Read A TRANSLATION BY ALFRED ALLINSON X of The Aspirations of Jean Servien, free online book, by Anatole France, on

That year the Champs de Mars was occupied by one of the series of Expositions Universelles.  Under the trees, in the heat and dust, crowds were swarming towards the entrance.  Jean passed the turnstiles and entered the palace of glass and iron.  He was still pursuing his passion, for he associated the being he loved with all manifestations of art and luxury.  He made for the park and went straight to the Egyptian pavilion.  Egypt had filled his dreams from the day when all his thoughts had been centred on one woman.  In the avenue of sphinxes and before the painted temple he fell under the glamour that women of olden days and strange lands exercise on the senses, ­on those of lovers with especial force.  The sanctuary was venerable in his eyes, despite the vulgar use it was put to as part of the Exhibition.  Looking at the jewels of Queen Aahotep, who lived and was lovely in the days of the Patriarchs, he pondered sadly over all that had been in the world and was no more.  He pictured in fancy the black locks that had scented this diadem with the sphinx’s head, the slim brown arms these, beads of gold and lapis lazuli had touched, the shoulders that had worn these vulture’s wings, the peaked bosoms these chains and gorgets had confined, the breast that had once communicated its warmth to yonder gold scarabaeus with the blue wing-cases, the little royal hand that once held that poniard by the hilt wrought over with flowers and women’s faces.  He could not conceive how what was a dream to him had been a reality for other men.  Vainly he tried to follow the lapse of ages.  He told himself that another living shape would vanish in its turn, and it would be for nothing then that it had been so passionately desired.  The thought saddened and calmed him.  He thought, as he stood before these gewgaws from the tomb, of all these men who, in the abyss of bygone time, had in turn loved, coveted, enjoyed, suffered, whom death had taken, hungry or satiated, and made an end of the appetites of all alike.  A placid melancholy swept over him and held him motionless, his face buried in his hands.