The Paris Sketch Book
William Makepeace Thackeray
Part 6 out of 7
contradictions and impossibilities were such, that calm persons
were revolted at it, and that even friendship itself refused to
Thus Mr. Attorney speaks, not for himself alone, but for the whole
French public; whose opinions, of course, he knows. Peytel's
statement is discredited EVERYWHERE; the statement which he had
made over the cold body of his wife--the monster! It is not enough
simply to prove that the man committed the murder, but to make the
jury violently angry against him, and cause them to shudder in the
jury-box, as he exposes the horrid details of the crime.
"Justice," goes on Mr. Substitute (who answers for the feelings of
everybody), "DISTURBED BY THE PRE-OCCUPATIONS OF PUBLIC OPINION,
commenced, without delay, the most active researches. The bodies
of the victims were submitted to the investigations of men of art;
the wounds and projectiles were examined; the place where the event
took place explored with care. The morality of the author of this
frightful scene became the object of rigorous examination; the
exigeances of the prisoner, the forms affected by him, his
calculating silence, and his answers, coldly insulting, were feeble
obstacles; and justice at length arrived, by its prudence, and by
the discoveries it made, to the most cruel point of certainty."
You see that a man's demeanor is here made a crime against him; and
that Mr. Substitute wishes to consider him guilty, because he has
actually the audacity to hold his tongue. Now follows a touching
description of the domestic, Louis Rey:--
"Louis Rey, a child of the Hospital at Lyons, was confided, at a
very early age, to some honest country people, with whom he stayed
until he entered the army. At their house, and during this long
period of time, his conduct, his intelligence, and the sweetness of
his manners were such, that the family of his guardians became to
him as an adopted family; and his departure caused them the most
sincere affliction. When Louis quitted the army, he returned to
his benefactors, and was received as a son. They found him just as
they had ever known him" (I acknowledge that this pathos beats my
humble defence of Peytel entirely), "except that he had learned to
read and write; and the certificates of his commanders proved him
to be a good and gallant soldier.
"The necessity of creating some resources for himself, obliged him
to quit his friends, and to enter the service of Monsieur de
Montrichard, a lieutenant of gendarmerie, from whom he received
fresh testimonials of regard. Louis, it is true, might have a
fondness for wine and a passion for women; but he had been a
soldier, and these faults were, according to the witnesses, amply
compensated for by his activity, his intelligence, and the
agreeable manner in which he performed his service. In the month
of July, 1839, Rey quitted, voluntarily, the service of M. de
Montrichard; and Peytel, about this period, meeting him at Lyons,
did not hesitate to attach him to his service. Whatever may be the
prisoner's present language, it is certain that up to the day of
Louis's death, he served Peytel with diligence and fidelity.
"More than once his master and mistress spoke well of him.
EVERYBODY who has worked, or been at the house of Madame Peytel,
has spoken in praise of his character; and, indeed, it may be said,
that these testimonials were general.
"On the very night of the 1st of November, and immediately after
the catastrophe, we remark how Peytel begins to make insinuations
against his servant; and how artfully, in order to render them more
sure, he disseminates them through the different parts of his
narrative. But, in the course of the proceeding, these charges
have met with a most complete denial. Thus we find the disobedient
servant who, at Pont d'Ain, refused to carry the money-chest to his
master's room, under the pretext that the gates of the inn were
closed securely, occupied with tending the horses after their long
journey: meanwhile Peytel was standing by, and neither master nor
servant exchanged a word, and the witnesses who beheld them both
have borne testimony to the zeal and care of the domestic.
"In like manner, we find that the servant, who was so remiss in the
morning as to neglect to go to his master for orders, was ready for
departure before seven o'clock, and had eagerly informed himself
whether Monsieur and Madame Peytel were awake; learning from the
maid of the inn, that they had ordered nothing for their breakfast.
This man, who refused to carry with him a covering for the car,
was, on the contrary, ready to take off his own cloak, and with it
shelter articles of small value; this man, who had been for many
days so silent and gloomy, gave, on the contrary, many proofs of
his gayety--almost of his indiscretion, speaking, at all the inns,
in terms of praise of his master and mistress. The waiter at the
inn at Dauphin, says he was a tall young fellow, mild and good-
natured; 'we talked for some time about horses, and such things; he
seemed to be perfectly natural, and not pre-occupied at all.' At
Pont d'Ain, he talked of his being a foundling; of the place where
he had been brought up, and where he had served; and finally, at
Rossillon, an hour before his death, he conversed familiarly with
the master of the port, and spoke on indifferent subjects.
"All Peytel's insinuations against his servant had no other end
than to show, in every point of Rey's conduct, the behavior of a
man who was premeditating attack. Of what, in fact, does he accuse
him? Of wishing to rob him of 7,500 francs, and of having had
recourse to assassination, in order to effect the robbery. But,
for a premeditated crime, consider what singular improvidence the
person showed who had determined on committing it; what folly and
what weakness there is in the execution of it.
"How many insurmountable obstacles are there in the way of
committing and profiting by crime! On leaving Belley, Louis Rey,
according to Peytel's statement, knowing that his master would
return with money, provided himself with a holster pistol, which
Madame Peytel had once before perceived among his effects. In
Peytel's cabinet there were some balls; four of these were found in
Rey's trunk, on the 6th of November. And, in order to commit the
crime, this domestic had brought away with him a pistol, and no
ammunition; for Peytel has informed us that Rey, an hour before his
departure from Macon, purchased six balls at a gunsmith's. To gain
his point, the assassin must immolate his victims; for this, he has
only one pistol, knowing, perfectly well, that Peytel, in all his
travels, had two on his person; knowing that, at a late hour of the
night, his shot might fail of effect; and that, in this case, he
would be left to the mercy of his opponent.
"The execution of the crime is, according to Peytel's account,
still more singular. Louis does not get off the carriage, until
Peytel tells him to descend. He does not think of taking his
master's life until he is sure that the latter has his eyes open.
It is dark, and the pair are covered in one cloak; and Rey only
fires at them at six paces' distance: he fires at hazard, without
disquieting himself as to the choice of his victim; and the
soldier, who was bold enough to undertake this double murder, has
not force nor courage to consummate it. He flies, carrying in his
hand a useless whip, with a heavy mantle on his shoulders, in spite
of the detonation of two pistols at his ears, and the rapid steps
of an angry master in pursuit, which ought to have set him upon
some better means of escape. And we find this man, full of youth
and vigor, lying with his face to the ground, in the midst of a
public road, falling without a struggle, or resistance, under the
blows of a hammer!
"And suppose the murderer had succeeded in his criminal projects,
what fruit could he have drawn from them?--Leaving, on the road,
the two bleeding bodies; obliged to lead two carriages at a time,
for fear of discovery; not able to return himself, after all the
pains he had taken to speak, at every place at which they had
stopped, of the money which his master was carrying with him; too
prudent to appear alone at Belley; arrested at the frontier, by the
excise officers, who would present an impassable barrier to him
till morning, what could he do, or hope to do? The examination of
the car has shown that Rey, at the moment of the crime, had neither
linen, nor clothes, nor effects of any kind. There was found in
his pockets, when the body was examined, no passport, nor
certificate; one of his pockets contained a ball, of large calibre,
which he had shown, in play, to a girl, at the inn at Macon, a
little horn-handled knife, a snuff-box, a little packet of
gunpowder, and a purse, containing only a halfpenny and some
string. Here is all the baggage, with which, after the execution
of his homicidal plan, Louis Rey intended to take refuge in a
foreign country.* Beside these absurd contradictions, there is
another remarkable fact, which must not be passed over; it is
this:--the pistol found by Rey is of antique form, and the original
owner of it has been found. He is a curiosity-merchant at Lyons;
and, though he cannot affirm that Peytel was the person who bought
this pistol of him, he perfectly recognizes Peytel as having been a
frequent customer at his shop!
* This sentence is taken from another part of the "Acte
"No, we may fearlessly affirm that Louis Rey was not guilty of the
crime which Peytel lays to his charge. If, to those who knew him,
his mild and open disposition, his military career, modest and
without a stain, the touching regrets of his employers, are
sufficient proofs of his innocence,--the calm and candid observer,
who considers how the crime was conceived, was executed, and what
consequences would have resulted from it, will likewise acquit him,
and free him of the odious imputation which Peytel endeavors to
cast upon his memory.
"But justice has removed the veil, with which an impious hand
endeavored to cover itself. Already, on the night of the 1st of
November, suspicion was awakened by the extraordinary agitation of
Peytel; by those excessive attentions towards his wife, which came
so late; by that excessive and noisy grief, and by those calculated
bursts of sorrow, which are such as Nature does not exhibit. The
criminal, whom the public conscience had fixed upon; the man whose
frightful combinations have been laid bare, and whose falsehoods,
step by step, have been exposed, during the proceedings previous to
the trial; the murderer, at whose hands a heart-stricken family,
and society at large, demands an account of the blood of a wife;--
that murderer is Peytel."
When, my dear Briefless, you are a judge (as I make no doubt you
will be, when you have left off the club all night, cigar-smoking
of mornings, and reading novels in bed), will you ever find it in
your heart to order a fellow-sinner's head off upon such evidence
as this? Because a romantic Substitut du Procureur de Roi chooses
to compose and recite a little drama, and draw tears from juries,
let us hope that severe Rhadamanthine judges are not to be melted
by such trumpery. One wants but the description of the characters
to render the piece complete, as thus:--
SEBASTIAN PEYTAL Meurtrier Habillement complet de notaire
perfide: figure pâle, barbe
noire, cheveux noirs.
LOUIS REY Soldat rétiré, bon, Costume ordinaire; il porte sur
brave, franc, jovial ses épaules une couverture de
aimant le vin, les cheval.
femmes, la gaieté,
ses maîtres surtout;
vrai Français, enfin
WOLF Lieutenant de gendarmerie.
FÉLICITÉ D'ALCAZAR Femme et victime de Peytel.
Médecins, Villageois, Filles d'Auberge, Garçons d'Ecurie, &c. &c.
La scène se passe sur le pont d'Andert, entre Macon et Belley. Il
est minuit. La pluie tombe: les tonnerres grondent. Le ciel est
convert de nuages, et sillonné d'éclairs.
