A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 7
you know. We have been promised twenty per cent on the published price
to make the thing a success."
"Very well, at twelve months," the publisher answered in a piteous
voice, thunderstruck by Vidal's confidential remark.
"Is it an offer?" Porchon inquired curtly.
"Yes." The stranger went out. After he had gone, Lucien heard Porchon
say to Vidal:
"We have three hundred copies on order now. We will keep him waiting
for his settlement, sell the _Leonides_ for five francs net, settlement
in six months, and----"
"And that will be fifteen hundred francs into our pockets," said
"Oh, I saw quite well that he was in a fix. He is giving Ducange four
thousand francs for two thousand copies."
Lucien cut Vidal short by appearing in the entrance of the den.
"I have the honor of wishing you a good day, gentlemen," he said,
addressing both partners. The booksellers nodded slightly.
"I have a French historical romance after the style of Scott. It is
called _The Archer of Charles IX._; I propose to offer it to you----"
Porchon glanced at Lucien with lustreless eyes, and laid his pen down
on the desk. Vidal stared rudely at the author.
"We are not publishing booksellers, sir; we are booksellers' agents,"
he said. "When we bring out a book ourselves, we only deal in
well-known names; and we only take serious literature besides--history
"But my book is very serious. It is an attempt to set the struggle
between Catholics and Calvinists in its true light; the Catholics were
supporters of absolute monarchy, and the Protestants for a republic."
"M. Vidal!" shouted an assistant. Vidal fled.
"I don't say, sir, that your book is not a masterpiece," replied
Porchon, with scanty civility, "but we only deal in books that are
ready printed. Go and see somebody that buys manuscripts. There is old
Doguereau in the Rue du Coq, near the Louvre, he is in the romance
line. If you had only spoken sooner, you might have seen Pollet, a
competitor of Doguereau and of the publisher in the Wooden Galleries."
"I have a volume of poetry----"
"M. Porchon!" somebody shouted.
"_Poetry_!" Porchon exclaimed angrily. "For what do you take me?" he
added, laughing in Lucien's face. And he dived into the regions of the
Lucien went back across the Pont Neuf absorbed in reflection. From all
that he understood of this mercantile dialect, it appeared that books,
like cotton nightcaps, were to be regarded as articles of merchandise
to be sold dear and bought cheap.
"I have made a mistake," said Lucien to himself; but, all the same,
this rough-and-ready practical aspect of literature made an impression
In the Rue du Coq he stopped in front of a modest-looking shop, which
he had passed before. He saw the inscription DOGUEREAU, BOOKSELLER,
painted above it in yellow letters on a green ground, and remembered
that he had seen the name at the foot of the title-page of several
novels at Blosse's reading-room. In he went, not without the inward
trepidation which a man of any imagination feels at the prospect of a
battle. Inside the shop he discovered an odd-looking old man, one of
the queer characters of the trade in the days of the Empire.
Doguereau wore a black coat with vast square skirts, when fashion
required swallow-tail coats. His waistcoat was of some cheap material,
a checked pattern of many colors; a steel chain, with a copper key
attached to it, hung from his fob and dangled down over a roomy pair
of black nether garments. The booksellers' watch must have been the
size of an onion. Iron-gray ribbed stockings, and shoes with silver
buckles completed is costume. The old man's head was bare, and
ornamented with a fringe of grizzled locks, quite poetically scanty.
"Old Doguereau," as Porchon styled him, was dressed half like a
professor of belles-lettres as to his trousers and shoes, half like a
tradesman with respect to the variegated waistcoat, the stockings, and
the watch; and the same odd mixture appeared in the man himself. He
united the magisterial, dogmatic air, and the hollow countenance of
the professor of rhetoric with the sharp eyes, suspicious mouth, and
vague uneasiness of the bookseller.
"M. Doguereau?" asked Lucien.
"That is my name, sir."
"You are very young," remarked the bookseller.
"My age, sir, has nothing to do with the matter."
"True," and the old bookseller took up the manuscript. "Ah, begad! _The
Archer of Charles IX._, a good title. Let us see now, young man, just
tell me your subject in a word or two."
"It is a historical work, sir, in the style of Scott. The character of
the struggle between the Protestants and Catholics is depicted as a
struggle between two opposed systems of government, in which the
throne is seriously endangered. I have taken the Catholic side."
"Eh! but you have ideas, young man. Very well, I will read your book,
I promise you. I would rather have had something more in Mrs.
Radcliffe's style; but if you are industrious, if you have some notion
of style, conceptions, ideas, and the art of telling a story, I don't
ask better than to be of use to you. What do we want but good
"When can I come back?"
"I am going into the country this evening; I shall be back again the
day after to-morrow. I shall have read your manuscript by that time;
and if it suits me, we might come to terms that very day."
Seeing his acquaintance so easy, Lucien was inspired with the unlucky
idea of bringing the _Marguerites_ upon the scene.
"I have a volume of poetry as well, sir----" he began.
"Oh! you are a poet! Then I don't want your romance," and the old man
handed back the manuscript. "The rhyming fellows come to grief when
they try their hands at prose. In prose you can't use words that mean
nothing; you absolutely must say something."
"But Sir Walter Scott, sir, wrote poetry as well as----"
"That is true," said Doguereau, relenting. He guessed that the young
fellow before him was poor, and kept the manuscript. "Where do you
live? I will come and see you."
Lucien, all unsuspicious of the idea at the back of the old man's
head, gave his address; he did not see that he had to do with a
bookseller of the old school, a survival of the eighteenth century,
when booksellers tried to keep Voltaires and Montesquieus starving in
garrets under lock and key.
"The Latin Quarter. I am coming back that very way," said Doguereau,
when he had read the address.
"Good man!" thought Lucien, as he took his leave. "So I have met with
a friend to young authors, a man of taste who knows something. That is
the kind of man for me! It is just as I said to David--talent soon
makes its way in Paris."
Lucien went home again happy and light of heart; he dreamed of glory.
He gave not another thought to the ominous words which fell on his ear
as he stood by the counter in Vidal and Porchon's shop; he beheld
himself the richer by twelve hundred francs at least. Twelve hundred
francs! It meant a year in Paris, a whole year of preparation for the
work that he meant to do. What plans he built on that hope! What sweet
dreams, what visions of a life established on a basis of work!
Mentally he found new quarters, and settled himself in them; it would
not have taken much to set him making a purchase or two. He could only
stave off impatience by constant reading at Blosse's.
Two days later old Doguereau come to the lodgings of his budding Sir
Walter Scott. He was struck with the pains which Lucien had taken with
the style of this his first work, delighted with the strong contrasts
of character sanctioned by the epoch, and surprised at the spirited
imagination which a young writer always displays in the scheming of a
first plot--he had not been spoiled, thought old Daddy Doguereau. He
had made up his mind to give a thousand francs for _The Archer of
Charles IX._; he would buy the copyright out and out, and bind Lucien
by an engagement for several books, but when he came to look at the
house, the old fox thought better of it.
"A young fellow that lives here has none but simple tastes," said he
to himself; "he is fond of study, fond of work; I need not give more
than eight hundred francs."
"Fourth floor," answered the landlady, when he asked for M. Lucien de
Rubempre. The old bookseller, peering up, saw nothing but the sky
above the fourth floor.
"This young fellow," thought he, "is a good-looking lad; one might go
so far as to say that he is very handsome. If he were to make too much
money, he would only fall into dissipated ways, and then he would not
work. In the interests of us both, I shall only offer six hundred
francs, in coin though, not paper."
He climbed the stairs and gave three raps at the door. Lucien came to
open it. The room was forlorn in its bareness. A bowl of milk and a
penny roll stood on the table. The destitution of genius made an
impression on Daddy Doguereau.
"Let him preserve these simple habits of life, this frugality, these
modest requirements," thought he.--Aloud he said: "It is a pleasure to
me to see you. Thus, sir, lived Jean-Jacques, whom you resemble in
more ways than one. Amid such surroundings the fire of genius shines
brightly; good work is done in such rooms as these. This is how men of
letters should work, instead of living riotously in cafes and
restaurants, wasting their time and talent and our money."
He sat down.
"Your romance is not bad, young man. I was a professor of rhetoric
once; I know French history, there are some capital things in it. You
have a future before you, in fact."
"No; I tell you so. We may do business together. I will buy your
Lucien's heart swelled and throbbed with gladness. He was about to
enter the world of literature; he should see himself in print at last.
"I will give you four hundred francs," continued Doguereau in honeyed
accents, and he looked at Lucien with an air which seemed to betoken
an effort of generosity.
"The volume?" queried Lucien.
"For the romance," said Doguereau, heedless of Lucien's surprise. "In
ready money," he added; "and you shall undertake to write two books
for me every year for six years. If the first book is out of print in
six months, I will give you six hundred francs for the others. So, if
you write two books each year, you will be making a hundred francs a
month; you will have a sure income, you will be well off. There are
some authors whom I only pay three hundred francs for a romance; I
give two hundred for translations of English books. Such prices would
have been exorbitant in the old days."
"Sir, we cannot possibly come to an understanding. Give me back my
manuscript, I beg," said Lucien, in a cold chill.
"Here it is," said the old bookseller. "You know nothing of business,
sir. Before an author's first book can appear, a publisher is bound to
sink sixteen hundred francs on the paper and the printing of it. It is
easier to write a romance than to find all that money. I have a
hundred romances in manuscript, and I have not a hundred and sixty
thousand francs in my cash box, alas! I have not made so much in all
these twenty years that I have been a bookseller. So you don't make a
fortune by printing romances, you see. Vidal and Porchon only take
them of us on conditions that grow harder and harder day by day. You
have only your time to lose, while I am obliged to disburse two
thousand francs. If we fail, _habent sua fata libelli_, I lose two
thousand francs; while, as for you, you simply hurl an ode at the
thick-headed public. When you have thought over this that I have the
honor of telling you, you will come back to me.--_You will come back to
me_!" he asserted authoritatively, by way of reply to a scornful
gesture made involuntarily by Lucien. "So far from finding a publisher
obliging enough to risk two thousand francs for an unknown writer, you
will not find a publisher's clerk that will trouble himself to look
through your screed. Now that I have read it I can point out a good
many slips in grammar. You have put _observer_ for _faire observer_ and
_malgre que_. _Malgre_ is a preposition, and requires an object."
Lucien appeared to be humiliated.
"When I see you again, you will have lost a hundred francs," he added.
"I shall only give a hundred crowns."
With that he rose and took his leave. On the threshold he said, "If
you had not something in you, and a future before you; if I did not
take an interest in studious youth, I should not have made you such a
handsome offer. A hundred francs per month! Think of it! After all, a
romance in a drawer is not eating its head off like a horse in a
stable, nor will it find you in victuals either, and that's a fact."
Lucien snatched up his manuscript and dashed it on the floor.
"I would rather burn it, sir!" he exclaimed.
"You have a poet's head," returned his senior.
Lucien devoured his bread and supped his bowl of milk, then he went
downstairs. His room was not large enough for him; he was turning
round and round in it like a lion in a cage at the Jardin des Plantes.
