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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Édouard Pailleron (1834–1899)

Platonic Love in a Greenhouse

From “Tedious Society”

MME. DE CÉRAN and the DUCHESS DE RÉVILLE, hidden in the foreground to the left; BELLAC and LUCY WATSON, groping for each other at the right; PAUL RAYMOND enters from the left of the background, followed by JEANNE RAYMOND, who tries to hold him back.

Jeanne(whispering).No, no, Paul!

Paul(whispering).Yes, yes! Wait a moment. Let’s see. At this late hour only lovers could be here. And lovers in this house—the idea is too funny!

Jeanne.Take care!


Lucy.You are there, M. Bellac?

Paul.The Englishwoman!

Bellac.Yes, mademoiselle.

Paul.And the professor! The Englishwoman and the professor—incredible! An intrigue! A meeting! Oh, but you needn’t think I’m going to leave now!


Paul.After that, would you want to go?

Jeanne.Oh, no!(They hide behind a shrub in the background to the left.)

Lucy.Are you on this side?

Bellac.Here! I ask your pardon. The conservatory is usually better lighted. I don’t know why, this evening—(He approaches her.)

Lucy.But, M. Bellac, what does this sort of meeting mean? And your letter this morning? Why did you write to me?

Bellac.Why, to speak to you! Is this the first time, dear Miss Lucy, that we are seeking seclusion to exchange our thoughts?

Paul(trying not to laugh, whispers to JEANNE).Oh, oh, to exchange! I didn’t know it was called that!

Bellac.Observed by everybody as I am in this house, what other way could I find to speak to you alone?

Lucy.What other? All that is necessary is to give me your arm and to leave the drawing-room with me, that’s all. I am not a young French girl.

Bellac.But you are in France.

Lucy.In France, as elsewhere, I do as I choose. I have no need of secrecy, still less of mystery. You disguise your handwriting. You do not sign your name. Ah, how very French you are!

Paul(whispers to JEANNE).Not a bit sly, eh?

Bellac.And how good you are; you, the austere muse of science, the magnificent Polyhymnia! Cold and proud! Will you not sit down?

Lucy.No, no! And just see how all your precautions turned against us. I lost that letter.

Duchess(aside).I begin to understand!

Lucy.Have you not heard?

Bellac.No. You lost it?

Lucy.And what do you suppose that he or she who found it will think of it?

Duchess(whispering to MME. DE CÉRAN).Don’t you understand now?

Lucy.It’s true it was no longer in its envelope, and without the address——

Bellac.Neither my handwriting nor my signature. At all events, I thought that I was acting for the best. Dear Miss Lucy, pardon your professor, your friend, and sit down.

Lucy.No; tell me what you mean by such secrecy, and then let us go back.

Bellac.Wait! Why did you not attend my lecture to-day?

Lucy.For the very reason that I spent my time in hunting for that letter. What do you wish to speak to me about?

Bellac.How impatient you are to leave me!(He hands her a package of papers tied with a red ribbon.)Take these!

Lucy.The proof-sheets?

Bellac(with emotion).Of my book.

Lucy(likewise moved).Of yours? Ah, Bellac!

Bellac.I wished you to be the first to read it—alone, and before any one else.

Lucy(taking his hands effusively).Oh, my friend, my friend!

Paul(aside, repressing a laugh).Oh, what a love-gift!

Lucy.What is the matter?

Bellac.Nothing! I thought I heard— You will read this book into which I have put my thoughts, and I am sure that you will find our thoughts in communion with each other, except on one point.

Lucy.And that is?

Bellac(tenderly).Is it possible that you do not believe in Platonic love?

Lucy.I? Not at all!

Bellac.Very well. Then how do you explain our relations?

Lucy.Ours are those of friendship.

Bellac.Surely it is more than friendship, and better than love.

Lucy.Then, if it’s more than one, and better than the other, it is neither. And now let me thank you a thousand times. But let us go back. Well—what is the matter?


Lucy.No, no; let us go back.

Paul(whispers to JEANNE).The fish won’t bite.

Bellac.But I beg of you to wait! Two words only! Let us be frank with each other. The question is worth the trouble. Come, Lucy!

