Honore De Balzac
Part 6 out of 14
Etienne Lousteau wore black trousers and beautifully-varnished boots;
his coat was buttoned up to his chin; he probably meant to change his
linen at Florine's house, for his shirt collar was hidden by a velvet
stock. He was trying to renovate his hat by an application of the
"Let us go," said Lucien.
"Not yet. I am waiting for a bookseller to bring me some money; I have
not a farthing; there will be play, perhaps, and in any case I must
As he spoke, the two new friends heard a man's step in the passage
"There he is," said Lousteau. "Now you will see, my dear fellow, the
shape that Providence takes when he manifests himself to poets. You
are going to behold Dauriat, the fashionable bookseller of the Quai
des Augustins, the pawnbroker, the marine store dealer of the trade,
the Norman ex-greengrocer.--Come along, old Tartar!" shouted Lousteau.
"Here am I," said a voice like a cracked bell.
"Brought the money with you?"
"Money? There is no money now in the trade," retorted the other, a
young man who eyed Lucien curiously.
"_Imprimis_, you owe me fifty francs," Lousteau continued.
"There are two copies of _Travels in Egypt_ here, a marvel, so they say,
swarming with woodcuts, sure to sell. Finot has been paid for two
reviews that I am to write for him. _Item_ two works, just out, by
Victor Ducange, a novelist highly thought of in the Marais. _Item_ a
couple of copies of a second work by Paul de Kock, a beginner in the
same style. _Item_ two copies of _Yseult of Dole_, a charming provincial
work. Total, one hundred francs, my little Barbet."
Barbet made a close survey of edges and binding.
"Oh! they are in perfect condition," cried Lousteau. "The _Travels_ are
uncut, so is the Paul de Kock, so is the Ducange, so is that other
thing on the chimney-piece, _Considerations on Symbolism_. I will throw
that in; myths weary me to that degree that I will let you have the
thing to spare myself the sight of the swarms of mites coming out of
"But," asked Lucien, "how are you going to write your reviews?"
Barbet, in profound astonishment, stared at Lucien; then he looked at
Etienne and chuckled.
"One can see that the gentleman has not the misfortune to be a
literary man," said he.
"No, Barbet--no. He is a poet, a great poet; he is going to cut out
Canalis, and Beranger, and Delavigne. He will go a long way if he does
not throw himself into the river, and even so he will get as far as
the drag-nets at Saint-Cloud."
"If I had any advice to give the gentleman," remarked Barbet, "it
would be to give up poetry and take to prose. Poetry is not wanted on
the Quais just now."
Barbet's shabby overcoat was fastened by a single button; his collar
was greasy; he kept his hat on his head as he spoke; he wore low
shoes, an open waistcoat gave glimpses of a homely shirt of coarse
linen. Good-nature was not wanting in the round countenance, with its
two slits of covetous eyes; but there was likewise the vague
uneasiness habitual to those who have money to spend and hear constant
applications for it. Yet, to all appearance, he was plain-dealing and
easy-natured, his business shrewdness was so well wadded round with
fat. He had been an assistant until he took a wretched little shop on
the Quai des Augustins two years since, and issued thence on his
rounds among journalists, authors, and printers, buying up free copies
cheaply, making in such ways some ten or twenty francs daily. Now, he
had money saved; he knew instinctively where every man was pressed; he
had a keen eye for business. If an author was in difficulties, he
would discount a bill given by a publisher at fifteen or twenty per
cent; then the next day he would go to the publisher, haggle over the
price of some work in demand, and pay him with his own bills instead
of cash. Barbet was something of a scholar; he had had just enough
education to make him careful to steer clear of modern poetry and
modern romances. He had a liking for small speculations, for books of
a popular kind which might be bought outright for a thousand francs
and exploited at pleasure, such as the _Child's History of France_,
_Book-keeping in Twenty Lessons_, and _Botany for Young Ladies_. Two
or three times already he had allowed a good book to slip through his
fingers; the authors had come and gone a score of times while he
hesitated, and could not make up his mind to buy the manuscript. When
reproached for his pusillanimity, he was wont to produce the account
of a notorious trial taken from the newspapers; it cost him nothing,
and had brought him in two or three thousand francs.
Barbet was the type of bookseller that goes in fear and trembling;
lives on bread and walnuts; rarely puts his name to a bill; filches
little profits on invoices; makes deductions, and hawks his books
about himself; heaven only knows where they go, but he sells them
somehow, and gets paid for them. Barbet was the terror of printers,
who could not tell what to make of him; he paid cash and took off the
discount; he nibbled at their invoices whenever he thought they were
pressed for money; and when he had fleeced a man once, he never went
back to him--he feared to be caught in his turn.
"Well," said Lousteau, "shall we go on with our business?"
"Eh! my boy," returned Barbet in a familiar tone; "I have six thousand
volumes of stock on hand at my place, and paper is not gold, as the
old bookseller said. Trade is dull."
"If you went into his shop, my dear Lucien," said Etienne, turning to
his friend, "you would see an oak counter from some bankrupt wine
merchant's sale, and a tallow dip, never snuffed for fear it should
burn too quickly, making darkness visible. By that anomalous light you
descry rows of empty shelves with some difficulty. An urchin in a blue
blouse mounts guard over the emptiness, and blows his fingers, and
shuffles his feet, and slaps his chest, like a cabman on the box. Just
look about you! there are no more books there than I have here. Nobody
could guess what kind of shop he keeps."
"Here is a bill at three months for a hundred francs," said Barbet,
and he could not help smiling as he drew it out of his pocket; "I will
take your old books off your hands. I can't pay cash any longer, you
see; sales are too slow. I thought that you would be wanting me; I had
not a penny, and I made a bill simply to oblige you, for I am not fond
of giving my signature."
"So you want my thanks and esteem into the bargain, do you?"
"Bills are not met with sentiment," responded Barbet; "but I will
accept your esteem, all the same."
"But I want gloves, and the perfumers will be base enough to decline
your paper," said Lousteau. "Stop, there is a superb engraving in the
top drawer of the chest there, worth eighty francs, proof before
letters and after letterpress, for I have written a pretty droll
article upon it. There was something to lay hold of in _Hippocrates
refusing the Presents of Artaxerxes_. A fine engraving, eh? Just the
thing to suit all the doctors, who are refusing the extravagant gifts
of Parisian satraps. You will find two or three dozen novels
underneath it. Come, now, take the lot and give me forty francs."
"_Forty francs_!" exclaimed the bookseller, emitting a cry like the
squall of a frightened fowl. "Twenty at the very most! And then I may
never see the money again," he added.
"Where are your twenty francs?" asked Lousteau.
"My word, I don't know that I have them," said Barbet, fumbling in his
pockets. "Here they are. You are plundering me; you have an ascendency
"Come, let us be off," said Lousteau, and taking up Lucien's
manuscript, he drew a line upon it in ink under the string.
"Have you anything else?" asked Barbet.
"Nothing, you young Shylock. I am going to put you in the way of a bit
of very good business," Etienne continued ("in which you shall lose a
thousand crowns, to teach you to rob me in this fashion"), he added
for Lucien's ear.
"But how about your reviews?" said Lucien, as they rolled away to the
"Pooh! you do not know how reviews are knocked off. As for the _Travels
in Egypt_, I looked into the book here and there (without cutting the
pages), and I found eleven slips in grammar. I shall say that the
writer may have mastered the dicky-bird language on the flints that
they call 'obelisks' out there in Egypt, but he cannot write in his
own, as I will prove to him in a column and a half. I shall say that
instead of giving us the natural history and archaeology, he ought to
have interested himself in the future of Egypt, in the progress of
civilization, and the best method of strengthening the bond between
Egypt and France. France has won and lost Egypt, but she may yet
attach the country to her interests by gaining a moral ascendency over
it. Then some patriotic penny-a-lining, interlarded with diatribes on
Marseilles, the Levant and our trade."
"But suppose that he had taken that view, what would you do?"
"Oh well, I should say that instead of boring us with politics, he
should have written about art, and described the picturesque aspects
of the country and the local color. Then the critic bewails himself.
Politics are intruded everywhere; we are weary of politics--politics
on all sides. I should regret those charming books of travel that
dwelt upon the difficulties of navigation, the fascination of steering
between two rocks, the delights of crossing the line, and all the
things that those who never will travel ought to know. Mingle this
approval with scoffing at the travelers who hail the appearance of a
bird or a flying-fish as a great event, who dilate upon fishing, and
make transcripts from the log. Where, you ask, is that perfectly
unintelligible scientific information, fascinating, like all that is
profound, mysterious, and incomprehensible. The reader laughs, that is
all that he wants. As for novels, Florine is the greatest novel reader
alive; she gives me a synopsis, and I take her opinion and put a
review together. When a novelist bores her with 'author's stuff,' as
she calls it, I treat the work respectfully, and ask the publisher for
another copy, which he sends forthwith, delighted to have a favorable
"Goodness! and what of criticism, the critic's sacred office?" cried
Lucien, remembering the ideas instilled into him by the brotherhood.
"My dear fellow," said Lousteau, "criticism is a kind of brush which
must not be used upon flimsy stuff, or it carries it all away with it.
That is enough of the craft, now listen! Do you see that mark?" he
continued, pointing to the manuscript of the _Marguerites_. "I have put
ink on the string and paper. If Dauriat reads your manuscript, he
certainly could not tie the string and leave it just as it was before.
So your book is sealed, so to speak. This is not useless to you for
the experiment that you propose to make. And another thing: please to
observe that you are not arriving quite alone and without a sponsor in
the place, like the youngsters who make the round of half-a-score of
publishers before they find one that will offer them a chair."
Lucien's experience confirmed the truth of this particular. Lousteau
paid the cabman, giving him three francs--a piece of prodigality
following upon such impecuniosity astonishing Lucien more than a
little. Then the two friends entered the Wooden Galleries, where
fashionable literature, as it is called, used to reign in state.
The Wooden Galleries of the Palais Royal used to be one of the most
famous sights of Paris. Some description of the squalid bazar will not
be out of place; for there are few men of forty who will not take an
interest in recollections of a state of things which will seem
incredible to a younger generation.
The great dreary, spacious Galerie d'Orleans, that flowerless
hothouse, as yet was not; the space upon which it now stands was
covered with booths; or, to be more precise, with small, wooden dens,
pervious to the weather, and dimly illuminated on the side of the
court and the garden by borrowed lights styled windows by courtesy,
but more like the filthiest arrangements for obscuring daylight to be
found in little wineshops in the suburbs.
