risen to an eloquence of hate in the insults he hurled, apropos of the
Conlie camp, at the individuals whom he designated under the name of
"foreigners of the Fourth of September."

The raciness of which he was so fond, which Corbiere offered him in
his sharp epithets, his beauties which ever remained a trifle suspect,
Des Esseintes found again in another poet, Theodore Hannon, a disciple
of Baudelaire and Gautier, moved by a very unusual sense of the
exquisite and the artificial.

Unlike Verlaine whose work was directly influenced by Baudelaire,
especially on the psychological side, in his insidious nuances of
thought and skilful quintessence of sentiment, Theodore Hannon
especially descended from the master on the plastic side, by the
external vision of persons and things.

His charming corruption fatally corresponded to the tendencies of Des
Esseintes who, on misty or rainy days, enclosed himself in the retreat
fancied by the poet and intoxicated his eyes with the rustlings of his
fabrics, with the incandescence of his stones, with his exclusively
material sumptuousness which ministered to cerebral reactions, and
rose like a cantharides powder in a cloud of fragrant incense toward a
Brussel idol with painted face and belly stained by the perfumes.

With the exception of the works of these poets and of Stephane
Mallarme, which his servant was told to place to one side so that he
might classify them separately, Des Esseintes was but slightly
attracted towards the poets.

Notwithstanding the majestic form and the imposing quality of his
verse which struck such a brilliant note that even the hexameters of
Hugo seemed pale in comparison, Leconte de Lisle could no longer
satisfy him. The antiquity so marvelously restored by Flaubert
remained cold and immobile in his hands. Nothing palpitated in his
verses, which lacked depth and which, most often, contained no idea.
Nothing moved in those gloomy, waste poems whose impassive mythologies
ended by finally leaving him cold. Too, after having long delighted in
Gautier, Des Esseintes reached the point where he no longer cared for
him. The admiration he felt for this man's incomparable painting had
gradually dissolved; now he was more astonished than ravished by his
descriptions. Objects impressed themselves upon Gautier's perceptive
eyes but they went no further, they never penetrated deeper into his
brain and flesh. Like a giant mirror, this writer constantly limited
himself to reflecting surrounding objects with impersonal clearness.
Certainly, Des Esseintes still loved the works of these two poets, as
he loved rare stones and precious objects, but none of the variations
of these perfect instrumentalists could hold him longer, neither being
evocative of revery, neither opening for him, at least, broad roads of
escape to beguile the tedium of dragging hours.

These two books left him unsatisfied. And it was the same with Hugo;
the oriental and patriarchal side was too conventional and barren to
detain him. And his manners, at once childish and that of a
grandfather, exasperated him. He had to go to the _Chansons des rues
et des bois_ to enjoy the perfect acrobatics of his metrics. But how
gladly, after all, would he not have exchanged all this _tour de
force_ for a new work by Baudelaire which might equal the others, for
he, decidedly, was almost the only one whose verses, under their
splendid form, contained a healing and nutritive substance. In passing
from one extreme to the other, from form deprived of ideas to ideas
deprived of form, Des Esseintes remained no less circumspect and cold.
The psychological labyrinths of Stendhal, the analytical detours of
Duranty seduced him, but their administrative, colorless and arid
language, their static prose, fit at best for the wretched industry of
the theatre, repelled him. Then their interesting works and their
astute analyses applied to brains agitated by passions in which he was
no longer interested. He was not at all concerned with general
affections or points of view, with associations of common ideas, now
that the reserve of his mind was more keenly developed and that he no
longer admitted aught but superfine sensations and catholic or sensual
torments. To enjoy a work which should combine, according to his
wishes, incisive style with penetrating and feline analysis, he had to
go to the master of induction, the profound and strange Edgar Allen
Poe, for whom, since the time when he re-read him, his preference had
never wavered.

More than any other, perhaps, he approached, by his intimate affinity,
Des Esseintes' meditative cast of mind.

If Baudelaire, in the hieroglyphics of the soul, had deciphered the
return of the age of sentiment and ideas, Poe, in the field of morbid
psychology had more especially investigated the domain of the soul.

Under the emblematic title, _The Demon of Perversity_, he had been the
first in literature to pry into the irresistible, unconscious impulses
of the will which mental pathology now explains more scientifically.
He had also been the first to divulge, if not to signal the impressive
influence of fear which acts on the will like an anaesthetic,
paralyzing sensibility and like the curare, stupefying the nerves. It
was on the problem of the lethargy of the will, that Poe had centered
his studies, analyzing the effects of this moral poison, indicating
the symptoms of its progress, the troubles commencing with anxiety,
continuing through anguish, ending finally in the terror which deadens
the will without intelligence succumbing, though sorely disturbed.
Death, which the dramatists had so much abused, he had in some manner
changed and made more poignant, by introducing an algebraic and
superhuman element; but in truth, it was less the real agony of the
dying person which he described and more the moral agony of the
survivor, haunted at the death bed by monstrous hallucinations
engendered by grief and fatigue. With a frightful fascination, he
dwelt on acts of terror, on the snapping of the will, coldly reasoning
about them, little by little making the reader gasp, suffocated and
panting before these feverish mechanically contrived nightmares.

Convulsed by hereditary neurosis, maddened by a moral St. Vitus dance,
Poe's creatures lived only through their nerves; his women, the
Morellas and Ligeias, possessed an immense erudition. They were
steeped in the mists of German philosophy and the cabalistic mysteries
of the old Orient; and all had the boyish and inert breasts of angels,
all were sexless.

Baudelaire and Poe, these two men who had often been compared because
of their common poetic strain and predilection for the examination of
mental maladies, differed radically in the affective conceptions which
held such a large place in their works; Baudelaire with his iniquitous
and debased loves--cruel loves which made one think of the reprisals
of an inquisition; Poe with his chaste, aerial loves, in which the
senses played no part, where only the mind functioned without
corresponding to organs which, if they existed, remained forever
frozen and virgin. This cerebral clinic where, vivisecting in a
stifling atmosphere, that spiritual surgeon became, as soon as his
attention flagged, a prey to an imagination which evoked, like
delicious miasmas, somnambulistic and angelic apparitions, was to Des
Esseintes a source of unwearying conjecture. But now that his nervous
disorders were augmented, days came when his readings broke his spirit
and when, hands trembling, body alert, like the desolate Usher he was
haunted by an unreasoning fear and a secret terror.

