Text: Edgar A. Poe (translator), “Souvenirs of Youth,” the New Mirror (New York), May 13, 1843, pp. 90-91


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[page 90, column 1:]

Original Translation from the French.

SOUVENIRS OF YOUTH.

“If she prove false to me, I shall die!”

“What nonsense! — people do not die for such things now-a-days.”

“You may think so, but rather than love her I would die a thousand deaths.”

“My poor boy, let me add my old experience to your young years, so that you may profit by some of the hard lessons I have received. — Stop, I must relate my debut; it has had an influence on the rest of my life.”

Without consulting the young man, who, absorbed in a profound revery, his hands thrust in his hair, which he was violently twisting, the old soldier laid down his pipe, settled himself comfortably in his arm chair, and began:

“At twenty, I wore a uniform which I was found of displaying to the ladies of the city, when they came out to see our squadron of horse manoeuver in the fields of St. Avertin. There was a certain chariot, which I remember as well as if it were now before my eyes, whose noise on the Chaussee de Grammont I never mistook, and could tell it long before my eyes saw it. Now that blessed chariot was that of Madame Amelie de B——, a young widow, fair, gay, melancholy, pious and worldly, the most pretty compound of woman, the most fascinating and the most formidable coquette that could encounter a heart like mine; for I was more like a hero in the first chapter of a romance, and could not view witching Amelie without making her my beau ideal, and indulging in romantic visions in which she held the chief place. I was happy when her eyes followed me through the midst of clouds of dust raised by our foaming squadron as they dashed along with tempest-like fury; or when admirably dispersing a crowd of bad marksmen: causing bursts of laughter, as my boyish voice gave the order to fire, and was repeated from rank to rank, and when their thousand voices awoke the echoes of the valley, through the clouds of smoke, I fancied I saw her beautiful head surrounded by a halo, brilliant as my own star.

“Our military exercises, the image of war, were only the prelude to the serious contests in which we were soon to engage. Time pressed! and I became more and more devoted to Amelie; every evening I hastened to meet her, and what was my intoxication when in the rapid movements of the waltz, my arm encircled her slender waist, or when dancing la Hongroise, our hands entwined, then quitted to be taken again; yet more than once I felt her soft hands press mine; more than once her large eyes rested upon me with a look that penetrated my very soul, and which I saw again at night in my dreams. Oh! how happy was I then! But alas! my happiness was shared; one of my comrades, whom I dearly loved, was almost as much devoted to the young widow as myself. In promenades, at balls, we were constantly at her side, and I must do her the justice to say, she knew well how to measure out her smiles; so that when we left her, each felt equally sure his own suit had the preference. When I spoke to her in the impetuosity of my passion, I had an eloquence, my dear Ernest, of which I cannot now give you the least idea; it was my sincerity I hoped would affect her heart. I observed she listened to me with pleasure, but I also saw she looked at my rival at the same time; that she watched his large dark lustrous eyes, whose mute eloquence I feared would counterbalance mine. Tortured by jealousy, I determined to exact a decision between us. Fate ordained she should decide against me; being condemned to retreat to my room for a few days, (these little accidents will happen to us sometimes.)

“During that time the suit of my rival made its way so well, that the day in which I was free to visit the lady and tell her the tortures inflicted on me by absence, my fortunate comrade came to see me. ‘We have both,’ said he, ‘made our court to Madame de B——, loyally and without seeking to injure each other in her estimation; between friends it would be ridiculous to quarrel, a thousand times more foolish to cut each other’s throats because one has been preferred, and you know it is impossible that she should marry us both.’ [column 2:] In a word, after this preamble he declared Madame de B—— had returned his passion, in attestation of which he showed me two or three highly-perfumed billets. My head turned. I saw only some little fly-specks, which seemed the points of a thousand needles stuck into my heart.

“Oh! how unhappy I was then, unhappy as you are now, my dear nephew, and you will confess I was very young to have the dream of my existence broken. My life was discoloured, was henceforth without an aim; our military exercises, balls, equipades had all lost their attractions for me; but I know not by what fatality I could not detach myself from my friend, from my fortunate rival. I delighted to converse with him about the commencement of his passion, to make him tell me of its progress. Though it was like plunging a dagger in the wound again, yet I would not have lost one word. I watched him well when he had been to see her, and apparently his self-love was flattered by it, for he faithfully gave me a running account of his happiness.

Oh! Grand Dieu! how I wished for the field of battle where I might die with honour; but alas! fate was against me here too. In the midst of his splendid his happy success, my friend was sent to join his regiment in Spain.