The Galleries, parallel passages about twelve feet in height, were
formed by a triple row of shops. The centre row, giving back and front
upon the Galleries, was filled with the fetid atmosphere of the place,
and derived a dubious daylight through the invariably dirty windows of
the roof; but so thronged were these hives, that rents were
excessively high, and as much as a thousand crowns was paid for a
space scarce six feet by eight. The outer rows gave respectively upon
the garden and the court, and were covered on that side by a slight
trellis-work painted green, to protect the crazy plastered walls from
continual friction with the passers-by. In a few square feet of earth
at the back of the shops, strange freaks of vegetable life unknown to
science grew amid the products of various no less flourishing
industries. You beheld a rosebush capped with printed paper in such a
sort that the flowers of rhetoric were perfumed by the cankered
blossoms of that ill-kept, ill-smelling garden. Handbills and ribbon
streamers of every hue flaunted gaily among the leaves; natural
flowers competed unsuccessfully for an existence with odds and ends of
millinery. You discovered a knot of ribbon adorning a green tuft; the
dahlia admired afar proved on a nearer view to be a satin rosette.
The Palais seen from the court or from the garden was a fantastic
sight, a grotesque combination of walls of plaster patchwork which had
once been whitewashed, of blistered paint, heterogeneous placards, and
all the most unaccountable freaks of Parisian squalor; the green
trellises were prodigiously the dingier for constant contact with a
Parisian public. So, upon either side, the fetid, disreputable
approaches might have been there for the express purpose of warning
away fastidious people; but fastidious folk no more recoiled before
these horrors than the prince in the fairy stories turns tail at sight
of the dragon or of the other obstacles put between him and the
princess by the wicked fairy.
There was a passage through the centre of the Galleries then as now;
and, as at the present day, you entered them through the two
peristyles begun before the Revolution, and left unfinished for lack
of funds; but in place of the handsome modern arcade leading to the
Theatre-Francais, you passed along a narrow, disproportionately lofty
passage, so ill-roofed that the rain came through on wet days. All the
roofs of the hovels indeed were in very bad repair, and covered here
and again with a double thickness of tarpaulin. A famous silk mercer
once brought an action against the Orleans family for damages done in
the course of a night to his stock of shawls and stuffs, and gained
the day and a considerable sum. It was in this last-named passage,
called "The Glass Gallery" to distinguish it from the Wooden
Galleries, that Chevet laid the foundations of his fortunes.
Here, in the Palais, you trod the natural soil of Paris, augmented by
importations brought in upon the boots of foot passengers; here, at
all seasons, you stumbled among hills and hollows of dried mud swept
daily by the shopman's besom, and only after some practice could you
walk at your ease. The treacherous mud-heaps, the window-panes
incrusted with deposits of dust and rain, the mean-looking hovels
covered with ragged placards, the grimy unfinished walls, the general
air of a compromise between a gypsy camp, the booths of a country
fair, and the temporary structures that we in Paris build round about
public monuments that remain unbuilt; the grotesque aspect of the mart
as a whole was in keeping with the seething traffic of various kinds
carried on within it; for here in this shameless, unblushing haunt,
amid wild mirth and a babel of talk, an immense amount of business was
transacted between the Revolution of 1789 and the Revolution of 1830.
For twenty years the Bourse stood just opposite, on the ground floor
of the Palais. Public opinion was manufactured, and reputations made
and ruined here, just as political and financial jobs were arranged.
People made appointments to meet in the Galleries before or after
'Change; on showery days the Palais Royal was often crowded with
weather-bound capitalists and men of business. The structure which had
grown up, no one knew how, about this point was strangely resonant,
laughter was multiplied; if two men quarreled, the whole place rang
from one end to the other with the dispute. In the daytime milliners
and booksellers enjoyed a monopoly of the place; towards nightfall it
was filled with women of the town. Here dwelt poetry, politics, and
prose, new books and classics, the glories of ancient and modern
literature side by side with political intrigue and the tricks of the
bookseller's trade. Here all the very latest and newest literature
were sold to a public which resolutely decline to buy elsewhere.
Sometimes several thousand copies of such and such a pamphlet by
Paul-Louis Courier would be sold in a single evening; and people
crowded thither to buy _Les aventures de la fille d'un Roi_--that
first shot fired by the Orleanists at The Charter promulgated by
When Lucien made his first appearance in the Wooden Galleries, some
few of the shops boasted proper fronts and handsome windows, but these
in every case looked upon the court or the garden. As for the centre
row, until the day when the whole strange colony perished under the
hammer of Fontaine the architect, every shop was open back and front
like a booth in a country fair, so that from within you could look out
upon either side through gaps among the goods displayed or through the
glass doors. As it was obviously impossible to kindle a fire, the
tradesmen were fain to use charcoal chafing-dishes, and formed a sort
of brigade for the prevention of fires among themselves; and, indeed,
a little carelessness might have set the whole quarter blazing in
fifteen minutes, for the plank-built republic, dried by the heat of
the sun, and haunted by too inflammable human material, was bedizened
with muslin and paper and gauze, and ventilated at times by a thorough
The milliners' windows were full of impossible hats and bonnets,
displayed apparently for advertisement rather than for sale, each on a
separate iron spit with a knob at the top. The galleries were decked
out in all the colors of the rainbow. On what heads would those dusty
bonnets end their careers?--for a score of years the problem had
puzzled frequenters of the Palais. Saleswomen, usually plain-featured,
but vivacious, waylaid the feminine foot passenger with cunning
importunities, after the fashion of market-women, and using much the
same language; a shop-girl, who made free use of her eyes and tongue,
sat outside on a stool and harangued the public with "Buy a pretty
bonnet, madame?--Do let me sell you something!"--varying a rich and
picturesque vocabulary with inflections of the voice, with glances,
and remarks upon the passers-by. Booksellers and milliners lived on
terms of mutual understanding.
But it was in the passage known by the pompous title of the "Glass
Gallery" that the oddest trades were carried on. Here were
ventriloquists and charlatans of every sort, and sights of every
description, from the kind where there is nothing to see to panoramas
of the globe. One man who has since made seven or eight hundred
thousand francs by traveling from fair to fair began here by hanging
out a signboard, a revolving sun in a blackboard, and the inscription
in red letters: "Here Man may see what God can never see. Admittance,
two sous." The showman at the door never admitted one person alone,
nor more than two at a time. Once inside, you confronted a great
looking-glass; and a voice, which might have terrified Hoffmann of
Berlin, suddenly spoke as if some spring had been touched, "You see
here, gentlemen, something that God can never see through all
eternity, that is to say, your like. God has not His like." And out
you went, too shamefaced to confess to your stupidity.
Voices issued from every narrow doorway, crying up the merits of
Cosmoramas, views of Constantinople, marionettes, automatic
chess-players, and performing dogs who would pick you out the prettiest
woman in the company. The ventriloquist Fritz-James flourished here in
the Cafe Borel before he went to fight and fall at Montmartre with the
young lads from the Ecole polytechnique. Here, too, there were fruit
and flower shops, and a famous tailor whose gold-laced uniforms shone
like the sun when the shops were lighted at night.
Of a morning the galleries were empty, dark, and deserted; the
shopkeepers chatted among themselves. Towards two o'clock in the
afternoon the Palais began to fill; at three, men came in from the
Bourse, and Paris, generally speaking, crowded the place. Impecunious
youth, hungering after literature, took the opportunity of turning
over the pages of the books exposed for sale on the stalls outside the
booksellers' shops; the men in charge charitably allowed a poor
student to pursue his course of free studies; and in this way a
duodecimo volume of some two hundred pages, such as _Smarra_ or _Pierre
Schlemihl_, or _Jean Sbogar_ or _Jocko_, might be devoured in a couple of
afternoons. There was something very French in this alms given to the
young, hungry, starved intellect. Circulating libraries were not as
yet; if you wished to read a book, you were obliged to buy it, for
which reason novels of the early part of the century were sold in
numbers which now seem well-nigh fabulous to us.
But the poetry of this terrible mart appeared in all its splendor at
the close of the day. Women of the town, flocking in and out from the
neighboring streets, were allowed to make a promenade of the Wooden
Galleries. Thither came prostitutes from every quarter of Paris to "do
the Palais." The Stone Galleries belonged to privileged houses, which
paid for the right of exposing women dressed like princesses under
such and such an arch, or in the corresponding space of garden; but
the Wooden Galleries were the common ground of women of the streets.
This was _the_ Palais, a word which used to signify the temple of
prostitution. A woman might come and go, taking away her prey
whithersoever seemed good to her. So great was the crowd attracted
thither at night by the women, that it was impossible to move except
at a slow pace, as in a procession or at a masked ball. Nobody
objected to the slowness; it facilitated examination. The women
dressed in a way that is never seen nowadays. The bodices cut
extremely low both back and front; the fantastical head-dresses,
designed to attract notice; here a cap from the Pays de Caux, and
there a Spanish mantilla; the hair crimped and curled like a poodle's,
or smoothed down in bandeaux over the forehead; the close-fitting
white stockings and limbs, revealed it would not be easy to say how,
but always at the right moment--all this poetry of vice has fled. The
license of question and reply, the public cynicism in keeping with the
haunt, is now unknown even at masquerades or the famous public balls.
It was an appalling, gay scene. The dazzling white flesh of the
women's necks and shoulders stood out in magnificent contrast against
the men's almost invariably sombre costumes. The murmur of voices, the
hum of the crowd, could be heard even in the middle of the garden as a
sort of droning bass, interspersed with _fioriture_ of shrill laughter
or clamor of some rare dispute. You saw gentlemen and celebrities
cheek by jowl with gallows-birds. There was something indescribably
piquant about the anomalous assemblage; the most insensible of men
felt its charm, so much so, that, until the very last moment, Paris
came hither to walk up and down on the wooden planks laid over the
cellars where men were at work on the new buildings; and when the
squalid wooden erections were finally taken down, great and unanimous
regret was felt.
Ladvocat the bookseller had opened a shop but a few days since in the
angle formed by the central passage which crossed the galleries; and
immediately opposite another bookseller, now forgotten, Dauriat, a
bold and youthful pioneer, who opened up the paths in which his rival
was to shine. Dauriat's shop stood in the row which gave upon the
garden; Ladvocat's, on the opposite side, looked out upon the court.
Dauriat's establishment was divided into two parts; his shop was
simply a great trade warehouse, and the second room was his private
Lucien, on this first visit to the Wooden Galleries, was bewildered by
a sight which no novice can resist. He soon lost the guide who
"If you were as good-looking as yonder young fellow, I would give you
your money's worth," a woman said, pointing out Lucien to an old man.
Lucien slunk through the crowd like a blind man's dog, following the
stream in a state of stupefaction and excitement difficult to
describe. Importuned by glances and white-rounded contours, dazzled by
the audacious display of bared throat and bosom, he gripped his roll
of manuscript tightly lest somebody should steal it--innocent that he
"Well, what is it, sir!" he exclaimed, thinking, when some one caught
him by the arm, that his poetry had proved too great a temptation to
some author's honesty, and turning, he recognized Lousteau.
"I felt sure that you would find your way here at last," said his
The poet was standing in the doorway of a shop crowded with persons
waiting for an audience with the sultan of the publishing trade.
Printers, paper-dealers, and designers were catechizing Dauriat's
assistants as to present or future business.
Lousteau drew Lucien into the shop. "There! that is Finot who edits my
paper," he said; "he is talking with Felicien Vernou, who has
abilities, but the little wretch is as dangerous as a hidden disease."
