Fragrance in Literature-AN "ATTIC" PHILOSOPHER By EMILE SOUVESTRE



Émile Souvestre (April 15, 1806 – July 5, 1854) was a French novelist who was a native of Morlaix, Finistère.
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AN "ATTIC" PHILOSOPHER
By EMILE SOUVESTRE



I am not surprised at hearing, when I awake, the birds singing so
joyfully outside my window; it is only by living, as they and I do, in a
top story, that one comes to know how cheerful the mornings really are up
among the roofs. It is there that the sun sends his first rays, and the
breeze comes with the fragrance of the gardens and woods; there that a
wandering butterfly sometimes ventures among the flowers of the attic,
and that the songs of the industrious work-woman welcome the dawn of day.
The lower stories are still deep in sleep, silence, and shadow, while
here labor, light, and song already reign.


It is now many years since I witnessed the celebration of the 'Fete
Dieu'; but should I again feel in it the happy sensations of former days?
I still remember how, when the procession had passed, I walked through
the streets strewed with flowers and shaded with green boughs. I felt
intoxicated by the lingering perfumes of the incense, mixed with the
fragrance of syringas, jessamine, and roses, and I seemed no longer to
touch the ground as I went along. I smiled at everything; the whole
world was Paradise in my eyes, and it seemed to me that God was floating
in the air!

The 'Fete Dieu' was then one of the great events of my life! It was
necessary to be diligent and obedient a long time beforehand, to deserve
to share in it. I still recollect with what raptures of expectation I
got up on the morning of the day. There was a holy joy in the air. The
neighbors, up earlier than usual, hung cloths with flowers or figures,
worked in tapestry, along the streets. I went from one to another, by
turns admiring religious scenes of the Middle Ages, mythological
compositions of the Renaissance, old battles in the style of Louis XIV,
and the Arcadias of Madame de Pompadour. All this world of phantoms
seemed to be coming forth from the dust of past ages, to assist--silent
and motionless--at the holy ceremony. I looked, alternately in fear and
wonder, at those terrible warriors with their swords always raised, those
beautiful huntresses shooting the arrow which never left the bow, and
those shepherds in satin breeches always playing the flute at the feet of
the perpetually smiling shepherdess. Sometimes, when the wind blew
behind these hanging pictures, it seemed to me that the figures
themselves moved, and I watched to see them detach themselves from the
wall, and take their places in the procession! But these impressions
were vague and transitory. The feeling that predominated over every
other was that of an overflowing yet quiet joy. In the midst of all the
floating draperies, the scattered flowers, the voices of the maidens, and
the gladness which, like a perfume, exhaled from everything, you felt
transported in spite of yourself. The joyful sounds of the festival were
repeated in your heart, in a thousand melodious echoes. You were more
indulgent, more holy, more loving! For God was not only manifesting
himself without, but also within us.


How much labor to bring in the desired harvest! For that, how many times
shall I see him brave cold or heat, wind or sun, as he does to-day! But
then, in the hot summer days, when the blinding dust whirls in clouds
through our streets, when the eye, dazzled by the glare of white stucco,
knows not where to rest, and the glowing roofs reflect their heat upon us
to burning, the old soldier will sit in his arbor and perceive nothing
but green leaves and flowers around him, and the breeze will come cool
and fresh to him through these perfumed shades. His assiduous care will
be rewarded at last.

The fine evenings are come back; the trees begin to put forth their
shoots; hyacinths, jonquils, violets, and lilacs perfume the baskets of
the flower-girls--all the world have begun their walks again on the quays
and boulevards. After dinner, I, too, descend from my attic to breathe
the evening air.

Frances perceived a colored saucer almost whole, of which she took
possession as a record of the visit she was making; henceforth she would
have a specimen of the Sevres china, "which is only made for kings!"
I would not undeceive her by telling her that the products of the
manufactory are sold all over the world, and that her saucer, before it
was cracked, was the same as those that are bought at the shops for
sixpence! Why should I destroy the illusions of her humble existence?
Are we to break down the hedge-flowers that perfume our paths? Things
are oftenest nothing in themselves; the thoughts we attach to them alone
give them value. To rectify innocent mistakes, in order to recover some
useless reality, is to be like those learned men who will see nothing in
a plant but the chemical elements of which it is composed.


Coffee is, so to say, just the mid-point between bodily and spiritual
nourishment. It acts agreeably, and at the same time, upon the senses
and the thoughts. Its very fragrance gives a sort of delightful activity
to the wits; it is a genius that lends wings to our fancy, and transports
it to the land of the Arabian Nights.

