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Page [62]


Whoever writes maxims likes to exaggerate his
character—the young pretend to be old, the old
paint their faces.

Since the world, this vast system of contradictions,
holds all forms of decay in great esteem—quick, let
us darken our wrinkles; let us garland our hearts like
a frontispiece, for sentiment is widely fashionable.

To what purpose? If you are no true men, be at
least true animals. Be unaffected, and you will, of
necessity, be useful or agreeable to somebody. Were
my heart on my right side, it would find at least a
thousand co-pariahs among the three thousand
millions of beings who browse upon the nettles of

If I begin with Love, it is because Love is for
everyone—and they will deny it in vain—the greatest
thing in life!

All you who feed some insatiable vulture—you
Hoffmannesque poets, whom the harmonica sends
dancing through crystal regions, whom the violin
lacerates like a blade searching the heart—you eager
and embittered onlookers in whom the spectacle of
nature herself promotes dangerous ecstasies; let Love
be your calmative.

You tranquil, you objective poets, the noble partisans
of technique, architects of style—you prudent ones
who have a daily task to accomplish; let Love be
your stimulant, an exhilarating and strengthening
potion, and the gymnastic of pleasure your perpetual


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encouragement to action! To those the soporifics, to
these the alcohols.

You for whom nature is cruel and time precious;
let Love be a burning draught which inspires the

It is necessary, therefore, to choose one's loves.

Without denying the coups de foudre, which is impossible—see
Stendhal (De l'Amour—book one,
chapter XXIII)—one must suppose that fate possesses
a certain elasticity, which is called human liberty.

In the same way as, for theologians, liberty consists
in avoiding occasions of temptation rather than
in resisting it; so, in Love, liberty consists in avoiding
women of a dangerous category—dangerous, that is
to say, for yourself.

Your mistress, the woman of your paradise, will
be sufficiently indicated to you by your natural
sympathies, verified by Lavater and by a study of
painting and statuary.

The physiognomical signs would be infallible if
one knew them all, and well. I cannot here set down
all the physiognomical signs of the woman eternally
suitable to such and such a man. Perhaps one day I
shall accomplish this enormous task in a book which
will be entitled: the catechism of the beloved woman; but
I am certain that every man, assisted by his imperious
and vague desires and guided by observation,
can discover, after a time, the woman necessary to
himself. Further, our sympathies are not, in general,
dangerous; nature, whether in cookery or in love,
rarely gives us a taste for what is bad for us.

As I understand the word Love in its fullest sense,


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I am here obliged to set down some special maxims
upon delicate questions.

You man of the North, you eager navigator lost in
the mists, seeker of auroras more beautiful than the
sunlight, untiring in your thirst for the ideal; love
cold women. Love them well, for the toil is greater
and more bitter and you will find one day more
honour at the tribunal of Love, who is seated over
there in the blue of the infinite!

You man of the South, you whose open nature can
have no taste for secrets and mysteries—light-hearted
man—of Bordeaux, of Marseilles or of Italy—let
passionate women suffice you; their mobility and
their animation are your natural empire, an empire
of beguilement.

Young man, you who wish to become a great poet,
beware of the paradoxical in Love; let schoolboys
excited by their first pipe sing at the top of their
voice the praises of the fat women; leave these falsehoods
to the neophytes of the pseudo-romantic
school. If the fat woman is sometimes a charming
caprice, the thin woman is a well of sombre delights!

Never slander great Nature; if she has bestowed
upon you a mistress without a bosom, say: `I have a
love—with such hips!' and go to the temple to render
thanks to the Gods.

