À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
I am back to working my way through Balzac's La Comédie Humaine. This longer novel is a complex narrative, involving a young woman who wants to meet the mysterious lawyer who has moved into her small provincial town. Details of the mystery are unraveled by way of a short story and letters embedded in the novel, which reveal the secret love that is described in this passage. The quartet in question is from Rossini's Mosè in Egitto, embedded in the video below.
When the song was ended Rodolphe could make his way to the Prince, who graciously led him to his wife. Rodolphe went through the ceremonial of a formal introduction to Princess and Prince Colonna, and to Francesca. When this was over, the Princess had to take part in the famous quartette, Mi manca la voce, which was sung by her with Tinti, the famous Genovese tenor, and with a well-known Italian Prince then in exile, whose voice, if he had not been a Prince, would have made him one of the Princes of Art.
"Take that seat," said Francesca to Rodolphe, pointing to her own chair. "Oime! I think there is some mistake in my name; I have for the last minute been Princess Rodolphini."
It was said with the artless grace which revived, in this avowal hidden beneath a jest, the happy days at Gersau. Rodolphe reveled in the exquisite sensation of listening to the voice of the woman he adored, while sitting so close to her that one cheek was almost touched by the stuff of her dress and the gauze of her scarf. But when, at such a moment, Mi manca la voce is being sung, and by the finest voices in Italy, it is easy to understand what it was that brought the tears to Rodolphe's eyes.
In love, as perhaps in all else, there are certain circumstances, trivial in themselves, but the outcome of a thousand little previous incidents, of which the importance is immense, as an epitome of the past and as a link with the future. A hundred times already we have felt the preciousness of the one we love; but a trifle -- the perfect touch of two souls united during a walk perhaps by a single word, by some unlooked-for proof of affection -- will carry the feeling to its supremest pitch. In short, to express this truth by an image which has been pre-eminently successful from the earliest ages of the world, there are in a long chain points of attachment needed where the cohesion is stronger than in the intermediate loops of rings. This recognition between Rodolphe and Francesca, at this party, in the face of the world, was one of those intense moments which join the future to the past, and rivet a real attachment more deeply in the heart. It was perhaps of these incidental rivets that Bossuet spoke when he compared to them the rarity of happy moments in our lives -- he who had such a living and secret experience of love.
-- Honoré de Balzac, Albert Savarus (trans. Ellen Marriage)