A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Honore de Balzac
Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Dagny; and John Bickers
A DISTINGUISHED PROVINCIAL AT PARIS
(Lost Illusions Part II)
HONORE DE BALZAC
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris is part two of a trilogy. Part
one, Two Poets, begins the story of Lucien, his sister Eve, and
his friend David in the provincial town of Angouleme. Part two is
centered on Lucien's Parisian life. Part three, Eve and David,
reverts to the setting of Angouleme. In many references parts
one and three are combined under the title Lost Illusions and A
Distinguished Provincial at Paris is given its individual title.
Following this trilogy Lucien's story is continued in another book,
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life.
A DISTINGUISHED PROVINCIAL AT PARIS
Mme. de Bargeton and Lucien de Rubempre had left Angouleme behind, and
were traveling together upon the road to Paris. Not one of the party
who made that journey alluded to it afterwards; but it may be believed
that an infatuated youth who had looked forward to the delights of an
elopement, must have found the continual presence of Gentil, the
man-servant, and Albertine, the maid, not a little irksome on the way.
Lucien, traveling post for the first time in his life, was horrified
to see pretty nearly the whole sum on which he meant to live in Paris
for a twelvemonth dropped along the road. Like other men who combine
great intellectual powers with the charming simplicity of childhood,
he openly expressed his surprise at the new and wonderful things which
he saw, and thereby made a mistake. A man should study a woman very
carefully before he allows her to see his thoughts and emotions as
they arise in him. A woman, whose nature is large as her heart is
tender, can smile upon childishness, and make allowances; but let her
have ever so small a spice of vanity herself, and she cannot forgive
childishness, or littleness, or vanity in her lover. Many a woman is
so extravagant a worshiper that she must always see the god in her
idol; but there are yet others who love a man for his sake and not for
their own, and adore his failings with his greater qualities.
Lucien had not guessed as yet that Mme. de Bargeton's love was grafted
on pride. He made another mistake when he failed to discern the
meaning of certain smiles which flitted over Louise's lips from time
to time; and instead of keeping himself to himself, he indulged in the
playfulness of the young rat emerging from his hole for the first
The travelers were set down before daybreak at the sign of the
Gaillard-Bois in the Rue de l'Echelle, both so tired out with the
journey that Louise went straight to bed and slept, first bidding
Lucien to engage the room immediately overhead. Lucien slept on till
four o'clock in the afternoon, when he was awakened by Mme. de
Bargeton's servant, and learning the hour, made a hasty toilet and
Louise was sitting in the shabby inn sitting-room. Hotel accommodation
is a blot on the civilization of Paris; for with all its pretensions
to elegance, the city as yet does not boast a single inn where a
well-to-do traveler can find the surroundings to which he is accustomed
at home. To Lucien's just-awakened, sleep-dimmed eyes, Louise was
hardly recognizable in this cheerless, sunless room, with the shabby
window-curtains, the comfortless polished floor, the hideous furniture
bought second-hand, or much the worse for wear.
Some people no longer look the same when detached from the background
of faces, objects, and surroundings which serve as a setting, without
which, indeed, they seem to lose something of their intrinsic worth.
Personality demands its appropriate atmosphere to bring out its
values, just as the figures in Flemish interiors need the arrangement
of light and shade in which they are placed by the painter's genius if
they are to live for us. This is especially true of provincials. Mme.
de Bargeton, moreover, looked more thoughtful and dignified than was
necessary now, when no barriers stood between her and happiness.
Gentil and Albertine waited upon them, and while they were present
Lucien could not complain. The dinner, sent in from a neighboring
restaurant, fell far below the provincial average, both in quantity
and quality; the essential goodness of country fare was wanting, and
in point of quantity the portions were cut with so strict an eye to
business that they savored of short commons. In such small matters
Paris does not show its best side to travelers of moderate fortune.
Lucien waited till the meal was over. Some change had come over
Louise, he thought, but he could not explain it.
And a change had, in fact, taken place. Events had occurred while he
slept; for reflection is an event in our inner history, and Mme. de
Bargeton had been reflecting.
About two o'clock that afternoon, Sixte du Chatelet made his
appearance in the Rue de l'Echelle and asked for Albertine. The
sleeping damsel was roused, and to her he expressed his wish to speak
with her mistress. Mme. de Bargeton had scarcely time to dress before
he came back again. The unaccountable apparition of M. du Chatelet
roused the lady's curiosity, for she had kept her journey a profound
secret, as she thought. At three o'clock the visitor was admitted.
"I have risked a reprimand from headquarters to follow you," he said,
as he greeted her; "I foresaw coming events. But if I lose my post for
it, YOU, at any rate, shall not be lost."
"What do you mean?" exclaimed Mme. de Bargeton.
"I can see plainly that you love Lucien," he continued, with an air of
tender resignation. "You must love indeed if _you_ can act thus
recklessly, and disregard the conventions which you know so well. Dear
adored Nais, can you really imagine that Mme. d'Espard's salon, or any
other salon in Paris, will not be closed to you as soon as it is known
that you have fled from Angouleme, as it were, with a young man,
especially after the duel between M. de Bargeton and M. de Chandour?
The fact that your husband has gone to the Escarbas looks like a
separation. Under such circumstances a gentleman fights first and
afterwards leaves his wife at liberty. By all means, give M. de
Rubempre your love and your countenance; do just as you please; but
you must not live in the same house. If anybody here in Paris knew
that you had traveled together, the whole world that you have a mind
to see would point the finger at you.
"And, Nais, do not make these sacrifices for a young man whom you have
as yet compared with no one else; he, on his side, has been put to no
proof; he may forsake you for some Parisienne, better able, as he may
fancy, to further his ambitions. I mean no harm to the man you love,
but you will permit me to put your own interests before his, and to
beg you to study him, to be fully aware of the serious nature of this
step that you are taking. And, then, if you find all doors closed
against you, and that none of the women call upon you, make sure at
least that you will feel no regret for all that you have renounced for
him. Be very certain first that he for whom you will have given up so
much will always be worthy of your sacrifices and appreciate them.
"Just now," continued Chatelet, "Mme. d'Espard is the more prudish and
particular because she herself is separated from her husband, nobody
knows why. The Navarreins, the Lenoncourts, the Blamont-Chauvrys, and
the rest of the relations have all rallied round her; the most
strait-laced women are seen at her house, and receive her with respect,
and the Marquis d'Espard has been put in the wrong. The first call that
you pay will make it clear to you that I am right; indeed, knowing
Paris as I do, I can tell you beforehand that you will no sooner enter
the Marquise's salon than you will be in despair lest she should find
out that you are staying at the Gaillard-Bois with an apothecary's
son, though he may wish to be called M. de Rubempre.
"You will have rivals here, women far more astute and shrewd than
Amelie; they will not fail to discover who you are, where you are,
where you come from, and all that you are doing. You have counted upon
your incognito, I see, but you are one of those women for whom an
incognito is out of the question. You will meet Angouleme at every
turn. There are the deputies from the Charente coming up for the
opening of the session; there is the Commandant in Paris on leave.
Why, the first man or woman from Angouleme who happens to see you
would cut your career short in a strange fashion. You would simply be
"If you need me at any time, I am staying with the Receiver-General in
the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, two steps away from Mme. d'Espard's.
I am sufficiently acquainted with the Marechale de Carigliano, Mme. de
Serizy, and the President of the Council to introduce you to those
houses; but you will meet so many people at Mme. d'Espard's, that you
are not likely to require me. So far from wishing to gain admittance
to this set or that, every one will be longing to make your
Chatelet talked on; Mme. de Bargeton made no interruption. She was
struck with his perspicacity. The queen of Angouleme had, in fact,
counted upon preserving her incognito.
"You are right, my dear friend," she said at length; "but what am I to
"Allow me to find suitable furnished lodgings for you," suggested
Chatelet; "that way of living is less expensive than an inn. You will
have a home of your own; and, if you will take my advice, you will
sleep in your new rooms this very night."
"But how did you know my address?" queried she.
"Your traveling carriage is easily recognized; and, besides, I was
following you. At Sevres your postilion told mine that he had brought
you here. Will you permit me to act as your harbinger? I will write as
soon as I have found lodgings."
"Very well, do so," said she. And in those seemingly insignificant
words, all was said. The Baron du Chatelet had spoken the language of
worldly wisdom to a woman of the world. He had made his appearance
before her in faultless dress, a neat cab was waiting for him at the
door; and Mme. de Bargeton, standing by the window thinking over the
position, chanced to see the elderly dandy drive away.
A few moments later Lucien appeared, half awake and hastily dressed.
He was handsome, it is true; but his clothes, his last year's nankeen
trousers, and his shabby tight jacket were ridiculous. Put Antinous or
the Apollo Belvedere himself into a water-carrier's blouse, and how
shall you recognize the godlike creature of the Greek or Roman chisel?
The eyes note and compare before the heart has time to revise the
swift involuntary judgment; and the contrast between Lucien and
Chatelet was so abrupt that it could not fail to strike Louise.
Towards six o'clock that evening, when dinner was over, Mme. de
Bargeton beckoned Lucien to sit beside her on the shabby sofa, covered
with a flowered chintz--a yellow pattern on a red ground.
"Lucien mine," she said, "don't you think that if we have both of us
done a foolish thing, suicidal for both our interests, it would only
be common sense to set matters right? We ought not to live together in
Paris, dear boy, and we must not allow anyone to suspect that we
traveled together. Your career depends so much upon my position that I
ought to do nothing to spoil it. So, to-night, I am going to remove
into lodgings near by. But you will stay on here, we can see each
other every day, and nobody can say a word against us."
And Louise explained conventions to Lucien, who opened wide eyes. He
had still to learn that when a woman thinks better of her folly, she
thinks better of her love; but one thing he understood--he saw that he
was no longer the Lucien of Angouleme. Louise talked of herself, of
_her_ interests, _her_ reputation, and of the world; and, to veil her
egoism, she tried to make him believe that this was all on his
account. He had no claim upon Louise thus suddenly transformed into
Mme. de Bargeton, and, more serious still, he had no power over her.
He could not keep back the tears that filled his eyes.
"If I am your glory," cried the poet, "you are yet more to me--you are
my one hope, my whole future rests with you. I thought that if you
meant to make my successes yours, you would surely make my adversity
yours also, and here we are going to part already."
"You are judging my conduct," said she; "you do not love me."
Lucien looked at her with such a dolorous expression, that in spite of
herself, she said:
"Darling, I will stay if you like. We shall both be ruined, we shall
have no one to come to our aid. But when we are both equally wretched,
and every one shuts their door upon us both, when failure (for we must
look all possibilities in the face), when failure drives us back to
the Escarbas, then remember, love, that I foresaw the end, and that at
the first I proposed that we should make your way by conforming to
"Louise," he cried, with his arms around her, "you are wise; you
frighten me! Remember that I am a child, that I have given myself up
entirely to your dear will. I myself should have preferred to overcome
obstacles and win my way among men by the power that is in me; but if
I can reach the goal sooner through your aid, I shall be very glad to
owe all my success to you. Forgive me! You mean so much to me that I
cannot help fearing all kinds of things; and, for me, parting means
that desertion is at hand, and desertion is death."
"But, my dear boy, the world's demands are soon satisfied," returned
she. "You must sleep here; that is all. All day long you will be with
me, and no one can say a word."
