Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, trans. Isabel F. Hapgood
Part 17 out of 36
thing for him. Courfeyrac put no questions to him. He did not
even think of such a thing. At that age, faces disclose everything
on the spot. Words are superfluous. There are young men of whom
it can be said that their countenances chatter. One looks at them
and one knows them.
One morning, however, Courfeyrac abruptly addressed this interrogation
"By the way, have you any political opinions?"
"The idea!" said Marius, almost affronted by the question.
"What are you?"
"The gray hue of a reassured rat," said Courfeyrac.
On the following day, Courfeyrac introduced Marius at the Cafe Musain.
Then he whispered in his ear, with a smile: "I must give you your
entry to the revolution." And he led him to the hall of the Friends
of the A B C. He presented him to the other comrades, saying this
simple word which Marius did not understand: "A pupil."
Marius had fallen into a wasps'-nest of wits. However, although he
was silent and grave, he was, none the less, both winged and armed.
Marius, up to that time solitary and inclined to soliloquy,
and to asides, both by habit and by taste, was a little fluttered
by this covey of young men around him. All these various
initiatives solicited his attention at once, and pulled him about.
The tumultuous movements of these minds at liberty and at work
set his ideas in a whirl. Sometimes, in his trouble, they fled
so far from him, that he had difficulty in recovering them.
He heard them talk of philosophy, of literature, of art, of history,
of religion, in unexpected fashion. He caught glimpses of
strange aspects; and, as he did not place them in proper perspective,
he was not altogether sure that it was not chaos that he grasped.
On abandoning his grandfather's opinions for the opinions of his father,
he had supposed himself fixed; he now suspected, with uneasiness,
and without daring to avow it to himself, that he was not.
The angle at which he saw everything began to be displaced anew.
A certain oscillation set all the horizons of his brains in motion.
An odd internal upsetting. He almost suffered from it.
It seemed as though there were no "consecrated things"
for those young men. Marius heard singular propositions
on every sort of subject, which embarrassed his still timid mind.
A theatre poster presented itself, adorned with the title of a tragedy
from the ancient repertory called classic: "Down with tragedy dear
to the bourgeois!" cried Bahorel. And Marius heard Combeferre reply:--
"You are wrong, Bahorel. The bourgeoisie loves tragedy,
and the bourgeoisie must be left at peace on that score.
Bewigged tragedy has a reason for its existence, and I am not one
of those who, by order of AEschylus, contest its right to existence.
There are rough outlines in nature; there are, in creation,
ready-made parodies; a beak which is not a beak, wings which are
not wings, gills which are not gills, paws which are not paws,
a cry of pain which arouses a desire to laugh, there is the duck.
Now, since poultry exists by the side of the bird, I do not see
why classic tragedy should not exist in the face of antique tragedy."
Or chance decreed that Marius should traverse Rue Jean-Jacques
Rousseau between Enjolras and Courfeyrac.
Courfeyrac took his arm:--
"Pay attention. This is the Rue Platriere, now called Rue
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on account of a singular household which lived
in it sixty years ago. This consisted of Jean-Jacques and Therese.
From time to time, little beings were born there. Therese gave
birth to them, Jean-Jacques represented them as foundlings."
And Enjolras addressed Courfeyrac roughly:--
"Silence in the presence of Jean-Jacques! I admire that man.
He denied his own children, that may be; but he adopted the people."
Not one of these young men articulated the word: The Emperor.
Jean Prouvaire alone sometimes said Napoleon; all the others
said "Bonaparte." Enjolras pronounced it "Buonaparte."
Marius was vaguely surprised. Initium sapientiae.
THE BACK ROOM OF THE CAFE MUSAIN
One of the conversations among the young men, at which Marius was
present and in which he sometimes joined, was a veritable shock
to his mind.
This took place in the back room of the Cafe Musain. Nearly all
the Friends of the A B C had convened that evening. The argand
lamp was solemnly lighted. They talked of one thing and another,
without passion and with noise. With the exception of Enjolras
and Marius, who held their peace, all were haranguing rather at
hap-hazard. Conversations between comrades sometimes are subject
to these peaceable tumults. It was a game and an uproar as much
as a conversation. They tossed words to each other and caught
them up in turn. They were chattering in all quarters.
No woman was admitted to this back room, except Louison,
the dish-washer of the cafe, who passed through it from time to time,
to go to her washing in the "lavatory."
Grantaire, thoroughly drunk, was deafening the corner of which he
had taken possession, reasoning and contradicting at the top
of his lungs, and shouting:--
"I am thirsty. Mortals, I am dreaming: that the tun of Heidelberg
has an attack of apoplexy, and that I am one of the dozen leeches
which will be applied to it. I want a drink. I desire to forget life.
Life is a hideous invention of I know not whom. It lasts no time
at all, and is worth nothing. One breaks one's neck in living.
Life is a theatre set in which there are but few practicable entrances.
Happiness is an antique reliquary painted on one side only.
Ecclesiastes says: `All is vanity.' I agree with that good man,
who never existed, perhaps. Zero not wishing to go stark naked,
clothed himself in vanity. O vanity! The patching up of everything
with big words! a kitchen is a laboratory, a dancer is a professor,
an acrobat is a gymnast, a boxer is a pugilist, an apothecary
is a chemist, a wigmaker is an artist, a hodman is an architect,
a jockey is a sportsman, a wood-louse is a pterigybranche. Vanity has
a right and a wrong side; the right side is stupid, it is the negro
with his glass beads; the wrong side is foolish, it is the philosopher
with his rags. I weep over the one and I laugh over the other.
What are called honors and dignities, and even dignity and honor,
are generally of pinchbeck. Kings make playthings of human pride.
Caligula made a horse a consul; Charles II. made a knight of
a sirloin. Wrap yourself up now, then, between Consul Incitatus
and Baronet Roastbeef. As for the intrinsic value of people,
it is no longer respectable in the least. Listen to the panegyric
which neighbor makes of neighbor. White on white is ferocious;
if the lily could speak, what a setting down it would give the dove!
A bigoted woman prating of a devout woman is more venomous
than the asp and the cobra. It is a shame that I am ignorant,
otherwise I would quote to you a mass of things; but I know nothing.
For instance, I have always been witty; when I was a pupil of Gros,
instead of daubing wretched little pictures, I passed my time
in pilfering apples; rapin is the masculine of rapine. So much
for myself; as for the rest of you, you are worth no more than I am.
I scoff at your perfections, excellencies, and qualities.
Every good quality tends towards a defect; economy borders on avarice,
the generous man is next door to the prodigal, the brave man rubs
elbows with the braggart; he who says very pious says a trifle bigoted;
there are just as many vices in virtue as there are holes
in Diogenes' cloak. Whom do you admire, the slain or the slayer,
Caesar or Brutus? Generally men are in favor of the slayer.
Long live Brutus, he has slain! There lies the virtue. Virtue, granted,
but madness also. There are queer spots on those great men.
The Brutus who killed Caesar was in love with the statue of a little boy.
This statue was from the hand of the Greek sculptor Strongylion,
who also carved that figure of an Amazon known as the Beautiful Leg,
Eucnemos, which Nero carried with him in his travels. This Strongylion
left but two statues which placed Nero and Brutus in accord.
Brutus was in love with the one, Nero with the other. All history
is nothing but wearisome repetition. One century is the plagiarist
of the other. The battle of Marengo copies the battle of Pydna;
the Tolbiac of Clovis and the Austerlitz of Napoleon are as like each
other as two drops of water. I don't attach much importance to victory.
Nothing is so stupid as to conquer; true glory lies in convincing.
But try to prove something! If you are content with success,
what mediocrity, and with conquering, what wretchedness! Alas, vanity
and cowardice everywhere. Everything obeys success, even grammar.
Si volet usus, says Horace. Therefore I disdain the human race.
Shall we descend to the party at all? Do you wish me to begin admiring
the peoples? What people, if you please? Shall it be Greece?
The Athenians, those Parisians of days gone by, slew Phocion,
as we might say Coligny, and fawned upon tyrants to such an extent
that Anacephorus said of Pisistratus: "His urine attracts the bees."
The most prominent man in Greece for fifty years was that grammarian
Philetas, who was so small and so thin that he was obliged to load
his shoes with lead in order not to be blown away by the wind.
There stood on the great square in Corinth a statue carved by Silanion
and catalogued by Pliny; this statue represented Episthates.
What did Episthates do? He invented a trip. That sums up Greece
and glory. Let us pass on to others. Shall I admire England?
Shall I admire France? France? Why? Because of Paris? I have just
told you my opinion of Athens. England? Why? Because of London?
I hate Carthage. And then, London, the metropolis of luxury,
is the headquarters of wretchedness. There are a hundred deaths a year
of hunger in the parish of Charing-Cross alone. Such is Albion.
I add, as the climax, that I have seen an Englishwoman dancing
in a wreath of roses and blue spectacles. A fig then for England!
If I do not admire John Bull, shall I admire Brother Jonathan?
I have but little taste for that slave-holding brother. Take away
Time is money, what remains of England? Take away Cotton is king,
what remains of America? Germany is the lymph, Italy is the bile.
Shall we go into ecstasies over Russia? Voltaire admired it. He also
admired China. I admit that Russia has its beauties, among others,
a stout despotism; but I pity the despots. Their health is delicate.
A decapitated Alexis, a poignarded Peter, a strangled Paul,
another Paul crushed flat with kicks, divers Ivans strangled,
with their throats cut, numerous Nicholases and Basils poisoned,
all this indicates that the palace of the Emperors of Russia is
in a condition of flagrant insalubrity. All civilized peoples
offer this detail to the admiration of the thinker; war; now, war,
civilized war, exhausts and sums up all the forms of ruffianism,
from the brigandage of the Trabuceros in the gorges of Mont Jaxa
to the marauding of the Comanche Indians in the Doubtful Pass.
`Bah!' you will say to me, `but Europe is certainly better than Asia?'
I admit that Asia is a farce; but I do not precisely see what you
find to laugh at in the Grand Lama, you peoples of the west,
who have mingled with your fashions and your elegances all the
complicated filth of majesty, from the dirty chemise of Queen Isabella
to the chamber-chair of the Dauphin. Gentlemen of the human race,
I tell you, not a bit of it! It is at Brussels that the most
beer is consumed, at Stockholm the most brandy, at Madrid the
most chocolate, at Amsterdam the most gin, at London the most wine,
at Constantinople the most coffee, at Paris the most absinthe;
there are all the useful notions. Paris carries the day, in short.