When I am buried in my old easy-chair, my feet on the fender before a
blazing fire, my ear soothed by the singing of the coffee-pot, which
seems to gossip with my fire-irons, the sense of smell gently excited by
the aroma of the Arabian bean, and my eyes shaded by my cap pulled down
over them, it often seems as if each cloud of the fragrant steam took a
distinct form. As in the mirages of the desert, in each as it rises, I
see some image of which my mind had been longing for the reality.


A ray of the rising sun lights up the little table on which I write; the
breeze brings me in the scent of the mignonette, and the swallows wheel
about my window with joyful twitterings. The image of my Uncle Maurice
will be in its proper place amid the songs, the sunshine, and the
fragrance.


My father was a slave all the week, and could call himself his own only
on Sunday. The master naturalist, who used to spend the day at the house
of an old female relative, then gave him his liberty on condition that he
dined out, and at his own expense. But my father used secretly to take
with him a crust of bread, which he hid in his botanizing-box, and,
leaving Paris as soon as it was day, he would wander far into the valley
of Montmorency, the wood of Meudon, or among the windings of the Marne.
Excited by the fresh air, the penetrating perfume of the growing
vegetation, or the fragrance of the honeysuckles, he would walk on until
hunger or fatigue made itself felt. Then he would sit under a hedge, or
by the side of a stream, and would make a rustic feast, by turns on
watercresses, wood strawberries, and blackberries picked from the hedges;
he would gather a few plants, read a few pages of Florian, then in
greatest vogue, of Gessner, who was just translated, or of Jean Jacques,
of whom he possessed three old volumes. The day was thus passed
alternately in activity and rest, in pursuit and meditation, until the
declining sun warned him to take again the road to Paris, where he would
arrive, his feet torn and dusty, but his mind invigorated for a whole
week.


August 20th, four o'clock A.M.--The dawn casts a red glow on my bed-
curtains; the breeze brings in the fragrance of the gardens below. Here
I am again leaning on my elbows by the windows, inhaling the freshness
and gladness of this first wakening of the day.

Pleasures of Old Age

We traversed meadows where flowery waves stirred
by the evening breeze undulated around us. The
smell of new-cut hay reached us from every side, and
the tinkling bells of the waggon-teams as they ap-
proached the solitary farms resounded from amidst
the woods.
Louise walked by my side, playing with the child
who became every moment more reassured and
waving at him her nosegay of wild flowers, which he
long tried in vain to lay hold of; but, profiting at
last by the momentary inattention of his playmate,
he leaned over my shoulder, stretched out his little
arm with surprising rapidity and caught the flowers,
bursting out into one of those peals of fresh and
triumphant laughter which are like the song of child-
hood. Louise had not succeeded in getting pos-
session of them again when we arrived at the farm-
house.

Then Virgil takes possession of my thoughts, and
conducts me through his magic landscapes ; I wander
with him on the lonely shore, where the stork
pursues her staid and solitary course beneath a sky
charged with storm-clouds; I penetrate some ancient
forest, where the crowded oaks intermingle their dark
shadows; I smell in the heavy air the dank and
baneful odours of the marshes; I hear re-echoed
beneath leafy domes the wild birds' shrill cry.
Soon, however, brighter scenes invite and attract
me; vast landscapes spread themselves out beneath
the fruitful rays of the sun : here I behold yellow
plains, where the ripe grain undulates with every
breeze, there prairies with herds grazing beside the
river as it flows between its low-lying banks ; pale
green willows and shrubs all glowing with their
purple berries, separate the various orchards, where
the husbandman is singing while he prunes his trees.
The bees hum in the blue expanse ; and, mingled
with the lowing of cattle, I hear the champing of
horses in their stables.

Nothing could be more delightful than our journey
here ; the air was fresh and bracing ; we saw the ear-
liest swallows of the year darting across the blue sky,
and uttering joyous cries on their arrival ; the blossoms
hung from the chesnut-trees, and the white hawthorn
covered the hedges with perfumed snow. Our vehicle
was drawn along by the horses at a steady trot, as if
on their return journey, and we were driven by a
grey-headed coachman. It was like the symbolic car
of old age leisurely crossing the kingdom of Spring.

To what injustice and to how many privations
such prejudices condemned me ! Since then nu-
merous social barriers have disappeared from my path,
and I gather golden grain from a far more extensive
field. The joys of the refined no longer impress and
attract me solely. In the midst of the barley-sugar
jars of the humble shopkeeper, I perceive and respond
to sentiments and emotions which refresh my heart.
I no longer restrict my walks to the stately avenues
of parks ; I explore also the city lanes, and reap there
an equally fruitful harvest of the soul ; the flower grow-
ing by the hedge-side has bright colours and healthful
odours, which do not delight me less than the softer
tints and more delicate perfumes of the hothouse
plant. And while I feel a larger sympathy myself, I
inspire also more in others. When I cordially ex-
tended my hand just now to Rene and his wife,
their eyes were moistened with tears. But stop it
seems to me that I have been composing a eulogy on
myself, though I protest that it is old age alone that
I have intended to honour. And, after all, it has
been the privilege of the aged from time immemorial
to talk about themselves with a certain degree of
consideration, for which they are not subjected to
much blame. Nestor, in the Iliad, rarely opens his
mouth excepting to congratulate himself on his
virtues; and Homer, instead of accusing the veteran
of excess or of boasting, declares that words sweeter
than honey flowed from his lips.