A few kisses set Lucien's mind completely at rest. An hour later
Gentil brought in a note from Chatelet. He told Mme. de Bargeton that
he had found lodgings for her in the Rue Nueve-de-Luxembourg. Mme. de
Bargeton informed herself of the exact place, and found that it was
not very far from the Rue de l'Echelle. "We shall be neighbors," she
Two hours afterwards Louise stepped into the hired carriage sent by
Chatelet for the removal to the new rooms. The apartments were of the
class that upholsterers furnish and let to wealthy deputies and
persons of consideration on a short visit to Paris--showy and
uncomfortable. It was eleven o'clock when Lucien returned to his inn,
having seen nothing as yet of Paris except the part of the Rue
Saint-Honore which lies between the Rue Neuve-de-Luxembourg and the Rue
de l'Echelle. He lay down in his miserable little room, and could not
help comparing it in his own mind with Louise's sumptuous apartments.
Just as he came away the Baron du Chatelet came in, gorgeously arrayed
in evening dress, fresh from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to
inquire whether Mme. de Bargeton was satisfied with all that he had
done on her behalf. Nais was uneasy. The splendor was alarming to her
mind. Provincial life had reacted upon her; she was painfully
conscientious over her accounts, and economical to a degree that is
looked upon as miserly in Paris. She had brought with her twenty
thousand francs in the shape of a draft on the Receiver-General,
considering that the sum would more than cover the expenses of four
years in Paris; she was afraid already lest she should not have
enough, and should run into debt; and now Chatelet told her that her
rooms would only cost six hundred francs per month.
"A mere trifle," added he, seeing that Nais was startled. "For five
hundred francs a month you can have a carriage from a livery stable;
fifty louis in all. You need only think of your dress. A woman moving
in good society could not well do less; and if you mean to obtain a
Receiver-General's appointment for M. de Bargeton, or a post in the
Household, you ought not to look poverty-stricken. Here, in Paris,
they only give to the rich. It is most fortunate that you brought
Gentil to go out with you, and Albertine for your own woman, for
servants are enough to ruin you here. But with your introductions you
will seldom be home to a meal."
Mme. de Bargeton and the Baron de Chatelet chatted about Paris.
Chatelet gave her all the news of the day, the myriad nothings that
you are bound to know, under penalty of being a nobody. Before very
long the Baron also gave advice as to shopping, recommending Herbault
for toques and Juliette for hats and bonnets; he added the address of
a fashionable dressmaker to supersede Victorine. In short, he made the
lady see the necessity of rubbing off Angouleme. Then he took his
leave after a final flash of happy inspiration.
"I expect I shall have a box at one of the theatres to-morrow," he
remarked carelessly; "I will call for you and M. de Rubempre, for you
must allow me to do the honors of Paris."
"There is more generosity in his character than I thought," said Mme.
de Bargeton to herself when Lucien was included in the invitation.
In the month of June ministers are often puzzled to know what to do
with boxes at the theatre; ministerialist deputies and their
constituents are busy in their vineyards or harvest fields, and their
more exacting acquaintances are in the country or traveling about; so
it comes to pass that the best seats are filled at this season with
heterogeneous theatre-goers, never seen at any other time of year, and
the house is apt to look as if it were tapestried with very shabby
material. Chatelet had thought already that this was his opportunity
of giving Nais the amusements which provincials crave most eagerly,
and that with very little expense.
The next morning, the very first morning in Paris, Lucien went to the
Rue Nueve-de-Luxembourg and found that Louise had gone out. She had
gone to make some indispensable purchases, to take counsel of the
mighty and illustrious authorities in the matter of the feminine
toilette, pointed out to her by Chatelet, for she had written to tell
the Marquise d'Espard of her arrival. Mme. de Bargeton possessed the
self-confidence born of a long habit of rule, but she was exceedingly
afraid of appearing to be provincial. She had tact enough to know how
greatly the relations of women among themselves depend upon first
impressions; and though she felt that she was equal to taking her
place at once in such a distinguished set as Mme. de d'Espard's, she
felt also that she stood in need of goodwill at her first entrance
into society, and was resolved, in the first place, that she would
leave nothing undone to secure success. So she felt boundlessly
thankful to Chatelet for pointing out these ways of putting herself in
harmony with the fashionable world.
A singular chance so ordered it that the Marquise was delighted to
find an opportunity of being useful to a connection of her husband's
family. The Marquis d'Espard had withdrawn himself without apparent
reason from society, and ceased to take any active interest in
affairs, political or domestic. His wife, thus left mistress of her
actions, felt the need of the support of public opinion, and was glad
to take the Marquis' place and give her countenance to one of her
husband's relations. She meant to be ostentatiously gracious, so as to
put her husband more evidently in the wrong; and that very day she
wrote, "Mme. de Bargeton _nee_ Negrepelisse" a charming billet, one of
the prettily worded compositions of which time alone can discover the
"She was delighted that circumstances had brought a relative, of whom
she had heard, whose acquaintance she had desired to make, into closer
connection with her family. Friendships in Paris were not so solid but
that she longed to find one more to love on earth; and if this might
not be, there would only be one more illusion to bury with the rest.
She put herself entirely at her cousin's disposal. She would have
called upon her if indisposition had not kept her to the house, and
she felt that she lay already under obligations to the cousin who had
thought of her."
Lucien, meanwhile, taking his first ramble along the Rue de la Paix
and through the Boulevards, like all newcomers, was much more
interested in the things that he saw than in the people he met. The
general effect of Paris is wholly engrossing at first. The wealth in
the shop windows, the high houses, the streams of traffic, the
contrast everywhere between the last extremes of luxury and want
struck him more than anything else. In his astonishment at the crowds
of strange faces, the man of imaginative temper felt as if he himself
had shrunk, as it were, immensely. A man of any consequence in his
native place, where he cannot go out but he meets with some
recognition of his importance at every step, does not readily accustom
himself to the sudden and total extinction of his consequence. You are
somebody in your own country, in Paris you are nobody. The transition
between the first state and the last should be made gradually, for the
too abrupt fall is something like annihilation. Paris could not fail
to be an appalling wilderness for a young poet, who looked for an echo
for all his sentiments, a confidant for all his thoughts, a soul to
share his least sensations.
Lucien had not gone in search of his luggage and his best blue coat;
and painfully conscious of the shabbiness, to say no worse, of his
clothes, he went to Mme. de Bargeton, feeling that she must have
returned. He found the Baron du Chatelet, who carried them both off to
dinner at the _Rocher de Cancale_. Lucien's head was dizzy with the
whirl of Paris, the Baron was in the carriage, he could say nothing to
Louise, but he squeezed her hand, and she gave a warm response to the
After dinner Chatelet took his guests to the Vaudeville. Lucien, in
his heart, was not over well pleased to see Chatelet again, and cursed
the chance that had brought the Baron to Paris. The Baron said that
ambition had brought him to town; he had hopes of an appointment as
secretary-general to a government department, and meant to take a seat
in the Council of State as Master of Requests. He had come to Paris to
ask for fulfilment of the promises that had been given him, for a man
of his stamp could not be expected to remain a comptroller all his
life; he would rather be nothing at all, and offer himself for
election as deputy, or re-enter diplomacy. Chatelet grew visibly
taller; Lucien dimly began to recognize in this elderly beau the
superiority of the man of the world who knows Paris; and, most of all,
he felt ashamed to owe his evening's amusement to his rival. And while
the poet looked ill at ease and awkward Her Royal Highness'
ex-secretary was quite in his element. He smiled at his rival's
hesitations, at his astonishment, at the questions he put, at the
little mistakes which the latter ignorantly made, much as an old salt
laughs at an apprentice who has not found his sea legs; but Lucien's
pleasure at seeing a play for the first time in Paris outweighed the
annoyance of these small humiliations.
That evening marked an epoch in Lucien's career; he put away a good
many of his ideas as to provincial life in the course of it. His
horizon widened; society assumed different proportions. There were
fair Parisiennes in fresh and elegant toilettes all about him; Mme. de
Bargeton's costume, tolerably ambitious though it was, looked dowdy by
comparison; the material, like the fashion and the color, was out of
date. That way of arranging her hair, so bewitching in Angouleme,
looked frightfully ugly here among the daintily devised coiffures
which he saw in every direction.
"Will she always look like that?" said he to himself, ignorant that
the morning had been spent in preparing a transformation.
In the provinces comparison and choice are out of the question; when a
face has grown familiar it comes to possess a certain beauty that is
taken for granted. But transport the pretty woman of the provinces to
Paris, and no one takes the slightest notice of her; her prettiness is
of the comparative degree illustrated by the saying that among the
blind the one-eyed are kings. Lucien's eyes were now busy comparing
Mme. de Bargeton with other women, just as she herself had contrasted
him with Chatelet on the previous day. And Mme. de Bargeton, on her
part, permitted herself some strange reflections upon her lover. The
poet cut a poor figure notwithstanding his singular beauty. The
sleeves of his jacket were too short; with his ill-cut country gloves
and a waistcoat too scanty for him, he looked prodigiously ridiculous,
compared with the young men in the balcony--"positively pitiable,"
thought Mme. de Bargeton. Chatelet, interested in her without
presumption, taking care of her in a manner that revealed a profound
passion; Chatelet, elegant, and as much at home as an actor treading
the familiar boards of his theatre, in two days had recovered all the
ground lost in the past six months.
Ordinary people will not admit that our sentiments towards each other
can totally change in a moment, and yet certain it is, that two lovers
not seldom fly apart even more quickly than they drew together. In
Mme. de Bargeton and in Lucien a process of disenchantment was at
work; Paris was the cause. Life had widened out before the poet's
eyes, as society came to wear a new aspect for Louise. Nothing but an
accident now was needed to sever finally the bond that united them;
nor was that blow, so terrible for Lucien, very long delayed.
Mme. de Bargeton set Lucien down at his inn, and drove home with
Chatelet, to the intense vexation of the luckless lover.
"What will they say about me?" he wondered, as he climbed the stairs
to his dismal room.
"That poor fellow is uncommonly dull," said Chatelet, with a smile,
when the door was closed.
"That is the way with those who have a world of thoughts in their
heart and brain. Men who have so much in them to give out in great
works long dreamed of, profess a certain contempt for conversation, a
commerce in which the intellect spends itself in small change,"
returned the haughty Negrepelisse. She still had courage to defend
Lucien, but less for Lucien's sake than for her own.
"I grant it you willingly," replied the Baron, "but we live with human
beings and not with books. There, dear Nais! I see how it is, there is
nothing between you yet, and I am delighted that it is so. If you
decide to bring an interest of a kind hitherto lacking into your life,
let it not be this so-called genius, I implore you. How if you have
made a mistake? Suppose that in a few days' time, when you have
compared him with men whom you will meet, men of real ability, men who
have distinguished themselves in good earnest; suppose that you should
discover, dear and fair siren, that it is no lyre-bearer that you have
borne into port on your dazzling shoulders, but a little ape, with no
manners and no capacity; a presumptuous fool who may be a wit in
L'Houmeau, but turns out a very ordinary specimen of a young man in
Paris? And, after all, volumes of verse come out every week here, the
worst of them better than all M. Chardon's poetry put together. For
pity's sake, wait and compare! To-morrow, Friday, is Opera night," he
continued as the carriage turned into the Rue Nueve-de-Luxembourg;
"Mme. d'Espard has the box of the First Gentlemen of the Chamber, and
will take you, no doubt. I shall go to Mme. de Serizy's box to behold
you in your glory. They are giving _Les Danaides_."
"Good-bye," said she.
