Uranie, by Camille Flammarion

iv.

Love — Iclea — Attraction.

IN this life of intimate communion, this solitude à deux, delightful as it was, there was something wanting. These conversations on the weighty problems of life and death, this interchange of ideas concerning the nature of man, these speculations regarding the origin and end of all things, these contemplations of the heavens, and the thoughts they awakened, satisfied for a time their minds, but not their hearts. After hours spent in conversation together, seated beside each other in the arbor of the garden overlooking the great city spread like a map before them, or in the solitude of the library, the philosopher, the scientist, had not the necessary strength of will to enable him to tear himself from the society of his beloved companion. Hand in hand they would sit beside each other in silence, held by a resistless power. On separating they would both experience a strange and painful sensation in the heart, an indefinable malaise, as if something there, necessary to their existence, had snapped, and both alike longed but for the hour of reunion. He loved her for her own sake, not for his, with an affection that was almost impersonal, in which there was as much esteem as love, and by unceasing struggles against the allurements of the senses, he had thus far been able to resist their power. But one day, as they were seated in silence near each other on the large sofa in the library — littered as usual with books and manuscripts — George, exhausted perhaps by the efforts he had so long been making to resist the power of a spell that was irresistible, allowed his head to sink imperceptibly on the shoulder of his companion, and — their lips met.

Ah, joys ineffable of requited love! Insatiable desire of the soul thirsting for happiness, transports without end of the soaring imagination, sweet harmony of hearts — to what ethereal heights do you raise those who abandon themselves to your supreme delights! Lost in the raptures of the region of enchantment to which their souls have taken flight, they forget the world they have left beneath them and all it contains. The earth, with its baseness and its misery, exists no longer for them. Light as air, they dwell in flames, like salamanders or phoenixes, and consumed perpetually in their own fires, perpetually rise from their ashes ever luminous, ever ardent, invulnerable, invincible.

The transports experienced by the lovers in this expansion of feeling so long repressed, plunged them into an ecstasy that made them, for a period, forget metaphysics and its problems. This period lasted six months. The sweetest but most imperious of sentiments had come to supply in their being the want which intellectual pleasures had not been able completely to satisfy. From the day of that kiss George Spero not only disappeared altogether from the world, but he even ceased to write. I myself completely lost sight of him, notwithstanding the long and sincere affection he had always shown me. Logicians might perhaps have deduced from this that, for the first time in his life, he was satisfied, and that he had found the solution of the great problem — the final end of existence. They lived in that egotism of lovers which, removing the rest of the world beyond their center of vision, diminished their defects and made them appear more amiable and beautiful.

Often they would walk along the borders of the Seine at sunset, silently contemplating the marvelous effects of light and shade that make the sky of Paris so beautiful at twilight, when the spires and dwellings of the city stand darkly outlined against the luminous background of the western sky.

Rosy and purple clouds, lighted up by the reflection of the sun’s last rays upon the water, gave the sky that strange charm peculiar to our Parisian sky, less gorgeous than that of Naples, bathed, as it is, in the light reflected from the Mediterranean on the West, but more beautiful than that of Venice illumined by the light from the East, which is pale.

Whether, drawn by the spell of the old City, they wandered along the river-bank, passing in turn Notre Dame and the old Châtelet projecting its black silhouette against the still luminous sky; or, as was oftener the case, attracted by the splendors of the sunset and of Nature, they passed along the quays beyond the ramparts of the vast city into the solitudes of Boulogne and Billancourt, shut in by the dark sides of Meudon and Saint Cloud, it was all the same; they forgot the noisy city they had left behind them, and walking with the same steps, the two forming one, they received at the same time the same impressions, thought the same thoughts, and, silent, spoke the same Ianguage. The river flowing at their feet, the noises of the day sunk into silence, Iclea loved to repeat to George the names of the stars as they appeared one by one in the sky.

There are often in Paris mild days in March and April, when the air is spring-like. The brilliant stars of Orion, the dazzling Sirius, the twins Castor and Pollux, sparkle in the spacious vault of heaven; the Pleiades sink toward the western horizon; but Arcturus, and Boötes, shepherd of the Celestial flock, arise, and a few hours later the shining Vega rises above the eastern horizon, to be soon followed by the Milky Way. Arcturus, with his rays of gold, was always the first star to be recognized by his piercing brightness and his position at the end of the tail of the Great Bear. At times the crescent moon glittered in the west, and the young spectator admired, like Ruth beside Boaz, “this golden scythe in the field of stars.”

Stars surround the Earth on all sides; the Earth moves in space. Spero and his companion were aware of this, and perhaps in none of those celestial worlds did any two beings live in more intimate communion than did they, with infinity and with the heavens.