"Well, old boy, there is a first night for you," said Finot, coming up
with Vernou. "I have disposed of the box."
"Sold it to Braulard?"
"Well, and if I did, what then? You will get a seat. What do you want
with Dauriat? Oh, it is agreed that we are to push Paul de Kock,
Dauriat has taken two hundred copies, and Victor Ducange is refusing
to give him his next. Dauriat wants to set up another man in the same
line, he says. You must rate Paul de Kock above Ducange."
"But I have a piece on with Ducange at the Gaite," said Lousteau.
"Very well, tell him that I wrote the article. It can be supposed that
I wrote a slashing review, and you toned it down; and he will owe you
"Couldn't you get Dauriat's cashier to discount this bit of a bill for
a hundred francs?" asked Etienne Lousteau. "We are celebrating
Florine's house-warming with a supper to-night, you know."
"Ah! yes, you are treating us all," said Finot, with an apparent
effort of memory. "Here, Gabusson," he added, handing Barbet's bill to
the cashier, "let me have ninety francs for this individual.--Fill in
your name, old man."
Lousteau signed his name while the cashier counted out the money; and
Lucien, all eyes and ears, lost not a syllable of the conversation.
"That is not all, my friend," Etienne continued; "I don't thank you,
we have sworn an eternal friendship. I have taken it upon myself to
introduce this gentleman to Dauriat, and you must incline his ear to
listen to us."
"What is on foot?" asked Finot.
"A volume of poetry," said Lucien.
"Oh!" said Finot, with a shrug of the shoulders.
"Your acquaintance cannot have had much to do with publishers, or he
would have hidden his manuscript in the loneliest spot in his
dwelling," remarked Vernou, looking at Lucien as he spoke.
Just at that moment a good-looking young man came into the shop, gave
a hand to Finot and Lousteau, and nodded slightly to Vernou. The
newcomer was Emile Blondet, who had made his first appearance in the
_Journal des Debats_, with articles revealing capacities of the very
"Come and have supper with us at midnight, at Florine's," said
"Very good," said the newcomer. "But who is going to be there?"
"Oh, Florine and Matifat the druggist," said Lousteau, "and du Bruel,
the author who gave Florine the part in which she is to make her first
appearance, a little old fogy named Cardot, and his son-in-law
Camusot, and Finot, and----"
"Does your druggist do things properly?"
"He will not give us doctored wine," said Lucien.
"You are very witty, monsieur," Blondet returned gravely. "Is he
"Then we shall have some fun."
Lucien had flushed red to the tips of his ears. Blondet tapped on the
window above Dauriat's desk.
"Is your business likely to keep you long, Dauriat?"
"I am at your service, my friend."
"That's right," said Lousteau, addressing his protege. "That young
fellow is hardly any older than you are, and he is on the _Debats_! He
is one of the princes of criticism. They are afraid of him, Dauriat
will fawn upon him, and then we can put in a word about our business
with the pasha of vignettes and type. Otherwise we might have waited
till eleven o'clock, and our turn would not have come. The crowd of
people waiting to speak with Dauriat is growing bigger every moment."
Lucien and Lousteau followed Blondet, Finot, and Vernou, and stood in
a knot at the back of the shop.
"What is he doing?" asked Blondet of the head-clerk, who rose to bid
"He is buying a weekly newspaper. He wants to put new life into it,
and set up a rival to the _Minerve_ and the _Conservateur_; Eymery has
rather too much of his own way in the _Minerve_, and the _Conservateur_ is
too blindly Romantic."
"Is he going to pay well?"
"Only too much--as usual," said the cashier.
Just as he spoke another young man entered; this was the writer of a
magnificent novel which had sold very rapidly and met with the
greatest possible success. Dauriat was bringing out a second edition.
The appearance of this odd and extraordinary looking being, so
unmistakably an artist, made a deep impression on Lucien's mind.
"That is Nathan," Lousteau said in his ear.
Nathan, then in the prime of his youth, came up to the group of
journalists, hat in hand; and in spite of his look of fierce pride he
was almost humble to Blondet, whom as yet he only knew by sight.
Blondet did not remove his hat, neither did Finot.
"Monsieur, I am delighted to avail myself of an opportunity yielded by
("He is so nervous that he is committing a pleonasm," said Felicien in
an aside to Lousteau.)
"----to give expression to my gratitude for the splendid review which
you were so good as to give me in the _Journal des Debats_. Half the
success of my book is owing to you."
"No, my dear fellow, no," said Blondet, with an air of patronage
scarcely masked by good-nature. "You have talent, the deuce you have,
and I'm delighted to make your acquaintance."
"Now that your review has appeared, I shall not seem to be courting
power; we can feel at ease. Will you do me the honor and the pleasure
of dining with me to-morrow? Finot is coming.--Lousteau, old man, you
will not refuse me, will you?" added Nathan, shaking Etienne by the
hand.--"Ah, you are on the way to a great future, monsieur," he added,
turning again to Blondet; "you will carry on the line of Dussaults,
Fievees, and Geoffrois! Hoffmann was talking about you to a friend of
mine, Claude Vignon, his pupil; he said that he could die in peace,
the _Journal des Debats_ would live forever. They ought to pay you
"A hundred francs a column," said Blondet. "Poor pay when one is
obliged to read the books, and read a hundred before you find one
worth interesting yourself in, like yours. Your work gave me pleasure,
upon my word."
"And brought him in fifteen hundred francs," said Lousteau for
"But you write political articles, don't you?" asked Nathan.
"Yes; now and again."
Lucien felt like an embryo among these men; he had admired Nathan's
book, he had reverenced the author as an immortal; Nathan's abject
attitude before this critic, whose name and importance were both
unknown to him, stupefied Lucien.
"How if I should come to behave as he does?" he thought. "Is a man
obliged to part with his self-respect?--Pray put on your hat again,
Nathan; you have written a great book, and the critic has only written
a review of it."
These thoughts set the blood tingling in his veins. Scarce a minute
passed but some young author, poverty-stricken and shy, came in, asked
to speak with Dauriat, looked round the crowded shop despairingly, and
went out saying, "I will come back again." Two or three politicians
were chatting over the convocation of the Chambers and public business
with a group of well-known public men. The weekly newspaper for which
Dauriat was in treaty was licensed to treat of matters political, and
the number of newspapers suffered to exist was growing smaller and
smaller, till a paper was a piece of property as much in demand as a
theatre. One of the largest shareholders in the _Constitutionnel_ was
standing in the midst of the knot of political celebrities. Lousteau
performed the part of cicerone to admiration; with every sentence he
uttered Dauriat rose higher in Lucien's opinion. Politics and
literature seemed to converge in Dauriat's shop. He had seen a great
poet prostituting his muse to journalism, humiliating Art, as woman
was humiliated and prostituted in those shameless galleries without,
and the provincial took a terrible lesson to heart. Money! That was
the key to every enigma. Lucien realized the fact that he was unknown
and alone, and that the fragile clue of an uncertain friendship was
his sole guide to success and fortune. He blamed the kind and loyal
little circle for painting the world for him in false colors, for
preventing him from plunging into the arena, pen in hand. "I should be
a Blondet at this moment!" he exclaimed within himself.
Only a little while ago they had sat looking out over Paris from the
Gardens of the Luxembourg, and Lousteau had uttered the cry of a
wounded eagle; then Lousteau had been a great man in Lucien's eyes,
and now he had shrunk to scarce visible proportions. The really
important man for him at this moment was the fashionable bookseller,
by whom all these men lived; and the poet, manuscript in hand, felt a
nervous tremor that was almost like fear. He noticed a group of busts
mounted on wooden pedestals, painted to resemble marble; Byron stood
there, and Goethe and M. de Canalis. Dauriat was hoping to publish a
volume by the last-named poet, who might see, on his entrance into the
shop, the estimation in which he was held by the trade. Unconsciously
Lucien's own self-esteem began to shrink, and his courage ebbed. He
began to see how large a part this Dauriat would play in his
destinies, and waited impatiently for him to appear.
"Well, children," said a voice, and a short, stout man appeared, with
a puffy face that suggested a Roman pro-consul's visage, mellowed by
an air of good-nature which deceived superficial observers. "Well,
children, here am I, the proprietor of the only weekly paper in the
market, a paper with two thousand subscribers!"
"Old joker! The registered number is seven hundred, and that is over
the mark," said Blondet.
"Twelve thousand, on my sacred word of honor--I said two thousand for
the benefit of the printers and paper-dealers yonder," he added,
lowering his voice, then raising it again. "I thought you had more
tact, my boy," he added.
"Are you going to take any partners?" inquired Finot.
"That depends," said Dauriat. "Will you take a third at forty thousand
"It's a bargain, if you will take Emile Blondet here on the staff, and
Claude Vignon, Scribe, Theodore Leclercq, Felicien Vernou, Jay, Jouy,
"And why not Lucien de Rubempre?" the provincial poet put in boldly.
"----and Nathan," concluded Finot.
"Why not the people out there in the street?" asked Dauriat, scowling
at the author of the _Marguerites_.--"To whom have I the honor of
speaking?" he added, with an insolent glance.
"One moment, Dauriat," said Lousteau. "I have brought this gentleman
to you. Listen to me, while Finot is thinking over your proposals."
Lucien watched this Dauriat, who addressed Finot with the familiar tu,
which even Finot did not permit himself to use in reply; who called
the redoubtable Blondet "my boy," and extended a hand royally to
Nathan with a friendly nod. The provincial poet felt his shirt wet
with perspiration when the formidable sultan looked indifferent and
"Another piece of business, my boy!" exclaimed Dauriat. "Why, I have
eleven hundred manuscripts on hand, as you know! Yes, gentlemen, I
have eleven hundred manuscripts submitted to me at this moment; ask
Gabusson. I shall soon be obliged to start a department to keep
account of the stock of manuscripts, and a special office for reading
them, and a committee to vote on their merits, with numbered counters
for those who attend, and a permanent secretary to draw up the minutes
for me. It will be a kind of local branch of the Academie, and the
Academicians will be better paid in the Wooden Galleries than at the
"'Tis an idea," said Blondet.
"A bad idea," returned Dauriat. "It is not my business to take stock
of the lucubrations of those among you who take to literature because
they cannot be capitalists, and there is no opening for them as
bootmakers, nor corporals, nor domestic servants, nor officials, nor
bailiffs. Nobody comes here until he has made a name for himself! Make
a name for yourself, and you will find gold in torrents. I have made
three great men in the last two years; and lo and behold three
examples of ingratitude! Here is Nathan talking of six thousand francs
for the second edition of his book, which cost me three thousand
francs in reviews, and has not brought in a thousand yet. I paid a
thousand francs for Blondet's two articles, besides a dinner, which
cost me five hundred----"
"But if all booksellers talked as you do, sir, how could a man publish
his first book at all?" asked Lucien. Blondet had gone down
tremendously in his opinion since he had heard the amount given by
Dauriat for the articles in the _Debats_.
