The Illustrious Gaudissart
Honore de Balzac
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Dagny, email@example.com
THE ILLUSTRIOUS GAUDISSART
by HONORE DE BALZAC
Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Madame la Duchesse de Castries.
THE ILLUSTRIOUS GAUDISSART
The commercial traveller, a personage unknown to antiquity, is one of
the striking figures created by the manners and customs of our present
epoch. May he not, in some conceivable order of things, be destined to
mark for coming philosophers the great transition which welds a period
of material enterprise to the period of intellectual strength? Our
century will bind the realm of isolated power, abounding as it does in
creative genius, to the realm of universal but levelling might;
equalizing all products, spreading them broadcast among the masses,
and being itself controlled by the principle of unity,--the final
expression of all societies. Do we not find the dead level of
barbarism succeeding the saturnalia of popular thought and the last
struggles of those civilizations which accumulated the treasures of
the world in one direction?
The commercial traveller! Is he not to the realm of ideas what our
stage-coaches are to men and things? He is their vehicle; he sets them
going, carries them along, rubs them up with one another. He takes
from the luminous centre a handful of light, and scatters it broadcast
among the drowsy populations of the duller regions. This human
pyrotechnic is a scholar without learning, a juggler hoaxed by
himself, an unbelieving priest of mysteries and dogmas, which he
expounds all the better for his want of faith. Curious being! He has
seen everything, known everything, and is up in all the ways of the
world. Soaked in the vices of Paris, he affects to be the fellow-well-
met of the provinces. He is the link which connects the village with
the capital; though essentially he is neither Parisian nor provincial,
--he is a traveller. He sees nothing to the core: men and places he
knows by their names; as for things, he looks merely at their surface,
and he has his own little tape-line with which to measure them. His
glance shoots over all things and penetrates none. He occupies himself
with a great deal, yet nothing occupies him.
Jester and jolly fellow, he keeps on good terms with all political
opinions, and is patriotic to the bottom of his soul. A capital mimic,
he knows how to put on, turn and turn about, the smiles of persuasion,
satisfaction, and good-nature, or drop them for the normal expression
of his natural man. He is compelled to be an observer of a certain
sort in the interests of his trade. He must probe men with a glance
and guess their habits, wants, and above all their solvency. To
economize time he must come to quick decisions as to his chances of
success,--a practice that makes him more or less a man of judgment; on
the strength of which he sets up as a judge of theatres, and
discourses about those of Paris and the provinces.
He knows all the good and bad haunts in France, "de actu et visu." He
can pilot you, on occasion, to vice or virtue with equal assurance.
Blest with the eloquence of a hot-water spigot turned on at will, he
can check or let run, without floundering, the collection of phrases
which he keeps on tap, and which produce upon his victims the effect
of a moral shower-bath. Loquacious as a cricket, he smokes, drinks,
wears a profusion of trinkets, overawes the common people, passes for
a lord in the villages, and never permits himself to be "stumped,"--a
slang expression all his own. He knows how to slap his pockets at the
right time, and make his money jingle if he thinks the servants of the
second-class houses which he wants to enter (always eminently
suspicious) are likely to take him for a thief. Activity is not the
least surprising quality of this human machine. Not the hawk swooping
upon its prey, not the stag doubling before the huntsman and the
hounds, nor the hounds themselves catching scent of the game, can be
compared with him for the rapidity of his dart when he spies a
"commission," for the agility with which he trips up a rival and gets
ahead of him, for the keenness of his scent as he noses a customer and
discovers the sport where he can get off his wares.
How many great qualities must such a man possess! You will find in all
countries many such diplomats of low degree; consummate negotiators
arguing in the interests of calico, jewels, frippery, wines; and often
displaying more true diplomacy than ambassadors themselves, who, for
the most part, know only the forms of it. No one in France can doubt
the powers of the commercial traveller; that intrepid soul who dares
all, and boldly brings the genius of civilization and the modern
inventions of Paris into a struggle with the plain commonsense of
remote villages, and the ignorant and boorish treadmill of provincial
ways. Can we ever forget the skilful manoeuvres by which he worms
himself into the minds of the populace, bringing a volume of words to
bear upon the refractory, reminding us of the indefatigable worker in
marbles whose file eats slowly into a block of porphyry? Would you
seek to know the utmost power of language, or the strongest pressure
that a phrase can bring to bear against rebellious lucre, against the
miserly proprietor squatting in the recesses of his country lair?--
listen to one of these great ambassadors of Parisian industry as he
revolves and works and sucks like an intelligent piston of the steam-
engine called Speculation.
"Monsieur," said a wise political economist, the director-cashier-
manager and secretary-general of a celebrated fire-insurance company,
"out of every five hundred thousand francs of policies to be renewed
in the provinces, not more than fifty thousand are paid up
voluntarily. The other four hundred and fifty thousand are got in by
the activity of our agents, who go about among those who are in
arrears and worry them with stories of horrible incendiaries until
they are driven to sign the new policies. Thus you see that eloquence,
the labial flux, is nine tenths of the ways and means of our
To talk, to make people listen to you,--that is seduction in itself. A
nation that has two Chambers, a woman who lends both ears, are soon
lost. Eve and her serpent are the everlasting myth of an hourly fact
which began, and may end, with the world itself.
"A conversation of two hours ought to capture your man," said a
Let us walk round the commercial traveller, and look at him well.
Don't forget his overcoat, olive green, nor his cloak with its morocco
collar, nor the striped blue cotton shirt. In this queer figure--so
original that we cannot rub it out--how many divers personalities we
come across! In the first place, what an acrobat, what a circus, what
a battery, all in one, is the man himself, his vocation, and his
tongue! Intrepid mariner, he plunges in, armed with a few phrases, to
catch five or six thousand francs in the frozen seas, in the domain of
the red Indians who inhabit the interior of France. The provincial
fish will not rise to harpoons and torches; it can only be taken with
seines and nets and gentlest persuasions. The traveller's business is
to extract the gold in country caches by a purely intellectual
operation, and to extract it pleasantly and without pain. Can you
think without a shudder of the flood of phrases which, day by day,
renewed each dawn, leaps in cascades the length and breadth of sunny
You know the species; let us now take a look at the individual.
There lives in Paris an incomparable commercial traveller, the paragon
of his race, a man who possesses in the highest degree all the
qualifications necessary to the nature of his success. His speech is
vitriol and likewise glue,--glue to catch and entangle his victim and
make him sticky and easy to grip; vitriol to dissolve hard heads,
close fists, and closer calculations. His line was once the HAT; but
his talents and the art with which he snared the wariest provincial
had brought him such commercial celebrity that all vendors of the
"article Paris"[*] paid court to him, and humbly begged that he would
deign to take their commissions.
[*] "Article Paris" means anything--especially articles of wearing
apparel--which originates or is made in Paris. The name is
supposed to give to the thing a special value in the provinces.
Thus, when he returned to Paris in the intervals of his triumphant
progress through France, he lived a life of perpetual festivity in the
shape of weddings and suppers. When he was in the provinces, the
correspondents in the smaller towns made much of him; in Paris, the
great houses feted and caressed him. Welcomed, flattered, and fed
wherever he went, it came to pass that to breakfast or to dine alone
was a novelty, an event. He lived the life of a sovereign, or, better
still, of a journalist; in fact, he was the perambulating "feuilleton"
of Parisian commerce.
His name was Gaudissart; and his renown, his vogue, the flatteries
showered upon him, were such as to win for him the surname of
Illustrious. Wherever the fellow went,--behind a counter or before a
bar, into a salon or to the top of a stage-coach, up to a garret or to
dine with a banker,--every one said, the moment they saw him, "Ah!
here comes the illustrious Gaudissart!"[*] No name was ever so in
keeping with the style, the manners, the countenance, the voice, the
language, of any man. All things smiled upon our traveller, and the
traveller smiled back in return. "Similia similibus,"--he believed in
homoeopathy. Puns, horse-laugh, monkish face, skin of a friar, true
Rabelaisian exterior, clothing, body, mind, and features, all pulled
together to put a devil-may-care jollity into every inch of his
person. Free-handed and easy-going, he might be recognized at once as
the favorite of grisettes, the man who jumps lightly to the top of a
stage-coach, gives a hand to the timid lady who fears to step down,
jokes with the postillion about his neckerchief and contrives to sell
him a cap, smiles at the maid and catches her round the waist or by
the heart; gurgles at dinner like a bottle of wine and pretends to
draw the cork by sounding a filip on his distended cheek; plays a tune
with his knife on the champagne glasses without breaking them, and
says to the company, "Let me see you do THAT"; chaffs the timid
traveller, contradicts the knowing one, lords it over a dinner-table
and manages to get the titbits for himself. A strong fellow,
nevertheless, he can throw aside all this nonsense and mean business
when he flings away the stump of his cigar and says, with a glance at
some town, "I'll go and see what those people have got in their
[*] "Se gaudir," to enjoy, to make fun. "Gaudriole," gay discourse,
When buckled down to his work he became the slyest and cleverest of
diplomats. All things to all men, he knew how to accost a banker like
a capitalist, a magistrate like a functionary, a royalist with pious
and monarchical sentiments, a bourgeois as one of themselves. In
short, wherever he was he was just what he ought to be; he left
Gaudissart at the door when he went in, and picked him up when he came
Until 1830 the illustrious Gaudissart was faithful to the article
Paris. In his close relation to the caprices of humanity, the varied
paths of commerce had enabled him to observe the windings of the heart
of man. He had learned the secret of persuasive eloquence, the knack
of loosening the tightest purse-strings, the art of rousing desire in
the souls of husbands, wives, children, and servants; and what is
more, he knew how to satisfy it. No one had greater faculty than he
for inveigling a merchant by the charms of a bargain, and disappearing
at the instant when desire had reached its crisis. Full of gratitude
to the hat-making trade, he always declared that it was his efforts in
behalf of the exterior of the human head which had enabled him to
understand its interior: he had capped and crowned so many people, he
was always flinging himself at their heads, etc. His jokes about hats
and heads were irrepressible, though perhaps not dazzling.
