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

Criticism and Interpretation. By George Pellissier

ALFRED DE MUSSET was above all else the poet of youth. Smiling upon life, the elect of genius, the betrothed of love, he appears with a candid, haughty eye, the bloom of spring on his cheek, a song on his lips. What gayety, what youthful freshness! What turbulent ardor in pleasure and dissipation! Back with “decrepit age!” Give room to eager, impetuous, triumphant adolescence! Make way for the poet of eighteen whose heart beats at the first summons, whose forehead is gilded by the first rays of glory! His heart opens; he suffers; he sings of his pain. The volatile ballads of the Cherubim are followed by Don Juan’s impassioned accents. Every wave lures him, even the most impure, where he hopes to find a remote reflection of his adored ideal. And when love no longer blossoms on a prematurely withered stalk, he feels that all the charm of life has vanished with the spring, that genius itself cannot survive the incapacity to love. Eleven years after the petulant fervors and cavalier graces of his début, when his years had scarcely sounded thirty, he sits down at his desk with his head in his hands to dream of a past of tarnished memories, of a future that favors no hope. For others, thirty is the age of vigorous, productive maturity; for Cherubim, it is the period of decline and lassitude. After several always more rare efforts to reform, follows a precocious old age, both idle and sterile, with no work assigned, no duty to accomplish. All is finished; he resigns himself to existence, lacking interest in life, rather detesting it. He assists in his own ruin, furthering it by recourse to fictitious intoxications. He seeks the waters of Jouvence even in the muddy pools of the gutters, always sinking lower into the depths of a mournful silence. With youth, the poet of youth had lost all; when he died to love, he was also dead to poetry.

Alfred de Musset abandoned his life to the hazards of fancy, and his genius to the caprices of inspiration. Later the poet bore the penance of a natural inconstancy, indolence, and aversion to all discipline, already foreshadowed by an idle, desultory youth. Nervous and whimsical as a child, he continues to allow himself to drift without the power to restrain himself. His youth is scattered to all winds, and his soul’s treasures are squandered. He makes his entire life consist in the delirium of a morbid, exalted passion, which, although it at first feeds his genius, is not long in consuming it.…

Of all our poets he has brought the most passionate fervor into poetry. He voices his emotion while it is still expanding, allowing it to gush forth in its eager violence, unreservedly surrendering it vibrating with ardent sincerity. Pain or joy—everything seeks to escape from his breast, and that immediately. Others part with their most personal impressions when the moment arrives; but, like the pelican whose anguish he has celebrated, he delivers up his own entrails for food. He allows not only his tears to flow, but also the blood from his wound.—From “The Literary Movement in France in the Nineteenth Century” (1893).