Thus he was compelled to moderate his desires, and he rarely touched
these fearful elixirs, in the same way that he could no longer with
impunity visit his red corridor and grow ecstatic at the sight of the
gloomy Odilon Redon prints and the Jan Luyken horrors. And yet, when
he felt inclined to read, all literature seemed to him dull after
these terrible American imported philtres. Then he betook himself to
Villiers de L'Isle Adam in whose scattered works he noted seditious
observations and spasmodic vibrations, but which no longer gave one,
with the exception of his Claire Lenoir, such troubling horror.

This Claire Lenoir which appeared in 1867 in the _Revue des lettres et
des arts_, opened a series of tales comprised under the title of
_Histoires Moroses_ where against a background of obscure speculations
borrowed from old Hegel, dislocated creatures stirred, Dr. Tribulat
Bonhomet, solemn and childish, a Claire Lenoir, farcical and sinister,
with blue spectacles, round and large as franc pieces, which covered
her almost dead eyes.

This story centered about a simple adultery and ended with an
inexpressible terror when Bonhomet, opening Claire's eyelids, as she
lies in her death bed, and penetrating them with monstrous plummets,
distinctively perceives the reflection of the husband brandishing the
lover's decapitated head, while shouting a war song, like a Kanaka.

Based on this more or less just observation that the eyes of certain
animals, cows for instance, preserve even to decomposition, like
photographic plates, the image of the beings and things their eyes
behold at the moment they expire, this story evidently derived from
Poe, from whom he appropriated the terrifying and elaborate technique.

This also applied to the _Intersigne_, which had later been joined to
the _Contes cruels_, a collection of indisputable talent in which was
found _Vera_, which Des Esseintes considered a little masterpiece.

Here, the hallucination was marked with an exquisite tenderness; no
longer was it the dark mirages of the American author, but the fluid,
warm, almost celestial vision; it was in an identical genre, the
reverse of the Beatrices and Legeias, those gloomy and dark phantoms
engendered by the inexorable nightmare of opium.

This story also put in play the operations of the will, but it no
longer treated of its defeats and helplessness under the effects of
fear; on the contrary, it studied the exaltations of the will under
the impulse of a fixed idea; it demonstrated its power which often
succeeded in saturating the atmosphere and in imposing its qualities
on surrounding objects.

Another book by Villiers de L'Isle Adam, _Isis_, seemed to him curious
in other respects. The philosophic medley of Clair Lenoir was evident
in this work which offered an unbelievable jumble of verbal and
troubled observations, souvenirs of old melodramas, poniards and rope
ladders--all the romanticism which Villiers de L'Isle Adam could never
rejuvenate in his _Elen_ and _Morgane_, forgotten pieces published by
an obscure man, Sieur Francisque Guyon.

The heroine of this book, Marquise Tullia Fabriana, reputed to have
assimilated the Chaldean science of the women of Edgar Allen Poe, and
the diplomatic sagacities of Stendhal, had the enigmatic countenance
of Bradamante abused by an antique Circe. These insoluble mixtures
developed a fuliginous vapor across which philosophic and literary
influences jostled, without being able to be regulated in the author's
brain when he wrote the prolegomenae of this work which could not have
embraced less than seven volumes.

But there was another side to Villiers' temperament. It was piercing
and acute in an altogether different sense--a side of forbidding
pleasantry and fierce raillery. No longer was it the paradoxical
mystifications of Poe, but a scoffing that had in it the lugubrious
and savage comedy which Swift possessed. A series of sketches, _les
Demoiselles de Bienfilatre_, _l'Affichage celeste_, _la Machine a
gloire_, and _le Plus beau diner du monde_, betrayed a singularly
inventive and keenly bantering mind. The whole order of contemporary
and utilitarian ideas, the whole commercialized baseness of the age
were glorified in stories whose poignant irony transported Des

No other French book had been written in this serious and bitter
style. At the most, a tale by Charles Cros, _La science de l'amour_,
printed long ago in the _Revue du Monde-Nouveau_, could astonish by
reason of its chemical whims, by its affected humor and by its coldly
facetious observations. But the pleasure to be extracted from the
story was merely relative, since its execution was a dismal failure.
The firm, colored and often original style of Villiers had disappeared
to give way to a mixture scraped on the literary bench of the

"Heavens! heavens! how few books are really worth re-reading," sighed
Des Esseintes, gazing at the servant who left the stool on which he
had been perched, to permit Des Esseintes to survey his books with a
single glance.

Des Esseintes nodded his head. But two small books remained on the
table. With a sigh, he dismissed the old man, and turned over the
leaves of a volume bound in onager skin which had been glazed by a
hydraulic press and speckled with silver clouds. It was held together
by fly-leaves of old silk damask whose faint patterns held that charm
of faded things celebrated by Mallarme in an exquisite poem.

These pages, numbering nine, had been extracted from copies of the two
first Parnassian books; it was printed on parchment paper and preceded
by this title: _Quelques vers de Mallarme_, designed in a surprising
calligraphy in uncial letters, illuminated and relieved with gold, as
in old manuscripts.

Among the eleven poems brought together in these covers, several
invited him: _Les fenetres_, _l'epilogue_ and _Azur_; but one among
them all, a fragment of the _Herodiade_, held him at certain hours in
a spell.

How often, beneath the lamp that threw a low light on the silent
chamber, had he not felt himself haunted by this Herodiade who, in the
work of Gustave Moreau, was now plunged in gloom revealing but a dim
white statue in a brazier extinguished by stones.