In Paris, even the rag-pickers are sybarites; Diogenes would have loved
to be a rag-picker of the Place Maubert better than to be a philosopher
at the Piraeus. Learn this in addition; the wineshops of the ragpickers
are called bibines; the most celebrated are the Saucepan and The
Slaughter-House. Hence, tea-gardens, goguettes, caboulots, bouibuis,
mastroquets, bastringues, manezingues, bibines of the rag-pickers,
caravanseries of the caliphs, I certify to you, I am a voluptuary,
I eat at Richard's at forty sous a head, I must have Persian carpets
to roll naked Cleopatra in! Where is Cleopatra? Ah! So it
is you, Louison. Good day."
 The slang term for a painter's assistant.
Thus did Grantaire, more than intoxicated, launch into speech,
catching at the dish-washer in her passage, from his corner in the
back room of the Cafe Musain.
Bossuet, extending his hand towards him, tried to impose silence
on him, and Grantaire began again worse than ever:--
"Aigle de Meaux, down with your paws. You produce on me no effect
with your gesture of Hippocrates refusing Artaxerxes' bric-a-brac. I
excuse you from the task of soothing me. Moreover, I am sad.
What do you wish me to say to you? Man is evil, man is deformed;
the butterfly is a success, man is a failure. God made a mistake
with that animal. A crowd offers a choice of ugliness.
The first comer is a wretch, Femme--woman--rhymes with infame,--
infamous. Yes, I have the spleen, complicated with melancholy,
with homesickness, plus hypochondria, and I am vexed and I rage,
and I yawn, and I am bored, and I am tired to death, and I am stupid!
Let God go to the devil!"
"Silence then, capital R!" resumed Bossuet, who was discussing a
point of law behind the scenes, and who was plunged more than waist
high in a phrase of judicial slang, of which this is the conclusion:--
"--And as for me, although I am hardly a legist, and at the most,
an amateur attorney, I maintain this: that, in accordance with
the terms of the customs of Normandy, at Saint-Michel, and for
each year, an equivalent must be paid to the profit of the lord
of the manor, saving the rights of others, and by all and several,
the proprietors as well as those seized with inheritance, and that,
for all emphyteuses, leases, freeholds, contracts of domain, mortgages--"
"Echo, plaintive nymph," hummed Grantaire.
Near Grantaire, an almost silent table, a sheet of paper, an inkstand
and a pen between two glasses of brandy, announced that a vaudeville
was being sketched out.
This great affair was being discussed in a low voice, and the two
heads at work touched each other: "Let us begin by finding names.
When one has the names, one finds the subject."
"That is true. Dictate. I will write."
"An independent gentleman?"
"His daughter, Celestine."
"--tine. What next?"
"Sainval is stale. I should say Valsin."
Beside the vaudeville aspirants, another group, which was also
taking advantage of the uproar to talk low, was discussing a duel.
An old fellow of thirty was counselling a young one of eighteen,
and explaining to him what sort of an adversary he had to deal with.
"The deuce! Look out for yourself. He is a fine swordsman. His play
is neat. He has the attack, no wasted feints, wrist, dash, lightning,
a just parade, mathematical parries, bigre! and he is left-handed."
In the angle opposite Grantaire, Joly and Bahorel were playing dominoes,
and talking of love.
"You are in luck, that you are," Joly was saying. "You have
a mistress who is always laughing."
"That is a fault of hers," returned Bahorel. "One's mistress
does wrong to laugh. That encourages one to deceive her. To see
her gay removes your remorse; if you see her sad, your conscience
"Ingrate! a woman who laughs is such a good thing! And you
"That is because of the treaty which we have made. On forming
our little Holy Alliance we assigned ourselves each our frontier,
which we never cross. What is situated on the side of winter belongs
to Vaud, on the side of the wind to Gex. Hence the peace."
"Peace is happiness digesting."
"And you, Jolllly, where do you stand in your entanglement with Mamselle--
you know whom I mean?"
"She sulks at me with cruel patience."
"Yet you are a lover to soften the heart with gauntness."
"In your place, I would let her alone."
"That is easy enough to say."
"And to do. Is not her name Musichetta?"
"Yes. Ah! my poor Bahorel, she is a superb girl, very literary,
with tiny feet, little hands, she dresses well, and is white and dimpled,
with the eyes of a fortune-teller. I am wild over her."
"My dear fellow, then in order to please her, you must be elegant,
and produce effects with your knees. Buy a good pair of trousers
of double-milled cloth at Staub's. That will assist."
"At what price?" shouted Grantaire.
The third corner was delivered up to a poetical discussion.
Pagan mythology was giving battle to Christian mythology.
The question was about Olympus, whose part was taken by Jean Prouvaire,
out of pure romanticism.
Jean Prouvaire was timid only in repose. Once excited, he burst forth,
a sort of mirth accentuated his enthusiasm, and he was at once
both laughing and lyric.
"Let us not insult the gods," said he. "The gods may not have
taken their departure. Jupiter does not impress me as dead.
The gods are dreams, you say. Well, even in nature, such as it
is to-day, after the flight of these dreams, we still find all the
grand old pagan myths. Such and such a mountain with the profile
of a citadel, like the Vignemale, for example, is still to me
the headdress of Cybele; it has not been proved to me that Pan does
not come at night to breathe into the hollow trunks of the willows,
stopping up the holes in turn with his fingers, and I have always
believed that Io had something to do with the cascade of Pissevache."
In the last corner, they were talking politics. The Charter which had
been granted was getting roughly handled. Combeferre was upholding
it weakly. Courfeyrac was energetically making a breach in it.
On the table lay an unfortunate copy of the famous Touquet Charter.
Courfeyrac had seized it, and was brandishing it, mingling with his
arguments the rattling of this sheet of paper.
"In the first place, I won't have any kings; if it were only
from an economical point of view, I don't want any; a king is
a parasite. One does not have kings gratis. Listen to this:
the dearness of kings. At the death of Francois I., the national
debt of France amounted to an income of thirty thousand livres;
at the death of Louis XIV. it was two milliards, six hundred millions,
at twenty-eight livres the mark, which was equivalent in 1760,
according to Desmarets, to four milliards, five hundred millions,
which would to-day be equivalent to twelve milliards. In the
second place, and no offence to Combeferre, a charter granted
is but a poor expedient of civilization. To save the transition,
to soften the passage, to deaden the shock, to cause the nation
to pass insensibly from the monarchy to democracy by the practice
of constitutional fictions,--what detestable reasons all those are!
No! no! let us never enlighten the people with false daylight.
Principles dwindle and pale in your constitutional cellar.
No illegitimacy, no compromise, no grant from the king to the people.
In all such grants there is an Article 14. By the side of the hand
which gives there is the claw which snatches back. I refuse your
charter point-blank. A charter is a mask; the lie lurks beneath it.
A people which accepts a charter abdicates. The law is only the law
when entire. No! no charter!"
It was winter; a couple of fagots were crackling in the fireplace.
This was tempting, and Courfeyrac could not resist. He crumpled
the poor Touquet Charter in his fist, and flung it in the fire.
The paper flashed up. Combeferre watched the masterpiece of Louis XVIII.
burn philosophically, and contented himself with saying:--
"The charter metamorphosed into flame."
And sarcasms, sallies, jests, that French thing which is called entrain,
and that English thing which is called humor, good and bad taste,
good and bad reasons, all the wild pyrotechnics of dialogue,
mounting together and crossing from all points of the room,
produced a sort of merry bombardment over their heads.
ENLARGEMENT OF HORIZON
The shocks of youthful minds among themselves have this admirable
property, that one can never foresee the spark, nor divine the
lightning flash. What will dart out presently? No one knows.
The burst of laughter starts from a tender feeling.
At the moment of jest, the serious makes its entry. Impulses depend on
the first chance word. The spirit of each is sovereign, jest suffices
to open the field to the unexpected. These are conversations
with abrupt turns, in which the perspective changes suddenly.
Chance is the stage-manager of such conversations.
A severe thought, starting oddly from a clash of words, suddenly
traversed the conflict of quips in which Grantaire, Bahorel,
Prouvaire, Bossuet, Combeferre, and Courfeyrac were confusedly fencing.
How does a phrase crop up in a dialogue? Whence comes it that it
suddenly impresses itself on the attention of those who hear it?
We have just said, that no one knows anything about it. In the
midst of the uproar, Bossuet all at once terminated some apostrophe
to Combeferre, with this date:--
"June 18th, 1815, Waterloo."
At this name of Waterloo, Marius, who was leaning his elbows on a table,
beside a glass of water, removed his wrist from beneath his chin,
and began to gaze fixedly at the audience.
"Pardieu!" exclaimed Courfeyrac ("Parbleu" was falling into disuse
at this period), "that number 18 is strange and strikes me. It is
Bonaparte's fatal number. Place Louis in front and Brumaire behind,
you have the whole destiny of the man, with this significant peculiarity,
that the end treads close on the heels of the commencement."
Enjolras, who had remained mute up to that point, broke the silence
and addressed this remark to Combeferre:--
"You mean to say, the crime and the expiation."
This word crime overpassed the measure of what Marius, who was
already greatly agitated by the abrupt evocation of Waterloo,
He rose, walked slowly to the map of France spread out on the wall,
and at whose base an island was visible in a separate compartment,
laid his finger on this compartment and said:--
"Corsica, a little island which has rendered France very great."
This was like a breath of icy air. All ceased talking. They felt
that something was on the point of occurring.
Bahorel, replying to Bossuet, was just assuming an attitude
of the torso to which he was addicted. He gave it up to listen.
Enjolras, whose blue eye was not fixed on any one, and who seemed
to be gazing at space, replied, without glancing at Marius:--
"France needs no Corsica to be great. France is great because she
is France. Quia nomina leo."
Marius felt no desire to retreat; he turned towards Enjolras,
and his voice burst forth with a vibration which came from a quiver
of his very being:--
"God forbid that I should diminish France! But amalgamating Napoleon
with her is not diminishing her. Come! let us argue the question.
I am a new comer among you, but I will confess that you amaze me.
Where do we stand? Who are we? Who are you? Who am I? Let us come
to an explanation about the Emperor. I hear you say Buonaparte,
accenting the u like the Royalists. I warn you that my grandfather
does better still; he says Buonaparte'. I thought you were
young men. Where, then, is your enthusiasm? And what are you doing
with it? Whom do you admire, if you do not admire the Emperor?
