Honore de Balzac

Part 5 out of 5

this government office without ever understanding a sentence, or a
single word uttered by Monsieur Bixiou."

Bixiou. "It is your own fault; ask these gentlemen. Gentlemen, have
you understood the meaning of my observations? and were those
observations just, and brilliant?"

All. "Alas, yes!"

Minard. "And the proof is that I shall send in my resignation. I shall
plunge into industrial avocations."

Bixiou. "What! have you managed to invent a mechanical corset, or a
baby's bottle, or a fire engine, or chimneys that consume no fuel, or
ovens which cook cutlets with three sheets of paper?"

Minard [departing.] "Adieu, I shall keep my secret."

Bixiou. "Well, young Poiret junior, you see,--all these gentlemen
understand me."

Poiret [crest-fallen]. "Monsieur Bixiou, would you do me the honor to
come down for once to my level and speak in a language I can

Bixiou [winking at the rest]. "Willingly." [Takes Poiret by the button
of his frock-coat.] "Before you leave this office forever perhaps you
would be glad to know what you are--"

Poiret [quickly]. "An honest man, monsieur."

Bixiou [shrugging his shoulders]. "--to be able to define, explain,
and analyze precisely what a government clerk is? Do you know what he

Poiret. "I think I do."

Bixiou [twisting the button]. "I doubt it."

Poiret. "He is a man paid by government to do work."

Bixiou. "Oh! then a soldier is a government clerk?"

Poiret [puzzled]. "Why, no."

Bixiou. "But he is paid by the government to do work, to mount guard
and show off at reviews. You may perhaps tell me that he longs to get
out of his place,--that he works too hard and fingers too little
metal, except that of his musket."

Poiret [his eyes wide open]. "Monsieur, a government clerk is,
logically speaking, a man who needs the salary to maintain himself,
and is not free to get out of his place; for he doesn't know how to do
anything but copy papers."

Bixiou. "Ah! now we are coming to a conclusion. So the bureau is the
clerk's shell, husk, pod. No clerk without a bureau, no bureau without
a clerk. But what do you make, then, of a customs officer?" [Poiret
shuffles his feet and tries to edge away; Bixiou twists off one button
and catches him by another.] "He is, from the bureaucratic point of
view, a neutral being. The excise-man is only half a clerk; he is on
the confines between civil and military service; neither altogether
soldier nor altogether clerk-- Here, here, where are you going?"
[Twists the button.] "Where does the government clerk proper end?
That's a serious question. Is a prefect a clerk?"

Poiret [hesitating]. "He is a functionary."

Bixiou. "But you don't mean that a functionary is not a clerk? that's
an absurdity."

Poiret [weary and looking round for escape]. "I think Monsieur Godard
wants to say something."

Godard. "The clerk is the order, the functionary the species."

Bixiou [laughing]. "I shouldn't have thought you capable of that
distinction, my brave subordinate."

Poiret [trying to get away]. "Incomprehensible!"

Bixiou. "La, la, papa, don't step on your tether. If you stand still
and listen, we shall come to an understanding before long. Now, here's
an axiom which I bequeath to this bureau and to all bureaus: Where the
clerk ends, the functionary begins; where the functionary ends, the
statesman rises. There are very few statesmen among the prefects. The
prefect is therefore a neutral being among the higher species. He
comes between the statesman and the clerk, just as the custom-house
officer stands between the civil and the military. Let us continue to
clear up these important points." [Poiret turns crimson with
distress.] "Suppose we formulate the whole matter in a maxim worthy of
Larochefoucault: Officials with salaries of twenty thousand francs are
not clerks. From which we may deduce mathematically this corollary:
The statesman first looms up in the sphere of higher salaries; and
also this second and not less logical and important corollary:
Directors-general may be statesmen. Perhaps it is in that sense that
more than one deputy says in his heart, 'It is a fine thing to be a
director-general.' But in the interests of our noble French language
and of the Academy--"

Poiret [magnetized by the fixity of Bixiou's eye]. "The French
language! the Academy!"

Bixiou [twisting off the second button and seizing another]. "Yes, in
the interests of our noble tongue, it is proper to observe that
although the head of a bureau, strictly speaking, may be called a
clerk, the head of a division must be called a bureaucrat. These
gentlemen" [turning to the clerks and privately showing them the third
button off Poiret's coat] "will appreciate this delicate shade of
meaning. And so, papa Poiret, don't you see it is clear that the
government clerk comes to a final end at the head of a division? Now
that question once settled, there is no longer any uncertainty; the
government clerk who has hitherto seemed undefinable is defined."