At the Bibliotheque Saint-Genevieve, whither Lucien was going, he had
come to know a stranger by sight; a young man of five-and-twenty or
thereabouts, working with the sustained industry which nothing can
disturb nor distract, the sign by which your genuine literary worker
is known. Evidently the young man had been reading there for some
time, for the librarian and attendants all knew him and paid him
special attention; the librarian would even allow him to take away
books, with which Lucien saw him return in the morning. In the
stranger student he recognized a brother in penury and hope.
Pale-faced and slight and thin, with a fine forehead hidden by masses
of black, tolerably unkempt hair, there was something about him that
attracted indifferent eyes: it was a vague resemblance which he bore
to portraits of the young Bonaparte, engraved from Robert Lefebvre's
picture. That engraving is a poem of melancholy intensity, of
suppressed ambition, of power working below the surface. Study the
face carefully, and you will discover genius in it and discretion, and
all the subtlety and greatness of the man. The portrait has speaking
eyes like a woman's; they look out, greedy of space, craving
difficulties to vanquish. Even if the name of Bonaparte were not
written beneath it, you would gaze long at that face.
Lucien's young student, the incarnation of this picture, usually wore
footed trousers, shoes with thick soles to them, an overcoat of coarse
cloth, a black cravat, a waistcoat of some gray-and-white material
buttoned to the chin, and a cheap hat. Contempt for superfluity in
dress was visible in his whole person. Lucien also discovered that the
mysterious stranger with that unmistakable stamp which genius sets
upon the forehead of its slaves was one of Flicoteaux's most regular
customers; he ate to live, careless of the fare which appeared to be
familiar to him, and drank water. Wherever Lucien saw him, at the
library or at Flicoteaux's, there was a dignity in his manner,
springing doubtless from the consciousness of a purpose that filled
his life, a dignity which made him unapproachable. He had the
expression of a thinker, meditation dwelt on the fine nobly carved
brow. You could tell from the dark bright eyes, so clear-sighted and
quick to observe, that their owner was wont to probe to the bottom of
things. He gesticulated very little, his demeanor was grave. Lucien
felt an involuntary respect for him.
Many times already the pair had looked at each other at the
Bibliotheque or at Flicoteaux's; many times they had been on the point
of speaking, but neither of them had ventured so far as yet. The
silent young man went off to the further end of the library, on the
side at right angles to the Place de la Sorbonne, and Lucien had no
opportunity of making his acquaintance, although he felt drawn to a
worker whom he knew by indescribable tokens for a character of no
common order. Both, as they came to know afterwards, were
unsophisticated and shy, given to fears which cause a pleasurable
emotion to solitary creatures. Perhaps they never would have been
brought into communication if they had not come across each other that
day of Lucien's disaster; for as Lucien turned into the Rue des Gres,
he saw the student coming away from the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve.
"The library is closed; I don't know why, monsieur," said he.
Tears were standing in Lucien's eyes; he expressed his thanks by one
of those gestures that speak more eloquently than words, and unlock
hearts at once when two men meet in youth. They went together along
the Rue des Gres towards the Rue de la Harpe.
"As that is so, I shall go to the Luxembourg for a walk," said Lucien.
"When you have come out, it is not easy to settle down to work again."
"No; one's ideas will not flow in the proper current," remarked the
stranger. "Something seems to have annoyed you, monsieur?"
"I have just had a queer adventure," said Lucien, and he told the
history of his visit to the Quai, and gave an account of his
subsequent dealings with the old bookseller. He gave his name and said
a word or two of his position. In one month or thereabouts he had
spent sixty francs on his board, thirty for lodging, twenty more
francs in going to the theatre, and ten at Blosse's reading room--one
hundred and twenty francs in all, and now he had just a hundred and
twenty francs in hand.
"Your story is mine, monsieur, and the story of ten or twelve hundred
young fellows besides who come from the country to Paris every year.
There are others even worse off than we are. Do you see that theatre?"
he continued, indicating the turrets of the Odeon. "There came one day
to lodge in one of the houses in the square a man of talent who had
fallen into the lowest depths of poverty. He was married, in addition
to the misfortunes which we share with him, to a wife whom he loved;
and the poorer or the richer, as you will, by two children. He was
burdened with debt, but he put his faith in his pen. He took a comedy
in five acts to the Odeon; the comedy was accepted, the management
arranged to bring it out, the actors learned their parts, the stage
manager urged on the rehearsals. Five several bits of luck, five
dramas to be performed in real life, and far harder tasks than the
writing of a five-act play. The poor author lodged in a garret; you
can see the place from here. He drained his last resources to live
until the first representation; his wife pawned her clothes, they all
lived on dry bread. On the day of the final rehearsal, the household
owed fifty francs in the Quarter to the baker, the milkwoman, and the
porter. The author had only the strictly necessary clothes--a coat, a
shirt, trousers, a waistcoat, and a pair of boots. He felt sure of his
success; he kissed his wife. The end of their troubles was at hand.
'At last! There is nothing against us now,' cried he.--'Yes, there is
fire,' said his wife; 'look, the Odeon is on fire!'--The Odeon was on
fire, monsieur. So do not you complain. You have clothes, you have
neither wife nor child, you have a hundred and twenty francs for
emergencies in your pocket, and you owe no one a penny.--Well, the
piece went through a hundred and fifty representations at the Theatre
Louvois. The King allowed the author a pension. 'Genius is patience,'
as Buffon said. And patience after all is a man's nearest approach to
Nature's processes of creation. What is Art, monsieur, but Nature
By this time the young men were striding along the walks of the
Luxembourg, and in no long time Lucien learned the name of the
stranger who was doing his best to administer comfort. That name has
since grown famous. Daniel d'Arthez is one of the most illustrious of
living men of letters; one of the rare few who show us an example of
"a noble gift with a noble nature combined," to quote a poet's fine
"There is no cheap route to greatness," Daniel went on in his kind
voice. "The works of Genius are watered with tears. The gift that is
in you, like an existence in the physical world, passes through
childhood and its maladies. Nature sweeps away sickly or deformed
creatures, and Society rejects an imperfectly developed talent. Any
man who means to rise above the rest must make ready for a struggle
and be undaunted by difficulties. A great writer is a martyr who does
not die; that is all.--There is the stamp of genius on your forehead,"
d'Arthez continued, enveloping Lucien by a glance; "but unless you
have within you the will of genius, unless you are gifted with angelic
patience, unless, no matter how far the freaks of Fate have set you
from your destined goal, you can find the way to your Infinite as the
turtles in the Indies find their way to the ocean, you had better give
up at once."
"Then do you yourself expect these ordeals?" asked Lucien.
"Trials of every kind, slander and treachery, and effrontery and
cunning, the rivals who act unfairly, and the keen competition of the
literary market," his companion said resignedly. "What is a first
loss, if only your work was good?"
"Will you look at mine and give me your opinion?" asked Lucien.
"So be it," said d'Arthez. "I am living in the Rue des Quatre-Vents.
Desplein, one of the most illustrious men of genius in our time, the
greatest surgeon that the world has known, once endured the martyrdom
of early struggles with the first difficulties of a glorious career in
the same house. I think of that every night, and the thought gives me
the stock of courage that I need every morning. I am living in the
very room where, like Rousseau, he had no Theresa. Come in an hour's
time. I shall be in."
The poets grasped each other's hands with a rush of melancholy and
tender feeling inexpressible in words, and went their separate ways;
Lucien to fetch his manuscript, Daniel d'Arthez to pawn his watch and
buy a couple of faggots. The weather was cold, and his new-found
friend should find a fire in his room.
Lucien was punctual. He noticed at once that the house was of an even
poorer class than the Hotel de Cluny. A staircase gradually became
visible at the further end of a dark passage; he mounted to the fifth
floor, and found d'Arthez's room.
A bookcase of dark-stained wood, with rows of labeled cardboard cases
on the shelves, stood between the two crazy windows. A gaunt, painted
wooden bedstead, of the kind seen in school dormitories, a
night-table, picked up cheaply somewhere, and a couple of horsehair
armchairs, filled the further end of the room. The wall-paper, a
Highland plaid pattern, was glazed over with the grime of years.
Between the window and the grate stood a long table littered with
papers, and opposite the fireplace there was a cheap mahogany chest of
drawers. A second-hand carpet covered the floor--a necessary luxury,
for it saved firing. A common office armchair, cushioned with leather,
crimson once, but now hoary with wear, was drawn up to the table. Add
half-a-dozen rickety chairs, and you have a complete list of the
furniture. Lucien noticed an old-fashioned candle-sconce for a
card-table, with an adjustable screen attached, and wondered to see
four wax candles in the sockets. D'Arthez explained that he could not
endure the smell of tallow, a little trait denoting great delicacy of
sense perception, and the exquisite sensibility which accompanies it.
The reading lasted for seven hours. Daniel listened conscientiously,
forbearing to interrupt by word or comment--one of the rarest proofs
of good taste in a listener.
"Well?" queried Lucien, laying the manuscript on the chimney-piece.
"You have made a good start on the right way," d'Arthez answered
judicially, "but you must go over your work again. You must strike out
a different style for yourself if you do not mean to ape Sir Walter
Scott, for you have taken him for your model. You begin, for instance,
as he begins, with long conversations to introduce your characters,
and only when they have said their say does description and action
"This opposition, necessary in all work of a dramatic kind, comes
last. Just put the terms of the problem the other way round. Give
descriptions, to which our language lends itself so admirably, instead
of diffuse dialogue, magnificent in Scott's work, but colorless in
your own. Lead naturally up to your dialogue. Plunge straight into the
action. Treat your subject from different points of view, sometimes in
a side-light, sometimes retrospectively; vary your methods, in fact,
to diversify your work. You may be original while adapting the Scots
novelist's form of dramatic dialogue to French history. There is no
passion in Scott's novels; he ignores passion, or perhaps it was
interdicted by the hypocritical manners of his country. Woman for him
is duty incarnate. His heroines, with possibly one or two exceptions,
are all alike; he has drawn them all from the same model, as painters
say. They are, every one of them, descended from Clarissa Harlowe. And
returning continually, as he did, to the same idea of woman, how could
he do otherwise than produce a single type, varied only by degrees of
vividness in the coloring? Woman brings confusion into Society through
passion. Passion gives infinite possibilities. Therefore depict
passion; you have one great resource open to you, foregone by the
great genius for the sake of providing family reading for prudish
England. In France you have the charming sinner, the brightly-colored
life of Catholicism, contrasted with sombre Calvinistic figures on a
background of the times when passions ran higher than at any other
period of our history.
"Every epoch which has left authentic records since the time of
Charles the Great calls for at least one romance. Some require four or
five; the periods of Louis XIV., of Henry IV., of Francis I., for
instance. You would give us in this way a picturesque history of
France, with the costumes and furniture, the houses and their
interiors, and domestic life, giving us the spirit of the time instead
of a laborious narration of ascertained facts. Then there is further
scope for originality. You can remove some of the popular delusions
which disfigure the memories of most of our kings. Be bold enough in
this first work of yours to rehabilitate the great magnificent figure
of Catherine, whom you have sacrificed to the prejudices which still
cloud her name. And finally, paint Charles IX. for us as he really
was, and not as Protestant writers have made him. Ten years of
persistent work, and fame and fortune will be yours."