Insensibly, however, and perhaps unconsciously, the young philosopher took up again, desultorily and by degrees, his interrupted studies. Pursuing his researches now with an optimism that he had not hitherto felt, notwithstanding his natural goodness of disposition, he rejected cruel conclusions, because they seemed to him to be due to an incomplete knowledge of causes, beholding as he did, panoramas of nature and humanity under a new light. Iclea also resumed, at least in part, the studies she had commenced with him, but a new and powerful sentiment filled her soul, and her spirit no longer enjoyed, as before, the freedom which is indispensable to intellectual labor. Absorbed in her affection for a being over whom she held complete sway, she saw life only through him, she lived only for him. During the quiet evening hours, when she seated herself at the piano to play a sonata of Chopin, which she was surprised to find that she had not understood before she loved, or to accompany herself on the piano as she sang with her full, pure voice, the Norwegian songs of Grieg and Bull, or the melodies of our own Gounod, it seemed to her, in despite of herself, perhaps, that her beloved was the only auditor capable of understanding these inspirations of the heart. What delightful hours did George spend in the large library in the house at Passy, stretched on the sofa, watching the capricious rings of the smoke of an Oriental cigarette, while Iclea, abandoning herself to the reminiscences of her fancy, sang a sweet Saetergientens Sondag of her native land, the serenade of Don Juan or the Lakes of Lamartine, or, letting her agile fingers run over the keys, dashed off the melodious dream of the minuet of Boccherini!

Spring had come. The month of May witnessed the opening fêtes of the International Exposition at Paris, of which we spoke at the beginning of this narration, and the heights of the garden at Passy sheltered the Eden of two loving hearts.

The father of Iclea, who had been suddenly called to Tunis, had now returned, bringing with him a collection of Arabian arms for his museum at Christiania. It was his intention to return soon to Norway, and it had been agreed between the young Norwegian and her lover, that their marriage was to take place in her native land on the anniversary of the mysterious apparition. Their union was, by its very nature, altogether different from those vulgar liaisons, based either on sensual pleasure or mercenary interest, more or less disguised, which form the greater part of the unions between the sexes. Intellectual culture isolated them in the higher regions of thought; the delicacy of their sentiments kept them in an ideal atmosphere where everything material was forgotten. The extreme sensibility of their nerves, the exquisite refinement of all their feelings plunged them into ecstasies of never-ending delight. If love exist in other worlds it can be neither more profound nor more exquisite than theirs. They might both have afforded the physiologists living proof of the fact that, contrary to the general opinion, all our enjoyments proceed from the brain, the intensity of the feeling corresponding to the psychic sensibility of the being.

Paris was for them not a city, not a world, but the stage of human history. Here they lived over again long past ages. The old quarters of Paris, not yet swept away by modern innovations; the city, with Notre Dame; St. Julian-le-Pauvre, whose walls still recall Chilperic and Fredigonda, the ancient dwellings of Albert le Grand, Dante, Petrarch and Abelard; the old University still more ancient than the Sorbonne, and — relics of the same long past ages — the cloisters of St. Merry, with its sombre aisles; the abbey of St. Martin, the tower of Clovis; Mount St. Genevieve; Saint Germain-des-Près, memorial of the Merovingians, Saint Germain, l’Auxerrois, whose bell sounded the tocsin of Saint Bartholomew, the Angelical Chapel of the palace of Louis IX.; all the memorials of French history were the objects of their pilgrimages. In the midst of crowds they dwelt apart in the contemplation of the past, and saw indeed what few can see.

Thus did the vast city speak to them in the language of the past, when, lost among the fabulous monsters, the griffins, the pillars, the capitals, the arabesques of the towers and galleries of Notre Dame, they saw at their feet the human swarm hurrying homeward in the evening twilight, or when, ascending still higher, they sought, from the summit of the Pantheon, to reconstruct the ancient city and to follow its development through successive centuries, from the time of the Roman emperors, who passed their lives in the thermæ, down to Philip Augustus and his successors.

The spring sunshine, the lilacs in bloom, the joyous May morning, exhilarating, and melodious with the song of birds, drew them at times away from the city, wherever chance might lead, into the fields or the woods. Time passed like the wind. Day vanished like a dream, and night prolonged the divine ecstasy of love. In the whirling globe of Jupiter, where the days and nights are scarcely ten hours long and pass more than twice as quickly as with us, lovers do not find the hours pass more quickly; the measure of time is in ourselves.

