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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Athénaïs Michelet1   26 June 1872

Paris | rue d’assas 76

26 Juin 72—

Monsieur,

Mon excuse pour avoir trop tardé à vous remercier, est toute entière, dans l’état de santé de mon mari.— La maladie de coeur dont il souffre depuis nos horribles évènemens, s’est agravée.2 Je suis absorbée, brisée, je vis dans l’effroi de l’avenir.—

Le travail dans ces conditions est presque impossible. La vie est trop scindée.— Je cherche à me ressaisir dans les courts sursis que me donne son mal; mais il n’y a aucune liberté d’esprit.—

Si je puis me remettre à la chose, je profiterai de vos conseils, tâchant de dire mes impressions comme elles me sont venues quand je ne songeais nullement à faire un livre.3

Ce qui nuit presque toujours à nos jugements, c’est que nous ne surveillons pas assez nos tendances instinctives.—

Pour le chat, par exemple, il n’y a pas de milieu; il ne laisse personne indifférent. Il est aimé ou haï—conséquence de tempérament?— Cela provoque des affirmations à priori.— Dès lors, tout est compromis. Je ne me cache pas d’avoir pour eux une sorte de ferveur. Créature nerveuse moi-même, je sens peut-être davantage, et mieux ce qui prédomine, ou plutôt le domine, presque entièrement—

Dans l’ordre des affections, on peut dire que le chien aime avec tout son coeur, le chat avec tous ses nerfs.— L’infini du détail dans les sensations.—

Ce fait propre à la race féline, n’empêche pas l’originalité de l’individu et les dissemblances des caractères, tout comme chez l’humanité.— aussi, je fais un chapitre sous ce titre: “Il y a chat et chat.”4

Je vous remercie encore monsieur de votre excellente lettre, encourageante, ainsi que des brochures.—5

Maintenant je vais vous faire une prière. Je voudrais avoir la photographie de l’homme qui m’a tant passionnée par ses écrits. Si vous la signez, monsieur, vous en doublerez le prix.

Avec admiration et profonde estime, | A Michelet

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Correspondence vol. 20, Appendix I.
See letter to Athénaïs Michelet, 23 May 1872. The Michelets had returned to Paris in April 1872 from Italy, where they had spent several months, both for the sake of Jules Michelet’s health, and to escape the siege of Paris by the Prussians and the subsequent upheaval of the Commune; they supported the French army while in Italy, and supported amnesty for the Communards on their return (J. Michelet 1959–76, 4: 531; BDWS).
See A. Michelet 1978, pp. 224–31.
See letter to Athénaïs Michelet, 23 May 1872; the pamphlets have not been identified.

Translation

From Athénaïs Michelet1   26 June 1872

Paris | rue d’assas 76

26 June 72—

Sir,

My excuse for having waited so long to thank you, lies entirely in my husband’s state of health.— The heart disease from which he has suffered since our horrifying events has worsened.2 I am absorbed and broken, I live in terror of the future.—

Work under such conditions is nearly impossible. Life is too disrupted.— I am trying to regain my self-control during the brief respites that his illness allows me; but there is no freedom of mind.—

If I can get back to the subject, I shall profit from your counsel, and endeavour to state my impressions as they came to me when I was not thinking at all about writing a book.3

What almost always impairs our judgement is that we do not keep a sufficiently close eye on our instinctive tendencies.—

In the case of cats, for example, there is no middle ground; no-one can be indifferent to them. Cats are loved or hated—a consequence of temperament?— That provokes a priori affirmations.— From that point onwards, everything is compromised. I don’t conceal from myself the sort of ardour I have for them. Being myself a nervous creature, I can perhaps sense more and better what predominates or rather dominates almost entirely in them—

In the order of affections, one might say that the dog loves with all its heart, the cat with all its nerves.— An infinity of detail in feelings.—

This fact, particular to the feline race, does not rule out individual uniqueness and character differences, just as in humanity.— thus, I am writing one chapter with the following title: “There are cats and cats.”4

Thank you again Sir for your excellent and encouraging letter, as well as for the pamphlets.—5

Now I shall make a request of you. I should like to have a photograph of the man who has gripped me so much with his writing. If you sign it, dear Sir, you will be doubling its value.

With admiration and profound esteem, | A Michelet

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original French, see pp. 282–3.
See letter to Athénaïs Michelet, 23 May 1872. The Michelets had returned to Paris in April 1872 from Italy, where they had spent several months, both for the sake of Jules Michelet’s health, and to escape the siege of Paris by the Prussians and the subsequent upheaval of the Commune; they supported the French army while in Italy, and supported amnesty for the Communards on their return (J. Michelet 1959–76, 4: 531; BDWS).
See A. Michelet 1978, pp. 224–31.
See letter to Athénaïs Michelet, 23 May 1872; the pamphlets have not been identified.

Summary

Her husband is very ill;

her book on cats does not go well.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-8397
From
Adèle-Athénaïs Mialaret (Athénaïs) Michelet
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Paris
Source of text
DAR 171: 171
Physical description
4pp (French)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8397,” accessed on 22 August 2017, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-8397

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20

letter