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Desgenais saw that my despair was incurable, that I would neither listen to any advice nor leave my room, he took the thing seriously. I saw him enter one evening with an expression of gravity on his face; he spoke of my mistress and continued in his tone of persiflage, saying all manner of evil of women. While he was speaking I was leaning on my elbow, and, rising in my bed, I listened attentively. It was one of those sombre evenings when the sighing of the wind recalls the moaning of a dying man. A fitful storm was brewing, and between the plashes of rain on the windows there was the silence of death. All nature suffers in such moments, the trees writhe in pain and hide their heads; the birds of the fields cower under the bushes; the streets of cities are deserted. I was suffering from my wound. But a short time before I had a mistress and a friend. The mistress had deceived me and the friend had stretched me on a bed of pain. I could not clearly distinguish what was passing in my head; it seemed to me that I was under the influence of a horrible dream and that I had but to awake to find myself cured; at times it seemed that my entire life had been a dream, ridiculous and puerile, the falseness of which had just been disclosed. Desgenais was seated near the lamp at my side; he was firm and serious, although a smile hovered about his lips. He was a man of heart, but as dry as a pumice-stone. An early experience had made him bald before his time; he knew life and had suffered; but his grief was a cuirass; he was a materialist and he waited for death. "Octave," he said, "after what has happened to you, I see that you believe in love such as the poets and romancers have represented; in a word, you believe in what is said here below and not in what is done. That is because you do not reason soundly, and it may lead you into great misfortune. "Poets represent love as sculptors design beauty, as musicians create melody; that is to say, endowed with an exquisite nervous organization, they gather up with discerning ardor the purest elements of life, the most beautiful lines of matter, and the most harmonious voices of nature. There lived, it is said, at Athens a great number of beautiful girls; Praxiteles drew them all one after another; then from these diverse types of beauty, each one of which had its defects, he formed a single faultless beauty and created Venus. The man who first created a musical instrument, and who gave to harmony its rules and its laws, had for a long time listened to the murmuring of reeds and the singing of birds. Thus the poets, who understand life, after knowing much of love, more or less transitory, after feeling that sublime exaltation which real passion can for the moment inspire, eliminating from human nature all that degrades it, created the mysterious names which through the ages fly from lip to lip: Daphnis and Chloe, Hero and Leander, Pyramus and Thisbe. "To try to find in real life such love as this, eternal and absolute, is but to seek on public squares a woman such as Venus, or to expect nightingales to sing the symphonies of Beethoven. "Perfection does not exist; to comprehend it is the triumph of human intelligence; to desire to possess it, the most dangerous of follies. Open your window, Octave; do you not see the infinite? You try to form some idea of a thing that has no limits, you who were born yesterday and who will die to-morrow! This spectacle of immensity in every country in the world produces the wildest illusions. Religions are born of it; it was to possess the infinite that Cato cut his throat, that the Christians delivered themselves to lions, the Huguenots to the Catholics; all the people of the earth have stretched out their hands to that immensity and have longed to plunge into it. The fool wishes to possess heaven; the sage admires it, kneels before it, but does not desire it. "Perfection, my friend, is no more made for us than immensity. We must seek for nothing in it, demand nothing of it, neither love nor beauty, happiness nor virtue; but we must love it if we would be virtuous, if we would attain the greatest happiness of which man is capable. "Let us suppose you have in your study a picture by Raphael that you consider perfect. Let us say that upon a close examination you discover in one of the figures a gross defect of design, a limb distorted, or a muscle that belies nature, such as has been discovered, they say, in one of the arms of an antique gladiator. You would experience a feeling of displeasure, but you would not throw that picture in the fire; you would merely say that it is not perfect, but that it has qualities that are worthy of admiration. "There are women whose natural singleness of heart and sincerity are such that they could not have two lovers at the same time. You believed your mistress such an one; that is best, I admit. You have discovered that she has deceived you; does that oblige you to depose and to abuse her, to believe her deserving of your hatred? "Even if your mistress had never deceived you, even if at this moment she loved none other than you, think, Octave, how far her love would still be from perfection, how human it would be, how small, how restrained by the hypocrisies and conventions of the world; remember that another man possessed her before you, that many others will possess her after you. "Reflect: what drives you at this moment to despair is the idea of perfection in your mistress, the idea that has been shattered. But when you understand that the primal idea itself was human, small and restricted, you will see that it is little more than a rung in the rotten ladder of human imperfection.