Next morning Mme. de Bargeton tried to arrange a suitable toilette in
which to call on her cousin, Mme. d'Espard. The weather was rather
chilly. Looking through the dowdy wardrobe from Angouleme, she found
nothing better than a certain green velvet gown, trimmed fantastically
enough. Lucien, for his part, felt that he must go at once for his
celebrated blue best coat; he felt aghast at the thought of his tight
jacket, and determined to be well dressed, lest he should meet the
Marquise d'Espard or receive a sudden summons to her house. He must
have his luggage at once, so he took a cab, and in two hours' time
spent three or four francs, matter for much subsequent reflection on
the scale of the cost of living in Paris. Having dressed himself in
his best, such as it was, he went to the Rue Nueve-de-Luxembourg, and
on the doorstep encountered Gentil in company with a gorgeously
"I was just going round to you, sir, madame gave me a line for you,"
said Gentil, ignorant of Parisian forms of respect, and accustomed to
homely provincial ways. The chasseur took the poet for a servant.
Lucien tore open the note, and learned that Mme. de Bargeton had gone
to spend the day with the Marquise d'Espard. She was going to the
Opera in the evening, but she told Lucien to be there to meet her. Her
cousin permitted her to give him a seat in her box. The Marquise
d'Espard was delighted to procure the young poet that pleasure.
"Then she loves me! my fears were all nonsense!" said Lucien to
himself. "She is going to present me to her cousin this very evening."
He jumped for joy. He would spend the day that separated him from the
happy evening as joyously as might be. He dashed out in the direction
of the Tuileries, dreaming of walking there until it was time to dine
at Very's. And now, behold Lucien frisking and skipping, light of foot
because light of heart, on his way to the Terrasse des Feuillants to
take a look at the people of quality on promenade there. Pretty women
walk arm-in-arm with men of fashion, their adorers, couples greet each
other with a glance as they pass; how different it is from the terrace
at Beaulieu! How far finer the birds on this perch than the Angouleme
species! It is as if you beheld all the colors that glow in the
plumage of the feathered tribes of India and America, instead of the
sober European families.
Those were two wretched hours that Lucien spent in the Garden of the
Tuileries. A violent revulsion swept through him, and he sat in
judgment upon himself.
In the first place, not a single one of these gilded youths wore a
swallow-tail coat. The few exceptions, one or two poor wretches, a
clerk here and there, an annuitant from the Marais, could be ruled out
on the score of age; and hard upon the discovery of a distinction
between morning and evening dress, the poet's quick sensibility and
keen eyes saw likewise that his shabby old clothes were not fit to be
seen; the defects in his coat branded that garment as ridiculous; the
cut was old-fashioned, the color was the wrong shade of blue, the
collar outrageously ungainly, the coat tails, by dint of long wear,
overlapped each other, the buttons were reddened, and there were fatal
white lines along the seams. Then his waistcoat was too short, and so
grotesquely provincial, that he hastily buttoned his coat over it;
and, finally, no man of any pretension to fashion wore nankeen
trousers. Well-dressed men wore charming fancy materials or immaculate
white, and every one had straps to his trousers, while the shrunken
hems of Lucien's nether garments manifested a violent antipathy for
the heels of boots which they wedded with obvious reluctance. Lucien
wore a white cravat with embroidered ends; his sister had seen that M.
du Hautoy and M. de Chandour wore such things, and hastened to make
similar ones for her brother. Here, no one appeared to wear white
cravats of a morning except a few grave seniors, elderly capitalists,
and austere public functionaries, until, in the street on the other
side of the railings, Lucien noticed a grocer's boy walking along the
Rue de Rivoli with a basket on his head; him the man of Angouleme
detected in the act of sporting a cravat, with both ends adorned by
the handiwork of some adored shop-girl. The sight was a stab to
Lucien's breast; penetrating straight to that organ as yet undefined,
the seat of our sensibility, the region whither, since sentiment has
had any existence, the sons of men carry their hands in any excess of
joy or anguish. Do not accuse this chronicle of puerility. The rich,
to be sure, never having experienced sufferings of this kind, may
think them incredibly petty and small; but the agonies of less
fortunate mortals are as well worth our attention as crises and
vicissitudes in the lives of the mighty and privileged ones of earth.
Is not the pain equally great for either? Suffering exalts all things.
And, after all, suppose that we change the terms and for a suit of
clothes, more or less fine, put instead a ribbon, or a star, or a
title; have not brilliant careers been tormented by reason of such
apparent trifles as these? Add, moreover, that for those people who
must seem to have that which they have not, the question of clothes is
of enormous importance, and not unfrequently the appearance of
possession is the shortest road to possession at a later day.
A cold sweat broke out over Lucien as he bethought himself that
to-night he must make his first appearance before the Marquise in this
dress--the Marquise d'Espard, relative of a First Gentleman of the
Bedchamber, a woman whose house was frequented by the most illustrious
among illustrious men in every field.
"I look like an apothecary's son, a regular shop-drudge," he raged
inwardly, watching the youth of the Faubourg Saint-Germain pass under
his eyes; graceful, spruce, fashionably dressed, with a certain
uniformity of air, a sameness due to a fineness of contour, and a
certain dignity of carriage and expression; though, at the same time,
each one differed from the rest in the setting by which he had chosen
to bring his personal characteristics into prominence. Each one made
the most of his personal advantages. Young men in Paris understand the
art of presenting themselves quite as well as women. Lucien had
inherited from his mother the invaluable physical distinction of race,
but the metal was still in the ore, and not set free by the
His hair was badly cut. Instead of holding himself upright with an
elastic corset, he felt that he was cooped up inside a hideous
shirt-collar; he hung his dejected head without resistance on the part
of a limp cravat. What woman could guess that a handsome foot was
hidden by the clumsy boots which he had brought from Angouleme? What
young man could envy him his graceful figure, disguised by the
shapeless blue sack which hitherto he had mistakenly believed to be a
coat? What bewitching studs he saw on those dazzling white shirt
fronts, his own looked dingy by comparison; and how marvelously all
these elegant persons were gloved, his own gloves were only fit for a
policeman! Yonder was a youth toying with a cane exquisitely mounted;
there, another with dainty gold studs in his wristbands. Yet another
was twisting a charming riding-whip while he talked with a woman;
there were specks of mud on the ample folds of his white trousers, he
wore clanking spurs and a tight-fitting jacket, evidently he was about
to mount one of the two horses held by a hop-o'-my-thumb of a tiger. A
young man who went past drew a watch no thicker than a five-franc
piece from his pocket, and looked at it with the air of a person who
is either too early or too late for an appointment.
Lucien, seeing these petty trifles, hitherto unimagined, became aware
of a whole world of indispensable superfluities, and shuddered to
think of the enormous capital needed by a professional pretty fellow!
The more he admired these gay and careless beings, the more conscious
he grew of his own outlandishness; he knew that he looked like a man
who has no idea of the direction of the streets, who stands close to
the Palais Royal and cannot find it, and asks his way to the Louvre of
a passer-by, who tells him, "Here you are." Lucien saw a great gulf
fixed between him and this new world, and asked himself how he might
cross over, for he meant to be one of these delicate, slim youths of
Paris, these young patricians who bowed before women divinely dressed
and divinely fair. For one kiss from one of these, Lucien was ready to
be cut in pieces like Count Philip of Konigsmark. Louise's face rose
up somewhere in the shadowy background of memory--compared with these
queens, she looked like an old woman. He saw women whose names will
appear in the history of the nineteenth century, women no less famous
than the queens of past times for their wit, their beauty, or their
lovers; one who passed was the heroine Mlle. des Touches, so well
known as Camille Maupin, the great woman of letters, great by her
intellect, great no less by her beauty. He overheard the name
pronounced by those who went by.
"Ah!" he thought to himself, "she is Poetry."
What was Mme. de Bargeton in comparison with this angel in all the
glory of youth, and hope, and promise of the future, with that sweet
smile of hers, and the great dark eyes with all heaven in them, and
the glowing light of the sun? She was laughing and chatting with Mme.
Firmiani, one of the most charming women in Paris. A voice indeed
cried, "Intellect is the lever by which to move the world," but
another voice cried no less loudly that money was the fulcrum.
He would not stay any longer on the scene of his collapse and defeat,
and went towards the Palais Royal. He did not know the topography of
his quarter yet, and was obliged to ask his way. Then he went to
Very's and ordered dinner by way of an initiation into the pleasures
of Paris, and a solace for his discouragement. A bottle of Bordeaux,
oysters from Ostend, a dish of fish, a partridge, a dish of macaroni
and dessert,--this was the _ne plus ultra_ of his desire. He enjoyed
this little debauch, studying the while how to give the Marquise
d'Espard proof of his wit, and redeem the shabbiness of his grotesque
accoutrements by the display of intellectual riches. The total of the
bill drew him down from these dreams, and left him the poorer by fifty
of the francs which were to have gone such a long way in Paris. He
could have lived in Angouleme for a month on the price of that dinner.
Wherefore he closed the door of the palace with awe, thinking as he
did so that he should never set foot in it again.
"Eve was right," he said to himself, as he went back under the stone
arcading for some more money. "There is a difference between Paris
prices and prices in L'Houmeau."
He gazed in at the tailors' windows on the way, and thought of the
costumes in the Garden of the Tuileries.
"No," he exclaimed, "I will _not_ appear before Mme. d'Espard dressed
out as I am."
He fled to his inn, fleet as a stag, rushed up to his room, took out a
hundred crowns, and went down again to the Palais Royal, where his
future elegance lay scattered over half a score of shops. The first
tailor whose door he entered tried as many coats upon him as he would
consent to put on, and persuaded his customer that all were in the
very latest fashion. Lucien came out the owner of a green coat, a pair
of white trousers, and a "fancy waistcoat," for which outfit he gave
two hundred francs. Ere long he found a very elegant pair of
ready-made shoes that fitted his foot; and, finally, when he had made
all necessary purchases, he ordered the tradespeople to send them to his
address, and inquired for a hairdresser. At seven o'clock that evening
he called a cab and drove away to the Opera, curled like a Saint John
of a Procession Day, elegantly waistcoated and gloved, but feeling a
little awkward in this kind of sheath in which he found himself for
the first time.
In obedience to Mme. de Bargeton's instructions, he asked for the box
reserved for the First Gentleman of the Bedchamber. The man at the box
office looked at him, and beholding Lucien in all the grandeur assumed
for the occasion, in which he looked like a best man at a wedding,
asked Lucien for his order.
"I have no order."
"Then you cannot go in," said the man at the box office drily.
"But I belong to Mme. d'Espard's party."
"It is not our business to know that," said the man, who could not
help exchanging a barely perceptible smile with his colleague.
A carriage stopped under the peristyle as he spoke. A chasseur, in a
livery which Lucien did not recognize, let down the step, and two
women in evening dress came out of the brougham. Lucien had no mind to
lay himself open to an insolent order to get out of the way from the
official. He stepped aside to let the two ladies pass.
"Why, that lady is the Marquise d'Espard, whom you say you know, sir,"
said the man ironically.
Lucien was so much the more confounded because Mme. de Bargeton did
not seem to recognize him in his new plumage; but when he stepped up
to her, she smiled at him and said:
"This has fallen out wonderfully--come!"
The functionaries at the box office grew serious again as Lucien
followed Mme. de Bargeton. On their way up the great staircase the
lady introduced M. de Rubempre to her cousin. The box belonging to the
First Gentleman of the Bedchamber is situated in one of the angles at
the back of the house, so that its occupants see and are seen all over
the theatre. Lucien took his seat on a chair behind Mme. de Bargeton,
thankful to be in the shadow.
"M. de Rubempre," said the Marquise with flattering graciousness,
"this is your first visit to the Opera, is it not? You must have a
view of the house; take this seat, sit in front of the box; we give
Lucien obeyed as the first act came to an end.
"You have made good use of your time," Louise said in his ear, in her
first surprise at the change in his appearance.
