[ 1883 February, 13 ]Letters
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[Alexandria] 13 February 1883

My dear Constantine,
     This is in reply to your letter 4th instant to hand yesterday morning. I find that in my haste to catch last week’s mail I omitted to enclose “Truth”, which you will now find herein. ¯ You will perhaps be interested to learn that I have at last come across the famous Sonnet written by the French poet Arvers in the beginning of this century.
     As you know ’tis a sonnet that is often quoted and which created no little sensation on its appearance: truly there is no praise too good for its transcendent excellence. I give it you in extenso: ¯
          Mon âme a son secret, ma vie a son mystère,
          Un amour éternel en un moment conçu;
          Le mal est sans espoir aussi j’ai dû le taire,
          Et celle qui l’a fait n’en a jamais rien su. ¯
          Hélas! j’aurai passé près d’elle inaperçu,
          Toujours à ses côtés et pourtant solitaire:
          Et j’aurai jusqu’au bout fait mon temps sur la terre
          N’osant rien demander, et n’ayant rien reçu. ¯
          Pour elle, quoique Dieu l’ait faite douce et tendre,
          Elle ira son chemin distraite, et sans enténdre
          Ce murmure d’amour élevé sur ses pas,
          A l’austère devoir pieusement fidèle. ¯
          Elle dira, lisant ces vers, tout remplis d’elle:
          “Quelle est donc cette femme?” et ne comprendra pas!
          ¯¯¯¯
     The sentiment is beautiful, but you will observe there is one linguistic error, viz. the repetition of the verb “faire” three times in fourteen lines. People were much mystified about the “belle dame” in question, and some have gone so far as to conjecture that reference was made to a well-known Countess of the period, to form whose Christian name the initial letter only need be prefixed to the rhyming syllable of the last two verses, i.e. “Adèle”. ¯
     Arvers, it appears, is one of those authors whose works are only found on the shelves of the curious: his poems however are not without merit: his tragedy François I, which treats of pretty much the same subject as Victor Hugo’s Le Roi s’amuse, ¯ is written in an elegant and finished style. ¯
     Your Gentleman’s Magazines for January and February I expect next week, and shall forward them without delay. Peter’s quarters in the Conseil are very nicely furnished: he sits in a large room, which he occupies conjointly with Lombardo and Laugier. ¯ I am not a frequent visitor of the Schilizzis, but I called with Aristides on Greek New Year’s day. Mrs. Peggy I have not seen for some time.
     Mr. Kneen’s family has been here ever since I arrived: his house is intact. ¯ I am surprised, dear Constantine, at your enquiring who receives your letters first: I of course. You address them to Moss and they come from the Post to the Office direct: those addressed to me I open and read first. ¯ Thanks for your notes on the Adventures of Philip. You have not spoilt my interest for I am at the end of the book. ’Tis a capital story right through, and Philip is a “brick” of the true sort.
     Tell mother I shall certainly not disencourage Mr. Moss’ views as to my going to England. God grant that hers and your wishes be realised!
     Your society-memoranda are extremely interesting and you have my best thanks for the apophthegms from various authors on Absence. I am sincerely much obliged for your letters: they form the focus, to which the monotony of seven days reverts with unmingled pleasure.
     De Lex, the Russian Consul General, died 7th instant. His funeral was one of the grandest and most imposing sights that Cairo has witnessed for years. His successor has not yet been appointed.
     Fred Dixon and Halton have been raised to the rank of Bey ¯ for services rendered?
     The usual Veglione, for the Greek Hospital, took place on the 5th instant at the Zizinia theatre. The room I am told was crowded, though the masks were naturally fewer than last year. The net amount earned will, it is said, exceed £ 1,000.
     Previous to the Veglione, a ball was given at the Club Mohamed-Aly, whither the members and officers of the British army only were admitted. The scene was of the gayest, and flowers adorned the premises profusely. A “comedy” however was enacted therein: Ivanhoff junior happened to be standing at the doorway as one of the ladies arrived. There being no commissaire present to conduct the lady, he offered her his arm and led the way to the ball-room. Lumbroso saw this, and walking up to the pair, asked Ivanhoff by what right he dared assume the privileges and duties of a commissaire. Ivanhoff said nothing at the moment, but later on found Lumbroso and insulted him in the most grievous manner.
     Thereupon a duel is arranged for the following morning. The combatants however are obliged to put off the meeting for the lack of suitable pistols!! The report that a duel is going to take place is of course spread far and wide, and it is quite by chance! that their respective Consulates come to hear of the matter. Today appears the following paragraph in the Egyptian Gazette:
     “A duel between two well-known and popular members of Alexandria Society was happily prevented on Saturday afternoon by the intervention of the local police, who, assisted by a janissary from the Italian Consulate arrested one of the combatants.” ¯
     Is it not a farce? Duelling in Alexandria is conducted very much on the running-a-mile-rather-than-fight system. ¯
     Cairo is very gay, with amusements of all kinds. The Opera is steadily going on. Races are occasionally got up by the Officers, and both the Khedive and Lord Dufferin keep open houses. ¯
     Most men consider one wife at a time enough, and if they take to themselves more, it is generally done successively, not simultaneously. I say this with reference to a will recorded in a New York paper. The tale runs thus: A wealthy Greek merchant died lately at New York, who ¯ desiring to test the virtues of several nationalities, ¯ was married to four women, ¯ French, English, German and Spanish. He succeeded in passing for a bachelor, and each of these ladies believed herself to be the only wife. He told them all the same story, viz. that urgent business would call him away immediately after the marriage was concluded. The four partners lived under four different names in four quarters of the city, and he spent his time equally among them, treating them ¯ he says ¯ all alike and unable to award the palm of excellence to any for they were all equally good and estimable creatures. He bequeaths 1.200.000 dollars which he divides into 4 equal parts, the will setting forth that as he had shared his heart between them during lifetime, so he would divide his fortune among them after his death, in order to prevent any wrangling, jealousy or heart-burning.
     I wonder whether there is truth in this. American news-vendors are not particular as to the veracity of their statements.
     Now I don’t think you can reasonably complain of brevity this time: in fact this letter is so long that I am loth to read it over, and must request you to punctuate it and excuse any lapsus calami you may encounter. I hope my verbosity will amuse you and pleasingly divert your thoughts for a few minutes.
     To please and amuse my wise little Mentor, ¯ to claim a brotherhood with his extensive knowledge and acute observation,
          is the only wish
               Of his affectionate
                    John.

From John C. Cavafy
To Constantine Cavafy

Transcribed and edited by Katerina Ghika