Nevertheless, after August and October, 1830, he abandoned the hat
trade and the article Paris, and tore himself from things mechanical
and visible to mount into the higher spheres of Parisian speculation.
"He forsook," to use his own words, "matter for mind; manufactured
products for the infinitely purer elaborations of human intelligence."
This requires some explanation.
The general upset of 1830 brought to birth, as everybody knows, a
number of old ideas which clever speculators tried to pass off in new
bodies. After 1830 ideas became property. A writer, too wise to
publish his writings, once remarked that "more ideas are stolen than
pocket-handkerchiefs." Perhaps in course of time we may have an
Exchange for thought; in fact, even now ideas, good or bad, have their
consols, are bought up, imported, exported, sold, and quoted like
stocks. If ideas are not on hand ready for sale, speculators try to
pass off words in their stead, and actually live upon them as a bird
lives on the seeds of his millet. Pray do not laugh; a word is worth
quite as much as an idea in a land where the ticket on a sack is of
more importance than the contents. Have we not seen libraries working
off the word "picturesque" when literature would have cut the throat
of the word "fantastic"? Fiscal genius has guessed the proper tax on
intellect; it has accurately estimated the profits of advertising; it
has registered a prospectus of the quantity and exact value of the
property, weighing its thought at the intellectual Stamp Office in the
Rue de la Paix.
Having become an article of commerce, intellect and all its products
must naturally obey the laws which bind other manufacturing interests.
Thus it often happens that ideas, conceived in their cups by certain
apparently idle Parisians,--who nevertheless fight many a moral battle
over their champagne and their pheasants,--are handed down at their
birth from the brain to the commercial travellers who are employed to
spread them discreetly, "urbi et orbi," through Paris and the
provinces, seasoned with the fried pork of advertisement and
prospectus, by means of which they catch in their rat-trap the
departmental rodent commonly called subscriber, sometimes stockholder,
occasionally corresponding member or patron, but invariably fool.
"I am a fool!" many a poor country proprietor has said when, caught by
the prospect of being the first to launch a new idea, he finds that he
has, in point of fact, launched his thousand or twelve hundred francs
into a gulf.
"Subscribers are fools who never can be brought to understand that to
go ahead in the intellectual world they must start with more money
than they need for the tour of Europe," say the speculators.
Consequently there is endless warfare between the recalcitrant public
which refuses to pay the Parisian imposts and the tax-gatherer who,
living by his receipt of custom, lards the public with new ideas,
turns it on the spit of lively projects, roasts it with prospectuses
(basting all the while with flattery), and finally gobbles it up with
some toothsome sauce in which it is caught and intoxicated like a fly
with a black-lead. Moreover, since 1830 what honors and emoluments
have been scattered throughout France to stimulate the zeal and self-
love of the "progressive and intelligent masses"! Titles, medals,
diplomas, a sort of legion of honor invented for the army of martyrs,
have followed each other with marvellous rapidity. Speculators in the
manufactured products of the intellect have developed a spice, a
ginger, all their own. From this have come premiums, forestalled
dividends, and that conscription of noted names which is levied
without the knowledge of the unfortunate writers who bear them, and
who thus find themselves actual co-operators in more enterprises than
there are days in the year; for the law, we may remark, takes no
account of the theft of a patronymic. Worse than all is the rape of
ideas which these caterers for the public mind, like the slave-
merchants of Asia, tear from the paternal brain before they are well
matured, and drag half-clothed before the eyes of their blockhead of a
sultan, their Shahabaham, their terrible public, which, if they don't
amuse it, will cut off their heads by curtailing the ingots and
emptying their pockets.
This madness of our epoch reacted upon the illustrious Gaudissart, and
here follows the history of how it happened. A life-insurance company
having been told of his irresistible eloquence offered him an unheard-
of commission, which he graciously accepted. The bargain concluded and
the treaty signed, our traveller was put in training, or we might say
weaned, by the secretary-general of the enterprise, who freed his mind
of its swaddling-clothes, showed him the dark holes of the business,
taught him its dialect, took the mechanism apart bit by bit, dissected
for his instruction the particular public he was expected to gull,
crammed him with phrases, fed him with impromptu replies, provisioned
him with unanswerable arguments, and, so to speak, sharpened the file
of the tongue which was about to operate upon the life of France.
The puppet amply rewarded the pains bestowed upon him. The heads of
the company boasted of the illustrious Gaudissart, showed him such
attention and proclaimed the great talents of this perambulating
prospectus so loudly in the sphere of exalted banking and commercial
diplomacy, that the financial managers of two newspapers (celebrated
at that time but since defunct) were seized with the idea of employing
him to get subscribers. The proprietors of the "Globe," an organ of
Saint-Simonism, and the "Movement," a republican journal, each invited
the illustrious Gaudissart to a conference, and proposed to give him
ten francs a head for every subscriber, provided he brought in a
thousand, but only five francs if he got no more than five hundred.
The cause of political journalism not interfering with the pre-
accepted cause of life insurance, the bargain was struck; although
Gaudissart demanded an indemnity from the Saint-Simonians for the
eight days he was forced to spend in studying the doctrines of their
apostle, asserting that a prodigious effort of memory and intellect
was necessary to get to the bottom of that "article" and to reason
upon it suitably. He asked nothing, however, from the republicans. In
the first place, he inclined in republican ideas,--the only ones,
according to guadissardian philosophy, which could bring about a
rational equality. Besides which he had already dipped into the
conspiracies of the French "carbonari"; he had been arrested, and
released for want of proof; and finally, as he called the newspaper
proprietors to observe, he had lately grown a mustache, and needed
only a hat of certain shape and a pair of spurs to represent, with due
propriety, the Republic.
For one whole week this commanding genius went every morning to be
Saint-Simonized at the office of the "Globe," and every afternoon he
betook himself to the life-insurance company, where he learned the
intricacies of financial diplomacy. His aptitude and his memory were
prodigious; so that he was able to start on his peregrinations by the
15th of April, the date at which he usually opened the spring
campaign. Two large commercial houses, alarmed at the decline of
business, implored the ambitious Gaudissart not to desert the article
Paris, and seduced him, it was said, with large offers, to take their
commissions once more. The king of travellers was amenable to the
claims of his old friends, enforced as they were by the enormous
premiums offered to him.
* * * * *
"Listen, my little Jenny," he said in a hackney-coach to a pretty
All truly great men delight in allowing themselves to be tyrannized
over by a feeble being, and Gaudissart had found his tyrant in Jenny.
He was bringing her home at eleven o'clock from the Gymnase, whither
he had taken her, in full dress, to a proscenium box on the first
"On my return, Jenny, I shall refurnish your room in superior style.
That big Matilda, who pesters you with comparisons and her real India
shawls imported by the suite of the Russian ambassador, and her silver
plate and her Russian prince,--who to my mind is nothing but a humbug,
--won't have a word to say THEN. I consecrate to the adornment of your
room all the 'Children' I shall get in the provinces."
"Well, that's a pretty thing to say!" cried the florist. "Monster of a
man! Do you dare to talk to me of your children? Do you suppose I am
going to stand that sort of thing?"
"Oh, what a goose you are, my Jenny! That's only a figure of speech in
"A fine business, then!"
"Well, but listen; if you talk all the time you'll always be in the
"I mean to be. Upon my word, you take things easy!"
"You don't let me finish. I have taken under my protection a
superlative idea,--a journal, a newspaper, written for children. In
our profession, when travellers have caught, let us suppose, ten
subscribers to the 'Children's Journal,' they say, 'I've got ten
Children,' just as I say when I get ten subscriptions to a newspaper
called the 'Movement,' 'I've got ten Movements.' Now don't you see?"