Lucy.Let us see, Bellac—let us see what your Platonic love amounts to. Philosophically, the conception is untenable.

Bellac.Pardon me, but this love is a friendship——

Lucy.If it is friendship, it is no longer love.

Bellac.But the conception is a double one.

Lucy.If it is double, it is not one.

Bellac.But there is a confusion.

Lucy.A confusion destroys the character of a conception. And I go further——

Paul(whispers to JEANNE).This is killing!

Lucy.I deny that a confusion is possible between love, which has individualization for its basis, and friendship, which is a form of sympathy; that is, of a state in which the I becomes, in a certain sense, the non-I. I deny it absolutely—absolutely.

Duchess(whispers to MME. DE CÉRAN).I have often heard love talked about, but never like this.

Bellac.Let us investigate further, Lucy.

Lucy.Very well, Bellac. The principal factor——

Bellac.Suppose we take an example. Suppose two beings—two abstractions—two entities—any man—any woman—suppose these two to be in love, but with the common physiological love. You follow me?


Bellac.Let us suppose them in a situation such as this—alone, together, at night. What will happen?

Duchess(whispers to MME. DE CÉRAN).I have a suspicion, haven’t you?

Bellac.Inevitably—you follow me?—inevitably the following phenomenon will take place.

Jeanne(whispers to PAUL).Oh, but this is amusing!

Bellac.Both of them, or more probably the man——

Paul(whispers to JEANNE).The male entity.

Bellac.Will approach her whom he thinks he loves—(He approaches LUCY.)

Lucy(stepping back).But——

Bellac(holding her gently).No, no! You will see. They sing their looks into each other’s eyes; they mingle their breath and their hair——

Lucy.But, M. Bellac——

Bellac.And then, and then—there will pass in their consciousness, independent of their individualities, an uninterrupted succession of unconscious acts which, by a sort of progression, by a slow but ineluctable process, will precipitate them, if I may say so, toward and into the fatality of that foreseen end with which neither the will, nor the intelligence, nor the soul have had anything to do.

Lucy.Permit me, but this process——

Bellac.Wait, wait! Let us now suppose another couple. Let us suppose that with these two, who are exceptional people, psychological takes the place of physiological love. Do you still follow me?


Bellac.These two, sitting beside one another, move nearer together.

Lucy(drawing back).Why, that would be the same thing.

Bellac(still detaining her).Wait! There is a perceptible shade of difference. This difference I wish you to see. They, too, look into each other’s eyes and mingle their hair——

Lucy.Well, and—(She rises.)

Bellac(making her sit down again).Only—only—it is not their beauty that these two contemplate, it is their souls; they do not hear their voices, but the throbbing of their thoughts. And when at last, by an entirely different though related process, they, too, arrive at this dark and puzzling point, where being no longer knows of itself, and that delicious numbness of the will comes which seems to be at once the height and the end of human felicities, then they awaken from it; not on earth, but in heaven, for their love carries them far beyond the storm-clouds of common passion into the pure empyrean of sublime idealities.(Silence.)

Paul(whispers to JEANNE).He is going to kiss her!

Bellac.Lucy, dear Lucy, don’t you understand me? Oh, say that you do!

Lucy(confused).But it seems to me that the two conceptions——

Paul(aside).Oh, the conceptions! They are too funny!

Lucy.That the two conceptions are identical.

Paul(aside).Oh, identical!

Bellac(passionately).Identical! Oh, Lucy, you are cruel! Identical! But remember that all this is subjective.

Paul(aside).Subjective! If this goes on, I’ll do something foolish.

Bellac.Subjective, Lucy; understand me!

Lucy(deeply moved).But, Bellac—subjective!

Jeanne(whispers to PAUL).He won’t kiss her.

Paul(whispering).Then I’ll kiss you instead.

Jeanne(whispering).But, Paul—(A sound of kisses is heard.)

Bellac and Lucy(rise, frightened).What’s that?

Duchess(aside, astonished).So they are kissing!

Lucy.Some one—some one is here!

Bellac.Come, come—take my hand!

Lucy.We shall be heard! Oh, Bellac, I told you so!


Lucy.But I am horribly compromised!

Bellac.I will make reparation, dear Miss Lucy, I will make reparation!