The darkness concealed the blood, the reflections and the golds, hid
the temple's farther sides, drowned the supernumeraries of the crime
enshrouded in their dead colors, and, only sparing the aquerelle
whites, revealed the woman's jewels and heightened her nudity.

At such times he was forced to gaze upon her unforgotten outlines; and
she lived for him, her lips articulating those bizarre and delicate
lines which Mallarme makes her utter:

                            O miroir!
    Eau froide par l'ennui dans ton cadre
    Que de fois, et pendant les heures,
    Des songes et cherchant mes souvenirs
      qui sont
    Comme des feuilles sous ta glace au
      trou profond,
    Je m'apparus en toi comme une ombre
    Mais, horreur! des soirs, dans ta
      severe fontaine,
    J'ai de mon reve epars connu la nudite!

These lines he loved, as he loved the works of this poet who, in an
age of democracy devoted to lucre, lived his solitary and literary
life sheltered by his disdain from the encompassing stupidity,
delighting, far from society, in the surprises of the intellect, in
cerebral visions, refining on subtle ideas, grafting Byzantine
delicacies upon them, perpetuating them in suggestions lightly
connected by an almost imperceptible thread.

These twisted and precious ideas were bound together with an adhesive
and secret language full of phrase contractions, ellipses and bold

Perceiving the remotest analogies, with a single term which by an
effect of similitude at once gave the form, the perfume, the color and
the quality, he described the object or being to which otherwise he
would have been compelled to place numerous and different epithets so
as to disengage all their facets and nuances, had he simply contented
himself with indicating the technical name. Thus he succeeded in
dispensing with the comparison, which formed in the reader's mind by
analogy as soon as the symbol was understood. Neither was the
attention of the reader diverted by the enumeration of the qualities
which the juxtaposition of adjectives would have induced.
Concentrating upon a single word, he produced, as for a picture, the
ensemble, a unique and complete aspect.

It became a concentrated literature, an essential unity, a sublimate
of art. This style was at first employed with restraint in his earlier
works, but Mallarme had boldly proclaimed it in a verse on Theophile
Gautier and in _l'Apres-midi du faune_, an eclogue where the
subtleties of sensual joys are described in mysterious and caressing
verses suddenly pierced by this wild, rending faun cry:

    Alors m'eveillerai-je a la ferveur
    Droit et seul sous un flot antique de
    Lys! et l'un de vous tous pour

That line with the monosyllable _lys_ like a sprig, evoked the image
of something rigid, slender and white; it rhymed with the substantive
_ingenuite_, allegorically expressing, by a single term, the passion,
the effervescence, the fugitive mood of a virgin faun amorously
distracted by the sight of nymphs.

In this extraordinary poem, surprising and unthought of images leaped
up at the end of each line, when the poet described the elations and
regrets of the faun contemplating, at the edge of a fen, the tufts of
reeds still preserving, in its transitory mould, the form made by the
naiades who had occupied it.

Then, Des Esseintes also experienced insidious delights in touching
this diminutive book whose cover of Japan vellum, as white as curdled
milk, were held together by two silk bands, one of Chinese rose, the
other of black.

Hidden behind the cover, the black band rejoined the rose which rested
like a touch of modern Japanese paint or like a lascivious adjutant
against the antique white, against the candid carnation tint of the
book, and enlaced it, united its sombre color with the light color
into a light rosette. It insinuated a faint warning of that regret, a
vague menace of that sadness which succeeds the ended transports and
the calmed excitements of the senses.

Des Esseintes placed _l'Apres-midi du faune_ on the table and examined
another little book he had printed, an anthology of prose poems, a
tiny chapel, placed under the invocation of Baudelaire and opening on
the parvise of his poems.

This anthology comprised a selection of _Gaspard de la nuit_ of that
fantastic Aloysius Bertrand who had transferred the behavior of
Leonard in prose and, with his metallic oxydes, painted little
pictures whose vivid colors sparkle like those of clear enamels. To
this, Des Esseintes had joined _le Vox populi_ of Villiers, a superb
piece of work in a hammered, golden style after the manner of Leconte
de Lisle and of Flaubert, and some selections from that delicate
_livre de Jade_ whose exotic perfume of ginseng and of tea blends with
the odorous freshness of water babbling along the book, under

But in this collection had been gathered certain poems resurrected
from defunct reviews: _le Demon de l'analogie_, _la Pipe_, _le Pauvre
enfant pale_, _le Spectacle interrompu_, _le Phenomene futur_, and
especially _Plaintes d'automne_ and _Frisson d'hiver_ which were
Mallarme's masterpieces and were also celebrated among the
masterpieces of prose poems, for they united such a magnificently
delicate language that they cradled, like a melancholy incantation or
a maddening melody, thoughts of an irresistible suggestiveness,
pulsations of the soul of a sensitive person whose excited nerves
vibrate with a keenness which penetrates ravishingly and induces a

Of all the forms of literature, that of the prose poem was the form
Des Esseintes preferred. Handled by an alchemist of genius, it
contained in its slender volume the strength of the novel whose
analytic developments and descriptive redundancies it suppressed.
Quite often, Des Esseintes had meditated on that disquieting
problem--to write a novel concentrated in a few phrases which should
contain the essence of hundreds of pages always employed to establish
the setting, to sketch the characters, and to pile up observations and
minute details. Then the chosen words would be so unexchangeable that
they would do duty for many others, the adjective placed in such an
ingenious and definite fashion that it could not be displaced, opening
such perspectives that the reader could dream for whole weeks on its
sense at once precise and complex, could record the present,
reconstruct the past, divine the future of the souls of the
characters, revealed by the gleams of this unique epithet.

Thus conceived and condensed in a page or two, the novel could become
a communion of thought between a magical writer and an ideal reader, a
spiritual collaboration agreed to between ten superior persons
scattered throughout the universe, a delight offered to the refined,
and accessible to them alone.

To Des Esseintes, the prose poem represented the concrete juice of
literature, the essential oil of art.

That succulence, developed and concentrated into a drop, already
existed in Baudelaire and in those poems of Mallarme which he read
with such deep joy.

