Honoré de Balzac.

Country parson (le curé de village) & Albert Savaron (De Savarus); online

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II. TASCHERON ......... $2




ALBERT SAVARON (De Savarui) 285









Drawn by D. Murray- Smith.


PERHAPS in no instance of Balzac's work is his singular
fancy for pulling that work about more remarkably instanced
and illustrated than in the case of " The Country Parson."
The double date, 1837-1845, which the author attached to it,
in his usual conscientious manner, to indicate these revisions,
has a greater signification than almost anywhere else. When
the book, or rather its constituent parts, first appeared in the
Presse for 1839, having been written the winter before, not
only was it very different in detail, but the order of the parts
was altogether dissimilar. Balzac here carried out his favorite
plan a plan followed by many other authors no doubt, but
always, as it seems to me, of questionable wisdom that of
beginning in the middle and then "throwing back" with a
long retrospective and explanatory digression.

In this version the story of Tascheron's crime and its pun-
ishment came first ; and it was not till after the execution
that the early history of Veronique (who gave her name to
this part as to a " Suite du Cure de Village ") was introduced.
This history ceased at the crisis of her life ; and when it was
taken up in a third part, called " Veronique au Tombeau," only
the present conclusion of the 'book, with her confession, was
given. The long account of her sojourn at Montegnac, of her
labors there, of the episode of Farrabesche, and so forth, did
not appear till 1841, when the whole book, with the in-
versions and insertions just indicated, appeared in such a
changed form that even the indefatigable M. de Lovenjoul
dismisses as "impossible" the idea of exhibiting a complete
picture of the various changes made. Nor was the author
even yet contented; for in 1845, before establishing it in its



place in the " Comedie," he not only, as was his wont, took out
the chapter-headings, leaving five divisions only, but intro-
duced other alterations, resulting in the present condition of
the book.

As the book stands it may be said to consist of three parts
united rather by identity of the personages who act in them
than by exact dramatic connection. There is, to take the
title-part first (though it is by no means the most really impor-
tant or pervading) the picture of "The Country Parson,"
which is almost an exact, and beyond doubt a designed, pen-
dant to that of " The Country Doctor." The Abbe Bonnet
indeed is not able to carry out economic ameliorations, as
Dr. Benassis is, personally, but by inducing Veronique to do
so he brings about the same result, and on an even larger
scale. His personal action (with the necessary changes for
his profession) is also tolerably identical, and on the whole
the two portraits may fairly be hung together as Balzac's ideal
representations of the good man in soul-curing and body-cur-
ing respectively. Both are largely conditioned by his eigh-
teenth century fancy for " playing Providence," and by his
delight in extensive financial-commercial schemes. But the
beauty of the portraiture of the " Cure " is nearly, if not quite
equal, to that of the doctor, though the institution of celibacy
has prevented Balzac from giving a key to the conduct of
Bonnet quite as sufficient as that which he furnished for the
conduct of Benassis.

The second part of the book is the crime episodic as re-
gards the criminal, cardinal as regards other points of Tas-
cheron. Balzac was very fond of "his crimes;" and it is
quite worth while in connection with his handling of the mur-
der here to study the curious story of his actual interference
in the famous Peytel case, which also interested Thackeray so
much in his Paris days. The Tascheron case itself (which
from a note appears to have been partly suggested by some
actual affair) no doubt has interests for those who like such


things, and the picture of the criminal in prison is very strik-
ing. But we see and know so very little of Tascheron him-
self, and even to the very last (which is long afterwards) we
are left so much in the dark as to his love for Veronique,
that the thing has an extraneous air. It is like a short story
foisted in.

This objection connects itself at once with a similar one to
the delineation of Veronique. There is nothing in her con-
duct intrinsically impossible, or even improbable. A girl of
her temperament, at once, as often happens, strongly sensual
and strongly devotional, deprived of her good looks by illness,
thrown into the arms of a husband physically repulsive, and
after a short time not troubling himself to be amiable in any
other way, might very well take refuge in the substantial, if
not ennobling, consolations offered by a good-looking and
amiable young fellow of the lower class. Her conduct at the
time of the crime (her exact complicity in which is, as we
have said, rather imperfectly indicated) is also fairly prob-
able, and to her repentance and amendment of life no excep-
tion can be taken. But only in this last stage do we really
see anything of the inside of Vdronique's nature; and even
then we do not see it completely. The author's silence on
the details of the actual liaison with Tascheron has its advan-
tages, but it also has its defects.

