J.-K. Huysmans.

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humidity, the warmth or cold; as for the hydrophane, it only burns in
water and only consents to kindle its embers when moistened.

He finally decided on minerals whose reflections vary; for the
Compostelle hyacinth, mahogany red; the beryl, glaucous green; the
balas ruby, vinegar rose; the Sudermanian ruby, pale slate. Their
feeble sparklings sufficed to light the darkness of the shell and
preserved the values of the flowering stones which they encircled with
a slender garland of vague fires.

Des Esseintes now watched the tortoise squatting in a corner of the
dining room, shining in the shadow.

He was perfectly happy. His eyes gleamed with pleasure at the
resplendencies of the flaming corrollae against the gold background.
Then, he grew hungry - a thing that rarely if ever happened to him - and
dipped his toast, spread with a special butter, in a cup of tea, a
flawless blend of Siafayoune, Moyoutann and Khansky - yellow teas which
had come from China to Russia by special caravans.

This liquid perfume he drank in those Chinese porcelains called
egg-shell, so light and diaphanous they are. And, as an accompaniment
to these adorable cups, he used a service of solid silver, slightly
gilded; the silver showed faintly under the fatigued layer of gold,
which gave it an aged, quite exhausted and moribund tint.

After he had finished his tea, he returned to his study and had the
servant carry in the tortoise which stubbornly refused to budge.

The snow was falling. By the lamp light, he saw the icy patterns on
the bluish windows, and the hoar-frost, like melted sugar,
scintillating in the stumps of bottles spotted with gold.

A deep silence enveloped the cottage drooping in shadow.

Des Esseintes fell into revery. The fireplace piled with logs gave
forth a smell of burning wood. He opened the window slightly.

Like a high tapestry of black ermine, the sky rose before him, black
flecked with white.

An icy wind swept past, accelerated the crazy flight of the snow, and
reversed the color order.

The heraldic tapestry of heaven returned, became a true ermine, a
white flecked with black, in its turn, by the specks of darkness
dispersed among the flakes.

He closed the window. This abrupt transition from torrid warmth to
cold winter affected him. He crouched near the fire and it occurred to
him that he needed a cordial to revive his flagging spirits.

He went to the dining room where, built in one of the panels, was a
closet containing a number of tiny casks, ranged side by side, and
resting on small stands of sandal wood.

This collection of barrels he called his mouth organ.

A stem could connect all the spigots and control them by a single
movement, so that once attached, he had only to press a button
concealed in the woodwork to turn on all the taps at the same time and
fill the mugs placed underneath.

The organ was now open. The stops labelled flute, horn, celestial
voice, were pulled out, ready to be placed. Des Esseintes sipped here
and there, enjoying the inner symphonies, succeeded in procuring
sensations in his throat analogous to those which music gives to the
ear.

Moreover, each liquor corresponded, according to his thinking, to the
sound of some instrument. Dry curacoa, for example, to the clarinet
whose tone is sourish and velvety; _kummel_ to the oboe whose sonorous
notes snuffle; mint and anisette to the flute, at once sugary and
peppery, puling and sweet; while, to complete the orchestra,
_kirschwasser_ has the furious ring of the trumpet; gin and whiskey
burn the palate with their strident crashings of trombones and
cornets; brandy storms with the deafening hubbub of tubas; while the
thunder-claps of the cymbals and the furiously beaten drum roll in the
mouth by means of the _rakis de Chio_.

He also thought that the comparison could be continued, that quartets
of string instruments could play under the palate, with the violin
simulated by old brandy, fumous and fine, piercing and frail; the
tenor violin by rum, louder and more sonorous; the cello by the
lacerating and lingering ratafia, melancholy and caressing; with the
double-bass, full-bodied, solid and dark as the old bitters. If one
wished to form a quintet, one could even add a fifth instrument with
the vibrant taste, the silvery detached and shrill note of dry cumin
imitating the harp.

The comparison was further prolonged. Tone relationships existed in
the music of liquors; to cite but one note, benedictine represents, so
to speak, the minor key of that major key of alcohols which are
designated in commercial scores, under the name of green Chartreuse.

These principles once admitted, he succeeded, after numerous
experiments, in enjoying silent melodies on his tongue, mute funeral
marches, in hearing, in his mouth, solos of mint, duos of ratafia and
rum.