When he had closed his anthology, Des Esseintes told himself that his
books which had ended on this last book, would probably never have
anything added to it.

In fact, the decadence of a literature, irreparably affected in its
organism, enfeebled by old ideas, exhausted by excesses of syntax,
sensitive only to the curiosities which make sick persons feverish,
and yet intent upon expressing everything in its decline, eager to
repair all the omissions of enjoyment, to bequeath the most subtle
memories of grief in its death bed, was incarnate in Mallarme, in the
most perfect exquisite manner imaginable.

Here were the quintessences of Baudelaire and of Poe; here were their
fine and powerful substances distilled and disengaging new flavors and

It was the agony of the old language which, after having become moldy
from age to age, ended by dissolving, by reaching that deliquescence
of the Latin language which expired in the mysterious concepts and the
enigmatical expressions of Saint Boniface and Saint Adhelme.

The decomposition of the French language had been effected suddenly.
In the Latin language, a long transition, a distance of four hundred
years existed between the spotted and superb epithet of Claudian and
Rutilius and the gamy epithet of the eighth century. In the French
language, no lapse of time, no succession of ages had taken place; the
stained and superb style of the de Goncourts and the gamy style of
Verlaine and Mallarme jostled in Paris, living in the same period,
epoch and century.

And Des Esseintes, gazing at one of the folios opened on his chapel
desk, smiled at the thought that the moment would soon come when an
erudite scholar would prepare for the decadence of the French language
a glossary similar to that in which the savant, Du Cange, has noted
the last murmurings, the last spasms, the last flashes of the Latin
language dying of old age in the cloisters and sounding its death

    Chapter 15

Burning at first like a rick on fire, his enthusiasm for the digester
as quickly died out. Torpid at first, his nervous dyspepsia
reappeared, and then this hot essence induced such an irritation in
his stomach that Des Esseintes was quickly compelled to stop using it.

The malady increased in strength; peculiar symptoms attended it. After
the nightmares, hallucinations of smell, pains in the eye and deep
coughing which recurred with clock-like regularity, after the pounding
of his heart and arteries and the cold perspiration, arose illusions
of hearing, those alterations which only reveal themselves in the last
period of sickness.

Attacked by a strong fever, Des Esseintes suddenly heard murmurings of
water; then those sounds united into one and resembled a roaring which
increased and then slowly resolved itself into a silvery bell sound.

He felt his delirious brain whirling in musical waves, engulfed in the
mystic whirlwinds of his infancy. The songs learned at the Jesuits
reappeared, bringing with them pictures of the school and the chapel
where they had resounded, driving their hallucinations to the
olfactory and visual organs, veiling them with clouds of incense and
the pallid light irradiating through the stained-glass windows, under
the lofty arches.

At the Fathers, the religious ceremonies had been practiced with great
pomp. An excellent organist and remarkable singing director made an
artistic delight of these spiritual exercises that were conducive to
worship. The organist was in love with the old masters and on holidays
celebrated masses by Palestrina and Orlando Lasso, psalms by Marcello,
oratorios by Handel, motets by Bach; he preferred to render the sweet
and facile compilations of Father Lambillotte so much favored by
priests, the "Laudi Spirituali" of the sixteenth century whose
sacerdotal beauty had often bewitched Des Esseintes.

But he particularly extracted ineffable pleasures while listening to
the plain-chant which the organist had preserved regardless of new

That form which was now considered a decrepit and Gothic form of
Christian liturgy, an archaeological curiosity, a relic of ancient
time, had been the voice of the early Church, the soul of the Middle
Age. It was the eternal prayer that had been sung and modulated in
harmony with the soul's transports, the enduring hymn uplifted for
centuries to the Almighty.

That traditional melody was the only one which, with its strong
unison, its solemn and massive harmonies, like freestone, was not out
of place with the old basilicas, making eloquent the Romanesque
vaults, whose emanation and very spirit they seemed to be.

How often had Des Esseintes not thrilled under its spell, when the
"Christus factus est" of the Gregorian chant rose from the nave whose
pillars seemed to tremble among the rolling clouds from censers, or
when the "De Profundis" was sung, sad and mournful as a suppressed
sob, poignant as a despairing invocation of humanity bewailing its
mortal destiny and imploring the tender forgiveness of its Savior!

All religious music seemed profane to him compared with that
magnificent chant created by the genius of the Church, anonymous as
the organ whose inventor is unknown. At bottom, in the works of
Jomelli and Porpora, Carissimi and Durante, in the most wonderful
compositions of Handel and Bach, there was never a hint of a
renunciation of public success, or the sacrifice of an effect of art,
or the abdication of human pride hearkening to its own prayer.

At the most, the religious style, august and solemn, had crystallized
in Lesueur's imposing masses celebrated at Saint-Roch, tending to
approach the severe nudity and austere majesty of the old plain-chant.

Since then, absolutely revolted by these pretexts at _Stabat Maters_
devised by the Pergolesis and the Rossinis, by this intrusion of
profane art in liturgic art, Des Esseintes had shunned those ambiguous
works tolerated by the indulgent Church.

In addition, this weakness brought about by the desire for large
congregations had quickly resulted in the adoption of songs borrowed
from Italian operas, of low cavatinas and indecent quadrilles played
in churches converted to boudoirs and surrendered to stage actors
whose voices resounded aloft, their impurity tainting the tones of the
holy organ.

For years he had obstinately refused to take part in these pious
entertainments, contenting himself with his memories of childhood. He
even regretted having heard the _Te Deum_ of the great masters, for he
remembered that admirable plain-chant, that hymn so simple and solemn
composed by some unknown saint, a Saint Ambrose or Hilary who, lacking
the complicated resources of an orchestra and the musical mechanics of
modern science, revealed an ardent faith, a delirious jubilation,
uttered, from the soul of humanity, in the piercing and almost
celestial accents of conviction.

