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Vauvenargues (1715–1747). Selections from the Characters, Reflexions and Maxims. 1903.


Acestes, or Young Love

A YOUNG man who is in love for the first time in his life is no more a libertine, nor dissipated, nor ambitious; all his passions are suspended, one alone fills his heart. If, perchance, he finds himself at a concert where the music is passionate, the symphony alone moves him without any accompaniment of words; tears are seen to flow from his eyes, and he is compelled to leave the assembly in which he is not at ease and shut himself up at home; he turns aside from those he meets, he wishes to hide his tears. Sitting at his table, he begins a letter, and tears it up, he strides up and down his room, mutters incoherent words; he is no longer himself, no one recognizes him. Acestes idolizes a woman by whom he believes himself loved in return. He sees her in his sleep, speaks to her, listens to her, and thinks she listens to him. He dreams that he is travelling alone with her through a wood, over rocks and burning sand; they reach a land of savages; the people crowd round them and enquire with curiosity about their fortunes. Another time he dreams that he is in a battle, and that, covered with wounds and glory, he is about to die in his mistress’s arms; for a young man’s imagination easily produces all the chimeras that our romancers only compose after many wakeful nights. Acestes is timid with his mistress; although the bloom of youth is still on his countenance he is uneasy when he is with her. He forgets when he sees her what he had prepared to say to her; but sometimes he speaks to her without preparation, with that fire and impetuosity which the most poignant and eloquent of the passions inspire; he has a torrent of words at once strong and tender; he draws tears from this woman who loves another; then he throws himself at her feet and demands pardon for offences he has not committed. At length his charm and sincerity prevail over the vows of a rival less affectionate than he, and love, time, caprice, reward so pure a passion. He returns home preoccupied and saddened; love brings goodness into an innocent and sensitive heart; suspicion, envy, interest, hatred, have no place in a loving happy heart. Acestes’s joy, transport, silence and distraction cannot be described. All who depend on him share in his happiness; his servants whom he ordered to await him at home are not there; Acestes by nature quick tempered and impatient, is not angry, and when, apologizing for their late arrival, they come, he tells them that they did well to amuse themselves, and that he would be sorry to spoil any one’s pleasure. Then if some poor wretch approaches him, Acestes gives him his purse, for pity accompanies love, and says to him “I am only too happy to be able to alleviate your woes; if all men would help each other, there would be none unfortunate; but the frightful and inexorable hardness of rich men causes them to retain everything for themselves, and thus it is avarice alone which causes all the miseries of the earth.” Acestes only prides himself on being good; he forgives his enemies, he goes to see a man who wished to injure him. “Happy,” says he, “are those who have passions that render them less hard-hearted, less arrogant, less fastidious, less conventional! Oh! if men could always be affectionate, generous, modest!” While he is busied with these reflections, some young men of his acquaintance laugh at the passion by which he is consumed, and above all at his fine ideas about love. He replies: “Thank God, I have not learnt to despise the love which pleases me, in order to diminish my pleasures. I esteem human things because I am a man, and do not pride myself on finding in my imagination the things I find more easily in nature. Interest, vanity, ambition, may possibly some day dry up my heart and cause the natural feeling in it to perish, but at least I need not go to meet that misfortune. Do you then think yourselves more clever to be undeceived so early about the so-called illusions of youth? You have grown old, my friends, before your time and without having enjoyed nature; you are already disgusted with its pleasures. I pity you, for it is an error to seek otherwhere than in feeling what neither intellect nor custom, neither art nor science, can supply.”