To the younger Dumas
Try to keep your soul young and quivering right up to old age, and to imagine right up to the brink of death that life is only beginning. I think that is the only way to keep adding to one’s talent, to one’s affections, and one’s inner happiness.
Keep your excessive regard for form, but do take more trouble about the foundations. Do not take real quality to be an inevitable accompaniment of impeccable form.
One ought to write for every one who has any desire to read and can take advantage of good books.
You say M. Flaubert would be lacking in manners if he were to allow his thought and his literary aim to be evident. That is false, false as hell!
From the moment that M. Flaubert begins to write well and seriously one becomes attached to his personality and desires to be lost or saved with him.
However hard you struggle, your story cannot be anything but a conversation between author and readers.
Nohant, 28th October, 1867
I have just written my impressions of the Normandy landscape in a few pages; it is nothing of importance, but I was able to bring in three lines of Salammbo between inverted commas which appeared to me to paint the countryside better than all my phrases, lines which have always struck me like a magisterial stroke of the brush. Turning over the pages of Salammbo to find those lines, I naturally re-read almost the whole book, and I remain convinced that it is one of the most beautiful books which has ever been written since books have been written at all.
Nohant, 31 December, 1867
… I think an artist ought to live according to his own nature so far as it is possible. Then let the fighter fight, and the lover, love; while an aging artist like myself loves nature, travel, botany, and geology, and children and family life, and everything which moves one’s heart, and combats moral anaemia.
I think that art needs a palette always overflowing with tender or violent colors according to the subject of the picture; that the artist is an instrument which should be played upon by all, before he can play upon others, but all that is perhaps not applicable to a spirit of your type, which has already acquired much sustenance and has only to digest it. I shall only insist upon one point, which is that the physical being is entirely necessary to the moral being, and that I fear a break-down in health for you some time or another, which will force you to stop your work and leave it to get cold.
Paris, August, 1868
… The difficulties of producing a play have to be seen to be believed, and if one does not fit on a breast- plate of humor and inner gaiety in the study of human nature, there is enough to make you rage against it. But I have long given up raging. I Iaugh instead. It is all too deadly familiar to me to move me now and I shall have some funny stories to tell you when we meet.
Nohant, 21 December, 1868
Turgeniev was more fortunate than me, since he was able to tear you from your inkpot. I know him personally only a very little, but I know his books by heart. What a talent! And what an absolute original! I think foreign writers have a better way with them than we have. They never pose, and we either drape ourselves with our dignity, or make an exhibition of ourselves. The Frenchman has neither a social nor an intellectual circle nowadays.
I except you, who live an exceptional life, and I except myself because of the stratum of gipsy insouciance in the depths of my being which has been bestowed on me. But then I admit that I cannot polish and repolish my work; I love life too much and am too much occupied with the mustard and pickles of life, as opposed to the solid fare, ever to be a real woman of letters. I have had fits of it certainly; but it has not lasted. Existence in which one can drown one’s ego and forget all about it, is so very good, and life in which one is not playing any part is such a jolly play to see! When I have to give out my personal force, I live on courage and resolution, but I do not enjoy the process.
As for you, crazy troubadour, I suspect you of caring more for the writer’s trade than for anything else in the world. In spite of what you say, it might well be true that art is your only passion, and that your monastic life, which always touches my heart, fool that I am, is your idea of bliss. If that is so, all the better, but admit it to console me.