Poiret. "Yes, that appears to me beyond a doubt."

Bixiou. "Nevertheless, do me the kindness to answer the following
question: A judge being irremovable, and consequently debarred from
being, according to your subtle distinction, a functionary, and
receiving a salary which is not the equivalent of the work he does, is
he to be included in the class of clerks?"

Poiret [gazing at the cornice]. "Monsieur, I don't follow you."

Bixiou [getting off the fourth button]. "I wanted to prove to you,
monsieur, that nothing is simple; but above all--and what I am going
to say is intended for philosophers--I wish (if you'll allow me to
misquote a saying of Louis XVIII.),--I wish to make you see that
definitions lead to muddles."

Poiret [wiping his forehead]. "Excuse me, I am sick at my stomach"
[tries to button his coat]. "Ah! you have cut off all my buttons!"

Bixiou. "But the point is, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"

Poiret [angrily]. "Yes, monsieur, I do; I understand that you have
been playing me a shameful trick and twisting off my buttons while I
have been standing here unconscious of it."

Bixiou [solemnly]. "Old man, you are mistaken! I wished to stamp upon
your brain the clearest possible image of constitutional government"
[all the clerks look at Bixiou; Poiret, stupefied, gazes at him
uneasily], "and also to keep my word to you. In so doing I employed
the parabolical method of savages. Listen and comprehend: While the
ministers start discussions in the Chambers that are just about as
useful and as conclusive as the one we are engaged in, the
administration cuts the buttons off the tax-payers."

All. "Bravo, Bixiou!"

Poiret [who comprehends]. "I don't regret my buttons."

Bixiou. "I shall follow Minard's example; I won't pocket such a
paltry salary as mine any longer; I shall deprive the government of my
co-operation." [Departs amid general laughter.]

Another scene was taking place in the minister's reception-room, more
instructive than the one we have just related, because it shows how
great ideas are allowed to perish in the higher regions of State
affairs, and in what way statesmen console themselves.

Des Lupeaulx was presenting the new director, Monsieur Baudoyer, to
the minister. A number of persons were assembled in the salon,--two or
three ministerial deputies, a few men of influence, and Monsieur
Clergeot (whose division was now merged with La Billardiere's under
Baudoyer's direction), to whom the minister was promising an honorable
pension. After a few general remarks, the great event of the day was
brought up.

A deputy. "So you lose Rabourdin?"

Des Lupeaulx. "He has resigned."

Clergeot. "They say he wanted to reform the administration."

The Minister [looking at the deputies]. "Salaries are not really in
proportion to the exigencies of the civil service."

De la Briere. "According to Monsieur Rabourdin, one hundred clerks
with a salary of twelve thousand francs would do better and quicker
work than a thousand clerks at twelve hundred."

Clergeot. "Perhaps he is right."

The Minister. "But what is to be done? The machine is built in that
way. Must we take it to pieces and remake it? No one would have the
courage to attempt that in face of the Chamber, and the foolish
outcries of the Opposition, and the fierce denunciations of the press.
It follows that there will happen, one of these days, some damaging
'solution of continuity' between the government and the

A deputy. "In what way?"

The Minister. "In many ways. A minister will want to serve the public
good, and will not be allowed to do so. You will create interminable
delays between things and their results. You may perhaps render the
theft of a penny actually impossible, but you cannot prevent the
buying and selling of influence, the collusions of self-interest. The
day will come when nothing will be conceded without secret
stipulations, which may never see the light. Moreover, the clerks, one
and all, from the least to the greatest, are acquiring opinions of
their own; they will soon be no longer the hands of a brain, the
scribes of governmental thought; the Opposition even now tends towards
giving them a right to judge the government and to talk and vote
against it."

Baudoyer [in a low voice, but meaning to be heard]. "Monseigneur is
really fine."

Des Lupeaulx. "Of course bureaucracy has its defects. I myself think
it slow and insolent; it hampers ministerial action, stifles projects,
and arrests progress. But, after all, French administration is
amazingly useful."

Baudoyer. "Certainly!"

Des Lupeaulx. "If only to maintain the paper and stamp industries!
Suppose it is rather fussy and provoking, like all good housekeepers,
--it can at any moment render an account of its disbursements. Where
is the merchant who would not gladly give five per cent of his entire
capital if he could insure himself against LEAKAGE?"