One evening they were both seated close together on the roof of the old tower of the chateau de Chevreuse, whence they could see, without obstruction, the surrounding landscape. The warm air of the valley reached them where they were, laden with the perfumes of the wild-flowers of the neighboring woods; the fauvette could still be heard, and the nightingale sent forth in the darkening shade of the thickets his melodious song to the stars. The sun had just set amid splendors of gold and scarlet, and only the west was illuminated by a still brilliant light. All Nature seemed to sleep. Slightly pale, but illumined by the glow of the western sky, Iclea seemed to shine with an inward light, so delicate, so clear and ideally pure she looked. Her eyes swimming in languorous depths, her small and childlike mouth, slightly parted, she seemed lost in contemplation of the sunset. Resting against the bosom of Spero, her arms thrown around his neck, she had abandoned herself to revery, when a shooting-star fell from the heavens, just opposite the roof of the tower where they stood. She trembled with a superstitious fear. Already the brightest of the stars had begun to appear in the depths of the sky; high above, almost at the zenith, Arcturus, of a bright golden yellow; to the east, a little lower down, Vega, of a pure white; to the north Capella; to the west Castor, Pollux and Procyon. The seven stars of the Great Bear, the cluster of the Virgin and Regulus, were now also visible. One by one the stars began to stud the firmament. The polar star indicated the sole fixed point of the Celestial Sphere. The moon was rising, a narrow crescent defined in shadow on her reddish disk. Mars shone brightly between Pollux and Regulus to the southwest; Saturn shone in the southeast. Twilight slowly yielded to the mysterious reign of night.

“Does it not seem to you,” Iclea said, “that all those stars are like eyes watching us?”

“Celestial eyes like thine. What could they behold on earth more beautiful than thou and than our love?”

“In spite of — “ She paused.

“Yes, in spite of all. The world, family, society, custom, the laws of morality — I understand your thoughts — we have forgotten them all to obey the law of attraction — like the sun, like the stars, like the nightingale that sings, like all nature. Soon we shall pay those social usages the tribute due to them, and we can then openly proclaim our love. Shall we be therefore happier, is it possible to be happier than we are at this moment?”

“I am thine,” she replied. “I exist not for myself. I am absorbed in thy light, thy love, thy happiness, and I desire nothing, nothing more. No, I thought of those stars, those eyes that watch us and I said to myself, ‘Where, today, are all the human eyes that have contemplated them for myriads of years as we do now. Where are all the hearts that have beaten as our hearts beat at this moment. Where are the souls that have mingled in kisses without end, in the nights of the ages of the past?’ ”

“They still exist. Nothing can be destroyed. We associate heaven and earth together in our minds, and we are right. In every age, among every race, in every creed, humanity has sought to find in that starry sky the secret of its destinies. This seems to have been in some sort a premonition. The Earth is one of the stars of the sky, like Mars and Saturn, that we behold yonder, celestial worlds, dark themselves and lighted by the same sun that gives light to us, and like all those stars yonder which are distant suns. Your thought repeats the thought of humanity since it has existed. Mankind have always sought in the heavens an answer to the great secret, and since the age of mythology it is Uranie who has answered it.

“And she it is, this divine Uranie, who will always answer it. She hoIds in her hands the heavens and the earth. She makes us live in infinite space. And would it not seem as if our ancestors, in personifying in her, through poetic feeling, the study of the Universe, had sought to perfect Science by bestowing on it life, grace and beauty? Uranie is the muse, par excellence. Her beauty seems to say to us that in order to understand truly the science of the stars and of the infinite, it is necessary to love.”

Night was falling. The moon sinking slowly in the eastern sky diffused through the atmosphere a brightness which imperceptibly replaced the twilight, and already in the city below a few lights could be seen glimmering through the trees. They had risen to their feet and stood clasped in each other’s arms on the roof of the tower. Iclea’s face was beautiful, framed in the aureole of her locks which floated over her shoulders. The cool breath of spring, laden with the mingled perfumes of violets, gilly-flowers, lilacs and May roses, ascended from the neighboring gardens. Solitude and silence surrounded them on all sides. Their lips met in a long kiss.

Hours, days, weeks passed in intimate communion of thought and feeling. The June sun already shone in the solstice, and thc moment had arrived for Iclea’s departure for her native land. At the time fixed upon she set out with her father for Christiania.

Spero followed them a few days later. The intention of the young savant was to remain in Norway until the autumn, and to continue there the investigations which he had commenced the preceding year, into the nature and cause of the Aurora Borealis, investigations which possesssed a peculiar fascination for him, but in which he had as yet made little progress.

In Norway this sweetest of dreams continued uninterrupted. The fair daughter of the North cast a spell around her lover, under whose influence he might have forgotten forever the attractions of science, if Iclea had not herself had, as we have seen, an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

The experiments which the indefatigable investigator had begun in atmospheric electricity, interested her as much as him. She too wished to understand the nature of those mysterious flames of the Aurora Borealis, that scintillate at night in the upper regions of the atmosphere, and as in the progress of his researches he experienced a desire to make an ascension in a balloon for the purpose of observing the phenomenon at its source, she insisted on accompanying him. He tried to dissuade her from her purpose, these aeronautic experiments not being without danger. But the thought of a danger to be shared with him was enough to make her deaf to the entreaties of her beloved. After much hesitation, Spero consented to take her with him, and began to make his preparations at the University of Christiania for an ascension the first night of the Aurora Borealis.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37