He told me, with a mournful air — the parting scene was very affecting — like a man in articulo mortis he bequeathed me all his right to the heart of the young widow (well persuaded, however, in his own mid she would prove faithful to him,) and exacted my promise I would never tell her of the confidence he had given me. I promised him faithfully I would not, and he left for his regiment, and I remained master of the field.

“I went to see Amelie; she appeared to support his absence with much fortitude. I determined beforehand to appear haughty, to be invulnerable; but then came the temptation to try and see if I could not make her fall desperately in love with me. But I was never designed to be a Lovelace. My secret was suffocating me; a thousand times I wished to speak of it, but then I had promised silence. When I was with her I could believe her sweet eyes, her tremulous voice — I saw not, poor fool, that I was only an instrument which she touched, to amuse herself with its vibrations; that I was only a plaything, always ready and always new; but absent from her my doubts grew horrible; at midnight I fancied myself pursued by bursts of laughter, and would awake in perspiration, then wait impatiently till morning, when I could read over again her little billets, in which she said: ‘I destined my life to you the moment I saw you. I feel happy in devoting my life to you now. I send you every day a thousand sighs which seek you in all places,’ &c. &c &c.

“How could I help believing in a love which was expressed in such words? And yet how could I believe a woman whose coquetry had been proved to me beyond a doubt again and again. My life seemed enveloped in a “clair-obscur,” from which I was unable to extricate myself. You see, my dear nephew, I was about as silly as yourself, and that I was going the straight road to Charenton. Happily for me that it was not an epoch which afforded leisure for a passion to grow ripe, ferment, and run ranting through my sentimental brain. I received orders to hasten immediately with a detachment to join the army. I will spare you the recital of our adieus — they were heart rending. I laugh now when I think of the sincere tears I shed then, while, as for Madame de B——, I believe she has passed many amusing moments in recalling the sobs she lavished upon me. The day of my departure I accompanied the rear-guard, and leaving my steed, who, “with mournful eye and inclined head seemed in consonance with my sad thoughts,” I jumped into the baggage-wagon, and rode backwards like a criminal to the gallows, my eyes turned to the happy walls which contained my fair.

“But soon the hurry, the excitement and emotions of battlefields drove the lovely widow from my memory. From Spain I went to Wagram, where, through destruction and smoke, I recognised my friend. In the midst of the infernal noise of more than a hundred mouths of fire which thundered around us, we were too busy, and had other things to think of besides [page 91:] our garrison amours. From the south to the north I bore manfully the arrow with which the mischievous god had transfixed my too susceptible nature; but Providence ordained that my love adventures should end where my military expeditions began. After the battle of Waterloo the remnant of our regiment fortified themselves on the Loire, and chance, which separated me from my friend so long, at last brought us both back to the same place in which we made our debut.

“We were no longer, it is true, those gay young lieutenants of 1800; years, and still more the hardships we had undergone, and, I ought to add, a shot received in my face, had not served to embellish; yet in spite of the cutting pains the misfortunes of our country had caused us, our old haunts, formerly so gay, reminded us of the lady of our affections, and both of us went to see her. Time had touched her lightly, for in truth, it had only heightened her charms, only lent them mor substantial sweetness! In short, she appeared to us both more beautiful than ever. She received us like indifferent persons, whom she had casually met in the world. In vain we strove to recall to her mind certain circumstances — there was now no jealousy between us — one was not more favoured than the other. Madame the Countess Amilie de B—— was thoughtful, and treaded us exactly as if we had been brigands of the Loire. How sad our life had become; how hard was it to hear the insulting flourish of trumpets of our conquerors who had encamped on the other side of the river; how I hated the detestable horns which played that infernal Tyrolienne I had heard so many times resounding through the mountains at a call to arms against us! But the ladies of the city were differently affected by the foreign music. Every evening they went to the other side of the bridge to hear it. Now it happened on a time the music did wonders; dances and waltzes succeeded each other, and time passed rapidly; when the crowd of music-lovers wished to regain the opposite shore, they were stopped by the brutal qui vive! of a private sentinel. It was necessary to obey the watch-word and pass the night — I cannot tell you where they passed it, but what I know perfectly was, that Madame the Countess Amelie was of the number. Some months later she went off on a tour.”

At these words, our veteran was silent; and as he returned his pipe, with a piteous grimace, Ernest burst out into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

“Very well! my dear nephew, this is the true moral I wished you to draw from my story. I hope you no longer feel an inclination to kill yourself.”

E. P.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - NM, 1843] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Souvenirs of Youth]