Gustave Flaubert.

Sentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 2 online

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likewise was of his opinion that it was necessary to rally boldly to the
side of the Republic. And he talked about the husbandman, his father,
and assumed the part of the peasant, the man of the people. They soon
came to the question of the elections for the National Assembly, and the
candidates in the arrondissement of La Fortelle. The Opposition
candidate had no chance.

"You should take his place!" said M. Dambreuse.

Frederick protested.

"But why not?" For he would obtain the suffrages of the Extremists owing
to his personal opinions, and that of the Conservatives on account of
his family; "And perhaps also," added the banker, with a smile, "thanks
to my influence, in some measure."

Frederick urged as an obstacle that he did not know how to set about it.

There was nothing easier if he only got himself recommended to the
patriots of the Aube by one of the clubs of the capital. All he had to
do was to read out, not a profession of faith such as might be seen
every day, but a serious statement of principles.

"Bring it to me; I know what goes down in the locality; and you can, I
say again, render great services to the country - to us all - to myself."

In such times people ought to aid each other, and, if Frederick had need
of anything, he or his friends - -

"Oh, a thousand thanks, my dear Monsieur!"

"You'll do as much for me in return, mind!"

Decidedly, the banker was a decent man.

Frederick could not refrain from pondering over his advice; and soon he
was dazzled by a kind of dizziness.

The great figures of the Convention passed before his mental vision. It
seemed to him that a splendid dawn was about to rise. Rome, Vienna and
Berlin were in a state of insurrection, and the Austrians had been
driven out of Venice. All Europe was agitated. Now was the time to make
a plunge into the movement, and perhaps to accelerate it; and then he
was fascinated by the costume which it was said the deputies would
wear. Already he saw himself in a waistcoat with lapels and a
tricoloured sash; and this itching, this hallucination, became so
violent that he opened his mind to Dambreuse.

The honest fellow's enthusiasm had not abated.

"Certainly - sure enough! Offer yourself!"

Frederick, nevertheless, consulted Deslauriers.

The idiotic opposition which trammelled the commissioner in his province
had augmented his Liberalism. He at once replied, exhorting Frederick
with the utmost vehemence to come forward as a candidate. However, as
the latter was desirous of having the approval of a great number of
persons, he confided the thing to Rosanette one day, when Mademoiselle
Vatnaz happened to be present.

She was one of those Parisian spinsters who, every evening when they
have given their lessons or tried to sell little sketches, or to dispose
of poor manuscripts, return to their own homes with mud on their
petticoats, make their own dinner, which they eat by themselves, and
then, with their soles resting on a foot-warmer, by the light of a
filthy lamp, dream of a love, a family, a hearth, wealth - all that they
lack. So it was that, like many others, she had hailed in the Revolution
the advent of vengeance, and she delivered herself up to a Socialistic
propaganda of the most unbridled description.

The enfranchisement of the proletariat, according to the Vatnaz, was
only possible by the enfranchisement of woman. She wished to have her
own sex admitted to every kind of employment, to have an enquiry made
into the paternity of children, a different code, the abolition, or at
least a more intelligent regulation, of marriage. In that case every
Frenchwoman would be bound to marry a Frenchman, or to adopt an old
man. Nurses and midwives should be officials receiving salaries from the
State.

There should be a jury to examine the works of women, special editors
for women, a polytechnic school for women, a National Guard for women,
everything for women! And, since the Government ignored their rights,
they ought to overcome force by force. Ten thousand citizenesses with
good guns ought to make the Hôtel de Ville quake!

Frederick's candidature appeared to her favourable for carrying out her
ideas. She encouraged him, pointing out the glory that shone on the
horizon. Rosanette was delighted at the notion of having a man who would
make speeches at the Chamber.

"And then, perhaps, they'll give you a good place?"

Frederick, a man prone to every kind of weakness, was infected by the
universal mania. He wrote an address and went to show it to M.
Dambreuse.

At the sound made by the great door falling back, a curtain gaped open a
little behind a casement, and a woman appeared at it He had not time to
find out who she was; but, in the anteroom, a picture arrested his
attention - Pellerin's picture - which lay on a chair, no doubt
provisionally.