And what more do you want? If you will have none of that great man,
what great men would you like? He had everything. He was complete.
He had in his brain the sum of human faculties. He made codes
like Justinian, he dictated like Caesar, his conversation was mingled
with the lightning-flash of Pascal, with the thunderclap of Tacitus,
he made history and he wrote it, his bulletins are Iliads, he combined
the cipher of Newton with the metaphor of Mahomet, he left behind
him in the East words as great as the pyramids, at Tilsit he taught
Emperors majesty, at the Academy of Sciences he replied to Laplace,
in the Council of State be held his own against Merlin, he gave a soul
to the geometry of the first, and to the chicanery of the last,
he was a legist with the attorneys and sidereal with the astronomers;
like Cromwell blowing out one of two candles, he went to the Temple
to bargain for a curtain tassel; he saw everything; he knew everything;
which did not prevent him from laughing good-naturedly beside the
cradle of his little child; and all at once, frightened Europe lent
an ear, armies put themselves in motion, parks of artillery rumbled,
pontoons stretched over the rivers, clouds of cavalry galloped in
the storm, cries, trumpets, a trembling of thrones in every direction,
the frontiers of kingdoms oscillated on the map, the sound of
a superhuman sword was heard, as it was drawn from its sheath;
they beheld him, him, rise erect on the horizon with a blazing brand
in his hand, and a glow in his eyes, unfolding amid the thunder,
his two wings, the grand army and the old guard, and he was the archangel
All held their peace, and Enjolras bowed his head. Silence always
produces somewhat the effect of acquiescence, of the enemy being
driven to the wall. Marius continued with increased enthusiasm,
and almost without pausing for breath:--
"Let us be just, my friends! What a splendid destiny for a nation
to be the Empire of such an Emperor, when that nation is France
and when it adds its own genius to the genius of that man! To appear
and to reign, to march and to triumph, to have for halting-places
all capitals, to take his grenadiers and to make kings of them,
to decree the falls of dynasties, and to transfigure Europe at
the pace of a charge; to make you feel that when you threaten
you lay your hand on the hilt of the sword of God; to follow
in a single man, Hannibal, Caesar, Charlemagne; to be the people
of some one who mingles with your dawns the startling announcement
of a battle won, to have the cannon of the Invalides to rouse you
in the morning, to hurl into abysses of light prodigious words
which flame forever, Marengo, Arcola, Austerlitz, Jena, Wagram!
To cause constellations of victories to flash forth at each instant
from the zenith of the centuries, to make the French Empire a pendant
to the Roman Empire, to be the great nation and to give birth to
the grand army, to make its legions fly forth over all the earth,
as a mountain sends out its eagles on all sides to conquer,
to dominate, to strike with lightning, to be in Europe a sort
of nation gilded through glory, to sound athwart the centuries
a trumpet-blast of Titans, to conquer the world twice, by conquest
and by dazzling, that is sublime; and what greater thing is there?"
"To be free," said Combeferre.
Marius lowered his head in his turn; that cold and simple
word had traversed his epic effusion like a blade of steel,
and he felt it vanishing within him. When he raised his eyes,
Combeferre was no longer there. Probably satisfied with his reply
to the apotheosis, he had just taken his departure, and all,
with the exception of Enjolras, had followed him. The room had
been emptied. Enjolras, left alone with Marius, was gazing gravely
at him. Marius, however, having rallied his ideas to some extent,
did not consider himself beaten; there lingered in him a trace
of inward fermentation which was on the point, no doubt,
of translating itself into syllogisms arrayed against Enjolras,
when all of a sudden, they heard some one singing on the stairs
as he went. It was Combeferre, and this is what he was singing:--
"Si Cesar m'avait donne
La gloire et la guerre,
Et qu'il me fallait quitter
L'amour de ma mere,
Je dirais au grand Cesar:
Reprends ton sceptre et ton char,
J'aime mieux ma mere, o gue!
J'aime mieux ma mere!"
 If Cesar had given me glory and war, and I were obliged
to quit my mother's love, I would say to great Caesar, "Take back
thy sceptre and thy chariot; I prefer the love of my mother."
The wild and tender accents with which Combeferre sang communicated
to this couplet a sort of strange grandeur. Marius, thoughtfully,
and with his eyes diked on the ceiling, repeated almost mechanically:
At that moment, he felt Enjolras' hand on his shoulder.
"Citizen," said Enjolras to him, "my mother is the Republic."
That evening left Marius profoundly shaken, and with a melancholy
shadow in his soul. He felt what the earth may possibly feel,
at the moment when it is torn open with the iron, in order
that grain may be deposited within it; it feels only the wound;
the quiver of the germ and the joy of the fruit only arrive later.
Marius was gloomy. He had but just acquired a faith; must he then
reject it already? He affirmed to himself that he would not.
He declared to himself that he would not doubt, and he began
to doubt in spite of himself. To stand between two religions,
from one of which you have not as yet emerged, and another into
which you have not yet entered, is intolerable; and twilight is
pleasing only to bat-like souls. Marius was clear-eyed, and he
required the true light. The half-lights of doubt pained him.
Whatever may have been his desire to remain where he was, he could not
halt there, he was irresistibly constrained to continue, to advance,
to examine, to think, to march further. Whither would this lead him?
He feared, after having taken so many steps which had brought him
nearer to his father, to now take a step which should estrange
him from that father. His discomfort was augmented by all the
reflections which occurred to him. An escarpment rose around him.
He was in accord neither with his grandfather nor with his friends;
daring in the eyes of the one, he was behind the times in the eyes
of the others, and he recognized the fact that he was doubly isolated,
on the side of age and on the side of youth. He ceased to go to the
In the troubled state of his conscience, he no longer thought
of certain serious sides of existence. The realities of life do
not allow themselves to be forgotten. They soon elbowed him abruptly.
One morning, the proprietor of the hotel entered Marius' room and
said to him:--
"Monsieur Courfeyrac answered for you."
"But I must have my money."
"Request Courfeyrac to come and talk with me," said Marius.
Courfeyrac having made his appearance, the host left them.
Marius then told him what it had not before occurred to him to relate,
that he was the same as alone in the world, and had no relatives.
"What is to become of you?" said Courfeyrac.
"I do not know in the least," replied Marius.
"What are you going to do?"
"I do not know."
"Have you any money?"
"Do you want me to lend you some?"
"Have you clothes?"
"Here is what I have."
"Have you trinkets?"
"Gold; here it is."
"I know a clothes-dealer who will take your frock-coat and a pair
"That is good."
"You will then have only a pair of trousers, a waistcoat, a hat
and a coat."
"And my boots."
"What! you will not go barefoot? What opulence!"
"That will be enough."
"I know a watchmaker who will buy your watch."
"That is good."
"No; it is not good. What will you do after that?"
"Whatever is necessary. Anything honest, that is to say."
"Do you know English?"
"Do you know German?"
"So much the worse."
"Because one of my friends, a publisher, is getting up a sort
of an encyclopaedia, for which you might have translated English
or German articles. It is badly paid work, but one can live by it."
"I will learn English and German."
"And in the meanwhile?"
"In the meanwhile I will live on my clothes and my watch."
The clothes-dealer was sent for. He paid twenty francs for the
cast-off garments. They went to the watchmaker's. He bought
the watch for forty-five francs.
"That is not bad," said Marius to Courfeyrac, on their return
to the hotel, "with my fifteen francs, that makes eighty."
"And the hotel bill?" observed Courfeyrac.
"Hello, I had forgotten that," said Marius.
The landlord presented his bill, which had to be paid on the spot.
It amounted to seventy francs.
"I have ten francs left," said Marius.
"The deuce," exclaimed Courfeyrac, "you will eat up five francs
while you are learning English, and five while learning German.
That will be swallowing a tongue very fast, or a hundred sous
In the meantime Aunt Gillenormand, a rather good-hearted person
at bottom in difficulties, had finally hunted up Marius' abode.
One morning, on his return from the law-school, Marius found
a letter from his aunt, and the sixty pistoles, that is to say,
six hundred francs in gold, in a sealed box.
Marius sent back the thirty louis to his aunt, with a respectful letter,
in which he stated that he had sufficient means of subsistence
and that he should be able thenceforth to supply all his needs.
At that moment, he had three francs left.
His aunt did not inform his grandfather of this refusal for fear
of exasperating him. Besides, had he not said: "Let me never hear
the name of that blood-drinker again!"
Marius left the hotel de la Porte Saint-Jacques, as he did not wish
to run in debt there.
BOOK FIFTH.--THE EXCELLENCE OF MISFORTUNE
Life became hard for Marius. It was nothing to eat his clothes
and his watch. He ate of that terrible, inexpressible thing that is
called de la vache enrage; that is to say, he endured great hardships
and privations. A terrible thing it is, containing days without bread,
nights without sleep, evenings without a candle, a hearth without a fire,
weeks without work, a future without hope, a coat out at the elbows,
an old hat which evokes the laughter of young girls, a door which
one finds locked on one at night because one's rent is not paid,
the insolence of the porter and the cook-shop man, the sneers
of neighbors, humiliations, dignity trampled on, work of whatever
nature accepted, disgusts, bitterness, despondency. Marius learned
how all this is eaten, and how such are often the only things
which one has to devour. At that moment of his existence when a man
needs his pride, because he needs love, he felt that he was jeered
at because he was badly dressed, and ridiculous because he was poor.
At the age when youth swells the heart with imperial pride,
he dropped his eyes more than once on his dilapidated boots, and he
knew the unjust shame and the poignant blushes of wretchedness.
Admirable and terrible trial from which the feeble emerge base,
from which the strong emerge sublime. A crucible into which destiny
casts a man, whenever it desires a scoundrel or a demi-god.
For many great deeds are performed in petty combats. There are
instances of bravery ignored and obstinate, which defend themselves
step by step in that fatal onslaught of necessities and turpitudes.
Noble and mysterious triumphs which no eye beholds, which are
requited with no renown, which are saluted with no trumpet blast.
Life, misfortune, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are the
fields of battle which have their heroes; obscure heroes,
who are, sometimes, grander than the heroes who win renown.
Firm and rare natures are thus created; misery, almost always
a step-mother, is sometimes a mother; destitution gives birth
to might of soul and spirit; distress is the nurse of pride;
unhappiness is a good milk for the magnanimous.
