The fire with which you burned me exhales such fine smoke that you cannot deny having been dazzled by it, though you may find blame in those blackening fumes. The sole power of your gaze made me abandon the weapons of pride and leads me to implore you to demand of me my life. How much I myself have fostered your victory, I who began fighting as one who wishes to be defeated, offering to your attack the most vulnerable pan of my body: a heart already weeping tears of blood, proof that you have deprived my house of water to make it prey to the fire whose victim I am, through your so brief regard! He found the letter so splendidly informed by the dictates of the Aristotelian machine of Padre Emanuele, so apt to reveal
to the Lady the nature of the one person capable of such tenderness, that he did not consider it necessary to affix his signature. He did not yet know that the precieuses collected love letters as they did geegaws and bangles, more interested in their conceits than in their author.
In the weeks and months that followed he received no sign of reply. The Lady meanwhile had abandoned first her black garb, then the veil, and finally appeared to him in all the whiteness of her skin, not moorish, in her blond locks, in the triumph of her pupils, no longer elusive, windows of Aurora.
But now that his gaze could freely meet hers, he learned how to intercept her looks while they were directed at others; he basked in the music of words not addressed to him. He could not live save in her light, but he was condemned to remain in the penumbra of another body absorbing her rays.
One evening he caught her name, hearing someone call her Lilia; it was certainly the precious name of a precieuse, and he knew well that such names are given in jest: the marquise herself had been called Arthenice as an anagram of her real name, Catherine—but it was said that the masters of that ars combinatona, Racan and Malherbe, had also excogitated Era-cinthe and Carinthee. And still he felt that Lilia and no other name could be given to his Lady, lily-like in her scented whiteness.
From that moment on the Lady was for him Lilia, and it was to Lilia that he dedicated amorous verses, which he then promptly destroyed, fearing they were an inadequate tribute: Ah sweetest Lilia / hardly had I plucked a flower when I lost it! / Do you scorn to see me? / / pursue you and you flee / / speak to you and you are mute.... But he didn’t speak to her, save with his gaze full of querulous love, for the more one loves, the more one tends to rancor, shivering with cold fire, aroused by sickly health, the soul uplifted like a leaden feather, swept away by love’s dear effects without affection; and he went on writing letters that he sent unsigned to the Lady, and verses for Lilia, which he jealously kept for himself, to reread them every day.
Writing (but not sending) Lilia, Lilia, where art thou? Where dost thou hide;1 j Lilia, splendor of Heaven, an instant in thy presence j and I was wounded, as thou didst vanish, he multiplied her presence. Following her at night as she returned to her house with her maid (Through the darkest forests / along the darkest streets, /1 shall enjoy following, though in vain / the fleeting prints of thy airy foot...), he discovered where she lived. He lay in wait near that house at the hour of her daytime stroll, and he fell in behind her when she came out. After some months he could repeat by heart the day and the hour she changed the style of her hair (poetizing on those beloved bonds of the soul that encircled the snowy brow like lascivious serpents), and he remembered that magic April when she first essayed a little cape the color of wild broom, which gave her the prim gait of a solar bird as she walked in the first breezes of spring.
Sometimes, after following her like a spy, he retraced his steps in a great hurry, running around a palace and slowing only at the corner where, as if by chance, he would find her facing him; then he would pass her with a timid bow. She would smile at him discreetly, surprised by this unexpected encounter, and would give him a brief sign, as propriety demanded. He would stand in the middle of the street, a pillar of salt spattered by water as the carriages passed, exhausted after that battle of love.
Over the course of many months Roberto contrived to produce five of these victories; he suffered over each as if it were the first and the last, and he convinced himself that frequent as they had been, they could not have occurred at random, and perhaps it was not he but she who had assisted chance.
Pilgrim of this elusive holy land, ever mutable lover, he wanted to be the wind that stirred her hair, the matutinal water that kissed her body, the gown that fondled her at night, the book that charmed her during the day, the glove that warmed her hand, the mirror that could admire her in every pose.... Once he learned that she had been given a squirrel, and he dreamed of being the curious little animal that, at her caresses, thrust its innocent muzzle between the virgin breasts, while its tail teased her cheek.
He was troubled by the audacity to which his doting drove him, he translated impudence and remorse into restless verses, then told himself that a man of honor may love madly but not foolishly. It was only by giving evidence of wit in the Chambre Bleue that his destiny as a lover would be decided. A novice to those amiable rites, he yet understood that a pre-cieuse is won only with words. He listened then to the talk in the salons, where gentlemen engaged in a kind of tournament, but he did not feel ready.
It was his familiarity with the learned men of the Dupuy cabinet that suggested to him how the principles of the new learning, though they were still unknown in society, could become similes of the emotions of the heart. And it was the meeting with Monsieur d’lgby that inspired the speech that was to lead to his ruin.
Monsieur d’Igby—at least that was what he was called in Paris—was an Englishman Roberto had met at the Dupuys’, then found again one evening in a salon.
Less than three lustra had passed since the Due de Bou-quinquant had shown that an Englishman could have le ro-man en teste and be prone to well-bred madness. Informed that there was in France a queen beautiful and haughty, to the dream of winning her he devoted his life, until he died of it. Living for a long time on a ship, he erected an altar to his beloved. When it was learned that d’lgby, actually as Bouquin-quant’s envoy, had fought a privateering war against Spain, the universe of the precieuses found him fascinating.
In the Dupuys’ circle the English were not popular: they were identified with characters like Robertus a Fluctibus, Med-icinae Doctor, Eques Auratus et Armiger Oxoniensis, against whom various pamphlets had been written, deprecating his excessive faith in the occult operations of nature. But in that same circle they welcomed an eccentric churchman like Monsieur Gaffarel, who, when it came to believing in unheard-of curiosities, was the equal of any Briton. D’lgby, on the other hand, had proved capable of discussing with great erudition the necessity of the Void—in a group of natural philosophers who were horrified by anyone suffering from horror vacui.
If anything, his prestige suffered a blow among some gentlewomen to whom he had recommended a beauty cream of his own invention; it caused one lady blisters, and others murmured that his beloved wife, Venetia, had actually died, a few years earlier, victim of a viper wine he had concocted. But these were certainly calumnies of the envious, piqued by the fame of other remedies of his, including one for kidney stone, derived from a liquid of cow dung and hares slaughtered by hounds. Talk that could not win much acclaim in circles where, for conversation with the ladies, words were carefully avoided if they contained even a syllable that might, however vaguely, sound obscene.
D’lgby, in a salon one evening, quoted some verses of a poet from his country: