Your good letter of the 18th, so maternally tender, has made me reflect a great deal. I have reread it ten times, and I shall confess to you that I am not sure that I understand it. Briefly, what do you want me to do? Make your instructions exact.
I am constantly doing all that I can to enlarge my brain, and I work in the sincerity of my heart. The rest does not depend on me.
I do not enjoy making “desolation,” believe me, but I cannot change my eyes! As for my “lack of convictions,” alas! I choke with convictions. I am bursting with anger and restrained indignation. But according to the ideal of art that I have, I think that the artist should not manifest anything of his own feelings, and that the artist should not appear any more in his work than God in nature. The man is nothing, the work is everything! This method, perhaps mistakenly conceived, is not easy to follow. And for me, at least, it is a sort of permanent sacrifice that I am making to good taste. It would be agreeable to me to say what I think and to relieve Mister Gustave Flaubert by words, but of what importance is the said gentleman?
I think as you do, dear master, that art is not merely criticism and satire; moreover, I have never tried to do intentionally the one nor the other. I have always tried to go into the soul of things and to stick to the greatest generalities, and I have purposely turned aside from the accidental and the dramatic. No monsters and no heroes!
You say to me: “I have no literary advice to give you; I have no judgments to formulate on the authors, your friends, etc.” Well? indeed! but I implore advice, and I am waiting for your judgments. Who, pray, should give them, and who, pray, should formulate them, if not you?
Speaking of my friends, you add “my school.” But I am ruining my temperament in trying not to have a school! A priori, I spurn them, every one. The people whom I see often and whom you designate cultivate all that I scorn and are indifferently disturbed about what torments me. I regard as very secondary, technical detail, local exactness, in short the historical and precise side of things. I am seeking above all for beauty, which my companions pursue but languidly. I see them insensible when I am ravaged with admiration or horror. Phrases make me swoon with pleasure which seem very ordinary to them. Goncourt is very happy when he has seized upon a word in the street that he can stick in a book, and I am well satisfied when I have written a page without assonances or repetitions. I would give all the legends of Gavarni for certain expressions and master strokes, such as “the shade was NUPTIAL, august and solemn!” from Victor Hugo, or this from Montesquieu: “the vices of Alexander were extreme like his virtues. He was terrible in his wrath. It made him cruel.”
In short, I try to think well, IN ORDER TO write well. But writing well is my aim, I do not deny it.
“I lack a well-defined and extended vision of life.” You are right a thousand times over, but by what means could it be otherwise? I ask you that. You do not enlighten my darkness with metaphysics, neither mine nor that of others. The words religion or Catholicism on the one hand; progress, fraternity, democracy on the other, do not correspond to the spiritual needs of the moment. The entirely new dogma of equality which radicalism praises is experimentally denied by physiology and history. I do not see the means of establishing today a new principle, any more than of respecting the old ones. Therefore I am hunting, without finding it, that idea on which all the rest should depend.
Meanwhile I repeat to myself what Littre said to me one day: “Ah! my friend, man is an unstable compound, and the earth an inferior planet.”
Nothing sustains me better than the hope of leaving it soon, and of not going to another which might be worse. “I would rather not die,” as Marat said. Ah! no! enough, enough weariness!
I am writing now a little silly story, which a mother can permit her child to read. The whole will be about thirty pages, I shall have two months more at it. Such is my energy, I shall send it to you as soon as it appears (not my energy, but the little story).
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50