All these personages are brought into play in the Procureur's
drama; the villagers come in with their chorus; the old lieutenant
of gendarmes with his suspicions; Rey's frankness and gayety, the
romantic circumstances of his birth, his gallantry and fidelity,
are all introduced, in order to form a contrast with Peytel, and to
call down the jury's indignation against the latter. But are these
proofs? or anything like proofs? And the suspicions, that are to
serve instead of proofs, what are they?
"My servant, Louis Rey, was very sombre and reserved," says Peytel;
"he refused to call me in the morning, to carry my money-chest to
my room, to cover the open car when it rained." The Prosecutor
disproves this by stating that Rey talked with the inn maids and
servants, asked if his master was up, and stood in the inn-yard,
grooming the horses, with his master by his side, neither speaking
to the other. Might he not have talked to the maids, and yet been
sombre when speaking to his master? Might he not have neglected to
call his master, and yet have asked whether he was awake? Might he
not have said that the inn-gates were safe, out of hearing of the
ostler witness? Mr. Substitute's answers to Peytel's statements
are no answer at all. Every word Peytel said might be true, and
yet Louis Rey might not have committed the murder; or every word
might have been false, and yet Louis Rey might have committed the
"Then," says Mr. Substitute, "how many obstacles are there to the
commission of the crime? And these are--
"1. Rey provided himself with ONE holster pistol, to kill two
people, knowing well that one of them had always a brace of pistols
"2. He does not think of firing until his master's eyes are open:
fires at six paces, not caring at whom he fires, and then runs
"3. He could not have intended to kill his master, because he had
no passport in his pocket, and no clothes; and because he must have
been detained at the frontier until morning; and because he would
have had to drive two carriages, in order to avoid suspicion.
"4. And, a most singular circumstance, the very pistol which was
found by his side had been bought at the shop of a man at Lyons,
who perfectly recognized Peytel as one of his customers, though he
could not say he had sold that particular weapon to Peytel."
Does it follow, from this, that Louis Rey is not the murderer, much
more, that Peytel is? Look at argument No. 1. Rey had no need to
kill two people: he wanted the money, and not the blood. Suppose
he had killed Peytel, would he not have mastered Madame Peytel
easily?--a weak woman, in an excessively delicate situation,
incapable of much energy, at the best of times.
2. "He does not fire till he knows his master's eyes are open."
Why, on a stormy night, does a man driving a carriage go to sleep?
Was Rey to wait until his master snored? "He fires at six paces,
not caring whom he hits;"--and might not this happen too? The
night is not so dark but that he can see his master, in HIS USUAL
PLACE, driving. He fires and hits--whom? Madame Peytel, who had
left her place, AND WAS WRAPPED UP WITH PEYTEL IN HIS CLOAK. She
screams out, "Husband, take your pistols." Rey knows that his
master has a brace, thinks that he has hit the wrong person, and,
as Peytel fires on him, runs away. Peytel follows, hammer in hand;
as he comes up with the fugitive, he deals him a blow on the back
of the head, and Rey falls--his face to the ground. Is there
anything unnatural in this story?--anything so monstrously unnatural,
that is, that it might not be true?
3. These objections are absurd. Why need a man have change of
linen? If he had taken none for the journey, why should he want
any for the escape? Why need he drive two carriages?--He might
have driven both into the river, and Mrs. Peytel in one. Why is he
to go to the douane, and thrust himself into the very jaws of
danger? Are there not a thousand ways for a man to pass a
frontier? Do smugglers, when they have to pass from one country to
another, choose exactly those spots where a police is placed?
And, finally, the gunsmith of Lyons, who knows Peytel quite well,
cannot say that he sold the pistol to him; that is, he did NOT sell
the pistol to him; for you have only one man's word, in this case
(Peytel's), to the contrary; and the testimony, as far as it goes,
is in his favor. I say, my lud, and gentlemen of the jury, that
these objections of my learned friend, who is engaged for the
Crown, are absurd, frivolous, monstrous; that to SUSPECT away the
life of a man upon such suppositions as these, is wicked, illegal,
and inhuman; and, what is more, that Louis Rey, if he wanted to
commit the crime--if he wanted to possess himself of a large sum of
money, chose the best time and spot for so doing; and, no doubt,
would have succeeded, if Fate had not, in a wonderful manner,
caused Madame Peytel TO TAKE HER HUSBAND'S PLACE, and receive the
ball intended for him in her own head.
But whether these suspicions are absurd or not, hit or miss, it is
the advocate's duty, as it appears, to urge them. He wants to make
as unfavorable an impression as possible with regard to Peytel's
character; he, therefore, must, for contrast's sake, give all sorts
of praise to his victim, and awaken every sympathy in the poor
fellow's favor. Having done this, as far as lies in his power,
having exaggerated every circumstance that can be unfavorable to
Peytel, and given his own tale in the baldest manner possible--
having declared that Peytel is the murderer of his wife and
servant, the Crown now proceeds to back this assertion, by showing
what interested motives he had, and by relating, after its own
fashion, the circumstances of his marriage.
They may be told briefly here. Peytel was of a good family, of
Macon, and entitled, at his mother's death, to a considerable
property. He had been educated as a notary, and had lately
purchased a business, in that line, in Belley, for which he had
paid a large sum of money; part of the sum, 15,000 francs, for
which he had given bills, was still due.
Near Belley, Peytel first met Félicité Alcazar, who was residing
with her brother-in-law, Monsieur de Montrichard; and, knowing that
the young lady's fortune was considerable, he made an offer of
marriage to the brother-in-law, who thought the match advantageous,
and communicated on the subject with Félicité's mother, Madame
Alcazar, at Paris. After a time Peytel went to Paris, to press his
suit, and was accepted. There seems to have been no affectation of
love on his side; and some little repugnance on the part of the
lady, who yielded, however, to the wishes of her parents, and was
married. The parties began to quarrel on the very day of the
marriage, and continued their disputes almost to the close of the
unhappy connection. Félicité was half blind, passionate, sarcastic,
clumsy in her person and manners, and ill educated; Peytel, a man of
considerable intellect and pretensions, who had lived for some time
at Paris, where he had mingled with good literary society. The lady
was, in fact, as disagreeable a person as could well be, and the
evidence describes some scenes which took place between her and her
husband, showing how deeply she must have mortified and enraged him.
A charge very clearly made out against Peytel, is that of dishonesty;
he procured from the notary of whom he bought his place an
acquittance in full, whereas there were 15,000 francs owing, as we
have seen. He also, in the contract of marriage, which was to have
resembled, in all respects, that between Monsieur Broussais and
another Demoiselle Alcazar, caused an alteration to be made in his
favor, which gave him command over his wife's funded property,
without furnishing the guarantees by which the other son-in-law was
bound. And, almost immediately after his marriage, Peytel sold out
of the funds a sum of 50,000 francs, that belonged to his wife, and
used it for his own purposes.
About two months after his marriage, PEYTEL PRESSED HIS WIFE TO
MAKE HER WILL. He had made his, he said, leaving everything to
her, in case of his death: after some parley, the poor thing
consented.* This is a cruel suspicion against him; and Mr.
Substitute has no need to enlarge upon it. As for the previous
fact, the dishonest statement about the 15,000 francs, there is
nothing murderous in that--nothing which a man very eager to make
a good marriage might not do. The same may be said of the
suppression, in Peytel's marriage contract, of the clause to be
found in Broussais's, placing restrictions upon the use of the
wife's money. Mademoiselle d'Alcazar's friends read the contract
before they signed it, and might have refused it, had they so
* "Peytel," says the act of accusation, "did not fail to see the
danger which would menace him, if this will (which had escaped the
magistrates in their search of Peytel's papers) was discovered.
He, therefore, instructed his agent to take possession of it, which
he did, and the fact was not mentioned for several months
afterwards. Peytel and his agent were called upon to explain the
circumstance, but refused, and their silence for a long time
interrupted the 'instruction'" (getting up of the evidence). "All
that could be obtained from them was an avowal, that such a will
existed, constituting Peytel his wife's sole legatee; and a
promise, on their parts, to produce it before the court gave its
sentence." But why keep the will secret? The anxiety about it was
surely absurd and unnecessary: the whole of Madame Peytel's family
knew that such a will was made. She had consulted her sister
concerning it, who said--"If there is no other way of satisfying
him, make the will;" and the mother, when she heard of it, cried
out--"Does he intend to poison her?"
After some disputes, which took place between Peytel and his wife
(there were continual quarrels, and continual letters passing
between them from room to room), the latter was induced to write
him a couple of exaggerated letters, swearing "by the ashes of her
father" that she would be an obedient wife to him, and entreating
him to counsel and direct her. These letters were seen by members
of the lady's family, who, in the quarrels between the couple,
always took the husband's part. They were found in Peytel's
cabinet, after he had been arrested for the murder, and after he
had had full access to all his papers, of which he destroyed or
left as many as he pleased. The accusation makes it a matter of
suspicion against Peytel, that he should have left these letters of
his wife's in a conspicuous situation.
"All these circumstances," says the accusation, "throw a frightful
light upon Peytel's plans. The letters and will of Madame Peytel
are in the hands of her husband. Three months pass away, and this
poor woman is brought to her home, in the middle of the night, with
two balls in her head, stretched at the bottom of her carriage, by
the side of a peasant."
"What other than Sebastian Peytel could have committed this
murder?--whom could it profit?--who but himself had an odious chain
to break, and an inheritance to receive? Why speak of the
servant's projected robbery? The pistols found by the side of
Louis's body, the balls bought by him at Macon, and those
discovered at Belley among his effects, were only the result of a
perfidious combination. The pistol, indeed, which was found on the
hill of Darde, on the night of the 1st of November, could only have
belonged to Peytel, and must have been thrown by him, near the body
of his domestic, with the paper which had before enveloped it.
Who had seen this pistol in the hands of Louis? Among all the
gendarmes, work-women, domestics, employed by Peytel and his
brother-in-law, is there one single witness who had seen this
weapon in Louis's possession? It is true that Madame Peytel did,
on one occasion, speak to M. de Montrichard of a pistol; which had
nothing to do, however, with that found near Louis Rey."