He was even able to transfer to his palate real pieces of music,
following the composer step by step, rendering his thought, his
effects, his nuances, by combinations or contrasts of liquors, by
approximative and skilled mixtures.

At other times, he himself composed melodies, executed pastorals with
mild black-currant which evoked, in his throat, the trillings of
nightingales; with the tender chouva cocoa which sang saccharine songs
like "The romance of Estelle" and the "Ah! Shall I tell you, mama," of
past days.

But on this evening Des Esseintes was not inclined to listen to this
music. He confined himself to sounding one note on the keyboard of his
organ, by swallowing a little glass of genuine Irish whiskey.

He sank into his easy chair and slowly inhaled this fermented juice of
oats and barley: a pronounced taste of creosote was in his mouth.

Gradually, as he drank, his thought followed the now revived
sensitiveness of his palate, fitted its progress to the flavor of the
whiskey, re-awakened, by a fatal exactitude of odors, memories effaced
for years.

This carbolic tartness forcibly recalled to him the same taste he had
had on his tongue in the days when dentists worked on his gums.

Once abandoned on this track, his revery, at first dispersed among all
the dentists he had known, concentrated and converged on one of them
who was more firmly engraved in his memory.

It had happened three years ago. Seized, in the middle of the night,
with an abominable toothache, he put his hand to his cheek, stumbled
against the furniture, pacing up and down the room like a demented
person.

It was a molar which had already been filled; no remedy was possible.
Only a dentist could alleviate the pain. He feverishly waited for the
day, resolved to bear the most atrocious operation provided it would
only ease his sufferings.

Holding a hand to his jaw, he asked himself what should be done. The
dentists who treated him were rich merchants whom one could not see at
any time; one had to make an appointment. He told himself that this
would never do, that he could not endure it. He decided to patronize
the first one he could find, to hasten to a popular tooth-extractor,
one of those iron-fisted men who, if they are ignorant of the useless
art of dressing decaying teeth and of filling holes, know how to pull
the stubbornest stump with an unequalled rapidity. There, the office
is opened early in the morning and one is not required to wait. Seven
o'clock struck at last. He hurried out, and recollecting the name of a
mechanic who called himself a dentist and dwelt in the corner of a
quay, he rushed through the streets, holding his cheek with his hands
repressing the tears.

Arrived in front of the house, recognizable by an immense wooden
signboard where the name of "Gatonax" sprawled in enormous
pumpkin-colored letters, and by two little glass cases where false
teeth were carefully set in rose-colored wax, he gasped for breath. He
perspired profusely. A horrible fear shook him, a trembling crept
under his skin; suddenly a calm ensued, the suffering ceased, the
tooth stopped paining.

He remained, stupefied, on the sidewalk; finally, he stiffened against
the anguish, mounted the dim stairway, running up four steps at a time
to the fourth story. He found himself in front of a door where an
enamel plate repeated, inscribed in sky-blue lettering, the name on
the signboard. He rang the bell and then, terrified by the great red
spittles which he noticed on the steps, he faced about, resolved to
endure his toothache all his life. At that moment an excruciating cry
pierced the partitions, filled the cage of the doorway and glued him
to the spot with horror, at the same time that a door was opened and
an old woman invited him to enter.

His feeling of shame quickly changed to fear. He was ushered into a
dining room. Another door creaked and in entered a terrible grenadier
dressed in a frock-coat and black trousers. Des Esseintes followed him
to another room.

From this instant, his sensations were confused. He vaguely remembered
having sunk into a chair opposite a window, having murmured, as he put
a finger to his tooth: "It has already been filled and I am afraid
nothing more can be done with it."

The man immediately suppressed these explanations by introducing an
enormous index finger into his mouth. Muttering beneath his waxed
fang-like moustaches, he took an instrument from the table.

Then the play began. Clinging to the arms of his seat, Des Esseintes
felt a cold sensation in his cheek, and began to suffer unheard
agonies. Then he beheld stars. He stamped his feet frantically and
bleated like a sheep about to be slaughtered.

A snapping sound was heard, the molar had broken while being
extracted. It seemed that his head was being shattered, that his skull
was being smashed; he lost his senses, howled as loudly as he could,
furiously defending himself from the man who rushed at him anew as if
he wished to implant his whole arm in the depths of his bowels,
brusquely recoiled a step and, lifting the tooth attached to the jaw,
brutally let him fall back into the chair. Breathing heavily, his form
filling the window, he brandished at one end of his forceps, a blue
tooth with blood at one end.