"That is not my affair," said Dauriat, looking daggers at this
handsome young fellow, who was smiling pleasantly at him. "I do not
publish books for amusement, nor risk two thousand francs for the sake
of seeing my money back again. I speculate in literature, and publish
forty volumes of ten thousand copies each, just as Panckouke does and
the Baudoins. With my influence and the articles which I secure, I can
push a business of a hundred thousand crowns, instead of a single
volume involving a couple of thousand francs. It is just as much
trouble to bring out a new name and to induce the public to take up an
author and his book, as to make a success with the _Theatres etrangers_,
_Victoires et Conquetes_, or _Memoires sur la Revolution_, books that
bring in a fortune. I am not here as a stepping-stone to future fame,
but to make money, and to find it for men with distinguished names.
The manuscripts for which I give a hundred thousand francs pay me
better than work by an unknown author who asks six hundred. If I am
not exactly a Maecenas, I deserve the gratitude of literature; I have
doubled the prices of manuscripts. I am giving you this explanation
because you are a friend of Lousteau's my boy," added Dauriat,
clapping Lucien on the shoulder with odious familiarity. "If I were to
talk to all the authors who have a mind that I should be their
publisher, I should have to shut up shop; I should pass my time very
agreeably no doubt, but the conversations would cost too much. I am
not rich enough yet to listen to all the monologues of self-conceit.
Nobody does, except in classical tragedies on the stage."
The terrible Dauriat's gorgeous raiment seemed in the provincial
poet's eyes to add force to the man's remorseless logic.
"What is it about?" he continued, addressing Lucien's protector.
"It is a volume of magnificent poetry."
At that word, Dauriat turned to Gabusson with a gesture worthy of
"Gabusson, my friend," he said, "from this day forward, when anybody
begins to talk of works in manuscript here--Do you hear that, all of
you?" he broke in upon himself; and three assistants at once emerged
from among the piles of books at the sound of their employer's
wrathful voice. "If anybody comes here with manuscripts," he
continued, looking at the finger-nails of a well-kept hand, "ask him
whether it is poetry or prose; and if he says poetry, show him the
door at once. Verses mean reverses in the booktrade."
"Bravo! well put, Dauriat," cried the chorus of journalists.
"It is true!" cried the bookseller, striding about his shop with
Lucien's manuscript in his hand. "You have no idea, gentlemen, of the
amount of harm that Byron, Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Casimir Delavigne,
Canalis, and Beranger have done by their success. The fame of them has
brought down an invasion of barbarians upon us. I know _this_: there
are a thousand volumes of manuscript poetry going the round of the
publishers at this moment, things that nobody can make head nor tail
of, stories in verse that begin in the middle, like _The Corsair_ and
_Lara_. They set up to be original, forsooth, and indulge in stanzas
that nobody can understand, and descriptive poetry after the pattern
of the younger men who discovered Delille, and imagine that they are
doing something new. Poets have been swarming like cockchafers for two
years past. I have lost twenty thousand francs through poetry in the
last twelvemonth. You ask Gabusson! There may be immortal poets
somewhere in the world; I know of some that are blooming and rosy, and
have no beards on their chins as yet," he continued, looking at
Lucien; "but in the trade, young man, there are only four poets
--Beranger, Casimir Delavigne, Lamartine, and Victor Hugo; as for
Canalis--he is a poet made by sheer force of writing him up."
Lucien felt that he lacked the courage to hold up his head and show
his spirit before all these influential persons, who were laughing
with all their might. He knew very well that he should look hopelessly
ridiculous, and yet he felt consumed by a fierce desire to catch the
bookseller by the throat, to ruffle the insolent composure of his
cravat, to break the gold chain that glittered on the man's chest,
trample his watch under his feet, and tear him in pieces. Mortified
vanity opened the door to thoughts of vengeance, and inwardly he swore
eternal enmity to that bookseller. But he smiled amiably.
"Poetry is like the sun," said Blondet, "giving life alike to primeval
forests and to ants and gnats and mosquitoes. There is no virtue but
has a vice to match, and literature breeds the publisher."
"And the journalist," said Lousteau.
Dauriat burst out laughing.
"What is this after all?" he asked, holding up the manuscript.
"A volume of sonnets that will put Petrarch to the blush," said
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say," answered Lousteau, seeing the knowing smile that
went round the group. Lucien could not take offence but he chafed
"Very well, I will read them," said Dauriat, with a regal gesture that
marked the full extent of the concession. "If these sonnets of yours
are up to the level of the nineteenth century, I will make a great
poet of you, my boy."
"If he has brains to equal his good looks, you will run no great
risks," remarked one of the greatest public speakers of the day, a
deputy who was chatting with the editor of the _Minerve_, and a writer
for the _Constitutionnel_.
"Fame means twelve thousand francs in reviews, and a thousand more for
dinners, General," said Dauriat. "If M. Benjamin de Constant means to
write a paper on this young poet, it will not be long before I make a
bargain with him."
At the title of General, and the distinguished name of Benjamin
Constant, the bookseller's shop took the proportions of Olympus for
the provincial great man.
"Lousteau, I want a word with you," said Finot; "but I shall see you
again later, at the theatre.--Dauriat, I will take your offer, but on
conditions. Let us step into your office."
"Come in, my boy," answered Dauriat, allowing Finot to pass before
him. Then, intimating to some ten persons still waiting for him that
he was engaged, he likewise was about to disappear when Lucien
impatiently stopped him.
"You are keeping my manuscript. When shall I have an answer?"
"Oh, come back in three or four days, my little poet, and we will
Lousteau hurried Lucien away; he had not time to take leave of Vernou
and Blondet and Raoul Nathan, nor to salute General Foy nor Benjamin
Constant, whose book on the Hundred Days was just about to appear.
Lucien scarcely caught a glimpse of fair hair, a refined oval-shaped
face, keen eyes, and the pleasant-looking mouth belonging to the man
who had played the part of a Potemkin to Mme. de Stael for twenty
years, and now was at war with the Bourbons, as he had been at war
with Napoleon. He was destined to win his cause and to die stricken to
earth by his victory.
"What a shop!" exclaimed Lucien, as he took his place in the cab
"To the Panorama-Dramatique; look sharp, and you shall have thirty
sous," Etienne Lousteau called to the cabman.--"Dauriat is a rascal
who sells books to the amount of fifteen or sixteen hundred thousand
francs every year. He is a kind of Minister of Literature," Lousteau
continued. His self-conceit had been pleasantly tickled, and he was
showing off before Lucien. "Dauriat is just as grasping as Barbet, but
it is on a wholesale scale. Dauriat can be civil, and he is generous,
but he has a great opinion of himself; as for his wit, it consists in
a faculty for picking up all that he hears, and his shop is a capital
place to frequent. You meet all the best men at Dauriat's. A young
fellow learns more there in an hour than by poring over books for
half-a-score of years. People talk about articles and concoct
subjects; you make the acquaintance of great or influential people who
may be useful to you. You must know people if you mean to get on
nowadays.--It is all luck, you see. And as for sitting by yourself in
a corner alone with your intellect, it is the most dangerous thing of
"But what insolence!" said Lucien.
"Pshaw! we all of us laugh at Dauriat," said Etienne. "If you are in
need of him, he tramples upon you; if he has need of the _Journal des
Debats_, Emile Blondet sets him spinning like a top. Oh, if you take
to literature, you will see a good many queer things. Well, what was
I telling you, eh?"
"Yes, you were right," said Lucien. "My experience in that shop was
even more painful than I expected, after your programme."
"Why do you choose to suffer? You find your subject, you wear out your
wits over it with toiling at night, you throw your very life into it:
and after all your journeyings in the fields of thought, the monument
reared with your life-blood is simply a good or a bad speculation for
a publisher. Your work will sell or it will not sell; and therein, for
them, lies the whole question. A book means so much capital to risk,
and the better the book, the less likely it is to sell. A man of
talent rises above the level of ordinary heads; his success varies in
direct ratio with the time required for his work to be appreciated.
And no publisher wants to wait. To-day's book must be sold by
to-morrow. Acting on this system, publishers and booksellers do not
care to take real literature, books that call for the high praise that
"D'Arthez was right," exclaimed Lucien.
"Do you know d'Arthez?" asked Lousteau. "I know of no more dangerous
company than solitary spirits like that fellow yonder, who fancy that
they can draw the world after them. All of us begin by thinking that
we are capable of great things; and when once a youthful imagination
is heated by this superstition, the candidate for posthumous honors
makes no attempt to move the world while such moving of the world is
both possible and profitable; he lets the time go by. I am for
Mahomet's system--if the mountain does not come to me, I am for going
to the mountain."
The common-sense so trenchantly put in this sally left Lucien halting
between the resignation preached by the brotherhood and Lousteau's
militant doctrine. He said not a word till they reached the Boulevard
The Panorama-Dramatique no longer exists. A dwelling-house stands on
the site of the once charming theatre in the Boulevard du Temple,
where two successive managements collapsed without making a single
hit; and yet Vignol, who has since fallen heir to some of Potier's
popularity, made his _debut_ there; and Florine, five years later a
celebrated actress, made her first appearance in the theatre opposite
the Rue Charlot. Play-houses, like men, have their vicissitudes. The
Panorama-Dramatique suffered from competition. The machinations of its
rivals, the Ambigu, the Gaite, the Porte Saint-Martin, and the
Vaudeville, together with a plethora of restrictions and a scarcity of
good plays, combined to bring about the downfall of the house. No
dramatic author cared to quarrel with a prosperous theatre for the
sake of the Panorama-Dramatique, whose existence was, to say the
least, problematical. The management at this moment, however, was
counting on the success of a new melodramatic comedy by M. du Bruel, a
young author who, after working in collaboration with divers
celebrities, had now produced a piece professedly entirely his own. It
had been specially composed for the leading lady, a young actress who
began her stage career as a supernumerary at the Gaite, and had been
promoted to small parts for the last twelvemonth. But though Mlle.
Florine's acting had attracted some attention, she obtained no
engagement, and the Panorama accordingly had carried her off. Coralie,
another actress, was to make her _debut_ at the same time.
Lucien was amazed at the power wielded by the press. "This gentleman
is with me," said Etienne Lousteau, and the box-office clerks bowed
before him as one man.
"You will find it no easy matter to get seats," said the head-clerk.
"There is nothing left now but the stage box."
A certain amount of time was wasted in controversies with the
box-keepers in the lobbies, when Etienne said, "Let us go behind
the scenes; we will speak to the manager, he will take us into the
stage-box; and besides, I will introduce you to Florine, the heroine
of the evening."
At a sign from Etienne Lousteau, the doorkeeper of the orchestra took
out a little key and unlocked a door in the thickness of the wall.