"That's all right. Are you going into politics? If you do you'll get
into Saint-Pelagie, and I shall have to trot down there after you. Oh!
if one only knew what one puts one's foot into when we love a man, on
my word of honor we would let you alone to take care of yourselves,
you men! However, if you are going away to-morrow we won't talk of
disagreeable things,--that would be silly."
The coach stopped before a pretty house, newly built in the Rue
d'Artois, where Gaudissart and Jenny climbed to the fourth story. This
was the abode of Mademoiselle Jenny Courand, commonly reported to be
privately married to the illustrious Gaudissart, a rumor which that
individual did not deny. To maintain her supremacy, Jenny kept him to
the performance of innumerable small attentions, and threatened
continually to turn him off if he omitted the least of them. She now
ordered him to write to her from every town, and render a minute
account of all his proceedings.
"How many 'Children' will it take to furnish my chamber?" she asked,
throwing off her shawl and sitting down by a good fire.
"I get five sous for each subscriber."
"Delightful! And is it with five sous that you expect to make me rich?
Perhaps you are like the Wandering Jew with your pockets full of
"But, Jenny, I shall get a thousand 'Children.' Just reflect that
children have never had a newspaper to themselves before. But what a
fool I am to try to explain matters to you,--you can't understand such
"Can't I? Then tell me,--tell me, Gaudissart, if I'm such a goose why
do you love me?"
"Just because you are a goose,--a sublime goose! Listen, Jenny. See
here, I am going to undertake the 'Globe,' the 'Movement,' the
'Children,' the insurance business, and some of my old articles Paris;
instead of earning a miserable eight thousand a year, I'll bring back
twenty thousand at least from each trip."
"Unlace me, Gaudissart, and do it right; don't tighten me."
"Yes, truly," said the traveller, complacently; "I shall become a
shareholder in the newspapers, like Finot, one of my friends, the son
of a hatter, who now has thirty thousand francs income, and is going
to make himself a peer of France. When one thinks of that little
Popinot,--ah, mon Dieu! I forgot to tell you that Monsieur Popinot was
named minister of commerce yesterday. Why shouldn't I be ambitious
too? Ha! ha! I could easily pick up the jargon of those fellows who
talk in the chamber, and bluster with the rest of them. Now, listen to
"Gentlemen," he said, standing behind a chair, "the Press is neither a
tool nor an article of barter: it is, viewed under its political
aspects, an institution. We are bound, in virtue of our position as
legislators, to consider all things politically, and therefore" (here
he stopped to get breath)--"and therefore we must examine the Press
and ask ourselves if it is useful or noxious, if it should be
encouraged or put down, taxed or free. These are serious questions. I
feel that I do not waste the time, always precious, of this Chamber by
examining this article--the Press--and explaining to you its
qualities. We are on the verge of an abyss. Undoubtedly the laws have
not the nap which they ought to have--Hein?" he said, looking at
Jenny. "All orators put France on the verge of an abyss. They either
say that or they talk about the chariot of state, or convulsions, or
political horizons. Don't I know their dodges? I'm up to all the
tricks of all the trades. Do you know why? Because I was born with a
caul; my mother has got it, but I'll give it to you. You'll see! I
shall soon be in the government."
"Why shouldn't I be the Baron Gaudissart, peer of France? Haven't they
twice elected Monsieur Popinot as deputy from the fourth
arrondissement? He dines with Louis Phillippe. There's Finot; he is
going to be, they say, a member of the Council. Suppose they send me
as ambassador to London? I tell you I'd nonplus those English! No man
ever got the better of Gaudissart, the illustrious Gaudissart, and
nobody ever will. Yes, I say it! no one ever outwitted me, and no one
can--in any walk of life, politics or impolitics, here or elsewhere.
But, for the time being, I must give myself wholly to the capitalists;
to the 'Globe,' the 'Movement,' the 'Children,' and my article Paris."
"You will be brought up with a round turn, you and your newspapers.
I'll bet you won't get further than Poitiers before the police will
"What will you bet?"
"Done! If I lose that shawl I'll go back to the article Paris and the
hat business. But as for getting the better of Gaudissart--never!
And the illustrious traveller threw himself into position before
Jenny, looked at her proudly, one hand in his waistcoat, his head at
three-quarter profile,--an attitude truly Napoleonic.
"Oh, how funny you are! what have you been eating to-night?"
Gaudissart was thirty-eight years of age, of medium height, stout and
fat like men who roll about continually in stage-coaches, with a face
as round as a pumpkin, ruddy cheeks, and regular features of the type
which sculptors of all lands adopt as a model for statues of
Abundance, Law, Force, Commerce, and the like. His protuberant stomach
swelled forth in the shape of a pear; his legs were small, but active
and vigorous. He caught Jenny up in his arms like a baby and kissed
"Hold your tongue, young woman!" he said. "What do you know about
Saint-Simonism, antagonism, Fourierism, criticism, heroic enterprise,
or woman's freedom? I'll tell you what they are,--ten francs for each
subscription, Madame Gaudissart."
"On my word of honor, you are going crazy, Gaudissart."
"More and more crazy about YOU," he replied, flinging his hat upon the
The next morning Gaudissart, having breakfasted gloriously with Jenny,
departed on horseback to work up the chief towns of the district to
which he was assigned by the various enterprises in whose interests he
was now about to exercise his great talents. After spending forty-five
days in beating up the country between Paris and Blois, he remained
two weeks at the latter place to write up his correspondence and make
short visits to the various market towns of the department. The night
before he left Blois for Tours he indited a letter to Mademoiselle
Jenny Courand. As the conciseness and charm of this epistle cannot be
equalled by any narration of ours, and as, moreover, it proves the
legitimacy of the tie which united these two individuals, we produce
"My dear Jenny,--You will lose your wager. Like Napoleon,
Gaudissart the illustrious has his star, but NOT his Waterloo. I
triumph everywhere. Life insurance has done well. Between Paris
and Blois I lodged two millions. But as I get to the centre of
France heads become infinitely harder and millions correspondingly
scarce. The article Paris keeps up its own little jog-trot. It is
a ring on the finger. With all my well-known cunning I spit these
shop-keepers like larks. I got off one hundred and sixty-two
Ternaux shawls at Orleans. I am sure I don't know what they will
do with them, unless they return them to the backs of the sheep.
"As to the article journal--the devil! that's a horse of another
color. Holy saints! how one has to warble before you can teach
these bumpkins a new tune. I have only made sixty-two 'Movements':
exactly a hundred less for the whole trip than the shawls in one
town. Those republican rogues! they won't subscribe. They talk,
they talk; they share your opinions, and presently you are all
agreed that every existing thing must be overturned. You feel sure
your man is going to subscribe. Not a bit of it! If he owns three
feet of ground, enough to grow ten cabbages, or a few trees to
slice into toothpicks, the fellow begins to talk of consolidated
property, taxes, revenues, indemnities,--a whole lot of stuff, and
I have wasted my time and breath on patriotism. It's a bad
business! Candidly, the 'Movement' does not move. I have written
to the directors and told them so. I am sorry for it--on account
of my political opinions.
"As for the 'Globe,' that's another breed altogether. Just set to
work and talk new doctrines to people you fancy are fools enough
to believe such lies,--why, they think you want to burn their
houses down! It is vain for me to tell them that I speak for
futurity, for posterity, for self-interest properly understood;
for enterprise where nothing can be lost; that man has preyed upon
man long enough; that woman is a slave; that the great
providential thought should be made to triumph; that a way must be
found to arrive at a rational co-ordination of the social fabric,
--in short, the whole reverberation of my sentences. Well, what do
you think? when I open upon them with such ideas these provincials
lock their cupboards as if I wanted to steal their spoons and beg
me to go away! Are not they fools? geese? The 'Globe' is smashed.
I said to the proprietors, 'You are too advanced, you go ahead too
fast: you ought to get a few results; the provinces like results.'
However, I have made a hundred 'Globes,' and I must say,
considering the thick-headedness of these clodhoppers, it is a
miracle. But to do it I had to make them such a lot of promises
that I am sure I don't know how the globites, globists, globules,
or whatever they call themselves, will ever get out of them. But
they always tell me they can make the world a great deal better
than it is, so I go ahead and prophesy to the value of ten francs
for each subscription. There was one farmer who thought the paper
was agricultural because of its name. I Globed HIM. Bah! he gave
in at once; he had a projecting forehead; all men with projecting
foreheads are ideologists.
"But the 'Children'; oh! ah! as to the 'Children'! I got two
thousand between Paris and Blois. Jolly business! but there is not
much to say. You just show a little vignette to the mother,
pretending to hide it from the child: naturally the child wants to
see, and pulls mamma's gown and cries for its newspaper, because
'Papa has DOT his.' Mamma can't let her brat tear the gown; the
gown costs thirty francs, the subscription six--economy; result,
subscription. It is an excellent thing, meets an actual want; it
holds a place between dolls and sugar-plums, the two eternal
necessities of childhood.