Faint and prostrate, Des Esseintes spat blood into a basin, refused
with a gesture, the tooth which the old woman was about to wrap in a
piece of paper and fled, after paying two francs. Expectorating blood,
in his turn, down the steps, he at length found himself in the street,
joyous, feeling ten years younger, interested in every little
occurrence.

"Phew!" he exclaimed, saddened by the assault of these memories. He
rose to dissipate the horrible spell of this vision and, returning to
reality, began to be concerned with the tortoise.

It did not budge at all and he tapped it. The animal was dead.
Doubtless accustomed to a sedentary existence, to a humble life spent
underneath its poor shell, it had been unable to support the dazzling
luxury imposed on it, the rutilant cope with which it had been
covered, the jewels with which its back had been paved, like a pyx.




Chapter 6


With the sharpening of his desire to withdraw from a hated age, he
felt a despotic urge to shun pictures representing humanity striving
in little holes or running to and fro in quest of money.

With his growing indifference to contemporary life he had resolved not
to introduce into his cell any of the ghosts of distastes or regrets,
but had desired to procure subtle and exquisite paintings, steeped in
ancient dreams or antique corruptions, far removed from the manner of
our present day.

For the delight of his spirit and the joy of his eyes, he had desired
a few suggestive creations that cast him into an unknown world,
revealing to him the contours of new conjectures, agitating the
nervous system by the violent deliriums, complicated nightmares,
nonchalant or atrocious chimerae they induced.

Among these were some executed by an artist whose genius allured and
entranced him: Gustave Moreau.

Des Esseintes had acquired his two masterpieces and, at night, used to
sink into revery before one of them - a representation of Salome,
conceived in this fashion:

A throne, resembling the high altar of a cathedral, reared itself
beneath innumerable vaults leaping from heavy Romanesque pillars,
studded with polychromatic bricks, set with mosaics, incrusted with
lapis lazuli and sardonyx, in a palace that, like a basilica, was at
once Mohammedan and Byzantine in design.

In the center of the tabernacle, surmounting an altar approached by
semi-circular steps, sat Herod the Tetrarch, a tiara upon his head,
his legs pressed closely together, his hands resting upon his knees.

His face was the color of yellow parchment; it was furrowed with
wrinkles, ravaged with age. His long beard floated like a white cloud
upon the star-like clusters of jewels constellating the orphrey robe
fitting tightly over his breast.

Around this form, frozen into the immobile, sacerdotal, hieratic pose
of a Hindoo god, burned perfumes wafting aloft clouds of incense which
were perforated, like phosphorescent eyes of beasts, by the fiery rays
of the stones set in the throne. Then the vapor rolled up, diffusing
itself beneath arcades where the blue smoke mingled with the gold
powder of the long sunbeams falling from the domes.

In the perverse odor of the perfumes, in the overheated atmosphere of
the temple, Salome, her left arm outstretched in a gesture of command,
her right arm drawn back and holding a large lotus on a level with her
face, slowly advances on her toes, to the rhythm of a stringed
instrument played by a woman seated on the ground.

Her face is meditative, solemn, almost august, as she commences the
lascivious dance that will awaken the slumbering senses of old Herod.
Diamonds scintillate against her glistening skin. Her bracelets, her
girdles, her rings flash. On her triumphal robe, seamed with pearls,
flowered with silver and laminated with gold, the breastplate of
jewels, each link of which is a precious stone, flashes serpents of
fire against the pallid flesh, delicate as a tea-rose: its jewels like
splendid insects with dazzling elytra, veined with carmine, dotted
with yellow gold, diapered with blue steel, speckled with peacock
green.

With a tense concentration, with the fixed gaze of a somnambulist, she
beholds neither the trembling Tetrarch, nor her mother, the fierce
Herodias who watches her, nor the hermaphrodite, nor the eunuch who
sits, sword in hand, at the foot of the throne - a terrible figure,
veiled to his eyes, whose breasts droop like gourds under his
orange-checkered tunic.

