9.12.2011

Side quotes Archives

How Aunt Léonie was like Louis XIV...
My mother was afraid lest Françoise develop a genuine hatred of my aunt, who was doing everything in her power to annoy her. However, Françoise had come, more and more, to pay an infinitely scrupulous attention to my aunt’s least word and gesture. When she had to ask her for anything she would hesitate, first, for a long time, making up her mind how best to begin. And when she had uttered her request, she would watch my aunt covertly, trying to guess from the expression on her face what she thought of it, and how she would reply. And in this way — whereas an artist who had been reading memoirs of the 17th century, and wished to bring himself nearer to the great Louis, would consider that he was making progress in that direction when he constructed a pedigree that traced his own descent from some historic family, or when he engaged in correspondence with one of the reigning Sovereigns of Europe, and so would shut his eyes to the mistake he was making in seeking to establish a similarity by an exact and therefore lifeless copy of mere outward forms — a middle-aged lady in a small country town, by doing no more than yield whole-hearted obedience to her own irresistible eccentricities, and to a spirit of mischief engendered by the utter idleness of her existence, could see, without ever having given a thought to Louis XIV, the most trivial occupations of her daily life, her morning toilet, her luncheon, her afternoon nap, assume, by virtue of their despotic singularity, something of the interest that was to be found in what Saint-Simon used to call the ‘machinery’ of life at Versailles; and was able, too, to persuade herself that her silence, a shade of good humour or of arrogance on her features, would provide Françoise with matter for a mental commentary as tense with passion and terror, as did the silence, the good humour or the arrogance of the King when a courtier, or even his greatest nobles, had presented a petition to him, at the turning of an avenue, at Versailles.

From Contre Sainte-Beuve:
Perhaps, too, they may grant me that ravishing thing: a pleasure of the imagination, a pleasure of no reality, the only true pleasure of the poet; in a minute of real life they may grant me one of the rare moments that bring no disillusionment in their train. And from this impression and others like it something common to them all is liberated, something whose superiority to our everyday realities, even the realities of thought, and passion, and sentiment, we shall never be able to account for. Yet this superiority is so positive that it is almost the only thing we can never doubt. And when we recognise this thing, this common essence of our impressions, we feel a pleasure like no other pleasure, and while it stays with us we know that death is negligible. And after we have read pages containing the loftiest thought and the noblest sentiments and have remarked, “That’s really quite good,” if, suddenly and without our knowledge why or wherefore, from some seemingly casual word a breath of that essence is wafted to us, we know that this is Beauty.