By this time it was nine o'clock; Lucien followed the example set in
secret by his future friend by asking him to dine at Eldon's, and
spent twelve francs at that restaurant. During the dinner Daniel
admitted Lucien into the secret of his hopes and studies. Daniel
d'Arthez would not allow that any writer could attain to a pre-eminent
rank without a profound knowledge of metaphysics. He was engaged in
ransacking the spoils of ancient and modern philosophy, and in the
assimilation of it all; he would be like Moliere, a profound
philosopher first, and a writer of comedies afterwards. He was
studying the world of books and the living world about him--thought
and fact. His friends were learned naturalists, young doctors of
medicine, political writers and artists, a number of earnest students
full of promise.
D'Arthez earned a living by conscientious and ill-paid work; he wrote
articles for encyclopaedias, dictionaries of biography and natural
science, doing just enough to enable him to live while he followed his
own bent, and neither more nor less. He had a piece of imaginative
work on hand, undertaken solely for the sake of studying the resources
of language, an important psychological study in the form of a novel,
unfinished as yet, for d'Arthez took it up or laid it down as the
humor took him, and kept it for days of great distress. D'Arthez's
revelations of himself were made very simply, but to Lucien he seemed
like an intellectual giant; and by eleven o'clock, when they left the
restaurant, he began to feel a sudden, warm friendship for this
nature, unconscious of its loftiness, this unostentatious worth.
Lucien took d'Arthez's advice unquestioningly, and followed it out to
the letter. The most magnificent palaces of fancy had been suddenly
flung open to him by a nobly-gifted mind, matured already by thought
and critical examinations undertaken for their own sake, not for
publication, but for the solitary thinker's own satisfaction. The
burning coal had been laid on the lips of the poet of Angouleme, a
word uttered by a hard student in Paris had fallen upon ground
prepared to receive it in the provincial. Lucien set about recasting
In his gladness at finding in the wilderness of Paris a nature
abounding in generous and sympathetic feeling, the distinguished
provincial did, as all young creatures hungering for affection are
wont to do; he fastened, like a chronic disease, upon this one friend
that he had found. He called for D'Arthez on his way to the
Bibliotheque, walked with him on fine days in the Luxembourg Gardens,
and went with his friend every evening as far as the door of his
lodging-house after sitting next to him at Flicoteaux's. He pressed
close to his friend's side as a soldier might keep by a comrade on the
frozen Russian plains.
During those early days of his acquaintance, he noticed, not without
chagrin, that his presence imposed a certain restraint on the circle
of Daniel's intimates. The talk of those superior beings of whom
d'Arthez spoke to him with such concentrated enthusiasm kept within
the bounds of a reserve but little in keeping with the evident warmth
of their friendships. At these times Lucien discreetly took his leave,
a feeling of curiosity mingling with the sense of something like pain
at the ostracism to which he was subjected by these strangers, who all
addressed each other by their Christian names. Each one of them, like
d'Arthez, bore the stamp of genius upon his forehead.
After some private opposition, overcome by d'Arthez without Lucien's
knowledge, the newcomer was at length judged worthy to make one of the
_cenacle_ of lofty thinkers. Henceforward he was to be one of a little
group of young men who met almost every evening in d'Arthez's room,
united by the keenest sympathies and by the earnestness of their
intellectual life. They all foresaw a great writer in d'Arthez; they
looked upon him as their chief since the loss of one of their number,
a mystical genius, one of the most extraordinary intellects of the
age. This former leader had gone back to his province for reasons on
which it serves no purpose to enter, but Lucien often heard them speak
of this absent friend as "Louis." Several of the group were destined
to fall by the way; but others, like d'Arthez, have since won all the
fame that was their due. A few details as to the circle will readily
explain Lucien's strong feeling of interest and curiosity.
One among those who still survive was Horace Bianchon, then a
house-student at the Hotel-Dieu; later, a shining light at the Ecole
de Paris, and now so well known that it is needless to give any
description of his appearance, genius, or character.
Next came Leon Giraud, that profound philosopher and bold theorist,
turning all systems inside out, criticising, expressing, and
formulating, dragging them all to the feet of his idol--Humanity;
great even in his errors, for his honesty ennobled his mistakes. An
intrepid toiler, a conscientious scholar, he became the acknowledged
head of a school of moralists and politicians. Time alone can
pronounce upon the merits of his theories; but if his convictions have
drawn him into paths in which none of his old comrades tread, none the
less he is still their faithful friend.
Art was represented by Joseph Bridau, one of the best painters among
the younger men. But for a too impressionable nature, which made havoc
of Joseph's heart, he might have continued the traditions of the great
Italian masters, though, for that matter, the last word has not yet
been said concerning him. He combines Roman outline with Venetian
color; but love is fatal to his work, love not merely transfixes his
heart, but sends his arrow through the brain, deranges the course of
his life, and sets the victim describing the strangest zigzags. If the
mistress of the moment is too kind or too cruel, Joseph will send into
the Exhibition sketches where the drawing is clogged with color, or
pictures finished under the stress of some imaginary woe, in which he
gave his whole attention to the drawing, and left the color to take
care of itself. He is a constant disappointment to his friends and the
public; yet Hoffmann would have worshiped him for his daring
experiments in the realms of art. When Bridau is wholly himself he is
admirable, and as praise is sweet to him, his disgust is great when
one praises the failures in which he alone discovers all that is
lacking in the eyes of the public. He is whimsical to the last degree.
His friends have seen him destroy a finished picture because, in his
eyes, it looked too smooth. "It is overdone," he would say; "it is
With his eccentric, yet lofty nature, with a nervous organization and
all that it entails of torment and delight, the craving for perfection
becomes morbid. Intellectually he is akin to Sterne, though he is not
a literary worker. There is an indescribable piquancy about his
epigrams and sallies of thought. He is eloquent, he knows how to love,
but the uncertainty that appears in his execution is a part of the
very nature of the man. The brotherhood loved him for the very
qualities which the philistine would style defects.
Last among the living comes Fulgence Ridal. No writer of our times
possesses more of the exuberant spirit of pure comedy than this poet,
careless of fame, who will fling his more commonplace productions to
theatrical managers, and keep the most charming scenes in the seraglio
of his brain for himself and his friends. Of the public he asks just
sufficient to secure his independence, and then declines to do
anything more. Indolent and prolific as Rossini, compelled, like great
poet-comedians, like Moliere and Rabelais, to see both sides of
everything, and all that is to be said both for and against, he is a
sceptic, ready to laugh at all things. Fulgence Ridal is a great
practical philosopher. His worldly wisdom, his genius for observation,
his contempt for fame ("fuss," as he calls it) have not seared a kind
heart. He is as energetic on behalf of another as he is careless where
his own interests are concerned; and if he bestirs himself, it is for
a friend. Living up to his Rabelaisian mask, he is no enemy to good
cheer, though he never goes out of his way to find it; he is
melancholy and gay. His friends dubbed him the "Dog of the Regiment."
You could have no better portrait of the man than his nickname.
Three more of the band, at least as remarkable as the friends who have
just been sketched in outline, were destined to fall by the way. Of
these, Meyraux was the first. Meyraux died after stirring up the
famous controversy between Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a great
question which divided the whole scientific world into two opposite
camps, with these two men of equal genius as leaders. This befell some
months before the death of the champion of rigorous analytical science
as opposed to the pantheism of one who is still living to bear an
honored name in Germany. Meyraux was the friend of that "Louis" of
whom death was so soon to rob the intellectual world.
With these two, both marked by death, and unknown to-day in spite of
their wide knowledge and their genius, stands a third, Michel
Chrestien, the great Republican thinker, who dreamed of European
Federation, and had no small share in bringing about the
Saint-Simonian movement of 1830. A politician of the calibre of
Saint-Just and Danton, but simple, meek as a maid, and brimful of
illusions and loving-kindness; the owner of a singing voice which
would have sent Mozart, or Weber, or Rossini into ecstasies, for his
singing of certain songs of Beranger's could intoxicate the heart in
you with poetry, or hope, or love--Michel Chrestien, poor as Lucien,
poor as Daniel d'Arthez, as all the rest of his friends, gained a
living with the haphazard indifference of a Diogenes. He indexed
lengthy works, he drew up prospectuses for booksellers, and kept his
doctrines to himself, as the grave keeps the secrets of the dead. Yet
the gay bohemian of intellectual life, the great statesman who might
have changed the face of the world, fell as a private soldier in the
cloister of Saint-Merri; some shopkeeper's bullet struck down one of
the noblest creatures that ever trod French soil, and Michel Chrestien
died for other doctrines than his own. His Federation scheme was more
dangerous to the aristocracy of Europe than the Republican propaganda;
it was more feasible and less extravagant than the hideous doctrines
of indefinite liberty proclaimed by the young madcaps who assume the
character of heirs of the Convention. All who knew the noble plebeian
wept for him; there is not one of them but remembers, and often
remembers, a great obscure politician.
Esteem and friendship kept the peace between the extremes of hostile
opinion and conviction represented in the brotherhood. Daniel d'Arthez
came of a good family in Picardy. His belief in the Monarchy was quite
as strong as Michel Chrestien's faith in European Federation. Fulgence
Ridal scoffed at Leon Giraud's philosophical doctrines, while Giraud
himself prophesied for d'Arthez's benefit the approaching end of
Christianity and the extinction of the institution of the family.
Michel Chrestien, a believer in the religion of Christ, the divine
lawgiver, who taught the equality of men, would defend the immortality
of the soul from Bianchon's scalpel, for Horace Bianchon was before
all things an analyst.
There was plenty of discussion, but no bickering. Vanity was not
engaged, for the speakers were also the audience. They would talk over
their work among themselves and take counsel of each other with the
delightful openness of youth. If the matter in hand was serious, the
opponent would leave his own position to enter into his friend's point
of view; and being an impartial judge in a matter outside his own
sphere, would prove the better helper; envy, the hideous treasure of
disappointment, abortive talent, failure, and mortified vanity, was
quite unknown among them. All of them, moreover, were going their
separate ways. For these reasons, Lucien and others admitted to their
society felt at their ease in it. Wherever you find real talent, you
will find frank good fellowship and sincerity, and no sort of
pretension, the wit that caresses the intellect and never is aimed at
When the first nervousness, caused by respect, wore off, it was
unspeakably pleasant to make one of this elect company of youth.
Familiarity did not exclude in each a consciousness of his own value,
nor a profound esteem for his neighbor; and finally, as every member
of the circle felt that he could afford to receive or to give, no one
made a difficulty of accepting. Talk was unflagging, full of charm,
and ranging over the most varied topics; words light as arrows sped to
the mark. There was a strange contrast between the dire material
poverty in which the young men lived and the splendor of their
intellectual wealth. They looked upon the practical problems of
existence simply as matter for friendly jokes. The cold weather
happened to set in early that year. Five of d'Arthez's friends
appeared one day, each concealing firewood under his cloak; the same
idea had occurred to the five, as it sometimes happens that all the
guests at a picnic are inspired with the notion of bringing a pie as
All of them were gifted with the moral beauty which reacts upon the
physical form, and, no less than work and vigils, overlays a youthful
face with a shade of divine gold; purity of life and the fire of
thought had brought refinement and regularity into features somewhat
pinched and rugged. The poet's amplitude of brow was a striking
characteristic common to them all; the bright, sparkling eyes told of
cleanliness of life. The hardships of penury, when they were felt at
all, were born so gaily and embraced with such enthusiasm, that they
had left no trace to mar the serenity peculiar to the faces of the
young who have no grave errors laid to their charge as yet, who have
not stooped to any of the base compromises wrung from impatience of
poverty by the strong desire to succeed. The temptation to use any
means to this end is the greater since that men of letters are lenient
with bad faith and extend an easy indulgence to treachery.
