A Journey Around My Room

What a wonderful little book. Some choice quotes:

There’s no more attractive pleasure, in my view, than following one’s ideas wherever they lead, as the hunter pursues his game, without even trying to keep to any set route.

A bed witnesses our birth and death; it is the unvarying theatre in which the human race acts out, successively, its captivating dramas, laughable farces, and dreadful tragedies. It is a cradle bedecked with flowers; it is the throne of love; it is a sepulchre.

Her flaming cheeks, her coral lips, her gleaming teeth, her alabaster neck, set against a background of verdure, struck every eye.

I’ve had a few friends, several mistresses, a host of love affairs, even more acquaintances; and now I don’t mean a thing to any of those people, who have even forgotten my name. How many protestations of affection they uttered, how many favours they offered! I could always count on their fortunes – they said – on an eternal friendship, without reservation! My dear Rosine [dog], who has never offered me any favours, in fact does me the greatest favour that can be shown to humanity: she loved me once, and she still loves me today.

The death of a sensitive man who expires in the midst of his heartbroken friends, and that of a butterfly killed off by the chill morning air in the calyx of a flower, mark two similar epochs in the course of nature. Man is nothing but a phantom, a shadow, a vapour that vanishes into thin air.

Fly shepherdess, urge on your flock, hide away in the wildest and remotest caverns: there is no rest on this melancholy earth.

The soul, today flooded with dark ideas and tragic images, finds causes of sadness everywhere – just as a corrupted stomach converts the healthiest foods into poisons.

What an intense, melancholy pleasure [my heart] feels when my eyes run over the lines traced by someone who is no longer alive. Here is his handwriting, it was his heart that guided his hand, and this letter is all I have left of him!

When the spacious and triple gates of hell suddenly opened wide before him, and the deep pit of nothingness and night appeared at his feet in all its horror, – he surveyed with an intrepid eye the dark domain of chaos; and without a moment’s hesitation, spreading his vast wings, which could have covered a whole army, he flung himself into the abyss.

And since the nature of men is such that happiness does not seem made for them, since friend unwittingly offends friend, and even lovers cannot live without quarrelling – in short, since from Lycurgus to our own days all legislators have failed in their efforts to make men happy – I will at least have the consolation of having made a dog happy.

Although I am continually striving to forget my sorrows and to chase them from my thoughts, it sometimes happens, when I am not sufficiently on my guard, that they suddenly all come flooding into my memory at the same time, as if the sluice gates had been opened for them. On these occasions, I have no option but to abandon myself to the torrent sweeping me away, and my ideas then become so gloomy, and all the objects around me seem so dismal, that I usually end up laughing at my own folly; as a result, the very intensity of the malady produces its own remedy.

Man, the ephemeral spectator of an eternal spectacle, raises for an instant his eyes to the heavens, and then closes them again for ever; but, during this fleeting instant that is granted him, from every point of the sky and from the very furthest bourns of the universe, a consoling ray of light sets out from every world, and falls onto his eyes, announcing to him that there is a relationship between that immensity and himself, and that he is an associate of eternity.

I maintain (even though my feeling may be regarded as paradoxical) that the light and brilliant wit of conversation is not even necessary in the most long-lasting love affair, if it has really sprung from the heart; and despite everything that those who have only ever half loved may say of the long intervals that intense feelings of love and friendship leave between them, the day always goes by quickly when you spent it with your beloved, and silence is as full of interest as any discussion.

O time! Dread deity! It is not your cruel scythe that fills me with terror; I fear only your hideous children, Indifference and Forgetfulness, who turn there-quarters of our lifespan into a long death.

All that remains in the depths of my heart are regrets and empty memories; a melancholy brew, on which my life continues to swim, just as a vessel smashed by the tempest continues to float for a while on the stormy sea! Until, as the water slowly seeps in through the broken planks, the unhappy vessel disappears, swallowed up by the abyss; the waves sweep over it, the tempest calms down, and the sea swallow skims over the solitary and tranquil plain of the ocean.

So – I will die one day? I will die? I – the person speaking, the person able to feel and touch myself – I might die? I find it rather difficult to believe: after all, others die, and there’s nothing more natural than that: you see it happen every day: you see them passing away, you get used to it; but for you to die, you yourself – you in person! Well, that’s a bit too much.

I think we should allow ourselves to laugh, or at least to smile, each time that an innocent opportunity to do so presents itself.

A Journey Around My Room, Xavier de Maistre, http://smile.amazon.com/Journey-Around-Room-Hesperus-Classics/dp/1843910993/

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