CP 02812/en

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Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser [during the night from Sunday 2 to Monday 3 August 1914]

(Click the link above to see this letter and its notes in the Corr-Proust digital edition, including all relevant hyperlinks.)


My dear Lionel

Thank you many times over for your letter. I know that its kindness is without indulgence, while its bluntness is a sign of your friendship. I did not fully understand, not being an expert in the stock market, what you meant by "Count as nil in your inventory those stocks where you are the buyer, and if you find yourself penniless, sell them off."[2] Of course there is no need to send me a detailed explanation. In the terrible days we are going through, you have other things to do besides writing letters and bothering with my petty interests, which I assure you seem wholly unimportant when I think that millions of men are going to be massacred in a "War of the Worlds"[3] comparable with that of Wells, because the Emperor of Austria thinks it advantageous to have an outlet onto the Black Sea.[4] I have just seen off my brother who was leaving for Verdun at midnight.[5] Alas he insisted on being posted to the actual border. As for my stocks, no need to answer me, especially since the market is suspended. When it starts up again, I will ask you what I should do and whether your sentence meant "do not hope for an increase and sell them off at any price." If in my enormous and deplorable list[6] (and all the more deplorable for it being enormous) I did not include the 200 Mexico City Tramways (although I thought I had)[7] it was not in order to hide my sins, for I have told you everything. I must have simply forgotten them. I thought I had included them, but I am not sure, and admitting the truth the other day was difficult enough that I do not want to take the risk of not having told it completely. I thank you again and ask you to thank M.M. Warburg for the assistance you have given me in the current circumstances, and although I do not know exactly where all those you love are, where they are going, and what risks they face in this terrible war, please know that my deepest and most heartfelt sympathy is with them, and with you. I still hope, non-believer though I am, that some supreme miracle will prevent, at the last second, the launch of the omni-murdering machine. But I wonder how a believer, a practicing Catholic like the Emperor Franz Joseph, convinced that after his impending death[8] he will appear before his God, can face having to account to him for the millions of human lives whose sacrifice it was in his power to prevent.

With all my heart and very sadly yours,

Marcel Proust

It will be all the easier for me to keep the 30,000 Fr. since I received them today in the form of a check from the Comptoir d'Escompte[9] which I do not suppose will reopen anytime soon (I imagine this will be one of the consequences of the new moratorium).[10]

P.S. I did receive from M.M. Warburg[11] 1° a check for 20,000 francs[12] 2° a check for 30,000 francs[13]. For the latter, they sent me a pre-filled receipt which I signed. For the former, I did not find a receipt. Therefore, while returning the second receipt for 30,000 I also sent them a letter[14] telling them that in addition to the 30,000 I had also received the 20,000.

[15] [16]