Still, the book is one of great attraction and interest, and
takes, if I may judge by my own experience, a high rank for
enchaining power among that class of Balzac's books which
cannot be put exactly highest. If the changes made in it by
its author have to some extent dislocated it as a whole, they
have resulted in very high excellence for almost all the parts.

As something has necessarily been said already about the
book-history of the " Country Parson," little remains but to
give exact dates and places of appearance. The Presse pub-
lished the (original) first part in December-January, 1838-39,
the original second (" Veronique ") six months later, and the


third ("Veronique au Tombeau") in August. All had
chapters and chapter-titles. As a book it was in its first com-
plete form published by Souverain in 1841, and was again
altered when it took rank in the " Comedie " six years later.

"Albert Savaron," with its enshrined story of "L'Ambi-
tieuxpar Amour" (something of an oddity for Balzac, who
often puts a story within a story, but less formally than this)
contains various appeals, and shows not a few of its author's
well-known interests in politics, in affairs, in newspapers, not
to mention the enumerations of dots and fortunes which he
never could refuse himself. The affection of Savaron for the
Duchesse d'Argaiolo may interest different persons differently.
It seems to me a little fade. But the character of Rosalie de
Watteville is in a very different rank. Here only, except,
perhaps, in the case of Mademoiselle de Verneuil, whose un-
lucky experiences had emancipated her, has Balzac depicted
a girl full of character, individuality, and life. It was appar-
ently necessary that Rosalie should be made not wholly amiable
in order to obtain this accession of wits and force, and to be
freed from the fatal gift of candeur, the curse of the French
ingenue. Her creator has also thought proper to punish her
further, and cruelly, at the end of the book. Nevertheless,
though her story may be less interesting than either of theirs,
it is impossible not to put her in a much higher rank as a
heroine than either Eugenie or Ursule, and not to wish that
Balzac had included the conception of her in a more impor-
tant structure of fiction.

Albert Savaron appeared in sixty headed chapters in the
Steclc for May and June, 1842, and then assumed its place in
the "Comedie." But though left there, it also formed part
of a two-volume issue by Souverain in 1844, in company with
"La Muse du Department." " Rosalie " was at first named

G. S.


(<? Cure de Village, .)


AT the lower end of Limoges, at the corner of the Rue de
la Vieille-Poste and the Rue de la Cite, there stood, some
thirty years back, an old-fashioned shop of the kind that
seems to have changed in nothing since the middle ages. The
great stone paving-slabs, riven with countless cracks, were laid
upon the earth ; the damp oozed up through them here and
there ; while the heights and hollows of this primitive floor-
ing would have tripped up those who were not careful to
observe them. Through the dust on the walls it was possible
to discern a sort of mosaic of timber and bricks, iron and
stone, a heterogeneous mass which owed its compact solidity
to time, and perhaps to chance. For more than two centu-
ries the huge rafters of the ceiling had bent without break-
ing beneath the weight of the upper stories, which were
constructed of wooden framework, protected from the weather
by slates arranged in a geometrical pattern ; altogether, it was
a quaint example of a burgess' house in olden times. Once
there had been carved figures on the wooden window-frame?,
but sun and rain had destroyed the ornaments, and the windows
themselves stood all awry; some bent outwards, some bent in,
yet others were minded to part company, and one and all
carried a little soil deposited (it would be hard to say how)
in crannies hollowed by the rain, where a few shy creeping
plants and thin weeds grew to break into meagre blossom


in the spring. Velvet mosses covered the roof and the

The pillar which supported the corner of the house, built
though it was of composite masonry, that is to say, partly
of stone, partly of brick and flints, was alarming to behold
by reason of its curvature ; it looked as though it must give
way some day beneath the weight of the superstructure whose
gable projected fully six inches. For which reason the local
authorities and the board of works bought the house and
pulled it down to widen the street. The venerable corner
pillar had its charms for lovers of old Limoges ; it carried a
pretty sculptured shrine and a mutilated image of the Virgin,
broken during the Revolution. Citizens of an archaeological
turn could discover traces of the stone sill meant to hold
candlesticks and to receive wax-tapers and flowers and votive
offerings of the pious.