This conception of Salome, so haunting to artists and poets, had
obsessed Des Esseintes for years. How often had he read in the old
Bible of Pierre Variquet, translated by the theological doctors of the
University of Louvain, the Gospel of Saint Matthew who, in brief and
ingenuous phrases, recounts the beheading of the Baptist! How often
had he fallen into revery, as he read these lines:

But when Herod's birthday was kept, the
daughter of Herodias danced before them, and
pleased Herod.

Whereupon he promised with an oath to give
her whatsoever she would ask.

And she, being before instructed of her
mother, said: Give me here John Baptist's
head in a charger.

And the king was sorry: nevertheless, for
the oath's sake, and them which sat with him
at meat, he commanded it to be given her.

And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.

And his head was brought in a charger, and
given to the damsel: and she brought it to
her mother.

But neither Saint Matthew, nor Saint Mark, nor Saint Luke, nor the
other Evangelists had emphasized the maddening charms and depravities
of the dancer. She remained vague and hidden, mysterious and swooning
in the far-off mist of the centuries, not to be grasped by vulgar and
materialistic minds, accessible only to disordered and volcanic
intellects made visionaries by their neuroticism; rebellious to
painters of the flesh, to Rubens who disguised her as a butcher's wife
of Flanders; a mystery to all the writers who had never succeeded in
portraying the disquieting exaltation of this dancer, the refined
grandeur of this murderess.

In Gustave Moreau's work, conceived independently of the Testament
themes, Des Esseintes as last saw realized the superhuman and exotic
Salome of his dreams. She was no longer the mere performer who wrests
a cry of desire and of passion from an old man by a perverted twisting
of her loins; who destroys the energy and breaks the will of a king by
trembling breasts and quivering belly. She became, in a sense, the
symbolic deity of indestructible lust, the goddess of immortal
Hysteria, of accursed Beauty, distinguished from all others by the
catalepsy which stiffens her flesh and hardens her muscles; the
monstrous Beast, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, baneful, like
the Helen of antiquity, fatal to all who approach her, all who behold
her, all whom she touches.

Thus understood, she was associated with the theogonies of the Far
East. She no longer sprang from biblical traditions, could no longer
even be assimilated with the living image of Babylon, the royal
Prostitute of the Apocalypse, garbed like her in jewels and purple,
and painted like her; for she was not hurled by a fatidical power, by
a supreme force, into the alluring vileness of debauchery.

The painter, moreover, seems to have wished to affirm his desire of
remaining outside the centuries, scorning to designate the origin,
nation and epoch, by placing his Salome in this extraordinary palace
with its confused and imposing style, in clothing her with sumptuous
and chimerical robes, in crowning her with a fantastic mitre shaped
like a Phoenician tower, such as Salammbo bore, and placing in her
hand the sceptre of Isis, the tall lotus, sacred flower of Egypt and
India.

Des Esseintes sought the sense of this emblem. Had it that phallic
significance which the primitive cults of India gave it? Did it
enunciate an oblation of virginity to the senile Herod, an exchange of
blood, an impure and voluntary wound, offered under the express
stipulation of a monstrous sin? Or did it represent the allegory of
fecundity, the Hindoo myth of life, an existence held between the
hands of woman, distorted and trampled by the palpitant hands of man
whom a fit of madness seizes, seduced by a convulsion of the flesh?

Perhaps, too, in arming his enigmatic goddess with the venerated
lotus, the painter had dreamed of the dancer, the mortal woman with
the polluted Vase, from whom spring all sins and crimes. Perhaps he
had recalled the rites of ancient Egypt, the sepulchral ceremonies of
the embalming when, after stretching the corpse on a bench of jasper,
extracting the brain with curved needles through the chambers of the
nose, the chemists and the priests, before gilding the nails and teeth
and coating the body with bitumens and essences, inserted the chaste
petals of the divine flower in the sexual parts, to purify them.

However this may be, an irresistible fascination emanated from this
painting; but the water-color entitled _The Apparition_ was perhaps
even more disturbing.

There, the palace of Herod arose like an Alhambra on slender,
iridescent columns with moorish tile, joined with silver beton and
gold cement. Arabesques proceeded from lozenges of lapis lazuli, wove
their patterns on the cupolas where, on nacreous marquetry, crept
rainbow gleams and prismatic flames.

The murder was accomplished. The executioner stood impassive, his
hands on the hilt of his long, blood-stained sword.