"I have had a quarrel here at the table d'hote about the
newspapers and my opinions. I was unsuspiciously eating my dinner
next to a man with a gray hat who was reading the 'Debats.' I said
to myself, 'Now for my rostrum eloquence. He is tied to the
dynasty; I'll cook him; this triumph will be capital practice for
my ministerial talents.' So I went to work and praised his
'Debats.' Hein! if I didn't lead him along! Thread by thread, I
began to net my man. I launched my four-horse phrases, and the F-
sharp arguments, and all the rest of the cursed stuff. Everybody
listened; and I saw a man who had July as plain as day on his
mustache, just ready to nibble at a 'Movement.' Well, I don't know
how it was, but I unluckily let fall the word 'blockhead.'
Thunder! you should have seen my gray hat, my dynastic hat
(shocking bad hat, anyhow), who got the bit in his teeth and was
furiously angry. I put on my grand air--you know--and said to him:
'Ah, ca! Monsieur, you are remarkably aggressive; if you are not
content, I am ready to give you satisfaction; I fought in July.'
'Though the father of a family,' he replied, 'I am ready--'
'Father of a family!' I exclaimed; 'my dear sir, have you any
children?' 'Yes.' 'Twelve years old?' 'Just about.' 'Well, then,
the "Children's Journal" is the very thing for you; six francs a
year, one number a month, double columns, edited by great literary
lights, well got up, good paper, engravings from charming sketches
by our best artists, actual colored drawings of the Indies--will
not fade.' I fired my broadside 'feelings of a father, etc.,
etc.,'--in short, a subscription instead of a quarrel. 'There's
nobody but Gaudissart who can get out of things like that,' said
that little cricket Lamard to the big Bulot at the cafe, when he
told him the story.
"I leave to-morrow for Amboise. I shall do up Amboise in two days,
and I will write next from Tours, where I shall measure swords
with the inhabitants of that colorless region; colorless, I mean,
from the intellectual and speculative point of view. But, on the
word of a Gaudissart, they shall be toppled over, toppled down--
floored, I say.
"Adieu, my kitten. Love me always; be faithful; fidelity through
thick and thin is one of the attributes of the Free Woman. Who is
kissing you on the eyelids?
"Thy Felix Forever."
Five days later Gaudissart started from the Hotel des Faisans, at
which he had put up in Tours, and went to Vouvray, a rich and populous
district where the public mind seemed to him susceptible of
cultivation. Mounted upon his horse, he trotted along the embankment
thinking no more of his phrases than an actor thinks of his part which
he has played for a hundred times. It was thus that the illustrious
Gaudissart went his cheerful way, admiring the landscape, and little
dreaming that in the happy valleys of Vouvray his commercial
infallibility was about to perish.
Here a few remarks upon the public mind of Touraine are essential to
our story. The subtle, satirical, epigrammatic tale-telling spirit
stamped on every page of Rabelais is the faithful expression of the
Tourangian mind,--a mind polished and refined as it should be in a
land where the kings of France long held their court; ardent,
artistic, poetic, voluptuous, yet whose first impulses subside
quickly. The softness of the atmosphere, the beauty of the climate, a
certain ease of life and joviality of manners, smother before long the
sentiment of art, narrow the widest heart, and enervate the strongest
will. Transplant the Tourangian, and his fine qualities develop and
lead to great results, as we may see in many spheres of action: look
at Rabelais and Semblancay, Plantin the printer and Descartes,
Boucicault, the Napoleon of his day, and Pinaigrier, who painted most
of the colored glass in our cathedrals; also Verville and Courier. But
the Tourangian, distinguished though he may be in other regions, sits
in his own home like an Indian on his mat or a Turk on his divan. He
employs his wit in laughing at his neighbor and in making merry all
his days; and when at last he reaches the end of his life, he is still
a happy man. Touraine is like the Abbaye of Theleme, so vaunted in the
history of Gargantua. There we may find the complying sisterhoods of
that famous tale, and there the good cheer celebrated by Rabelais
reigns in glory.
As to the do-nothingness of that blessed land it is sublime and well
expressed in a certain popular legend: "Tourangian, are you hungry, do
you want some soup?" "Yes." "Bring your porringer." "Then I am not
hungry." Is it to the joys of the vineyard and the harmonious
loveliness of this garden land of France, is it to the peace and
tranquillity of a region where the step of an invader has never
trodden, that we owe the soft compliance of these unconstrained and
easy manners? To such questions no answer. Enter this Turkey of sunny
France, and you will stay there,--lazy, idle, happy. You may be as
ambitious as Napoleon, as poetic as Lord Byron, and yet a power
unknown, invisible, will compel you to bury your poetry within your
soul and turn your projects into dreams.
The illustrious Gaudissart was fated to encounter here in Vouvray one
of those indigenous jesters whose jests are not intolerable solely
because they have reached the perfection of the mocking art. Right or
wrong, the Tourangians are fond of inheriting from their parents.
Consequently the doctrines of Saint-Simon were especially hated and
villified among them. In Touraine hatred and villification take the
form of superb disdain and witty maliciousness worthy of the land of
good stories and practical jokes,--a spirit which, alas! is yielding,
day by day, to that other spirit which Lord Byron has characterized as
For his sins, after getting down at the Soleil d'Or, an inn kept by a
former grenadier of the imperial guard named Mitouflet, married to a
rich widow, the illustrious traveller, after a brief consultation with
the landlord, betook himself to the knave of Vouvray, the jovial
merry-maker, the comic man of the neighborhood, compelled by fame and
nature to supply the town with merriment. This country Figaro was once
a dyer, and now possessed about seven or eight thousand francs a year,
a pretty house on the slope of the hill, a plump little wife, and
robust health. For ten years he had had nothing to do but take care of
his wife and his garden, marry his daughter, play whist in the
evenings, keep the run of all the gossip in the neighborhood, meddle
with the elections, squabble with the large proprietors, and order
good dinners; or else trot along the embankment to find out what was
going on in Tours, torment the cure, and finally, by way of dramatic
entertainment, assist at the sale of lands in the neighborhood of his
vineyards. In short, he led the true Tourangian life,--the life of a
little country-townsman. He was, moreover, an important member of the
bourgeoisie,--a leader among the small proprietors, all of them
envious, jealous, delighted to catch up and retail gossip and
calumnies against the aristocracy; dragging things down to their own
level; and at war with all kinds of superiority, which they deposited
with the fine composure of ignorance. Monsieur Vernier--such was the
name of this great little man--was just finishing his breakfast, with
his wife and daughter on either side of him, when Gaudissart entered
the room through a window that looked out on the Loire and the Cher,
and lighted one of the gayest dining-rooms of that gay land.
"Is this Monsieur Vernier himself?" said the traveller, bending his
vertebral column with such grace that it seemed to be elastic.
"Yes, Monsieur," said the mischievous ex-dyer, with a scrutinizing
look which took in the style of man he had to deal with.
"I come, Monsieur," resumed Gaudissart, "to solicit the aid of your
knowledge and insight to guide my efforts in this district, where
Mitouflet tells me you have the greatest influence. Monsieur, I am
sent into the provinces on an enterprise of the utmost importance,
undertaken by bankers who--"
"Who mean to win our tricks," said Vernier, long used to the ways of
commercial travellers and to their periodical visits.
"Precisely," replied Gaudissart, with native impudence. "But with your
fine tact, Monsieur, you must be aware that we can't win tricks from
people unless it is their interest to play at cards. I beg you not to
confound me with the vulgar herd of travellers who succeed by humbug
or importunity. I am no longer a commercial traveller. I was one, and
I glory in it; but to-day my mission is of higher importance, and
should place me, in the minds of superior people, among those who
devote themselves to the enlightenment of their country. The most
distinguished bankers in Paris take part in this affair; not
fictitiously, as in some shameful speculations which I call rat-traps.
No, no, nothing of the kind! I should never condescend--never!--to
hawk about such CATCH-FOOLS. No, Monsieur; the most respectable houses
in Paris are concerned in this enterprise; and their interests
Hereupon Gaudissart drew forth his whole string of phrases, and
Monsieur Vernier let him go the length of his tether, listening with
apparent interest which completely deceived him. But after the word
"guarantee" Vernier paid no further attention to our traveller's
rhetoric, and turned over in his mind how to play him some malicious
trick and deliver a land, justly considered half-savage by speculators
unable to get a bite of it, from the inroads of these Parisian
At the head of an enchanting valley, called the Valley Coquette
because of its windings and the curves which return upon each other at
every step, and seem more and more lovely as we advance, whether we
ascend or descend them, there lived, in a little house surrounded by
vineyards, a half-insane man named Margaritis. He was of Italian
origin, married, but childless; and his wife took care of him with a
courage fully appreciated by the neighborhood. Madame Margaritis was
undoubtedly in real danger from a man who, among other fancies,
persisted in carrying about with him two long-bladed knives with which
he sometimes threatened her. Who has not seen the wonderful self-
devotion shown by provincials who consecrate their lives to the care
of sufferers, possibly because of the disgrace heaped upon a
bourgeoise if she allows her husband or children to be taken to a
public hospital? Moreover, who does not know the repugnance which
these people feel to the payment of the two or three thousand francs
required at Charenton or in the private lunatic asylums? If any one
had spoken to Madame Margaritis of Doctors Dubuisson, Esquirol,
Blanche, and others, she would have preferred, with noble indignation,
to keep her thousands and take care of the "good-man" at home.