  1. This letter responds to Hauser's letter dated 30 July 1914 (CP 02810; see Kolb, XIII, no. 159). Hauser, answering this letter on 4 August 1914 (CP 02813; Kolb, XIII, no. 162) refers to it as "your letter from yesterday": he must have received it on Monday 3 August. Since Proust writes that he has just seen off his brother who was leaving for the front at midnight, the letter must have been written during the night of 2 August to 3 August 1914. The two post-scriptums were likely added by Proust during the day on 3 August, after he had read his mail. [PK, FL]
  2. Proust simplifies Hauser's sentences, which in Hauser's letter from 30 July 1914 (CP 02810; Kolb, XIII, no. 159) were more precise: "I advise you to count as nil in your inventory the various stocks for which you are a buyer in liquidation, and to see whether you still have enough to survive with the income from those that remain. Should that not be the case, you would be wise to salvage whatever can still be salvaged." Hauser's advice is clear: since stocks have drastically fallen due to the impending world war, any stocks that Proust had purchased as "futures" will not be worth much. What's more, he will no longer be able to sell any stocks he holds in banks in enemy countries (such as the Warburg bank), since commercial relations will be suspended. In other words, if due to the massive sales of stock he has just ordered, Proust's income should become insufficient, it would be better for him to liquidate, at the end of August, any stock for which there is still demand, no matter how low the price. [FL]
  3. A French version of The War of the Worlds, the science-fiction novel by H. G. Wells first published in English in 1898, was published in 1900 at Mercure de France under the tile La Guerre des Mondes, translated by Henry Davray. This is most likely the edition read by Proust. [PK, FL]
  4. Le Journal des Débats of 30 July 1914 featured a front-page editorial titled "Austria's Declaration of War," which denounced Austria-Hungary's plan to invade the straits: "[Austria-Hungary] would have control over Salonica and Durazzo, if not over Valona. Bound by a blood oath to Bulgaria, it would completely encircle Montenegro, Serbia and Romania. […] If Austria-Hungary becomes the master of the Balkans, Germany becomes the master of Constantinople and of Asia Minor; the question of the straits would be resolved against Russia and the Western nations[…]." [PK, FL]
  5. Proust makes another mention of his brother's departure for the front in a letter from 3 January [1915] to Louis de Robert (CP 02890; Kolb, XIV, no. 1). [FL]
  6. In his letter to Hauser from 28 or 29 July 1914 (CP 02807; Kolb, XIII, no. 156), Proust had written his banker and friend a list of his stock and financial holdings. [FL]
  7. In the inventory in question, Proust had in fact included these stocks. On his investment in "Mexico City Tramways," see Rubén Gallo, Proust's Latin Americans, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014, p. 73-89. [FL, NM]
  8. Emperor Franz Josef, born on 18 August 1830, was 84 years old at the time. He would die on 21 November 1916. [PK]
  9. The Comptoir national d'Escompte de Paris, 14 rue Bergère, was one of the largest French banks of the era, and a pioneer of international transactions. (See the timeline of its founding and its international expansion.) Proust's great-uncle on his mother's side, Louis Weil, had been a member of its "Conseil d'Escompte" (originally organized according to commercial and industrial specializations), from 1852 to 1872 (see BNP Paribas Archives, Annual Report for 1852 and the following years). [PK, FL]
  10. Starting on 23 July 1914, the date of Austria's ultimatum to Serbia, the risk of war between the European powers triggers a panic across financial and stock markets (mass withdrawal of holdings, plummeting stock values), which leads the authorities to take emergency measures in order to prevent the crisis from spiraling further. Stock market and banking operations are suspended in many countries. In France, on July 26, the stock market is closed and transactions are suspended. Between July 29 and August 1st, the Minister of Finance, Joseph Noulens, issues four moratoriums: on July 29, the liquidation of July operations on the stock market is postponed until the end of August, and in the following days, further measures, including the deferral of commercial deadlines and the extension of this moratorium to deposits and lines of credit for transaction accounts at banks. This is meant to stop account holders from massively withdrawing their deposits. On August 5, the Chamber of Deputies sets an enforced value for bank bills and prohibits their conversion to gold. On 14 August, a further moratorium is sent on rents. These measures, meant to protect public finances and the gold reserves of the Banque de France, trigger a cash crisis for businesses and individuals. (See Florence Descamps and Laure Quennouëlle-Corre (eds.), Finances publiques en temps de guerre, 1914-1918, Paris, Institut de la gestion publique et du développement économique, 2016.) – The word "moratorium," which in French is translated as "moratoire" (as a noun), is a debated neologism at the time (since "moratoire" was previously used only as an adjective). [FL]
  11. The bank in question is M.M. Warburg & CO, founded in Hamburg in 1798 by Moses Marcus Warburg and his brother Gerson Warburg. In 1914, the bank's directors were Max Moritz Warburg and his younger brother Paul. See the history of the bank, in English and German. Proust appears to have mistaken "M.M." for the abbreviation "MM." (meaning "Messieurs," or "Sirs"), as we see throughout his correspondence with Hauser and with the bank itself (see Proust's letter to the Warburg Bank, CP 02811; Kolb, XIII, no. 160, where he writes "Messieurs" ; and Hauser's letter to Proust, CP 02810; Kolb, XIII, no. 159: "Messieurs Warburg"). [FL]
  12. This check for 20,000 francs corresponds to the amount held by Proust in his transaction account at the Warburg Bank (see CP 02806; Kolb, XIII, no. 155). Sent by the bank on 27 July, Proust must have received it on 31 July (see CP 02811; Kolb, XIII, no. 160). [FL]
  13. This other check for 30,000 francs corresponds to the value of stock holdings which Proust had asked Hauser to have the Warburg Bank sell on 28 or 29 July (see CP 02807; Kolb, XIII, no. 156); Hauser sent that sale order by telegraph as soon as he could, the morning of 30 July (see CP 02810; Kolb, XIII, no. 159). [FL]
  14. Proust addressed the letter in question to "Messieurs Warburg" and dated it "31 July 1914" (see CP 02811; Kolb, XIII, no. 160). Since he could have only written that receipt for the check for 20,000 francs after having received on Monday 3 August a check for 30,000 francs accompanied by a printed receipt for him to sign, the letter dated "31 July" must in fact have been written on Monday 3 August: Proust backdated it. This second post-scriptum (placed at the top of the letter), as well as the first post-scriptum placed after the signature, were added to the letter by Proust during the day on 3 August, after he received the check for 30,000 francs. [FL]
  15. Translation notes:
  16. Contributors: Fproulx, Nstrole, Cbaytas