Days Like These

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The Independent Culture
14 February 1831

FELIX MENDELSSOHN,

composer (pictured),

writes to his friend, Heinrich Barmann,

from Rome:

"In the last few days there has been the crazy carnival; the place swarmed with the craziest masks, the Italian women are at their most brilliant, people throw confetti at one another like mad, nosegays of roses and violets are thrown to the ladies in their carriages, and they reward one with a shower of bonbons and sugared almonds; the men have flour thrown at them till they look like miller's apprentices; but unfortunately the last three days, when everything is at its maddest, were lost for us.

"The day before yesterday, when I arrived on the Corso with a load of confetti, I found the whole street black with men, no ladies, not a mask to be seen, and at last I discovered, posted up at a corner, a papal edict proclaiming that the carnival was over, because of inauspicious circumstances; in other words they claimed to have discovered a revolution, and soldiers with loaded guns had been posted in all the streets; that evening a few shots were actually fired, people were arrested, one man badly wounded. So the fun changed to bitter earnest; and although the fasting doesn't begin until the day after tomorrow, the streets are already silent."

19 February 1838

HENRI BEYLE,

better known as the novelist Stendhal, writes to a friend:

"I shall tell you frankly, monsieur, that to write a book which has the luck to find four thousand readers, one must:

1. Study French for two years in books written before 1700. I except only the Marquis de Saint-Simon;

2. Study the truth of the ideas in Bentham or Helvetius's L'Esprit and in a hundred and one volumes of memoirs: Gourville, Mme de Motteville, d'Aubigne etc.

In a novel, from the second page onwards, one must say something new or at least individual, concerning the setting of the action. From the sixth page onwards, or at the latest from the eighth, there must be adventures. The newly rich lend energy to good society, just as the Barbarians did in the 11th century to what was left of Rome. We are very far from the insipidity of the reign of Louis XVI. At that time the style of narration could be more important than the contents; today the opposite is true.

Read the trial of Gilles de Laval, marechal de Rais, at the Royal Library. Invent adventures of equal energy."

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