There is an element in friendship which doubles its charm and renders
it indissoluble--a sense of certainty which is lacking in love. These
young men were sure of themselves and of each other; the enemy of one
was the enemy of all; the most urgent personal considerations would
have been shattered if they had clashed with the sacred solidarity of
their fellowship. All alike incapable of disloyalty, they could oppose
a formidable No to any accusation brought against the absent and
defend them with perfect confidence. With a like nobility of nature
and strength of feeling, it was possible to think and speak freely on
all matters of intellectual or scientific interest; hence the honesty
of their friendships, the gaiety of their talk, and with this
intellectual freedom of the community there was no fear of being
misunderstood; they stood upon no ceremony with each other; they
shared their troubles and joys, and gave thought and sympathy from
full hearts. The charming delicacy of feeling which makes the tale of
_Deux Amis_ a treasury for great souls, was the rule of their daily
life. It may be imagined, therefore, that their standard of
requirements was not an easy one; they were too conscious of their
worth, too well aware of their happiness, to care to trouble their
life with the admixture of a new and unknown element.
This federation of interests and affection lasted for twenty years
without a collision or disappointment. Death alone could thin the
numbers of the noble Pleiades, taking first Louis Lambert, later
Meyraux and Michel Chrestien.
When Michel Chrestien fell in 1832 his friends went, in spite of the
perils of the step, to find his body at Saint-Merri; and Horace
Bianchon, Daniel d'Arthez, Leon Giraud, Joseph Bridau, and Fulgence
Ridal performed the last duties to the dead, between two political
fires. By night they buried their beloved in the cemetery of
Pere-Lachaise; Horace Bianchon, undaunted by the difficulties, cleared
them away one after another--it was he indeed who besought the
authorities for permission to bury the fallen insurgent and confessed
to his old friendship with the dead Federalist. The little group of
friends present at the funeral with those five great men will never
forget that touching scene.
As you walk in the trim cemetery you will see a grave purchased in
perpetuity, a grass-covered mound with a dark wooden cross above it,
and the name in large red letters--MICHEL CHRESTIEN. There is no other
monument like it. The friends thought to pay a tribute to the sternly
simple nature of the man by the simplicity of the record of his death.
So, in that chilly garret, the fairest dreams of friendship were
realized. These men were brothers leading lives of intellectual
effort, loyally helping each other, making no reservations, not even
of their worst thoughts; men of vast acquirements, natures tried in
the crucible of poverty. Once admitted as an equal among such elect
souls, Lucien represented beauty and poetry. They admired the sonnets
which he read to them; they would ask him for a sonnet as he would ask
Michel Chrestien for a song. And, in the desert of Paris, Lucien found
an oasis in the Rue des Quatre-Vents.
At the beginning of October, Lucien had spent the last of his money on
a little firewood; he was half-way through the task of recasting his
work, the most strenuous of all toil, and he was penniless. As for
Daniel d'Arthez, burning blocks of spent tan, and facing poverty like
a hero, not a word of complaint came from him; he was as sober as any
elderly spinster, and methodical as a miser. This courage called out
Lucien's courage; he had only newly come into the circle, and shrank
with invincible repugnance from speaking of his straits. One morning
he went out, manuscript in hand, and reached the Rue du Coq; he would
sell _The Archer of Charles IX._ to Doguereau; but Doguereau was out.
Lucien little knew how indulgent great natures can be to the
weaknesses of others. Every one of the friends had thought of the
peculiar troubles besetting the poetic temperament, of the prostration
which follows upon the struggle, when the soul has been overwrought by
the contemplation of that nature which it is the task of art to
reproduce. And strong as they were to endure their own ills, they felt
keenly for Lucien's distress; they guessed that his stock of money was
failing; and after all the pleasant evenings spent in friendly talk
and deep meditations, after the poetry, the confidences, the bold
flights over the fields of thought or into the far future of the
nations, yet another trait was to prove how little Lucien had
understood these new friends of his.
"Lucien, dear fellow," said Daniel, "you did not dine at Flicoteaux's
yesterday, and we know why."
Lucien could not keep back the overflowing tears.
"You showed a want of confidence in us," said Michel Chrestien; "we
shall chalk that up over the chimney, and when we have scored ten we
"We have all of us found a bit of extra work," said Bianchon; "for my
own part, I have been looking after a rich patient for Desplein;
d'Arthez has written an article for the _Revue Encyclopedique_;
Chrestien thought of going out to sing in the Champs Elysees of an
evening with a pocket-handkerchief and four candles, but he found a
pamphlet to write instead for a man who has a mind to go into
politics, and gave his employer six hundred francs worth of
Machiavelli; Leon Giraud borrowed fifty francs of his publisher,
Joseph sold one or two sketches; and Fulgence's piece was given on
Sunday, and there was a full house."
"Here are two hundred francs," said Daniel, "and let us say no more
"Why, if he is not going to hug us all as if we had done something
extraordinary!" cried Chrestien.
Lucien, meanwhile, had written to the home circle. His letter was a
masterpiece of sensibility and goodwill, as well as a sharp cry wrung
from him by distress. The answers which he received the next day will
give some idea of the delight that Lucien took in this living
encyclopedia of angelic spirits, each of whom bore the stamp of the
art or science which he followed:--
_David Sechard to Lucien._
"MY DEAR LUCIEN,--Enclosed herewith is a bill at ninety days,
payable to your order, for two hundred francs. You can draw on M.
Metivier, paper merchant, our Paris correspondent in the Rue
Serpente. My good Lucien, we have absolutely nothing. Eve has
undertaken the charge of the printing-house, and works at her task
with such devotion, patience, and industry, that I bless heaven
for giving me such an angel for a wife. She herself says that it
is impossible to send you the least help. But I think, my friend
now that you are started in so promising a way, with such great
and noble hearts for your companions, that you can hardly fail to
reach the greatness to which you were born, aided as you are by
intelligence almost divine in Daniel d'Arthez and Michel Chrestien
and Leon Giraud, and counseled by Meyraux and Bianchon and Ridal,
whom we have come to know through your dear letter. So I have
drawn this bill without Eve's knowledge, and I will contrive
somehow to meet it when the time comes. Keep on your way, Lucien;
it is rough, but it will be glorious. I can bear anything but the
thought of you sinking into the sloughs of Paris, of which I saw
so much. Have sufficient strength of mind to do as you are doing,
and keep out of scrapes and bad company, wild young fellows and
men of letters of a certain stamp, whom I learned to take at their
just valuation when I lived in Paris. Be a worthy compeer of the
divine spirits whom we have learned to love through you. Your life
will soon meet with its reward. Farewell, dearest brother; you
have sent transports of joy to my heart. I did not expect such
courage of you.
_Eve Sechard to Lucien._
"DEAR,--your letter made all of us cry. As for the noble hearts to
whom your good angel surely led you, tell them that a mother and a
poor young wife will pray for them night and morning; and if the
most fervent prayers can reach the Throne of God, surely they will
bring blessings upon you all. Their names are engraved upon my
heart. Ah! some day I shall see your friends; I will go to Paris,
if I have to walk the whole way, to thank them for their
friendship for you, for to me the thought has been like balm to
smarting wounds. We are working like day laborers here, dear. This
husband of mine, the unknown great man whom I love more and more
every day, as I discover moment by moment the wealth of his
nature, leaves the printing-house more and more to me. Why, I
guess. Our poverty, yours, and ours, and our mother's, is
heartbreaking to him. Our adored David is a Prometheus gnawed by a
vulture, a haggard, sharp-beaked regret. As for himself, noble
fellow, he scarcely thinks of himself; he is hoping to make a
fortune for _us_. He spends his whole time in experiments in
paper-making; he begged me to take his place and look after the
business, and gives me as much help as his preoccupation allows.
Alas! I shall be a mother soon. That should have been a crowning
joy; but as things are, it saddens me. Poor mother! she has grown
young again; she has found strength to go back to her tiring
nursing. We should be happy if it were not for these money cares.
Old Father Sechard will not give his son a farthing. David went
over to see if he could borrow a little for you, for we were in
despair over your letter. 'I know Lucien,' David said; 'he will
lose his head and do something rash.'--I gave him a good scolding.
'My brother disappoint us in any way!' I told him, 'Lucien knows
that I should die of sorrow.'--Mother and I have pawned a few
things; David does not know about it, mother will redeem them as
soon as she has made a little money. In this way we have managed
to put together a hundred francs, which I am sending you by the
coach. If I did not answer your last letter, do not remember it
against me, dear; we were working all night just then. I have been
working like a man. Oh, I had no idea that I was so strong!
"Mme. de Bargeton is a heartless woman; she has no soul; even if
she cared for you no longer, she owed it to herself to use her
influence for you and to help you when she had torn you from us to
plunge you into that dreadful sea of Paris. Only by the special
blessing of Heaven could you have met with true friends there
among those crowds of men and innumerable interests. She is not
worth a regret. I used to wish that there might be some devoted
woman always with you, a second myself; but now I know that your
friends will take my place, and I am happy. Spread your wings, my
dear great genius, you will be our pride as well as our beloved.
"My darling," the mother wrote, "I can only add my blessing to all
that your sister says, and assure you that you are more in my
thoughts and in my prayers (alas!) than those whom I see daily;
for some hearts, the absent are always in the right, and so it is
with the heart of your mother."
So two days after the loan was offered so graciously, Lucien repaid
it. Perhaps life had never seemed so bright to him as at that moment;
but the touch of self-love in his joy did not escape the delicate
sensibility and searching eyes of his friends.
"Any one might think that you were afraid to owe us anything,"
"Oh! the pleasure that he takes in returning the money is a very
serious symptom to my mind," said Michel Chrestien. "It confirms some
observations of my own. There is a spice of vanity in Lucien."
"He is a poet," said d'Arthez.
"But do you grudge me such a very natural feeling?" asked Lucien.
"We should bear in mind that he did not hide it," said Leon Giraud;
"he is still open with us; but I am afraid that he may come to feel
shy of us."
"And why?" Lucien asked.
"We can read your thoughts," answered Joseph Bridau.
"There is a diabolical spirit in you that will seek to justify courses
which are utterly contrary to our principles. Instead of being a
sophist in theory, you will be a sophist in practice."
"Ah! I am afraid of that," said d'Arthez. "You will carry on admirable
debates in your own mind, Lucien, and take up a lofty position in
theory, and end by blameworthy actions. You will never be at one with
"What ground have you for these charges?"
"Thy vanity, dear poet, is so great that it intrudes itself even into
thy friendships!" cried Fulgence. "All vanity of that sort is a
symptom of shocking egoism, and egoism poisons friendship."
"Oh! dear," said Lucien, "you cannot know how much I love you all."