It represented the Republic, or Progress, or Civilisation, under the
form of Jesus Christ driving a locomotive, which was passing through a
virgin forest. Frederick, after a minute's contemplation, exclaimed:

"What a vile thing!"

"Is it not - eh?" said M. Dambreuse, coming in unexpectedly just at the
moment when the other was giving utterance to this opinion, and fancying
that it had reference, not so much to the picture as to the doctrine
glorified by the work. Martinon presented himself at the same time. They
made their way into the study, and Frederick was drawing a paper out of
his pocket, when Mademoiselle Cécile, entering suddenly, said,
articulating her words in an ingenuous fashion:

"Is my aunt here?"

"You know well she is not," replied the banker. "No matter! act as if
you were at home, Mademoiselle."

"Oh! thanks! I am going away!"

Scarcely had she left when Martinon seemed to be searching for his
handkerchief.

"I forgot to take it out of my great-coat - excuse me!"

"All right!" said M. Dambreuse.

Evidently he was not deceived by this manoeuvre, and even seemed to
regard it with favour. Why? But Martinon soon reappeared, and Frederick
began reading his address.

At the second page, which pointed towards the preponderance of the
financial interests as a disgraceful fact, the banker made a grimace.
Then, touching on reforms, Frederick demanded free trade.

"What? Allow me, now!"

The other paid no attention, and went on. He called for a tax on yearly
incomes, a progressive tax, a European federation, and the education of
the people, the encouragement of the fine arts on the liberal scale.

"When the country could provide men like Delacroix or Hugo with incomes
of a hundred thousand francs, where would be the harm?"

At the close of the address advice was given to the upper classes.

"Spare nothing, ye rich; but give! give!"

He stopped, and remained standing. The two who had been listening to him
did not utter a word. Martinon opened his eyes wide; M. Dambreuse was
quite pale. At last, concealing his emotion under a bitter smile:

"That address of yours is simply perfect!" And he praised the style
exceedingly in order to avoid giving his opinion as to the matter of the
address.

This virulence on the part of an inoffensive young man frightened him,
especially as a sign of the times.

Martinon tried to reassure him. The Conservative party, in a little
while, would certainly be able to take its revenge. In several cities
the commissioners of the provisional government had been driven away;
the elections were not to occur till the twenty-third of April; there
was plenty of time. In short, it was necessary for M. Dambreuse to
present himself personally in the Aube; and from that time forth,
Martinon no longer left his side, became his secretary, and was as
attentive to him as any son could be.

Frederick arrived at Rosanette's house in a very self-complacent mood.
Delmar happened to be there, and told him of his intention to stand as a
candidate at the Seine elections. In a placard addressed to the people,
in which he addressed them in the familiar manner which one adopts
towards an individual, the actor boasted of being able to understand
them, and of having, in order to save them, got himself "crucified for
the sake of art," so that he was the incarnation, the ideal of the
popular spirit, believing that he had, in fact, such enormous power over
the masses that he proposed by-and-by, when he occupied a ministerial
office, to quell any outbreak by himself alone; and, with regard to the
means he would employ, he gave this answer: "Never fear! I'll show them
my head!"

Frederick, in order to mortify him, gave him to understand that he was
himself a candidate. The mummer, from the moment that his future
colleague aspired to represent the province, declared himself his
servant, and offered to be his guide to the various clubs.

They visited them, or nearly all, the red and the blue, the furious and
the tranquil, the puritanical and the licentious, the mystical and the
intemperate, those that had voted for the death of kings, and those in
which the frauds in the grocery trade had been denounced; and everywhere
the tenants cursed the landlords; the blouse was full of spite against
broadcloth; and the rich conspired against the poor. Many wanted
indemnities on the ground that they had formerly been martyrs of the
police; others appealed for money in order to carry out certain
inventions, or else there were plans of phalansteria, projects for
cantonal bazaars, systems of public felicity; then, here and there a
flash of genius amid these clouds of folly, sudden as splashes, the law
formulated by an oath, and flowers of eloquence on the lips of some
soldier-boy, with a shoulder-belt strapped over his bare, shirtless
chest. Sometimes, too, a gentleman made his appearance - an aristocrat of
humble demeanour, talking in a plebeian strain, and with his hands
unwashed, so as to make them look hard. A patriot recognised him; the
most virtuous mobbed him; and he went off with rage in his soul. On the
pretext of good sense, it was desirable to be always disparaging the
advocates, and to make use as often as possible of these expressions:
"To carry his stone to the building," "social problem," "workshop."

