The Malady of Maupassant

The Papyrus, July-Aug. 1908

Vol. 3 Nos. 1-2, pp. 16-18

What is the secret of those souls that come into life with a sure knowledge of life’s worthlessness? Where were those secrets learned? On what strange worlds had the spiritual eyes of men like Guy De Maupassant, Gustave Flaubert and Arthur Schopenhauer gazed before their births that they should spurn contemptuously the things of this world that seem so good to the average man? There is a profound and insoluble mystery lying behind the possession of powers that can by no possibility be used on this plane of life.

Guy De Maupassant! From what mystic Utopia had he [17] fared that this earth seemed to him little else than a ball of filth and the days of man hierarchies of the inutile? With what strange gods had he conversed that the speech of man seemed to him nothing but the chattering of lunatics?

A strange man, indeed, was this Guy De Maupassant—an ethereal beast, a satyr squatted in a lily-pond, a butterfly tangled in compost. His written works are the de profundis of a great spirit above which the “music of the spheres” was a deadly monotone. When he went into the street he saw Man, not men. The gestures of all these figures were the same; their faces differed only in degrees of stupidity. They shuffled, they haggled, they drank, they ate—that was all. “And for this Man was born,” sighed this sick man of the boulevards.

With the prankishness of a demon he liked to peer at the people at play, at work, at prayers; dissected their virtues, wondered at the indestructibility of their illusions. De Maupassant’s contempt was built of impotent rage and the consciousness of his own transcendent mental equipment. He was constantly gnawed by a sense of the Infinite which destroyed the value of the finite. Mentally, he was an inversion. He had to burrow his way down from the Ideal to the Real. When he came in contact with the average man he had the sense of touching a being of the lower world.

The Ideal being a vision that blasted while it ravished, he often descended to the gutters to escape it. “We can at least be good animals!” he exclaims ironically. His body, his lusts, at least were tangible things. There is always room for the lowest; the highest is an outcast. Loaf and take thine ease, dear body! “I feel thrilling within me the sensations of all the different animals, of all their instincts, of all the confused longings of inferior creatures.”

He loved ideas like a poet; he loved the earth like a beast. But he writhed in his raptures and his pastimes were crucifixions.

De Maupassant realized the beautiful through the evil in him. He gave to the world some marvelous stories; he pinched his heart when he wrote.

[18] Philostratus tells us of a dragon whose brain was a blazing gem. Such a brain inhabited the body of the man who called himself a “lascivious and vagabond faun.”