Louise was still the same. The near presence of the Marquise d'Espard,
a Parisian Mme. de Bargeton, was so damaging to her; the brilliancy of
the Parisienne brought out all the defects in her country cousin so
clearly by contrast; that Lucien, looking out over the fashionable
audience in the superb building, and then at the great lady, was twice
enlightened, and saw poor Anais de Negrepelisse as she really was, as
Parisians saw her--a tall, lean, withered woman, with a pimpled face
and faded complexion; angular, stiff, affected in her manner; pompous
and provincial in her speech; and, and above all these things, dowdily
dressed. As a matter of fact, the creases in an old dress from Paris
still bear witness to good taste, you can tell what the gown was meant
for; but an old dress made in the country is inexplicable, it is a
thing to provoke laughter. There was neither charm nor freshness about
the dress or its wearer; the velvet, like the complexion had seen
wear. Lucien felt ashamed to have fallen in love with this cuttle-fish
bone, and vowed that he would profit by Louise's next fit of virtue to
leave her for good. Having an excellent view of the house, he could
see the opera-glasses pointed at the aristocratic box par excellence.
The best-dressed women must certainly be scrutinizing Mme. de
Bargeton, for they smiled and talked among themselves.
If Mme. d'Espard knew the object of their sarcasms from those feminine
smiles and gestures, she was perfectly insensible to them. In the
first place, anybody must see that her companion was a poor relation
from the country, an affliction with which any Parisian family may be
visited. And, in the second, when her cousin had spoken to her of her
dress with manifest misgivings, she had reassured Anais, seeing that,
when once properly dressed, her relative would very easily acquire the
tone of Parisian society. If Mme. de Bargeton needed polish, on the
other hand she possessed the native haughtiness of good birth, and
that indescribable something which may be called "pedigree." So, on
Monday her turn would come. And, moreover, the Marquise knew that as
soon as people learned that the stranger was her cousin, they would
suspend their banter and look twice before they condemned her.
Lucien did not foresee the change in Louise's appearance shortly to be
worked by a scarf about her throat, a pretty dress, an elegant
coiffure, and Mme. d'Espard's advice. As they came up the staircase
even now, the Marquise told her cousin not to hold her handkerchief
unfolded in her hand. Good or bad taste turns upon hundreds of such
almost imperceptible shades, which a quick-witted woman discerns at
once, while others will never grasp them. Mme. de Bargeton,
plentifully apt, was more than clever enough to discover her
shortcomings. Mme. d'Espard, sure that her pupil would do her credit,
did not decline to form her. In short, the compact between the two
women had been confirmed by self-interest on either side.
Mme. de Bargeton, enthralled, dazzled, and fascinated by her cousin's
manner, wit, and acquaintances, had suddenly declared herself a votary
of the idol of the day. She had discerned the signs of the occult
power exerted by the ambitious great lady, and told herself that she
could gain her end as the satellite of this star, so she had been
outspoken in her admiration. The Marquise was not insensible to the
artlessly admitted conquest. She took an interest in her cousin,
seeing that she was weak and poor; she was, besides, not indisposed to
take a pupil with whom to found a school, and asked nothing better
than to have a sort of lady-in-waiting in Mme. de Bargeton, a
dependent who would sing her praises, a treasure even more scarce
among Parisian women than a staunch and loyal critic among the
literary tribe. The flutter of curiosity in the house was too marked
to be ignored, however, and Mme. d'Espard politely endeavored to turn
her cousin's mind from the truth.
"If any one comes to our box," she said, "perhaps we may discover the
cause to which we owe the honor of the interest that these ladies are
"I have a strong suspicion that it is my old velvet gown and
Angoumoisin air which Parisian ladies find amusing," Mme. de Bargeton
"No, it is not you; it is something that I cannot explain," she added,
turning to the poet, and, as she looked at him for the first time, it
seemed to strike her that he was singularly dressed.
"There is M. du Chatelet," exclaimed Lucien at that moment, and he
pointed a finger towards Mme. de Serizy's box, which the renovated
beau had just entered.
Mme. de Bargeton bit her lips with chagrin as she saw that gesture,
and saw besides the Marquise's ill-suppressed smile of contemptuous
astonishment. "Where does the young man come from?" her look said, and
Louise felt humbled through her love, one of the sharpest of all pangs
for a Frenchwoman, a mortification for which she cannot forgive her
In these circles where trifles are of such importance, a gesture or a
word at the outset is enough to ruin a newcomer. It is the principal
merit of fine manners and the highest breeding that they produce the
effect of a harmonious whole, in which every element is so blended
that nothing is startling or obtrusive. Even those who break the laws
of this science, either through ignorance or carried away by some
impulse, must comprehend that it is with social intercourse as with
music, a single discordant note is a complete negation of the art
itself, for the harmony exists only when all its conditions are
observed down to the least particular.
"Who is that gentleman?" asked Mme. d'Espard, looking towards
Chatelet. "And have you made Mme. de Serizy's acquaintance already?"
"Oh! is that the famous Mme. de Serizy who has had so many adventures
and yet goes everywhere?"
"An unheard-of-thing, my dear, explicable but unexplained. The most
formidable men are her friends, and why? Nobody dares to fathom the
mystery. Then is this person the lion of Angouleme?"
"Well, M. le Baron du Chatelet has been a good deal talked about,"
answered Mme. de Bargeton, moved by vanity to give her adorer the
title which she herself had called in question. "He was M. de
Montriveau's traveling companion."
"Ah!" said the Marquise d'Espard, "I never hear that name without
thinking of the Duchesse de Langeais, poor thing. She vanished like a
falling star.--That is M. de Rastignac with Mme. de Nucingen," she
continued, indicating another box; "she is the wife of a contractor, a
banker, a city man, a broker on a large scale; he forced his way into
society with his money, and they say that he is not very scrupulous as
to his methods of making it. He is at endless pains to establish his
credit as a staunch upholder of the Bourbons, and has tried already to
gain admittance into my set. When his wife took Mme. de Langeais' box,
she thought that she could take her charm, her wit, and her success as
well. It is the old fable of the jay in the peacock's feathers!"
"How do M. and Mme. de Rastignac manage to keep their son in Paris,
when, as we know, their income is under a thousand crowns?" asked
Lucien, in his astonishment at Rastignac's elegant and expensive
"It is easy to see that you come from Angouleme," said Mme. d'Espard,
ironically enough, as she continued to gaze through her opera-glass.
Her remark was lost upon Lucien; the all-absorbing spectacle of the
boxes prevented him from thinking of anything else. He guessed that he
himself was an object of no small curiosity. Louise, on the other
hand, was exceedingly mortified by the evident slight esteem in which
the Marquise held Lucien's beauty.
"He cannot be so handsome as I thought him," she said to herself; and
between "not so handsome" and "not so clever as I thought him" there
was but one step.
The curtain fell. Chatelet was now paying a visit to the Duchesse de
Carigliano in an adjourning box; Mme. de Bargeton acknowledged his bow
by a slight inclination of the head. Nothing escapes a woman of the
world; Chatelet's air of distinction was not lost upon Mme. d'Espard.
Just at that moment four personages, four Parisian celebrities, came
into the box, one after another.
The most striking feature of the first comer, M. de Marsay, famous for
the passions which he had inspired, was his girlish beauty; but its
softness and effeminacy were counteracted by the expression of his
eyes, unflinching, steady, untamed, and hard as a tiger's. He was
loved and he was feared. Lucien was no less handsome; but Lucien's
expression was so gentle, his blue eyes so limpid, that he scarcely
seemed to possess the strength and the power which attract women so
strongly. Nothing, moreover, so far had brought out the poet's merits;
while de Marsay, with his flow of spirits, his confidence in his power
to please, and appropriate style of dress, eclipsed every rival by his
presence. Judge, therefore, the kind of figure that Lucien, stiff,
starched, unbending in clothes as new and unfamiliar as his
surroundings, was likely to cut in de Marsay's vicinity. De Marsay
with his wit and charm of manner was privileged to be insolent. From
Mme. d'Espard's reception of this personage his importance was at once
evident to Mme. de Bargeton.
The second comer was a Vandenesse, the cause of the scandal in which
Lady Dudley was concerned. Felix de Vandenesse, amiable, intellectual,
and modest, had none of the characteristics on which de Marsay prided
himself, and owed his success to diametrically opposed qualities. He
had been warmly recommended to Mme. d'Espard by her cousin Mme. de
The third was General de Montriveau, the author of the Duchesse de
The fourth, M. de Canalis, one of the most famous poets of the day,
and as yet a newly risen celebrity, was prouder of his birth than of
his genius, and dangled in Mme. d'Espard's train by way of concealing
his love for the Duchesse de Chaulieu. In spite of his graces and the
affectation that spoiled them, it was easy to discern the vast,
lurking ambitions that plunged him at a later day into the storms of
political life. A face that might be called insignificantly pretty and
caressing manners thinly disguised the man's deeply-rooted egoism and
habit of continually calculating the chances of a career which at that
time looked problematical enough; though his choice of Mme. de
Chaulieu (a woman past forty) made interest for him at Court, and
brought him the applause of the Faubourg Saint-Germain and the gibes
of the Liberal party, who dubbed him "the poet of the sacristy."
Mme. de Bargeton, with these remarkable figures before her, no longer
wondered at the slight esteem in which the Marquise held Lucien's good
looks. And when conversation began, when intellects so keen, so
subtle, were revealed in two-edged words with more meaning and depth
in them than Anais de Bargeton heard in a month of talk at Angouleme;
and, most of all, when Canalis uttered a sonorous phrase, summing up a
materialistic epoch, and gilding it with poetry--then Anais felt all
the truth of Chatelet's dictum of the previous evening. Lucien was
nothing to her now. Every one cruelly ignored the unlucky stranger; he
was so much like a foreigner listening to an unknown language, that
the Marquise d'Espard took pity upon him. She turned to Canalis.
"Permit me to introduce M. de Rubempre," she said. "You rank too high
in the world of letters not to welcome a _debutant_. M. de Rubempre is
from Angouleme, and will need your influence, no doubt, with the
powers that bring genius to light. So far, he has no enemies to help
him to success by their attacks upon him. Is there enough originality
in the idea of obtaining for him by friendship all that hatred has
done for you to tempt you to make the experiment?"
The four newcomers all looked at Lucien while the Marquise was
speaking. De Marsay, only a couple of paces away, put up an eyeglass
and looked from Lucien to Mme. de Bargeton, and then again at Lucien,
coupling them with some mocking thought, cruelly mortifying to both.
He scrutinized them as if they had been a pair of strange animals, and
then he smiled. The smile was like a stab to the distinguished
provincial. Felix de Vandenesse assumed a charitable air. Montriveau
looked Lucien through and through.
"Madame," M. de Canalis answered with a bow, "I will obey you, in
spite of the selfish instinct which prompts us to show a rival no
favor; but you have accustomed us to miracles."
"Very well, do me the pleasure of dining with me on Monday with M. de
Rubempre, and you can talk of matters literary at your ease. I will
try to enlist some of the tyrants of the world of letters and the
great people who protect them, the author of _Ourika_, and one or two
young poets with sound views."
"Mme. la Marquise," said de Marsay, "if you give your support to this
gentleman for his intellect, I will support him for his good looks. I
will give him advice which will put him in a fair way to be the
luckiest dandy in Paris. After that, he may be a poet--if he has a
Mme. de Bargeton thanked her cousin by a grateful glance.
"I did not know that you were jealous of intellect," Montriveau said,
turning to de Marsay; "good fortune is the death of a poet."
"Is that why your lordship is thinking of marriage?" inquired the
dandy, addressing Canalis, and watching Mme. d'Espard to see if the
words went home.
