I was strolling around the docks near Notre-Dame on a wintery evening; a neighborhood of death and despair; as known by most poets; this neighborhood, from the Court of Miracles to the Morgue, has always been the receptacle of all human misery. Now that it is all in ruins, these huge monuments of agony, that people called hospitals of l’Hôtel-Dieu (Christian hospitals of The Hotel (house) of God) may collapse as well. I watched the pale lights that pierced the dark walls and thought: How many desperate deaths! What a common grave of thoughts which engulfs us each day by changed hearts, so many have fallen innocent! It was then that I thought, so many died as dreamers, poets, artists and scholars! There is a narrow bridge-like corridor over the river that splashes loudly below; that is the path of those who live no more. The dead then enter through another building which on the front of it should be written as the Doorway to Hell: This is the end of hope. It is there, in fact, that the body is sliced up by Science but it is also there, that Science steals the last breath of hope from faith.
No sooner than having taken a few steps, as I was absorbed by these thoughts; as our thoughts travel faster than we do, I was approached by a young man with a yellow appearance who was shivering and unceremoniously asked me for a light for his pipe. He was a medical student. No sooner said than done; I also smoked and established a conversation with the stranger. Pale, emaciated and weakened by vigils, with a wide forehead and sad eyes, these were my impressions of him. He seemed thoughtful and we read each other’s mind.
• I have just come from doing a dissection, he said, but all I found was matter. Oh! My God, he added in a cold blooded tone, if you want to get rid of that strange disease called belief in the immortality of the soul, come with me and see the daily dissolution of that matter that we call the body, come and see how to turn off these enthusiastic brains, the generous hearts that deteriorate; come and see that they all find the same void. What foolishness to believe!
I then asked him his age.
• I am twenty-four years old. I leave you now because it is too cold.
I saw him leaving and asked myself: Is this the result of Science?
To be continued.
Gérard de Nerval
NOTE: A few days later Mrs. Costel received the following communication in private, whose analogy with the preceding one carries a special meaning.
One evening I strolled around the deserted docks. It was sunny and warm and the golden stars stood out against the dark blue sky. The elegantly rounded moon and its white ray shone like a smile upon the deep water. The poplars, silent guardians of the banks, launched their slender forms, while I passed by slowly, looking at the reflection of the stars in the water and God’s reflection in the vastness of the vaulted blue. A woman walked ahead of me and I followed her steps out of pure curiosity, my steps seemingly regulated by hers. We walked like that for a long time. When we then approached the façade of Hôtel-Dieu (Christian Hospital, House of God) with its illuminated holes here and there the woman stopped, then looked at me and said, as if I were her companion:
• My friend, do you believe that those who suffer here feel more pain in their souls than in their bodies? Or do you believe that physical pain extinguishes the divine spark?
• I believe, I said profoundly surprised, that for the majority of the unfortunate people that suffer and agonize at this very moment, the physical pain is their rest hence they forget their usual misfortune.
• You are mistaken, friend, she said with a compassionate smile. The illness is a supreme anguish to the disowned of this Earth, to the poor, to the ignorant and to the abandoned ones. It does not bring obliviousness but to those like you who only suffer the nostalgia of the dreams and whose pains are crowned with violets.
I tried to respond but with a gesture she stopped me, and pointing her hand towards the hospital she said:
• Unfortunate people struggle there, calculating the number of hours that the disease stole from their paychecks; anguished women think of the cabarets that stuns the pain and the husbands who leave their hungry children behind; there, beyond, and everywhere the earthly concerns muffle and diminish the weak spark of hope that finds no dwelling in those desolated souls. God is even more forgotten by these miserable people torn apart by their sufferings than he is in their normal toil. This happens because God is too far away, too high in the skies, and misery is very close. What to do then to allow those men and women to leave their corporeal lives with dignity, instead of falling like insects; or even, to help them mitigate their sorrow and desperation when facing the battles of life and death? You, dreamer, you that writes verses about the Moon, haven’t you given any thought to this formidable problem than can only be resolved by two things: charity and love?
That woman seemed to grow bigger and I felt divine goose bumps running all over my body. She continued to speak and her great voice seemed to fill the city with harmony:
• Listen up! She said. Go all of you, the powerful, the wealthy, the intelligent ones, go and spread the good news. Tell the unfortunate ones that God, their father, is no longer hidden in the inaccessible heavens and that God is sending them back the spirits of their lost loved ones, to console them and to help them out; that their parents, mothers, children, sees them at their bedside, communicating with them in a well-known language, telling them that there is a new dawn beyond the grave that dissipates like the clouds; the Earthly evils. The angel opened the eyes of Tobias; may the angel of love in turn open the closed souls of those who suffer hopelessly!
Having said that, this woman gently touched my eyes and I could see the spirits through the walls of the hospital, like pure flames illuminating the desolated rooms. Their union with humanity was consumed; the wounds of the soul and the body were healed and soothed with a balm of hope. Legions of spirits, more numerous and brighter than the stars, cleared the way before the suffering ones, chasing away the impure vapors of despair, doubt and of the air and the Earth, like a raging river that escaped with only one word: love.
I remained motionless for a long time and as if transported out of my body; then darkness invaded Earth once more and the space was empty again. I looked around but the woman was gone. I was scared and oblivious to everything around me. Since that evening I have been called the dreamer, the mad one. Oh! What a gentle and sublime madness is the belief in life after the grave! And how depressing and stupid the crazy idea that shows the void as the only reward to our miseries and to our modest and obscure virtues! Who is the mad one here: the one that has hope or the one who despairs?
Alfred de Musset
After this last communication was read Gérard de Nerval then spontaneously writes the following, through another medium, Mr. Didier:
“My honorable friend Musset finished for me. We agreed to that. All we needed was that his continuation would give precisely the answer to the first part that I gave you, and it was also necessary to have a different style and more comforting images.”