Des Esseintes' ideas on music were in flagrant contradiction with the
theories he professed regarding the other arts. In religious music, he
approved only of the monastic music of the Middle Ages, that emaciated
music which instinctively reacted on his nerves like certain pages of
the old Christian Latin. Then (he freely confessed it) he was
incapable of understanding the tricks that the contemporary masters
had introduced into Catholic art. And he had not studied music with
that passion which had led him towards painting and letters. He played
indifferently on the piano and after many painful attempts had
succeeded in reading a score, but he was ignorant of harmony, of the
technique needed really to understand a nuance, to appreciate a
finesse, to savor a refinement with full comprehension.

In other respects, when not read in solitude, profane music is a
promiscuous art. To enjoy music, one must become part of that public
which fills the theatres where, in a vile atmosphere, one perceives a
loutish-looking man butchering episodes from Wagner, to the huge
delight of the ignorant mob.

He had always lacked the courage to plunge in this mob-bath so as to
listen to Berlioz' compositions, several fragments of which had
bewitched him by their passionate exaltations and their vigorous
fugues, and he was certain that there was not one single scene, not
even a phrase of one of the operas of the amazing Wagner which could
with impunity be detached from its whole.

The fragments, cut and served on the plate of a concert, lost all
significance and remained senseless, since (like the chapters of a
book, completing each other and moving to an inevitable conclusion)
Wagner's melodies were necessary to sketch the characters, to
incarnate their thoughts and to express their apparent or secret
motives. He knew that their ingenious and persistent returns were
understood only by the auditors who followed the subject from the
beginning and gradually beheld the characters in relief, in a setting
from which they could not be removed without dying, like branches torn
from a tree.

That was why he felt that, among the vulgar herd of melomaniacs
enthusing each Sunday on benches, scarcely any knew the score that was
being massacred, when the ushers consented to be silent and permit the
orchestra to be heard.

Granted also that intelligent patriotism forbade a French theatre to
give a Wagnerian opera, the only thing left to the curious who know
nothing of musical arcana and either cannot or will not betake
themselves to Bayreuth, is to remain at home. And that was precisely
the course of conduct he had pursued.

The more public and facile music and the independent pieces of the old
operas hardly interested him; the wretched trills of Auber and
Boieldieu, of Adam and Flotow and the rhetorical commonplaces of
Ambroise Thomas and the Bazins disgusted him as did the superannuated
affectations and vulgar graces of Italians. That was why he had
resolutely broken with musical art, and during the years of his
abstention, he pleasurably recalled only certain programs of chamber
music when he had heard Beethoven, and especially Schumann and
Schubert which had affected his nerves in the same manner as had the
more intimate and troubling poems of Edgar Allen Poe.

Some of Schubert's parts for violoncello had positively left him
panting, in the grip of hysteria. But it was particularly Schubert's
lieders that had immeasurably excited him, causing him to experience
similar sensations as after a waste of nervous fluid, or a mystic
dissipation of the soul.

This music penetrated and drove back an infinity of forgotten
sufferings and spleen in his heart. He was astonished at being able to
contain so many dim miseries and vague griefs. This desolate music,
crying from the inmost depths, terrified while charming him. Never
could he repeat the "Young Girl's Lament" without a welling of tears
in his eyes, for in this plaint resided something beyond a mere
broken-hearted state; something in it clutched him, something like a
romance ending in a gloomy landscape.

And always, when these exquisite, sad plaints returned to his lips,
there was evoked for him a suburban, flinty and gloomy site where a
succession of silent bent persons, harassed by life, filed past into
the twilight, while, steeped in bitterness and overflowing with
disgust, he felt himself solitary in this dejected landscape, struck
by an inexpressibly melancholy and stubborn distress whose mysterious
intensity excluded all consolation, pity and repose. Like a
funeral-knell, this despairing chant haunted him, now that he was in
bed, prostrated by fever and agitated by an anxiety so much the more
inappeasable for the fact that he could not discover its cause. He
ended by abandoning himself to the torrent of anguishes suddenly
dammed by the chant of psalms slowly rising in his tortured head.

One morning, nevertheless, he felt more tranquil and requested the
servant to bring a looking-glass. It fell from his hands. He hardly
recognized himself. His face was a clay color, the lips bloated and
dry, the tongue parched, the skin rough. His hair and beard, untended
since his illness by the domestic, added to the horror of the sunken
face and staring eyes burning with feverish intensity in this skeleton
head that bristled with hair. More than his weakness, more than his
vomitings which began with each attempt at taking nourishment, more
than his emaciation, did his changed visage terrify him. He felt lost.
Then, in the dejection which overcame him, a sudden energy forced him
in a sitting posture. He had strength to write a letter to his Paris
physician and to order the servant to depart instantly, seek and bring
him back that very day.

He passed suddenly from complete depression into boundless hope. This
physician was a celebrated specialist, a doctor renowned for his cures
of nervous maladies "He must have cured many more dangerous cases than
mine," Des Esseintes reflected. "I shall certainly be on my feet in a
few days." Disenchantment succeeded his confidence. Learned and
intuitive though they be, physicians know absolutely nothing of
neurotic diseases, being ignorant of their origins. Like the others,
this one would prescribe the eternal oxyde of zinc and quinine,
bromide of potassium and valerian. He had recourse to another thought:
"If these remedies have availed me little in the past, could it not be
due to the fact that I have not taken the right quantities?"

In spite of everything, this expectation of being cured cheered him,
but then a new fear entered. His servant might have failed to find the
physician. Again he grew faint, passing instantly from the most
unreasoning hopes to the most baseless fears, exaggerating the chances
of a sudden recovery and his apprehensions of danger. The hours passed
and the moment came when, in utter despair and convinced that the
physician would not arrive, he angrily told himself that he certainly
would have been saved, had he acted sooner. Then his rage against the
servant and the physician whom he accused of permitting him to die,
vanished, and he ended by reproaching himself for having waited so
long before seeking aid, persuading himself that he would now be
wholly cured had he that very last evening used the medicine.