Canalis shrugged his shoulders, and Mme. d'Espard, Mme. de Chaulieu's
niece, began to laugh. Lucien in his new clothes felt as if he were an
Egyptian statue in its narrow sheath; he was ashamed that he had
nothing to say for himself all this while. At length he turned to the
"After all your kindness, madame, I am pledged to make no failures,"
he said in those soft tones of his.
Chatelet came in as he spoke; he had seen Montriveau, and by hook or
crook snatched at the chance of a good introduction to the Marquise
d'Espard through one of the kings of Paris. He bowed to Mme. de
Bargeton, and begged Mme. d'Espard to pardon him for the liberty he
took in invading her box; he had been separated so long from his
traveling companion! Montriveau and Chatelet met for the first time
since they parted in the desert.
"To part in the desert, and meet again in the opera-house!" said
"Quite a theatrical meeting!" said Canalis.
Montriveau introduced the Baron du Chatelet to the Marquise, and the
Marquise received Her Royal Highness' ex-secretary the more graciously
because she had seen that he had been very well received in three
boxes already. Mme. de Serizy knew none but unexceptionable people,
and moreover he was Montriveau's traveling companion. So potent was
this last credential, that Mme. de Bargeton saw from the manner of the
group that they accepted Chatelet as one of themselves without demur.
Chatelet's sultan's airs in Angouleme were suddenly explained.
At length the Baron saw Lucien, and favored him with a cool,
disparaging little nod, indicative to men of the world of the
recipient's inferior station. A sardonic expression accompanied the
greeting, "How does _he_ come here?" he seemed to say. This was not lost
on those who saw it; for de Marsay leaned towards Montriveau, and said
in tones audible to Chatelet:
"Do ask him who the queer-looking young fellow is that looks like a
dummy at a tailor's shop-door."
Chatelet spoke a few words in his traveling companion's ear, and while
apparently renewing his acquaintance, no doubt cut his rival to
If Lucien was surprised at the apt wit and the subtlety with which
these gentlemen formulated their replies, he felt bewildered with
epigram and repartee, and, most of all, by their offhand way of
talking and their ease of manner. The material luxury of Paris had
alarmed him that morning; at night he saw the same lavish expenditure
of intellect. By what mysterious means, he asked himself, did these
people make such piquant reflections on the spur of the moment, those
repartees which he could only have made after much pondering? And not
only were they at ease in their speech, they were at ease in their
dress, nothing looked new, nothing looked old, nothing about them was
conspicuous, everything attracted the eyes. The fine gentleman of
to-day was the same yesterday, and would be the same to-morrow. Lucien
guessed that he himself looked as if he were dressed for the first
time in his life.
"My dear fellow," said de Marsay, addressing Felix de Vandenesse,
"that young Rastignac is soaring away like a paper-kite. Look at him
in the Marquise de Listomere's box; he is making progress, he is
putting up his eyeglass at us! He knows this gentleman, no doubt,"
added the dandy, speaking to Lucien, and looking elsewhere.
"He can scarcely fail to have heard the name of a great man of whom we
are proud," said Mme. de Bargeton. "Quite lately his sister was
present when M. de Rubempre read us some very fine poetry."
Felix de Vandenesse and de Marsay took leave of the Marquise d'Espard,
and went off to Mme. de Listomere, Vandenesse's sister. The second act
began, and the three were left to themselves again. The curious women
learned how Mme. de Bargeton came to be there from some of the party,
while the others announced the arrival of a poet, and made fun of his
costume. Canalis went back to the Duchesse de Chaulieu, and no more
was seen of him.
Lucien was glad when the rising of the curtain produced a diversion.
All Mme. de Bargeton's misgivings with regard to Lucien were increased
by the marked attention which the Marquise d'Espard had shown to
Chatelet; her manner towards the Baron was very different from the
patronizing affability with which she treated Lucien. Mme. de
Listomere's box was full during the second act, and, to all
appearance, the talk turned upon Mme. de Bargeton and Lucien. Young
Rastignac evidently was entertaining the party; he had raised the
laughter that needs fresh fuel every day in Paris, the laughter that
seizes upon a topic and exhausts it, and leaves it stale and
threadbare in a moment. Mme. d'Espard grew uneasy. She knew that an
ill-natured speech is not long in coming to the ears of those whom it
will wound, and waited till the end of the act.
After a revulsion of feeling such as had taken place in Mme. de
Bargeton and Lucien, strange things come to pass in a brief space of
time, and any revolution within us is controlled by laws that work
with great swiftness. Chatelet's sage and politic words as to Lucien,
spoken on the way home from the Vaudeville, were fresh in Louise's
memory. Every phrase was a prophecy, it seemed as if Lucien had set
himself to fulfil the predictions one by one. When Lucien and Mme. de
Bargeton had parted with their illusions concerning each other, the
luckless youth, with a destiny not unlike Rousseau's, went so far in
his predecessor's footsteps that he was captivated by the great lady
and smitten with Mme. d'Espard at first sight. Young men and men who
remember their young emotions can see that this was only what might
have been looked for. Mme. d'Espard with her dainty ways, her delicate
enunciation, and the refined tones of her voice; the fragile woman so
envied, of such high place and high degree, appeared before the poet
as Mme. de Bargeton had appeared to him in Angouleme. His fickle
nature prompted him to desire influence in that lofty sphere at once,
and the surest way to secure such influence was to possess the woman
who exerted it, and then everything would be his. He had succeeded at
Angouleme, why should he not succeed in Paris?
Involuntarily, and despite the novel counter fascination of the stage,
his eyes turned to the Celimene in her splendor; he glanced furtively
at her every moment; the longer he looked, the more he desired to look
at her. Mme. de Bargeton caught the gleam in Lucien's eyes, and saw
that he found the Marquise more interesting than the opera. If Lucien
had forsaken her for the fifty daughters of Danaus, she could have
borne his desertion with equanimity; but another glance--bolder, more
ardent and unmistakable than any before--revealed the state of
Lucien's feelings. She grew jealous, but not so much for the future as
for the past.
"He never gave me such a look," she thought. "Dear me! Chatelet was
Then she saw that she had made a mistake; and when a woman once begins
to repent of her weaknesses, she sponges out the whole past. Every one
of Lucien's glances roused her indignation, but to all outward
appearance she was calm. De Marsay came back in the interval, bringing
M. de Listomere with him; and that serious person and the young
coxcomb soon informed the Marquise that the wedding guest in his
holiday suit, whom she had the bad luck to have in her box, had as
much right to the appellation of Rubempre as a Jew to a baptismal
name. Lucien's father was an apothecary named Chardon. M. de
Rastignac, who knew all about Angouleme, had set several boxes
laughing already at the mummy whom the Marquise styled her cousin, and
at the Marquise's forethought in having an apothecary at hand to
sustain an artificial life with drugs. In short, de Marsay brought a
selection from the thousand-and-one jokes made by Parisians on the
spur of the moment, and no sooner uttered than forgotten. Chatelet was
at the back of it all, and the real author of this Punic faith.
Mme. d'Espard turned to Mme. de Bargeton, put up her fan, and said,
"My dear, tell me if your protege's name is really M. de Rubempre?"
"He has assumed his mother's name," said Anais, uneasily.
"But who was his father?"
"His father's name was Chardon."
"And what was this Chardon?"
"My dear friend, I felt quite sure that all Paris could not be
laughing at any one whom I took up. I do not care to stay here when
wags come in in high glee because there is an apothecary's son in my
box. If you will follow my advice, we will leave it, and at once."
Mme. d'Espard's expression was insolent enough; Lucien was at a loss
to account for her change of countenance. He thought that his
waistcoat was in bad taste, which was true; and that his coat looked
like a caricature of the fashion, which was likewise true. He
discerned, in bitterness of soul, that he must put himself in the
hands of an expert tailor, and vowed that he would go the very next
morning to the most celebrated artist in Paris. On Monday he would
hold his own with the men in the Marquise's house.
Yet, lost in thought though he was, he saw the third act to an end,
and, with his eyes fixed on the gorgeous scene upon the stage, dreamed
out his dream of Mme. d'Espard. He was in despair over her sudden
coldness; it gave a strange check to the ardent reasoning through
which he advanced upon this new love, undismayed by the immense
difficulties in the way, difficulties which he saw and resolved to
conquer. He roused himself from these deep musings to look once more
at his new idol, turned his head, and saw that he was alone; he had
heard a faint rustling sound, the door closed--Madame d'Espard had
taken her cousin with her. Lucien was surprised to the last degree by
the sudden desertion; he did not think long about it, however, simply
because it was inexplicable.
When the carriage was rolling along the Rue de Richelieu on the way to
the Faubourg Saint-Honore, the Marquise spoke to her cousin in a tone
of suppressed irritation.
"My dear child, what are you thinking about? Pray wait till an
apothecary's son has made a name for himself before you trouble
yourself about him. The Duchesse de Chaulieu does not acknowledge
Canalis even now, and he is famous and a man of good family. This
young fellow is neither your son nor your lover, I suppose?" added the
haughty dame, with a keen, inquisitive glance at her cousin.
"How fortunate for me that I kept the little scapegrace at a
distance!" thought Madame de Bargeton.
"Very well," continued the Marquise, taking the expression in her
cousin's eyes for an answer, "drop him, I beg of you. Taking an
illustrious name in that way!--Why, it is a piece of impudence that
will meet with its desserts in society. It is his mother's name, I
dare say; but just remember, dear, that the King alone can confer, by
a special ordinance, the title of de Rubempre on the son of a daughter
of the house. If she made a _mesalliance_, the favor would be enormous,
only to be granted to vast wealth, or conspicuous services, or very
powerful influence. The young man looks like a shopman in his Sunday
suit; evidently he is neither wealthy nor noble; he has a fine head,
but he seems to me to be very silly; he has no idea what to do, and
has nothing to say for himself; in fact, he has no breeding. How came
you to take him up?"
Mme. de Bargeton renounced Lucien as Lucien himself had renounced her;
a ghastly fear lest her cousin should learn the manner of her journey
shot through her mind.
"Dear cousin, I am in despair that I have compromised you."
"People do not compromise me," Mme. d'Espard said, smiling; "I am only
thinking of you."
"But you have asked him to dine with you on Monday."
"I shall be ill," the Marquise said quickly; "you can tell him so, and
I shall leave orders that he is not to be admitted under either name."
During the interval Lucien noticed that every one was walking up and
down the lobby. He would do the same. In the first place, not one of
Mme. d'Espard's visitors recognized him nor paid any attention to him,
their conduct seemed nothing less than extraordinary to the provincial
poet; and, secondly, Chatelet, on whom he tried to hang, watched him
out of the corner of his eye and fought shy of him. Lucien walked to
and fro, watching the eddying crowd of men, till he felt convinced
that his costume was absurd, and he went back to his box, ensconced
himself in a corner, and stayed there till the end. At times he
thought of nothing but the magnificent spectacle of the ballet in the
great Inferno scene in the fifth act; sometimes the sight of the house
absorbed him, sometimes his own thoughts; he had seen society in
Paris, and the sight had stirred him to the depths.
"So this is my kingdom," he said to himself; "this is the world that I
As he walked home through the streets he thought over all that had
been said by Mme. d'Espard's courtiers; memory reproducing with
strange faithfulness their demeanor, their gestures, their manner of
coming and going.