Hardly had I reclined motionless for a few mi-
nutes in my arm-chair before a light, as it were,
diffused itself over my dejected soul ; my spirits, for
the moment depressed, became gradually raised by
an inner and spontaneous power. I began to con-
template the objects that surround me, and with
which I am henceforth to live on almost exclusive
terms of intimacy, with a more attentive, more
sympathetic eye; and lo! everything has become
clothed with a fresh aspect, and with a charm pre-
viously unsuspected. The sun's rays which entered
my room by the open window and illumined the
carpet with a golden border, struck me as having a
brilliancy and a glory that I had never remarked
before. A pot of mignonette stands upon my desk,
on which formerly, before going out or on my re-
turn, I hardly bestowed a passing glance, now I
take a singular pleasure in examining it ; I look
with admiration, almost gratitude, towards this little
homely flower, which exhales its perfumed breath
around me with such generous profusion, with such
untiring energy.

May I venture to say it ? these days had been the
most delightful of my life. I breathed an atmo-
sphere filled at once with the last perfume of youth,
and the sense of security which is produced by
a career fully accomplished. We felt, at length,
that contentment of heart which results from the
combined experience of the ideal and the realities
of life that serenity which is sought in vain during
the fever of action and that disinterested appreciation
of life which enables us to enjoy it, because we ask
for no more than it can yield. A state of happiness,
alas ! too short lived. She, who had shared all my
contests in life, had ever concealed her own wounds.
I had seen her form gradually decline, almost without
taking account of it. At each new symptom of
failing health, her courage gained strength ; she hid
her pallor under smiles. More attentive to her person,
as time and suffering redoubled their attacks, she
nouri>hed my illusion by diverting my thoughts from
all causes for grief on her account, and strove to
spare me the bitter pang of anticipating an infinite
sorrow.

I have always felt music to be the complement of
language. It gives rise to certain sensations which
speech would leave unawakened, and expresses pecu-
liar shades of sentiment for which our dictionaries have
no words. It is not, as Beaumarchais says satirically,
" What is not worth the trouble of writing is sung,"
but rather what cannot be written or said. Hence the
charm that exists in that indefinite mode of expres-
sion ! Music is like the clouds of an autumnal sky,
in which we discover, one after the other, every image
that corresponds to our fancy. Each one conceives
his own poem during those transient melodies. The
notes seem insensibly to metamorphose themselves,
to take a visible form, and to glide before us like
visions.
Sometimes it is a fairy landscape which is evolved
slowly out of the harmonious chords. We MV th-
distant horizon spread itself out, the marble columns
rise- in order, and the crystal fountains sparkle in the
sun ; we hear the wind blow through the perfumed
heather ; the sun shines, the birds warble, a thousand
graceful forms glance forth from between the foliage.
We are in the gardens of Armida, or the palaces of
the Arabian Nights.


I shut the window, and sat down again, with my
forehead resting against the marble chimney-piece ;
my memory slowly remounting the stream of thirty
years, which has borne away on its bosom so many
relics of myself. Insensibly all the images of the
past revived, I saw myself again young, poor, and
devoted, as on the day when Louise and I had no
other resource than the invincible confidence of those
who believe and hope. These recollections passed
through my heart like a zephyr of spring across the
frozen earth. I felt my heart revive and soften, and,
rising up, I opened my writing-desk, and from a
secret drawer, known only to myself, took out a little
mother-of-pearl casket, which exhaled an odour of
roses. I felt as if breathing an atmosphere which
had encircled my youth. But, courage ! let me not
shrink from facing these souvenirs of happiness; let
me walk without a shudder amidst these fairy palaces,
which time has trampled into ruins ! But let us be
careful doubly to lock the door, so that none may
interrupt us in our examination.