Little by little, these alternations of hope and alarms jostling in
his poor head, abated. The struggles ended by crushing him, and he
relapsed into exhausted sleep interrupted by incoherent dreams, a sort
of syncope pierced by awakenings in which he was barely conscious of
anything. He had reached such a state where he lost all idea of
desires and fears, and he was stupefied, experiencing neither
astonishment or joy, when the physician suddenly arrived.

The doctor had doubtless been apprised by the servant of Des
Esseintes' mode of living and of the various symptoms observed since
the day when the master of the house had been found near the window,
overwhelmed by the violence of perfumes. He put very few questions to
the patient whom he had known for many years. He felt his pulse and
attentively studied the urine where certain white spots revealed one
of the determining causes of nervousness. He wrote a prescription and
left without saying more than that he would soon return.

This visit comforted Des Esseintes who none the less was frightened by
the taciturnity observed; he adjured his servant not to conceal the
truth from him any longer. But the servant declared that the doctor
had exhibited no uneasiness, and despite his suspicions, Des Esseintes
could seize upon no sign that might betray a shadow of a lie on the
tranquil countenance of the old man.

Then his thoughts began to obsess him less; his suffering disappeared
and to the exhaustion he had felt throughout his members was grafted a
certain indescribable languor. He was astonished and satisfied not to
be weighted with drugs and vials, and a faint smile played on his lips
when the servant brought a nourishing injection of peptone and told
him he was to take it three times every twenty-four hours.

The operation succeeded and Des Esseintes could not forbear to
congratulate himself on this event which in a manner crowned the
existence he had created. His penchant towards the artificial had now,
though involuntarily, reached the supreme goal.

Farther one could not go. The nourishment thus absorbed was the
ultimate deviation one could possibly commit.

"How delicious it would be" he reflected, "to continue this simple
regime in complete health! What economy of time, what a pronounced
deliverance from the aversion which food gives those who lack
appetite! What a complete riddance from the disgust induced by food
forcibly eaten! What an energetic protestation against the vile sin of
gluttony, what a positive insult hurled at old nature whose monotonous
demands would thus be avoided."

And he continued, talking to himself half-aloud. One could easily
stimulate desire for food by swallowing a strong aperitif. After the
question, "what time is it getting to be? I am famished," one would
move to the table and place the instrument on the cloth, and then, in
the time it takes to say grace, one could have suppressed the tiresome
and vulgar demands of the body.

Several days afterwards, the servant presented an injection whose
color and odor differed from the other.

"But it is not the same at all!" Des Esseintes cried, gazing with deep
feeling at the liquid poured into the apparatus. As if in a
restaurant, he asked for the card, and unfolding the physician's
prescription, read:

    Cod Liver Oil . . . . . . . .  20 grammes
    Beef Tea  . . . . . . . . . . 200 grammes
    Burgundy Wine . . . . . . . . 200 grammes
    Yolk of one egg.

He remained meditative. He who by reason of the weakened state of his
stomach had never seriously preoccupied himself with the art of the
cuisine, was surprised to find himself thinking of combinations to
please an artificial epicure. Then a strange idea crossed his brain.
Perhaps the physician had imagined that the strange palate of his
patient was fatigued by the taste of the peptone; perhaps he had
wished, like a clever chef, to vary the taste of foods and to prevent
the monotony of dishes that might lead to want of appetite. Once in
the wake of these reflections, Des Esseintes sketched new recipes,
preparing vegetable dinners for Fridays, using the dose of cod liver
oil and wine, dismissing the beef tea as a meat food specially
prohibited by the Church. But he had no occasion longer to ruminate on
these nourishing drinks, for the physician succeeded gradually in
curing the vomiting attacks, and he was soon swallowing, in the normal
manner, a syrup of punch containing a pulverized meat whose faint
aroma of cacao pleased his palate.

Weeks passed before his stomach decided to function. The nausea
returned at certain moments, but these attacks were disposed of by
ginger ale and Rivieres' antiemetic drink.

Finally the organs were restored. Meats were digested with the aid of
pepsines. Recovering strength, he was able to stand up and attempt to
walk, leaning on a cane and supporting himself on the furniture.
Instead of being thankful over his success, he forgot his past pains,
grew irritated at the length of time needed for convalescence and
reproached the doctor for not effecting a more rapid cure.

At last the day came when he could remain standing for whole
afternoons. Then his study irritated him. Certain blemishes it
possessed, and which habit had accustomed him to overlook, now were
apparent. The colors chosen to be seen by lamp-light seemed discordant
in full day. He thought of changing them and for whole hours he
combined rebellious harmonies of hues, hybrid pairings of cloth and

"I am certainly on the road to recovery," he reflected, taking note of
his old hobbies.

One morning, while contemplating his orange and blue walls,
considering some ideal tapestries worked with stoles of the Greek
Church, dreaming of Russian orphrey dalmaticas and brocaded copes
flowered with Slavonic letters done in Ural stones and rows of pearls,
the physician entered and, noticing the patient's eyes, questioned

Des Esseintes spoke of his unrealizable longings. He commenced to
contrive new color schemes, to talk of harmonies and discords of tones
he meant to produce, when the doctor stunned him by peremptorily
announcing that these projects would never be executed here.

And, without giving him time to catch breath, he informed Des
Esseintes that he had done his utmost in re-establishing the digestive
functions and that now it was necessary to attack the neurosis which
was by no means cured and which would necessitate years of diet and
care. He added that before attempting a cure, before commencing any
hydrotherapic treatment, impossible of execution at Fontenay, Des
Esseintes must quit that solitude, return to Paris, and live an
ordinary mode of existence by amusing himself like others.

"But the pleasures of others will not amuse me," Des Esseintes
indignantly cried.

Without debating the matter, the doctor merely asserted that this
radical change was, in his eyes, a question of life or death, a
question of health or insanity possibly complicated in the near future
by tuberculosis.

"So it is a choice between death and the hulks!" Des Esseintes
exasperatedly exclaimed.

The doctor, who was imbued with all the prejudices of a man of the
world, smiled and reached the door without saying a word.

