HUGO, Victor (1802-1855)

Autograph letter to Alphonsine Masson
[Marine Terrace, Jersey], 5th August [1855], 4 pp. small in-12°

« And every night I look up there, I make signs of intelligence to the heavenly eyes of the night, and it seems to me that I see her »

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HUGO, Victor (1802-1855)

Autograph letter to Alphonsine Masson
[Marine Terrace, Jersey], 5th August [1855], 4 pp. small in-12°
With autograph envelope
[Postmark:] ANGL –5 Augt [departure] / CHEVREUSE 99th Août [arrival]
Fine condition throughout

A long, unpublished letter with mystical overtones addressed to his psychic friend Alphonsine Masson, through which Victor Hugo addresses a message to his former love, Léonie Biard – The exiled poet expresses, in the manner of a prose poem and like a waking dream, the power of loving memory for the woman he was forced to leave behind during the coup d’Etat of December 2, 1851

We transcribe here only a few fragments

« Comme toutes les femmes de cœur et d’esprit, vous avez, Madame, outre toutes vos grâces personnelles, des hasards profonds et éloquents. Avec ce mot : elle partie, c’est ma lumière disparue, vous avez remué en moi tout un monde sombre et charmant, vous m’avez fait revivre et mourir, vous avez fait monter jusqu’au bord de ma paupière tout le flot des larmes non versées et qui sont toujours là. Je vous remercie de cette exquise souffrance que je vous dois. […]. Rien ne vous manque ; vous charmez de près et vous consolez de loin.
Je suis heureux des deux douces lettres que j’ai reçues. Je sais bien ce qui manque à l’une, mais elle le sait aussi. Et – qui connaît l’avenir ?
Vous me faites un adorable tableau ; je vous vois toutes deux dans cette belle nature qui vous aime, parce qu’elle voit vos âmes ; vous êtes là, dans les fleurs, sous les astres, harmonies vous-mêmes ; vous causez ; je retiens mon souffle, et il me semble que je vous entends.
Et tous les soirs, je regarde là-haut, je fais des signes d’intelligence aux yeux célestes de la nuit, et il me semble que je la vois.
Je suis avec elle dans l’inexprimable. Elle qui pourtant devrait tout comprendre, elle ne comprend pas cela. Elle me dit : écrivez-moi donc. […] Je regarde les étoiles en songeant à elle, et je lui dis : traduisez-moi.
Soyez heureuse. Soyez heureuses. La beauté lui revient. Est-ce qu’elle était partie ? Est-ce qu’elle partira ? Qu’elle ouvre la sombre poitrine de l’absent ; il y a là un miroir. Qu’elle s’y regarde.
Je dis l’absent. Et vous, vous n’êtes pas absentes, où vous êtes, où elle est, la présence est. Je regarde avec dédain et pitié ce Paris qui me fait l’effet d’un grand vide, depuis qu’elle n’y est plus.
Je veux m’arrêter, car il y a des portes d’écluses qu’il ne faut pas rouvrir. À quoi servirait le flot qui en sortirait ?
Pardonnez-moi toutes deux ce mélange de rêves et de souvenirs. […]. Qu’elle en prenne ce qu’elle voudra. Qu’elle y lise ce qu’elle voudra. Je suis sûr des commentaires de votre noble et charmant cœur. – […]
Un jour elle me comprendra. En attendant, elle fait ce qu’elle peut pour croire à un abîme ; elle dit toujours fini, à moi qui ne sait pas d’autre mot qu’infini. Qu’elle me voie donc où je suis ; dans la mort et dans le ciel ; dans la mort par l’absence, dans le ciel par sa pensée. »

Léonie Biard’s loving memory from exile
A great love of Victor Hugo, Léonie Biard (1820-1879) was the only woman for whom the writer hesitated to leave Juliette Drouet. Born into a family of minor nobility, Léonie Thévenot received a good education before marrying the painter François Biard. In the spring of 1843, she met Victor Hugo, perhaps in Fortunée Hamelin’s salon. They became lovers in December of the same year. Léonie inspired him to write many poems, of which we can find traces in Les Contemplations. In July 1845, the two lovers were caught in the act of adultery. Léonie Biard was arrested and thrown into the prison of Saint-Lazare where she remained from 5 July to 10 September. She was then transferred to the convent of Sentenced by the Seine court, she lost custody of her children. Victor Hugo, benefiting from his inviolability as Peer of France, will always feel indebted to her. He sent her money regularly and continued to send her his books. Their affair was abruptly interrupted during the coup d’état of 2 December 1851, forcing the poet into exile. Juliette Drouet, unaware of the affair, learned of this seven-year affair from Léonie herself, who, on June 28, 1851, sent her back the poet’s letters. They were published by Jean Gaudon and are kept at the Maison de Victor Hugo after having belonged successively to Juliette Drouet, Louis Koch, Paul Meurice, Alexandrine de Rothschild (sale, I, n°67) and then to Colonel Sickles (II, 1989, n°361).

Alphonsine Masson, the spiritual link
The direct recipient of this letter, Alphonsine Masson, played an essential role as an intermediary between the poet and Léonie Biard. The two friends knew each other from before the exile. It is therefore through her that Victor Hugo can reach Léonie through words. An exalted personality, Alphonsine wanted to go beyond a wise conjugal existence through literary essays and an eventful spiritual quest. Marked by an education received from a militant agnostic father and a pious mother, she first devoted herself to spiritualism, establishing contacts with spirits from beyond the grave. In 1857, she was a member of an association that had rediscovered Franz Mesmer’s scorned and abandoned science. Around 1860, she suddenly lost her ability as a medium: “Whatever I did then to get it back together, I couldn’t do it.” She then proclaimed herself a Christian convert and published an autobiography (Ma conversion, Paris, 1864) in which she recounted her spiritual journey. At the same time as this conversion, remembering that she had been asked to write for many years by friends eminent in letters, she became emboldened and responded to her late vocation. She wrote three novels: Louise, Les Trois amies, La Perle noire, which appeared only in serials in L’Estafette, Le Siècle and other Parisian newspapers.

Why did Victor Hugo pass on his messages to Léonie Biard through Alphonsine Masson? Was it a question of not reviving the scandal that had marked the discovery of adultery? No doubt the poet wanted to escape any police control over this correspondence which, if revealed, could have compromised the exile in the eyes of public opinion. He might also be afraid of hurting Juliet by reviving an old wound.

Alphonsine Masson’s etate (until 2002)
Then private collection