Is this justice, or good reason? Just reverse the argument, and
apply it to Rey. "Who but Rey could have committed this murder?--
who but Rey had a large sum of money to seize upon?--a pistol is
found by his side, balls and powder in his pocket, other balls in
his trunks at home. The pistol found near his body could not,
indeed, have belonged to Peytel: did any man ever see it in his
possession? The very gunsmith who sold it, and who knew Peytel,
would he not have known that he had sold him this pistol? At his
own house, Peytel has a collection of weapons of all kinds;
everybody has seen them--a man who makes such collections is
anxious to display them. Did any one ever see this weapon?--Not
one. And Madame Peytel did, in her lifetime, remark a pistol in
the valet's possession. She was short-sighted, and could not
particularize what kind of pistol it was; but she spoke of it to
her husband and her brother-in-law." This is not satisfactory, if
you please; but, at least, it is as satisfactory as the other set
of suppositions. It is the very chain of argument which would have
been brought against Louis Rey by this very same compiler of the
act of accusation, had Rey survived, instead of Peytel, and had he,
as most undoubtedly would have been the case, been tried for the
This argument was shortly put by Peytel's counsel:--"if Peytel had
been killed by Rey in the struggle, would you not have found Rey
guilty of the murder of his master and mistress?" It is such a
dreadful dilemma, that I wonder how judges and lawyers could have
dared to persecute Peytel in the manner which they did.
After the act of accusation, which lays down all the suppositions
against Peytel as facts, which will not admit the truth of one of
the prisoner's allegations in his own defence, comes the trial.
The judge is quite as impartial as the preparer of the indictment,
as will be seen by the following specimens of his interrogatories:--
Judge. "The act of accusation finds in your statement
contradictions, improbabilities, impossibilities. Thus your
domestic, who had determined to assassinate you, in order to rob
you, and who MUST HAVE CALCULATED UPON THE CONSEQUENCE OF A
FAILURE, had neither passport nor money upon him. This is very
unlikely; because he could not have gone far with only a single
halfpenny, which was all he had."
Prisoner. "My servant was known, and often passed the frontier
without a passport."
Judge. "YOUR DOMESTIC HAD TO ASSASSINATE TWO PERSONS, and had no
weapon but a single pistol. He had no dagger; and the only thing
found on him was a knife."
Prisoner. "In the car there were several turner's implements,
which he might have used."
Judge. "But he had not those arms upon him, because you pursued
him immediately. He had, according to you, only this old pistol."
Prisoner. "I have nothing to say."
Judge. "Your domestic, instead of flying into woods, which skirt
the road, ran straight forward on the road itself: THIS, AGAIN, IS
Prisoner. "This is a conjecture I could answer by another
conjecture; I can only reason on the facts."
Judge. "How far did you pursue him?"
Prisoner. "I don't know exactly."
Judge. "You said 'two hundred paces.'"
No answer from the prisoner.
Judge. "Your domestic was young, active, robust, and tall. He was
ahead of you. You were in a carriage, from which you had to
descend: you had to take your pistols from a cushion, and THEN your
hammer;--how are we to believe that you could have caught him, if
he ran? It is IMPOSSIBLE."
Prisoner. "I can't explain it: I think that Rey had some defect in
one leg. I, for my part, run tolerably fast."
Judge. "At what distance from him did you fire your first shot?"
Prisoner. "I can't tell."
Judge. "Perhaps he was not running when you fired."
Prisoner. "I saw him running."
Judge. "In what position was your wife?"
Prisoner. "She was leaning on my left arm, and the man was on the
right side of the carriage."
Judge. "The shot must have been fired à bout portant, because it
burned the eyebrows and lashes entirely. The assassin must have
passed his pistol across your breast."
Prisoner. "The shot was not fired so close; I am convinced of it:
professional gentlemen will prove it."
Judge. "That is what you pretend, because you understand perfectly
the consequences of admitting the fact. Your wife was hit with two
balls--one striking downwards, to the right, by the nose, the other
going horizontally through the cheek, to the left."
Prisoner. "The contrary will be shown by the witnesses called for
Judge. "IT IS A VERY UNLUCKY COMBINATION FOR YOU that these balls,
which went, you say, from the same pistol, should have taken two
Prisoner. "I can't dispute about the various combinations of fire-
arms--professional persons will be heard."
Judge. "According to your statement, your wife said to you, 'My
poor husband, take your pistols.'"
Prisoner. "She did."
Judge. "In a manner quite distinct."
Judge. "So distinct that you did not fancy she was hit?"
Prisoner. "Yes; that is the fact."
Judge. "HERE, AGAIN, IS AN IMPOSSIBILITY; and nothing is more
precise than the declaration of the medical men. They affirm that
your wife could not have spoken--their report is unanimous."
Prisoner. "I can only oppose to it quite contrary opinions from
professional men, also: you must hear them."
Judge. "What did your wife do next?"
. . . . . .
Judge. "You deny the statements of the witnesses:" (they related
to Peytel's demeanor and behavior, which the judge wishes to show
were very unusual;--and what if they were?) "Here, however, are
some mute witnesses, whose testimony, you will not perhaps refuse.
Near Louis Rey's body was found a horse-cloth, a pistol, and a
whip. . . . . Your domestic must have had this cloth upon him when
he went to assassinate you: it was wet and heavy. An assassin
disencumbers himself of anything that is likely to impede him,
especially when he is going to struggle with a man as young as
Prisoner. "My servant had, I believe, this covering on his body;
it might be useful to him to keep the priming of his pistol dry."
The president caused the cloth to be opened, and showed that there
was no hook, or tie, by which it could be held together; and that
Rey must have held it with one hand, and, in the other, his whip,
and the pistol with which he intended to commit the crime; which
Prisoner. "These are only conjectures."
And what conjectures, my God! upon which to take away the life of a
man. Jeffreys, or Fouquier Tinville, could scarcely have dared to
make such. Such prejudice, such bitter persecution, such priming
of the jury, such monstrous assumptions and unreason--fancy them
coming from an impartial judge! The man is worse than the public
"Rey," says the Judge, "could not have committed the murder,
BECAUSE HE HAD NO MONEY IN HIS POCKET, TO FLY, IN CASE OF FAILURE."
And what is the precise sum that his lordship thinks necessary for
a gentleman to have, before he makes such an attempt? Are the men
who murder for money, usually in possession of a certain
independence before they begin? How much money was Rey, a servant,
who loved wine and women, had been stopping at a score of inns on
the road, and had, probably, an annual income of 400 francs,--how
much money was Rey likely to have?
"Your servant had to assassinate two persons." This I have
mentioned before. Why had he to assassinate two persons,* when one
was enough? If he had killed Peytel, could he not have seized and
gagged his wife immediately?
* M. Balzac's theory of the case is, that Rey had intrigued with
Madame Peytel; having known her previous to her marriage, when she
was staying in the house of her brother-in-law, Monsieur de
Montrichard, where Rey had been a servant.
"Your domestic ran straight forward, instead of taking to the
woods, by the side of the rood: this is very unlikely." How does
his worship know? Can any judge, however enlightened, tell the
exact road that a man will take, who has just missed a coup of
murder, and is pursued by a man who is firing pistols at him? And
has a judge a right to instruct a jury in this way, as to what they
shall, or shall not, believe?
"You have to run after an active man, who has the start of you: to
jump out of a carriage; to take your pistols; and THEN, your
hammer. THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE." By heavens! does it not make a man's
blood boil, to read such blundering, blood-seeking sophistry? This
man, when it suits him, shows that Rey would be slow in his
motions; and when it suits him, declares that Rey ought to be
quick; declares ex cathedrâ, what pace Rey should go, and what
direction he should take; shows, in a breath, that he must have run
faster than Peytel; and then, that he could not run fast, because
the cloak clogged him; settles how he is to be dressed when he
commits a murder, and what money he is to have in his pocket; gives
these impossible suppositions to the jury, and tells them that the
previous statements are impossible; and, finally, informs them of
the precise manner in which Rey must have stood holding his horse-
cloth in one hand, his whip and pistol in the other, when he made
the supposed attempt at murder. Now, what is the size of a horse-
cloth? Is it as big as a pocket-handkerchief? Is there no
possibility that it might hang over one shoulder; that the whip
should be held under that very arm? Did you never see a carter so
carry it, his hands in his pockets all the while? Is it monstrous,
abhorrent to nature, that a man should fire a pistol from under a
cloak on a rainy day?--that he should, after firing the shot, be
frightened, and run; run straight before him, with the cloak on his
shoulders, and the weapon in his hand? Peytel's story is possible,
and very possible; it is almost probable. Allow that Rey had the
cloth on, and you allow that he must have been clogged in his
motions; that Peytel may have come up with him--felled him with a
blow of the hammer; the doctors say that he would have so fallen by
one blow--he would have fallen on his face, as he was found: the
paper might have been thrust into his breast, and tumbled out as he
fell. Circumstances far more impossible have occurred ere this;
and men have been hanged for them, who were as innocent of the
crime laid to their charge as the judge on the bench, who convicted
In like manner, Peytel may not have committed the crime charged to
him; and Mr. Judge, with his arguments as to possibilities and
impossibilities,--Mr. Public Prosecutor, with his romantic
narrative and inflammatory harangues to the jury,--may have used
all these powers to bring to death an innocent man. From the
animus with which the case had been conducted from beginning to
end, it was easy to see the result. Here it is, in the words of
the provincial paper:--
BOURG, 28 October, 1839.
"The condemned Peytel has just undergone his punishment, which took
place four days before the anniversary of his crime. The terrible
drama of the bridge of Andert, which cost the life of two persons,
has just terminated on the scaffold. Mid-day had just sounded on
the clock of the Palais: the same clock tolled midnight when, on
the 30th of August, his sentence was pronounced.
"Since the rejection of his appeal in Cassation, on which his
principal hopes were founded, Peytel spoke little of his petition
to the King. The notion of transportation was that which he seemed
to cherish most. However, he made several inquiries from the
gaoler of the prison, when he saw him at meal-time, with regard to
the place of execution, the usual hour, and other details on the
subject. From that period, the words 'Champ de Foire' (the fair-
field, where the execution was to be held), were frequently used by
him in conversation.
"Yesterday, the idea that the time had arrived seemed to be more
strongly than ever impressed upon him; especially after the
departure of the curé, who latterly has been with him every day.
The documents connected with the trial had arrived in the morning.
He was ignorant of this circumstance, but sought to discover from
his guardians what they tried to hide from him; and to find out
whether his petition was rejected, and when he was to die.
