My constitution gave me a particular affinity for music; I was highly enthusiastic, electrified by all the domains of fame and glory; I adored my parents more than I loved them, and I cherished my friends to a point they could not reciprocate; with all of this, it was only natural that love should blossom into me before the time it usually does. And indeed, by the time I left Berlin, at the end of my fourteenth year, I had already had mistresses (one of whom married an artillery major three years later) and a great passion.
Do not think that this word of passion is exaggerated; it is exact, and the delight brought by this pure and spotless love accompanied me through my whole life, still bound to the name of Philippine Hoffmann, who breathed it into me. Indeed, at fifteen, she was lovely, and so was her figure. She had a blonde’s softness without any of the blandness. White like lilies, fresh like morning, she was also endowed with this embonpoint without which voluptuousness seems inconceivable to me; lastly, she was both clever and kind, with a tactful spirit and a bewitching voice. There was truly nothing this ravishing creature lacked; but what Nature had given her was much more than it took to kindle fires in my heart, which time fuelled even as they grew hopeless, and which eventually turned into a tender and eternal fondness.
I met her in the garden of the Comte de Reuss. One of my mother’s friends (Mme Morel) spent her summers there; the Hoffmann had also rented an apartment there for the season; we went there every day after dinner. I noticed this young Philippine from the first days. The season, the place, everything added to my delight, and it was a motive to desire to approach her; but from the motives to the means, there is a large enough distance that a thirteen-year-old may be forgiven for finding it difficult to cross. Philippine had a brother, whom I already mentioned, and it took me only a few days to strike a friendship with him, and also with his intimate friend, the son of the philosopher Nicolaï. Having taken this first step, I managed to establish a few ties between the object of my first adoration and my sister. I fostered this relationship, and by the time winter brought everyone back to Berlin, we could visit each other. This was how a friendship was born and became so tight that, even though our parents did not see each other, Philippine, her elder sister and her brother went to our house as often as we went to theirs.
One of this young girl’s triumphs was to make me dance. Until then, I had stayed away from balls, even those that my father organised quite often to please my sister, who danced very well, and my mother, who loved dancing. To jump on one foot, then the other, and to twist oneself trying to look graceful always felt ridiculous to me, and I still thought it was absurd; but to become Philippine’s partner, even for an instant, to hold her hand, to interlock my arms with hers, to be able to talk to her without constraint, all such small pleasures made me enjoy this torture.
Thus I danced during my last winter in Berlin; I even kept dancing for similar reasons, and despite my aversion for dancing, I ended up mastering the entrechats, jetés and brisés of 1786 with some distinction.
My departure from Berlin at the height of my passion left me truly dismayed; I cried bitter tears, and when I heard of her marriage two years later, I fell ill with chagrin.
I do not know whether she had all the happiness she deserved; but Fortune did favour her. She had three sons. At the time of France’s prosperity, she was enthusiastic over our glory, and some of her narrow-minded fellow countrymen, unable to rise to the level of her ideas and feelings, blamed her instead. Since 1784, I have only seen her twice in 1807, and even then those were mere glances; the first time was when I came from Fulda to Tilsitt, the second time on the way from Tilsitt to Paris. Under too many respects, after finding her, I was still looking for the one whose presence I had wished for so many times. After all, everything had changed for us; the difference in our ages had played against me in 1784, and now it was a misfortune for her. I was still relatively young, and no doubt she was not old; but my memories, rekindled by my imagination, were necessary for the illusion of my first feelings. What a painful situation that one where, after a long separation, after yearning for this reunion, we are left saying: “Alas! What happened to their beauty, my ardour, and most of all these hopes for a life that has now mostly flowed and withered away!”