Next day, towards noon, Lucien betook himself to Staub, the great
tailor of that day. Partly by dint of entreaties, and partly by virtue
of cash, Lucien succeeded in obtaining a promise that his clothes
should be ready in time for the great day. Staub went so far as to
give his word that a perfectly elegant coat, a waistcoat, and a pair
of trousers should be forthcoming. Lucien then ordered linen and
pocket-handkerchiefs, a little outfit, in short, of a linen-draper,
and a celebrated bootmaker measured him for shoes and boots. He bought
a neat walking cane at Verdier's; he went to Mme. Irlande for gloves
and shirt studs; in short, he did his best to reach the climax of
dandyism. When he had satisfied all his fancies, he went to the Rue
Neuve-de-Luxembourg, and found that Louise had gone out.
"She was dining with Mme. la Marquise d'Espard," her maid said, "and
would not be back till late."
Lucien dined for two francs at a restaurant in the Palais Royal, and
went to bed early. The next day was Sunday. He went to Louise's
lodging at eleven o'clock. Louise had not yet risen. At two o'clock he
returned once more.
"Madame cannot see anybody yet," reported Albertine, "but she gave me
a line for you."
"Cannot see anybody yet?" repeated Lucien. "But I am not anybody----"
"I do not know," Albertine answered very impertinently; and Lucien,
less surprised by Albertine's answer than by a note from Mme. de
Bargeton, took the billet, and read the following discouraging
"Mme. d'Espard is not well; she will not be able to see you on Monday.
I am not feeling very well myself, but I am about to dress and go to
keep her company. I am in despair over this little disappointment; but
your talents reassure me, you will make your way without
"And no signature!" Lucien said to himself. He found himself in the
Tuileries before he knew whither he was walking.
With the gift of second-sight which accompanies genius, he began to
suspect that the chilly note was but a warning of the catastrophe to
come. Lost in thought, he walked on and on, gazing at the monuments in
the Place Louis Quinze.
It was a sunny day; a stream of fine carriages went past him on the
way to the Champs Elysees. Following the direction of the crowd of
strollers, he saw the three or four thousand carriages that turn the
Champs Elysees into an improvised Longchamp on Sunday afternoons in
summer. The splendid horses, the toilettes, and liveries bewildered
him; he went further and further, until he reached the Arc de
Triomphe, then unfinished. What were his feelings when, as he
returned, he saw Mme. de Bargeton and Mme. d'Espard coming towards him
in a wonderfully appointed caleche, with a chasseur behind it in
waving plumes and that gold-embroidered green uniform which he knew
only too well. There was a block somewhere in the row, and the
carriages waited. Lucien beheld Louise transformed beyond recognition.
All the colors of her toilette had been carefully subordinated to her
complexion; her dress was delicious, her hair gracefully and
becomingly arranged, her hat, in exquisite taste, was remarkable even
beside Mme. d'Espard, that leader of fashion.
There is something in the art of wearing a hat that escapes
definition. Tilted too far to the back of the head, it imparts a bold
expression to the face; bring it too far forward, it gives you a
sinister look; tipped to one side, it has a jaunty air; a well-dressed
woman wears her hat exactly as she means to wear it, and exactly at
the right angle. Mme. de Bargeton had solved this curious problem at
sight. A dainty girdle outlined her slender waist. She had adopted her
cousin's gestures and tricks of manner; and now, as she sat by Mme.
d'Espard's side, she played with a tiny scent bottle that dangled by a
slender gold chain from one of her fingers, displayed a little
well-gloved hand without seeming to do so. She had modeled herself on
Mme. d'Espard without mimicking her; the Marquise had found a cousin
worthy of her, and seemed to be proud of her pupil.
The men and women on the footways all gazed at the splendid carriage,
with the bearings of the d'Espards and Blamont-Chauvrys upon the
panels. Lucien was amazed at the number of greetings received by the
cousins; he did not know that the "all Paris," which consists in some
score of salons, was well aware already of the relationship between
the ladies. A little group of young men on horseback accompanied the
carriage in the Bois; Lucien could recognize de Marsay and Rastignac
among them, and could see from their gestures that the pair of
coxcombs were complimenting Mme. de Bargeton upon her transformation.
Mme. d'Espard was radiant with health and grace. So her indisposition
was simply a pretext for ridding herself of him, for there had been no
mention of another day!
The wrathful poet went towards the caleche; he walked slowly, waited
till he came in full sight of the two ladies, and made them a bow.
Mme. de Bargeton would not see him; but the Marquise put up her
eyeglass, and deliberately cut him. He had been disowned by the
sovereign lords of Angouleme, but to be disowned by society in Paris
was another thing; the booby-squires by doing their utmost to mortify
Lucien admitted his power and acknowledged him as a man; for Mme.
d'Espard he had positively no existence. This was a sentence, it was a
refusal of justice. Poor poet! a deadly cold seized on him when he saw
de Marsay eying him through his glass; and when the Parisian lion let
that optical instrument fall, it dropped in so singular a fashion that
Lucien thought of the knife-blade of the guillotine.
The caleche went by. Rage and a craving for vengeance took possession
of his slighted soul. If Mme. de Bargeton had been in his power, he
could have cut her throat at that moment; he was a Fouquier-Tinville
gloating over the pleasure of sending Mme. d'Espard to the scaffold.
If only he could have put de Marsay to the torture with refinements of
savage cruelty! Canalis went by on horseback, bowing to the prettiest
women, his dress elegant, as became the most dainty of poets.
"Great heavens!" exclaimed Lucien. "Money, money at all costs! money
is the one power before which the world bends the knee." ("No!" cried
conscience, "not money, but glory; and glory means work! Work! that
was what David said.") "Great heavens! what am I doing here? But I
will triumph. I will drive along this avenue in a caleche with a
chasseur behind me! I will possess a Marquise d'Espard." And flinging
out the wrathful words, he went to Hurbain's to dine for two francs.
Next morning, at nine o'clock, he went to the Rue Neuve-de-Luxembourg
to upbraid Louise for her barbarity. But Mme. de Bargeton was not at
home to him, and not only so, but the porter would not allow him to go
up to her rooms; so he stayed outside in the street, watching the
house till noon. At twelve o'clock Chatelet came out, looked at Lucien
out of the corner of his eye, and avoided him.
Stung to the quick, Lucien hurried after his rival; and Chatelet,
finding himself closely pursued, turned and bowed, evidently intending
to shake him off by this courtesy.
"Spare me just a moment for pity's sake, sir," said Lucien; "I want
just a word or two with you. You have shown me friendship, I now ask
the most trifling service of that friendship. You have just come from
Mme. de Bargeton; how have I fallen into disgrace with her and Mme.
"M. Chardon, do you know why the ladies left you at the Opera that
evening?" asked Chatelet, with treacherous good-nature.
"No," said the poor poet.
"Well, it was M. de Rastignac who spoke against you from the
beginning. They asked him about you, and the young dandy simply said
that your name was Chardon, and not de Rubempre; that your mother was
a monthly nurse; that your father, when he was alive, was an
apothecary in L'Houmeau, a suburb of Angouleme; and that your sister,
a charming girl, gets up shirts to admiration, and is just about to be
married to a local printer named Sechard. Such is the world! You no
sooner show yourself than it pulls you to pieces.
"M. de Marsay came to Mme. d'Espard to laugh at you with her; so the
two ladies, thinking that your presence put them in a false position,
went out at once. Do not attempt to go to either house. If Mme. de
Bargeton continued to receive your visits, her cousin would have
nothing to do with her. You have genius; try to avenge yourself. The
world looks down upon you; look down in your turn upon the world. Take
refuge in some garret, write your masterpieces, seize on power of any
kind, and you will see the world at your feet. Then you can give back
the bruises which you have received, and in the very place where they
were given. Mme. de Bargeton will be the more distant now because she
has been friendly. That is the way with women. But the question now
for you is not how to win back Anais' friendship, but how to avoid
making an enemy of her. I will tell you of a way. She has written
letters to you; send all her letters back to her, she will be sensible
that you are acting like a gentleman; and at a later time, if you
should need her, she will not be hostile. For my own part, I have so
high an opinion of your future, that I have taken your part
everywhere; and if I can do anything here for you, you will always
find me ready to be of use."
The elderly beau seemed to have grown young again in the atmosphere of
Paris. He bowed with frigid politeness; but Lucien, woe-begone,
haggard, and undone, forgot to return the salutation. He went back to
his inn, and there found the great Staub himself, come in person, not
so much to try his customer's clothes as to make inquiries of the
landlady with regard to that customer's financial status. The report
had been satisfactory. Lucien had traveled post; Mme. de Bargeton
brought him back from Vaudeville last Thursday in her carriage. Staub
addressed Lucien as "Monsieur le Comte," and called his customer's
attention to the artistic skill with which he had brought a charming
figure into relief.
"A young man in such a costume has only to walk in the Tuileries," he
said, "and he will marry an English heiress within a fortnight."
Lucien brightened a little under the influences of the German tailor's
joke, the perfect fit of his new clothes, the fine cloth, and the
sight of a graceful figure which met his eyes in the looking-glass.
Vaguely he told himself that Paris was the capital of chance, and for
the moment he believed in chance. Had he not a volume of poems and a
magnificent romance entitled _The Archer of Charles IX._ in manuscript?
He had hope for the future. Staub promised the overcoat and the rest
of the clothes the next day.
The next day the bootmaker, linen-draper, and tailor all returned
armed each with his bill, which Lucien, still under the charm of
provincial habits, paid forthwith, not knowing how otherwise to rid
himself of them. After he had paid, there remained but three hundred
and sixty francs out of the two thousand which he had brought with him
from Angouleme, and he had been but one week in Paris! Nevertheless,
he dressed and went to take a stroll in the Terrassee des Feuillants.
He had his day of triumph. He looked so handsome and so graceful, he
was so well dressed, that women looked at him; two or three were so
much struck with his beauty, that they turned their heads to look
again. Lucien studied the gait and carriage of the young men on the
Terrasse, and took a lesson in fine manners while he meditated on his
three hundred and sixty francs.
That evening, alone in his chamber, an idea occurred to him which
threw a light on the problem of his existence at the Gaillard-Bois,
where he lived on the plainest fare, thinking to economize in this
way. He asked for his account, as if he meant to leave, and discovered
that he was indebted to his landlord to the extent of a hundred
francs. The next morning was spent in running around the Latin
Quarter, recommended for its cheapness by David. For a long while he
looked about till, finally, in the Rue de Cluny, close to the
Sorbonne, he discovered a place where he could have a furnished room
for such a price as he could afford to pay. He settled with his
hostess of the Gaillard-Bois, and took up his quarters in the Rue de
Cluny that same day. His removal only cost him the cab fare.
When he had taken possession of his poor room, he made a packet of
Mme. de Bargeton's letters, laid them on the table, and sat down to
write to her; but before he wrote he fell to thinking over that fatal
week. He did not tell himself that he had been the first to be
faithless; that for a sudden fancy he had been ready to leave his
Louise without knowing what would become of her in Paris. He saw none
of his own shortcomings, but he saw his present position, and blamed
Mme. de Bargeton for it. She was to have lighted his way; instead she
had ruined him. He grew indignant, he grew proud, he worked himself
into a paroxysm of rage, and set himself to compose the following
"What would you think, madame, of a woman who should take a fancy
to some poor and timid child full of the noble superstitions which
the grown man calls 'illusions;' and using all the charms of
woman's coquetry, all her most delicate ingenuity, should feign a
mother's love to lead that child astray? Her fondest promises, the
card-castles which raised his wonder, cost her nothing; she leads
him on, tightens her hold upon him, sometimes coaxing, sometimes
scolding him for his want of confidence, till the child leaves his
home and follows her blindly to the shores of a vast sea. Smiling,
she lures him into a frail skiff, and sends him forth alone and
helpless to face the storm. Standing safe on the rock, she laughs
and wishes him luck. You are that woman; I am that child.
