Monday, August 24, 2009

Liveblogging Napoleon's Russian Invasion:
Stendhal Finds it All Vulgar

Henri Beyle, not yet the world-famous novelist known as Stendhal, accompanied the forces of Napoleon all the way to Moscow and back. On August 24, 1812, writing from Smolensk, he gives his general view of matters:
My own happiness at being here is not great, How a man changes! My old thirst for new sights has been entirely quenched. Ever since I saw Milan and Italy, everything I see repels me with its crudity. Would you believe it that, without any vexation that affects me more than anybody else, and without any personal sorrow, I am sometimes on the point of bursting into tears? In this ocean of barbarity there is not a sound that finds an echo in my soul! Everything is coarse, dirty, both physically and morally sinking. I have found some small pleasure only in having a little music played to me on an untuned piano by an individual whose feeling for music is on a level with my feeling for mass. Ambition no longer has any influence over me: the most handsome ribbon would seem to me no compensation for the mire in which I am sunk. I imagine the heights that my soul inhabits--that soul which composes works, listens to Cimarosa and is in love with Angela, amidst a beautiful climate--I imagine the heights as delicious hills. Far from these hills, down in the plain, are fetid marshes--and here I am plunged, and nothing in the world except the sight of a map can remind me of my hills.
--Beyle to Félix Faure, 24 August 1812
[Letter 64 in To the Happy Few: Selected Letters 138-40, 139 (1986)]

Faure was sometimes First President of the Royal Court at Grenoble. Beyle addresses a number of letters to Faure, although he elsewhere (in Vie de Henri Brulard) he desribes Faure as sometimes "about the dullest of my friends."

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