There came a moment in Marius' life, when he swept his own landing,
when he bought his sou's worth of Brie cheese at the fruiterer's,
when he waited until twilight had fallen to slip into the baker's
and purchase a loaf, which he carried off furtively to his attic
as though he had stolen it. Sometimes there could be seen gliding
into the butcher's shop on the corner, in the midst of the bantering
cooks who elbowed him, an awkward young man, carrying big books
under his arm, who had a timid yet angry air, who, on entering,
removed his hat from a brow whereon stood drops of perspiration,
made a profound bow to the butcher's astonished wife, asked for
a mutton cutlet, paid six or seven sous for it, wrapped it up in
a paper, put it under his arm, between two books, and went away.
It was Marius. On this cutlet, which he cooked for himself, he lived
for three days.
On the first day he ate the meat, on the second he ate the fat,
on the third he gnawed the bone. Aunt Gillenormand made
repeated attempts, and sent him the sixty pistoles several times.
Marius returned them on every occasion, saying that he needed nothing.
He was still in mourning for his father when the revolution which we
have just described was effected within him. From that time forth,
he had not put off his black garments. But his garments were
quitting him. The day came when he had no longer a coat.
The trousers would go next. What was to be done? Courfeyrac, to whom
he had, on his side, done some good turns, gave him an old coat.
For thirty sous, Marius got it turned by some porter or other,
and it was a new coat. But this coat was green. Then Marius
ceased to go out until after nightfall. This made his coat black.
As he wished always to appear in mourning, he clothed himself with
In spite of all this, he got admitted to practice as a lawyer.
He was supposed to live in Courfeyrac's room, which was decent,
and where a certain number of law-books backed up and completed
by several dilapidated volumes of romance, passed as the library
required by the regulations. He had his letters addressed to
When Marius became a lawyer, he informed his grandfather of the fact
in a letter which was cold but full of submission and respect.
M. Gillenormand trembled as he took the letter, read it, tore it
in four pieces, and threw it into the waste-basket. Two or three
days later, Mademoiselle Gillenormand heard her father, who was alone
in his room, talking aloud to himself. He always did this whenever
he was greatly agitated. She listened, and the old man was saying:
"If you were not a fool, you would know that one cannot be a baron
and a lawyer at the same time."
It is the same with wretchedness as with everything else. It ends
by becoming bearable. It finally assumes a form, and adjusts itself.
One vegetates, that is to say, one develops in a certain meagre fashion,
which is, however, sufficient for life. This is the mode in which
the existence of Marius Pontmercy was arranged:
He had passed the worst straits; the narrow pass was opening out a little
in front of him. By dint of toil, perseverance, courage, and will,
he had managed to draw from his work about seven hundred francs a year.
He had learned German and English; thanks to Courfeyrac, who had put
him in communication with his friend the publisher, Marius filled the
modest post of utility man in the literature of the publishing house.
He drew up prospectuses, translated newspapers, annotated editions,
compiled biographies, etc.; net product, year in and year out,
seven hundred francs. He lived on it. How? Not so badly.
We will explain.
Marius occupied in the Gorbeau house, for an annual sum of thirty francs,
a den minus a fireplace, called a cabinet, which contained only the
most indispensable articles of furniture. This furniture belonged
to him. He gave three francs a month to the old principal tenant
to come and sweep his hole, and to bring him a little hot water
every morning, a fresh egg, and a penny roll. He breakfasted on this
egg and roll. His breakfast varied in cost from two to four sous,
according as eggs were dear or cheap. At six o'clock in the
evening he descended the Rue Saint-Jacques to dine at Rousseau's,
opposite Basset's, the stamp-dealer's, on the corner of the Rue
des Mathurins. He ate no soup. He took a six-sou plate of meat,
a half-portion of vegetables for three sous, and a three-sou dessert.
For three sous he got as much bread as he wished. As for wine,
he drank water. When he paid at the desk where Madam Rousseau,
at that period still plump and rosy majestically presided,
he gave a sou to the waiter, and Madam Rousseau gave him a smile.
Then he went away. For sixteen sous he had a smile and a dinner.
This Restaurant Rousseau, where so few bottles and so many water
carafes were emptied, was a calming potion rather than a restaurant.
It no longer exists. The proprietor had a fine nickname: he was
called Rousseau the Aquatic.
Thus, breakfast four sous, dinner sixteen sous; his food cost
him twenty sous a day; which made three hundred and sixty-five
francs a year. Add the thirty francs for rent, and the thirty-six
francs to the old woman, plus a few trifling expenses; for four
hundred and fifty francs, Marius was fed, lodged, and waited on.
His clothing cost him a hundred francs, his linen fifty francs,
his washing fifty francs; the whole did not exceed six hundred and
fifty francs. He was rich. He sometimes lent ten francs to a friend.
Courfeyrac had once been able to borrow sixty francs of him.
As far as fire was concerned, as Marius had no fireplace, he had
Marius always had two complete suits of clothes, the one old,
"for every day"; the other, brand new for special occasions.
Both were black. He had but three shirts, one on his person,
the second in the commode, and the third in the washerwoman's hands.
He renewed them as they wore out. They were always ragged, which caused
him to button his coat to the chin.
It had required years for Marius to attain to this flourishing condition.
Hard years; difficult, some of them, to traverse, others to climb.
Marius had not failed for a single day. He had endured everything in
the way of destitution; he had done everything except contract debts.
He did himself the justice to say that he had never owed any one a sou.
A debt was, to him, the beginning of slavery. He even said to himself,
that a creditor is worse than a master; for the master possesses only
your person, a creditor possesses your dignity and can administer
to it a box on the ear. Rather than borrow, he went without food.
He had passed many a day fasting. Feeling that all extremes meet,
and that, if one is not on one's guard, lowered fortunes may lead
to baseness of soul, he kept a jealous watch on his pride.
Such and such a formality or action, which, in any other situation
would have appeared merely a deference to him, now seemed insipidity,
and he nerved himself against it. His face wore a sort of severe flush.
He was timid even to rudeness.
During all these trials he had felt himself encouraged and even uplifted,
at times, by a secret force that he possessed within himself.
The soul aids the body, and at certain moments, raises it.
It is the only bird which bears up its own cage.
Besides his father's name, another name was graven in Marius' heart,
the name of Thenardier. Marius, with his grave and enthusiastic nature,
surrounded with a sort of aureole the man to whom, in his thoughts,
he owed his father's life,--that intrepid sergeant who had saved
the colonel amid the bullets and the cannon-balls of Waterloo.
He never separated the memory of this man from the memory of his father,
and he associated them in his veneration. It was a sort of worship
in two steps, with the grand altar for the colonel and the lesser
one for Thenardier. What redoubled the tenderness of his gratitude
towards Thenardier, was the idea of the distress into which he knew
that Thenardier had fallen, and which had engulfed the latter.
Marius had learned at Montfermeil of the ruin and bankruptcy of the
unfortunate inn-keeper. Since that time, he had made unheard-of efforts
to find traces of him and to reach him in that dark abyss of misery in
which Thenardier had disappeared. Marius had beaten the whole country;
he had gone to Chelles, to Bondy, to Gourney, to Nogent, to Lagny.
He had persisted for three years, expending in these explorations
the little money which he had laid by. No one had been able to give
him any news of Thenardier: he was supposed to have gone abroad.
His creditors had also sought him, with less love than Marius,
but with as much assiduity, and had not been able to lay their hands
on him. Marius blamed himself, and was almost angry with himself
for his lack of success in his researches. It was the only debt left
him by the colonel, and Marius made it a matter of honor to pay it.
"What," he thought, "when my father lay dying on the field of battle,
did Thenardier contrive to find him amid the smoke and the grape-shot,
and bear him off on his shoulders, and yet he owed him nothing,
and I, who owe so much to Thenardier, cannot join him in this
shadow where he is lying in the pangs of death, and in my turn
bring him back from death to life! Oh! I will find him!"
To find Thenardier, in fact, Marius would have given one of his arms,
to rescue him from his misery, he would have sacrificed all his blood.
To see Thenardier, to render Thenardier some service, to say to him:
"You do not know me; well, I do know you! Here I am. Dispose of me!"
This was Marius' sweetest and most magnificent dream.
MARIUS GROWN UP
At this epoch, Marius was twenty years of age. It was three years
since he had left his grandfather. Both parties had remained
on the same terms, without attempting to approach each other,
and without seeking to see each other. Besides, what was the use
of seeing each other? Marius was the brass vase, while Father
Gillenormand was the iron pot.
We admit that Marius was mistaken as to his grandfather's heart.
He had imagined that M. Gillenormand had never loved him,
and that that crusty, harsh, and smiling old fellow who cursed,
shouted, and stormed and brandished his cane, cherished for him,
at the most, only that affection, which is at once slight
and severe, of the dotards of comedy. Marius was in error.
There are fathers who do not love their children; there exists
no grandfather who does not adore his grandson. At bottom,
as we have said, M. Gillenormand idolized Marius. He idolized him
after his own fashion, with an accompaniment of snappishness and
boxes on the ear; but, this child once gone, he felt a black void
in his heart; he would allow no one to mention the child to him,
and all the while secretly regretted that he was so well obeyed.
At first, he hoped that this Buonapartist, this Jacobin, this terrorist,
this Septembrist, would return. But the weeks passed by, years passed;
to M. Gillenormand's great despair, the "blood-drinker" did
not make his appearance. "I could not do otherwise than turn
him out," said the grandfather to himself, and he asked himself:
"If the thing were to do over again, would I do it?" His pride
instantly answered "yes," but his aged head, which he shook
in silence, replied sadly "no." He had his hours of depression.
He missed Marius. Old men need affection as they need the sun.
It is warmth. Strong as his nature was, the absence of Marius
had wrought some change in him. Nothing in the world could have
induced him to take a step towards "that rogue"; but he suffered.
He never inquired about him, but he thought of him incessantly.
He lived in the Marais in a more and more retired manner;
he was still merry and violent as of old, but his merriment
had a convulsive harshness, and his violences always terminated
in a sort of gentle and gloomy dejection. He sometimes said:
"Oh! if he only would return, what a good box on the ear I would
As for his aunt, she thought too little to love much; Marius was
no longer for her much more than a vague black form; and she
eventually came to occupy herself with him much less than with the
cat or the paroquet which she probably had. What augmented Father
Gillenormand's secret suffering was, that he locked it all up
within his breast, and did not allow its existence to be divined.
His sorrow was like those recently invented furnaces which consume
their own smoke. It sometimes happened that officious busybodies spoke
to him of Marius, and asked him: "What is your grandson doing?"