Within the shop a wooden staircase at the further end gave
access to the two floors above and to the attics in the roof. The
house itself, packed in between two neighboring dwellings,
had little depth from back to front, and no light save from the
windows which gave upon . the street, the two rooms on each
floor having a window apiece, one looking out into the Rue
de la Vieille-Poste and the other into the Rue de la Cite. In
the middle ages no artisan was better housed. The old corner
shop must surely have belonged to some armorer or cutler,
or master of some craft which could be carried on in the
open air, for it was impossible for its inmates to see until
the heavily-ironed shutters were taken down and air as well
as light freely admitted. There were two doors (as is usually
the case where a shop faces into two streets), one on either
side the pillar. But for the interruption of the white thres-
hold stones, hollowed by the wear of centuries, the whole shop
front consisted of a low wall which rose to elbow height.
Along the top of this wall a groove had been contrived, and a
similar groove ran the length of the beam above, which sup-


ported the weight of the house wall. Into these grooves slid
the heavy shutters, secured by huge iron bolts and bars ; and
when the doorways had been made fast in like manner, the
artisan's workshop was as good as a fortress.

For the first twenty years of this present century the Lim-
ousins had been accustomed to see the interior filled up with
old iron and brass, cart-springs, tires, bells, and every sort of
metal from the demolition of houses ; but the curious in the
debris of the old town discovered, on a closer inspection, the
traces of a forge in the place and a long streak of soot, signs
which confirmed the guesses of archaeologists as to the original
purpose of the dwelling. On the second floor there was a liv-
ing room and a kitchen, two more rooms on the third, and an
attic in the roof, which was used as a warehouse for goods
more fragile than the hardware tumbled down pell-mell in the

The house had been first let and then sold to one Sauviat,
a hawker, who from 1792 till 1796 traveled in Auvergne for a
distance of fifty leagues round, bartering pots, plates, dishes,
and glasses, all the gear, in fact, needed by the poorest cot-
tagers, for old iron, brass, lead, and metal of every sort and
description. The Auvergnat would give a brown earthen pip-
kin worth a couple of sous for a pound weight of lead or a
couple of pounds of iron, a broken spade or hoe, or an old
cracked saucepan ; and was always judge in his own cause,
and gave his own weights. In three years' time Sauviat took
another trade in addition, and became a tinman.

In 1 793 he was able to buy a chateau put up for sale by the
nation. This he pulled down ; and doubtless repeated a pro-
fitable experiment at more than one point in his sphere of
operations. After a while these first essays of his gave him
an idea ; he suggested a piece of business on a large scale to
a fellow-countryman in Paris ; and so it befell that the Black
Band, so notorious for the havoc which it wrought among oid
buildings, was a sprout of old Sauviat's brain, the invention


of the hawker whom all Limoges had seen for seven-and-
twenty years in his tumble-down shop among his broken bells,
flails, chains, brackets, twisted leaden gutters, and heteroge-
neous old iron. In justice to Sauviat, it should be said that
he never knew how large and how notorious the association
became ; he only profited by it to the extent of the capital
which he invested with the famous firm of Brezac.

At last the Auvergnat grew tired of roaming from fair to
fair and place to place, and settled down in Limoges, where,
in 1797, he had married a wife, the motherless daughter of a
tinman, Champagnac by name. When the father-in-law died,
he bought the house in which he had, in a manner, localized
his trade in old iron, though for some three years after his
marriage he had still made his rounds, his wife accompanying
him. Sauviat had completed his fiftieth year when he married
old Champagnac' s daughter, and the bride herself was cer-
tainly thirty years old at the least. Champagnac's girl was
neither pretty nor blooming. She was born in Auvergne,
and the dialect was a mutual attraction ; she was, moreover,
of the heavy build which enables a woman to stand the
roughest work ; so she went with Sauviat on his rounds, car-
ried loads of lead and iron on her back, and drove the sorry
carrier's van full of the pottery on which her husband made
usurious profits, little as his customers imagined it. La Cham-
pagnac was sunburned and high-colored. She enjoyed rude
health, exhibiting when she laughed a row of teeth large and
white as blanched almonds, and, as to physique, possessed the
bust and hips of a woman destined by nature to be a mother.
Her prolonged spinsterhood was entirely due to her father ;
lie had not read Moliere, but he raised Harpagon's cry of
"Without portion!" scaring suitors. The ' Sans dot" did
not frighten Sauviat away ; he was not averse to receiving the
bride without a portion ; in the first place, a would-be bride-
groom of fifty ought not to raise difficulties ; and, in the sec-
ond, his wife saved him the expense pf a servant, He added


nothing to the furniture of his room. On his wedding-day it
contained a four-post bedstead hung with green serge curtains
and a valance with a scalloped edge ; a dresser, a chest of
drawers, four easy-chairs, a table, and a looking-glass, all
bought at different times and from different places ; and till
he left the old house for good, the list remained the same.
On the upper shelves of the dresser stood sundry pewter plates
and dishes, no two of them alike. After this description of
the bedroom, the kitchen may be left to the reader's imagina-