    Chapter 16

Des Esseintes locked himself up in his bedroom, closing his ears to
the sounds of hammers on packing cases. Each stroke rent his heart,
drove a sorrow into his flesh. The physician's order was being
fulfilled; the fear of once more submitting to the pains he had
endured, the fear of a frightful agony had acted more powerfully on
Des Esseintes than the hatred of the detestable existence to which the
medical order condemned him.

Yet he told himself there were people who live without conversing with
anyone, absorbed far from the world in their own affairs, like
recluses and trappists, and there is nothing to prove that these
wretches and sages become madmen or consumptives. He had
unsuccessfully cited these examples to the doctor; the latter had
repeated, coldly and firmly, in a tone that admitted of no reply, that
his verdict, (confirmed besides by consultation with all the experts
on neurosis) was that distraction, amusement, pleasure alone might
make an impression on this malady whose spiritual side eluded all
remedy; and made impatient by the recriminations of his patient, he
for the last time declared that he would refuse to continue treating
him if he did not consent to a change of air, and live under new
hygienic conditions.

Des Esseintes had instantly betaken himself to Paris, had consulted
other specialists, had impartially put the case before them. All
having unhesitatingly approved of the action of their colleague, he
had rented an apartment in a new house, had returned to Fontenay and,
white with rage, had given orders to have his trunks packed.

Sunk in his easy chair, he now ruminated upon that unyielding order
which was wrecking his plans, breaking the strings of his present life
and overturning his future plans. His beatitude was ended. He was
compelled to abandon this sheltering haven and return at full speed
into the stupidity which had once attacked him.

The physicians spoke of amusement and distraction. With whom, and with
what did they wish him to distract and amuse himself?

Had he not banished himself from society? Did he know a single person
whose existence would approximate his in seclusion and contemplation?
Did he know a man capable of appreciating the fineness of a phrase,
the subtlety of a painting, the quintessence of an idea,--a man whose
soul was delicate and exquisite enough to understand Mallarme and love

Where and when must he search to discover a twin spirit, a soul
detached from commonplaces, blessing silence as a benefit, ingratitude
as a solace, contempt as a refuge and port?

In the world where he had dwelt before his departure for Fontenay? But
most of the county squires he had associated with must since have
stultified themselves near card tables or ended upon the lips of
women; most by this time must have married; after having enjoyed,
during their life, the spoils of cads, their spouses now possessed the
remains of strumpets, for, master of first-fruits, the people alone
waste nothing.

"A pretty change--this custom adopted by a prudish society!" Des
Esseintes reflected.

The nobility had died, the aristocracy had marched to imbecility or
ordure! It was extinguished in the corruption of its descendants whose
faculties grew weaker with each generation and ended in the instincts
of gorillas fermented in the brains of grooms and jockeys; or rather,
as with the Choiseul-Praslins, Polignacs and Chevreuses, wallowed in
the mud of lawsuits which made it equal the other classes in

The mansions themselves, the secular escutcheons, the heraldic
deportment of this antique caste had disappeared. The land no longer
yielding anything was put up for sale, money being needed to procure
the venereal witchcraft for the besotted descendants of the old races.

The less scrupulous and stupid threw aside all sense of shame. They
weltered in the mire of fraud and deceit, behaved like cheap sharpers.

This eagerness for gain, this lust for lucre had even reacted on that
other class which had constantly supported itself on the nobility--the
clergy. Now one perceived, in newspapers, announcements of corn cures
by priests. The monasteries had changed into apothecary or liqueur
workrooms. They sold recipes or manufactured products: the Citeaux
order, chocolate; the trappists, semolina; the Maristes Brothers,
biphosphate of medicinal lime and arquebuse water; the jacobins, an
anti-apoplectic elixir; the disciples of Saint Benoit, benedictine;
the friars of Saint Bruno, chartreuse.

Business had invaded the cloisters where, in place of antiphonaries,
heavy ledgers reposed on reading-desks. Like leprosy, the avidity of
the age was ravaging the Church, weighing down the monks with
inventories and invoices.

And yet, in spite of everything, it was only among the ecclesiastics
that Des Esseintes could hope for pleasurable contract. In the society
of well-bred and learned canons, he would have been compelled to share
their faith, to refrain from floating between sceptical ideas and
transports of conviction which rose from time to time on the water,
sustained by recollections of childhood.

He would have had to muster identical opinions and never admit (he
freely did in his ardent moments) a Catholicism charged with a soupcon
of magic, as under Henry the Third, and with a dash of sadism, as at
the end of the last century. This special clericalism, this depraved
and artistically perverse mysticism towards which he wended could not
even be discussed with a priest who would not have understood them or
who would have banished them with horror.

For the twentieth time, this irresolvable problem troubled him. He
would have desired an end to this irresolute state in which he
floundered. Now that he was pursuing a changed life, he would have
liked to possess faith, to incrust it as soon as seized, to screw it
into his soul, to shield it finally from all those reflections which
uprooted and agitated it. But the more he desired it and the less his
emptiness of spirit was evident, the more Christ's visitation receded.
As his religious hunger augmented and he gazed eagerly at this faith
visible but so far off that the distance terrified him, ideas pressed
upon his active mind, driving back his will, rejecting, by common
sense and mathematical proofs, the mysteries and dogmas. He sadly told
himself that he would have to find a way to abstain from
self-discussion. He would have to learn how to close his eyes and let
himself be swept along by the current, forgetting those accursed
discoveries which have destroyed the religious edifice, from top to
bottom, since the last two centuries.

He sighed. It is neither the physiologists nor the infidels that
demolish Catholicism, but the priests, whose stupid works could
extirpate convictions the most steadfast.

A Dominican friar, Rouard de Card, had proved in a brochure entitled
"On the Adulteration of Sacramental Substances" that most masses were
not valid, because the elements used for worship had been adulterated
by the manufacturers.

