«To converse on what I loved with those I love»
In his letter from 22nd January 1830, Maurice de Guérin narrates to his sister Eugénie the death of their cousin Victor Mathieu, which occurred last December 19th.
Paris, 22nd January*
It is only yesterday, my dear Eugénie, that I received your letter dated from the 6th ; I hasten to answer it, in order to satisfy the questions you ask me and my own craving to converse on what I loved with those I love. You reproach me with having misled you by reassuring you in my last letters about poor Victor’s health, and it appears Paul¹ is also angry with Auguste² for not having made him aware of his brother’s condition. I understand those admonishments very well, and that resentment is well warranted by a rightful sorrow, but the details I am going to give you will exonerate both of us. I was not at all concealing Victor’s condition from you by telling you he was healed and about to leave the hospital ; indeed, he seemed to have thoroughly recovered his health and was preparing to return to St-Germain, when he was struck by a violent headache resisting any cure ; the doctor, not knowing how to tackle that obstinate pain, advised him to leave the hospital and go and breathe the pure air of St-Germain. He left Paris and I went to see him eight days later : I still found him to be prey of his pain, and, after having spent a day with him I bade him farewell… It was the last one ! ! Two days later I receive from his close friend Mr Biétrix a letter telling me that poor V. has had an apoplectic seizure and has been taken to the military hospital of Versailles, I rush to him, only his body was still alive, his eyes were closed and his tongue tied, however upon his arrival at the hospital he had still been conscious and they had used that moment to administer the last rites of religion onto him ; I report those dreadful news to Auguste, he rushes to Versailles too, it was to receive his last breath, and two days later on the 21st December (a day I shall never forget), we were accompanying his mortal remnants to the edge of his grave !! I do not add any considerations !! … and all that within five days ! How would we have been able to warn you ? This is one of those blows to disrupt any human caution and to crush you down like a thunderbolt. I hope these details, which you shall be kind enough to convey to Paul Mathieu, will justify Auguste and I not having forewarned you about what was impossible to foresee. A cross, as you wish, will be erected on our friend’s grave ! Whereas to the keepsake you request, Auguste will take it out and I shall be its depositary until the moment I will be able to give it back to you.
You are afraid the cold might harm my health, be reassured, I escaped its rigours safe and sound ; a mild wind from south has brought the thaw around and I believe we have nothing more to fear. Furthermore, the cold is not as intense in Paris as in the countryside, the closeness of the houses and the traffic of a huge population are subduing its potency ; thus I can do without purchasing a coat. I fear much more for you others, inhabitants of the Midi, who, accustomed to a very mild temperature, will find yourselves as if carried away to the ice lands. You know as for me, what I am doing : but as for you, what are you doing ? If you are idle I am going to give you some work, and on behalf of someone whom you cannot refuse anything. This person beseeches you, for pity’s sake, to do what follows for the love of him. You have read and reread Lamartine, you feel it, you are imbued with it ; well, Auguste would like you to recount in verse the impression this reading stirred up in you. You could begin with the lovely verse concluding your piece about the village and then continue, roughly along this scheme : which were my raptures, my feelings, when with you I enter God’s bosom, I fathom the mysteries of man, of Faith, and thus review Lamartine’s main poems, by describing the impressions they made on you. This scheme is not from me, it is from Auguste ; he entreats you to take utmost care of it, he expects that from your friendship… Farewell, my dear Eugénie, embrace Daddy, Mimi, Érembert as your good brother embraces you.
* Studied text : autograph AG 413 (from the Grès fund) Cayla Museum, Maurice de Guérin, Complete Works, edition by Marie-Catherine Huet-Brichard, Garnier Classics, 2012, p. 524-525
1 Paul Mathieu, Victor’s brother
2 Auguste Raynaud