"What has become of him?" The old bourgeois replied with a sigh,
that he was a sad case, and giving a fillip to his cuff, if he
wished to appear gay: "Monsieur le Baron de Pontmercy is practising
pettifogging in some corner or other."
While the old man regretted, Marius applauded himself.
As is the case with all good-hearted people, misfortune had
eradicated his bitterness. He only thought of M. Gillenormand
in an amiable light, but he had set his mind on not receiving
anything more from the man who had been unkind to his father.
This was the mitigated translation of his first indignation.
Moreover, he was happy at having suffered, and at suffering still.
It was for his father's sake. The hardness of his life satisfied
and pleased him. He said to himself with a sort of joy that--
it was certainly the least he could do; that it was an expiation;--
that, had it not been for that, he would have been punished in some
other way and later on for his impious indifference towards his father,
and such a father! that it would not have been just that his father
should have all the suffering, and he none of it; and that, in any case,
what were his toils and his destitution compared with the colonel's
heroic life? that, in short, the only way for him to approach his
father and resemble him, was to be brave in the face of indigence,
as the other had been valiant before the enemy; and that that was,
no doubt, what the colonel had meant to imply by the words:
"He will be worthy of it." Words which Marius continued to wear,
not on his breast, since the colonel's writing had disappeared,
but in his heart.
And then, on the day when his grandfather had turned him out of doors,
he had been only a child, now he was a man. He felt it. Misery,
we repeat, had been good for him. Poverty in youth, when it succeeds,
has this magnificent property about it, that it turns the whole
will towards effort, and the whole soul towards aspiration.
Poverty instantly lays material life bare and renders it hideous;
hence inexpressible bounds towards the ideal life. The wealthy young
man has a hundred coarse and brilliant distractions, horse races,
hunting, dogs, tobacco, gaming, good repasts, and all the rest of it;
occupations for the baser side of the soul, at the expense of the
loftier and more delicate sides. The poor young man wins his bread
with difficulty; he eats; when he has eaten, he has nothing more
but meditation. He goes to the spectacles which God furnishes gratis;
he gazes at the sky, space, the stars, flowers, children, the humanity
among which he is suffering, the creation amid which he beams.
He gazes so much on humanity that he perceives its soul, he gazes
upon creation to such an extent that he beholds God. He dreams,
he feels himself great; he dreams on, and feels himself tender.
From the egotism of the man who suffers he passes to the
compassion of the man who meditates. An admirable sentiment
breaks forth in him, forgetfulness of self and pity for all.
As he thinks of the innumerable enjoyments which nature offers,
gives, and lavishes to souls which stand open, and refuses to souls
that are closed, he comes to pity, he the millionnaire of the mind,
the millionnaire of money. All hatred departs from his heart,
in proportion as light penetrates his spirit. And is he unhappy?
No. The misery of a young man is never miserable. The first young
lad who comes to hand, however poor he may be, with his strength,
his health, his rapid walk, his brilliant eyes, his warmly
circulating blood, his black hair, his red lips, his white teeth,
his pure breath, will always arouse the envy of an aged emperor.
And then, every morning, he sets himself afresh to the task of
earning his bread; and while his hands earn his bread, his dorsal
column gains pride, his brain gathers ideas. His task finished,
he returns to ineffable ecstasies, to contemplation, to joys;
he beholds his feet set in afflictions, in obstacles, on the pavement,
in the nettles, sometimes in the mire; his head in the light. He is
firm serene, gentle, peaceful, attentive, serious, content with little,
kindly; and he thanks God for having bestowed on him those two forms
of riches which many a rich man lacks: work, which makes him free;
and thought, which makes him dignified.
This is what had happened with Marius. To tell the truth, he inclined
a little too much to the side of contemplation. From the day when he
had succeeded in earning his living with some approach to certainty,
he had stopped, thinking it good to be poor, and retrenching time
from his work to give to thought; that is to say, he sometimes passed
entire days in meditation, absorbed, engulfed, like a visionary,
in the mute voluptuousness of ecstasy and inward radiance.
He had thus propounded the problem of his life: to toil as little
as possible at material labor, in order to toil as much as possible
at the labor which is impalpable; in other words, to bestow a few hours
on real life, and to cast the rest to the infinite. As he believed
that he lacked nothing, he did not perceive that contemplation,
thus understood, ends by becoming one of the forms of idleness;
that he was contenting himself with conquering the first necessities
of life, and that he was resting from his labors too soon.
It was evident that, for this energetic and enthusiastic nature,
this could only be a transitory state, and that, at the first shock
against the inevitable complications of destiny, Marius would awaken.
In the meantime, although he was a lawyer, and whatever Father
Gillenormand thought about the matter, he was not practising, he was
not even pettifogging. Meditation had turned him aside from pleading.
To haunt attorneys, to follow the court, to hunt up cases--
what a bore! Why should he do it? He saw no reason for changing
the manner of gaining his livelihood! The obscure and ill-paid
publishing establishment had come to mean for him a sure source
of work which did not involve too much labor, as we have explained,
and which sufficed for his wants.
One of the publishers for whom he worked, M. Magimel, I think,
offered to take him into his own house, to lodge him well, to furnish
him with regular occupation, and to give him fifteen hundred francs
a year. To be well lodged! Fifteen hundred francs! No doubt.
But renounce his liberty! Be on fixed wages! A sort of hired
man of letters! According to Marius' opinion, if he accepted,
his position would become both better and worse at the same time,
he acquired comfort, and lost his dignity; it was a fine and complete
unhappiness converted into a repulsive and ridiculous state of torture:
something like the case of a blind man who should recover the sight
of one eye. He refused.
Marius dwelt in solitude. Owing to his taste for remaining outside
of everything, and through having been too much alarmed, he had
not entered decidedly into the group presided over by Enjolras.
They had remained good friends; they were ready to assist each
other on occasion in every possible way; but nothing more.
Marius had two friends: one young, Courfeyrac; and one old,
M. Mabeuf. He inclined more to the old man. In the first place,
he owed to him the revolution which had taken place within him;
to him he was indebted for having known and loved his father.
"He operated on me for a cataract," he said.
The churchwarden had certainly played a decisive part.
It was not, however, that M. Mabeuf had been anything but the calm
and impassive agent of Providence in this connection. He had
enlightened Marius by chance and without being aware of the fact,
as does a candle which some one brings; he had been the candle
and not the some one.
As for Marius' inward political revolution, M. Mabeuf was totally
incapable of comprehending it, of willing or of directing it.
As we shall see M. Mabeuf again, later on, a few words will not
On the day when M. Mabeuf said to Marius: "Certainly I approve
of political opinions," he expressed the real state of his mind.
All political opinions were matters of indifference to him, and he
approved them all, without distinction, provided they left him
in peace, as the Greeks called the Furies "the beautiful, the good,
the charming," the Eumenides. M. Mabeuf's political opinion consisted
in a passionate love for plants, and, above all, for books.
Like all the rest of the world, he possessed the termination in ist,
without which no one could exist at that time, but he was neither
a Royalist, a Bonapartist, a Chartist, an Orleanist, nor an Anarchist;
he was a bouquinist, a collector of old books. He did not understand
how men could busy themselves with hating each other because of silly
stuff like the charter, democracy, legitimacy, monarchy, the republic,
etc., when there were in the world all sorts of mosses, grasses,
and shrubs which they might be looking at, and heaps of folios,
and even of 32mos, which they might turn over. He took good care
not to become useless; having books did not prevent his reading,
being a botanist did not prevent his being a gardener. When he
made Pontmercy's acquaintance, this sympathy had existed between
the colonel and himself--that what the colonel did for flowers,
he did for fruits. M. Mabeuf had succeeded in producing seedling
pears as savory as the pears of St. Germain; it is from one
of his combinations, apparently, that the October Mirabelle,
now celebrated and no less perfumed than the summer Mirabelle,
owes its origin. He went to mass rather from gentleness than
from piety, and because, as he loved the faces of men, but hated
their noise, he found them assembled and silent only in church.
Feeling that he must be something in the State, he had chosen the
career of warden. However, he had never succeeded in loving any
woman as much as a tulip bulb, nor any man as much as an Elzevir.
He had long passed sixty, when, one day, some one asked him:
"Have you never been married?" "I have forgotten," said he.
When it sometimes happened to him--and to whom does it not happen?--
to say: "Oh! if I were only rich!" it was not when ogling a
pretty girl, as was the case with Father Gillenormand, but when
contemplating an old book. He lived alone with an old housekeeper.
He was somewhat gouty, and when he was asleep, his aged fingers,
stiffened with rheumatism, lay crooked up in the folds of his sheets.
He had composed and published a Flora of the Environs of Cauteretz,
with colored plates, a work which enjoyed a tolerable measure of esteem
and which sold well. People rang his bell, in the Rue Mesieres,
two or three times a day, to ask for it. He drew as much as two
thousand francs a year from it; this constituted nearly the whole of
his fortune. Although poor, he had had the talent to form for himself,
by dint of patience, privations, and time, a precious collection
of rare copies of every sort. He never went out without a book
under his arm, and he often returned with two. The sole decoration
of the four rooms on the ground floor, which composed his lodgings,
consisted of framed herbariums, and engravings of the old masters.
The sight of a sword or a gun chilled his blood. He had never
approached a cannon in his life, even at the Invalides. He had
a passable stomach, a brother who was a cure, perfectly white hair,
no teeth, either in his mouth or his mind, a trembling in every limb,
a Picard accent, an infantile laugh, the air of an old sheep, and he
was easily frightened. Add to this, that he had no other friendship,
no other acquaintance among the living, than an old bookseller of the
Porte-Saint-Jacques, named Royal. His dream was to naturalize indigo
His servant was also a sort of innocent. The poor good old woman
was a spinster. Sultan, her cat, which might have mewed Allegri's
miserere in the Sixtine Chapel, had filled her heart and sufficed
for the quantity of passion which existed in her. None of her dreams
had ever proceeded as far as man. She had never been able to get
further than her cat. Like him, she had a mustache. Her glory
consisted in her caps, which were always white. She passed her time,
on Sundays, after mass, in counting over the linen in her chest,
and in spreading out on her bed the dresses in the piece which she
bought and never had made up. She knew how to read. M. Mabeuf
had nicknamed her Mother Plutarque.
M. Mabeuf had taken a fancy to Marius, because Marius, being young
and gentle, warmed his age without startling his timidity.
