The Confession of a Child of the Century by Alfred de Musset

Toward midnight, while sleeping restlessly, I seemed to hear in my dreams a profound sigh. I opened my eyes and saw my mistress standing near my bed with arms crossed, looking like a specter. I could not restrain a cry of fright, believing it to be an apparition conjured up by my diseased brain. I leaped from my bed and fled to the farther end of the room; but she followed me.

“It is I!” said she; putting her arms around me she drew me to her.

“What do you want of me?” I cried. “Leave me! I fear I shall kill you!”

“Very well, kill me!” she said. “I have deceived you, I have lied to you, I am an infamous wretch and I am miserable; but I love you, and I can not live without you.”

I looked at her; how beautiful she was! Her body was quivering; her eyes languid with love and moist with voluptuousness; her bosom was bare, her lips burning. I raised her in my arms.

“Very well,” I said, “but before God who sees us, by the soul of my father, I swear that I will kill you and that I will die with you.”

I took a knife from the table and placed it under the pillow.

“Come, Octave,” she said, smiling and kissing me, “do not be foolish. Come, my dear, all these horrors have unsettled your mind; you are feverish. Give me that knife.”

I saw that she wished to take it.

“Listen to me,” I then said; “I do not know what comedy you are playing, but as for me I am in earnest. I have loved you as only a man can love and to my sorrow I love you still. You have just told me that you love me, and I hope it is true; but, by all that is sacred, if I am your lover to-night, no one shall take my place to-morrow. Before God, before God,” I repeated, “I would not take you back as my mistress, for I hate you as much as I love you. Before God, if you consent to stay here to-night I will kill you in the morning.”

When I had spoken these words I fell into a delirium. She threw her cloak over her shoulders and fled from the room.

“Take the first comer and say to him: ‘Here are people who pass their lives drinking, riding, laughing, gambling, enjoying all kinds of pleasures; no barrier restrains them, their law is their pleasure, women are their playthings; they are rich. They have no cares, not one. All their days are days of feasting.’ What do you think of it? Unless that man happened to be a severe bigot he would probably reply that that was the greatest happiness that could be imagined.

“Then take that man into the thick of the action, place him at a table with a woman on either side, a glass in his hand, a handful of gold every morning and say to him: ‘This is your life. While you sleep near your mistress, your horses neigh in the stables; while you drive your horses along the boulevards, your wines are ripening in your vaults; while you pass away the night drinking, the bankers are increasing your wealth. You have but to express a wish and your desires are gratified. You are the happiest of men. But take care lest some night of carousal you drink too much and destroy the capacity of your body for enjoyment. That would be a serious misfortune, for all the ills that afflict human flesh can be cured, except that. You ride some night through the woods with joyous companions; your horse falls and you are thrown into a ditch filled with mud, and it may be that your companions, in the midst of their happy fanfares, will not hear your cry of anguish; it may be that the sound of their trumpets will die away in the distance while you drag your broken limbs through the deserted forest. Some night you will lose at the gaming table; Fortune has its bad days. When you return to your home and are seated before the fire, do not strike your forehead with your hands, and do not allow sorrow to moisten your cheeks with tears, do not bitterly cast your eyes about here and there as though seeking for a friend; do not, under any circumstances, think of those who, under some thatched roof, enjoy a tranquil life and who sleep holding each other by the hand; for before you, on your luxurious bed, will sit a pale creature who loves—your money. You will seek from her consolation for your grief, and she will remark that you are very sad and ask if your loss was considerable; the tears from your eyes will concern her deeply, for they may be the cause of allowing her dress to grow old or the rings to drop from her fingers. Do not name him who won your money that night for she may meet him on the morrow, and she may make sweet eyes at him that would destroy your remaining happiness. That is what is to be expected of human frailty; have you the strength to endure it? Are you a man? Beware of disgust, it is an incurable evil; death is more to be desired than a living distaste for life. Have you a heart? Beware of love, for it is worse than disease for a debauchee and it is ridiculous. Debauchees pay their mistresses, and the woman who sells herself has no right but that of contempt for the purchaser. Are you passionate? Take care of your face. It is shameful for a soldier to throw down his arms and for a debauchee to appear to hold to anything; his glory consists in touching nothing except with hands of marble that have been bathed in oil in order that nothing may stick to them. Are you hot-headed? If you desire to live, learn how to kill, for wine is a wrangler. Have you a conscience? Take care of your slumber, for a debauchee who repents too late is like a ship that leaks: it can neither return to land nor continue on its course; the winds can with difficulty move it, the ocean yawns for it, it careens and disappears. If you have a body, look out for suffering; if you have a soul, despair awaits you. O, unhappy one! beware of men; while they walk along the same path with you, you will seem to see a vast plain strewn with garlands where a happy throng of dancers trip the gladsome furandole standing in a circle, each a link in an endless chain; it is but a mirage; those who look down know that they are dancing on a silken thread stretched over an abyss that swallows up all who fall and shows not even a ripple on its surface. What foot is sure? Nature herself seems to deny you her divine consolation; trees and flowers are yours no more; you have broken your mother’s laws, you are no longer one of her foster-children, the birds of the field become silent when you appear. You are alone! Beware of God! You are face to face with Him, standing like a cold statue upon the pedestal of will. The rain from heaven no longer refreshes you, it undermines and weakens you. The passing wind no longer gives you the kiss of life, the benediction on all that lives and breathes; it buffets you and makes you stagger. Every woman who kisses you, takes from you a spark of life and gives you none in return; you exhaust yourself on fantoms; wherever falls a drop of our sweat, there springs up one of those sinister weeds that grow in graveyards. Die! You are the enemy of all, who love; blot yourself from the face of the earth, do not wait for old age; do not leave a child behind you, do not fecundate a drop of your corrupted blood; vanish as does the smoke, do not deprive a single blade of living grass of a ray of sunlight!'”

When I had spoken these words, I fell back in my chair and a flood of tears streamed from my eyes.

 

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Musset (1810-1857) was a French dramatist, poet, and novelist. These two passages are from his autobiographical novel about his love affair with George Sand.

Translated by Kendall Warren.