Lucien, following his friend, went suddenly out of the lighted
corridor into the black darkness of the passage between the house and
the wings. A short flight of damp steps surmounted, one of the
strangest of all spectacles opened out before the provincial poet's
eyes. The height of the roof, the slenderness of the props, the
ladders hung with Argand lamps, the atrocious ugliness of scenery
beheld at close quarters, the thick paint on the actors' faces, and
their outlandish costumes, made of such coarse materials, the stage
carpenters in greasy jackets, the firemen, the stage manager strutting
about with his hat on his head, the supernumeraries sitting among the
hanging back-scenes, the ropes and pulleys, the heterogeneous
collection of absurdities, shabby, dirty, hideous, and gaudy, was
something so altogether different from the stage seen over the
footlights, that Lucien's astonishment knew no bounds. The curtain was
just about to fall on a good old-fashioned melodrama entitled _Bertram_,
a play adapted from a tragedy by Maturin which Charles Nodier,
together with Byron and Sir Walter Scott, held in the highest esteem,
though the play was a failure on the stage in Paris.
"Keep a tight hold of my arm, unless you have a mind to fall through a
trap-door, or bring down a forest on your head; you will pull down a
palace, or carry off a cottage, if you are not careful," said Etienne.
--"Is Florine in her dressing-room, my pet?" he added, addressing an
actress who stood waiting for her cue.
"Yes, love. Thank you for the things you said about me. You are so
much nicer since Florine has come here."
"Come, don't spoil your entry, little one. Quick with you, look sharp,
and say, 'Stop, wretched man!' nicely, for there are two thousand
francs of takings."
Lucien was struck with amazement when the girl's whole face suddenly
changed, and she shrieked, "Stop, wretched man!" a cry that froze the
blood in your veins. She was no longer the same creature.
"So this is the stage," he said to Lousteau.
"It is like the bookseller's shop in the Wooden Galleries, or a
literary paper," said Etienne Lousteau; "it is a kitchen, neither more
Nathan appeared at this moment.
"What brings you here?" inquired Lousteau.
"Why, I am doing the minor theatres for the _Gazette_ until something
better turns up."
"Oh! come to supper with us this evening; speak well of Florine, and I
will do as much for you."
"Very much at your service," returned Nathan.
"You know; she is living in the Rue du Bondy now."
"Lousteau, dear boy, who is the handsome young man that you have
brought with you?" asked the actress, now returned to the wings.
"A great poet, dear, that will have a famous name one of these days.
--M. Nathan, I must introduce M. Lucien de Rubempre to you, as you are
to meet again at supper."
"You have a good name, monsieur," said Nathan.
"Lucien, M. Raoul Nathan," continued Etienne.
"I read your book two days ago; and, upon my word, I cannot understand
how you, who have written such a book, and such poetry, can be so
humble to a journalist."
"Wait till your first book comes out," said Nathan, and a shrewd smile
flitted over his face.
"I say! I say! here are Ultras and Liberals actually shaking hands!"
cried Vernou, spying the trio.
"In the morning I hold the views of my paper," said Nathan, "in the
evening I think as I please; all journalists see double at night."
Felicien Vernou turned to Lousteau.
"Finot is looking for you, Etienne; he came with me, and--here he is!"
"Ah, by the by, there is not a place in the house, is there?" asked
"You will always find a place in our hearts," said the actress, with
the sweetest smile imaginable.
"I say, my little Florville, are you cured already of your fancy? They
told me that a Russian prince had carried you off."
"Who carries off women in these days" said Florville (she who had
cried, "Stop, wretched man!"). "We stayed at Saint-Mande for ten days,
and my prince got off with paying the forfeit money to the management.
The manager will go down on his knees to pray for some more Russian
princes," Florville continued, laughing; "the forfeit money was so
much clear gain."
"And as for you, child," said Finot, turning to a pretty girl in a
peasant's costume, "where did you steal these diamond ear-drops? Have
you hooked an Indian prince?"
"No, a blacking manufacturer, an Englishman, who has gone off already.
It is not everybody who can find millionaire shopkeepers, tired of
domestic life, whenever they like, as Florine does and Coralie. Aren't
they just lucky?"
"Florville, you will make a bad entry," said Lousteau; "the blacking
has gone to your head!"
"If you want a success," said Nathan, "instead of screaming, 'He is
saved!' like a Fury, walk on quite quietly, go to the staircase, and
say, 'He is saved,' in a chest voice, like Pasta's '_O patria_,' in
_Tancreda_.--There, go along!" and he pushed her towards the stage.
"It is too late," said Vernou, "the effect has hung fire."
"What did she do? the house is applauding like mad," asked Lousteau.
"Went down on her knees and showed her bosom; that is her great
resource," said the blacking-maker's widow.
"The manager is giving up the stage box to us; you will find me there
when you come," said Finot, as Lousteau walked off with Lucien.
At the back of the stage, through a labyrinth of scenery and
corridors, the pair climbed several flights of stairs and reached a
little room on a third floor, Nathan and Felicien Vernou following
"Good-day or good-night, gentlemen," said Florine. Then, turning to a
short, stout man standing in a corner, "These gentlemen are the rulers
of my destiny," she said, my future is in their hands; but they will
be under our table to-morrow morning, I hope, if M. Lousteau has
"Forgotten! You are going to have Blondet of the _Debats_," said
Etienne, "the genuine Blondet, the very Blondet--Blondet himself, in
"Oh! Lousteau, you dear boy! stop, I must give you a kiss," and she
flung her arms about the journalist's neck. Matifat, the stout person
in the corner, looked serious at this.
Florine was thin; her beauty, like a bud, gave promise of the flower
to come; the girl of sixteen could only delight the eyes of artists
who prefer the sketch to the picture. All the quick subtlety of her
character was visible in the features of the charming actress, who at
that time might have sat for Goethe's Mignon. Matifat, a wealthy
druggist of the Rue des Lombards, had imagined that a little Boulevard
actress would have no very expensive tastes, but in eleven months
Florine had cost him sixty thousand francs. Nothing seemed more
extraordinary to Lucien than the sight of an honest and worthy
merchant standing like a statue of the god Terminus in the actress'
narrow dressing-room, a tiny place some ten feet square, hung with a
pretty wall-paper, and adorned with a full-length mirror, a sofa, and
two chairs. There was a fireplace in the dressing-closet, a carpet on
the floor, and cupboards all round the room. A dresser was putting the
finishing touches to a Spanish costume; for Florine was to take the
part of a countess in an imbroglio.
"That girl will be the handsomest actress in Paris in five years'
time," said Nathan, turning to Felicien Vernou.
"By the by, darlings, you will take care of me to-morrow, won't you?"
said Florine, turning to the three journalists. "I have engaged cabs
for to-night, for I am going to send you home as tipsy as Shrove
Tuesday. Matifat has sent in wines--oh! wines worthy of Louis XVIII.,
and engaged the Prussian ambassador's cook."
"We expect something enormous from the look of the gentleman,"
"And he is quite aware that he is treating the most dangerous men in
Paris," added Florine.
Matifat was looking uneasily at Lucien; he felt jealous of the young
man's good looks.
"But here is some one that I do not know," Florine continued,
confronting Lucien. "Which of you has imported the Apollo Belvedere
from Florence? He is as charming as one of Girodet's figures."
"He is a poet, mademoiselle, from the provinces. I forgot to present
him to you; you are so beautiful to-night that you put the _Complete
Guide to Etiquette_ out of a man's head----"
"Is he so rich that he can afford to write poetry?" asked Florine.
"Poor as Job," said Lucien.
"It is a great temptation for some of us," said the actress.
Just then the author of the play suddenly entered, and Lucien beheld
M. du Bruel, a short, attenuated young man in an overcoat, a composite
human blend of the jack-in-office, the owner of house-property, and
"Florine, child," said this personage, "are you sure of your part, eh?
No slips of memory, you know. And mind that scene in the second act,
make the irony tell, bring out that subtle touch; say, 'I do not love
you,' just as we agreed."
"Why do you take parts in which you have to say such things?" asked
The druggist's remark was received with a general shout of laughter.
"What does it matter to you," said Florine, "so long as I don't say
such things to you, great stupid?--Oh! his stupidity is the pleasure
of my life," she continued, glancing at the journalist. "Upon my word,
I would pay him so much for every blunder, if it would not be the ruin
"Yes, but you will look at me when you say it, as you do when you are
rehearsing, and it gives me a turn," remonstrated the druggist.
"Very well, then, I will look at my friend Lousteau here."
A bell rang outside in the passage.
"Go out, all of you!" cried Florine; "let me read my part over again
and try to understand it."
Lucien and Lousteau were the last to go. Lousteau set a kiss on
Florine's shoulder, and Lucien heard her say, "Not to-night.
Impossible. That stupid old animal told his wife that he was going out
into the country."
"Isn't she charming?" said Etienne, as they came away.
"But--but that Matifat, my dear fellow----"
"Oh! you know nothing of Parisian life, my boy. Some things cannot be
helped. Suppose that you fell in love with a married woman, it comes
to the same thing. It all depends on the way that you look at it."
Etienne and Lucien entered the stage-box, and found the manager there
with Finot. Matifat was in the ground-floor box exactly opposite with
a friend of his, a silk-mercer named Camusot (Coralie's protector),
and a worthy little old soul, his father-in-law. All three of these
city men were polishing their opera-glasses, and anxiously scanning
the house; certain symptoms in the pit appeared to disturb them. The
usual heterogeneous first-night elements filled the boxes--journalists
and their mistresses, _lorettes_ and their lovers, a sprinkling of the
determined playgoers who never miss a first night if they can help it,
and a very few people of fashion who care for this sort of sensation.
The first box was occupied by the head of a department, to whom du
Bruel, maker of vaudevilles, owed a snug little sinecure in the
Lucien had gone from surprise to surprise since the dinner at
Flicoteaux's. For two months Literature had meant a life of poverty
and want; in Lousteau's room he had seen it at its cynical worst; in
the Wooden Galleries he had met Literature abject and Literature
insolent. The sharp contrasts of heights and depths; of compromise
with conscience; of supreme power and want of principle; of treachery
and pleasure; of mental elevation and bondage--all this made his head
swim, he seemed to be watching some strange unheard-of drama.
Finot was talking with the manager. "Do you think du Bruel's piece
will pay?" he asked.
"Du Bruel has tried to do something in Beaumarchais' style. Boulevard
audiences don't care for that kind of thing; they like harrowing
sensations; wit is not much appreciated here. Everything depends on
Florine and Coralie to-night; they are bewitchingly pretty and
graceful, wear very short skirts, and dance a Spanish dance, and
possibly they may carry off the piece with the public. The whole
affair is a gambling speculation. A few clever notices in the papers,
and I may make a hundred thousand crowns, if the play takes."
"Oh! come, it will only be a moderate success, I can see," said Finot.
"Three of the theatres have got up a plot," continued the manager;
"they will even hiss the piece, but I have made arrangements to defeat
their kind intentions. I have squared the men in their pay; they will
make a muddle of it. A couple of city men yonder have taken a hundred
tickets apiece to secure a triumph for Florine and Coralie, and given
them to acquaintances able and ready to act as chuckers out. The
fellows, having been paid twice, will go quietly, and a scene of that
sort always makes a good impression on the house."
"Two hundred tickets! What invaluable men!" exclaimed Finot.