"The child has a keepsake in his hands, something which might
betray the wrongs done by your beneficence, your kindness in
deserting him. You might have to blush if you saw him struggling
for life, and chanced to recollect that once you clasped him to
your breast. When you read these words the keepsake will be in
your own safe keeping; you are free to forget everything.
"Once you pointed out fair hopes to me in the skies, I awake to
find reality in the squalid poverty of Paris. While you pass, and
others bow before you, on your brilliant path in the great world,
I, I whom you deserted on the threshold, shall be shivering in the
wretched garret to which you consigned me. Yet some pang may
perhaps trouble your mind amid festivals and pleasures; you may
think sometimes of the child whom you thrust into the depths. If
so, madame, think of him without remorse. Out of the depths of his
misery the child offers you the one thing left to him--his
forgiveness in a last look. Yes, madame, thanks to you, I have
nothing left. Nothing! was not the world created from nothing?
Genius should follow the Divine example; I begin with God-like
forgiveness, but as yet I know not whether I possess the God-like
power. You need only tremble lest I should go astray; for you
would be answerable for my sins. Alas! I pity you, for you will
have no part in the future towards which I go, with work as my
After penning this rhetorical effusion, full of the sombre dignity
which an artist of one-and-twenty is rather apt to overdo, Lucien's
thoughts went back to them at home. He saw the pretty rooms which
David had furnished for him, at the cost of part of his little store,
and a vision rose before him of quiet, simple pleasures in the past.
Shadowy figures came about him; he saw his mother and Eve and David,
and heard their sobs over his leave-taking, and at that he began to
cry himself, for he felt very lonely in Paris, and friendless and
Two or three days later he wrote to his sister:--
"MY DEAR EVE,--When a sister shares the life of a brother who
devotes himself to art, it is her sad privilege to take more
sorrow than joy into her life; and I am beginning to fear that I
shall be a great trouble to you. Have I not abused your goodness
already? have not all of you sacrificed yourselves to me? It is
the memory of the past, so full of family happiness, that helps me
to bear up in my present loneliness. Now that I have tasted the
first beginnings of poverty and the treachery of the world of
Paris, how my thoughts have flown to you, swift as an eagle back
to its eyrie, so that I might be with true affection again. Did
you see sparks in the candle? Did a coal pop out of the fire? Did
you hear singing in your ears? And did mother say, 'Lucien is
thinking of us,' and David answer, 'He is fighting his way in the
"My Eve, I am writing this letter for your eyes only. I cannot
tell any one else all that has happened to me, good and bad,
blushing for both, as I write, for good here is as rare as evil
ought to be. You shall have a great piece of news in a very few
words. Mme. de Bargeton was ashamed of me, disowned me, would not
see me, and gave me up nine days after we came to Paris. She saw
me in the street and looked another way; when, simply to follow
her into the society to which she meant to introduce me, I had
spent seventeen hundred and sixty francs out of the two thousand I
brought from Angouleme, the money so hardly scraped together. 'How
did you spend it?' you will ask. Paris is a strange bottomless
gulf, my poor sister; you can dine here for less than a franc, yet
the simplest dinner at a fashionable restaurant costs fifty
francs; there are waistcoats and trousers to be had for four
francs and two francs each; but a fashionable tailor never charges
less than a hundred francs. You pay for everything; you pay a
halfpenny to cross the kennel in the street when it rains; you
cannot go the least little way in a cab for less than thirty-two
"I have been staying in one of the best parts of Paris, but now I
am living at the Hotel de Cluny, in the Rue de Cluny, one of the
poorest and darkest slums, shut in between three churches and the
old buildings of the Sorbonne. I have a furnished room on the
fourth floor; it is very bare and very dirty, but, all the same, I
pay fifteen francs a month for it. For breakfast I spend a penny
on a roll and a halfpenny for milk, but I dine very decently for
twenty-two sous at a restaurant kept by a man named Flicoteaux in
the Place de la Sorbonne itself. My expenses every month will not
exceed sixty francs, everything included, until the winter begins
--at least I hope not. So my two hundred and forty francs ought to
last me for the first four months. Between now and then I shall
have sold _The Archer of Charles IX._ and the _Marguerites_ no doubt.
Do not be in the least uneasy on my account. If the present is
cold and bare and poverty-stricken, the blue distant future is
rich and splendid; most great men have known the vicissitudes
which depress but cannot overwhelm me.
"Plautus, the great comic Latin poet, was once a miller's lad.
Machiavelli wrote _The Prince_ at night, and by day was a common
working-man like any one else; and more than all, the great
Cervantes, who lost an arm at the battle of Lepanto, and helped to
win that famous day, was called a 'base-born, handless dotard' by
the scribblers of his day; there was an interval of ten years
between the appearance of the first part and the second of his
sublime _Don Quixote_ for lack of a publisher. Things are not so bad
as that nowadays. Mortifications and want only fall to the lot of
unknown writers; as soon as a man's name is known, he grows rich,
and I will be rich. And besides, I live within myself, I spend
half the day at the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve, learning all
that I want to learn; I should not go far unless I knew more than
I do. So at this moment I am almost happy. In a few days I have
fallen in with my life very gladly. I begin the work that I love
with daylight, my subsistence is secure, I think a great deal, and
I study. I do not see that I am open to attack at any point, now
that I have renounced a world where my vanity might suffer at any
moment. The great men of every age are obliged to lead lives
apart. What are they but birds in the forest? They sing, nature
falls under the spell of their song, and no one should see them.
That shall be my lot, always supposing that I can carry out my
"Mme. de Bargeton I do not regret. A woman who could behave as she
behaved does not deserve a thought. Nor am I sorry that I left
Angouleme. She did wisely when she flung me into the sea of Paris
to sink or swim. This is the place for men of letters and thinkers
and poets; here you cultivate glory, and I know how fair the
harvest is that we reap in these days. Nowhere else can a writer
find the living works of the great dead, the works of art which
quicken the imagination in the galleries and museums here; nowhere
else will you find great reference libraries always open in which
the intellect may find pasture. And lastly, here in Paris there is
a spirit which you breathe in the air; it infuses the least
details, every literary creation bears traces of its influence.
You learn more by talk in a cafe, or at a theatre, in one half
hour, than you would learn in ten years in the provinces. Here, in
truth, wherever you go, there is always something to see,
something to learn, some comparison to make. Extreme cheapness and
excessive dearness--there is Paris for you; there is honeycomb
here for every bee, every nature finds its own nourishment. So,
though life is hard for me just now, I repent of nothing. On the
contrary, a fair future spreads out before me, and my heart
rejoices though it is saddened for the moment. Good-bye my dear
sister. Do not expect letters from me regularly; it is one of the
peculiarities of Paris that one really does not know how the time
goes. Life is so alarmingly rapid. I kiss the mother and you and
David more tenderly than ever.
The name of Flicoteaux is engraved on many memories. Few indeed were
the students who lived in the Latin Quarter during the last twelve
years of the Restoration and did not frequent that temple sacred to
hunger and impecuniosity. There a dinner of three courses, with a
quarter bottle of wine or a bottle of beer, could be had for eighteen
sous; or for twenty-two sous the quarter bottle becomes a bottle.
Flicoteaux, that friend of youth, would beyond a doubt have amassed a
colossal fortune but for a line on his bill of fare, a line which
rival establishments are wont to print in capital letters, thus--BREAD
AT DISCRETION, which, being interpreted, should read "indiscretion."
Flicoteaux has been nursing-father to many an illustrious name.
Verily, the heart of more than one great man ought to wax warm with
innumerable recollections of inexpressible enjoyment at the sight of
the small, square window panes that look upon the Place de la
Sorbonne, and the Rue Neuve-de-Richelieu. Flicoteaux II. and
Flicoteaux III. respected the old exterior, maintaining the dingy hue
and general air of a respectable, old-established house, showing
thereby the depth of their contempt for the charlatanism of the
shop-front, the kind of advertisement which feasts the eyes at the
expense of the stomach, to which your modern restaurant almost always
has recourse. Here you beheld no piles of straw-stuffed game never
destined to make the acquaintance of the spit, no fantastical fish to
justify the mountebank's remark, "I saw a fine carp to-day; I expect
to buy it this day week." Instead of the prime vegetables more
fittingly described by the word primeval, artfully displayed in the
window for the delectation of the military man and his fellow
country-woman the nursemaid, honest Flicoteaux exhibited full
salad-bowls adorned with many a rivet, or pyramids of stewed prunes to
rejoice the sight of the customer, and assure him that the word
"dessert," with which other handbills made too free, was in this case
no charter to hoodwink the public. Loaves of six pounds' weight, cut
in four quarters, made good the promise of "bread at discretion." Such
was the plenty of the establishment, that Moliere would have celebrated
it if it had been in existence in his day, so comically appropriate is
Flicoteaux still subsists; so long as students are minded to live,
Flicoteaux will make a living. You feed there, neither more nor less;
and you feed as you work, with morose or cheerful industry, according
to the circumstances and the temperament.
At that time his well-known establishment consisted of two
dining-halls, at right angles to each other; long, narrow, low-ceiled
rooms, looking respectively on the Rue Neuve-de-Richelieu and the Place
de la Sorbonne. The furniture must have come originally from the
refectory of some abbey, for there was a monastic look about the
lengthy tables, where the serviettes of regular customers, each thrust
through a numbered ring of crystallized tin plate, were laid by their
places. Flicoteaux I. only changed the serviettes of a Sunday; but
Flicoteaux II. changed them twice a week, it is said, under pressure of
competition which threatened his dynasty.
Flicoteaux's restaurant is no banqueting-hall, with its refinements
and luxuries; it is a workshop where suitable tools are provided, and
everybody gets up and goes as soon as he has finished. The coming and
going within are swift. There is no dawdling among the waiters; they
are all busy; every one of them is wanted.
The fare is not very varied. The potato is a permanent institution;
there might not be a single tuber left in Ireland, and prevailing
dearth elsewhere, but you would still find potatoes at Flicoteaux's.
Not once in thirty years shall you miss its pale gold (the color
beloved of Titian), sprinkled with chopped verdure; the potato enjoys
a privilege that women might envy; such as you see it in 1814, so
shall you find it in 1840. Mutton cutlets and fillet of beef at
Flicoteaux's represent black game and fillet of sturgeon at Very's;
they are not on the regular bill of fare, that is, and must be ordered
beforehand. Beef of the feminine gender there prevails; the young of
the bovine species appears in all kinds of ingenious disguises. When
the whiting and mackerel abound on our shores, they are likewise seen
in large numbers at Flicoteaux's; his whole establishment, indeed, is
directly affected by the caprices of the season and the vicissitudes
of French agriculture. By eating your dinners at Flicoteaux's you
learn a host of things of which the wealthy, the idle, and folk
indifferent to the phases of Nature have no suspicion, and the student
penned up in the Latin Quarter is kept accurately informed of the
state of the weather and good or bad seasons. He knows when it is a
good year for peas or French beans, and the kind of salad stuff that
is plentiful; when the Great Market is glutted with cabbages, he is at
once aware of the fact, and the failure of the beetroot crop is
brought home to his mind. A slander, old in circulation in Lucien's
time, connected the appearance of beef-steaks with a mortality among
Few Parisian restaurants are so well worth seeing. Every one at
Flicoteaux's is young; you see nothing but youth; and although earnest
faces and grave, gloomy, anxious faces are not lacking, you see hope
and confidence and poverty gaily endured. Dress, as a rule, is
careless, and regular comers in decent clothes are marked exceptions.
