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Alfred de Musset (1810–1857). The Story of a White Blackbird.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Chapter VI

I WENT at once in search of my parents through all the gardens in the neighborhood, but my trouble was in vain. They must doubtless have taken refuge in some distant place, and I have never been able to learn what became of them.

Overwhelmed with sorrow, I went and perched on the gutter to which my father’s anger had exiled me. There I passed whole days and nights lamenting my sad life. I could no longer sleep, I ate scarcely anything, and I came very near dying of hunger.

One day when I was bemoaning my fate as usual, I said aloud: “So then, I am neither a blackbird, since my father used to pluck out my feathers; nor a pigeon, since I fell by the way when I was trying to fly over to Belgium; nor a Russian magpie, since the little Marquise stopped up her ears as soon as I opened my mouth; nor a turtle dove, since Gourouli herself, gentle Gourouli, snored like a monk while I was singing; nor a cockatoo, since Kacatogan would not condescend to listen to me; nor any kind of a bird, in fact, since at Morfontaine they left me to sleep all alone. But nevertheless I am covered with feathers and I have claws and wings. I am certainly not a monster, as was proved by Gourouli and the little Marquise herself, for they found me pleasing enough. By what inexplicable mystery is it, that these feathers, wings, and claws do not form a whole to which one could give a name? May I not be, perhaps…”

I was about to continue my lamentations, when I was interrupted by two porters’ wives, who were quarreling in the street.

“Goodness gracious!” said one of them to the other, “if you ever succeed, I will make you a present of a white blackbird!”

“The Lord be praised!” I cried. “Now I have it. Oh heavens! I am the son of a blackbird, and I am white: I am a white blackbird!”

This discovery, I must confess, modified my ideas considerably. Instead of pitying myself as I used, I began to puff myself up and walked proudly up and down the gutter, gazing forth into space with a victorious air.

“It is something,” I said to myself, “to be a white blackbird. It is more worth while than the jog trot of a donkey. I did not need to grieve over not meeting with others like myself: it is more fate of genius and it is my fate! I meant to flee from the world, I will astonish it! Since I am that unique bird whose very existence is denied by the vulgar, it is both my right and my duty to behave accordingly, as the Phoenix does, and to despise all other birds. I must buy Alfieri’s memoirs and Lord Byron’s poems. Such substantial nourishment will inspire me with a noble pride, to say nothing of that with which the Lord has endowed me. Yes, I will try, if possible, to increase the prestige given me by my birth. Nature made me rare, I will make myself mysterious. It shall be regarded as a favor, an honor to see me.—And, in fact,” I added in a lower tone, “how if I should actually exhibit myself for money?”

“For shame! What an unworthy idea! I will write a poem like Kacatogan, not in one canto, but in twenty-four, like all the great men; but that is not enough, there must be forty-eight, with notes and an appendix! The universe must be made to realize the fact of my existence. In my verses, I shall not fail to deplore my isolation; but I shall do it in such a way, that even the happiest people will envy me. Since Providence has denied me a mate, I will say the most dreadful things about other peoples. I will prove, that all grapes are sour except those that I eat. The nightingales had better look out for their laurels; I will prove, as clearly as two and two make four, that their complaints make one’s heart ache, and that their wares are of no value. I must go and see Charpentier. First of all I must win a real foothold in the world of letters. I mean to surround myself with a court composed, not merely of journalists, but of real authors, and even of literary women. I shall write a role for Mademoiselle Rachel, and, if she refuses to play it, I will publish with a great flourish of trumpets that her talent is quite inferior to that of some old provincial actress. I will go to Venice, and rent the beautiful palace Mocenigo, which is on the Grand Canal, in the midst of that fairy-like city, and costs four livres and ten sous a day. I shall find inspiration in all the souvenirs which the author of Lara must have left there. From the depths of my solitude, I shall flood the world with a deluge of interlocking rhymes, modeled after Spenser’s strophes, in which I shall relieve my great soul; I shall make all the tom-tits sigh, all the turtle doves coo, all the woodpeckers weep, and all the old owls screech. But, as for my own person, I shall be inexorable and unbeguiled by the wiles of love. In vain they may urge and entreat me to take pity on the unhappy mortals who have been won by my sublime songs. To all such advances I shall simply reply: ‘Fiddlesticks.’ Oh, it will be too much glory! My manuscripts will sell for their weight in gold, my books will cross the ocean; fame and fortune will pursue me whereever I go; still alone, I shall seem indifferent to the murmurs of the crowd that will surround me. In a word, I shall be a perfect white blackbird, a genuine eccentric author, fêted, spoiled, admired, envied, but perfectly churlish and unbearable.