The severed head of the saint stared lividly on the charger resting on
the slabs; the mouth was discolored and open, the neck crimson, and
tears fell from the eyes. The face was encircled by an aureole worked
in mosaic, which shot rays of light under the porticos and illuminated
the horrible ascension of the head, brightening the glassy orbs of the
contracted eyes which were fixed with a ghastly stare upon the dancer.

With a gesture of terror, Salome thrusts from her the horrible vision
which transfixes her, motionless, to the ground. Her eyes dilate, her
hands clasp her neck in a convulsive clutch.

She is almost nude. In the ardor of the dance, her veils had become
loosened. She is garbed only in gold-wrought stuffs and limpid stones;
a neck-piece clasps her as a corselet does the body and, like a superb
buckle, a marvelous jewel sparkles on the hollow between her breasts.
A girdle encircles her hips, concealing the upper part of her thighs,
against which beats a gigantic pendant streaming with carbuncles and
emeralds.

All the facets of the jewels kindle under the ardent shafts of light
escaping from the head of the Baptist. The stones grow warm, outlining
the woman's body with incandescent rays, striking her neck, feet and
arms with tongues of fire, - vermilions like coals, violets like jets
of gas, blues like flames of alcohol, and whites like star light.

The horrible head blazes, bleeding constantly, clots of sombre purple
on the ends of the beard and hair. Visible for Salome alone, it does
not, with its fixed gaze, attract Herodias, musing on her finally
consummated revenge, nor the Tetrarch who, bent slightly forward, his
hands on his knees, still pants, maddened by the nudity of the woman
saturated with animal odors, steeped in balms, exuding incense and
myrrh.

Like the old king, Des Esseintes remained dumbfounded, overwhelmed and
seized with giddiness, in the presence of this dancer who was less
majestic, less haughty but more disquieting than the Salome of the oil
painting.

In this insensate and pitiless image, in this innocent and dangerous
idol, the eroticism and terror of mankind were depicted. The tall
lotus had disappeared, the goddess had vanished; a frightful nightmare
now stifled the woman, dizzied by the whirlwind of the dance,
hypnotized and petrified by terror.

It was here that she was indeed Woman, for here she gave rein to her
ardent and cruel temperament. She was living, more refined and savage,
more execrable and exquisite. She more energetically awakened the
dulled senses of man, more surely bewitched and subdued his power of
will, with the charm of a tall venereal flower, cultivated in
sacrilegious beds, in impious hothouses.

Des Esseintes thought that never before had a water color attained
such magnificent coloring; never before had the poverty of colors been
able to force jeweled corruscations from paper, gleams like stained
glass windows touched by rays of sunlight, splendors of tissue and
flesh so fabulous and dazzling. Lost in contemplation, he sought to
discover the origins of this great artist and mystic pagan, this
visionary who succeeded in removing himself from the world
sufficiently to behold, here in Paris, the splendor of these cruel
visions and the enchanting sublimation of past ages.

Des Esseintes could not trace the genesis of this artist. Here and
there were vague suggestions of Mantegna and of Jacopo de Barbari;
here and there were confused hints of Vinci and of the feverish colors
of Delacroix. But the influences of such masters remained negligible.
The fact was that Gustave Moreau derived from no one else. He remained
unique in contemporary art, without ancestors and without possible
descendants. He went to ethnographic sources, to the origins of myths,
and he compared and elucidated their intricate enigmas. He reunited
the legends of the Far East into a whole, the myths which had been
altered by the superstitions of other peoples; thus justifying his
architectonic fusions, his luxurious and outlandish fabrics, his
hieratic and sinister allegories sharpened by the restless perceptions
of a pruriently modern neurosis. And he remained saddened, haunted by
the symbols of perversities and superhuman loves, of divine
stuprations brought to end without abandonment and without hope.

His depressing and erudite productions possessed a strange
enchantment, an incantation that stirred one to the depths, just as do
certain poems of Baudelaire, caused one to pause disconcerted, amazed,
brooding on the spell of an art which leaped beyond the confines of
painting, borrowing its most subtle effects from the art of writing,
its most marvelous stokes from the art of Limosin, its most exquisite
refinements from the art of the lapidary and the engraver. These two
pictures of Salome, for which Des Esseintes' admiration was boundless,
he had hung on the walls of his study on special panels between the
bookshelves, so that they might live under his eyes.


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