"If you loved us as we love you, would you have been in such a hurry
to return the money which we had such pleasure in lending? or have
made so much of it?"
"We don't lend here; we give," said Joseph Bridau roughly.
"Don't think us unkind, dear boy," said Michel Chrestien; "we are
looking forward. We are afraid lest some day you may prefer a petty
revenge to the joys of pure friendship. Read Goethe's _Tasso_, the great
master's greatest work, and you will see how the poet-hero loved
gorgeous stuffs and banquets and triumph and applause. Very well, be
Tasso without his folly. Perhaps the world and its pleasures tempt
you? Stay with us. Carry all the cravings of vanity into the world of
imagination. Transpose folly. Keep virtue for daily wear, and let
imagination run riot, instead of doing, as d'Arthez says, thinking
high thoughts and living beneath them."
Lucien hung his head. His friends were right.
"I confess that you are stronger than I," he said, with a charming
glance at them. "My back and shoulders are not made to bear the burden
of Paris life; I cannot struggle bravely. We are born with different
temperaments and faculties, and you know better than I that faults and
virtues have their reverse side. I am tired already, I confess."
"We will stand by you," said d'Arthez; "it is just in these ways that
a faithful friendship is of use."
"The help that I have just received is precarious, and every one of us
is just as poor as another; want will soon overtake me again.
Chrestien, at the service of the first that hires him, can do nothing
with the publishers; Bianchon is quite out of it; d'Arthez's
booksellers only deal in scientific and technical books--they have no
connection with publishers of new literature; and as for Horace and
Fulgence Ridal and Bridau, their work lies miles away from the
booksellers. There is no help for it; I must make up my mind one way
"Stick by us, and make up your mind to it," said Bianchon. "Bear up
bravely, and trust in hard work."
"But what is hardship for you is death for me," Lucien put in quickly.
"Before the cock crows thrice," smiled Leon Giraud, "this man will
betray the cause of work for an idle life and the vices of Paris."
"Where has work brought you?" asked Lucien, laughing.
"When you start out from Paris for Italy, you don't find Rome
half-way," said Joseph Bridau. "You want your pease to grow ready
buttered for you."
The conversation ended in a joke, and they changed the subject.
Lucien's friends, with their perspicacity and delicacy of heart, tried
to efface the memory of the little quarrel; but Lucien knew
thenceforward that it was no easy matter to deceive them. He soon fell
into despair, which he was careful to hide from such stern mentors as
he imagined them to be; and the Southern temper that runs so easily
through the whole gamut of mental dispositions, set him making the
most contradictory resolutions.
Again and again he talked of making the plunge into journalism; and
time after time did his friends reply with a "Mind you do nothing of
"It would be the tomb of the beautiful, gracious Lucien whom we love
and know," said d'Arthez.
"You would not hold out for long between the two extremes of toil and
pleasure which make up a journalist's life, and resistance is the very
foundation of virtue. You would be so delighted to exercise your power
of life and death over the offspring of the brain, that you would be
an out-and-out journalist in two months' time. To be a journalist
--that is to turn Herod in the republic of letters. The man who will
say anything will end by sticking at nothing. That was Napoleon's
maxim, and it explains itself."
"But you would be with me, would you not?" asked Lucien.
"Not by that time," said Fulgence. "If you were a journalist, you
would no more think of us than the Opera girl in all her glory, with
her adorers and her silk-lined carriage, thinks of the village at home
and her cows and her sabots. You could never resist the temptation to
pen a witticism, though it should bring tears to a friend's eyes. I
come across journalists in theatre lobbies; it makes me shudder to see
them. Journalism is an inferno, a bottomless pit of iniquity and
treachery and lies; no one can traverse it undefiled, unless, like
Dante, he is protected by Virgil's sacred laurel."
But the more the set of friends opposed the idea of journalism, the
more Lucien's desire to know its perils grew and tempted him. He began
to debate within his own mind; was it not ridiculous to allow want to
find him a second time defenceless? He bethought him of the failure of
his attempts to dispose of his first novel, and felt but little
tempted to begin a second. How, besides, was he to live while he was
writing another romance? One month of privation had exhausted his
stock of patience. Why should he not do nobly that which journalists
did ignobly and without principle? His friends insulted him with their
doubts; he would convince them of his strength of mind. Some day,
perhaps, he would be of use to them; he would be the herald of their
"And what sort of a friendship is it which recoils from complicity?"
demanded he one evening of Michel Chrestien; Lucien and Leon Giraud
were walking home with their friend.
"We shrink from nothing," Michel Chrestien made reply. "If you were so
unlucky as to kill your mistress, I would help you to hide your crime,
and could still respect you; but if you were to turn spy, I should
shun you with abhorrence, for a spy is systematically shameless and
base. There you have journalism summed up in a sentence. Friendship
can pardon error and the hasty impulse of passion; it is bound to be
inexorable when a man deliberately traffics in his own soul, and
intellect, and opinions."
"Why cannot I turn journalist to sell my volume of poetry and the
novel, and then give up at once?"
"Machiavelli might do so, but not Lucien de Rubempre," said Leon
"Very well," exclaimed Lucien; "I will show you that I can do as much
"Oh!" cried Michel, grasping Leon's hand, "you have done it, Leon.
--Lucien," he continued, "you have three hundred francs in hand; you
can live comfortably for three months; very well, then, work hard and
write another romance. D'Arthez and Fulgence will help you with the
plot; you will improve, you will be a novelist. And I, meanwhile, will
enter one of those _lupanars_ of thought; for three months I will be a
journalist. I will sell your books to some bookseller or other by
attacking his publications; I will write the articles myself; I will
get others for you. We will organize a success; you shall be a great
man, and still remain our Lucien."
"You must despise me very much, if you think that I should perish
while you escape," said the poet.
"O Lord, forgive him; it is a child!" cried Michel Chrestien.
When Lucien's intellect had been stimulated by the evenings spent in
d'Arthez's garret, he had made some study of the jokes and articles in
the smaller newspapers. He was at least the equal, he felt, of the
wittiest contributors; in private he tried some mental gymnastics of
the kind, and went out one morning with the triumphant idea of finding
some colonel of such light skirmishers of the press and enlisting in
their ranks. He dressed in his best and crossed the bridges, thinking
as he went that authors, journalists, and men of letters, his future
comrades, in short, would show him rather more kindness and
disinterestedness than the two species of booksellers who had so
dashed his hopes. He should meet with fellow-feeling, and something of
the kindly and grateful affection which he found in the _cenacle_ of the
Rue des Quatre-Vents. Tormented by emotion, consequent upon the
presentiments to which men of imagination cling so fondly, half
believing, half battling with their belief in them, he arrived in the
Rue Saint-Fiacre off the Boulevard Montmartre. Before a house,
occupied by the offices of a small newspaper, he stopped, and at the
sight of it his heart began to throb as heavily as the pulses of a
youth upon the threshold of some evil haunt.
Nevertheless, upstairs he went, and found the offices in the low
_entresol_ between the ground floor and the first story. The first room
was divided down the middle by a partition, the lower half of solid
wood, the upper lattice work to the ceiling. In this apartment Lucien
discovered a one-armed pensioner supporting several reams of paper on
his head with his remaining hand, while between his teeth he held the
passbook which the Inland Revenue Department requires every newspaper
to produce with each issue. This ill-favored individual, owner of a
yellow countenance covered with red excrescences, to which he owed his
nickname of "Coloquinte," indicated a personage behind the lattice as
the Cerberus of the paper. This was an elderly officer with a medal on
his chest and a silk skull-cap on his head; his nose was almost hidden
by a pair of grizzled moustaches, and his person was hidden as
completely in an ample blue overcoat as the body of the turtle in its
"From what date do you wish your subscription to commence, sir?"
inquired the Emperor's officer.
"I did not come about a subscription," returned Lucien. Looking about
him, he saw a placard fastened on a door, corresponding to the one by
which he had entered, and read the words--EDITOR'S OFFICE, and below,
in smaller letters, _No admittance except on business_.
"A complaint, I expect?" replied the veteran. "Ah! yes; we have been
hard on Mariette. What would you have? I don't know the why and
wherefore of it yet.--But if you want satisfaction, I am ready for
you," he added, glancing at a collection of small arms and foils
stacked in a corner, the armory of the modern warrior.
"That was still further from my intention, sir. I have come to speak
to the editor."
"Nobody is ever here before four o'clock."
"Look you here, Giroudeau, old chap," remarked a voice, "I make it
eleven columns; eleven columns at five francs apiece is fifty-five
francs, and I have only been paid forty; so you owe me another fifteen
francs, as I have been telling you."
These words proceeded from a little weasel-face, pallid and
semi-transparent as the half-boiled white of an egg; two slits of eyes
looked out of it, mild blue in tint, but appallingly malignant in
expression; and the owner, an insignificant young man, was completely
hidden by the veteran's opaque person. It was a blood-curdling voice,
a sound between the mewing of a cat and the wheezy chokings of a
"Yes, yes, my little militiaman," retorted he of the medal, "but you
are counting the headings and white lines. I have Finot's instructions
to add up the totals of the lines, and to divide them by the proper
number for each column; and after I performed that concentrating
operation on your copy, there were three columns less."
"He doesn't pay for the blanks, the Jew! He reckons them in though
when he sends up the total of his work to his partner, and he gets
paid for them too. I will go and see Etienne Lousteau, Vernou----"
"I cannot go beyond my orders, my boy," said the veteran. "What! do
you cry out against your foster-mother for a matter of fifteen francs?
you that turn out an article as easily as I smoke a cigar. Fifteen
francs! why, you will give a bowl of punch to your friends, or win an
extra game of billiards, and there's an end of it!"
"Finot's savings will cost him very dear," said the contributor as he
took his departure.
"Now, would not anybody think that he was Rousseau and Voltaire rolled
in one?" the cashier remarked to himself as he glanced at Lucien.
"I will come in again at four, sir," said Lucien.
While the argument proceeded, Lucien had been looking about him. He
saw upon the walls the portraits of Benjamin Constant, General Foy,
and the seventeen illustrious orators of the Left, interspersed with
caricatures at the expense of the Government; but he looked more
particularly at the door of the sanctuary where, no doubt, the paper
was elaborated, the witty paper that amused him daily, and enjoyed the
privilege of ridiculing kings and the most portentous events, of
calling anything and everything in question with a jest. Then he
sauntered along the boulevards. It was an entirely novel amusement;
and so agreeable did he find it, that, looking at the turret clocks,
he saw the hour hands were pointing to four, and only then remembered
that he had not breakfasted.
He went at once in the direction of the Rue Saint-Fiacre, climbed the
stair, and opened the door.
The veteran officer was absent; but the old pensioner, sitting on a
pile of stamped papers, was munching a crust and acting as sentinel
resignedly. Coloquinte was as much accustomed to his work in the
office as to the fatigue duty of former days, understanding as much or
as little about it as the why and wherefore of forced marches made by
the Emperor's orders. Lucien was inspired with the bold idea of
deceiving that formidable functionary. He settled his hat on his head,
and walked into the editor's office as if he were quite at home.