Youth combined with gentleness produces on old people the effect of
the sun without wind. When Marius was saturated with military glory,
with gunpowder, with marches and countermarches, and with all
those prodigious battles in which his father had given and received
such tremendous blows of the sword, he went to see M. Mabeuf,
and M. Mabeuf talked to him of his hero from the point of view
His brother the cure died about 1830, and almost immediately, as when
the night is drawing on, the whole horizon grew dark for M. Mabeuf.
A notary's failure deprived him of the sum of ten thousand francs,
which was all that he possessed in his brother's right and his own.
The Revolution of July brought a crisis to publishing. In a period
of embarrassment, the first thing which does not sell is a Flora.
The Flora of the Environs of Cauteretz stopped short. Weeks passed
by without a single purchaser. Sometimes M. Mabeuf started at
the sound of the bell. "Monsieur," said Mother Plutarque sadly,
"it is the water-carrier." In short, one day, M. Mabeuf quitted
the Rue Mesieres, abdicated the functions of warden, gave up
Saint-Sulpice, sold not a part of his books, but of his prints,--
that to which he was the least attached,--and installed himself in
a little house on the Rue Montparnasse, where, however, he remained
but one quarter for two reasons: in the first place, the ground
floor and the garden cost three hundred francs, and he dared not
spend more than two hundred francs on his rent; in the second,
being near Faton's shooting-gallery, he could hear the pistol-shots;
which was intolerable to him.
He carried off his Flora, his copper-plates, his herbariums,
his portfolios, and his books, and established himself near
the Salpetriere, in a sort of thatched cottage of the village
of Austerlitz, where, for fifty crowns a year, he got three rooms
and a garden enclosed by a hedge, and containing a well. He took
advantage of this removal to sell off nearly all his furniture.
On the day of his entrance into his new quarters, he was very gay,
and drove the nails on which his engravings and herbariums were
to hang, with his own hands, dug in his garden the rest of the day,
and at night, perceiving that Mother Plutarque had a melancholy air,
and was very thoughtful, he tapped her on the shoulder and said
to her with a smile: "We have the indigo!"
Only two visitors, the bookseller of the Porte-Saint-Jacques and Marius,
were admitted to view the thatched cottage at Austerlitz, a brawling
name which was, to tell the truth, extremely disagreeable to him.
However, as we have just pointed out, brains which are absorbed
in some bit of wisdom, or folly, or, as it often happens, in both
at once, are but slowly accessible to the things of actual life.
Their own destiny is a far-off thing to them. There results from such
concentration a passivity, which, if it were the outcome of reasoning,
would resemble philosophy. One declines, descends, trickles away,
even crumbles away, and yet is hardly conscious of it one's self.
It always ends, it is true, in an awakening, but the awakening is tardy.
In the meantime, it seems as though we held ourselves neutral in the
game which is going on between our happiness and our unhappiness.
We are the stake, and we look on at the game with indifference.
It is thus that, athwart the cloud which formed about him, when all
his hopes were extinguished one after the other, M. Mabeuf remained
rather puerilely, but profoundly serene. His habits of mind had
the regular swing of a pendulum. Once mounted on an illusion,
he went for a very long time, even after the illusion had disappeared.
A clock does not stop short at the precise moment when the key
M. Mabeuf had his innocent pleasures. These pleasures were inexpensive
and unexpected; the merest chance furnished them. One day,
Mother Plutarque was reading a romance in one corner of the room.
She was reading aloud, finding that she understood better thus.
To read aloud is to assure one's self of what one is reading.
There are people who read very loud, and who have the appearance of
giving themselves their word of honor as to what they are perusing.
It was with this sort of energy that Mother Plutarque was reading
the romance which she had in hand. M. Mabeuf heard her without
listening to her.
In the course of her reading, Mother Plutarque came to this phrase.
It was a question of an officer of dragoons and a beauty:--
"--The beauty pouted, and the dragoon--"
Here she interrupted herself to wipe her glasses.
"Bouddha and the Dragon," struck in M. Mabeuf in a low voice.
"Yes, it is true that there was a dragon, which, from the depths of
its cave, spouted flame through his maw and set the heavens on fire.
Many stars had already been consumed by this monster, which, besides,
had the claws of a tiger. Bouddha went into its den and succeeded
in converting the dragon. That is a good book that you are reading,
Mother Plutarque. There is no more beautiful legend in existence."
And M. Mabeuf fell into a delicious revery.
POVERTY A GOOD NEIGHBOR FOR MISERY
Marius liked this candid old man who saw himself gradually falling
into the clutches of indigence, and who came to feel astonishment,
little by little, without, however, being made melancholy by it.
Marius met Courfeyrac and sought out M. Mabeuf. Very rarely, however;
twice a month at most.
Marius' pleasure consisted in taking long walks alone on the outer
boulevards, or in the Champs-de-Mars, or in the least frequented alleys
of the Luxembourg. He often spent half a day in gazing at a market
garden, the beds of lettuce, the chickens on the dung-heap, the horse
turning the water-wheel. The passers-by stared at him in surprise,
and some of them thought his attire suspicious and his mien sinister.
He was only a poor young man dreaming in an objectless way.
It was during one of his strolls that he had hit upon the Gorbeau
house, and, tempted by its isolation and its cheapness, had taken
up his abode there. He was known there only under the name of M. Marius.
Some of his father's old generals or old comrades had invited him
to go and see them, when they learned about him. Marius had not
refused their invitations. They afforded opportunities of talking
about his father. Thus he went from time to time, to Comte Pajol,
to General Bellavesne, to General Fririon, to the Invalides.
There was music and dancing there. On such evenings, Marius put
on his new coat. But he never went to these evening parties or
balls except on days when it was freezing cold, because he could
not afford a carriage, and he did not wish to arrive with boots
otherwise than like mirrors.
He said sometimes, but without bitterness: "Men are so made that in
a drawing-room you may be soiled everywhere except on your shoes.
In order to insure a good reception there, only one irreproachable
thing is asked of you; your conscience? No, your boots."
All passions except those of the heart are dissipated by revery.
Marius' political fevers vanished thus. The Revolution of 1830
assisted in the process, by satisfying and calming him.
He remained the same, setting aside his fits of wrath.
He still held the same opinions. Only, they had been tempered.
To speak accurately, he had no longer any opinions, he had sympathies.
To what party did he belong? To the party of humanity. Out of
humanity he chose France; out of the Nation he chose the people;
out of the people he chose the woman. It was to that point above all,
that his pity was directed. Now he preferred an idea to a deed,
a poet to a hero, and he admired a book like Job more than an event
like Marengo. And then, when, after a day spent in meditation,
he returned in the evening through the boulevards, and caught
a glimpse through the branches of the trees of the fathomless
space beyond, the nameless gleams, the abyss, the shadow, the mystery,
all that which is only human seemed very pretty indeed to him.
He thought that he had, and he really had, in fact, arrived at
the truth of life and of human philosophy, and he had ended
by gazing at nothing but heaven, the only thing which Truth
can perceive from the bottom of her well.
This did not prevent him from multiplying his plans, his combinations,
his scaffoldings, his projects for the future. In this state
of revery, an eye which could have cast a glance into Marius'
interior would have been dazzled with the purity of that soul.
In fact, had it been given to our eyes of the flesh to gaze into
the consciences of others, we should be able to judge a man much
more surely according to what he dreams, than according to what
he thinks. There is will in thought, there is none in dreams.
Revery, which is utterly spontaneous, takes and keeps, even in the
gigantic and the ideal, the form of our spirit. Nothing proceeds
more directly and more sincerely from the very depth of our soul,
than our unpremeditated and boundless aspirations towards the splendors
of destiny. In these aspirations, much more than in deliberate,
rational coordinated ideas, is the real character of a man to
be found. Our chimeras are the things which the most resemble us.
Each one of us dreams of the unknown and the impossible in accordance
with his nature.
Towards the middle of this year 1831, the old woman who waited on
Marius told him that his neighbors, the wretched Jondrette family,
had been turned out of doors. Marius, who passed nearly the whole
of his days out of the house, hardly knew that he had any neighbors.
"Why are they turned out?" he asked.
"Because they do not pay their rent; they owe for two quarters."
"How much is it?"
"Twenty francs," said the old woman.
Marius had thirty francs saved up in a drawer.
"Here," he said to the old woman, "take these twenty-five francs.
Pay for the poor people and give them five francs, and do not tell
them that it was I."
It chanced that the regiment to which Lieutenant Theodule belonged
came to perform garrison duty in Paris. This inspired Aunt
Gillenormand with a second idea. She had, on the first occasion,
hit upon the plan of having Marius spied upon by Theodule; now she
plotted to have Theodule take Marius' place.
At all events and in case the grandfather should feel the vague need
of a young face in the house,--these rays of dawn are sometimes
sweet to ruin,--it was expedient to find another Marius. "Take it
as a simple erratum," she thought, "such as one sees in books.
For Marius, read Theodule."
A grandnephew is almost the same as a grandson; in default
of a lawyer one takes a lancer.
One morning, when M. Gillenormand was about to read something
in the Quotidienne, his daughter entered and said to him in her
sweetest voice; for the question concerned her favorite:--
"Father, Theodule is coming to present his respects to you this morning."
"Ah!" said the grandfather.
Then he went back to his reading, thought no more of his grandnephew,
who was merely some Theodule or other, and soon flew into a rage,
which almost always happened when he read. The "sheet" which he held,
although Royalist, of course, announced for the following day,
without any softening phrases, one of these little events which were
of daily occurrence at that date in Paris: "That the students
of the schools of law and medicine were to assemble on the Place
du Pantheon, at midday,--to deliberate." The discussion concerned one
of the questions of the moment, the artillery of the National Guard,
and a conflict between the Minister of War and "the citizen's militia,"
on the subject of the cannon parked in the courtyard of the Louvre.
The students were to "deliberate" over this. It did not take much
more than this to swell M. Gillenormand's rage.
He thought of Marius, who was a student, and who would probably go
with the rest, to "deliberate, at midday, on the Place du Pantheon."
As he was indulging in this painful dream, Lieutenant Theodule
entered clad in plain clothes as a bourgeois, which was clever
of him, and was discreetly introduced by Mademoiselle Gillenormand.
The lancer had reasoned as follows: "The old druid has not sunk
all his money in a life pension. It is well to disguise one's self
as a civilian from time to time."
Mademoiselle Gillenormand said aloud to her father:--
"Theodule, your grandnephew."
And in a low voice to the lieutenant:--
"Approve of everything."
And she withdrew.
