Poor Marie-Henri Beyle. All he wanted in his live was some sweet, some love. His extraordinarily picaresque achievements, as esteemed scholar of both mathematics and the arts, a soldier loyal to Napoleon, and the author of the masterpieces, The Red and The Black and The Charterhouse of Parma, written under the pen name, Stendhal, paled in his beleaguered quest to attain the love of a woman who was both puzzled and suspicious of him.
Forever unsettled by the loss of his mother when he was seven, and ultimately disillusioned by life in France, he was enthralled with Italy's culture, its music, its art, and one particular woman. Mathilde Viscontini Dembowski, married but estranged from a Polish officer, was staunchly loyal to Italy and dangerously involved in the intrigues of the Carbonari, a group whose aim was to overthrow Austria's annexation of Italian territory. So obsessed was Stendhal with Dembowski, whom he affectionately named Métilde, that he wrote an entire volume of essays obsessively explaining his theories De l'Amour (On Love, sometimes known as Love), a work which he believed surpassed his finest fiction. Still as complicated, mind boggling, and frustratingly inscrutable and bizarre as it was at the time of its publication, it is nonetheless famous for Stendhal's metaphorically sublime chapter on The Birth of Love and its crystallization:
At the Salzburg salt mines in the winter they throw a bare branch from a leafless tree into the abandoned depths of the mines. When they return two or three months later they find that the branch is now adorned with sparkling crystals. The smallest twig, no bigger than a tit’s claw, is now covered with an infinite number of dazzling diamonds. The branch first thrown in the mine is no longer recognizable.
Gifted writer that Stendhal was, I wonder if he was aware of another process of sparkling transformation, that of a slip of fine string suspended in a concentration of sugar syrup, which collects “diamonds” of rock crystal while rendering the string invisible in a week's time.
Whether by love or sugar, we human beings are chemically altered and enlivened by changes in the brain as mysterious as they are intoxicating. Though Stendhal and Brian Ferry would never be destined to meet, I'm sure the former would have appreciated that human needs have never changed. Love is still the drug that we need to score.