As the incomprehensible whims of this lunatic are connected with the
current of our story, we are compelled to exhibit the most striking of
them. Margaritis went out as soon as it rained, and walked about bare-
headed in his vineyard. At home he made incessant inquiries for
newspapers; to satisfy him his wife and the maid-servant used to give
him an old journal called the "Indre-et-Loire," and for seven years he
had never yet perceived that he was reading the same number over and
over again. Perhaps a doctor would have observed with interest the
connection that evidently existed between the recurring and spasmodic
demands for the newspaper and the atmospheric variations of the
Usually when his wife had company, which happened nearly every
evening, for the neighbors, pitying her situation, would frequently
come to play at boston in her salon, Margaritis remained silent in a
corner and never stirred. But the moment ten o'clock began to strike
on a clock which he kept shut up in a large oblong closet, he rose at
the stroke with the mechanical precision of the figures which are made
to move by springs in the German toys. He would then advance slowly
towards the players, give them a glance like the automatic gaze of the
Greeks and Turks exhibited on the Boulevard du Temple, and say
sternly, "Go away!" There were days when he had lucid intervals and
could give his wife excellent advice as to the sale of their wines;
but at such times he became extremely annoying, and would ransack her
closets and steal her delicacies, which he devoured in secret.
Occasionally, when the usual visitors made their appearance he would
treat them with civility; but as a general thing his remarks and
replies were incoherent. For instance, a lady once asked him, "How do
you feel to-day, Monsieur Margaritis?" "I have grown a beard," he
replied, "have you?" "Are you better?" asked another. "Jerusalem!
Jerusalem!" was the answer. But the greater part of the time he gazed
stolidly at his guests without uttering a word; and then his wife
would say, "The good-man does not hear anything to-day."
On two or three occasions in the course of five years, and usually
about the time of the equinox, this remark had driven him to frenzy;
he flourished his knives and shouted, "That joke dishonors me!"
As for his daily life, he ate, drank, and walked about like other men
in sound health; and so it happened that he was treated with about the
same respect and attention that we give to a heavy piece of furniture.
Among his many absurdities was one of which no man had as yet
discovered the object, although by long practice the wiseheads of the
community had learned to unravel the meaning of most of his vagaries.
He insisted on keeping a sack of flour and two puncheons of wine in
the cellar of his house, and he would allow no one to lay hands on
them. But then the month of June came round he grew uneasy with the
restless anxiety of a madman about the sale of the sack and the
puncheons. Madame Margaritis could nearly always persuade him that the
wine had been sold at an enormous price, which she paid over to him,
and which he hid so cautiously that neither his wife nor the servant
who watched him had ever been able to discover its hiding-place.
The evening before Gaudissart reached Vouvray Madame Margaritis had
had more difficulty than usual in deceiving her husband, whose mind
happened to be uncommonly lucid.
"I really don't know how I shall get through to-morrow," she had said
to Madame Vernier. "Would you believe it, the good-man insists on
watching his two casks of wine. He has worried me so this whole day,
that I had to show him two full puncheons. Our neighbor, Pierre
Champlain, fortunately had two which he had not sold. I asked him to
kindly let me have them rolled into our cellar; and oh, dear! now that
the good-man has seen them he insists on bottling them off himself!"
Madame Vernier had related the poor woman's trouble to her husband
just before the entrance of Gaudissart, and at the first words of the
famous traveller Vernier determined that he should be made to grapple
"Monsieur," said the ex-dyer, as soon as the illustrious Gaudissart
had fired his first broadside, "I will not hide from you the great
difficulties which my native place offers to your enterprise. This
part of the country goes along, as it were, in the rough,--"suo modo."
It is a country where new ideas don't take hold. We live as our
fathers lived, we amuse ourselves with four meals a day, and we
cultivate our vineyards and sell our wines to the best advantage. Our
business principle is to sell things for more than they cost us; we
shall stick in that rut, and neither God nor the devil can get us out
of it. I will, however, give you some advice, and good advice is an
egg in the hand. There is in this town a retired banker in whose
wisdom I have--I, particularly--the greatest confidence. If you can
obtain his support, I will add mine. If your proposals have real
merit, if we are convinced of the advantage of your enterprise, the
approval of Monsieur Margaritis (which carries with it mine) will open
to you at least twenty rich houses in Vouvray who will be glad to try
When Madame Vernier heard the name of the lunatic she raised her head
and looked at her husband.
"Ah, precisely; my wife intends to call on Madame Margaritis with one
of our neighbors. Wait a moment, and you can accompany these ladies--
You can pick up Madame Fontanieu on your way," said the wily dyer,
winking at his wife.
To pick out the greatest gossip, the sharpest tongue, the most
inveterate cackler of the neighborhood! It meant that Madame Vernier
was to take a witness to the scene between the traveller and the
lunatic which should keep the town in laughter for a month. Monsieur
and Madame Vernier played their part so well that Gaudissart had no
suspicions, and straightway fell into the trap. He gallantly offered
his arm to Madame Vernier, and believed that he made, as they went
along, the conquest of both ladies, for those benefit he sparkled with
wit and humor and undetected puns.
The house of the pretended banker stood at the entrance to the Valley
Coquette. The place, called La Fuye, had nothing remarkable about it.
On the ground floor was a large wainscoted salon, on either side of
which opened the bedroom of the good-man and that of his wife. The
salon was entered from an ante-chamber, which served as the dining-
room and communicated with the kitchen. This lower door, which was
wholly without the external charm usually seen even in the humblest
dwellings in Touraine, was covered by a mansard story, reached by a
stairway built on the outside of the house against the gable end and
protected by a shed-roof. A little garden, full of marigolds,
syringas, and elder-bushes, separated the house from the fields; and
all around the courtyard were detached buildings which were used in
the vintage season for the various processes of making wine.
Margaritis was seated in an arm-chair covered with yellow Utrecht
velvet, near the window of the salon, and he did not stir as the two
ladies entered with Gaudissart. His thoughts were running on the casks
of wine. He was a spare man, and his bald head, garnished with a few
spare locks at the back of it, was pear-shaped in conformation. His
sunken eyes, overtopped by heavy black brows and surrounded by
discolored circles, his nose, thin and sharp like the blade of a
knife, the strongly marked jawbone, the hollow cheeks, and the oblong
tendency of all these lines, together with his unnaturally long and
flat chin, contributed to give a peculiar expression to his
countenance,--something between that of a retired professor of
rhetoric and a rag-picker.
"Monsieur Margaritis," cried Madame Vernier, addressing him, "come,
stir about! Here is a gentleman whom my husband sends to you, and you
must listen to him with great attention. Put away your mathematics and
talk to him."
On hearing these words the lunatic rose, looked at Gaudissart, made
him a sign to sit down, and said, "Let us converse, Monsieur."
The two women went into Madame Margaritis' bedroom, leaving the door
open so as to hear the conversation, and interpose if it became
necessary. They were hardly installed before Monsieur Vernier crept
softly up through the field and, opening a window, got into the
bedroom without noise.
"Monsieur has doubtless been in business--?" began Gaudissart.
"Public business," answered Margaritis, interrupting him. "I
pacificated Calabria under the reign of King Murat."
"Bless me! if he hasn't gone to Calabria!" whispered Monsieur Vernier.
"In that case," said Gaudissart, "we shall quickly understand each
"I am listening," said Margaritis, striking the attitude taken by a
man when he poses to a portrait-painter.
"Monsieur," said Gaudissart, who chanced to be turning his watch-key
with a rotatory and periodical click which caught the attention of the
lunatic and contributed no doubt to keep him quiet. "Monsieur, if you
were not a man of superior intelligence" (the fool bowed), "I should
content myself with merely laying before you the material advantages
of this enterprise, whose psychological aspects it would be a waste of
time to explain to you. Listen! Of all kinds of social wealth, is not
time the most precious? To economize time is, consequently, to become
wealthy. Now, is there anything that consumes so much time as those
anxieties which I call 'pot-boiling'?--a vulgar expression, but it
puts the whole question in a nutshell. For instance, what can eat up
more time than the inability to give proper security to persons from
whom you seek to borrow money when, poor at the moment, you are
nevertheless rich in hope?"