Looking eagerly about him, he beheld a round table covered with a
green cloth, and half-a-dozen cherry-wood chairs, newly reseated with
straw. The colored brick floor had not been waxed, but it was clean;
so clean that the public, evidently, seldom entered the room. There
was a mirror above the chimney-piece, and on the ledge below, amid a
sprinkling of visiting-cards, stood a shopkeeper's clock, smothered
with dust, and a couple of candlesticks with tallow dips thrust into
their sockets. A few antique newspapers lay on the table beside an
inkstand containing some black lacquer-like substance, and a
collection of quill pens twisted into stars. Sundry dirty scraps of
paper, covered with almost undecipherable hieroglyphs, proved to be
manuscript articles torn across the top by the compositor to check off
the sheets as they were set up. He admired a few rather clever
caricatures, sketched on bits of brown paper by somebody who evidently
had tried to kill time by killing something else to keep his hand in.
Other works of art were pinned in the cheap sea-green wall-paper.
These consisted of nine pen-and-ink illustrations for _Le Solitaire_.
The work had attained to such an unheard-of European popularity, that
journalists evidently were tired of it.--"The Solitary makes his first
appearance in the provinces; sensation among the women.--The Solitary
perused at a chateau.--Effect of the Solitary on domestic animals.
--The Solitary explained to savage tribes, with the most brilliant
results.--The Solitary translated into Chinese and presented by the
author to the Emperor at Pekin.--The Mont Sauvage, Rape of Elodie."
--(Lucien though this caricature very shocking, but he could not help
laughing at it.)--"The Solitary under a canopy conducted in triumphal
procession by the newspapers.--The Solitary breaks the press to
splinters, and wounds the printers.--Read backwards, the superior
beauties of the Solitary produce a sensation at the Academie."--On a
newspaper-wrapper Lucien noticed a sketch of a contributor holding out
his hat, and beneath it the words, "Finot! my hundred francs," and a
name, since grown more notorious than famous.
Between the window and the chimney-piece stood a writing-table, a
mahogany armchair, and a waste-paper basket on a strip of hearth-rug;
the dust lay thick on all these objects. There were short curtains in
the windows. About a score of new books lay on the writing-table,
deposited there apparently during the day, together with prints,
music, snuff-boxes of the "Charter" pattern, a copy of the ninth
edition of _Le Solitaire_ (the great joke of the moment), and some ten
Lucien had taken stock of this strange furniture, and made reflections
of the most exhaustive kind upon it, when, the clock striking five, he
returned to question the pensioner. Coloquinte had finished his crust,
and was waiting with the patience of a commissionaire, for the man of
medals, who perhaps was taking an airing on the boulevard.
At this conjuncture the rustle of a dress sounded on the stair, and
the light unmistakable footstep of a woman on the threshold. The
newcomer was passably pretty. She addressed herself to Lucien.
"Sir," she said, "I know why you cry up Mlle. Virginie's hats so much;
and I have come to put down my name for a year's subscription in the
first place; but tell me your conditions----"
"I am not connected with the paper, madame."
"A subscription dating from October?" inquired the pensioner.
"What does the lady want to know?" asked the veteran, reappearing on
The fair milliner and the retired military man were soon deep in
converse; and when Lucien, beginning to lose patience, came back to
the first room, he heard the conclusion of the matter.
"Why, I shall be delighted, quite delighted, sir. Mlle. Florentine can
come to my shop and choose anything she likes. Ribbons are in my
department. So it is all quite settled. You will say no more about
Virginie, a botcher that cannot design a new shape, while I have ideas
of my own, I have."
Lucien heard a sound as of coins dropping into a cashbox, and the
veteran began to make up his books for the day.
"I have been waiting here for an hour, sir," Lucien began, looking not
a little annoyed.
"And 'they' have not come yet!" exclaimed Napoleon's veteran, civilly
feigning concern. "I am not surprised at that. It is some time since I
have seen 'them' here. It is the middle of the month, you see. Those
fine fellows only turn up on pay days--the 29th or the 30th."
"And M. Finot?" asked Lucien, having caught the editor's name.
"He is in the Rue Feydeau, that's where he lives. Coloquinte, old
chap, just take him everything that has come in to-day when you go
with the paper to the printers."
"Where is the newspaper put together?" Lucien said to himself.
"The newspaper?" repeated the officer, as he received the rest of the
stamp money from Coloquinte, "the newspaper?--broum! broum!--(Mind you
are round at the printers' by six o'clock to-morrow, old chap, to send
off the porters.)--The newspaper, sir, is written in the street, at
the writers' houses, in the printing-office between eleven and twelve
o'clock at night. In the Emperor's time, sir, these shops for spoiled
paper were not known. Oh! he would have cleared them out with four men
and a corporal; they would not have come over _him_ with their talk. But
that is enough of prattling. If my nephew finds it worth his while,
and so long as they write for the son of the Other (broum! broum!)
----after all, there is no harm in that. Ah! by the way, subscribers
don't seem to me to be advancing in serried columns; I shall leave my
"You seem to know all about the newspaper, sir," Lucien began.
"From a business point of view, broum! broum!" coughed the soldier,
clearing his throat. "From three to five francs per column, according
to ability.--Fifty lines to a column, forty letters to a line; no
blanks; there you are! As for the staff, they are queer fish, little
youngsters whom I wouldn't take on for the commissariat; and because
they make fly tracks on sheets of white paper, they look down,
forsooth, on an old Captain of Dragoons of the Guard, that retired
with a major's rank after entering every European capital with
The soldier of Napoleon brushed his coat, and made as if he would go
out, but Lucien, swept to the door, had courage enough to make a
"I came to be a contributor of the paper," he said. "I am full of
respect, I vow and declare, for a captain of the Imperial Guard, those
men of bronze----"
"Well said, my little civilian, there are several kinds of
contributors; which kind do you wish to be?" replied the trooper,
bearing down on Lucien, and descending the stairs. At the foot of the
flight he stopped, but it was only to light a cigar at the porter's
"If any subscribers come, you see them and take note of them, Mother
Chollet.--Simply subscribers, never know anything but subscribers," he
added, seeing that Lucien followed him. "Finot is my nephew; he is the
only one of my family that has done anything to relieve me in my
position. So when anybody comes to pick a quarrel with Finot, he finds
old Giroudeau, Captain of the Dragoons of the Guard, that set out as a
private in a cavalry regiment in the army of the Sambre-et-Meuse, and
was fencing-master for five years to the First Hussars, army of Italy!
One, two, and the man that had any complaints to make would be turned
off into the dark," he added, making a lunge. "Now writers, my boy,
are in different corps; there is the writer who writes and draws his
pay; there is the writer who writes and gets nothing (a volunteer we
call him); and, lastly, there is the writer who writes nothing, and he
is by no means the stupidest, for he makes no mistakes; he gives
himself out for a literary man, he is on the paper, he treats us to
dinners, he loafs about the theatres, he keeps an actress, he is very
well off. What do you mean to be?"
"The man that does good work and gets good pay."
"You are like the recruits. They all want to be marshals of France.
Take old Giroudeau's word for it, and turn right about, in
double-quick time, and go and pick up nails in the gutter like that
good fellow yonder; you can tell by the look of him that he has been
in the army.--Isn't it a shame that an old soldier who has walked into
the jaws of death hundreds of times should be picking up old iron in
the streets of Paris? Ah! God A'mighty! 'twas a shabby trick to desert
the Emperor.--Well, my boy, the individual you saw this morning has
made his forty francs a month. Are you going to do better? And,
according to Finot, he is the cleverest man on the staff."
"When you enlisted in the Sambre-et-Meuse, did they talk about
"Very well. Go and see my nephew Finot, a good fellow, as good a
fellow as you will find, if you can find him, that is, for he is like
a fish, always on the move. In his way of business, there is no
writing, you see, it is setting others to write. That sort like
gallivanting about with actresses better than scribbling on sheets of
paper, it seems. Oh! they are queer customers, they are. Hope I may
have the honor of seeing you again."
With that the cashier raised his formidable loaded cane, one of the
defenders of Germainicus, and walked off, leaving Lucien in the
street, as much bewildered by this picture of the newspaper world as
he had formerly been by the practical aspects of literature at Messrs.
Vidal and Porchon's establishment.
Ten several times did Lucien repair to the Rue Feydeau in search of
Andoche Finot, and ten times he failed to find that gentleman. He went
first thing in the morning; Finot had not come in. At noon, Finot had
gone out; he was breakfasting at such and such a cafe. At the cafe, in
answer to inquiries of the waitress, made after surmounting
unspeakable repugnance, Lucien heard that Finot had just left the
place. Lucien, at length tired out, began to regard Finot as a
mythical and fabulous character; it appeared simpler to waylay Etienne
Lousteau at Flicoteaux's. That youthful journalist would, doubtless,
explain the mysteries that enveloped the paper for which he wrote.
Since the day, a hundred times blessed, when Lucien made the
acquaintance of Daniel d'Arthez, he had taken another seat at
Flicoteaux's. The two friends dined side by side, talking in lowered
voices of the higher literature, of suggested subjects, and ways of
presenting, opening up, and developing them. At the present time
Daniel d'Arthez was correcting the manuscript of _The Archer of Charles
IX._ He reconstructed whole chapters, and wrote the fine passages found
therein, as well as the magnificent preface, which is, perhaps, the
best thing in the book, and throws so much light on the work of the
young school of literature. One day it so happened that Daniel had
been waiting for Lucien, who now sat with his friend's hand in his
own, when he saw Etienne Lousteau turn the door-handle. Lucien
instantly dropped Daniel's hand, and told the waiter that he would
dine at his old place by the counter. D'Arthez gave Lucien a glance of
divine kindness, in which reproach was wrapped in forgiveness. The
glance cut the poet to the quick; he took Daniel's hand and grasped it
"It is an important question of business for me; I will tell you about
it afterwards," said he.
Lucien was in his old place by the time that Lousteau reached the
table; as the first comer, he greeted his acquaintance; they soon
struck up a conversation, which grew so lively that Lucien went off in
search of the manuscript of the _Marguerites_, while Lousteau finished
his dinner. He had obtained leave to lay his sonnets before the
journalist, and mistook the civility of the latter for willingness to
find him a publisher, or a place on the paper. When Lucien came
hurrying back again, he saw d'Arthez resting an elbow on the table in
a corner of the restaurant, and knew that his friend was watching him
with melancholy eyes, but he would not see d'Arthez just then; he felt
the sharp pangs of poverty, the goadings of ambition, and followed
In the late afternoon the journalist and the neophyte went to the
Luxembourg, and sat down under the trees in that part of the gardens
which lies between the broad Avenue de l'Observatoire and the Rue de
l'Ouest. The Rue de l'Ouest at that time was a long morass, bounded by
planks and market-gardens; the houses were all at the end nearest the
Rue de Vaugirard; and the walk through the gardens was so little
frequented, that at the hour when Paris dines, two lovers might fall
out and exchange the earnest of reconciliation without fear of
intruders. The only possible spoil-sport was the pensioner on duty at
the little iron gate on the Rue de l'Ouest, if that gray-headed
veteran should take it into his head to lengthen his monotonous beat.
There, on a bench beneath the lime-trees, Etienne Lousteau sat and
listened to sample-sonnets from the _Marguerites_.
