My dearest Sonichka,
How long it is since I wrote to you. It feels like months. I don’t even know whether you are back in Berlin, but I hope that these lines will be in time for your birthday. I had asked Mathilde to send you a spray of orchids from me, but now the poor dear is in hospital, so she will hardly be able to attend to my commission. But you know that I am with you in thought and feeling, and that I should like to frame you in flowers for your birthday – lilac orchids, white iris, sweet-scented hyacinths, every flower that is procurable. Perhaps next year I shall be able to bring you flowers myself on your birthday, and to go for a walk with you in the Botanical Gardens and in the country. How lovely it will be.
The temperature is at freezing point here today. But at the same time there is a gentle and refreshing spring feeling in the air; thick milk-white clouds are sailing in a deep blue sky; the sparrows are chirping gaily – one might think that the end of March had come. I am so looking forward to the spring. It is the only thing one never gets tired of, for every year that passes one seems to appreciate it better and to love it more. You know, Sonichka, that, in the world of living things, spring, I mean the awakening to new life, begins now, early in January, without waiting for spring according to the calendar. At the date when, by the calendar, winter begins, the earth is really at its nearest to the sun, and this has so mysterious an influence in our northern hemisphere, wrapped though it be in the snows of winter, that when January comes the world of plants and animals is awakened as if by a magician’s wand. The buds are already forming and many of the animals are beginning to procreate their kind. I read recently in Francé’s book that the most notable scientific and literary productions come into the world in the months of January and February. In the life of mankind, just as much as in that of all other beings, the winter solstice is a critical hour, one at which the current of the vital forces receives a fresh impetus. You too, Sonichka, are one of these early flowers that bloom amid snow and ice. Such flowers are apt to feel a trifle chilly, not perfectly at ease in life, so that they need tender care.
I was so delighted with the Rodin you sent me at Christmas, and should have written to thank you at once, had not Mathilde told me you were at Frankfort. What especially charms me in Rodin is his feeling for nature, his respect for every blade of grass in the field. He must have been a splendid creature, frank and natural, overflowing with warmth and intelligence; he strongly reminds me of Jaurès. What did you think of my Broodcoorens? Or did you know the book already? I was much taken with his novel. The descriptions of landscape, especially, are of great imaginative force. Broodcoorens, like De Coster evidently thinks that the sun rises and sets in Flanders far more splendidly than anywhere else in the world. The Flemings are passionately in love with their country, they describe it, not so much as a beautiful part of the earth’s surface, hut rather as if it were to them a radiant young bride. The gloomy and tragical close of the book reminded me of the tremendous imagery of Till Eulenspiegel. Don’t you find that the “colour” of these books recalls Rembrandt? There is the same sombreness of the general picture, but mingled with the glint of old gold; there is the same startling realism in details, and yet a general impression of imaginative mystery is conveyed.
In the Berliner Tageblatt I read that a new Titian has been hung in the Friedrich Museum. Have you been to see it? Titian is not one of my favourites. His pictures seem to me over-elaborated, over-refined, cold. Forgive me if I am committing lese-majesty, but I always let my feelings guide me in such matters. Still I should be very glad if I could visit the Friedrich Museum to greet the new guest.
I have been reading a number of books on Shakespeare, written in the sixties and seventies when the Shakespeare problem was still being vigorously discussed in Germany. I wish you would try to get me the following books from the Royal Library or the Reichstag Library: L. Klein, History of Italian Drama; Schack, History of Dramatic Literature in Spain; Gervinus and Ulrici’s books on Shakespeare. What is your own feeling about Shakespeare? Write soon. All my love. Keep cheerful, whatever happens. Darling Sonichka, good-bye.
When are you coming to see me?
Sonyusha, will you be so good as to send Mathilde some hyacinths from me? I will pay you for them when you come.
 Raoul H. Francé, Austrian author and man of science, writing on Darwinism and kindred topics. Born 1874.
 French sculptor and etcher, born 1840, died 1917.
 French statesman and man of letters, for many years leader of the United French Socialist Party. Born 1859, assassinated July 31, 1914.
 Pierre Broodcoorens, contemporary author, a Fleming, but writes in French.
 Charles de Coster, another contemporary Flemish author whose chosen medium is the French tongue.
 A German folk-tale, dating from early in the sixteenth century, describing the pranks and adventures of a semi-legendary figure, Till Eulenspiegel by name, a handicraftsman who wandered through Germany during the first half of the fourteenth century.
 Dutch painter, born 1606, died 1669.
 One of the most noted of the daily newspapers of Berlin.
 Painter of the Venetian school, born about 1477, died 1576.
Last updated on: 16.12.2008