"Money,--yes, that's right," said Margaritis.
"Well, Monsieur, I am sent into the departments by a company of
bankers and capitalists, who have apprehended the enormous waste which
rising men of talent are thus making of time, and, consequently, of
intelligence and productive ability. We have seized the idea of
capitalizing for such men their future prospects, and cashing their
talents by discounting--what? TIME; securing the value of it to their
survivors. I may say that it is no longer a question of economizing
time, but of giving it a price, a quotation; of representing in a
pecuniary sense those products developed by time which presumably you
possess in the region of your intellect; of representing also the
moral qualities with which you are endowed, and which are, Monsieur,
living forces,--as living as a cataract, as a steam-engine of three,
ten, twenty, fifty horse-power. Ha! this is progress! the movement
onward to a better state of things; a movement born of the spirit of
our epoch; a movement essentially progressive, as I shall prove to you
when we come to consider the principles involved in the logical
co-ordination of the social fabric. I will now explain my meaning by
literal examples, leaving aside all purely abstract reasoning, which I
call the mathematics of thought. Instead of being, as you are, a
proprietor living upon your income, let us suppose that you are
painter, a musician, an artist, or a poet--"
"I am a painter," said the lunatic.
"Well, so be it. I see you take my metaphor. You are a painter; you
have a glorious future, a rich future before you. But I go still
At these words the madman looked anxiously at Gaudissart, thinking he
meant to go away; but was reassured when he saw that he kept his seat.
"You may even be nothing at all," said Gaudissart, going on with his
phrases, "but you are conscious of yourself; you feel yourself--"
"I feel myself," said the lunatic.
"--you feel yourself a great man; you say to yourself, 'I will be a
minister of state.' Well, then, you--painter, artist, man of letters,
statesman of the future--you reckon upon your talents, you estimate
their value, you rate them, let us say, at a hundred thousand
"Do you give me a hundred thousand crowns?"
"Yes, Monsieur, as you will see. Either your heirs and assigns will
receive them if you die, for the company contemplates that event, or
you will receive them in the long run through your works of art, your
writings, or your fortunate speculations during your lifetime. But, as
I have already had the honor to tell you, when you have once fixed
upon the value of your intellectual capital,--for it is intellectual
capital,--seize that idea firmly,--intellectual--"
"I understand," said the fool.
"You sign a policy of insurance with a company which recognizes in you
a value of a hundred thousand crowns; in you, poet--"
"I am a painter," said the lunatic.
"Yes," resumed Gaudissart,--"painter, poet, musician, statesman--and
binds itself to pay them over to your family, your heirs, if, by
reason of your death, the hopes foundered on your intellectual capital
should be overthrown for you personally. The payment of the premium is
all that is required to protect--"
"The money-box," said the lunatic, sharply interrupting him.
"Ah! naturally; yes. I see that Monsieur understands business."
"Yes," said the madman. "I established the Territorial Bank in the Rue
des Fosses-Montmartre at Paris in 1798."
"For," resumed Gaudissart, going back to his premium, "in order to
meet the payments on the intellectual capital which each man
recognizes and esteems in himself, it is of course necessary that each
should pay a certain premium, three per cent; an annual due of three
per cent. Thus, by the payment of this trifling sum, a mere nothing,
you protect your family from disastrous results at your death--"
"But I live," said the fool.
"Ah! yes; you mean if you should live long? That is the usual
objection,--a vulgar prejudice. I fully agree that if we had not
foreseen and demolished it we might feel we were unworthy of being--
what? What are we, after all? Book-keepers in the great Bureau of
Intellect. Monsieur, I don't apply these remarks to you, but I meet on
all sides men who make it a business to teach new ideas and disclose
chains of reasoning to people who turn pale at the first word. On my
word of honor, it is pitiable! But that's the way of the world, and I
don't pretend to reform it. Your objection, Monsieur, is really sheer
"Why?" asked the lunatic.
"Why?--this is why: because, if you live and possess the qualities
which are estimated in your policy against the chances of death,--now,
attend to this--"
"I am attending."
"Well, then, you have succeeded in life; and you have succeeded
because of the said insurance. You doubled your chances of success by
getting rid of the anxieties you were dragging about with you in the
shape of wife and children who might otherwise be left destitute at
your death. If you attain this certainty, you have touched the value
of your intellectual capital, on which the cost of insurance is but a
trifle,--a mere trifle, a bagatelle."
"That's a fine idea!"
"Ah! is it not, Monsieur?" cried Gaudissart. "I call this enterprise
the exchequer of beneficence; a mutual insurance against poverty; or,
if you like it better, the discounting, the cashing, of talent. For
talent, Monsieur, is a bill of exchange which Nature gives to the man
of genius, and which often has a long time to run before it falls
"That is usury!" cried Margaritis.
"The devil! he's keen, the old fellow! I've made a mistake," thought
Gaudissart, "I must catch him with other chaff. I'll try humbug No. 1.
Not at all," he said aloud, "for you who--"
"Will you take a glass of wine?" asked Margaritis.
"With pleasure," replied Gaudissart.
"Wife, give us a bottle of the wine that is in the puncheons. You are
here at the very head of Vouvray," he continued, with a gesture of the
hand, "the vineyard of Margaritis."
The maid-servant brought glasses and a bottle of wine of the vintage
of 1819. The good-man filled a glass with circumspection and offered
it to Gaudissart, who drank it up.
"Ah, you are joking, Monsieur!" exclaimed the commercial traveller.
"Surely this is Madeira, true Madeira?"
"So you think," said the fool. "The trouble with our Vouvray wine is
that it is neither a common wine, nor a wine that can be drunk with
the entremets. It is too generous, too strong. It is often sold in
Paris adulterated with brandy and called Madeira. The wine-merchants
buy it up, when our vintage has not been good enough for the Dutch and
Belgian markets, to mix it with wines grown in the neighborhood of
Paris, and call it Bordeaux. But what you are drinking just now, my
good Monsieur, is a wine for kings, the pure Head of Vouvray,--that's
it's name. I have two puncheons, only two puncheons of it left. People
who like fine wines, high-class wines, who furnish their table with
qualities that can't be bought in the regular trade,--and there are
many persons in Paris who have that vanity,--well, such people send
direct to us for this wine. Do you know any one who--?"
"Let us go on with what we were saying," interposed Gaudissart.
"We are going on," said the fool. "My wine is capital; you are
capital, capitalist, intellectual capital, capital wine,--all the same
etymology, don't you see? hein? Capital, 'caput,' head, Head of
Vouvray, that's my wine,--it's all one thing."
"So that you have realized your intellectual capital through your
wines? Ah, I see!" said Gaudissart.
"I have realized," said the lunatic. "Would you like to buy my
puncheons? you shall have them on good terms."
"No, I was merely speaking," said the illustrious Gaudissart, "of the
results of insurance and the employment of intellectual capital. I
will resume my argument."
The lunatic calmed down, and fell once more into position.
"I remarked, Monsieur, that if you die the capital will be paid to
your family without discussion."
"Yes, unless there were suicide."
"No, Monsieur; you are aware that suicide is one of those acts which
are easy to prove--"
"In France," said the fool; "but--"
"But in other countries?" said Gaudissart. "Well, Monsieur, to cut
short discussion on this point, I will say, once for all, that death
in foreign countries or on the field of battle is outside of our--"
"Then what are you insuring? Nothing at all!" cried Margaritis. "My
bank, my Territorial Bank, rested upon--"
"Nothing at all?" exclaimed Gaudissart, interrupting the good-man.
"Nothing at all? What do you call sickness, and afflictions, and
poverty, and passions? Don't go off on exceptional points."
"No, no! no points," said the lunatic.
"Now, what's the result of all this?" cried Gaudissart. "To you, a
banker, I can sum up the profits in a few words. Listen. A man lives;
he has a future; he appears well; he lives, let us say, by his art; he
wants money; he tries to get it,--he fails. Civilization withholds
cash from this man whose thought could master civilization, and ought
to master it, and will master it some day with a brush, a chisel, with
words, ideas, theories, systems. Civilization is atrocious! It denies
bread to the men who give it luxury. It starves them on sneers and
curses, the beggarly rascal! My words may be strong, but I shall not
retract them. Well, this great but neglected man comes to us; we
recognize his greatness; we salute him with respect; we listen to him.
He says to us: 'Gentlemen, my life and talents are worth so much; on
my productions I will pay you such or such percentage.' Very good;
what do we do? Instantly, without reserve or hesitation, we admit him
to the great festivals of civilization as an honored guest--"
"You need wine for that," interposed the madman.