Etienne Lousteau, after a two-years' apprenticeship, was on the staff
of a newspaper; he had his foot in the stirrup; he reckoned some of
the celebrities of the day among his friends; altogether, he was an
imposing personage in Lucien's eyes. Wherefore, while Lucien untied
the string about the _Marguerites_, he judged it necessary to make some
sort of preface.
"The sonnet, monsieur," said he, "is one of the most difficult forms
of poetry. It has fallen almost entirely into disuse. No Frenchman can
hope to rival Petrarch; for the language in which the Italian wrote,
being so infinitely more pliant than French, lends itself to play of
thought which our positivism (pardon the use of the expression)
rejects. So it seemed to me that a volume of sonnets would be
something quite new. Victor Hugo has appropriated the old, Canalis
writes lighter verse, Beranger has monopolized songs, Casimir
Delavigne has taken tragedy, and Lamartine the poetry of meditation."
"Are you a 'Classic' or a 'Romantic'?" inquired Lousteau.
Lucien's astonishment betrayed such complete ignorance of the state of
affairs in the republic of letters, that Lousteau thought it necessary
to enlighten him.
"You have come up in the middle of a pitched battle, my dear fellow;
you must make your decision at once. Literature is divided, in the
first place, into several zones, but our great men are ranged in two
hostile camps. The Royalists are 'Romantics,' the Liberals are
'Classics.' The divergence of taste in matters literary and divergence
of political opinion coincide; and the result is a war with weapons of
every sort, double-edged witticisms, subtle calumnies and nicknames _a
outrance_, between the rising and the waning glory, and ink is shed in
torrents. The odd part of it is that the Royalist-Romantics are all
for liberty in literature, and for repealing laws and conventions;
while the Liberal-Classics are for maintaining the unities, the
Alexandrine, and the classical theme. So opinions in politics on
either side are directly at variance with literary taste. If you are
eclectic, you will have no one for you. Which side do you take?"
"Which is the winning side?"
"The Liberal newspapers have far more subscribers than the Royalist
and Ministerial journals; still, though Canalis is for Church and
King, and patronized by the Court and the clergy, he reaches other
readers.--Pshaw! sonnets date back to an epoch before Boileau's time,"
said Etienne, seeing Lucien's dismay at the prospect of choosing
between two banners. "Be a Romantic. The Romantics are young men, and
the Classics are pedants; the Romantics will gain the day."
The word "pedant" was the latest epithet taken up by Romantic
journalism to heap confusion on the Classical faction.
Lucien began to read, choosing first of all the title-sonnets.
The daisies in the meadows, not in vain,
In red and white and gold before our eyes,
Have written an idyll for man's sympathies,
And set his heart's desire in language plain.
Gold stamens set in silver filigrane
Reveal the treasures which we idolize;
And all the cost of struggle for the prize
Is symboled by a secret blood-red stain.
Was it because your petals once uncurled
When Jesus rose upon a fairer world,
And from wings shaken for a heav'nward flight
Shed grace, that still as autumn reappears
You bloom again to tell of dead delight,
To bring us back the flower of twenty years?
Lucien felt piqued by Lousteau's complete indifference during the
reading of the sonnet; he was unfamiliar as yet with the disconcerting
impassibility of the professional critic, wearied by much reading of
poetry, prose, and plays. Lucien was accustomed to applause. He choked
down his disappointment and read another, a favorite with Mme. de
Bargeton and with some of his friends in the Rue des Quatre-Vents.
"This one, perhaps, will draw a word from him," he thought.
I am the Marguerite, fair and tall I grew
In velvet meadows, 'mid the flowers a star.
They sought me for my beauty near and far;
My dawn, I thought, should be for ever new.
But now an all unwished-for gift I rue,
A fatal ray of knowledge shed to mar
My radiant star-crown grown oracular,
For I must speak and give an answer true.
An end of silence and of quiet days,
The Lover with two words my counsel prays;
And when my secret from my heart is reft,
When all my silver petals scattered lie,
I am the only flower neglected left,
Cast down and trodden under foot to die.
At the end, the poet looked up at his Aristarchus. Etienne Lousteau
was gazing at the trees in the Pepiniere.
"Well?" asked Lucien.
"Well, my dear fellow, go on! I am listening to you, am I not? That
fact in itself is as good as praise in Paris."
"Have you had enough?" Lucien asked.
"Go on," the other answered abruptly enough.
Lucien proceeded to read the following sonnet, but his heart was dead
within him; Lousteau's inscrutable composure froze his utterance. If
he had come a little further upon the road, he would have known that
between writer and writer silence or abrupt speech, under such
circumstances, is a betrayal of jealousy, and outspoken admiration
means a sense of relief over the discovery that the work is not above
the average after all.
In Nature's book, if rightly understood,
The rose means love, and red for beauty glows;
A pure, sweet spirit in the violet blows,
And bright the lily gleams in lowlihood.
But this strange bloom, by sun and wind unwooed,
Seems to expand and blossom 'mid the snows,
A lily sceptreless, a scentless rose,
For dainty listlessness of maidenhood.
Yet at the opera house the petals trace
For modesty a fitting aureole;
An alabaster wreath to lay, methought,
In dusky hair o'er some fair woman's face
Which kindles ev'n such love within the soul
As sculptured marble forms by Phidias wrought.
"What do you think of my poor sonnets?" Lucien asked, coming straight
to the point.
"Do you want the truth?"
"I am young enough to like the truth, and so anxious to succeed that I
can hear it without taking offence, but not without despair," replied
"Well, my dear fellow, the first sonnet, from its involved style, was
evidently written at Angouleme; it gave you so much trouble, no doubt,
that you cannot give it up. The second and third smack of Paris
already; but read us one more sonnet," he added, with a gesture that
seemed charming to the provincial.
Encouraged by the request, Lucien read with more confidence, choosing
a sonnet which d'Arthez and Bridau liked best, perhaps on account of
I am the Tulip from Batavia's shore;
The thrifty Fleming for my beauty rare
Pays a king's ransom, when that I am fair,
And tall, and straight, and pure my petal's core.
And, like some Yolande of the days of yore,
My long and amply folded skirts I wear,
O'er-painted with the blazon that I bear
--Gules, a fess azure; purpure, fretty, or.
The fingers of the Gardener divine
Have woven for me my vesture fair and fine,
Of threads of sunlight and of purple stain;
No flower so glorious in the garden bed,
But Nature, woe is me, no fragrance shed
Within my cup of Orient porcelain.
"Well?" asked Lucien after a pause, immeasurably long, as it seemed to
"My dear fellow," Etienne said, gravely surveying the tips of Lucien's
boots (he had brought the pair from Angouleme, and was wearing them
out). "My dear fellow, I strongly recommend you to put your ink on
your boots to save blacking, and to take your pens for toothpicks, so
that when you come away from Flicoteaux's you can swagger along this
picturesque alley looking as if you had dined. Get a situation of any
sort or description. Run errands for a bailiff if you have the heart,
be a shopman if your back is strong enough, enlist if you happen to
have a taste for military music. You have the stuff of three poets in
you; but before you can reach your public, you will have time to die
of starvation six times over, if you intend to live on the proceeds of
your poetry, that is. And from your too unsophisticated discourse, it
would seem to be your intention to coin money out of your inkstand.
"I say nothing as to your verses; they are a good deal better than all
the poetical wares that are cumbering the ground in booksellers'
backshops just now. Elegant 'nightingales' of that sort cost a little
more than the others, because they are printed on hand-made paper, but
they nearly all of them come down at last to the banks of the Seine.
You may study their range of notes there any day if you care to make
an instructive pilgrimage along the Quais from old Jerome's stall by
the Pont Notre Dame to the Pont Royal. You will find them all there
--all the _Essays in Verse_, the _Inspirations_, the lofty flights,
the hymns, and songs, and ballads, and odes; all the nestfuls hatched
during the last seven years, in fact. There lie their muses, thick
with dust, bespattered by every passing cab, at the mercy of every
profane hand that turns them over to look at the vignette on the
"You know nobody; you have access to no newspaper, so your _Marguerites_
will remain demurely folded as you hold them now. They will never open
out to the sun of publicity in fair fields with broad margins enameled
with the florets which Dauriat the illustrious, the king of the Wooden
Galleries, scatters with a lavish hand for poets known to fame. I came
to Paris as you came, poor boy, with a plentiful stock of illusions,
impelled by irrepressible longings for glory--and I found the
realities of the craft, the practical difficulties of the trade, the
hard facts of poverty. In my enthusiasm (it is kept well under control
now), my first ebullition of youthful spirits, I did not see the
social machinery at work; so I had to learn to see it by bumping
against the wheels and bruising myself against the shafts, and chains.
Now you are about to learn, as I learned, that between you and all
these fair dreamed-of things lies the strife of men, and passions, and
"Willy-nilly, you must take part in a terrible battle; book against
book, man against man, party against party; make war you must, and
that systematically, or you will be abandoned by your own party. And
they are mean contests; struggles which leave you disenchanted, and
wearied, and depraved, and all in pure waste; for it often happens
that you put forth all your strength to win laurels for a man whom you
despise, and maintain, in spite of yourself, that some second-rate
writer is a genius.
"There is a world behind the scenes in the theatre of literature. The
public in front sees unexpected or well-deserved success, and
applauds; the public does _not_ see the preparations, ugly as they
always are, the painted supers, the _claqueurs_ hired to applaud, the
stage carpenters, and all that lies behind the scenes. You are still
among the audience. Abdicate, there is still time, before you set your
foot on the lowest step of the throne for which so many ambitious
spirits are contending, and do not sell your honor, as I do, for a
livelihood." Etienne's eyes filled with tears as he spoke.
"Do you know how I make a living?" he continued passionately. "The
little stock of money they gave me at home was soon eaten up. A piece
of mine was accepted at the Theatre-Francais just as I came to an end
of it. At the Theatre-Francais the influence of a first gentleman of
the bedchamber, or of a prince of the blood, would not be enough to
secure a turn of favor; the actors only make concessions to those who
threaten their self-love. If it is in your power to spread a report
that the _jeune premier_ has the asthma, the leading lady a fistula
where you please, and the soubrette has foul breath, then your piece
would be played to-morrow. I do not know whether in two years' time, I
who speak to you now, shall be in a position to exercise such power.
You need so many to back you. And where and how am I to gain my bread
"I tried lots of things; I wrote a novel, anonymously; old Doguereau
gave me two hundred francs for it, and he did not make very much out
of it himself. Then it grew plain to me that journalism alone could
give me a living. The next thing was to find my way into those shops.