You must know how to make the best of ugliness
itself—of your own, that is too easy—everyone
knows how Trenk (la gueule brûlée) was adored by
women;[1] of hers! that is a rarer and more beautiful

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art, but the association of ideas will render it easy and
natural. Let us suppose that your idol is ill. Her
beauty has disappeared under the frightful crust of
small-pox, like verdure beneath the heavy winter
ice. Still shaken by long hours of anguish and the
fluctuations of the disease, you are regarding sorrowfully
the ineffaceable stigmata upon the body of the
dear convalescent; then suddenly there vibrates in
your ears a dying air executed by the rapturous bow
of Paganini, and this air speaks to you with sympathy
of yourself, seeming to reiterate the whole poem of
your dearest abandoned hopes. Thenceforward, the
traces of the small-pox will form a part of your
happiness, beneath your tender gaze there will
always echo the mysterious air of Paganini. Henceforth
they will be the objects, not only of sweet
sympathy but even of physical desire—if, that is, you
are one of those sensitive spirits for whom beauty is
the promise of happiness. Above all, it is an association
of ideas which makes one love ugly women—so
much so that you run a grave risk, if your pock-marked
mistress betrays you, of being able to console
yourself only with pock-marked women.

For certain spirits, more precious and more jaded,
delight in ugliness proceeds from a still more obscure
sentiment—the thirst for the unknown and the
taste for the horrible. It is this sentiment, whose germ,
more or less developed, is carried within each one
of us, which drives certain poets into the dissecting
room or the clinic and women to public executions.
I am sincerely sorry for the man who cannot understand
this—he is a harp who lacks a bass string!


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As for illiteracy, which forms (according to some
blockheads) a part of moral ugliness—is it not superfluous
to explain to you how this may be a whole
naïve poem of memories and delights? The charming
Alcibiades lisped so well; childhood has such a divine
jargon. Then beware, young adept of pleasure, of
teaching your love French—unless it is necessary to
become her French master that you may be her lover.

There are those who blush to have loved a woman
as soon as they perceive that she is stupid. These are
vainglorious jackasses, born to crop the foulest
thistles in creation or enjoy the favours of a bluestocking.
Stupidity is often an ornament of beauty;
it gives the eyes that mournful limpidity of dusky
pools, and that oily calm of tropical seas. Stupidity
always preserves beauty, it keeps away the wrinkles,
it is the divine cosmetic which preserves our idols
from the gnawings of thought which we must suffer,
miserable scholars that we are.

There are those who begrudge their mistress's
extravagance. These are the misers, republicans
ignorant of the first principles of political economy.
The vices of a great nation are its greatest wealth.

There are others, the sedate, the reasonable,
moderate deists, followers of the middle path in
dogma, who are furious when their wives become
devout. Oh! the fumblers, who will never learn to
play any instrument! Oh, the thrice-foolish ones,
who do not perceive that the most adorable form
religion can take—is that of their wife! A husband
to be converted, what a delicious apple! The beautiful
fruit forbidden like some huge impiety—on a


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stormy winter night, in a corner by the fire, with
wine and truffles—mute hymn of domestic bliss,
victory over harsh Nature, who seems herself to be
blaspheming the gods!

I should not have finished so soon had I wished to
enumerate all the beautiful and noble aspects of
what is called vice and moral ugliness, but there is
one problem which often presents itself to men of
feeling and understanding, a problem as vexed and
painful as a tragic drama; it is when they are caught
between the hereditary moral impulse implanted by
their parents and the tyrannical desire for a woman
whom they ought to despise. Numerous and ignoble
infidelities, habits which betray their evil haunts,
shameful secrets unseasonably laid bare, inspire you
with horror for your idol, and it sometimes comes to
pass that your joy makes you shudder. Here you are
much embarrassed in your platonic reasonings.
Virtue and Pride cry: Fly from her. Nature speaks
in your ear: whither can I fly? These are terrible
alternatives, in face of which even the strongest souls
reveal the insufficiency of all our philosophic education.
The more cunning, seeing themselves constrained
by nature to play the eternal drama of
Manon Lescaut and Leone Leoni, make their retreat,
saying that contempt goes well with love. I am
going to give you a very simple formula which will
not only save you from these shameful self-justifications
but will make it possible for you even to leave
your idol undisfigured, without injury to your