"--as an honored guest. He signs the insurance policy; he takes our
bits of paper,--scraps, rags, miserable rags!--which, nevertheless,
have more power in the world than his unaided genius. Then, if he
wants money, every one will lend it to him on those rags. At the
Bourse, among bankers, wherever he goes, even at the usurers, he will
find money because he can give security. Well, Monsieur, is not that a
great gulf to bridge over in our social system? But that is only one
aspect of our work. We insure debtors by another scheme of policies
and premiums. We offer annuities at rates graduated according to ages,
on a sliding-scale infinitely more advantageous than what are called
tontines, which are based on tables of mortality that are notoriously
false. Our company deals with large masses of men; consequently the
annuitants are secure from those distressing fears which sadden old
age,--too sad already!--fears which pursue those who receive annuities
from private sources. You see, Monsieur, that we have estimated life
under all its aspects."
"Sucked it at both ends," said the lunatic. "Take another glass of
wine. You've earned it. You must line your inside with velvet if you
are going to pump at it like that every day. Monsieur, the wine of
Vouvray, if well kept, is downright velvet."
"Now, what do you think of it all?" said Gaudissart, emptying his
"It is very fine, very new, very useful; but I like the discounts I
get at my Territorial Bank, Rue des Fosses-Montmartre."
"You are quite right, Monsieur," answered Gaudissart; "but that sort
of thing is taken and retaken, made and remade, every day. You have
also hypothecating banks which lend upon landed property and redeem it
on a large scale. But that is a narrow idea compared to our system of
consolidating hopes,--consolidating hopes! coagulating, so to speak,
the aspirations born in every soul, and insuring the realization of
our dreams. It needed our epoch, Monsieur, the epoch of transition--
transition and progress--"
"Yes, progress," muttered the lunatic, with his glass at his lips. "I
like progress. That is what I've told them many times--"
"The 'Times'!" cried Gaudissart, who did not catch the whole sentence.
"The 'Times' is a bad newspaper. If you read that, I am sorry for
"The newspaper!" cried Margaritis. "Of course! Wife! wife! where is
the newspaper?" he cried, going towards the next room.
"If you are interested in newspapers," said Gaudissart, changing his
attack, "we are sure to understand each other."
"Yes; but before we say anything about that, tell me what you think of
"Then let us finish the bottle." The lunatic poured out a thimbleful
for himself and filled Gaudissart's glass. "Well, Monsieur, I have two
puncheons left of the same wine; if you find it good we can come to
"Exactly," said Gaudissart. "The fathers of the Saint-Simonian faith
have authorized me to send them all the commodities I--But allow me to
tell you about their noble newspaper. You, who have understood the
whole question of insurance so thoroughly, and who are willing to
assist my work in this district--"
"Yes," said Margaritis, "if--"
"If I take your wine; I understand perfectly. Your wine is very good,
Monsieur; it puts the stomach in a glow."
"They make champagne out of it; there is a man from Paris who comes
here and makes it in Tours."
"I have no doubt of it, Monsieur. The 'Globe,' of which we were
"Yes, I've gone over it," said Margaritis.
"I was sure of it!" exclaimed Gaudissart. "Monsieur, you have a fine
frontal development; a pate--excuse the word--which our gentlemen call
'horse-head.' There's a horse element in the head of every great man.
Genius will make itself known; but sometimes it happens that great
men, in spite of their gifts, remain obscure. Such was very nearly the
case with Saint-Simon; also with Monsieur Vico,--a strong man just
beginning to shoot up; I am proud of Vico. Now, here we enter upon the
new theory and formula of humanity. Attention, if you please."
"Attention!" said the fool, falling into position.
"Man's spoliation of man--by which I mean bodies of men living upon
the labor of other men--ought to have ceased with the coming of
Christ, I say CHRIST, who was sent to proclaim the equality of man in
the sight of God. But what is the fact? Equality up to our day has
been an 'ignus fatuus,' a chimera. Saint-Simon has arisen as the
complement of Christ; as the modern exponent of the doctrine of
equality, or rather of its practice, for theory has served its time--"
"Is he liberated?" asked the lunatic.
"Like liberalism, it has had its day. There is a nobler future before
us: a new faith, free labor, free growth, free production, individual
progress, a social co-ordination in which each man shall receive the
full worth of his individual labor, in which no man shall be preyed
upon by other men who, without capacity of their own, compel ALL to
work for the profit of ONE. From this comes the doctrine of--"
"How about servants?" demanded the lunatic.
"They will remain servants if they have no capacity beyond it."
"Then what's the good of your doctrine?"
"To judge of this doctrine, Monsieur, you must consider it from a
higher point of view: you must take a general survey of humanity. Here
we come to the theories of Ballance: do you know his Palingenesis?"
"I am fond of them," said the fool, who thought he said "ices."
"Good!" returned Gaudissart. "Well, then, if the palingenistic aspects
of the successive transformations of the spiritualized globe have
struck, stirred, roused you, then, my dear sir, the 'Globe' newspaper,
--noble name which proclaims its mission,--the 'Globe' is an organ, a
guide, who will explain to you with the coming of each day the
conditions under which this vast political and moral change will be
effected. The gentlemen who--"
"Do they drink wine?"
"Yes, Monsieur; their houses are kept up in the highest style; I may
say, in prophetic style. Superb salons, large receptions, the apex of
"Well," remarked the lunatic, "the workmen who pull things down want
wine as much as those who put things up."
"True," said the illustrious Gaudissart, "and all the more, Monsieur,
when they pull down with one hand and build up with the other, like
the apostles of the 'Globe.'"
"They want good wine; Head of Vouvray, two puncheons, three hundred
bottles, only one hundred francs,--a trifle."
"How much is that a bottle?" said Gaudissart, calculating. "Let me
see; there's the freight and the duty,--it will come to about seven
sous. Why, it wouldn't be a bad thing: they give more for worse wines
--(Good! I've got him!" thought Gaudissart, "he wants to sell me wine
which I want; I'll master him)--Well, Monsieur," he continued, "those
who argue usually come to an agreement. Let us be frank with each
other. You have great influence in this district--"
"I should think so!" said the madman; "I am the Head of Vouvray!"
"Well, I see that you thoroughly comprehend the insurance of
"--and that you have measured the full importance of the 'Globe'--"
"Twice; on foot."
Gaudissart was listening to himself and not to the replies of his
"Therefore, in view of your circumstances and of your age, I quite
understand that you have no need of insurance for yourself; but,
Monsieur, you might induce others to insure, either because of their
inherent qualities which need development, or for the protection of
their families against a precarious future. Now, if you will subscribe
to the 'Globe,' and give me your personal assistance in this district
on behalf of insurance, especially life-annuity,--for the provinces
are much attached to annuities--Well, if you will do this, then we can
come to an understanding about the wine. Will you take the 'Globe'?"
"I stand on the globe."
"Will you advance its interests in this district?"
"And I--but you do subscribe, don't you, to the 'Globe'?"
"The globe, good thing, for life," said the lunatic.
"For life, Monsieur?--ah, I see! yes, you are right: it is full of
life, vigor, intellect, science,--absolutely crammed with science,--
well printed, clear type, well set up; what I call 'good nap.' None of
your botched stuff, cotton and wool, trumpery; flimsy rubbish that
rips if you look at it. It is deep; it states questions on which you
can meditate at your leisure; it is the very thing to make time pass
agreeably in the country."
"That suits me," said the lunatic.
"It only costs a trifle,--eighty francs."
"That won't suit me," said the lunatic.
"Monsieur!" cried Gaudissart, "of course you have got grandchildren?
There's the 'Children's Journal'; that only costs seven francs a
"Very good; take my wine, and I will subscribe to the children. That
suits me very well: a fine idea! intellectual product, child. That's
man living upon man, hein?"
"You've hit it, Monsieur," said Gaudissart.
"I've hit it!"
"You consent to push me in the district?"
"In the district."
"I have your approbation?"
"You have it."
"Well, then, Monsieur, I take your wine at a hundred francs--"
"No, no! hundred and ten--"
"Monsieur! A hundred and ten for the company, but a hundred to me. I
enable you to make a sale; you owe me a commission."
"Charge 'em a hundred and twenty,"--"cent vingt" ("sans vin," without
"Capital pun that!"
"No, puncheons. About that wine--"
"Better and better! why, you are a wit."
"Yes, I'm that," said the fool. "Come out and see my vineyards."
"Willingly, the wine is getting into my head," said the illustrious
Gaudissart, following Monsieur Margaritis, who marched him from row to
row and hillock to hillock among the vines. The three ladies and
Monsieur Vernier, left to themselves, went off into fits of laughter
as they watched the traveller and the lunatic discussing,
gesticulating, stopping short, resuming their walk, and talking
"I wish the good-man hadn't carried him off," said Vernier.
Finally the pair returned, walking with the eager step of men who were
in haste to finish up a matter of business.
"He has got the better of the Parisian, damn him!" cried Vernier.