"Yesterday, also, he had written to demand the presence of his
counsel, M. Margerand, in order that he might have some
conversation with him, and regulate his affairs, before he ----; he
did not write down the word, but left in its place a few points of
"In the evening, whilst he was at supper, he begged earnestly to be
allowed a little wax-candle, to finish what he was writing:
otherwise, he said, TIME MIGHT FAIL. This was a new, indirect
manner of repeating his ordinary question. As light, up to that
evening, had been refused him, it was thought best to deny him in
this, as in former instances; otherwise his suspicions might have
been confirmed. The keeper refused his demand.
"This morning, Monday, at nine o'clock, the Greffier of the Assize
Court, in fulfilment of the painful duty which the law imposes upon
him, came to the prison, in company with the curé of Bourg, and
announced to the convict that his petition was rejected, and that
he had only three hours to live. He received this fatal news with
a great deal of calmness, and showed himself to be no more affected
than he had been on the trial. 'I am ready; but I wish they had
given me four-and-twenty hours' notice,'--were all the words he
"The Greffier now retired, leaving Peytel alone with the curé, who
did not thenceforth quit him. Peytel breakfasted at ten o'clock.
"At eleven, a piquet of mounted gendarmerie and infantry took their
station upon the place before the prison, where a great concourse
of people had already assembled. An open car was at the door.
Before he went out Peytel asked the gaoler for a looking-glass;
and having examined his face for a moment, said, 'At least, the
inhabitants of Bourg will see that I have not grown thin.'
"As twelve o'clock sounded, the prison gates opened, an aide
appeared, followed by Peytel, leaning on the arm of the curé.
Peytel's face was pale, he had a long black beard, a blue cap on
his head, and his great-coat flung over his shoulders, and buttoned
at the neck.
"He looked about at the place and the crowd; he asked if the
carriage would go at a trot; and on being told that that would be
difficult, he said he would prefer walking, and asked what the road
was. He immediately set out, walking at a firm and rapid pace. He
was not bound at all.
"An immense crowd of people encumbered the two streets through
which he had to pass to the place of execution. He cast his eyes
alternately upon them and upon the guillotine, which was before
"Arrived at the foot of the scaffold, Peytel embraced the curé, and
bade him adieu. He then embraced him again; perhaps, for his
mother and sister. He then mounted the steps rapidly, and gave
himself into the hands of the executioner, who removed his coat and
cap. He asked how he was to place himself, and on a sign being
made, he flung himself briskly on the plank, and stretched his
neck. In another moment he was no more.
"The crowd, which had been quite silent, retired, profoundly moved
by the sight it had witnessed. As at all executions, there was a
very great number of women present.
"Under the scaffold there had been, ever since the morning, a
coffin. The family had asked for his remains, and had them
immediately buried, privately: and thus the unfortunate man's head
escaped the modellers in wax, several of whom had arrived to take
an impression of it."
Down goes the axe; the poor wretch's head rolls gasping into the
basket; the spectators go home, pondering; and Mr. Executioner and
his aides have, in half an hour, removed all traces of the august
sacrifice, and of the altar on which it had been performed. Say,
Mr. Briefless, do you think that any single person, meditating
murder, would be deterred therefrom by beholding this--nay, a
thousand more executions? It is not for moral improvement, as I
take it, nor for opportunity to make appropriate remarks upon the
punishment of crime, that people make a holiday of a killing-day,
and leave their homes and occupations, to flock and witness the
cutting off of a head. Do we crowd to see Mr. Macready in the new
tragedy, or Mademoiselle Ellssler in her last new ballet and flesh-
colored stockinnet pantaloons, out of a pure love of abstract
poetry and beauty; or from a strong notion that we shall be
excited, in different ways, by the actor and the dancer? And so,
as we go to have a meal of fictitious terror at the tragedy, of
something more questionable in the ballet, we go for a glut of
blood to the execution. The lust is in every man's nature, more or
less. Did you ever witness a wrestling or boxing match? The first
clatter of the kick on the shins, or the first drawing of blood,
makes the stranger shudder a little; but soon the blood is his
chief enjoyment, and he thirsts for it with a fierce delight. It
is a fine grim pleasure that we have in seeing a man killed; and I
make no doubt that the organs of destructiveness must begin to
throb and swell as we witness the delightful savage spectacle.
Three or four years back, when Fieschi and Lacenaire were executed,
I made attempts to see the execution of both; but was disappointed
in both cases. In the first instance, the day for Fieschi's death
was, purposely, kept secret; and he was, if I remember rightly,
executed at some remote quarter of the town. But it would have
done a philanthropist good, to witness the scene which we saw on
the morning when his execution did NOT take place.
It was carnival time, and the rumor had pretty generally been
carried abroad that he was to die on that morning. A friend, who
accompanied me, came many miles, through the mud and dark, in order
to be in at the death. We set out before light, floundering
through the muddy Champs Elysées; where, besides, were many other
persons floundering, and all bent upon the same errand. We passed
by the Concert of Musard, then held in the Rue St. Honoré; and
round this, in the wet, a number of coaches were collected. The
ball was just up, and a crowd of people in hideous masquerade,
drunk, tired, dirty, dressed in horrible old frippery, and daubed
with filthy rouge, were trooping out of the place: tipsy women and
men, shrieking, jabbering, gesticulating, as French will do;
parties swaggering, staggering forwards, arm in arm, reeling to and
fro across the street, and yelling songs in chorus: hundreds of
these were bound for the show, and we thought ourselves lucky in
finding a vehicle to the execution place, at the Barrière d'Enfer.
As we crossed the river and entered the Enfer Street, crowds of
students, black workmen, and more drunken devils from more carnival
balls, were filling it; and on the grand place there were thousands
of these assembled, looking out for Fiaschi and his cortège. We
waited and waited; but alas! no fun for us that morning: no throat-
cutting; no august spectacle of satisfied justice; and the eager
spectators were obliged to return, disappointed of their expected
breakfast of blood. It would have been a fine scene, that
execution, could it but have taken place in the midst of the mad
mountebanks and tipsy strumpets who had flocked so far to witness
it, wishing to wind up the delights of their carnival by a
bonnebouche of a murder.
The other attempt was equally unfortunate. We arrived too late on
the ground to be present at the execution of Lacenaire and his co-
mate in murder, Avril. But as we came to the ground (a gloomy
round space, within the barrier--three roads lead to it; and,
outside, you see the wine-shops and restaurateurs' of the barrier
looking gay and inviting,)--as we came to the ground, we only
found, in the midst of it, a little pool of ice, just partially
tinged with red. Two or three idle street-boys were dancing and
stamping about this pool; and when I asked one of them whether the
execution had taken place, he began dancing more madly than ever,
and shrieked out with a loud fantastical, theatrical voice, "Venez
tous Messieurs et Dames, voyez ici le sang du monstre Lacenaire, et
de son compagnon he traître Avril," or words to that effect; and
straightway all the other gamins screamed out the words in chorus,
and took hands and danced round the little puddle.
O august Justice, your meal was followed by a pretty appropriate
grace! Was any man, who saw the show, deterred, or frightened, or
moralized in any way? He had gratified his appetite for blood, and
this was all. There is something singularly pleasing, both in the
amusement of execution-seeing, and in the results. You are not
only delightfully excited at the time, but most pleasingly relaxed
afterwards; the mind, which has been wound up painfully until now,
becomes quite complacent and easy. There is something agreeable in
the misfortunes of others, as the philosopher has told us. Remark
what a good breakfast you eat after an execution; how pleasant it
is to cut jokes after it, and upon it. This merry, pleasant mood
is brought on by the blood tonic.
But, for God's sake, if we are to enjoy this, let us do so in
moderation; and let us, at least, be sure of a man's guilt before
we murder him. To kill him, even with the full assurance that he
is guilty is hazardous enough. Who gave you the right to do so?--
you, who cry out against suicides, as impious and contrary to
Christian law? What use is there in killing him? You deter no one
else from committing the crime by so doing: you give us, to be
sure, half an hour's pleasant entertainment; but it is a great
question whether we derive much moral profit from the sight. If
you want to keep a murderer from farther inroads upon society, are
there not plenty of hulks and prisons, God wot; treadmills,
galleys, and houses of correction? Above all, as in the case of
Sebastian Peytel and his family, there have been two deaths
already; was a third death absolutely necessary? and, taking the
fallibility of judges and lawyers into his heart, and remembering
the thousand instances of unmerited punishment that have been
suffered, upon similar and stronger evidence before, can any man
declare, positively and upon his oath, that Peytel was guilty, and
that this was not THE THIRD MURDER IN THE FAMILY?
FOUR IMITATIONS OF BÉRANGER
LE ROI D'YVETOT.
Il était un roi d'Yvetot,
Peu connu dans l'histoire;
Se levant tard, se couchant tôt,
Dormant fort bien sans gloire,
Et couronné par Jeanneton
D'un simple bonnet de coton,
Oh! oh! oh! oh! ah! ah! ah! ah!
Quel bon petit roi c'était là!
Il fesait ses quatre repas
Dans son palais de chaume,
Et sur un âne, pas à pas,
Parcourait son royaume.
Joyeux, simple et croyant le bien,
Pour toute garde il n'avait rien
Oh! oh! oh! oh! ah! ah! ah! ah! &c.
Il n'avait de goût onéreux
Qu'une soif un peu vive;
Mais, en rendant son peuple heureux,
Il faux bien qu'un roi vive.
Lui-même à table, et sans suppôt,
Sur chaque muid levait un pot
Oh! oh! oh! oh! ah! ah! ah! ah! &c.
Aux filles de bonnes maisons
Comme il avait su plaire,
Ses sujets avaient cent raisons
De le nommer leur père:
D'ailleurs il ne levait de ban
Que pour tirer quatre fois l'an
Oh! oh! oh! oh! ah! ah! ah! ah! &c.
Il n'agrandit point ses états,
Fut un voisin commode,
Et, modèle des potentats,
Prit le plaisir pour code.
Ce n'est que lorsqu'il expira,
Que le peuple qui l'enterra
Oh! oh! oh! oh! ah! ah! ah! ah! &c.
On conserve encor le portrait
De ce digne et bon prince;
C'est l'enseigne d'un cabaret
Fameux dans la province.
Les jours de fête, bien souvent,
La foule s'écrie en buvant
Oh! oh! oh! oh! ah! ah! ah! ah!
Quel bon petit roi c'était là!
THE KING OF YVETOT.
