NO NOVELIST," writes Mr. Desmond MacCarthy, "has ever done such complete justice (as has Proust) to the great fact that all things pass and change." Yet this complete absorption in the flux of sensations, and abstention from all judgments about their causes or their relative values, leads Proust in the end to a very remarkable perception: that the flux of phenomena is after all accidental to them, and that the positive reality in each is not the fact that it appears or disappears, but rather the intrinsic quality which it manifests, an eternal essence which may appear and disappear a thousand times. Such an essence, when it is talked about, may seem mysterious and needlessly invented, but when noticed it is the clearest and least doubtful of things--the only sort of thing, indeed, that can ever be observed with direct and exhaustive clearness. An essence is simply the recognisable character of any object or feeling, all of it that can actually be possessed in sensation or recovered in memory, or transcribed in art, or conveyed to another mind. All that was intrinsically real in past time is accordingly recoverable. The hopeless flux and the temporal order of things are not ultimately interesting; they belong merely to the material occasions on which essences recur, or to the flutterings of attention, hovering like a moth about lights which are eternal.
A beautiful and impassioned confession of this discovery will be found in the last volume of Proust great work, the second Le Temps Retrouvé, pp. 14-23. Speaking of the vivid recovery of things long past, he says:
Ces diverses impressions bienheureuses . . . avaient entre elles ceci de commun, que je les éprouvais à la fois dans le moment