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

Catulle Mendès (1841–1909)

The Modern Literary Man

ONCE upon a time it was the fashion for literary men to borrow a hundred sous, and to forget to return them; to leave their lodgings without giving the landlord notice; and never to pay, even in a dream, their bootmaker or their tailor. To make debts was a sort of duty. Follies of youth! The Bohemians have disappeared; literature has become respectable. We have cut our hair and put our affairs in order. We no longer wear red waistcoats, and our porter bows to us, because we give him tips, just as politely as he does to the banker on the ground floor or the lawyer on the second. Good citizens, good husbands, good fathers, we earn for ourselves epitaphs full of honor. I fought in the last war. I have a wife to whom I have never given the slightest cause for sorrow. I myself teach my three children geography and history, and bring them up to have a horror of literature. Better still: it happened to me—a remarkable turning of the tables—to lend six thousand francs to one of my uncles, an ironmonger at Angoulême, who had foolishly got into difficulties, and not without reading him a severe lecture. In a word, we are orderly, proper persons. But I say we are monsters.

For is it not indeed a monstrous thing, being a man, not to be, not to be able to be, a man like other men? To be unable to love or to hate, to rejoice or to suffer, as others love or hate, rejoice or suffer? And we cannot—no, no, never—not under any circumstances! Obliged to consider or observe, obliged to study, analyze, in ourselves and outside ourselves, all feelings, all passions, to be ever on the watch for the result, to follow their development, to consign to our memory the attitudes they bring forth, the language they inspire, we have absolutely killed in ourselves the faculty of real emotion, the power of being happy or unhappy with simplicity. It has become impossible for us, when we feel something, to confine ourselves to feeling. We verify, we appraise, our hopes, our agonies, our anguish of heart, our joys; we dissect the jealous torments that devour us when she whom we expect does not come to the tryst; our abominable critical sense judges kisses and caresses, compares them, approves of them or not, makes reservations; we discover faults of taste in our transports of joy or grief; we mingle grammar with love, and at the supreme moment of passion, when we say to our terrified mistress, “Oh, I want you to love me till death!” are victims of the relative pronoun, of the particle. Literature, literature! you have become our heart, our senses, our flesh, our voice! It is not a life that we live—it is a poem, or a novel, or a play.