"Yes. With two more actresses as handsomely kept as Florine and
Coralie, I should make something out of the business."
For the past two hours the word money had been sounding in Lucien's
ears as the solution of every difficulty. In the theatre as in the
publishing trade, and in the publishing trade as in the
newspaper-office--it was everywhere the same; there was not a word of
art or of glory. The steady beat of the great pendulum, Money, seemed
to fall like hammer-strokes on his heart and brain. And yet while the
orchestra played the overture, while the pit was full of noisy tumult
of applause and hisses, unconsciously he drew a comparison between
this scene and others that came up in his mind. Visions arose before
him of David and the printing-office, of the poetry that he came to
know in that atmosphere of pure peace, when together they beheld the
wonders of Art, the high successes of genius, and visions of glory
borne on stainless wings. He thought of the evenings spent with
d'Arthez and his friends, and tears glittered in his eyes.
"What is the matter with you?" asked Etienne Lousteau.
"I see poetry fallen into the mire."
"Ah! you have still some illusions left, my dear fellow."
"Is there nothing for it but to cringe and submit to thickheads like
Matifat and Camusot, as actresses bow down to journalists, and we
ourselves to the booksellers?"
"My boy, do you see that dull-brained fellow?" said Etienne, lowering
his voice, and glancing at Finot. "He has neither genius nor
cleverness, but he is covetous; he means to make a fortune at all
costs, and he is a keen man of business. Didn't you see how he made
forty per cent out of me at Dauriat's, and talked as if he were doing
me a favor?--Well, he gets letters from not a few unknown men of
genius who go down on their knees to him for a hundred francs."
The words recalled the pen-and-ink sketch that lay on the table in the
editor's office and the words, "Finot, my hundred francs!" Lucien's
inmost soul shrank from the man in disgust.
"I would sooner die," he said.
"Sooner live," retorted Etienne.
The curtain rose, and the stage-manager went off to the wings to give
orders. Finot turned to Etienne.
"My dear fellow, Dauriat has passed his word; I am proprietor of
one-third of his weekly paper. I have agreed to give thirty thousand
francs in cash, on condition that I am to be editor and director. 'Tis
a splendid thing. Blondet told me that the Government intends to take
restrictive measures against the press; there will be no new papers
allowed; in six months' time it will cost a million francs to start a
new journal, so I struck a bargain though I have only ten thousand
francs in hand. Listen to me. If you can sell one-half of my share,
that is one-sixth of the paper, to Matifat for thirty thousand francs,
you shall be editor of my little paper with a salary of two hundred
and fifty francs per month. I want in any case to have the control of
my old paper, and to keep my hold upon it; but nobody need know that,
and your name will appear as editor. You will be paid at the rate of
five francs per column; you need not pay contributors more than three
francs, and you keep the difference. That means another four hundred
and fifty francs per month. But, at the same time, I reserve the right
to use the paper to attack or defend men or causes, as I please; and
you may indulge your own likes and dislikes so long as you do not
interfere with my schemes. Perhaps I may be a Ministerialist, perhaps
Ultra, I do not know yet; but I mean to keep up my connections with
the Liberal party (below the surface). I can speak out with you; you
are a good fellow. I might, perhaps, give you the Chambers to do for
another paper on which I work; I am afraid I can scarcely keep on with
it now. So let Florine do this bit of jockeying; tell her to put the
screw on her druggist. If I can't find the money within forty-eight
hours, I must cry off my bargain. Dauriat sold another third to his
printer and paper-dealer for thirty thousand francs; so he has his own
third _gratis_, and ten thousand francs to the good, for he only gave
fifty thousand for the whole affair. And in another year's time the
magazine will be worth two hundred thousand francs, if the Court buys
it up; if the Court has the good sense to suppress newspapers, as they
"You are lucky," said Lousteau.
"If you had gone through all that I have endured, you would not say
that of me. I had my fill of misery in those days, you see, and there
was no help for it. My father is a hatter; he still keeps a shop in
the Rue du Coq. Nothing but millions of money or a social cataclysm
can open out the way to my goal; and of the two alternatives, I don't
know now that the revolution is not the easier. If I bore your
friend's name, I should have a chance to get on. Hush, here comes the
manager. Good-bye," and Finot rose to his feet, "I am going to the
Opera. I shall very likely have a duel on my hands to-morrow, for I
have put my initials to a terrific attack on a couple of dancers under
the protection of two Generals. I am giving it them hot and strong at
"Aha?" said the manager.
"Yes. They are stingy with me," returned Finot, "now cutting off a
box, and now declining to take fifty subscriptions. I have sent in my
_ultimatum_; I mean to have a hundred subscriptions out of them and a
box four times a month. If they take my terms, I shall have eight
hundred readers and a thousand paying subscribers, so we shall have
twelve hundred with the New Year."
"You will end by ruining us," said the manager.
"_You_ are not much hurt with your ten subscriptions. I had two good
notices put into the _Constitutionnel_."
"Oh! I am not complaining of you," cried the manager.
"Good-bye till to-morrow evening, Lousteau," said Finot. "You can give
me your answer at the Francais; there is a new piece on there; and as
I shall not be able to write the notice, you can take my box. I will
give you preference; you have worked yourself to death for me, and I
am grateful. Felicien Vernou offered twenty thousand francs for a
third share of my little paper, and to work without a salary for a
twelvemonth; but I want to be absolute master. Good-bye."
"He is not named Finot" (_finaud_, slyboots) "for nothing," said Lucien.
"He is a gallows-bird that will get on in the world," said Etienne,
careless whether the wily schemer overheard the remark or not, as he
shut the door of the box.
"_He_!" said the manager. "He will be a millionaire; he will enjoy the
respect of all who know him; he may perhaps have friends some day----"
"Good heavens! what a den!" said Lucien. "And are you going to drag
that excellent creature into such a business?" he continued, looking
at Florine, who gave them side glances from the stage.
"She will carry it through too. You do not know the devotion and the
wiles of these beloved beings," said Lousteau.
"They redeem their failings and expiate all their sins by boundless
love, when they love," said the manager. "A great love is all the
grander in an actress by reason of its violent contrast with her
"And he who finds it, finds a diamond worthy of the proudest crown
lying in the mud," returned Lousteau.
"But Coralie is not attending to her part," remarked the manager.
"Coralie is smitten with our friend here, all unsuspicious of his
conquest, and Coralie will make a fiasco; she is missing her cues,
this is the second time she had not heard the prompter. Pray, go into
the corner, monsieur," he continued. "If Coralie is smitten with you,
I will go and tell her that you have left the house."
"No! no!" cried Lousteau; "tell Coralie that this gentleman is coming
to supper, and that she can do as she likes with him, and she will
play like Mlle. Mars."
The manager went, and Lucien turned to Etienne. "What! do you mean to
say that you will ask that druggist, through Mlle. Florine, to pay
thirty thousand francs for one-half a share, when Finot gave no more
for the whole of it? And ask without the slightest scruple?----"
Lousteau interrupted Lucien before he had time to finish his
expostulation. "My dear boy, what country can you come from? The
druggist is not a man; he is a strong box delivered into our hands by
his fancy for an actress."
"How about your conscience?"
"Conscience, my dear fellow, is a stick which every one takes up to
beat his neighbor and not for application to his own back. Come, now!
who the devil are you angry with? In one day chance has worked a
miracle for you, a miracle for which I have been waiting these two
years, and you must needs amuse yourself by finding fault with the
means? What! you appear to me to possess intelligence; you seem to be
in a fair way to reach that freedom from prejudice which is a first
necessity to intellectual adventurers in the world we live in; and are
you wallowing in scruples worthy of a nun who accuses herself of
eating an egg with concupiscence? . . . If Florine succeeds, I shall
be editor of a newspaper with a fixed salary of two hundred and fifty
francs per month; I shall take the important plays and leave the
vaudevilles to Vernou, and you can take my place and do the Boulevard
theatres, and so get a foot in the stirrup. You will make three francs
per column and write a column a day--thirty columns a month means
ninety francs; you will have some sixty francs worth of books to sell
to Barbet; and lastly, you can demand ten tickets a month of each of
your theatres--that is, forty tickets in all--and sell them for forty
francs to a Barbet who deals in them (I will introduce you to the
man), so you will have two hundred francs coming in every month. Then
if you make yourself useful to Finot, you might get a hundred francs
for an article in this new weekly review of his, in which case you
would show uncommon talent, for all the articles are signed, and you
cannot put in slip-shod work as you can on a small paper. In that case
you would be making a hundred crowns a month. Now, my dear boy, there
are men of ability, like that poor d'Arthez, who dines at Flicoteaux's
every day, who may wait for ten years before they will make a hundred
crowns; and you will be making four thousand francs a year by your
pen, to say nothing of the books you will write for the trade, if you
do work of that kind.
"Now, a sub-prefect's salary only amounts to a thousand crowns, and
there he stops in his arrondissement, wearing away time like the rung
of a chair. I say nothing of the pleasure of going to the theatre
without paying for your seat, for that is a delight which quickly
palls; but you can go behind the scenes in four theatres. Be hard and
sarcastic for a month or two, and you will be simply overwhelmed with
invitations from actresses, and their adorers will pay court to you;
you will only dine at Flicoteaux's when you happen to have less than
thirty sous in your pocket and no dinner engagement. At the
Luxembourg, at five o'clock, you did not know which way to turn; now,
you are on the eve of entering a privileged class, you will be one of
the hundred persons who tell France what to think. In three days'
time, if all goes well, you can, if you choose, make a man's life a
curse to him by putting thirty jokes at his expense in print at the
rate of three a day; you can, if you choose, draw a revenue of
pleasure from the actresses at your theatres; you can wreck a good
play and send all Paris running after a bad one. If Dauriat declines
to pay you for your _Marguerites_, you can make him come to you, and
meekly and humbly implore you to take two thousand francs for them. If
you have the ability, and knock off two or three articles that
threaten to spoil some of Dauriat's speculations, or to ruin a book on
which he counts, you will see him come climbing up your stairs like a
clematis, and always at the door of your dwelling. As for your novel,
the booksellers who would show you more or less politely to the door
at this moment will be standing outside your attic in a string, and
the value of the manuscript, which old Doguereau valued at four
hundred francs will rise to four thousand. These are the advantages of
the journalist's profession. So let us do our best to keep all
newcomers out of it. It needs an immense amount of brains to make your
way, and a still greater amount of luck. And here are you quibbling
over your good fortune! If we had not met to-day, you see, at
Flicoteaux's, you might have danced attendance on the booksellers for
another three years, or starved like d'Arthez in a garret. By the time
that d'Arthez is as learned as Bayle and as great a writer of prose as
Rousseau, we shall have made our fortunes, you and I, and we shall
hold his in our hands--wealth and fame to give or to hold. Finot will
be a deputy and proprietor of a great newspaper, and we shall be
whatever we meant to be--peers of France, or prisoner for debt in
"So Finot will sell his paper to the highest bidder among the
Ministers, just as he sells favorable notices to Mme. Bastienne and
runs down Mlle. Virginie, saying that Mme. Bastienne's bonnets are
superior to the millinery which they praised at first!" said Lucien,
recollecting that scene in the office.