Delmar did not miss the opportunities afforded him for getting in a
word; and when he no longer found anything to say, his device was to
plant himself in some conspicuous position with one of his arms akimbo
and the other in his waistcoat, turning himself round abruptly in
profile, so as to give a good view of his head. Then there were
outbursts of applause, which came from Mademoiselle Vatnaz at the lower
end of the hall.

Frederick, in spite of the weakness of orators, did not dare to try the
experiment of speaking. All those people seemed to him too unpolished or
too hostile.

But Dussardier made enquiries, and informed him that there existed in
the Rue Saint-Jacques a club which bore the name of the "Club of
Intellect." Such a name gave good reason for hope. Besides, he would
bring some friends there.

He brought those whom he had invited to take punch with him - the
bookkeeper, the traveller in wines, and the architect; even Pellerin had
offered to come, and Hussonnet would probably form one of the party, and
on the footpath before the door stood Regimbart, with two individuals,
the first of whom was his faithful Compain, a rather thick-set man
marked with small-pox and with bloodshot eyes; and the second, an
ape-like negro, exceedingly hairy, and whom he knew only in the
character of "a patriot from Barcelona."

They passed though a passage, and were then introduced into a large
room, no doubt used by a joiner, and with walls still fresh and
smelling of plaster. Four argand lamps were hanging parallel to each
other, and shed an unpleasant light. On a platform, at the end of the
room, there was a desk with a bell; underneath it a table, representing
the rostrum, and on each side two others, somewhat lower, for the
secretaries. The audience that adorned the benches consisted of old
painters of daubs, ushers, and literary men who could not get their
works published.

In the midst of those lines of paletots with greasy collars could be
seen here and there a woman's cap or a workman's linen smock. The bottom
of the apartment was even full of workmen, who had in all likelihood
come there to pass away an idle hour, and who had been introduced by
some speakers in order that they might applaud.

Frederick took care to place himself between Dussardier and Regimbart,
who was scarcely seated when he leaned both hands on his walking-stick
and his chin on his hands and shut his eyes, whilst at the other end of
the room Delmar stood looking down at the assembly. Sénécal appeared at
the president's desk.

The worthy bookkeeper thought Frederick would be pleased at this
unexpected discovery. It only annoyed him.

The meeting exhibited great respect for the president. He was one who,
on the twenty-fifth of February, had desired an immediate organisation
of labour. On the following day, at the Prado, he had declared himself
in favour attacking the Hôtel de Ville; and, as every person at that
period took some model for imitation, one copied Saint-Just, another
Danton, another Marat; as for him, he tried to be like Blanqui, who
imitated Robespierre. His black gloves, and his hair brushed back, gave
him a rigid aspect exceedingly becoming.

He opened the proceedings with the declaration of the Rights of Man and
of the Citizen - a customary act of faith. Then, a vigorous voice struck
up Béranger's "Souvenirs du Peuple."

Other voices were raised:

"No! no! not that!"

"'La Casquette!'" the patriots at the bottom of the apartment began to
howl.

And they sang in chorus the favourite lines of the period:

"Doff your hat before my cap -
Kneel before the working-man!"

At a word from the president the audience became silent.

One of the secretaries proceeded to inspect the letters.

Some young men announced that they burned a number of the _Assemblée
Nationale_ every evening in front of the Panthéon, and they urged on all
patriots to follow their example.

"Bravo! adopted!" responded the audience.

The Citizen Jean Jacques Langreneux, a printer in the Rue Dauphin, would
like to have a monument raised to the memory of the martyrs of
Thermidor.

Michel Evariste Népomucène, ex-professor, gave expression to the wish
that the European democracy should adopt unity of language. A dead
language might be used for that purpose - as, for example, improved
Latin.

"No; no Latin!" exclaimed the architect.

"Why?" said the college-usher.

And these two gentlemen engaged in a discussion, in which the others
also took part, each putting in a word of his own for effect; and the
conversation on this topic soon became so tedious that many went away.
But a little old man, who wore at the top of his prodigiously high
forehead a pair of green spectacles, asked permission to speak in order
to make an important communication.

