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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Scientist among Ladies
By Édouard Pailleron (1834–1899)
 
        
From ‘Le Monde où l’On s’Ennuie’: Translation of Edward Irenæus Prime-Stevenson
  
  [In M. de Bellac, the hero of the following scene, the dramatist portrays the superficial, pretentious, and conceited man of letters, who passes for a deep thinker, and probably believes himself such; and whose practical success is largely due to the adulation of a coterie of women, infatuated with what they consider philosophy, but in reality carried away by mere sentimentality for its drawing-room expounder. As the curtain rises, Madame de Céran, hostess of the assembled company, is about to conduct the ladies into the next apartment; when one of them, Madame de Loudan, takes her by the arm.]

MADAME DE LOUDAN  [in an affected tone]—O countess! countess! before we go, do let us carry out the little plot that we have just been making against M. de Bellac.  [Going to Bellac, she says beseechingly:]  M. Bellac—  1
  Bellac  [smiling conceitedly]—Marquise—?  2
  Madame de Loudan—We are all begging one favor of you.  3
  Bellac  [graciously]—You mean the favor that you do in asking it of me?  4
  All the Ladies  [to each other]—Oh, how charmingly he said that!  5
  Madame de Loudan—The poetry that we are going into the other room to hear will probably take the entire evening. This will be our last chance for a ray of illumination from you. Do recite us something—will you not? Now, before we all go—just as little a thing as you choose. We don’t wish to tax your genius; but something—anything—only speak. Every word you will say will fall on us like manna!  6
  Suzanne—Yes, yes, please do, M. Bellac.  7
  Madame Arriégo—Do be so kind, M. Bellac.  8
  The Baroness—We are all absolutely at your feet, M. Bellac.  9
  Bellac  [protesting]—O ladies! ladies!  10
  Madame de Loudan—Come over here and help us, Lucy—you who are his Muse! You ask him too.  11
  Lucy—Certainly I ask him.  12
  Suzanne—For my part, I will have it so, whether M. Bellac likes it or not!  13
  The Ladies  [whispering together]—Oh! oh!  14
  Madame de Céran—Suzanne, you forget yourself.  15
  Bellac—Oh, from the moment when anybody takes to violence—  16
  Madame de Loudan—Oh, he consents! he consents! An arm-chair! An arm-chair!  [A general movement of delight among all the ladies surrounding Bellac.]  17
  Madame Arriégo—Will you have a table?  18
  Madame de Loudan—Would you like us to draw back a little from you?  19
  Madame de Céran—Yes, just make a little more room around him, please, ladies.  20
  Bellac—Really! really! I beg of you—no stage setting—nothing that suggests giving a lesson, a lecture,—in a word, pedantry. Rather, my dear ladies, let us turn it into a conversation; you to ask me whatever questions you please.  21
  Madame Loudan  [joining her hands together]—O dear M. Bellac, can we ask you something about your new book?  22
  Suzanne—O M. Bellac, please  23
  Bellac—Ah, irresistible prayers! But in spite of them—yes, in spite of them, suffer me to refuse. Before my book is given to everybody, no one human being must know anything about it.  24
  Madame de Loudan  [slyly]—Not even one single person—in particular?  25
  Bellac—O marquise, as Fontenelle once said to Madame de Coulanges, “Take care! you are getting close to a secret.”  26
  All the Ladies  [with great enthusiasm]—Ah! charming!  27
  The Baroness  [in a low voice to Madame de Loudan]—How much wit he has!  28
  Madame de Loudan—He has something better than wit, my dear.  29
  The Baroness—What do you mean?  30
  Madame de Loudan—The man absolutely has wings—you shall see—he positively has wings!  31
  Bellac  [looking around the circle]—Ladies, I think you will all agree that this is neither the place nor the hour to enter upon those eternal problems with which souls whose intellectual flight is as high as yours, continually torment themselves,—the mysterious enigmas of life and of the Great Beyond.  32
  The Ladies  [to each other]—Ah! the Great Beyond, my dear; the Great Beyond!  33
  Bellac—Such a topic reserved, I am at your orders: and as I speak there occurs to me one of those questions eternally agitated, never decided; upon which, with your permission, I should like to express an opinion in a few words.  34
  The Ladies—Yes, yes; speak! speak!  35
  Bellac  [sitting down in the arm-chair]—And I should like to say what I have to say about it in view of a triple end. The topic that I have in mind is—love—  36
  The Ladies  [all together, awed, and with enthusiasm]—Ah!  37
  Bellac—Yes, of love. Oh, weakness which is a force! Sentiment which is a faith! The only one perhaps which knows no atheists.  38
  The Ladies—Ah! ah! Charming!  39
  Madame de Loudan  [to the Baroness]—Didn’t I tell you he positively had wings, my dear—just listen!  40
  Bellac—I had come here this morning intending to speak, àpropos of the topic of German literature, of a certain philosophy which makes mere instinct the base and the rule of all of our actions and of all of our thoughts.  41
  The Ladies  [protesting]—Oh! oh!  42
  Bellac—I take this occasion to assert that that opinion is not at all mine, and that I repulse it with all the energy of a soul that is proud to exist.  43
  The Ladies—Oh, admirable!  44
  The Baroness  [in a low voice to Madame de Loudan]—Did you ever see a man with such a beautiful hand?  45
  Bellac—No, ladies, no: love is not, as the German philosopher said, purely a passion belonging to the species,—a deceptive illusion by which nature dazzles men, to accomplish its ends. No, no, a hundred times no! It is impossible that it should be so if we really have souls.  46
  The Ladies—Yes, yes; bravo!  47
  Bellac—Let us leave to the sophists, and to vulgar natures, those theories that debase the human heart; let us not even discuss them; let us answer them by silence, by the language of forgetfulness.  48
  The Ladies—Charming! charming!  49
  Bellac—Heaven forbid that I should ever deny the sovereign influence of beauty upon the tottering wills of men.  [Looking meaningly around him.]  I see before me in such a moment as this only too much of what would enable me victoriously to refute any error as to that.  50
  The Ladies—Ah! ah!  51
  Bellac—But above this beauty which is perceptible and perishable, my dear ladies, there is another beauty, unconquerable by time, invisible to the eye, and which the purified spirit alone can perceive and love with a refined and immaterial love. That species of love, my dear ladies, is the very principle of love itself, the bringing together of two souls, and their elevation above all the mud of this terrestrial world,—their united flight into the infinite blue of the Ideal.  52
  The Ladies  [all together]—Bravo! bravo!
[As Bellac says these last words, the old Duchesse de Réville, who has been sitting quite forward of the group of his admirers, embroidering diligently, exclaims in a tone of contempt:]
  53
  There you have stuff and nonsense for you with a vengeance!  54
 
 
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