There was a king of Yvetot,
Of whom renown hath little said,
Who let all thoughts of glory go,
And dawdled half his days a-bed;
And every night, as night came round,
By Jenny, with a nightcap crowned,
Slept very sound:
Sing ho, ho, ho! and he, he, he!
That's the kind of king for me.
And every day it came to pass,
That four lusty meals made he;
And, step by step, upon an ass,
Rode abroad, his realms to see;
And wherever he did stir,
What think you was his escort, sir?
Why, an old cur.
Sing ho, ho, ho! &c.
If e'er he went into excess,
'Twas from a somewhat lively thirst;
But he who would his subjects bless,
Odd's fish!--must wet his whistle first;
And so from every cask they got,
Our king did to himself allot,
At least a pot.
Sing ho, ho! &c.
To all the ladies of the land,
A courteous king, and kind, was he;
The reason why you'll understand,
They named him Pater Patriae.
Each year he called his fighting men,
And marched a league from home, and then
Marched back again.
Sing ho, ho! &c.
Neither by force nor false pretence,
He sought to make his kingdom great,
And made (O princes, learn from hence),--
"Live and let live," his rule of state.
'Twas only when he came to die,
That his people who stood by,
Were known to cry.
Sing ho, ho! &c.
The portrait of this best of kings
Is extant still, upon a sign
That on a village tavern swings,
Famed in the country for good wine.
The people in their Sunday trim,
Filling their glasses to the brim,
Look up to him,
Singing ha, ha, ha! and he, he, he!
That's the sort of king for me.
THE KING OF BRENTFORD.
There was a king in Brentford,--of whom no legends tell,
But who, without his glory,--could eat and sleep right well.
His Polly's cotton nightcap,--it was his crown of state,
He slept of evenings early,--and rose of mornings late.
All in a fine mud palace,--each day he took four meals,
And for a guard of honor,--a dog ran at his heels,
Sometimes, to view his kingdoms,--rode forth this monarch good,
And then a prancing jackass--he royally bestrode.
There were no costly habits--with which this king was curst,
Except (and where's the harm on't?)--a somewhat lively thirst;
But people must pay taxes,--and kings must have their sport,
So out of every gallon--His Grace he took a quart.
He pleased the ladies round him,--with manners soft and bland;
With reason good, they named him,--the father of his land.
Each year his mighty armies--marched forth in gallant show;
Their enemies were targets--their bullets they were tow.
He vexed no quiet neighbor,--no useless conquest made,
But by the laws of pleasure,--his peaceful realm he swayed.
And in the years he reigned,--through all this country wide,
There was no cause for weeping,--save when the good man died.
The faithful men of Brentford,--do still their king deplore,
His portrait yet is swinging,--beside an alehouse door.
And topers, tender-hearted,--regard his honest phiz,
And envy times departed--that knew a reign like his.
Je viens revoir l'asile où ma jeunesse
De la misère a subi les leçons.
J'avais vingt ans, une folle maîtresse,
De francs amis et l'amour des chansons
Bravant le monde et les sots et les sages,
Sans avenir, riche de mon printemps,
Leste et joyeux je montais six étages.
Dans un grenier qu'on est bien à vingt ans!
C'est un grenier, point ne veux qu'on l'ignore.
Là fut mon lit, bien chétif et bien dur;
Là fut ma table; et je retrouve encore
Trois pieds d'un vers charbonnés sur le mur.
Apparaissez, plaisirs de mon bel âge,
Que d'un coup d'aile a fustigés le temps,
Vingt fois pour vous j'ai mis ma montre en gage.
Dans un grenier qu'on est bien à vingt ans!
Lisette ici doit surtout apparaître,
Vive, jolie, avec un frais chapeau;
Déjà sa main à l'étroite fenêtre
Suspend son schal, en guise de rideau.
Sa robe aussi va parer ma couchette;
Respecte, Amour, ses plis longs et flottans.
J'ai su depuis qui payait sa toilette.
Dans un grenier qu'on est bien à vingt ans!
A table un jour, jour de grande richesse,
De mes amis les voix brillaient en choeur,
Quand jusqu'ici monte un cri d'allégresse:
A Marengo Bonaparte est vainqueur.
Le canon gronde; un autre chant commence;
Nous célébrons tant de faits éclatans.
Les rois jamais n'envahiront la France.
Dans un grenier qu'on est bien à vingt ans!
Quittons ce toit où ma raison s'enivre.
Oh! qu'ils sont loin ces jours si regrettés!
J'échangerais ce qu'il me reste à vivre
Contre un des mois qu'ici Dieu m'a comptés,
Pour rêver gloire, amour, plaisir, folie,
Pour dépenser sa vie en peu d'instans,
D'un long espoir pour la voir embellie,
Dans un grenier qu'on est bien à vingt ans!
With pensive eyes the little room I view,
Where, in my youth, I weathered it so long;
With a wild mistress, a stanch friend or two,
And a light heart still breaking into song:
Making a mock of life, and all its cares,
Rich in the glory of my rising sun,
Lightly I vaulted up four pair of stairs,
In the brave days when I was twenty-one.
Yes; 'tis a garret--let him know't who will--
There was my bed--full hard it was and small.
My table there--and I decipher still
Half a lame couplet charcoaled on the wall.
Ye joys, that Time hath swept with him away,
Come to mine eyes, ye dreams of love and fun;
For you I pawned my watch how many a day,
In the brave days when I was twenty-one.
And see my little Jessy, first of all;
She comes with pouting lips and sparkling eyes:
Behold, how roguishly she pins her shawl
Across the narrow casement, curtain-wise;
Now by the bed her petticoat glides down,
And when did woman look the worse in none?
I have heard since who paid for many a gown,
In the brave days when I was twenty-one.
One jolly evening, when my friends and I
Made happy music with our songs and cheers,
A shout of triumph mounted up thus high,
And distant cannon opened on our ears:
We rise,--we join in the triumphant strain,--
Napoleon conquers--Austerlitz is won--
Tyrants shall never tread us down again,
In the brave days when I was twenty-one.
Let us begone--the place is sad and strange--
How far, far off, these happy times appear;
All that I have to live I'd gladly change
For one such month as I have wasted here--
To draw long dreams of beauty, love, and power,
From founts of hope that never will outrun,
And drink all life's quintessence in an hour,
Give me the days when I was twenty-one!
Aux gens atrabilaires
Pour exemple donné,
En un temps de misères
Roger-Bontemps est né.
Vivre obscur à sa guise,
Narguer les mécontens:
Eh gai! c'est la devise
Du gros Roger-Bontemps.
Du chapeau de son père
Coîffé dans le grands jours,
De roses ou de lierre
Le rajeunir toujours;
Mettre un manteau de bure,
Vieil ami de vingt ans;
Eh gai! c'est la parure
Du gros Roger-Bontemps.
Posséder dans sa hutte
Une table, un vieux lit,
Des cartes, une flûte,
Un broc que Dieu remplit;
Un portrait de maîtresse,
Un coffre et rien dedans;
Eh gai! c'est la richesse
Du gros Roger-Bontemps.
Aux enfans de la ville
Montrer de petits jeux;
Etre fesseur habile
De contes graveleux;
Ne parler que de danse
Et d'almanachs chantans;
Eh gai! c'est la science
Du gros Roger-Bontemps.
Faute de vins d'élite,
Sabler ceux du canton:
Aux dames du grand ton:
De joie et de tendresse
Remplir tous ses instans;
Eh gai! c'est la sagesse
Du gros Roger-Bontemps.
Dire au ciel: Je me fie,
Mon père, à ta bonté;
De ma philosophie
Pardonne le gaîté
Que ma saison dernière
Soit encore un printemps;
Eh gai! c'est la prière
Du gros Roger-Bontemps.
Vous, pauvres pleins d'envie,
Vous, riches désireux,
Vous, dont le char dévie
Après un cours heureux;
Vous, qui perdrez peut-être
Des titres éclatans,
Eh gai! prenez pour maître
Le gros Roger Bontemps.
When fierce political debate
Throughout the isle was storming,
And Rads attacked the throne and state,
And Tories the reforming,
To calm the furious rage of each,
And right the land demented,
Heaven sent us Jolly Jack, to teach
The way to be contented.
Jack's bed was straw, 'twas warm and soft,
His chair, a three-legged stool;
His broken jug was emptied oft,
Yet, somehow, always full.
His mistress' portrait decked the wall,
His mirror had a crack;
Yet, gay and glad, though this was all
His wealth, lived Jolly Jack.
To give advice to avarice,
Teach pride its mean condition,
And preach good sense to dull pretence,
Was honest Jack's high mission.
Our simple statesman found his rule
Of moral in the flagon,
And held his philosophic school
Beneath the "George and Dragon."
When village Solons cursed the Lords,
And called the malt-tax sinful,
Jack heeded not their angry words,
But smiled and drank his skinful.
And when men wasted health and life,
In search of rank and riches,
Jack marked, aloof, the paltry strife,
And wore his threadbare breeches.
"I enter not the church," he said,
But I'll not seek to rob it;"
So worthy Jack Joe Miller read,
While others studied Cobbett.
His talk it was of feast and fun;
His guide the Almanack;
From youth to age thus gayly run
The life of Jolly Jack.
And when Jack prayed, as oft he would,
He humbly thanked his Maker;
"I am," said he, "O Father good!
Nor Catholic nor Quaker:
Give each his creed, let each proclaim
His catalogue of curses;
I trust in Thee, and not in them,
In Thee, and in Thy mercies!
"Forgive me if, midst all Thy works,
No hint I see of damning;
And think there's faith among the Turks,
And hope for e'en the Brahmin.
Harmless my mind is, and my mirth,
And kindly is my laughter:
I cannot see the smiling earth,
And think there's hell hereafter."
Jack died; he left no legacy,
Save that his story teaches:--
Content to peevish poverty;
Humility to riches.
Ye scornful great, ye envious small,
Come follow in his track;
We all were happier, if we all
Would copy JOLLY JACK.
FRENCH DRAMAS AND MELODRAMAS.
There are three kinds of drama in France, which you may subdivide
as much as you please.