The Deputy [a manufacturer]. "The manufacturing interests of all
nations would joyfully unite against that evil genius of theirs called

Des Lupeaulx. "After all, though statistics are the childish foible of
modern statesmen, who think that figures are estimates, we must cipher
to estimate. Figures are, moreover, the convincing argument of
societies based on self-interest and money, and that is the sort of
society the Charter has given us,--in my opinion, at any rate. Nothing
convinces the 'intelligent masses' as much as a row of figures. All
things in the long run, say the statesmen of the Left, resolve
themselves into figures. Well then, let us figure" [the minister here
goes off into a corner with a deputy, to whom he talks in a low
voice]. "There are forty thousand government clerks in France. The
average of their salaries is fifteen hundred francs. Multiply forty
thousand by fifteen hundred and you have sixty millions. Now, in the
first place, a publicist would call the attention of Russia and China
(where all government officials steal), also that of Austria, the
American republics, and indeed that of the whole world, to the fact
that for this price France possesses the most inquisitorial, fussy,
ferreting, scribbling, paper-blotting, fault-finding old housekeeper
of a civil service on God's earth. Not a copper farthing of the
nation's money is spent or hoarded that is not ordered by a note,
proved by vouchers, produced and re-produced on balance-sheets, and
receipted for when paid; orders and receipts are registered on the
rolls, and checked and verified by an army of men in spectacles. If
there is the slightest mistake in the form of these precious
documents, the clerk is terrified, for he lives on such minutiae. Some
nations would be satisfied to get as far as this; but Napoleon went
further. That great organizer appointed supreme magistrates of a court
which is absolutely unique in the world. These officials pass their
days in verifying money-orders, documents, roles, registers, lists,
permits, custom-house receipts, payments, taxes received, taxes spent,
etc.; all of which the clerks write or copy. These stern judges push
the gift of exactitude, the genius of inquisition, the sharp-
sightedness of lynxes, the perspicacity of account-books to the point
of going over all the additions in search of subtractions. These
sublime martyrs to figures have been known to return to an army
commissary, after a delay of two years, some account in which there
was an error of two farthings. This is how and why it is that the
French system of administration, the purest and best on the globe has
rendered robbery, as his Excellency has just told you, next to
impossible, and as for peculation, it is a myth. France at this
present time possesses a revenue of twelve hundred millions, and she
spends it. That sum enters her treasury, and that sum goes out of it.
She handles, therefore, two thousand four hundred millions, and all
she pays for the labor of those who do the work is sixty millions,--
two and a half per cent; and for that she obtains the certainty that
there is no leakage. Our political and administrative kitchen costs us
sixty millions, but the gendarmerie, the courts of law, the galleys
and the police cost just as much, and give no return. Moreover, we
employ a body of men who could do no other work. Waste and disorder,
if such there be, can only be legislative; the Chambers lead to them
and render them legal. Leakage follows in the form of public works
which are neither urgent nor necessary; troops re-uniformed and
gold-laced over and over again; vessels sent on useless cruises;
preparations for war without ever making it; paying the debts of a
State, and not requiring reimbursement or insisting on security."

Baudoyer. "But such leakage has nothing to do with the subordinate
officials; this bad management of national affairs concerns the
statesmen who guide the ship."

The Minister [who has finished his conversation]. "There is a great
deal of truth in what des Lupeaulx has just said; but let me tell you"
[to Baudoyer], "Monsieur le directeur, that few men see from the
standpoint of a statesman. To order expenditure of all kinds, even
useless ones, does not constitute bad management. Such acts contribute
to the movement of money, the stagnation of which becomes, especially
in France, dangerous to the public welfare, by reason of the miserly
and profoundly illogical habits of the provinces which hoard their

The Deputy [who listened to des Lupeaulx]. "But it seems to me that if
your Excellency was right just now, and if our clever friend here"
[takes Lupeaulx by the arm] "was not wrong, it will be difficult to
come to any conclusion on the subject."

Des Lupeaulx [after looking at the minister]. "No doubt something
ought to be done."

De la Briere [timidly]. "Monsieur Rabourdin seems to have judged

The Minister. "I will see Rabourdin."

Des Lupeaulx. "The poor man made the blunder of constituting himself
supreme judge of the administration and of all the officials who
compose it; he wants to do away with the present state of things, and
he demands that there be only three ministries."

The Minister. "He must be crazy."

