I have a friend who was born and brought up in Auvergne, but now lives in the Netherlands. That is easy, for the Netherlands and France are both members of the European Union. You can come and live here just like that, while I can just as easily go and live in Auvergne. But that’s got nothing to do with the diaries of Jules Renard. He did not live all that long, from 1864 to 1910. Today, 17 October 2020, I open the book. I read what he wrote on 22 September 1895: ‘I only like writing about everyday things, as an artist, but do not dare touch books that call for precision, biographies and critical essays. I have an aversion towards novels, poetry makes me feel tired.’
I wish to know from my friend what his view is if a writer only busies himself with little stories. Isn’t that a bit paltry? I ring him up, his wife says that he has unexpectedly left for Auvergne. Did I have an important question I wanted to ask him? Does she know if he reads Jules Renard? She doesn’t. So I just wait until he’s returned from his native land.
I now read the following entry which the writer made on that day: ‘He asked the moon of me. I went off in search of a pail of water. “Here,” I said to him, seize the moon. All you have to do is bend down. You’re unable to capture it? Work something out. It’s no longer my business. I’ve brought you the moon.’
I now ring my neighbour up, who lives in a large country house and knows all about nature – and thus also the moon. I read Renard’s lines out loud for him. He is enthusiastic, especially ‘All you have to do is bend down’ he finds brilliant. He is unfamiliar with the work of this writer, but says he’s certainly going to start reading him.
The third contribution on that day is: ‘No Paradise exists, but you have to attempt to deserve there being one.’
I don’t understand this. How can you deserve something that doesn’t exist?’
The last words for this particular day are poignant: ‘I already feel old, incapable of great things. If my life lasts another twenty years, what will I be able to fill them up with?’
Renard writes this at the age of 31 – he does not live a further twenty years.
That’s a pity.
Je n’aime à écrire que de petites choses, en artiste, mais je ne risqué pas des livres de precision, des biographies, des critiques. Les romans me dégoûtent, les vers me fatiguent.
Il n’y a pas de Paradis, mais il faut tâcher de mériter qu’il y en ait un.
Je me sens déjà vieux, incapable de grandes choses. Si ma vie se prolonge de vingt années, comment pourrai-je les remplir?