There is the old classical drama, wellnigh dead, and full time too:
old tragedies, in which half a dozen characters appear, and spout
sonorous Alexandrines for half a dozen hours. The fair Rachel has
been trying to revive this genre, and to untomb Racine; but be not
alarmed, Racine will never come to life again, and cause audiences
to weep as of yore. Madame Rachel can only galvanize the corpse,
not revivify it. Ancient French tragedy, red-heeled, patched, and
be-periwigged, lies in the grave; and it is only the ghost of it
that we see, which the fair Jewess has raised. There are classical
comedies in verse, too, wherein the knavish valets, rakish heroes,
stolid old guardians, and smart, free-spoken serving-women,
discourse in Alexandrines, as loud as the Horaces or the Cid. An
Englishman will seldom reconcile himself to the roulement of the
verses, and the painful recurrence of the rhymes; for my part, I
had rather go to Madame Saqui's or see Deburau dancing on a rope:
his lines are quite as natural and poetical.
Then there is the comedy of the day, of which Monsieur Scribe is
the father. Good heavens! with what a number of gay colonels,
smart widows, and silly husbands has that gentleman peopled the
play-books. How that unfortunate seventh commandment has been
maltreated by him and his disciples. You will see four pieces, at
the Gymnase, of a night; and so sure as you see them, four husbands
shall be wickedly used. When is this joke to cease? Mon Dieu!
Play-writers have handled it for about two thousand years, and the
public, like a great baby, must have the tale repeated to it over
and over again.
Finally, there is the Drama, that great monster which has sprung
into life of late years; and which is said, but I don't believe a
word of it, to have Shakspeare for a father. If Monsieur Scribe's
plays may be said to be so many ingenious examples how to break one
commandment, the drame is a grand and general chaos of them all;
nay, several crimes are added, not prohibited in the Decalogue,
which was written before dramas were. Of the drama, Victor Hugo
and Dumas are the well-known and respectable guardians. Every
piece Victor Hugo has written, since "Hernani," has contained a
monster--a delightful monster, saved by one virtue. There is
Triboulet, a foolish monster; Lucrèce Borgia, a maternal monster;
Mary Tudor, a religious monster; Monsieur Quasimodo, a humpback
monster; and others, that might be named, whose monstrosities we
are induced to pardon--nay, admiringly to witness--because they are
agreeably mingled with some exquisite display of affection. And,
as the great Hugo has one monster to each play, the great Dumas
has, ordinarily, half a dozen, to whom murder is nothing; common
intrigue, and simple breakage of the before-mentioned commandment,
nothing; but who live and move in a vast, delightful complication
of crime, that cannot be easily conceived in England, much less
When I think over the number of crimes that I have seen Mademoiselle
Georges, for instance, commit, I am filled with wonder at her
greatness, and the greatness of the poets who have conceived these
charming horrors for her. I have seen her make love to, and murder,
her sons, in the "Tour de Nesle." I have seen her poison a company
of no less than nine gentlemen, at Ferrara, with an affectionate son
in the number; I have seen her, as Madame de Brinvilliers, kill off
numbers of respectable relations in the first four acts; and, at the
last, be actually burned at the stake, to which she comes shuddering,
ghastly, barefooted, and in a white sheet. Sweet excitement of
tender sympathies! Such tragedies are not so good as a real,
downright execution; but, in point of interest, the next thing to
it: with what a number of moral emotions do they fill the breast;
with what a hatred for vice, and yet a true pity and respect for
that grain of virtue that is to be found in us all: our bloody,
daughter-loving Brinvilliers; our warmhearted, poisonous Lucretia
Borgia; above all, what a smart appetite for a cool supper
afterwards, at the Café Anglais, when the horrors of the play act
as a piquant sauce to the supper!
Or, to speak more seriously, and to come, at last, to the point.
After having seen most of the grand dramas which have been produced
at Paris for the last half-dozen years, and thinking over all that
one has seen,--the fictitious murders, rapes, adulteries, and other
crimes, by which one has been interested and excited,--a man may
take leave to be heartily ashamed of the manner in which he has
spent his time; and of the hideous kind of mental intoxication in
which he has permitted himself to indulge.
Nor are simple society outrages the only sort of crime in which the
spectator of Paris plays has permitted himself to indulge; he has
recreated himself with a deal of blasphemy besides, and has passed
many pleasant evenings in beholding religion defiled and ridiculed.
Allusion has been made, in a former paper, to a fashion that lately
obtained in France, and which went by the name of Catholic
reaction; and as, in this happy country, fashion is everything, we
have had not merely Catholic pictures and quasi religious books,
but a number of Catholic plays have been produced, very edifying to
the frequenters of the theatres or the Boulevards, who have learned
more about religion from these performances than they have
acquired, no doubt, in the whole of their lives before. In the
course of a very few years we have seen--"The Wandering Jew;"
"Belshazzar's Feast;" "Nebuchadnezzar:" and the "Massacre of the
Innocents;" "Joseph and his Brethren;" "The Passage of the Red
Sea;" and "The Deluge."
The great Dumas, like Madame Sand before mentioned, has brought a
vast quantity of religion before the foot-lights. There was his
famous tragedy of "Caligula," which, be it spoken to the shame of
the Paris critics, was coldly received; nay, actually hissed, by
them. And why? Because, says Dumas, it contained a great deal too
much piety for the rogues. The public, he says, was much more
religious, and understood him at once.
"As for the critics," says he, nobly, "let those who cried out
against the immorality of Antony and Marguérite de Bourgogne,
reproach me for THE CHASTITY OF MESSALINA." (This dear creature is
the heroine of the play of "Caligula.") "It matters little to me.
These people have but seen the form of my work: they have walked
round the tent, but have not seen the arch which it covered; they
have examined the vases and candles of the altar, but have not
opened the tabernacle!
"The public alone has, instinctively, comprehended that there was,
beneath this outward sign, an inward and mysterious grace: it
followed the action of the piece in all its serpentine windings; it
listened for four hours, with pious attention (avec recueillement
et religion), to the sound of this rolling river of thoughts, which
may have appeared to it new and bold, perhaps, but chaste and
grave; and it retired, with its head on its breast, like a man who
had just perceived, in a dream, the solution of a problem which he
has long and vainly sought in his waking hours."
You see that not only Saint Sand is an apostle, in her way; but
Saint Dumas is another. We have people in England who write for
bread, like Dumas and Sand, and are paid so much for their line;
but they don't set up for prophets. Mrs. Trollope has never
declared that her novels are inspired by heaven; Mr. Buckstone has
written a great number of farces, and never talked about the altar
and the tabernacle. Even Sir Edward Bulwer (who, on a similar
occasion, when the critics found fault with a play of his, answered
them by a pretty decent declaration of his own merits,) never
ventured to say that he had received a divine mission, and was
uttering five-act revelations.
All things considered, the tragedy of "Caligula" is a decent
tragedy; as decent as the decent characters of the hero and heroine
can allow it to be; it may be almost said, provokingly decent: but
this, it must be remembered, is the characteristic of the modern
French school (nay, of the English school too); and if the writer
take the character of a remarkable scoundrel, it is ten to one but
he turns out an amiable fellow, in whom we have all the warmest
sympathy. "Caligula" is killed at the end of the performance;
Messalina is comparatively well-behaved; and the sacred part of the
performance, the tabernacle-characters apart from the mere "vase"
and "candlestick" personages, may be said to be depicted in the
person of a Christian convert, Stella, who has had the good fortune
to be converted by no less a person than Mary Magdalene, when she,
Stella, was staying on a visit to her aunt, near Narbonne.
STELLA (Continuant.) Voilà
Que je vois s'avancer, sans pilote et sans rames,
Une barque portant deux hommes et deux femmes,
Et, spectacle inouï qui me ravit encor,
Tous quatre avaient au front une auréole d'or
D'où partaient des rayons de si vive lumière
Que je fus obligée à baisser la paupière;
Et, lorsque je rouvris les yeux avec effroi,
Les voyageurs divins étaient auprès de moi.
Un jour de chacun d'eux et dans toute sa gloire
Je te raconterai la marveilleuse histoire,
Et tu l'adoreras, j'espère; en ce moment,
Ma mère, il te suffit de savoir seulement
Que tous quatre venaient du fond de la Syrie:
Un édit les avait bannis de leur patrie,
Et, se faisant bourreaux, des hommes irrités,
Sans avirons, sans eau, sans pain et garrotés,
Sur une frêle barque échouée au rivage,
Les avaient à la mer poussés dans un orage.
Mais à peine l'esquif eut-il touché les flots
Qu'au cantique chanté par les saints matelots,
L'ouragan replia ses ailes frémissantes,
Que la mer aplanit ses vagues mugissantes,
Et qu'un soleil plus pur, reparaissant aux cieux,
Enveloppa l'esquif d'un cercle radieux! . . .
JUNIA.--Mais c'était un prodige.
STELLA.-- Un miracle, ma mère!
Leurs fers tombèrent seuls, l'eau cessa d'être amère,
Et deux fois chaque jour le bateau fut couvert
D'une manne pareille à celle du désert:
C'est ainsi que, poussés par une main céleste,
Je les vis aborder.
JUNIA.-- Oh! dis vîte le reste!
STELLA.--A l'aube, trois d'entre eux quittèrent la maison:
Marthe prit le chemin qui mène à Tarascon,
Lazare et Maximin celui de Massilie,
Et celle qui resta . . . . C'ETAIT LA PLUS JOLIE, (how truly French!)
Nous faisant appeler vers le milieu du jour,
Demanda si les monts ou les bois d'alentour
Cachaient quelque retraite inconnue et profonde,
Qui la pût séparer à tout jamais du monde. . . . .
Aquila se souvint qu'il avait pénétré
Dans un antre sauvage et de tous ignoré,
Grotte creusée aux flancs de ces Alpes sublimes,
Ou l'aigle fait son aire au-dessus des abîmes.
Il offrit cet asile, et dès le lendemain
Tous deux, pour l'y guider, nous étions en chemin.
Le soir du second jour nous touchâmes sa base:
Là, tombant à genoux dans une sainte extase,
Elle pria long-temps, puis vers l'antre inconnu,
Dénouant se chaussure, elle marcha pied nu.
Nos prières, nos cris restèrent sans réponses:
Au milieu des cailloux, des épines, des ronces,
Nous la vîmes monter, un bâton à la main,
Et ce n'est qu'arrivée au terme du chemin,
Qu'enfin elle tomba sans force et sans haleine . . . .
JUNIA.--Comment la nommait-on, ma fille?