The Deputy. "How do you represent in three ministries the heads of all
the parties in the Chamber?"

Baudoyer [with an air that he imagined to be shrewd]. "Perhaps
Monsieur Rabourdin desired to change the Constitution, which we owe to
our legislative sovereign."

The Minister [thoughtful, takes La Briere's arm and leads him into the
study]. "I want to see that work of Rabourdin's, and as you know about

De la Briere. "He has burned it. You allowed him to be dishonored and
he has resigned from the ministry. Do not think for a moment,
Monseigneur, that Rabourdin ever had the absurd thought (as des
Lupeaulx tries to make it believed) to change the admirable
centralization of power."

The Minister [to himself]. "I have made a mistake" [is silent a
moment]. "No matter; we shall never be lacking in plans for reform."

De la Briere. "It is not ideas, but men capable of executing them that
we lack."

Des Lupeaulx, that adroit advocate of abuses came into the minister's
study at this moment.

"Monseigneur, I start at once for my election."

"Wait a moment," said his Excellency, leaving the private secretary
and taking des Lupeaulx by the arm into the recess of a window. "My
dear friend, let me have that arrondissement,--if you will, you shall
be made count and I will pay your debts. Later, if I remain in the
ministry after the new Chamber is elected, I will find a way to send
in your name in a batch for the peerage."

"You are a man of honor, and I accept."

This is how it came to pass that Clement Chardin des Lupeaulx, whose
father was ennobled under Louis XV., and who beareth quarterly, first,
argent, a wolf ravisant carrying a lamb gules; second, purpure, three
mascles argent, two and one; third, paly of twelve, gules and argent;
fourth, or, on a pale endorsed, three batons fleurdelises gules;
supported by four griffon's-claws jessant from the sides of the
escutcheon, with the motto "En Lupus in Historia," was able to
surmount these rather satirical arms with a count's coronet.

Towards the close of the year 1830 Monsieur Rabourdin did some
business on hand which required him to visit the old ministry, where
the bureaus had all been in great commotion, owing to a general
removal of officials, from the highest to the lowest. This revolution
bore heaviest, in point of fact, upon the lackeys, who are not fond of
seeing new faces. Rabourdin had come early, knowing all the ways of
the place, and he thus chanced to overhear a dialogue between the two
nephews of old Antoine, who had recently retired on a pension.

"Well, Laurent, how is your chief of division going on?"

"Oh, don't talk to me about him; I can't do anything with him. He
rings me up to ask if I have seen his handkerchief or his snuff-box.
He receives people without making them wait; in short, he hasn't a bit
of dignity. I'm often obliged to say to him: But, monsieur, monsieur
le comte your predecessor, for the credit of the thing, used to punch
holes with his penknife in the arms of his chair to make believe he
was working. And he makes such a mess of his room. I find everything
topsy-turvy. He has a very small mind. How about your man?"

"Mine? Oh, I have succeeded in training him. He knows exactly where
his letter-paper and envelopes, his wood, and his boxes and all the
rest of his things are. The other man used to swear at me, but this
one is as meek as a lamb,--still, he hasn't the grand style! Moreover,
he isn't decorated, and I don't like to serve a chief who isn't; he
might be taken for one of us, and that's humiliating. He carries the
office letter-paper home, and asked me if I couldn't go there and wait
at table when there was company."

"Hey! what a government, my dear fellow!"

"Yes, indeed; everybody plays low in these days."

"I hope they won't cut down our poor wages."

"I'm afraid they will. The Chambers are prying into everything. Why,
they even count the sticks of wood."

"Well, it can't last long if they go on that way."

"Hush, we're caught! somebody is listening."

"Hey! it is the late Monsieur Rabourdin. Ah, monsieur, I knew your
step. If you have business to transact here I am afraid you will not
find any one who is aware of the respect that ought to be paid to you;
Laurent and I are the only persons remaining about the place who were
here in your day. Messieurs Colleville and Baudoyer didn't wear out
the morocco of the chairs after you left. Heavens, no! six months
later they were made Collectors of Paris."

* * * * *

Note.--Anagrams cannot, of course, be translated; that is why three
English ones have been substituted for some in French. [Tr.]