I invoked a hearty blessing on that humble dwelling
whose master had found abundance in moderation,

H



PLEASURES OF OLD AGE.



power in dcvotedness, and contentment in loving
others; ami I long mused on the old man of Virgil,
whose happy life is passed among flowery banks where
the bees gather their plunder, and who, with his head
resting on his arm, listens to the distant songs of the
thrushes intermingled with the eooing of doves. Fasci-
nating dream which the poet of the Eclogues resumes
in the Georgics ; but a pagan dream after all, where
the joys of the soul are forgotten. May thy old man
sleep sweetly, Virgil, lulled by the rustling of leaves, and
the murmur of the neighbouring rills ! The sleep of
the aged Bouvier is still sweeter ; for in the midst of
the soothing voices of creation, he hears those which
whisper within himself, and recall the good he has
accomplished.
Upon my return I found the fire burning brightly
in the dining-room, and the cloth laid for
dinner. The walk had sharpened my appetite ; I
seat myself in my large arm-chair with my feet on the
fender. Before me is Father BouviePs nosegay, the
odour of which seems to diffuse the fresh country air
about the room; the glowing embers crackle at my feet;
the wind which has risen sounds along the passage,
and I hear in the next room the song of the canary,
who from his cage salutes the sun.
My soul unfolds itself in this atmosphere of har-
monious tranquillity ; I feel my brain revive, my heart
expand. Never in the days of strength and activity
have I experienced this perfect sense of peace, this
abandonment of myself to the sweet course of do-
mestic habits.


Leaves from a Family Journal


In the contents of this bureau, were united all the touch-
ing and pleasing reminiscences of her former life ; they
formed Marcelle's poetic arcliives^ whither she often retired
in her hours of solitude. Often, on my return from busi-
ness, I found her here, smiling, and seemingly perfumed by
memories of tbe past.

Saturday — was the sebond anniversary of our marriage.

I like these fetes in celebration of a serious act, or im-
portant epoch in life ; they bring with them, besides the
lingering perfume of. the past, a fresh access of joy and
tenderness ; and the heart, grown cold from habit, revives
at the warm touch of memory. To Marcelle and myself
this day could only bring a warmer glow of gratitude to
our hearts whilst mutually attributing to each other the
cause of our happiness.

March 20th. — ^The sun has begun to pierce his way
through the thick clouds of winter ; and to-day he shed
such refreshing rays upon our little garden, that Marcelle
and I were attracted into it, and we found the shrubs
beginning to bud, whilst the perfume of violets filled
the air.

This little comer of the earth is an abridgment of one
portion of the world's history ; almost every plant it con-
tains reminds one of some distant and dangerous expedi-
tion, or recalls some deservedly great name. Our fore-
fathers, before they obtained that vine, had to traverse
mountains, and watered with their blood the plains of .
Italy, from whence they bore it Lucullus penetrated into
the wilds of Asia with the Roman eagle ; and this lovely
flowering cherry-tree, which covers the fresh spring-verdure
with a perfumed snow, was the result. Those roses and
magnolias would never have ornamented our borders, if
that sublime fool called Christopher Columbus, had not
persisted in his determination to discover a new world!
And besides these mere transplantations, what new and
numerous varieties have been acquired by cultivation \
what countless productions have been called forth from
earth by man I Each day does his perseverance multiply
these holy triumphs, to the benefit of the whole human
race ; * and what victory is worthy of being compared to
them ! — a new root, which appeases the hunger of the mul-
fitude; an unknown flower, which eases suffering, are
surely more glorius trophies than any a conqueror can
boast ! Which, does it appear to you, has best fulfilled his
mission on earth — ^the man who does the most good, or he
who makes the most noise ?"

One summer's evening I returned home, worn and men-
tally wearied with a hard day's work. A refreshing breeze
was just be^nning to rise, after the overpowering heat of
the day, and whispered among the leaves, as it bore along
the perfume of a thousand flowers ; whilst the last rays of
tlie setting sun bathed the white houses in the suburbs with
a glittering flood of light My heart was swelling from the
long day's oppression, and feeling as though my feet had
wings, I hurried home.

He proposed that we should walk, as was his custom
when he felt the need of motion to calm his mind. We
went down to the nursery-ground, and wandered by moon-
light through its alleys. The flowering acacias perfumed
the air ; the sky glittered with innumerable stars, and the
sound of our footsteps was lost on the freshly-made paths.
In this manner we made made the round of the grounds, ex-
changing only, at long intervals, a few words ; whilst the
sole sounds which in the still evening met our ears, were
the distant rumbling of the market wagons, and the bark-
ing of a dog on a neighboring farm. At last, the church-
clock struck eleven: my father remembered that I had
others expecting me, and bid me good night
I returned slowly home.

On finding myself there again, surrounded by objects,, to
each of which belonged some sweet remembrance ; and as
the scent of " vetiyer," Marcelle's favorite perfume, saluted
me on entering, the flood of bitterness which had Again
risen in my heart subsided, and I drew near to Clara's cra-
dle, in which I heard her breathing softly. A moonbeam,
penetrating the light drapery, fell round her head in an
aureole of glory.

Our Married life had commenced, and this was Home.
As I opened my eyes in our new abode, the rays of the
morning sum were penetrating the muslin' curtains, the air
was filled with the fragrance of mignionette, and in the ad-
joining room I heard a loved voice warbling my favorite
air.