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Chateaubriand

Posted 12/30/2015 4:10pm by Eugene Wyatt.

François-René de Chateaubriand; painting by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson

This morning I was driving on I-87 and listening to Audible's recording of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, specifically Vol. VII Time Regained when I heard "...the diverse melancholy of regret and absence and youth” which bowled me over. I had to stop at the next service area noting the word Newfoundland to search for the passage in my Kindle app. At home I found it. 

I like Proust when he is writing non-fiction as he does here speaking of Chateaubriand:

Is it not from a sensation of the same species as that of the madeleine that Chateaubriand suspends the loveliest episode in the Mémoires d’Outre-tombe:

“Yesterday evening I was walking alone … I was roused from my reflexions by the warbling of a thrush perched upon the highest branch of a birch tree. Instantaneously the magic sound caused my father’s estate to reappear before my eyes; I forgot the catastrophes of which I had recently been the witness and, transported suddenly into the past, I saw again those country scenes in which I had so often heard the fluting notes of the thrush.”

And of all the lovely sentences in those memoirs are not these some of the loveliest:

“A sweet and subtle scent of heliotrope was exhaled by a little patch of beans that were in flower; it was brought to us not by a breeze from our own country but by a wild Newfoundland wind, unrelated to the exiled plant, without sympathy of shared memory or pleasure. In this perfume, not breathed by beauty, not cleansed in her bosom, not scattered where she had walked, in this perfume of a changed sky and tillage and world there was all the diverse melancholy of regret and absence and youth.”

Time Regained Vol. VII by Marcel Proust; Modern Library Edition, Loc 4288 of 11587.

~ 

Proust refers to Chateaubriand's "lovely sentences" in the French—I must read the original. I tried searching À la recherche du temps perdu for Newfoundland and I found nothingit was in the French Terre-Neuve and unknown to meI tried birch or le boileau—et voilà—I found the French passage to copy from the Kindle app:

N’est-ce pas à mes sensations du genre de celle de la madeleine qu’est suspendue la plus belle partie des Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe:

« Hier au soir je me promenais seul… je fus tiré de mes réflexions par le gazouillement d’une grive perchée sur la plus haute branche d’un bouleau. À l’instant, ce son magique fit reparaître à mes yeux le domaine paternel ; j’oubliai les catastrophes dont je venais d’être le témoin et, transporté subitement dans le passé, je revis ces campagnes où j’entendis si souvent siffler la grive. »

Et une des deux ou trois plus belles phrases de ces Mémoires n’est-elle pas celle-ci :

« Une odeur fine et suave d’héliotrope s’exhalait d’un petit carré de fèves en fleurs ; elle ne nous était point apportée par une brise de la patrie, mais par un vent sauvage de Terre-Neuve, sans relation avec la plante exilée, sans sympathie de réminiscence et de volupté. Dans ce parfum, non respiré de la beauté, non épuré dans son sein, non répandu sur ses traces, dans ce parfum chargé d’aurore, de culture et de monde, il y avait toutes les mélancolies des regrets, de l’absence et de la jeunesse. »

Le temps retrouvé Vol. VII de Marcel Proust.