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We will suppose that the heroine of your heart has
abused the fas and nefas and is come to the limits of
perdition, after having—final infidelity! supreme
torture!—tried the power of her charms upon her
gaolers and executioners.[3] Are you going to abjure
your ideal so lightly, or, if nature throws you, faithful
and weeping, into the arms of this pale victim of the
guillotine, will you say, with the mortified accents
of resignation: Contempt and Love are cousins-german?
Not at all. These are the paradoxes of a
timid nature and a clouded intelligence. Say boldly
and with the candour of the true philosopher: `Had
she been less criminal my ideal had been less complete.
I contemplate her and I submit; great Nature
alone knows what she intends to make of such a
glorious hussy. Supreme happiness and supreme
absolute reason! product of contrary forces. Ormuz
and Ahriman, you are one!'

And thus, thanks to a more synthetic outlook upon
things, your admiration will lead you quite naturally
towards chaste love, that sunlight in whose intensity
all stains are swallowed up.

Remember this, that one must beware above all
of the paradoxical in love. It is simplicity which
saves, it is simplicity which brings happiness, though
your mistress be as ugly as old Mab, the queen of
terrors. In general, for men of the world, a subtle
moralist has said, Love is but love of gambling, love
of fighting. That is altogether wrong. Love should
be love, fighting and gambling are permissible only
as the politics of love.

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The gravest mistake of modern youth is that they
force their emotions. A great number of lovers are
imaginary invalids who spend large sums on nostrums
and pay M. Fleurant and M. Purgon heavily,
without enjoying the pleasures and privileges of a
genuine malady. Observe how they irritate their
stomachs with absurd drugs, wearing out the digestive
faculties of Love. It may be necessary to belong
to one's century, but beware of apeing the illustrious
Don Juan, who was, according to Molière, at first
nothing more than a rude rascal, well trained and
versed in love, crime and cunning, but who has since
become, thanks to MM. Alfred de Musset and
Théophile Gautier, an artistic lounger, chasing perfection
through the bawdy-houses, and who is finally
only an old dandy worn out by his travels, the
stupidest creature in the world when he is in the
company of an honest woman who loves her husband.

A last, general rule: in love, beware of the moon
and the stars, beware of the Venus de Milo, of lakes,
guitars, rope-ladders, and of all love stories—yes,
even the most beautiful in the world, were it written
by Apollo himself! But love dearly, vigorously, fearlessly,
orientally, ferociously the woman you love;
so that your love—harmony being included—does
not torment the love of another; so that your choice
does not cause disturbance to the community.
Among the Incas a man could make love to his
sister; be content with your cousin. Do not climb
balconies or give trouble to the public authorities;
do not on any account deprive your mistress of the
happiness of belief in the gods; and when you accompany


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her to the temple remember to dip your fingers
in orthodox fashion in the pure, refreshing water of
the stoup.

Since all morality testifies to the good will of its
legislators—since all religion is a supreme consolation
for the afflicted—since every woman is a part of
essential Woman—since love is the sole thing which
merits the turning of a sonnet and the putting-on of
fine linen: I revere these things above all else and
denounce as a slanderer the man who sees in this
fragment of a morality an occasion for crossing himself
and a cause for scandal. Morality wrapped in
tinsel, is it not? Coloured glass which tints too
brightly, perhaps, the eternal lamp of truth shining
within? No, no. Had I wished to prove that all is for
the best in the best of all possible worlds, the reader
would have the right to tell me, like the ape of genius:
you are naughty! But I have desired to prove that
all is for the best in the worst of all possible worlds.
Much therefore will be forgiven me because I have
loved much—my male, or female reader!


We could have cited Mirabeau as an example, but he is
too well known; besides, we suspect that he had a full-blooded
type of ugliness which is particularly distasteful to us.


We know that all our readers have read their Stendhal.


Also L'Ane Mort.