Everybody knows at once that something extraordinary is afoot: a
mistress to visit, a theatre party, or some excursion into higher
spheres. Here, it is said, friendships have been made among students
who became famous men in after days, as will be seen in the course of
this narrative; but with the exception of a few knots of young fellows
from the same part of France who make a group about the end of a
table, the gravity of the diners is hardly relaxed. Perhaps this
gravity is due to the catholicity of the wine, which checks good
fellowship of any kind.
Flicoteaux's frequenters may recollect certain sombre and mysterious
figures enveloped in the gloom of the chilliest penury; these beings
would dine there daily for a couple of years and then vanish, and the
most inquisitive regular comer could throw no light on the
disappearance of such goblins of Paris. Friendships struck up over
Flicoteaux's dinners were sealed in neighboring cafes in the flames of
heady punch, or by the generous warmth of a small cup of black coffee
glorified by a dash of something hotter and stronger.
Lucien, like all neophytes, was modest and regular in his habits in
those early days at the Hotel de Cluny. After the first unlucky
venture in fashionable life which absorbed his capital, he threw
himself into his work with the first earnest enthusiasm, which is
frittered away so soon over the difficulties or in the by-paths of
every life in Paris. The most luxurious and the very poorest lives are
equally beset with temptations which nothing but the fierce energy of
genius or the morose persistence of ambition can overcome.
Lucien used to drop in at Flicoteaux's about half-past four, having
remarked the advantages of an early arrival; the bill-of-fare was more
varied, and there was still some chance of obtaining the dish of your
choice. Like all imaginative persons, he had taken a fancy to a
particular seat, and showed discrimination in his selection. On the
very first day he had noticed a table near the counter, and from the
faces of those who sat about it, and chance snatches of their talk, he
recognized brothers of the craft. A sort of instinct, moreover,
pointed out the table near the counter as a spot whence he could
parlay with the owners of the restaurant. In time an acquaintance
would grow up, he thought, and then in the day of distress he could no
doubt obtain the necessary credit. So he took his place at a small
square table close to the desk, intended probably for casual comers,
for the two clean serviettes were unadorned with rings. Lucien's
opposite neighbor was a thin, pallid youth, to all appearance as poor
as himself; his handsome face was somewhat worn, already it told of
hopes that had vanished, leaving lines upon his forehead and barren
furrows in his soul, where seeds had been sown that had come to
nothing. Lucien felt drawn to the stranger by these tokens; his
sympathies went out to him with irresistible fervor.
After a week's exchange of small courtesies and remarks, the poet from
Angouleme found the first person with whom he could chat. The
stranger's name was Etienne Lousteau. Two years ago he had left his
native place, a town in Berri, just as Lucien had come from Angouleme.
His lively gestures, bright eyes, and occasionally curt speech
revealed a bitter apprenticeship to literature. Etienne had come from
Sancerre with his tragedy in his pocket, drawn to Paris by the same
motives that impelled Lucien--hope of fame and power and money.
Sometimes Etienne Lousteau came for several days together; but in a
little while his visits became few and far between, and he would stay
away for five or six days in succession. Then he would come back, and
Lucien would hope to see his poet next day, only to find a stranger in
his place. When two young men meet daily, their talk harks back to
their last conversation; but these continual interruptions obliged
Lucien to break the ice afresh each time, and further checked an
intimacy which made little progress during the first few weeks. On
inquiry of the damsel at the counter, Lucien was told that his future
friend was on the staff of a small newspaper, and wrote reviews of
books and dramatic criticism of pieces played at the Ambigu-Comique,
the Gaite, and the Panorama-Dramatique. The young man became a
personage all at once in Lucien's eyes. Now, he thought, he would lead
the conversation on rather more personal topics, and make some effort
to gain a friend so likely to be useful to a beginner. The journalist
stayed away for a fortnight. Lucien did not know that Etienne only
dined at Flicoteaux's when he was hard up, and hence his gloomy air of
disenchantment and the chilly manner, which Lucien met with gracious
smiles and amiable remarks. But, after all, the project of a
friendship called for mature deliberation. This obscure journalist
appeared to lead an expensive life in which _petits verres_, cups of
coffee, punch-bowls, sight-seeing, and suppers played a part. In the
early days of Lucien's life in the Latin Quarter, he behaved like a
poor child bewildered by his first experience of Paris life; so that
when he had made a study of prices and weighed his purse, he lacked
courage to make advances to Etienne; he was afraid of beginning a
fresh series of blunders of which he was still repenting. And he was
still under the yoke of provincial creeds; his two guardian angels,
Eve and David, rose up before him at the least approach of an evil
thought, putting him in mind of all the hopes that were centered on
him, of the happiness that he owed to the old mother, of all the
promises of his genius.
He spent his mornings in studying history at the Bibliotheque
Sainte-Genevieve. His very first researches made him aware of frightful
errors in the memoirs of _The Archer of Charles IX._ When the library
closed, he went back to his damp, chilly room to correct his work,
cutting out whole chapters and piecing it together anew. And after
dining at Flicoteaux's, he went down to the Passage du Commerce to see
the newspapers at Blosse's reading-room, as well as new books and
magazines and poetry, so as to keep himself informed of the movements
of the day. And when, towards midnight, he returned to his wretched
lodgings, he had used neither fuel nor candle-light. His reading in
those days made such an enormous change in his ideas, that he revised
the volume of flower-sonnets, his beloved _Marguerites_, working them
over to such purpose, that scarce a hundred lines of the original
verses were allowed to stand.
So in the beginning Lucien led the honest, innocent life of the
country lad who never leaves the Latin Quarter; devoting himself
wholly to his work, with thoughts of the future always before him; who
finds Flicoteaux's ordinary luxurious after the simple home-fare; and
strolls for recreation along the alleys of the Luxembourg, the blood
surging back to his heart as he gives timid side glances to the pretty
women. But this could not last. Lucien, with his poetic temperament
and boundless longings, could not withstand the temptations held out
by the play-bills.
The Theatre-Francais, the Vaudeville, the Varietes, the Opera-Comique
relieved him of some sixty francs, although he always went to the pit.
What student could deny himself the pleasure of seeing Talma in one of
his famous roles? Lucien was fascinated by the theatre, that first
love of all poetic temperaments; the actors and actresses were
awe-inspiring creatures; he did not so much as dream of the possibility
of crossing the footlights and meeting them on familiar terms. The men
and women who gave him so much pleasure were surely marvelous beings,
whom the newspapers treated with as much gravity as matters of
national interest. To be a dramatic author, to have a play produced on
the stage! What a dream was this to cherish! A dream which a few bold
spirits like Casimir Delavigne had actually realized. Thick swarming
thoughts like these, and moments of belief in himself, followed by
despair gave Lucien no rest, and kept him in the narrow way of toil
and frugality, in spite of the smothered grumblings of more than one
Carrying prudence to an extreme, he made it a rule never to enter the
precincts of the Palais Royal, that place of perdition where he had
spent fifty francs at Very's in a single day, and nearly five hundred
francs on his clothes; and when he yielded to temptation, and saw
Fleury, Talma, the two Baptistes, or Michot, he went no further than
the murky passage where theatre-goers used to stand in a string from
half-past five in the afternoon till the hour when the doors opened,
and belated comers were compelled to pay ten sous for a place near the
ticket-office. And after waiting for two hours, the cry of "All
tickets are sold!" rang not unfrequently in the ears of disappointed
students. When the play was over, Lucien went home with downcast eyes,
through streets lined with living attractions, and perhaps fell in
with one of those commonplace adventures which loom so large in a
young and timorous imagination.
One day Lucien counted over his remaining stock of money, and took
alarm at the melting of his funds; a cold perspiration broke out upon
him when he thought that the time had come when he must find a
publisher, and try also to find work for which a publisher would pay
him. The young journalist, with whom he had made a one-sided
friendship, never came now to Flicoteaux's. Lucien was waiting for a
chance--which failed to present itself. In Paris there are no chances
except for men with a very wide circle of acquaintance; chances of
success of every kind increase with the number of your connections;
and, therefore, in this sense also the chances are in favor of the big
battalions. Lucien had sufficient provincial foresight still left, and
had no mind to wait until only a last few coins remained to him. He
resolved to face the publishers.
So one tolerably chilly September morning Lucien went down the Rue de
la Harpe, with his two manuscripts under his arm. As he made his way
to the Quai des Augustins, and went along, looking into the
booksellers' windows on one side and into the Seine on the other, his
good genius might have counseled him to pitch himself into the water
sooner than plunge into literature. After heart-searching hesitations,
after a profound scrutiny of the various countenances, more or less
encouraging, soft-hearted, churlish, cheerful, or melancholy, to be
seen through the window panes, or in the doorways of the booksellers'
establishments, he espied a house where the shopmen were busy packing
books at a great rate. Goods were being despatched. The walls were
plastered with bills:
LE SOLITAIRE, by M. le Vicomte d'Arlincourt.
LEONIDE, by Victor Ducange; five volumes
12mo, printed on fine paper. 12 francs.
INDUCTIONS MORALES, by Keratry.
"They are lucky, that they are!" exclaimed Lucien.
The placard, a new and original idea of the celebrated Ladvocat, was
just beginning to blossom out upon the walls. In no long space Paris
was to wear motley, thanks to the exertions of his imitators, and the
Treasury was to discover a new source of revenue.
Anxiety sent the blood surging to Lucien's heart, as he who had been
so great at Angouleme, so insignificant of late in Paris, slipped past
the other houses, summoned up all his courage, and at last entered the
shop thronged with assistants, customers, and booksellers--"And
authors too, perhaps!" thought Lucien.
"I want to speak with M. Vidal or M. Porchon," he said, addressing a
shopman. He had read the names on the sign-board--VIDAL & PORCHON (it
ran), _French and foreign booksellers' agents_.
"Both gentlemen are engaged," said the man.
"I will wait."
Left to himself, the poet scrutinized the packages, and amused himself
for a couple of hours by scanning the titles of books, looking into
them, and reading a page or two here and there. At last, as he stood
leaning against a window, he heard voices, and suspecting that the
green curtains hid either Vidal or Porchon, he listened to the
"Will you take five hundred copies of me? If you will, I will let you
have them at five francs, and give fourteen to the dozen."
"What does that bring them in at?"
"Sixteen sous less."
"Four francs four sous?" said Vidal or Porchon, whichever it was.
"Yes," said the vendor.
"Credit your account?" inquired the purchaser.
"Old humbug! you would settle with me in eighteen months' time, with
bills at a twelvemonth."
"No. Settled at once," returned Vidal or Porchon.
"Bills at nine months?" asked the publisher or author, who evidently
was selling his book.
"No, my dear fellow, twelve months," returned one of the firm of
There was a pause.
"You are simply cutting my throat!" said the visitor.
"But in a year's time shall we have placed a hundred copies of
_Leonide_?" said the other voice. "If books went off as fast as the
publishers would like, we should be millionaires, my good sir; but
they don't, they go as the public pleases. There is some one now
bringing out an edition of Scott's novels at eighteen sous per volume,
three livres twelve sous per copy, and you want me to give you more
for your stale remainders? No. If you mean me to push this novel of
yours, you must make it worth my while.--Vidal!"
A stout man, with a pen behind his ear, came down from his desk.
"How many copies of Ducange did you place last journey?" asked Porchon
of his partner.
"Two hundred of _Le Petit Vieillard de Calais_, but to sell them I was
obliged to cry down two books which pay in less commission, and
uncommonly fine 'nightingales' they are now.
(A "nightingale," as Lucien afterwards learned, is a bookseller's name
for books that linger on hand, perched out of sight in the loneliest
nooks in the shop.)
"And besides," added Vidal, "Picard is bringing out some novels, as
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