For years, the holy oils had been adulterated with chicken fat; wax,
with burned bones; incense, with cheap resin and benzoin. But the
thing that was worse was that the substances, indispensable to the
holy sacrifice, the two substances without which no oblation is
possible, had also been debased: the wine, by numerous dilutions and
by illicit introductions of Pernambuco wood, danewort berries, alcohol
and alum; the bread of the Eucharist that must be kneaded with the
fine flour of wheat, by kidney beans, potash and pipe clay.

But they had gone even farther. They had dared suppress the wheat and
shameless dealers were making almost all the Host with the fecula of

Now, God refused to descend into the fecula. It was an undeniable fact
and a certain one. In the second volume of his treatise on moral
theology, Cardinal Gousset had dwelt at length on this question of the
fraud practiced from the divine point of view. And, according to the
incontestable authority of this master, one could not consecrate bread
made of flour of oats, buckwheat or barley, and if the matter of using
rye be less doubtful, no argument was possible in regard to the fecula
which, according to the ecclesiastic expression, was in no way fit for
sacramental purposes.

By means of the rapid manipulation of the fecula and the beautiful
appearance presented by the unleavened breads created with this
element, the shameless imposture had been so propagated that now the
mystery of the transubstantiation hardly existed any longer and the
priests and faithful were holding communion, without being aware of
it, with neutral elements.

Ah! far off was the time when Radegonda, Queen of France, had with her
own hands prepared the bread destined for the alters, or the time
when, after the customs of Cluny, three priests or deacons, fasting
and garbed in alb and amice, washed their faces and hands and then
picked out the wheat, grain by grain, grinding it under millstone,
kneading the paste in a cold and pure water and themselves baking it
under a clear fire, while chanting psalms.

"All this matter of eternal dupery," Des Esseintes reflected, "is not
conducive to the steadying of my already weakened faith. And how admit
that omnipotence which stops at such a trifle as a pinch of fecula or
a soupcon of alcohol?"

These reflections all the more threw a gloom over the view of his
future life and rendered his horizon more menacing and dark.

He was lost, utterly lost. What would become of him in this Paris
where he had neither family nor friends? No bond united him to the
Saint-Germain quarters now in its dotage, scaling into the dust of
desuetude, buried in a new society like an empty husk. And what
contact could exist between him and that bourgeois class which had
gradually climbed up, profiting by all the disasters to grow rich,
making use of all the catastrophes to impose respect on its crimes and

After the aristocracy of birth had come the aristocracy of money. Now
one saw the reign of the caliphates of commerce, the despotism of the
rue du Sentier, the tyranny of trade, bringing in its train venal
narrow ideas, knavish and vain instincts.

Viler and more dishonest than the nobility despoiled and the decayed
clergy, the bourgeoisie borrowed their frivolous ostentations, their
braggadoccio, degrading these qualities by its lack of _savoir-vivre_;
the bourgeoisie stole their faults and converted them into
hypocritical vices. And, authoritative and sly, low and cowardly, it
pitilessly attacked its eternal and necessary dupe, the populace,
unmuzzled and placed in ambush so as to be in readiness to assault the
old castes.

It was now an acknowledged fact. Its task once terminated, the
proletariat had been bled, supposedly as a measure of hygiene. The
bourgeoisie, reassured, strutted about in good humor, thanks to its
wealth and the contagion of its stupidity. The result of its accession
to power had been the destruction of all intelligence, the negation of
all honesty, the death of all art, and, in fact, the debased artists
had fallen on their knees, and they eagerly kissed the dirty feet of
the eminent jobbers and low satraps whose alms permitted them to live.

In painting, one now beheld a deluge of silliness; in literature, an
intemperate mixture of dull style and cowardly ideas, for they had to
credit the business man with honesty, the buccaneer who purchased a
dot for his son and refused to pay that of his daughter, with virtue;
chaste love to the Voltairian agnostic who accused the clergy of rapes
and then went hypocritically and stupidly to sniff, in the obscene

It was the great American hulks transported to our continent. It was
the immense, the profound, the incommensurable peasantry of the
financier and the parvenu, beaming, like a pitiful sun, upon the
idolatrous town which wallowed on the ground the while it uttered
impure psalms before the impious tabernacle of banks.

"Well, then, society, crash to ruin! Die, aged world!" cried Des
Esseintes, angered by the ignominy of the spectacle he had evoked.
This cry of hate broke the nightmare that oppressed him.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "To think that all this is not a dream, to think
that I am going to return into the cowardly and servile crowd of this
century!" To console himself, he recalled the comforting maxims of
Schopenhauer, and repeated to himself the sad axiom of Pascal: "The
soul is pained by all things it thinks upon." But the words resounded
in his mind like sounds deprived of sense; his ennui disintegrated,
lifting all significance from the words, all healing virtue, all
effective and gentle vigor.

He came at last to perceive that the reasonings of pessimism availed
little in comforting him, that impossible faith in a future life alone
would pacify him.

An access of rage swept aside, like a hurricane, his attempts at
resignation and indifference. He could no longer conceal the hideous
truth--nothing was left, all was in ruins. The bourgeoisie were
gormandizing on the solemn ruins of the Church which had become a
place of rendez-vous, a mass of rubbish, soiled by petty puns and
scandalous jests. Were the terrible God of Genesis and the Pale Christ
of Golgotha not going to prove their existence by commanding the
cataclysms of yore, by rekindling the flames that once consumed the
sinful cities? Was this degradation to continue to flow and cover with
its pestilence the old world planted with seeds of iniquities and

The door was suddenly opened. Clean-shaved men appeared, bringing
chests and carrying the furniture; then the door closed once more on
the servant who was removing packages of books.

Des Esseintes sank into a chair.

"I shall be in Paris in two days. Well, all is finished. The waves of
human mediocrity rise to the sky and they will engulf the refuge whose
dams I open. Ah! courage leaves me, my heart breaks! O Lord, pity the
Christian who doubts, the sceptic who would believe, the convict of
life embarking alone in the night, under a sky no longer illumined by
the consoling beacons of ancient faith."

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Against the Grain" ***

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