And so it was. To the huge delight of the lunatic our illustrious
Gaudissart sat down at a card-table and wrote an order for the
delivery of the two casks of wine. Margaritis, having carefully read
it over, counted out seven francs for his subscription to the
"Children's Journal" and gave them to the traveller.
"Adieu until to-morrow, Monsieur," said Gaudissart, twisting his
watch-key. "I shall have the honor to call for you to-morrow.
Meantime, send the wine at once to Paris to the address I have given
you, and the price will be remitted immediately."
Gaudissart, however, was a Norman, and he had no idea of making any
agreement which was not reciprocal. He therefore required his promised
supporter to sign a bond (which the lunatic carefully read over) to
deliver two puncheons of the wine called "Head of Vouvray," vineyard
This done, the illustrious Gaudissart departed in high feather,
humming, as he skipped along,--
"The King of the South,
He burned his mouth," etc.
The illustrious Gaudissart returned to the Soleil d'Or, where he
naturally conversed with the landlord while waiting for dinner.
Mitouflet was an old soldier, guilelessly crafty, like the peasantry
of the Loire; he never laughed at a jest, but took it with the gravity
of a man accustomed to the roar of cannon and to make his own jokes
"You have some very strong-minded people here," said Gaudissart,
leaning against the door-post and lighting his cigar at Mitouflet's
"How do you mean?" asked Mitouflet.
"I mean people who are rough-shod on political and financial ideas."
"Whom have you seen? if I may ask without indiscretion," said the
landlord innocently, expectorating after the adroit and periodical
fashion of smokers.
"A fine, energetic fellow named Margaritis."
Mitouflet cast two glances in succession at his guest which were
expressive of chilling irony.
"May be; the good-man knows a deal. He knows too much for other folks,
who can't always understand him."
"I can believe it, for he thoroughly comprehends the abstruse
principles of finance."
"Yes," said the innkeeper, "and for my part, I am sorry he is a
"A lunatic! What do you mean?"
"Well, crazy,--cracked, as people are when they are insane," answered
Mitouflet. "But he is not dangerous; his wife takes care of him. Have
you been arguing with him?" added the pitiless landlord; "that must
have been funny!"
"Funny!" cried Gaudissart. "Funny! Then your Monsieur Vernier has been
making fun of me!"
"Did he send you there?"
"Wife! wife! come here and listen. If Monsieur Vernier didn't take it
into his head to send this gentleman to talk to Margaritis!"
"What in the world did you say to each other, my dear, good Monsieur?"
said the wife. "Why, he's crazy!"
"He sold me two casks of wine."
"Did you buy them?"
"But that is his delusion; he thinks he sells his wine, and he hasn't
"Ha!" snorted the traveller, "then I'll go straight to Monsieur
Vernier and thank him."
And Gaudissart departed, boiling over with rage, to shake the ex-dyer,
whom he found in his salon, laughing with a company of friends to whom
he had already recounted the tale.
"Monsieur," said the prince of travellers, darting a savage glance at
his enemy, "you are a scoundrel and a blackguard; and under pain of
being thought a turn-key,--a species of being far below a galley-
slave,--you will give me satisfaction for the insult you dared to
offer me in sending me to a man whom you knew to be a lunatic! Do you
hear me, Monsieur Vernier, dyer?"
Such was the harangue which Gaudissart prepared as he went along, as a
tragedian makes ready for his entrance on the scene.
"What!" cried Vernier, delighted at the presence of an audience, "do
you think we have no right to make fun of a man who comes here, bag
and baggage, and demands that we hand over our property because,
forsooth, he is pleased to call us great men, painters, artists,
poets,--mixing us up gratuitously with a set of fools who have neither
house nor home, nor sous nor sense? Why should we put up with a rascal
who comes here and wants us to feather his nest by subscribing to a
newspaper which preaches a new religion whose first doctrine is, if
you please, that we are not to inherit from our fathers and mothers?
On my sacred word of honor, Pere Margaritis said things a great deal
more sensible. And now, what are you complaining about? You and
Margaritis seemed to understand each other. The gentlemen here present
can testify that if you had talked to the whole canton you couldn't
have been as well understood."
"That's all very well for you to say; but I have been insulted,
Monsieur, and I demand satisfaction!"
"Very good, Monsieur! consider yourself insulted, if you like. I shall
not give you satisfaction, because there is neither rhyme nor reason
nor satisfaction to be found in the whole business. What an absurd
fool he is, to be sure!"
At these words Gaudissart flew at the dyer to give him a slap on the
face, but the listening crowd rushed between them, so that the
illustrious traveller only contrived to knock off the wig of his
enemy, which fell on the head of Mademoiselle Clara Vernier.
"If you are not satisfied, Monsieur," he said, "I shall be at the
Soleil d'Or until to-morrow morning, and you will find me ready to
show you what it means to give satisfaction. I fought in July,
"And you shall fight in Vouvray," answered the dyer; "and what is
more, you shall stay here longer than you imagine."
Gaudissart marched off, turning over in his mind this prophetic
remark, which seemed to him full of sinister portent. For the first
time in his life the prince of travellers did not dine jovially. The
whole town of Vouvray was put in a ferment about the "affair" between
Monsieur Vernier and the apostle of Saint-Simonism. Never before had
the tragic event of a duel been so much as heard of in that benign and
"Monsieur Mitouflet, I am to fight to-morrow with Monsieur Vernier,"
said Gaudissart to his landlord. "I know no one here: will you be my
"Willingly," said the host.
Gaudissart had scarcely finished his dinner before Madame Fontanieu
and the assistant-mayor of Vouvray came to the Soleil d'Or and took
Mitouflet aside. They told him it would be a painful and injurious
thing to the whole canton if a violent death were the result of this
affair; they represented the pitiable distress of Madame Vernier, and
conjured him to find some way to arrange matters and save the credit
of the district.
"I take it all upon myself," said the sagacious landlord.
In the evening he went up to the traveller's room carrying pens, ink,
"What have you got there?" asked Gaudissart.
"If you are going to fight to-morrow," answered Mitouflet, "you had
better make some settlement of your affairs; and perhaps you have
letters to write,--we all have beings who are dear to us. Writing
doesn't kill, you know. Are you a good swordsman? Would you like to
get your hand in? I have some foils."
Mitouflet returned with foils and masks.
"Now, then, let us see what you can do."
The pair put themselves on guard. Mitouflet, with his former prowess
as grenadier of the guard, made sixty-two passes at Gaudissart, pushed
him about right and left, and finally pinned him up against the wall.
"The deuce! you are strong," said Gaudissart, out of breath.
"Monsieur Vernier is stronger than I am."
"The devil! Damn it, I shall fight with pistols."
"I advise you to do so; because, if you take large holster pistols and
load them up to their muzzles, you can't risk anything. They are SURE
to fire wide of the mark, and both parties can retire from the field
with honor. Let me manage all that. Hein! 'sapristi,' two brave men
would be arrant fools to kill each other for a joke."
"Are you sure the pistols will carry WIDE ENOUGH? I should be sorry to
kill the man, after all," said Gaudissart.
"Sleep in peace," answered Mitouflet, departing.
The next morning the two adversaries, more or less pale, met beside
the bridge of La Cise. The brave Vernier came near shooting a cow
which was peaceably feeding by the roadside.
"Ah, you fired in the air!" cried Gaudissart.
At these words the enemies embraced.
"Monsieur," said the traveller, "your joke was rather rough, but it
was a good one for all that. I am sorry I apostrophized you: I was
excited. I regard you as a man of honor."
"Monsieur, we take twenty subscriptions to the 'Children's Journal,'"
replied the dyer, still pale.
"That being so," said Gaudissart, "why shouldn't we all breakfast
together? Men who fight are always the ones to come to a good
"Monsieur Mitouflet," said Gaudissart on his return to the inn, "of
course you have got a sheriff's officer here?"
"I want to send a summons to my good friend Margaritis to deliver the
two casks of wine."
"But he has not got them," said Vernier.
"No matter for that; the affair can be arranged by the payment of an
indemnity. I won't have it said that Vouvray outwitted the illustrious
Madame Margaritis, alarmed at the prospect of a suit in which the
plaintiff would certainly win his case, brought thirty francs to the
placable traveller, who thereupon considered himself quits with the
happiest region of sunny France,--a region which is also, we must add,
the most recalcitrant to new and progressive ideas.
On returning from his trip through the southern departments, the
illustrious Gaudissart occupied the coupe of a diligence, where he met
a young man to whom, as they journeyed between Angouleme and Paris, he
deigned to explain the enigmas of life, taking him, apparently, for an
As they passed Vouvray the young man exclaimed, "What a fine site!"
"Yes, Monsieur," said Gaudissart, "but not habitable on account of the
people. You get into duels every day. Why, it is not three months
since I fought one just there," pointing to the bridge of La Cise,
"with a damned dyer; but I made an end of him,--he bit the dust!"
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Government Clerks
A Start in Life
The Firm of Nucingen
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
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