"My dear fellow, you are a simpleton," Lousteau remarked drily. "Three
years ago Finot was walking on the uppers of his boots, dining for
eighteen sous at Tabar's, and knocking off a tradesman's prospectus
(when he could get it) for ten francs. His clothes hung together by
some miracle as mysterious as the Immaculate Conception. _Now_, Finot
has a paper of his own, worth about a hundred thousand francs. What
with subscribers who pay and take no copies, genuine subscriptions,
and indirect taxes levied by his uncle, he is making twenty thousand
francs a year. He dines most sumptuously every day; he has set up a
cabriolet within the last month; and now, at last, behold him the
editor of a weekly review with a sixth share, for which he will not
pay a penny, a salary of five hundred francs per month, and another
thousand francs for supplying matter which costs him nothing, and for
which the firm pays. You yourself, to begin with, if Finot consents to
pay you fifty francs per sheet, will be only too glad to let him have
two or three articles for nothing. When you are in his position, you
can judge Finot; a man can only be tried by his peers. And for you, is
there not an immense future opening out before you, if you will
blindly minister to his enmity, attack at Finot's bidding, and praise
when he gives the word? Suppose that you yourself wish to be revenged
upon somebody, you can break a foe or friend on the wheel. You have
only to say to me, 'Lousteau, let us put an end to So-and-so,' and we
will kill him by a phrase put in the paper morning by morning; and
afterwards you can slay the slain with a solemn article in Finot's
weekly. Indeed, if it is a matter of capital importance to you, Finot
would allow you to bludgeon your man in a big paper with ten or twelve
thousand subscribers, _if_ you make yourself indispensable to Finot."
"Then are you sure that Florine can bring her druggist to make the
bargain?" asked Lucien, dazzled by these prospects.
"Quite sure. Now comes the interval, I will go and tell her everything
at once in a word or two; it will be settled to-night. If Florine once
has her lesson by heart, she will have all my wit and her own
"And there sits that honest tradesman, gaping with open-mouthed
admiration at Florine, little suspecting that you are about to get
thirty thousand francs out of him!----"
"More twaddle! Anybody might think that the man was going to be
robbed!" cried Lousteau. "Why, my dear boy, if the minister buys the
newspaper, the druggist may make twenty thousand francs in six months
on an investment of thirty thousand. Matifat is not looking at the
newspaper, but at Florine's prospects. As soon as it is known that
Matifat and Camusot--(for they will go shares)--that Matifat and
Camusot are proprietors of a review, the newspapers will be full of
friendly notices of Florine and Coralie. Florine's name will be made;
she will perhaps obtain an engagement in another theatre with a salary
of twelve thousand francs. In fact, Matifat will save a thousand
francs every month in dinners and presents to journalists. You know
nothing of men, nor of the way things are managed."
"Poor man!" said Lucien, "he is looking forward to an evening's
"And he will be sawn in two with arguments until Florine sees Finot's
receipt for a sixth share of the paper. And to-morrow I shall be
editor of Finot's paper, and making a thousand francs a month. The end
of my troubles is in sight!" cried Florine's lover.
Lousteau went out, and Lucien sat like one bewildered, lost in the
infinite of thought, soaring above this everyday world. In the Wooden
Galleries he had seen the wires by which the trade in books is moved;
he has seen something of the kitchen where great reputations are made;
he had been behind the scenes; he had seen the seamy side of life, the
consciences of men involved in the machinery of Paris, the mechanism
of it all. As he watched Florine on the stage he almost envied
Lousteau his good fortune; already, for a few moments he had forgotten
Matifat in the background. He was not left alone for long, perhaps for
not more than five minutes, but those minutes seemed an eternity.
Thoughts rose within him that set his soul on fire, as the spectacle
on the stage had heated his senses. He looked at the women with their
wanton eyes, all the brighter for the red paint on their cheeks, at
the gleaming bare necks, the luxuriant forms outlined by the
lascivious folds of the basquina, the very short skirts, that
displayed as much as possible of limbs encased in scarlet stockings
with green clocks to them--a disquieting vision for the pit.
A double process of corruption was working within him in parallel
lines, like two channels that will spread sooner or later in flood
time and make one. That corruption was eating into Lucien's soul, as
he leaned back in his corner, staring vacantly at the curtain, one arm
resting on the crimson velvet cushion, and his hand drooping over the
edge. He felt the fascination of the life that was offered to him, of
the gleams of light among its clouds; and this so much the more keenly
because it shone out like a blaze of fireworks against the blank
darkness of his own obscure, monotonous days of toil.
Suddenly his listless eyes became aware of a burning glance that
reached him through a rent in the curtain, and roused him from his
lethargy. Those were Coralie's eyes that glowed upon him. He lowered
his head and looked across at Camusot, who just then entered the
That amateur was a worthy silk-mercer of the Rue des Bourdonnais,
stout and substantial, a judge in the commercial court, a father of
four children, and the husband of a second wife. At the age of
fifty-six, with a cap of gray hair on his head, he had the smug
appearance of a man who has his eighty thousand francs of income; and
having been forced to put up with a good deal that he did not like in
the way of business, has fully made up his mind to enjoy the rest of
his life, and not to quit this earth until he has had his share of
cakes and ale. A brow the color of fresh butter and florid cheeks like
a monk's jowl seemed scarcely big enough to contain his exuberant
jubilation. Camusot had left his wife at home, and they were applauding
Coralie to the skies. All the rich man's citizen vanity was summed up
and gratified in Coralie; in Coralie's lodging he gave himself the airs
of a great lord of a bygone day; now, at this moment, he felt that half
of her success was his; the knowledge that he had paid for it
confirmed him in this idea. Camusot's conduct was sanctioned by the
presence of his father-in-law, a little old fogy with powdered hair
and leering eyes, highly respected nevertheless.
Again Lucien felt disgust rising within him. He thought of the year
when he loved Mme. de Bargeton with an exalted and disinterested love;
and at that thought love, as a poet understands it, spread its white
wings about him; countless memories drew a circle of distant blue
horizon about the great man of Angouleme, and again he fell to
Up went the curtain, and there stood Coralie and Florine upon the
"He is thinking about as much of you as of the Grand Turk, my dear
girl," Florine said in an aside while Coralie was finishing her
Lucien could not help laughing. He looked at Coralie. She was one of
the most charming and captivating actresses in Paris, rivaling Mme.
Perrin and Mlle. Fleuriet, and destined likewise to share their fate.
Coralie was a woman of a type that exerts at will a power of
fascination over men. With an oval face of deep ivory tint, a mouth
red as a pomegranate, and a chin subtly delicate in its contour as the
edge of a porcelain cup, Coralie was a Jewess of the sublime type. The
jet black eyes behind their curving lashes seemed to scorch her
eyelids; you could guess how soft they might grow, or how sparks of
the heat of the desert might flash from them in response to a summons
from within. The circles of olive shadow about them were bounded by
thick arching lines of eyebrow. Magnificent mental power, well-nigh
amounting to genius, seemed to dwell in the swarthy forehead beneath
the double curve of ebony hair that lay upon it like a crown, and
gleamed in the light like a varnished surface; but like many another
actress, Coralie had little wit in spite of her aptness at greenroom
repartee, and scarcely any education in spite of her boudoir
experience. Her brain was prompted by her senses, her kindness was the
impulsive warm-heartedness of girls of her class. But who could
trouble over Coralie's psychology when his eyes were dazzled by those
smooth, round arms of hers, the spindle-shaped fingers, the fair white
shoulders, and breast celebrated in the Song of Songs, the flexible
curving lines of throat, the graciously moulded outlines beneath the
scarlet silk stockings? And this beauty, worthy of an Eastern poet,
was brought into relief by the conventional Spanish costume of the
stage. Coralie was the delight of the pit; all eyes dwelt on the
outlines moulded by the clinging folds of her bodice, and lingered
over the Andalusian contour of the hips from which her skirt hung,
fluttering wantonly with every movement. To Lucien, watching this
creature, who played for him alone, caring no more for Camusot than a
street-boy in the gallery cares for an apple-paring, there came a
moment when he set desire above love, and enjoyment above desire, and
the demon of Lust stirred strange thoughts in him.
"I know nothing of the love that wallows in luxury and wine and
sensual pleasure," he said within himself. "I have lived more with
ideas than with realities. You must pass through all experience if you
mean to render all experience. This will be my first great supper, my
first orgy in a new and strange world; why should I not know, for
once, the delights which the great lords of the eighteenth century
sought so eagerly of wantons of the Opera? Must one not first learn of
courtesans and actresses the delights, the perfections, the
transports, the resources, the subtleties of love, if only to
translate them afterwards into the regions of a higher love than this?
And what is all this, after all, but the poetry of the senses? Two
months ago these women seemed to me to be goddesses guarded by dragons
that no one dared approach; I was envying Lousteau just now, but here
is another handsomer than Florine; why should I not profit by her
fancy, when the greatest nobles buy a night with such women with their
richest treasures? When ambassadors set foot in these depths, they
fling aside all thought of yesterday or to-morrow. I should be a fool
to be more squeamish than princes, especially as I love no one as
Lucien had quite forgotten Camusot. To Lousteau he had expressed the
utmost disgust for this most hateful of all partitions, and now he
himself had sunk to the same level, and, carried away by the casuistry
of his vehement desire, had given the reins to his fancy.
"Coralie is raving about you," said Lousteau as he came in. "Your
countenance, worthy of the greatest Greek sculptors, has worked
unutterable havoc behind the scenes. You are in luck my dear boy.
Coralie is eighteen years old, and in a few days' time she may be
making sixty thousand francs a year by her beauty. She is an honest
girl still. Since her mother sold her three years ago for sixty
thousand francs, she has tried to find happiness, and found nothing
but annoyance. She took to the stage in a desperate mood; she has a
horror of her first purchaser, de Marsay; and when she came out of the
galleys, for the king of dandies soon dropped her, she picked up old
Camusot. She does not care much about him, but he is like a father to
her, and she endures him and his love. Several times already she has
refused the handsomest proposals; she is faithful to Camusot, who lets
her live in peace. So you are her first love. The first sight of you
went to her heart like a pistol-shot, Florine has gone to her
dressing-room to bring the girl to reason. She is crying over your
cruelty; she has forgotten her part, the play will go to pieces, and
good-day to the engagement at the Gymnase which Camusot had planned
"Pooh! . . . Poor thing!" said Lucien. Every instinct of vanity was
tickled by the words; he felt his heart swell high with self-conceit.
"More adventures have befallen me in this one evening, my dear fellow,
than in all the first eighteen years of my life." And Lucien related
the history of his love affairs with Mme. de Bargeton, and of the
cordial hatred he bore the Baron du Chatelet.
"Stay though! the newspaper wants a _bete noire_; we will take him up.
