The Duc de Saint-Simon’s report of the death of Philippe, Duc d’Orleans in his Memoires. Morbidly amusing in its own way, but more noteworthy because it feels the type of scene that influenced Proust – several of his characters, especially in the Guermantes family, react to deaths or the news of deaths as no more than personal inconveniences designed to keep them from attending parties etc.
At the departure of the king the crowd melted away from Saint-Cloud bit by bit and Monsieur [the Duc d’Orleans, the king’s brother] lay dying on a day-bed in his study….
Mdame [his wife], however, was in her apartment. She had never had either great affection or great esteem for her husband, but she felt fully her loss and her fall, and she was shouting spiritedly in her grief: “No convent, don’t speak to me of a convent! I want nothing to do with a convent.” The good princess had not lost her senses; she knew that, according to her marriage contract, she had to choose on becoming a widow – either a convent or residence at the Chateau de Montargis.
Au départ du roi la foule s’écoula de Saint-Cloud peu à peu, en sorte que Monsieur mourant, jeté sur un lit de repos dans son cabinet
Madame était cependant dans son cabinet qui n’avait jamais eu ni grande affection ni grande estime pour Monsieur, mais qui sentait sa perte et sa chute, et qui s’écriait dans sa douleur de toute sa force: « Point de couvent! qu’on ne me parle point de couvent! je ne veux point de couvent. » La bonne princesse n’avait pas perdu le jugement; elle savait que, par son contrat de mariage, elle devait opter, devenant veuve, un couvent, ou l’habitation du château de Montargis.
From Jack London’s John Barleycorn. I’m curious to know whether Malcolm Lowry had read this work. He references Sea Wolf, Valley of the Moon, and The Jacket in Under the Volcano but does so when speaking of Hugh’s roving life – ‘he had been reading too much Jack London’ – rather than the Consul’s alcoholism. Given the so perfect correspondences of thought, however, it almost seems an instance of Lowry – always fiercely insistent on the originality of his work – hiding a possibly influential predecessor.
There are, broadly speaking, two types of drinkers. There is the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants. He is the type that gives rise to the jokes in the funny papers.
The other type of drinker has imagination, vision. Even when most pleasantly jingled, he walks straight and naturally, never staggers nor falls, and knows just where he is and what he is doing. It is not his body but his brain that is drunken. He may bubble with wit, or expand with good fellowship. Or he may see intellectual spectres and phantoms that are cosmic and logical and that take the forms of syllogisms. It is when in this condition that he strips away the husks of life’s healthiest illusions and gravely considers the iron collar of necessity welded about the neck of his soul. This is the hour of John Barleycorn’s subtlest power. It is easy for any man to roll in the gutter. But it is a terrible ordeal for a man to stand upright on his two legs unswaying, and decide that in all the universe he finds for himself but one freedom—namely, the anticipating of the day of his death. With this man this is the hour of the white logic (of which more anon), when he knows that he may know only the laws of things—the meaning of things never. This is his danger hour. His feet are taking hold of the pathway that leads down into the grave.
From Robert Louis Stevenson’s An Inland Voyage:
For I think we may look upon our little private war with death somewhat in this light. If a man knows he will sooner or later be robbed upon a journey, he will have a bottle of the best in every inn, and look upon all his extravagances as so much gained upon the thieves. And above all, where instead of simply spending, he makes a profitable investment for some of his money, when it will be out of risk of loss. So every bit of brisk living, and above all when it is healthful, is just so much gained upon the wholesale filcher, death. We shall have the less in our pockets, the more in our stomach, when he cries stand and deliver. A swift stream is a favourite artifice of his, and one that brings him in a comfortable thing per annum; but when he and I come to settle our accounts, I shall whistle in his face for these hours upon the upper Oise.