Walking, says Stella, by the sea-shore, "A bark drew near, that had
nor sail nor oar; two women and two men the vessel bore: each of
that crew, 'twas wondrous to behold, wore round his head a ring of
blazing gold; from which such radiance glittered all around, that I
was fain to look towards the ground. And when once more I raised
my frightened eyne, before me stood the travellers divine; their
rank, the glorious lot that each befell, at better season, mother,
will I tell. Of this anon: the time will come when thou shalt
learn to worship as I worship now. Suffice it, that from Syria's
land they came; an edict from their country banished them. Fierce,
angry men had seized upon the four, and launched them in that
vessel from the shore. They launched these victims on the waters
rude; nor rudder gave to steer, nor bread for food. As the doomed
vessel cleaves the stormy main, that pious crew uplifts a sacred
strain; the angry waves are silent as it sings; the storm, awe-
stricken, folds its quivering wings. A purer sun appears the
heavens to light, and wraps the little bark in radiance bright.
"JUNIA.--Sure, 'twas a prodigy.
"STELLA.--A miracle. Spontaneous from their hands the fetters
fell. The salt sea-wave grew fresh, and, twice a day, manna (like
that which on the desert lay) covered the bark and fed them on
their way. Thus, hither led, at heaven's divine behest, I saw them
"JUNIA.--My daughter, tell the rest.
"STELLA.--Three of the four, our mansion left at dawn. One,
Martha, took the road to Tarascon; Lazarus and Maximin to Massily;
but one remained (the fairest of the three), who asked us, if i'
the woods or mountains near, there chanced to be some cavern lone
and drear; where she might hide, for ever, from all men. It
chanced, my cousin knew of such a den; deep hidden in a mountain's
hoary breast, on which the eagle builds his airy nest. And thither
offered he the saint to guide. Next day upon the journey forth we
hied; and came, at the second eve, with weary pace, unto the lonely
mountain's rugged base. Here the worn traveller, falling on her
knee, did pray awhile in sacred ecstasy; and, drawing off her
sandals from her feet, marched, naked, towards that desolate
retreat. No answer made she to our cries or groans; but walking
midst the prickles and rude stones, a staff in hand, we saw her
upwards toil; nor ever did she pause, nor rest the while, save at
the entry of that savage den. Here, powerless and panting, fell
"JUNIA.--What was her name, my daughter?
Here the translator must pause--having no inclination to enter "the
tabernacle," in company with such a spotless high-priest as
Something "tabernacular" may be found in Dumas's famous piece of
"Don Juan de Marana." The poet has laid the scene of his play in a
vast number of places: in heaven (where we have the Virgin Mary and
little angels, in blue, swinging censers before her!)--on earth,
under the earth, and in a place still lower, but not mentionable to
ears polite; and the plot, as it appears from a dialogue between a
good and a bad angel, with which the play commences, turns upon a
contest between these two worthies for the possession of the soul
of a member of the family of Marana.
"Don Juan de Marana" not only resembles his namesake, celebrated by
Mozart and Molière, in his peculiar successes among the ladies, but
possesses further qualities which render his character eminently
fitting for stage representation: he unites the virtues of Lovelace
and Lacenaire; he blasphemes upon all occasions; he murders, at the
slightest provocation, and without the most trifling remorse; he
overcomes ladies of rigid virtue, ladies of easy virtue, and ladies
of no virtue at all; and the poet, inspired by the contemplation of
such a character, has depicted his hero's adventures and
conversation with wonderful feeling and truth.
The first act of the play contains a half-dozen of murders and
intrigues; which would have sufficed humbler genius than M.
Dumas's, for the completion of, at least, half a dozen tragedies.
In the second act our hero flogs his elder brother, and runs away
with his sister-in-law; in the third, he fights a duel with a
rival, and kills him: whereupon the mistress of his victim takes
poison, and dies, in great agonies, on the stage. In the fourth
act, Don Juan, having entered a church for the purpose of carrying
off a nun, with whom he is in love, is seized by the statue of one
of the ladies whom he has previously victimized, and made to behold
the ghosts of all those unfortunate persons whose deaths he has
This is a most edifying spectacle. The ghosts rise solemnly, each
in a white sheet, preceded by a wax-candle; and, having declared
their names and qualities, call, in chorus, for vengeance upon Don
Juan, as thus:--
DON SANDOVAL loquitur.
"I am Don Sandoval d'Ojedo. I played against Don Juan my fortune,
the tomb of my fathers, and the heart of my mistress;--I lost all:
I played against him my life, and I lost it. Vengeance against the
murderer! vengeance!"--(The candle goes out.)
THE CANDLE GOES OUT, and an angel descends--a flaming sword in his
hand--and asks: "Is there no voice in favor of Don Juan?" when lo!
Don Juan's father (like one of those ingenious toys called "Jack-
in-the-box,") jumps up from his coffin, and demands grace for his
When Martha the nun returns, having prepared all things for her
elopement, she finds Don Juan fainting upon the ground.--"I am no
longer your husband," says he, upon coming to himself; "I am no
longer Don Juan; I am Brother Juan the Trappist. Sister Martha,
recollect that you must die!"
This was a most cruel blow upon Sister Martha, who is no less a
person than an angel, an angel in disguise--the good spirit of the
house of Marana, who has gone to the length of losing her wings and
forfeiting her place in heaven, in order to keep company with Don
Juan on earth, and, if possible, to convert him. Already, in her
angelic character, she had exhorted him to repentance, but in vain;
for, while she stood at one elbow, pouring not merely hints, but
long sermons, into his ear, at the other elbow stood a bad spirit,
grinning and sneering at all her pious counsels, and obtaining by
far the greater share of the Don's attention.
In spite, however, of the utter contempt with which Don Juan treats
her,--in spite of his dissolute courses, which must shock her
virtue,--and his impolite neglect, which must wound her vanity, the
poor creature (who, from having been accustomed to better company,
might have been presumed to have had better taste), the unfortunate
angel feels a certain inclination for the Don, and actually flies
up to heaven to ask permission to remain with him on earth.
And when the curtain draws up, to the sound of harps, and discovers
white-robed angels walking in the clouds, we find the angel of
Marana upon her knees, uttering the following address:--
LE BON ANGE.
Vierge, à qui le calice à la liqueur amère
Fut si souvent offert,
Mère, que l'on nomma la douloureuse mère,
Tant vous avez souffert!
Vous, dont les yeux divins sur la terre des hommes
Ont versé plus de pleurs
Que vos pieds n'ont depuis, dans le ciel où nous sommes,
Fait éclore de fleurs.
Vase d'élection, étoile matinale,
Miroir de pureté,
Vous qui priez pour nous, d'une voix virginale,
La suprême bonté;
A mon tour, aujourd'hui, bienheureuse Marie,
Je tombe à vos genoux;
Daignez donc m'écouter, car c'est vous que je prie,
Vous qui priez pour nous.
Which may be thus interpreted:--
O Virgin blest! by whom the bitter draught
So often has been quaffed,
That, for thy sorrow, thou art named by us
The Mother Dolorous!
Thou, from whose eyes have fallen more tears of woe,
Upon the earth below,
Than 'neath thy footsteps, in this heaven of ours,
Have risen flowers!
O beaming morning star! O chosen vase!
O mirror of all grace!
Who, with thy virgin voice, dost ever pray
Man's sins away;
Bend down thine ear, and list, O blessed saint!
Unto my sad complaint;
Mother! to thee I kneel, on thee I call,
Who hearest all.
She proceeds to request that she may be allowed to return to earth,
and follow the fortunes of Don Juan; and, as there is one
difficulty, or, to use her own words,--
Mais, comme vous savez qu'aux voûtes éternelles,
Malgré moi, tend mon vol,
Soufflez sur mon étoile et détachez mes ailes,
Pour m'enchainer au sol;
her request is granted, her star is BLOWN OUT (O poetic allusion!)
and she descends to earth to love, and to go mad, and to die for
The reader will require no further explanation, in order to be
satisfied as to the moral of this play: but is it not a very bitter
satire upon the country, which calls itself the politest nation in
the world, that the incidents, the indecency, the coarse blasphemy,
and the vulgar wit of this piece, should find admirers among the
public, and procure reputation for the author? Could not the
Government, which has re-established, in a manner, the theatrical
censorship, and forbids or alters plays which touch on politics,
exert the same guardianship over public morals? The honest English
reader, who has a faith in his clergyman, and is a regular
attendant at Sunday worship, will not be a little surprised at the
march of intellect among our neighbors across the Channel, and at
the kind of consideration in which they hold their religion. Here
is a man who seizes upon saints and angels, merely to put sentiments
in their mouths which might suit a nymph of Drury Lane. He shows
heaven, in order that he may carry debauch into it; and avails
himself of the most sacred and sublime parts of our creed as a
vehicle for a scene-painter's skill, or an occasion for a handsome
actress to wear a new dress.
M. Dumas's piece of "Kean" is not quite so sublime; it was brought
out by the author as a satire upon the French critics, who, to
their credit be it spoken, had generally attacked him, and was
intended by him, and received by the public, as a faithful
portraiture of English manners. As such, it merits special
observation and praise. In the first act you find a Countess and
an Ambassadress, whose conversation relates purely to the great
actor. All the ladies in London are in love with him, especially
the two present. As for the Ambassadress, she prefers him to her
husband (a matter of course in all French plays), and to a more
seducing person still--no less a person than the Prince of Wales!
who presently waits on the ladies, and joins in their conversation
concerning Kean. "This man," says his Royal Highness, "is the very
pink of fashion. Brummell is nobody when compared to him; and I
myself only an insignificant private gentleman. He has a
reputation among ladies, for which I sigh in vain; and spends an
income twice as great as mine." This admirable historic touch at
once paints the actor and the Prince; the estimation in which the
one was held, and the modest economy for which the other was so
Then we have Kean, at a place called the Trou de Charbon, the "Coal
Hole," where, to the edification of the public, he engages in a
fisty combat with a notorious boxer. This scene was received by
the audience with loud exclamations of delight, and commented on,
by the journals, as a faultless picture of English manners. "The
Coal Hole" being on the banks of the Thames, a nobleman--LORD
MELBOURN!--has chosen the tavern as a rendezvous for a gang of
pirates, who are to have their ship in waiting, in order to carry
off a young lady with whom his lordship is enamored. It need not
be said that Kean arrives at the nick of time, saves the innocent
Meess Anna, and exposes the infamy of the Peer. A violent tirade
against noblemen ensues, and Lord Melbourn slinks away, disappointed,
to meditate revenge. Kean's triumphs continue through all the acts:
the Ambassadress falls madly in love with him; the Prince becomes
furious at his ill success, and the Ambassador dreadfully jealous.