The lieutenant, who was but little accustomed to such venerable
encounters, stammered with some timidity: "Good day, uncle,"--
and made a salute composed of the involuntary and mechanical
outline of the military salute finished off as a bourgeois salute.
"Ah! so it's you; that is well, sit down," said the old gentleman.
That said, he totally forgot the lancer.
Theodule seated himself, and M. Gillenormand rose.
M. Gillenormand began to pace back and forth, his hands in his pockets,
talking aloud, and twitching, with his irritated old fingers,
at the two watches which he wore in his two fobs.
"That pack of brats! they convene on the Place du Pantheon!
by my life! urchins who were with their nurses but yesterday!
If one were to squeeze their noses, milk would burst out.
And they deliberate to-morrow, at midday. What are we coming to?
What are we coming to? It is clear that we are making for the abyss.
That is what the descamisados have brought us to! To deliberate
on the citizen artillery! To go and jabber in the open air over the
jibes of the National Guard! And with whom are they to meet there?
Just see whither Jacobinism leads. I will bet anything you like,
a million against a counter, that there will be no one there but
returned convicts and released galley-slaves. The Republicans and
the galley-slaves,--they form but one nose and one handkerchief.
Carnot used to say: `Where would you have me go, traitor?'
Fouche replied: `Wherever you please, imbecile!' That's what the
Republicans are like."
"That is true," said Theodule.
M. Gillenormand half turned his head, saw Theodule, and went on:--
"When one reflects that that scoundrel was so vile as to turn carbonaro!
Why did you leave my house? To go and become a Republican! Pssst!
In the first place, the people want none of your republic, they have
common sense, they know well that there always have been kings,
and that there always will be; they know well that the people are
only the people, after all, they make sport of it, of your republic--
do you understand, idiot? Is it not a horrible caprice? To fall
in love with Pere Duchesne, to make sheep's-eyes at the guillotine,
to sing romances, and play on the guitar under the balcony
of '93--it's enough to make one spit on all these young fellows,
such fools are they! They are all alike. Not one escapes.
It suffices for them to breathe the air which blows through the
street to lose their senses. The nineteenth century is poison.
The first scamp that happens along lets his beard grow like a goat's,
thinks himself a real scoundrel, and abandons his old relatives.
He's a Republican, he's a romantic. What does that mean, romantic?
Do me the favor to tell me what it is. All possible follies.
A year ago, they ran to Hernani. Now, I just ask you, Hernani!
antitheses! abominations which are not even written in French!
And then, they have cannons in the courtyard of the Louvre.
Such are the rascalities of this age!"
"You are right, uncle," said Theodule.
M. Gillenormand resumed:--
"Cannons in the courtyard of the Museum! For what purpose?
Do you want to fire grape-shot at the Apollo Belvedere? What have
those cartridges to do with the Venus de Medici? Oh! the young men
of the present day are all blackguards! What a pretty creature is their
Benjamin Constant! And those who are not rascals are simpletons!
They do all they can to make themselves ugly, they are badly dressed,
they are afraid of women, in the presence of petticoats they have a
mendicant air which sets the girls into fits of laughter; on my word
of honor, one would say the poor creatures were ashamed of love.
They are deformed, and they complete themselves by being stupid;
they repeat the puns of Tiercelin and Potier, they have sack coats,
stablemen's waistcoats, shirts of coarse linen, trousers of coarse cloth,
boots of coarse leather, and their rigmarole resembles their plumage.
One might make use of their jargon to put new soles on their old shoes.
And all this awkward batch of brats has political opinions,
if you please. Political opinions should be strictly forbidden.
They fabricate systems, they recast society, they demolish the monarchy,
they fling all laws to the earth, they put the attic in the cellar's
place and my porter in the place of the King, they turn Europe
topsy-turvy, they reconstruct the world, and all their love
affairs consist in staring slily at the ankles of the laundresses
as these women climb into their carts. Ah! Marius! Ah! you
blackguard! to go and vociferate on the public place! to discuss,
to debate, to take measures! They call that measures, just God!
Disorder humbles itself and becomes silly. I have seen chaos,
I now see a mess. Students deliberating on the National Guard,--
such a thing could not be seen among the Ogibewas nor the Cadodaches!
Savages who go naked, with their noddles dressed like a shuttlecock,
with a club in their paws, are less of brutes than those bachelors
of arts! The four-penny monkeys! And they set up for judges!
Those creatures deliberate and ratiocinate! The end of the world
is come! This is plainly the end of this miserable terraqueous globe!
A final hiccough was required, and France has emitted it.
Deliberate, my rascals! Such things will happen so long as they
go and read the newspapers under the arcades of the Odeon.
That costs them a sou, and their good sense, and their intelligence,
and their heart and their soul, and their wits. They emerge thence,
and decamp from their families. All newspapers are pests; all, even the
Drapeau Blanc! At bottom, Martainville was a Jacobin. Ah! just
Heaven! you may boast of having driven your grandfather to despair,
that you may!"
"That is evident," said Theodule.
And profiting by the fact that M. Gillenormand was taking breath,
the lancer added in a magisterial manner:--
"There should be no other newspaper than the Moniteur, and no
other book than the Annuaire Militaire."
M. Gillenormand continued:--
"It is like their Sieyes! A regicide ending in a senator;
for that is the way they always end. They give themselves a scar
with the address of thou as citizens, in order to get themselves
called, eventually, Monsieur le Comte. Monsieur le Comte as big
as my arm, assassins of September. The philosopher Sieyes!
I will do myself the justice to say, that I have never had any better
opinion of the philosophies of all those philosophers, than of the
spectacles of the grimacer of Tivoli! One day I saw the Senators
cross the Quai Malplaquet in mantles of violet velvet sown with bees,
with hats a la Henri IV. They were hideous. One would have pronounced
them monkeys from the tiger's court. Citizens, I declare to you,
that your progress is madness, that your humanity is a dream,
that your revolution is a crime, that your republic is a monster,
that your young and virgin France comes from the brothel, and I
maintain it against all, whoever you may be, whether journalists,
economists, legists, or even were you better judges of liberty,
of equality, and fraternity than the knife of the guillotine!
And that I announce to you, my flne fellows!"
"Parbleu!" cried the lieutenant, "that is wonderfully true."
M. Gillenormand paused in a gesture which he had begun, wheeled round,
stared Lancer Theodule intently in the eyes, and said to him:--
"You are a fool."
BOOK SIXTH.--THE CONJUNCTION OF TWO STARS
THE SOBRIQUET: MODE OF FORMATION OF FAMILY NAMES
Marius was, at this epoch, a handsome young man, of medium stature,
with thick and intensely black hair, a lofty and intelligent brow,
well-opened and passionate nostrils, an air of calmness and sincerity,
and with something indescribably proud, thoughtful, and innocent
over his whole countenance. His profile, all of whose lines
were rounded, without thereby losing their firmness, had a certain
Germanic sweetness, which has made its way into the French physiognomy
by way of Alsace and Lorraine, and that complete absence of angles
which rendered the Sicambres so easily recognizable among the Romans,
and which distinguishes the leonine from the aquiline race.
He was at that period of life when the mind of men who think
is composed, in nearly equal parts, of depth and ingenuousness.
A grave situation being given, he had all that is required to
be stupid: one more turn of the key, and he might be sublime.
His manners were reserved, cold, polished, not very genial.
As his mouth was charming, his lips the reddest, and his teeth the
whitest in the world, his smile corrected the severity of his face,
as a whole. At certain moments, that pure brow and that voluptuous
smile presented a singular contrast. His eyes were small, but his
glance was large.
At the period of his most abject misery, he had observed that
young girls turned round when he passed by, and he fled or hid,
with death in his soul. He thought that they were staring at him
because of his old clothes, and that they were laughing at them;
the fact is, that they stared at him because of his grace, and that
they dreamed of him.
This mute misunderstanding between him and the pretty passers-by
had made him shy. He chose none of them for the excellent reason
that he fled from all of them. He lived thus indefinitely,--
stupidly, as Courfeyrac said.
Courfeyrac also said to him: "Do not aspire to be venerable"
[they called each other thou; it is the tendency of youthful
friendships to slip into this mode of address]. "Let me give you
a piece of advice, my dear fellow. Don't read so many books,
and look a little more at the lasses. The jades have some good
points about them, O Marius! By dint of fleeing and blushing,
you will become brutalized."
On other occasions, Courfeyrac encountered him and said:--"Good morning,
When Courfeyrac had addressed to him some remark of this nature,
Marius avoided women, both young and old, more than ever for a week
to come, and he avoided Courfeyrac to boot.
Nevertheless, there existed in all the immensity of creation, two women
whom Marius did not flee, and to whom he paid no attention whatever.
In truth, he would have been very much amazed if he had been informed
that they were women. One was the bearded old woman who swept
out his chamber, and caused Courfeyrac to say: "Seeing that his
servant woman wears his beard, Marius does not wear his own beard."
The other was a sort of little girl whom he saw very often,
and whom he never looked at.
For more than a year, Marius had noticed in one of the walks of
the Luxembourg, the one which skirts the parapet of the Pepiniere,
a man and a very young girl, who were almost always seated side
by side on the same bench, at the most solitary end of the alley,
on the Rue de l'Ouest side. Every time that that chance which
meddles with the strolls of persons whose gaze is turned inwards,
led Marius to that walk,--and it was nearly every day,--he found
this couple there. The man appeared to be about sixty years of age;
he seemed sad and serious; his whole person presented the robust
and weary aspect peculiar to military men who have retired from
the service. If he had worn a decoration, Marius would have said:
"He is an ex-officer." He had a kindly but unapproachable air,
and he never let his glance linger on the eyes of any one.
He wore blue trousers, a blue frock coat and a broad-brimmed hat,
which always appeared to be new, a black cravat, a quaker shirt,
that is to say, it was dazzlingly white, but of coarse linen. A grisette
who passed near him one day, said: "Here's a very tidy widower."
His hair was very white.
The first time that the young girl who accompanied him came and
seated herself on the bench which they seemed to have adopted,
she was a sort of child thirteen or fourteen years of age, so thin
as to be almost homely, awkward, insignificant, and with a possible
promise of handsome eyes. Only, they were always raised with a sort
of displeasing assurance. Her dress was both aged and childish,
like the dress of the scholars in a convent; it consisted of a
badly cut gown of black merino. They had the air of being father
Marius scanned this old man, who was not yet aged, and this little girl,
who was not yet a person, for a few days, and thereafter paid no
attention to them. They, on their side, did not appear even to see him.