I will not tell you all the advances I made, nor how often I begged in
vain. I will say nothing of the six months I spent as extra hand on a
paper, and was told that I scared subscribers away, when as a fact I
attracted them. Pass over the insults I put up with. At this moment I
am doing the plays at the Boulevard theatres, almost _gratis_, for a
paper belonging to Finot, that stout young fellow who breakfasts two
or three times a month, even now, at the Cafe Voltaire (but you don't
go there). I live by selling tickets that managers give me to bribe a
good word in the paper, and reviewers' copies of books. In short,
Finot once satisfied, I am allowed to write for and against various
commercial articles, and I traffic in tribute paid in kind by various
tradesmen. A facetious notice of a Carminative Toilet Lotion, _Pate des
Sultanes_, Cephalic Oil, or Brazilian Mixture brings me in twenty or
"I am obliged to dun the publishers when they don't send in a
sufficient number of reviewers' copies; Finot, as editor, appropriates
two and sells them, and I must have two to sell. If a book of capital
importance comes out, and the publisher is stingy with copies, his
life is made a burden to him. The craft is vile, but I live by it, and
so do scores of others. Do not imagine that things are any better in
public life. There is corruption everywhere in both regions; every man
is corrupt or corrupts others. If there is any publishing enterprise
somewhat larger than usual afoot, the trade will pay me something to
buy neutrality. The amount of my income varies, therefore, directly
with the prospectuses. When prospectuses break out like a rash, money
pours into my pockets; I stand treat all round. When trade is dull, I
dine at Flicoteaux's.
"Actresses will pay you likewise for praise, but the wiser among them
pay for criticism. To be passed over in silence is what they dread the
most; and the very best thing of all, from their point of view, is
criticism which draws down a reply; it is far more effectual than bald
praise, forgotten as soon as read, and it costs more in consequence.
Celebrity, my dear fellow, is based upon controversy. I am a hired
bravo; I ply my trade among ideas and reputations, commercial,
literary, and dramatic; I make some fifty crowns a month; I can sell a
novel for five hundred francs; and I am beginning to be looked upon as
a man to be feared. Some day, instead of living with Florine at the
expense of a druggist who gives himself the airs of a lord, I shall be
in a house of my own; I shall be on the staff of a leading newspaper,
I shall have a _feuilleton_; and on that day, my dear fellow, Florine
will become a great actress. As for me, I am not sure what I shall be
when that time comes, a minister or an honest man--all things are
He raised his humiliated head, and looked out at the green leaves,
with an expression of despairing self-condemnation dreadful to see.
"And I had a great tragedy accepted!" he went on. "And among my papers
there is a poem, which will die. And I was a good fellow, and my heart
was clean! I used to dream lofty dreams of love for great ladies,
queens in the great world; and--my mistress is an actress at the
Panorama-Dramatique. And lastly, if a bookseller declines to send a
copy of a book to my paper, I will run down work which is good, as I
Lucien was moved to tears, and he grasped Etienne's hand in his. The
journalist rose to his feet, and the pair went up and down the broad
Avenue de l'Observatoire, as if their lungs craved ampler breathing
"Outside the world of letters," Etienne Lousteau continued, "not a
single creature suspects that every one who succeeds in that world
--who has a certain vogue, that is to say, or comes into fashion, or
gains reputation, or renown, or fame, or favor with the public (for by
these names we know the rungs of the ladder by which we climb to the
higher heights above and beyond them),--every one who comes even thus
far is the hero of a dreadful Odyssey. Brilliant portents rise above
the mental horizon through a combination of a thousand accidents;
conditions change so swiftly that no two men have been known to reach
success by the same road. Canalis and Nathan are two dissimilar cases;
things never fall out in the same way twice. There is d'Arthez, who
knocks himself to pieces with work--he will make a famous name by some
"This so much desired reputation is nearly always crowned
prostitution. Yes; the poorest kind of literature is the hapless
creature freezing at the street corner; second-rate literature is the
kept-mistress picked out of the brothels of journalism, and I am her
bully; lastly, there is lucky literature, the flaunting, insolent
courtesan who has a house of her own and pays taxes, who receives
great lords, treating or ill-treating them as she pleases, who has
liveried servants and a carriage, and can afford to keep greedy
creditors waiting. Ah! and for yet others, for me not so very long
ago, for you to-day--she is a white-robed angel with many-colored
wings, bearing a green palm branch in the one hand, and in the other a
flaming sword. An angel, something akin to the mythological
abstraction which lives at the bottom of a well, and to the poor and
honest girl who lives a life of exile in the outskirts of the great
city, earning every penny with a noble fortitude and in the full light
of virtue, returning to heaven inviolate of body and soul; unless,
indeed, she comes to lie at the last, soiled, despoiled, polluted, and
forgotten, on a pauper's bier. As for the men whose brains are
encompassed with bronze, whose hearts are still warm under the snows
of experience, they are found but seldom in the country that lies at
our feet," he added, pointing to the great city seething in the late
A vision of d'Arthez and his friends flashed upon Lucien's sight, and
made appeal to him for a moment; but Lousteau's appalling lamentation
carried him away.
"They are very few and far between in that great fermenting vat; rare
as love in love-making, rare as fortunes honestly made in business,
rare as the journalist whose hands are clean. The experience of the
first man who told me all that I am telling you was thrown away upon
me, and mine no doubt will be wasted upon you. It is always the same
old story year after year; the same eager rush to Paris from the
provinces; the same, not to say a growing, number of beardless,
ambitious boys, who advance, head erect, and the heart that Princess
Tourandocte of the _Mille et un Jours_--each one of them fain to be her
Prince Calaf. But never a one of them reads the riddle. One by one
they drop, some into the trench where failures lie, some into the mire
of journalism, some again into the quagmires of the book-trade.
"They pick up a living, these beggars, what with biographical notices,
penny-a-lining, and scraps of news for the papers. They become
booksellers' hacks for the clear-headed dealers in printed paper, who
would sooner take the rubbish that goes off in a fortnight than a
masterpiece which requires time to sell. The life is crushed out of
the grubs before they reach the butterfly stage. They live by shame
and dishonor. They are ready to write down a rising genius or to
praise him to the skies at a word from the pasha of the
_Constitutionnel_, the _Quotidienne_, or the _Debats_, at a sign from a
publisher, at the request of a jealous comrade, or (as not seldom
happens) simply for a dinner. Some surmount the obstacles, and these
forget the misery of their early days. I, who am telling you this,
have been putting the best that is in me into newspaper articles for
six months past for a blackguard who gives them out as his own and has
secured a _feuilleton_ in another paper on the strength of them. He has
not taken me on as his collaborator, he has not give me so much as a
five-franc piece, but I hold out a hand to grasp his when we meet; I
cannot help myself."
"And why?" Lucien, asked, indignantly.
"I may want to put a dozen lines into his _feuilleton_ some day,"
Lousteau answered coolly. "In short, my dear fellow, in literature you
will not make money by hard work, that is not the secret of success;
the point is to exploit the work of somebody else. A newspaper
proprietor is a contractor, we are the bricklayers. The more mediocre
the man, the better his chance of getting on among mediocrities; he
can play the toad-eater, put up with any treatment, and flatter all
the little base passions of the sultans of literature. There is Hector
Merlin, who came from Limoges a short time ago; he is writing
political articles already for a Right Centre daily, and he is at work
on our little paper as well. I have seen an editor drop his hat and
Merlin pick it up. The fellow was careful never to give offence, and
slipped into the thick of the fight between rival ambitions. I am
sorry for you. It is as if I saw in you the self that I used to be,
and sure am I that in one or two years' time you will be what I am
now.--You will think that there is some lurking jealousy or personal
motive in this bitter counsel, but it is prompted by the despair of a
damned soul that can never leave hell.--No one ventures to utter such
things as these. You hear the groans of anguish from a man wounded to
the heart, crying like a second Job from the ashes, 'Behold my
"But whether I fight upon this field or elsewhere, fight I must," said
"Then, be sure of this," returned Lousteau, "if you have anything in
you, the war will know no truce, the best chance of success lies in an
empty head. The austerity of your conscience, clear as yet, will relax
when you see that a man holds your future in his two hands, when a
word from such a man means life to you, and he will not say that word.
For, believe me, the most brutal bookseller in the trade is not so
insolent, so hard-hearted to a newcomer as the celebrity of the day.
The bookseller sees a possible loss of money, while the writer of
books dreads a possible rival; the first shows you the door, the
second crushes the life out of you. To do really good work, my boy,
means that you will draw out the energy, sap, and tenderness of your
nature at every dip of the pen in the ink, to set it forth for the
world in passion and sentiment and phrases. Yes; instead of acting,
you will write; you will sing songs instead of fighting; you will love
and hate and live in your books; and then, after all, when you shall
have reserved your riches for your style, your gold and purple for
your characters, and you yourself are walking the streets of Paris in
rags, rejoicing in that, rivaling the State Register, you have
authorized the existence of beings styled Adolphe, Corinne or
Clarissa, Rene or Manon; when you shall have spoiled your life and
your digestion to give life to that creation, then you shall see it
slandered, betrayed, sold, swept away into the back waters of oblivion
by journalists, and buried out of sight by your best friends. How can
you afford to wait until the day when your creation shall rise again,
raised from the dead--how? when? and by whom? Take a magnificent book,
the _pianto_ of unbelief; _Obermann_ is a solitary wanderer in the desert
places of booksellers' warehouses, he has been a 'nightingale,'
ironically so called, from the very beginning: when will his Easter
come? Who knows? Try, to begin with, to find somebody bold enough to
print the _Marguerites_; not to pay for them, but simply to print them;
and you will see some queer things."
The fierce tirade, delivered in every tone of the passionate feeling
which it expressed, fell upon Lucien's spirit like an avalanche, and
left a sense of glacial cold. For one moment he stood silent; then, as
he felt the terrible stimulating charm of difficulty beginning to work
upon him, his courage blazed up. He grasped Lousteau's hand.
"I will triumph!" he cried aloud.
"Good!" said the other, "one more Christian given over to the wild
beasts in the arena.--There is a first-night performance at the
Panorama-Dramatique, my dear fellow; it doesn't begin till eight, so
you can change your coat, come properly dressed in fact, and call for
me. I am living on the fourth floor above the Cafe Servel, Rue de la
Harpe. We will go to Dauriat's first of all. You still mean to go on,
do you not? Very well, I will introduce you to one of the kings of the
trade to-night, and to one or two journalists. We will sup with my
mistress and several friends after the play, for you cannot count that
dinner as a meal. Finot will be there, editor and proprietor of my
paper. As Minette says in the Vaudeville (do you remember?), 'Time is
a great lean creature.' Well, for the like of us, Chance is a great
lean creature, and must be tempted."
"I shall remember this day as long as I live," said Lucien.
"Bring your manuscript with you, and be careful of your dress, not on
Florine's account, but for the booksellers' benefit."
The comrade's good-nature, following upon the poet's passionate
outcry, as he described the war of letters, moved Lucien quite as
deeply as d'Arthez's grave and earnest words on a former occasion. The
prospect of entering at once upon the strife with men warmed him. In
his youth and inexperience he had no suspicion how real were the moral
evils denounced by the journalist. Nor did he know that he was
standing at the parting of two distinct ways, between two systems,
represented by the brotherhood upon one hand, and journalism upon the
other. The first way was long, honorable, and sure; the second beset
with hidden dangers, a perilous path, among muddy channels where
conscience is inevitably bespattered. The bent of Lucien's character
determined for the shorter way, and the apparently pleasanter way, and
to snatch at the quickest and promptest means. At this moment he saw
no difference between d'Arthez's noble friendship and Lousteau's easy
comaraderie; his inconstant mind discerned a new weapon in journalism;
he felt that he could wield it, so he wished to take it.
He was dazzled by the offers of this new friend, who had struck a hand
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