It was a memorandum on the assessment of taxes. The figures flowed on in
a continuous stream, as if they were never going to end. The impatience
of the audience found vent at first in murmurs, in whispered talk. He
allowed nothing to put him out. Then they began hissing; they catcalled
him. Sénécal called the persons who were interrupting to order. The
orator went on like a machine. It was necessary to catch him by the
shoulder in order to stop him. The old fellow looked as if he were
waking out of a dream, and, placidly lifting his spectacles, said:

"Pardon me, citizens! pardon me! I am going - a thousand excuses!"

Frederick was disconcerted with the failure of the old man's attempts to
read this written statement. He had his own address in his pocket, but
an extemporaneous speech would have been preferable.

Finally the president announced that they were about to pass on to the
important matter, the electoral question. They would not discuss the big
Republican lists. However, the "Club of Intellect" had every right, like
every other, to form one, "with all respect for the pachas of the Hôtel
de Ville," and the citizens who solicited the popular mandate might set
forth their claims.

"Go on, now!" said Dussardier.

A man in a cassock, with woolly hair and a petulant expression on his
face, had already raised his hand. He said, with a stutter, that his
name was Ducretot, priest and agriculturist, and that he was the author
of a work entitled "Manures." He was told to send it to a horticultural
club.

Then a patriot in a blouse climbed up into the rostrum. He was a
plebeian, with broad shoulders, a big face, very mild-looking, with long
black hair. He cast on the assembly an almost voluptuous glance, flung
back his head, and, finally, spreading out his arms:

"You have repelled Ducretot, O my brothers! and you have done right; but
it was not through irreligion, for we are all religious."

Many of those present listened open-mouthed, with the air of catechumens
and in ecstatic attitudes.

"It is not either because he is a priest, for we, too, are priests! The
workman is a priest, just as the founder of Socialism was - the Master of
us all, Jesus Christ!"

The time had arrived to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. The Gospel led
directly to '89. After the abolition of slavery, the abolition of the
proletariat. They had had the age of hate - the age of love was about to
begin.

"Christianity is the keystone and the foundation of the new edifice - - "

"You are making game of us?" exclaimed the traveller in wines. "Who has
given me such a priest's cap?"

This interruption gave great offence. Nearly all the audience got on
benches, and, shaking their fists, shouted: "Atheist! aristocrat! low
rascal!" whilst the president's bell kept ringing continuously, and the
cries of "Order! order!" redoubled. But, aimless, and, moreover,
fortified by three cups of coffee which he had swallowed before coming
to the meeting, he struggled in the midst of the others:

"What? I an aristocrat? Come, now!"

When, at length, he was permitted to give an explanation, he declared
that he would never be at peace with the priests; and, since something
had just been said about economical measures, it would be a splendid one
to put an end to the churches, the sacred pyxes, and finally all creeds.

Somebody raised the objection that he was going very far.

"Yes! I am going very far! But, when a vessel is caught suddenly in a
storm - - "

Without waiting for the conclusion of this simile, another made a reply
to his observation:

"Granted! But this is to demolish at a single stroke, like a mason
devoid of judgment - - "

"You are insulting the masons!" yelled a citizen covered with plaster.
And persisting in the belief that provocation had been offered to him,
he vomited forth insults, and wished to fight, clinging tightly to the
bench whereon he sat. It took no less than three men to put him out.

Meanwhile the workman still remained on the rostrum. The two secretaries
gave him an intimation that he should come down. He protested against
the injustice done to him.

"You shall not prevent me from crying out, 'Eternal love to our dear
France! eternal love all to the Republic!'"

"Citizens!" said Compain, after this - "Citizens!"

And, by dint of repeating "Citizens," having obtained a little silence,
he leaned on the rostrum with his two red hands, which looked like
stumps, bent forward his body, and blinking his eyes:

"I believe that it would be necessary to give a larger extension to the
calf's head."

All who heard him kept silent, fancying that they had misunderstood his
words.

"Yes! the calf's head!"

Three hundred laughs burst forth at the same time. The ceiling shook.

At the sight of all these faces convulsed with mirth, Compain shrank
back. He continued in an angry tone:

"What! you don't know what the calf's head is!"