They pursue Kean to his dressing-room at the theatre; where,
unluckily, the Ambassadress herself has taken refuge. Dreadful
quarrels ensue; the tragedian grows suddenly mad upon the stage, and
so cruelly insults the Prince of Wales that his Royal Highness
determines to send HIM TO BOTANY BAY. His sentence, however, is
commuted to banishment to New York; whither, of course, Miss Anna
accompanies him; rewarding him, previously, with her hand and twenty
thousand a year!
This wonderful performance was gravely received and admired by the
people of Paris: the piece was considered to be decidedly moral,
because the popular candidate was made to triumph throughout, and
to triumph in the most virtuous manner; for, according to the
French code of morals, success among women is, at once, the proof
and the reward of virtue.
The sacred personage introduced in Dumas's play behind a cloud,
figures bodily in the piece of the Massacre of the Innocents,
represented at Paris last year. She appears under a different
name, but the costume is exactly that of Carlo Dolce's Madonna; and
an ingenious fable is arranged, the interest of which hangs upon
the grand Massacre of the Innocents, perpetrated in the fifth act.
One of the chief characters is Jean le Précurseur, who threatens
woe to Herod and his race, and is beheaded by orders of that
In the Festin de Balthazar, we are similarly introduced to Daniel,
and the first scene is laid by the waters of Babylon, where a
certain number of captive Jews are seated in melancholy postures; a
Babylonian officer enters, exclaiming, "Chantez nous quelques
chansons de Jerusalem," and the request is refused in the language
of the Psalm. Belshazzar's Feast is given in a grand tableau,
after Martin's picture. That painter, in like manner, furnished
scenes for the Deluge. Vast numbers of schoolboys and children are
brought to see these pieces; the lower classes delight in them.
The famous Juif Errant, at the theatre of the Porte St. Martin, was
the first of the kind, and its prodigious success, no doubt,
occasioned the number of imitations which the other theatres have
The taste of such exhibitions, of course, every English person will
question; but we must remember the manners of the people among whom
they are popular; and, if I may be allowed to hazard such an
opinion, there is in every one of these Boulevard mysteries, a kind
of rude moral. The Boulevard writers don't pretend to "tabernacles"
and divine gifts, like Madame Sand and Dumas before mentioned. If
they take a story from the sacred books, they garble it without
mercy, and take sad liberties with the text; but they do not deal in
descriptions of the agreeably wicked, or ask pity and admiration for
tender-hearted criminals and philanthropic murderers, as their
betters do. Vice is vice on the Boulevard; and it is fine to hear
the audience, as a tyrant king roars out cruel sentences of death,
or a bereaved mother pleads for the life of her child, making their
remarks on the circumstances of the scene. "Ah, le gredin!" growls
an indignant countryman. "Quel monstre!" says a grisette, in a
fury. You see very fat old men crying like babies, and, like
babies, sucking enormous sticks of barley-sugar. Actors and audience
enter warmly into the illusion of the piece; and so especially are
the former affected, that at Franconi's, where the battles of the
Empire are represented, there is as regular gradation in the ranks
of the mimic army as in the real imperial legions. After a man has
served, with credit, for a certain number of years in the line, he
is promoted to be an officer--an acting officer. If he conducts
himself well, he may rise to be a Colonel or a General of Division;
if ill, he is degraded to the ranks again; or, worst degradation of
all, drafted into a regiment of Cossacks or Austrians. Cossacks is
the lowest depth, however; nay, it is said that the men who perform
these Cossack parts receive higher wages than the mimic grenadiers
and old guard. They will not consent to be beaten every night, even
in play; to be pursued in hundreds, by a handful of French; to fight
against their beloved Emperor. Surely there is fine hearty virtue
in this, and pleasant child-like simplicity.
So that while the drama of Victor Hugo, Dumas, and the enlightened
classes, is profoundly immoral and absurd, the DRAMA of the common
people is absurd, if you will, but good and right-hearted. I have
made notes of one or two of these pieces, which all have good
feeling and kindness in them, and which turn, as the reader will
see, upon one or two favorite points of popular morality. A drama
that obtained a vast success at the Porte Saint Martin was "La
Duchesse de la Vauballière." The Duchess is the daughter of a poor
farmer, who was carried off in the first place, and then married by
M. le Duc de la Vauballière, a terrible roué, the farmer's
landlord, and the intimate friend of Philippe d'Orléans, the Regent
Now the Duke, in running away with the lady, intended to dispense
altogether with ceremony, and make of Julie anything but his wife;
but Georges, her father, and one Morisseau, a notary, discovered
him in his dastardly act, and pursued him to the very feet of the
Regent, who compelled the pair to marry and make it up.
Julie complies; but though she becomes a Duchess, her heart remains
faithful to her old flame, Adrian, the doctor; and she declares
that, beyond the ceremony, no sort of intimacy shall take place
between her husband and herself.
Then the Duke begins to treat her in the most ungentleman-like
manner: he abuses her in every possible way; he introduces improper
characters into her house; and, finally, becomes so disgusted with
her, that he determines to make away with her altogether.
For this purpose, he sends forth into the highways and seizes a
doctor, bidding him, on pain of death, to write a poisonous
prescription for Madame la Duchesse. She swallows the potion; and
O horror! the doctor turns out to be Dr. Adrian; whose woe may be
imagined, upon finding that he has been thus committing murder on
his true love!
Let not the reader, however, be alarmed as to the fate of the
heroine; no heroine of a tragedy ever yet died in the third act;
and, accordingly, the Duchess gets up perfectly well again in the
fourth, through the instrumentality of Morisseau, the good lawyer.
And now it is that vice begins to be really punished. The Duke,
who, after killing his wife, thinks it necessary to retreat, and
take refuge in Spain, is tracked to the borders of that country by
the virtuous notary, and there receives such a lesson as he will
never forget to his dying day.
Morisseau, in the first instance, produces a deed (signed by his
Holiness the Pope), which annuls the marriage of the Duke de la
Vauballière; then another deed, by which it is proved that he was
not the eldest son of old La Vauballière, the former Duke; then
another deed, by which he shows that old La Vauballière (who seems
to have been a disreputable old fellow) was a bigamist, and that,
in consequence, the present man, styling himself Duke, is
illegitimate; and finally, Morisseau brings forward another
document, which proves that the REG'LAR Duke is no other than
Adrian, the doctor!
Thus it is that love, law, and physic combined, triumph over the
horrid machinations of this star-and-gartered libertine.
"Hermann l'Ivrogne" is another piece of the same order; and though
not very refined, yet possesses considerable merit. As in the case
of the celebrated Captain Smith of Halifax, who "took to drinking
ratafia, and thought of poor Miss Bailey,"--a woman and the bottle
have been the cause of Hermann's ruin. Deserted by his mistress,
who has been seduced from him by a base Italian Count, Hermann, a
German artist, gives himself entirely up to liquor and revenge: but
when he finds that force, and not infidelity, have been the cause
of his mistress's ruin, the reader can fancy the indignant ferocity
with which he pursues the infame ravisseur. A scene, which is
really full of spirit, and excellently well acted, here ensues!
Hermann proposes to the Count, on the eve of their duel, that the
survivor should bind himself to espouse the unhappy Marie; but the
Count declares himself to be already married, and the student,
finding a duel impossible (for his object was to restore, at all
events, the honor of Marie), now only thinks of his revenge, and
murders the Count. Presently, two parties of men enter Hermann's
apartment: one is a company of students, who bring him the news
that he has obtained the prize of painting; the other the
policemen, who carry him to prison, to suffer the penalty of
I could mention many more plays in which the popular morality is
similiarly expressed. The seducer, or rascal of the piece, is
always an aristocrat,--a wicked count, or licentious marquis, who
is brought to condign punishment just before the fall of the
curtain. And too good reason have the French people had to lay
such crimes to the charge of the aristocracy, who are expiating
now, on the stage, the wrongs which they did a hundred years since.
The aristocracy is dead now; but the theatre lives upon traditions:
and don't let us be too scornful at such simple legends as are
handed down by the people from race to race. Vulgar prejudice
against the great it may be; but prejudice against the great is
only a rude expression of sympathy with the poor; long, therefore,
may fat épiciers blubber over mimic woes, and honest prolétaires
shake their fists, shouting--"Gredin, scélérat, monstre de
marquis!" and such republican cries.
Remark, too, another development of this same popular feeling of
dislike against men in power. What a number of plays and legends
have we (the writer has submitted to the public, in the preeeding
pages, a couple of specimens; one of French, and the other of
Polish origin,) in which that great and powerful aristocrat,
the Devil, is made to be miserably tricked, humiliated, and
disappointed? A play of this class, which, in the midst of all its
absurdities and claptraps, had much of good in it, was called "Le
Maudit des Mers." Le Maudit is a Dutch captain, who, in the midst
of a storm, while his crew were on their knees at prayers,
blasphemed and drank punch; but what was his astonishment at
beholding an archangel with a sword all covered with flaming resin,
who told him that as he, in this hour of danger, was too daring, or
too wicked, to utter a prayer, he never should cease roaming the
seas until he could find some being who would pray to heaven for
Once only, in a hundred years, was the skipper allowed to land for
this purpose; and this piece runs through four centuries, in as
many acts, describing the agonies and unavailing attempts of the
miserable Dutchman. Willing to go any lengths in order to obtain
his prayer, he, in the second act, betrays a Virgin of the Sun to a
follower of Pizarro: and, in the third, assassinates the heroic
William of Nassau; but ever before the dropping of the curtain, the
angel and sword make their appearance--"Treachery," says the
spirit, "cannot lessen thy punishment;--crime will not obtain thy
release--A la mer! à la mer!" and the poor devil returns to the
ocean, to be lonely, and tempest-tossed, and sea-sick for a hundred
But his woes are destined to end with the fourth act. Having
landed in America, where the peasants on the sea-shore, all dressed
in Italian costumes, are celebrating, in a quadrille, the victories
of Washington, he is there lucky enough to find a young girl to
pray for him. Then the curse is removed, the punishment is over,
and a celestial vessel, with angels on the decks and "sweet little
cherubs" fluttering about the shrouds and the poop, appear to
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