Every age and every place has its protean illness, a malady whose symptoms are so varied that it seems to incorporate those of all other illnesses and is known to doctors as ‘the great mimic’. When I was a student, it was diabetes; when I practised in the Central Pacific, it was tuberculosis; nowadays, it is Aids. Before the advent of penicillin, it was syphilis.
Syphilis was to French writers of the nineteenth century what alcoholism was to American writers of the twentieth century: virtually an occupational hazard. It was almost as if it were communicated by ink rather than venereally, and Alphonse Daudet, a prolific and popular author who has now been relegated to the second di vision if not lower, was among those who suffered from it.
During the years in which he suffered from the tertiary stage of the disease (which in his case never resulted in madness or in the destruction of his intellect, as it did in the cases of Baudelaire and Maupassant), he kept desultory notes about his symptoms, his reactions to them,