"The philosopher Cousin often makes sacrifices to the Graces. Before joining the Ministry of Education, he asked the then Minister, M. Villemain, for an increased pension for Madame Colet, who recently won the poetry prize at the Academie. Upon M. Villemain's objection, the philosopher Cousin cried out, 'But she is so beautiful!' And now, having joined the Ministry, he has augmented her pension. Literature is clearly falling to the gutter under the tutelage of that dear M. Cousin, for everyone now agrees that under his rule, it is essential to be a pretty woman in order to receive a pension as a man of letters."
Alphonse Karr writing in his Les Guepes regarding Victor Cousin; 1840
's first famous lover and protector, Victor Cousin was known as a man of unimpeachable moral character
before he began his affair with Louise. She was, perhaps, the greatest love of his life in the same manner that Gustave Flaubert
was to be the great love of Colet; alas, like that stormy relationship, this one was doomed to end poorly.
Cousin sacrificed his reputation
from the moment the affair began, for were it not bad enough that the woman was married, it also looked poorly that he was forever pulling strings with high society
to make her life easier. Without Cousin's constant interventions
and actions on her behalf, Colet would have found herself in far more dire financial straits, and even more importantly she would not so easily have made her way into the highest literary circles, where Cousin was accepted without question.
With the birth of Colet's daughter
, Cousin took full responsibility, and provided for the child financially and in action: it was he who found her a wet nurse in her early years; it was he who helped pay for her schooling; it was he who watched out for the pair even after the relationship between Cousin and Colet had ended.
Had Gustave Flaubert never been introduced to Colet, it is likely that Cousin and Colet would have been married, and perhaps they might even have been happy
. As it was, Cousin proposed
to Colet at least once, perhaps twice, but always to be rejected. Colet and Cousin were perhaps the better match, their relationship was subject to far less drama
at its worst than the relationship of Flaubert and Colet on a good day, but for Colet nothing would suffice but that level of passion
, however misguided.
Even long after Cousin and Colet had severed any ties, he remembered her with fondness
. When he died in 1867, he made clear his wish in his will to leave her funds to care for her in her old age. Cousin's family barely honored the request, leaving her with only a few hundred francs
, and a memory of a love
that could have been.
This write up also appears at http://www.wam.umd.edu/~amsalter/colet/index.html as part of a study on Louise Colet I maintain.