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Baudoyer, Isidore
The Middle Classes
Cousin Pons

Bianchon, Horace
Father Goriot
The Atheist's Mass
Cesar Birotteau
The Commission in Lunacy
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Secrets of a Princess
A Study of Woman
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Seamy Side of History
The Magic Skin
A Second Home
A Prince of Bohemia
Letters of Two Brides
The Muse of the Department
The Imaginary Mistress
The Middle Classes
Cousin Betty
The Country Parson
In addition, M. Bianchon narrated the following:
Another Study of Woman
La Grande Breteche

Bidault (known as Gigonnet)
The Vendetta
Cesar Birotteau
The Firm of Nucingen
A Daughter of Eve

Bixiou, Jean-Jacques
The Purse
A Bachelor's Establishment
Modeste Mignon
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Firm of Nucingen
The Muse of the Department
Cousin Betty
The Member for Arcis
A Man of Business
Gaudissart II.
The Unconscious Humorists
Cousin Pons

Brezacs (The)
The Country Parson

Bruel, Jean Francois du
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Start in Life
A Prince of Bohemia
The Middle Classes
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Daughter of Eve

Camps, Madame Octave de
Madame Firmiani
A Woman of Thirty
A Daughter of Eve
The Member for Arcis

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Man of Business

Chatelet, Marie-Louise-Anais de Negrepelisse, Baronne du
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

Chessel, Madame de
The Lily of the Valley

Cochin, Emile-Louis-Lucien-Emmanuel
Cesar Birotteau
The Firm of Nucingen
The Middle Classes

The Middle Classes

Colleville, Flavie Minoret, Madame
Cousin Betty
The Middle Classes

The Atheist's Mass
Cousin Pons
Lost Illusions
The Thirteen
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Seamy Side of History
Modest Mignon
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Desroches (son)
A Bachelor's Establishment
Colonel Chabert
A Start in Life
A Woman of Thirty
The Commission in Lunacy
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Firm of Nucingen
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes

The Middle Classes

Falleix, Martin
The Firm of Nucingen

Falleix, Jacques
The Thirteen
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Ferraud, Comtesse
Colonel Chabert

Finot, Andoche
Cesar Birotteau
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Start in Life
Gaudissart the Great
The Firm of Nucingen

The Middle Classes

Fontaine, Comte de
The Chouans
Modeste Mignon
The Ball at Sceaux
Cesar Birotteau

Fontanon, Abbe
A Second Home
The Member for Arcis

Gaudron, Abbe
A Start in Life

Gobseck, Jean-Esther Van
Father Goriot
Cesar Birotteau
The Unconscious Humoriists

Godard, Joseph
The Middle Classes

Granson, Athanase
Jealousies of a Country Town

Gruget, Madame Etienne
The Thirteen
A Bachelor's Establishment

Keller, Francois
Domestic Peace
Cesar Birotteau
Eugenie Grandet
The Member for Arcis

La Bastie la Briere, Ernest de
Modeste Mignon

La Billardiere, Athanase-Jean-Francois-Michel, Baron Flamet de
The Chouans
Cesar Birotteau

The Middle Classes

Louis XVIII., Louis-Stanislas-Xavier
The Chouans
The Seamy Side of History
The Gondreville Mystery
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Lily of the Valley
Colonel Chabert

Lupeaulx, Clement Chardin des
The Muse of the Department
Eugenie Grandet
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Ursule Mirouet

Lost Illusions
The Middle Classes

Minard, Auguste-Jean-Francois
The Firm of Nucingen
The Middle Classes

Minard, Madame
The Middle Classes

Minorets, The
The Peasantry

Cesar Birotteau

Nathan, Madame Raoul
The Muse of the Department
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Bachelor's Establishment
Ursule Mirouet
Eugenie Grandet
The Imaginary Mistress
A Prince of Bohemia
A Daughter of Eve
The Unconscious Humorists

The Middle Classes

Poiret, the elder
Father Goriot
A Start in Life
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Middle Classes

Rabourdin, Xavier
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
Cesar Birotteau
The Middle Classes

Rabourdin, Madame
The Commission in Lunacy

Rubempre, Lucien-Chardon de
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Ursule Mirouet
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

The Middle Classes

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Man of Business
Cousin Betty

Schinner, Hippolyte
The Purse
A Bachelor's Establishment
Pierre Grassou
A Start in Life
Albert Savarus
Modeste Mignon
The Imaginary Mistress
The Unconscious Humorists

Sommervieux, Theodore de
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
Modeste Mignon

The Middle Classes

Thuillier, Marie-Jeanne-Brigitte
The Middle Classes

Thuillier, Louis-Jerome
The Middle Classes


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