Salvete honesta proponas,
yesterday evening, I dined with the Chevalier de la Brousse at his maison. Allow me to share the few splintered memories that I still have.
A lackey led me from the halle d’entrée into the salon. Much like in Voltaire’s garden, he was a mouse. However, this one was not liveried in grey but rather in black with silver buttons. I was surprised to be left alone but I took the opportunity to look around the room in peace.
There were five wide floor-to-ceiling windows that permitted me a view into the garden and the cherry orchard. The last light of the setting sun bathed the salon in a pink glow with golden sparkles. The room itself was square with parquet flooring with rather intricate detailing. A Turkey red carpet covered most of the floor. Beyond that, everything from the walls and the doors to the upholstery bore the Royal Blue of the French kings. Across from the windows, was a double-door flanked on either side by a niche containing a luminous alabaster bust. To the surprise of no one, one of the busts represented the agèd patriarch of Ferney, Voltaire. The other bust, I must admit, I did not immediately recognise. It was of a man with a gentle smile and melancholy eyes. The area in front of the door and in the middle of the room was occupied by four bergères, a sofa, and a number of walnut side-tables. The walls were adorned with paintings of water lilies and haystacks. In short, a beautiful, accommodating room.
Shortly thereafter, I was joined by the landlord himself. He was accompanied by a rather ravishing lady whom was soon introduced to me as the Madame de la Brousse. We sat and began to exchange pleasantries as the four-legged lackeys brought refreshments. We enjoyed a wonderfully French conversation and the Madame was a source of no end of witticisms and sensuality.
After an hour that felt like a few minutes, the double-doors swung open to reveal a lackey (white livery, gold buttons) who informed us that dinner was ready.
In the dining room, a fire was gently burning in the corner fireplace and an oval table had been set for us. As I was unfolding my napkin, I had an opportunity to take in my surroundings. This room was yellow with golden baseboards, and a mural of a feast for Gods on the ceiling. I took the mural to be a good omen for the culinary skills of the house and I was not disappointed. As the libations were imbibed, the mood became more and more relaxed. Eventually, I worked up the courage to ask the identity of the second bust I had seen in the salon. The Chevalier informed me that he would have to defer to his wife. Her response was something of an enigma to me. “Well… He was a circumsised man whom hoped to use his baptism certificate as a billet d’entrée for high society. Unfortunately for him, his ticket was not valid.“
She further mentioned that the man had been born in a teutonic city and that I should not be shocked to see such a character present in the house de la Brousse. She explained that this man, a certain Herr Heine, possessed of the same cutting wit as Mr Voltaire himself. The Chevalier responded to this particular remark with a grimace. He bid me forgive his wife. He explained: ’She was also born beyond the Limes. Unfortunately, she inherited some of her people’s unseemly traits which now reside in Ferney. With that said, it is indeed true that this Heine possessed a divine malice. I can’t imagine wholeness, perfection, or indeed godliness without it. He certainly had some intriguing thoughts and all things German were nothing but an emetic to him. And yet, he did love the Natives a bit too much’. This whole discussion gave me cause to ask Madame for a reading recommendation, so that I might be able to learn more about these Teutons. ‘My sweet Ocelot, nothing could be easier. To truly learn of these people, you must let a woman explain it to you. Read Germaine de Staël’s De L’Allemagne and don’t forget to travel through the land yourself.’
Oh, dearest Lush, what more can I add? I am terribly excited to travel through the land of forests and swamps. As to the rest of the evening, there were so many pleasantries and delicacies, that it would be impossible to recount them all. The only thing that perhaps prevented this from being a perfect evening was your absence. I do wonder how Londinium finds my dear Lush.
Allow me to leave you with a quote that gives a glimpse of Heine’s wit: Experience is a good school. But the fees are high.
Dico vale amici mei