It was a paroxysm, a delirium. They held their sides. Some of them even
tumbled off the benches to the ground with convulsions of laughter.
Compain, not being able to stand it any longer, took refuge beside
Regimbart, and wanted to drag him away.

"No! I am remaining till 'tis all over!" said the Citizen.

This reply caused Frederick to make up his mind; and, as he looked about
to the right and the left to see whether his friends were prepared to
support him, he saw Pellerin on the rostrum in front of him.

The artist assumed a haughty tone in addressing the meeting.

"I would like to get some notion as to who is the candidate amongst all
these that represents art. For my part, I have painted a picture."

"We have nothing to do with painting pictures!" was the churlish remark
of a thin man with red spots on his cheek-bones.

Pellerin protested against this interruption.

But the other, in a tragic tone:

"Ought not the Government to make an ordinance abolishing prostitution
and want?"

And this phrase having at once won to his side the popular favour, he
thundered against the corruption of great cities.

"Shame and infamy! We ought to catch hold of wealthy citizens on their
way out of the Maison d'Or and spit in their faces - unless it be that
the Government countenances debauchery! But the collectors of the city
dues exhibit towards our daughters and our sisters an amount of
indecency - - "

A voice exclaimed, some distance away:

"This is blackguard language! Turn him out!"

"They extract taxes from us to pay for licentiousness! Thus, the high
salaries paid to actors - - "

"Help!" cried Pellerin.

He leaped from the rostrum, pushed everybody aside, and declaring that
he regarded such stupid accusations with disgust, expatiated on the
civilising mission of the player. Inasmuch as the theatre was the focus
of national education, he would record his vote for the reform of the
theatre; and to begin with, no more managements, no more privileges!

"Yes; of any sort!"

The actor's performance excited the audience, and people moved backwards
and forwards knocking each other down.

"No more academies! No more institutes!"

"No missions!"

"No more bachelorships! Down with University degrees!"

"Let us preserve them," said Sénécal; "but let them be conferred by
universal suffrage, by the people, the only true judge!"

Besides, these things were not the most useful. It was necessary to take
a level which would be above the heads of the wealthy. And he
represented them as gorging themselves with crimes under their gilded
ceilings; while the poor, writhing in their garrets with famine,
cultivated every virtue. The applause became so vehement that he
interrupted his discourse. For several minutes he remained with his eyes
closed, his head thrown back, and, as it were, lulling himself to sleep
over the fury which he had aroused.

Then he began to talk in a dogmatic fashion, in phrases as imperious as
laws. The State should take possession of the banks and of the insurance
offices. Inheritances should be abolished. A social fund should be
established for the workers. Many other measures were desirable in the
future. For the time being, these would suffice, and, returning to the
question of the elections: "We want pure citizens, men entirely fresh.
Let some one offer himself."

Frederick arose. There was a buzz of approval made by his friends. But
Sénécal, assuming the attitude of a Fouquier-Tinville, began to ask
questions as to his Christian name and surname, his antecedents, life,
and morals.

Frederick answered succinctly, and bit his lips. Sénécal asked whether
anyone saw any impediment to this candidature.

"No! no!"

But, for his part, he saw some. All around him bent forward and strained
their ears to listen. The citizen who was seeking for their support had
not delivered a certain sum promised by him for the foundation of a
democratic journal. Moreover, on the twenty-second of February, though
he had had sufficient notice on the subject, he had failed to be at the
meeting-place in the Place de Panthéon.

"I swear that he was at the Tuileries!" exclaimed Dussardier.

"Can you swear to having seen him at the Panthéon?"

Dussardier hung down his head. Frederick was silent. His friends,
scandalised, regarded him with disquietude.

"In any case," Sénécal went on, "do you know a patriot who will answer
to us for your principles?"

"I will!" said Dussardier.

"Oh! this is not enough; another!"

Frederick turned round to Pellerin. The artist replied to him with a
great number of gestures, which meant:

"Ah! my dear boy, they have rejected myself! The deuce! What would you
have?"

Thereupon Frederick gave Regimbart a nudge.


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Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSentimental Education; Or, The History of a Young Man. Volume 2 → online text (page 9 of 21)