The Baron is a buck of the Empire and a Ministerialist; he is the man
for us; I have seen him many a time at the Opera. I can see your great
lady as I sit here; she is often in the Marquise d'Espard's box. The
Baron is paying court to your lady love, a cuttlefish bone that she
is. Wait! Finot has just sent a special messenger round to say that
they are short of copy at the office. Young Hector Merlin has left
them in the lurch because they did not pay for white lines. Finot, in
despair, is knocking off an article against the Opera. Well now, my
dear fellow, you can do this play; listen to it and think it over, and
I will go to the manager's office and think out three columns about
your man and your disdainful fair one. They will be in no pleasant
"So this is how a newspaper is written?" said Lucien.
"It is always like this," answered Lousteau. "These ten months that I
have been a journalist, they have always run short of copy at eight
o'clock in the evening."
Manuscript sent to the printer is spoken of as "copy," doubtless
because the writers are supposed to send in a fair copy of their work;
or possibly the word is ironically derived from the Latin word _copia_,
for copy is invariably scarce.
"We always mean to have a few numbers ready in advance, a grand idea
that will never be realized," continued Lousteau. "It is ten o'clock,
you see, and not a line has been written. I shall ask Vernou and
Nathan for a score of epigrams on deputies, or on 'Chancellor Cruzoe,'
or on the Ministry, or on friends of ours if it needs must be. A man
in this pass would slaughter his parent, just as a privateer will load
his guns with silver pieces taken out of the booty sooner than perish.
Write a brilliant article, and you will make brilliant progress in
Finot's estimation; for Finot has a lively sense of benefits to come,
and that sort of gratitude is better than any kind of pledge,
pawntickets always excepted, for they invariably represent something
"What kind of men can journalists be? Are you to sit down at a table
and be witty to order?"
"Just exactly as a lamp begins to burn when you apply a match--so long
as there is any oil in it."
Lousteau's hand was on the lock when du Bruel came in with the
"Permit me, monsieur, to take a message to Coralie; allow me to tell
her that you will go home with her after supper, or my play will be
ruined. The wretched girl does not know what she is doing or saying;
she will cry when she ought to laugh and laugh when she ought to cry.
She has been hissed once already. You can still save the piece, and,
after all, pleasure is not a misfortune."
"I am not accustomed to rivals, sir," Lucien answered.
"Pray don't tell her that!" cried the manager. "Coralie is just the
girl to fling Camusot overboard and ruin herself in good earnest. The
proprietor of the _Golden Cocoon_, worthy man, allows her two thousand
francs a month, and pays for all her dresses and _claqueurs_."
"As your promise pledges me to nothing, save your play," said Lucien,
with a sultan's airs.
"But don't look as if you meant to snub that charming creature,"
pleaded du Bruel.
"Dear me! am I to write the notice of your play and smile on your
heroine as well?" exclaimed the poet.
The author vanished with a signal to Coralie, who began to act
forthwith in a marvelous way. Vignol, who played the part of the
alcalde, and revealed for the first time his genius as an actor of old
men, came forward amid a storm of applause to make an announcement to
"The piece which we have the honor of playing for you this evening,
gentlemen, is the work of MM. Raoul and de Cursy."
"Why, Nathan is partly responsible," said Lousteau. "I don't wonder
that he looked in."
"Coralie_! Coralie_!" shouted the enraptured house. "Florine, too!"
roared a voice of thunder from the opposite box, and other voices took
up the cry, "Florine and Coralie!"
The curtain rose, Vignol reappeared between the two actresses; Matifat
and Camusot flung wreaths on the stage, and Coralie stooped for her
flowers and held them out to Lucien.
For him those two hours spent in the theatre seemed to be a dream. The
spell that held him had begun to work when he went behind the scenes;
and, in spite of its horrors, the atmosphere of the place, its
sensuality and dissolute morals had affected the poet's still
untainted nature. A sort of malaria that infects the soul seems to
lurk among those dark, filthy passages filled with machinery, and lit
with smoky, greasy lamps. The solemnity and reality of life disappear,
the most sacred things are matter for a jest, the most impossible
things seem to be true. Lucien felt as if he had taken some narcotic,
and Coralie had completed the work. He plunged into this joyous
The lights in the great chandelier were extinguished; there was no one
left in the house except the boxkeepers, busy taking away footstools
and shutting doors, the noises echoing strangely through the empty
theatre. The footlights, blown out as one candle, sent up a fetid reek
of smoke. The curtain rose again, a lantern was lowered from the
ceiling, and firemen and stage carpenters departed on their rounds.
The fairy scenes of the stage, the rows of fair faces in the boxes,
the dazzling lights, the magical illusion of new scenery and costume
had all disappeared, and dismal darkness, emptiness, and cold reigned
in their stead. It was hideous. Lucien sat on in bewilderment.
"Well! are you coming, my boy?" Lousteau's voice called from the
stage. "Jump down."
Lucien sprang over. He scarcely recognized Florine and Coralie in
their ordinary quilted paletots and cloaks, with their faces hidden by
hats and thick black veils. Two butterflies returned to the chrysalis
stage could not be more completely transformed.
"Will you honor me by giving me your arm?" Coralie asked tremulously.
"With pleasure," said Lucien. He could feel the beating of her heart
throbbing against his like some snared bird as she nestled closely to
his side, with something of the delight of a cat that rubs herself
against her master with eager silken caresses.
"So we are supping together!" she said.
The party of four found two cabs waiting for them at the door in the
Rue des Fosses-du-Temple. Coralie drew Lucien to one of the two, in
which Camusot and his father-in-law old Cardot were seated already.
She offered du Bruel a fifth place, and the manager drove off with
Florine, Matifat, and Lousteau.
"These hackney cabs are abominable things," said Coralie.
"Why don't you have a carriage?" returned du Bruel.
"_Why_?" she asked pettishly. "I do not like to tell you before M.
Cardot's face; for he trained his son-in-law, no doubt. Would you
believe it, little and old as he is, M. Cardot only gives Florine five
hundred francs a month, just about enough to pay for her rent and her
grub and her clothes. The old Marquis de Rochegude offered me a
brougham two months ago, and he has six hundred thousand francs a
year, but I am an artist and not a common hussy."
"You shall have a carriage the day after to-morrow, miss," said
Camusot benignly; "you never asked me for one."
"As if one _asked_ for such a thing as that? What! you love a woman and
let her paddle about in the mud at the risk of breaking her legs?
Nobody but a knight of the yardstick likes to see a draggled skirt
As she uttered the sharp words that cut Camusot to the quick, she
groped for Lucien's knee, and pressed it against her own, and clasped
her fingers upon his hand. She was silent. All her power to feel
seemed to be concentrated upon the ineffable joy of a moment which
brings compensation for the whole wretched past of a life such as
these poor creatures lead, and develops within their souls a poetry of
which other women, happily ignorant of these violent revulsions, know
"You played like Mlle. Mars herself towards the end," said du Bruel.
"Yes," said Camusot, "something put her out at the beginning; but from
the middle of the second act to the very end, she was enough to drive
you wild with admiration. Half of the success of your play was due to
"And half of her success is due to me," said du Bruel.
"This is all much ado about nothing," said Coralie in an unfamiliar
voice. And, seizing an opportunity in the darkness, she carried
Lucien's hand to her lips and kissed it and drenched it with tears.
Lucien felt thrilled through and through by that touch, for in the
humility of the courtesan's love there is a magnificence which might
set an example to angels.
"Are you writing the dramatic criticism, monsieur?" said du Bruel,
addressing Lucien; "you can write a charming paragraph about our dear
"Oh! do us that little service!" pleaded Camusot, down on his knees,
metaphorically speaking, before the critic. "You will always find me
ready to do you a good turn at any time."
"Do leave him his independence," Coralie exclaimed angrily; "he will
write what he pleases. Papa Camusot, buy carriages for me instead of
"You shall have them on very easy terms," Lucien answered politely. "I
have never written for newspapers before, so I am not accustomed to
their ways, my maiden pen is at your disposal----"
"That is funny," said du Bruel.
"Here we are in the Rue de Bondy," said Cardot. Coralie's sally had
quite crushed the little old man.
"If you are giving me the first fruits of your pen, the first love
that has sprung up in my heart shall be yours," whispered Coralie in
the brief instant that they remained alone together in the cab; then
she went up to Florine's bedroom to change her dress for a toilette
Lucien had no idea how lavishly a prosperous merchant will spend money
upon an actress or a mistress when he means to enjoy a life of
pleasure. Matifat was not nearly so rich a man as his friend Camusot,
and he had done his part rather shabbily, yet the sight of the
dining-room took Lucien by surprise. The walls were hung with green
cloth with a border of gilded nails, the whole room was artistically
decorated, lighted by handsome lamps, stands full of flowers stood in
every direction. The drawing-room was resplendent with the furniture
in fashion in those days--a Thomire chandelier, a carpet of Eastern
design, and yellow silken hangings relieved by a brown border. The
candlesticks, fire-irons, and clock were all in good taste; for
Matifat had left everything to Grindot, a rising architect, who was
building a house for him, and the young man had taken great pains with
the rooms when he knew that Florine was to occupy them.
Matifat, a tradesman to the backbone, went about carefully, afraid to
touch the new furniture; he seemed to have the totals of the bills
always before his eyes, and to look upon the splendors about him as so
much jewelry imprudently withdrawn from the case.
"And I shall be obliged to do as much for Florentine!" old Cardot's
eyes seemed to say.
Lucien at once began to understand Lousteau's indifference to the
state of his garret. Etienne was the real king of these festivals;
Etienne enjoyed the use of all these fine things. He was standing just
now on the hearthrug with his back to the fire, as if he were the
master of the house, chatting with the manager, who was congratulating
"Copy, copy!" called Finot, coming into the room. "There is nothing in
the box; the printers are setting up my article, and they will soon
"We will manage," said Etienne. "There is a fire burning in Florine's
boudoir; there is a table there; and if M. Matifat will find us paper
and ink, we will knock off the newspaper while Florine and Coralie are
Cardot, Camusot, and Matifat disappeared in search of quills,
penknives, and everything necessary. Suddenly the door was flung open,
and Tullia, one of the prettiest opera-dancers of the day, dashed into
"They agree to take the hundred copies, dear boy!" she cried,
addressing Finot; "they won't cost the management anything, for the
chorus and the orchestra and the _corps de ballet_ are to take them
whether they like it or not; but your paper is so clever that nobody
will grumble. And you are going to have your boxes. Here is the
subscription for the first quarter," she continued, holding out a
couple of banknotes; "so don't cut me up!"
"It is all over with me!" groaned Finot; "I must suppress my
abominable diatribe, and I haven't another notion in my head."
"What a happy inspiration, divine Lais!" exclaimed Blondet, who had
followed the lady upstairs and brought Nathan, Vernou and Claude
Vignon with him. "Stop to supper, there is a dear, or I will crush
thee, butterfly as thou art. There will be no professional jealousies,
as you are a dancer; and as to beauty, you have all of you too much
sense to show jealousy in public."
Back to Full Books