They conversed together with a peaceful and indifferent air. The girl
chattered incessantly and merrily. The old man talked but little, and,
at times, he fixed on her eyes overflowing with an ineffable paternity.
Marius had acquired the mechanical habit of strolling in that walk.
He invariably found them there.
This is the way things went:--
Marius liked to arrive by the end of the alley which was furthest
from their bench; he walked the whole length of the alley, passed in
front of them, then returned to the extremity whence he had come,
and began again. This he did five or six times in the course
of his promenade, and the promenade was taken five or six times
a week, without its having occurred to him or to these people
to exchange a greeting. That personage, and that young girl,
although they appeared,--and perhaps because they appeared,--
to shun all glances, had, naturally, caused some attention on the
part of the five or six students who strolled along the Pepiniere
from time to time; the studious after their lectures, the others
after their game of billiards. Courfeyrac, who was among the last,
had observed them several times, but, finding the girl homely,
he had speedily and carefully kept out of the way. He had fled,
discharging at them a sobriquet, like a Parthian dart.
Impressed solely with the child's gown and the old man's hair,
he had dubbed the daughter Mademoiselle Lanoire, and the father,
Monsieur Leblanc, so that as no one knew them under any other title,
this nickname became a law in the default of any other name.
The students said: "Ah! Monsieur Leblanc is on his bench."
And Marius, like the rest, had found it convenient to call this
unknown gentleman Monsieur Leblanc.
We shall follow their example, and we shall say M. Leblanc,
in order to facilitate this tale.
So Marius saw them nearly every day, at the same hour, during the
first year. He found the man to his taste, but the girl insipid.
LUX FACTA EST
During the second year, precisely at the point in this history
which the reader has now reached, it chanced that this habit of
the Luxembourg was interrupted, without Marius himself being quite
aware why, and nearly six months elapsed, during which he did not set
foot in the alley. One day, at last, he returned thither once more;
it was a serene summer morning, and Marius was in joyous mood,
as one is when the weather is fine. It seemed to him that he had
in his heart all the songs of the birds that he was listening to,
and all the bits of blue sky of which he caught glimpses through
the leaves of the trees.
He went straight to "his alley," and when he reached the end of it
he perceived, still on the same bench, that well-known couple.
Only, when he approached, it certainly was the same man; but it seemed
to him that it was no longer the same girl. The person whom he now
beheld was a tall and beautiful creature, possessed of all the most
charming lines of a woman at the precise moment when they are still
combined with all the most ingenuous graces of the child; a pure
and fugitive moment, which can be expressed only by these two words,--
"fifteen years." She had wonderful brown hair, shaded with threads
of gold, a brow that seemed made of marble, cheeks that seemed made
of rose-leaf, a pale flush, an agitated whiteness, an exquisite mouth,
whence smiles darted like sunbeams, and words like music, a head
such as Raphael would have given to Mary, set upon a neck that Jean
Goujon would have attributed to a Venus. And, in order that nothing
might be lacking to this bewitching face, her nose was not handsome--
it was pretty; neither straight nor curved, neither Italian nor Greek;
it was the Parisian nose, that is to say, spiritual, delicate,
irregular, pure,--which drives painters to despair, and charms poets.
When Marius passed near her, he could not see her eyes, which were
constantly lowered. He saw only her long chestnut lashes,
permeated with shadow and modesty.
This did not prevent the beautiful child from smiling as she
listened to what the white-haired old man was saying to her,
and nothing could be more fascinating than that fresh smile,
combined with those drooping eyes.
For a moment, Marius thought that she was another daughter of the
same man, a sister of the former, no doubt. But when the invariable
habit of his stroll brought him, for the second time, near the bench,
and he had examined her attentively, he recognized her as the same.
In six months the little girl had become a young maiden; that was all.
Nothing is more frequent than this phenomenon. There is a moment
when girls blossom out in the twinkling of an eye, and become roses
all at once. One left them children but yesterday; today, one finds
them disquieting to the feelings.
This child had not only grown, she had become idealized.
As three days in April suffice to cover certain trees with flowers,
six months had sufficed to clothe her with beauty. Her April
One sometimes sees people, who, poor and mean, seem to wake up,
pass suddenly from indigence to luxury, indulge in expenditures
of all sorts, and become dazzling, prodigal, magnificent, all of
a sudden. That is the result of having pocketed an income; a note
fell due yesterday. The young girl had received her quarterly income.
And then, she was no longer the school-girl with her felt hat,
her merino gown, her scholar's shoes, and red hands; taste had
come to her with beauty; she was a well-dressed person, clad with
a sort of rich and simple elegance, and without affectation.
She wore a dress of black damask, a cape of the same material,
and a bonnet of white crape. Her white gloves displayed the delicacy
of the hand which toyed with the carved, Chinese ivory handle of
a parasol, and her silken shoe outlined the smallness of her foot.
When one passed near her, her whole toilette exhaled a youthful and
As for the man, he was the same as usual.
The second time that Marius approached her, the young girl raised
her eyelids; her eyes were of a deep, celestial blue, but in that
veiled azure, there was, as yet, nothing but the glance of a child.
She looked at Marius indifferently, as she would have stared at the brat
running beneath the sycamores, or the marble vase which cast a shadow
on the bench, and Marius, on his side, continued his promenade,
and thought about something else.
He passed near the bench where the young girl sat, five or six times,
but without even turning his eyes in her direction.
On the following days, he returned, as was his wont, to the Luxembourg;
as usual, he found there "the father and daughter;" but he paid
no further attention to them. He thought no more about the girl
now that she was beautiful than he had when she was homely.
He passed very near the bench where she sat, because such was
EFFECT OF THE SPRING
One day, the air was warm, the Luxembourg was inundated with
light and shade, the sky was as pure as though the angels had
washed it that morning, the sparrows were giving vent to little
twitters in the depths of the chestnut-trees. Marius had thrown
open his whole soul to nature, he was not thinking of anything,
he simply lived and breathed, he passed near the bench, the young
girl raised her eyes to him, the two glances met.
What was there in the young girl's glance on this occasion?
Marius could not have told. There was nothing and there was everything.
It was a strange flash.
She dropped her eyes, and he pursued his way.
What he had just seen was no longer the ingenuous and simple
eye of a child; it was a mysterious gulf which had half opened,
then abruptly closed again.
There comes a day when the young girl glances in this manner.
Woe to him who chances to be there!
That first gaze of a soul which does not, as yet, know itself,
is like the dawn in the sky. It is the awakening of something
radiant and strange. Nothing can give any idea of the dangerous
charm of that unexpected gleam, which flashes suddenly and vaguely
forth from adorable shadows, and which is composed of all the
innocence of the present, and of all the passion of the future.
It is a sort of undecided tenderness which reveals itself by chance,
and which waits. It is a snare which the innocent maiden sets
unknown to herself, and in which she captures hearts without either
wishing or knowing it. It is a virgin looking like a woman.
It is rare that a profound revery does not spring from that glance,
where it falls. All purities and all candors meet in that celestial
and fatal gleam which, more than all the best-planned tender
glances of coquettes, possesses the magic power of causing the
sudden blossoming, in the depths of the soul, of that sombre flower,
impregnated with perfume and with poison, which is called love.
That evening, on his return to his garret, Marius cast his eyes
over his garments, and perceived, for the first time, that he had
been so slovenly, indecorous, and inconceivably stupid as to go
for his walk in the Luxembourg with his "every-day clothes," that is
to say, with a hat battered near the band, coarse carter's boots,
black trousers which showed white at the knees, and a black coat
which was pale at the elbows.
BEGINNING OF A GREAT MALADY
On the following day, at the accustomed hour, Marius drew from his
wardrobe his new coat, his new trousers, his new hat, and his new boots;
he clothed himself in this complete panoply, put on his gloves,
a tremendous luxury, and set off for the Luxembourg.
On the way thither, he encountered Courfeyrac, and pretended not
to see him. Courfeyrac, on his return home, said to his friends:--
"I have just met Marius' new hat and new coat, with Marius
inside them. He was going to pass an examination, no doubt.
He looked utterly stupid."
On arriving at the Luxembourg, Marius made the tour of the fountain
basin, and stared at the swans; then he remained for a long time
in contemplation before a statue whose head was perfectly black
with mould, and one of whose hips was missing. Near the basin
there was a bourgeois forty years of age, with a prominent stomach,
who was holding by the hand a little urchin of five, and saying
to him: "Shun excess, my son, keep at an equal distance from
despotism and from anarchy." Marius listened to this bourgeois.
Then he made the circuit of the basin once more. At last he directed
his course towards "his alley," slowly, and as if with regret.
One would have said that he was both forced to go there and withheld
from doing so. He did not perceive it himself, and thought that he
was doing as he always did.
On turning into the walk, he saw M. Leblanc and the young girl
at the other end, "on their bench." He buttoned his coat up
to the very top, pulled it down on his body so that there might be
no wrinkles, examined, with a certain complaisance, the lustrous
gleams of his trousers, and marched on the bench. This march savored
of an attack, and certainly of a desire for conquest. So I say that
he marched on the bench, as I should say: "Hannibal marched on Rome."
However, all his movements were purely mechanical, and he had
interrupted none of the habitual preoccupations of his mind
and labors. At that moment, he was thinking that the Manuel du
Baccalaureat was a stupid book, and that it must have been drawn
up by rare idiots, to allow of three tragedies of Racine and only
one comedy of Moliere being analyzed therein as masterpieces of the
human mind. There was a piercing whistling going on in his ears.
As he approached the bench, he held fast to the folds in his coat,
and fixed his eyes on the young girl. It seemed to him that she
filled the entire extremity of the alley with a vague blue light.
In proportion as he drew near, his pace slackened more and more.
On arriving at some little distance from the bench, and long before
he had reached the end of the walk, he halted, and could not explain
to himself why he retraced his steps. He did not even say to himself
that he would not go as far as the end. It was only with difficulty
that the young girl could have perceived him in the distance and noted
his fine appearance in his new clothes. Nevertheless, he held himself
very erect, in case any one should be looking at him from behind.
He attained the opposite end, then came back, and this time he
approached a little nearer to the bench. He even got to within
three intervals of trees, but there he felt an indescribable
impossibility of proceeding further, and he hesitated. He thought
he saw the young girl's face bending towards him. But he exerted
a manly and violent effort, subdued his hesitation, and walked
straight ahead. A few seconds later, he rushed in front of the bench,
erect and firm, reddening to the very ears, without daring to cast
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