Neither husband nor wife could read, a slight defect of
education which did not prevent them from reckoning money
to admiration, nor from carrying on one of the most pros-
perous of all trades, for Sauviat never bought anything unless
he felt sure of making a hundred per cent, on the transaction,
and dispensed with bookkeeping and counting-house by carry-
ing on a ready-money business. He possessed, moreover, a
faculty of memory so perfect that an article might remain for
five years in his shop, and at the end of the time both he and
his wife could recollect the price they gave for it to a farthing,
together with the added interest for every year since the out-

Sauviat's wife, when she was not busy about the house,
always sat on a rickety wooden chair in her shop-door beside
the pillar, knitting, and watching the passers-by, keeping an
eye on the old iron, and selling, weighing, and delivering it
herself if Sauviat was out on one of his journeys. At day-
break you might hear the dealer in old iron taking down the
shutters, the dog was let loose into the street, and very soon
Sauviat's wife came down to help her husband to arrange their
wares. Against the low wall of the shop in the Rue de la
Cite and the Rue de la Vieille-Poste, they propped their
heterogeneous collection of broken gun-barrels, cart springs,
and harness bells all the gimcracks, in short, which served as
a trade sign and gave a sufficiently poverty-stricken look to a


shop which in reality often contained twenty thousand francs
worth of lead, steel, and bell metal. The retired hawker and
his wife never spoke of their money ; they hid it as a male-
factor conceals a crime, and for a long while were suspected
of clipping gold louis and silver crowns.

When old Champagnac died, the Sauviats made no inven-
tory. They searched every corner and cranny of the old
man's house with the quickness of rats, stripped it bare as a
corpse, and sold the tinware themselves in their own shop.
Once every year, when December came round, Sauviat would
go to Paris, traveling in a public conveyance ; from which
premises, observers in the quarter concluded that the dealer in
old iron saw to his investments in Paris himself, so that he
might keep the amount of his money a secret. It came out
in after years that as a lad Sauviat had known one of the most
celebrated metal merchants in Paris, a fellow-countryman
from Auvergne, and that Sauviat's savings were invested with
the prosperous firm of Brezac, the corner-stone of the famous
association of the Black Band, which was started, as has been
said, by-Sauviat's advice, and in which he held shares.

Sauviat was short and stout. He had a weary-looking face
and an honest expression, which attracted customers, and was
of no little use to him in the matter of sales. The dryness of
his affirmations, and the perfect indifference of his manner,
aided his pretensions. It was not easy to guess the color of
the skin beneath the black metallic grime which covered his
curly hair and countenance seamed with the smallpox. His
forehead was not without a certain nobility ; indeed, he
resembled the traditional type chosen by painters for Saint
Peter, the man of the people among the apostles, the roughest
among their number, and likewise the shrewdest ; Sauviat had
the hands of an indefatigable worker, rifted by ineffaceable
cracks, square-shaped, and coarse and large. The muscular
framework of his chest seemed indestructible. All through
his life he dressed like a hawker, wearing the thick iron-bound


shoes, the blue stockings which his wife knitted for him, the
leather gaiters, breeches of bottle-green velveteen, a coat wiiii
short skirts of the same material, and a flapped waistcoat,
where the copper key of a silver watch dangled from an iron
chain, worn by constant friction till it shone like polished
steel. Round his neck he wore a cotton handkerchief, frayed
by the constant rubbing of his beard. On Sundays and holi-
days he appeared in a maroon overcoat so carefully kept that
he bought a new one but twice in a score of years.

As for their manner of living, the convicts in the hulks
might be said to fare sumptuously in comparison ; it was a
day of high festival indeed when they ate meat. Before La
Sauviat could bring herself to part with the money needed
for their daily sustenance, she rummaged through the two
pockets under her skirt, and never drew forth coin that
was not clipped or light weight, eyeing the crowns of six livres
and fifty-sous pieces dolorously before she changed one of
them. The Sauviats contented themselves, for the most part,
with herrings, dried peas, cheese, hard-boiled eggs and salad,
and vegetables dressed in the cheapest way. They lived from
hand to mouth, laying in nothing except a bundle of garlic now
and again, or a rope of onions, which could not spoil, and
cost them a mere trifle. As for firewood, La Sauviat bought
the few sticks which they required in winter of the faggot-
sellers day by day. By seven o'clock in winter and nine in
summer the shutters were fastened, the master and mistress in
bed, and their huge dog, who picked up his living in the
kitchens of the quarter, on guard in the shop ; Mother Sau-
viat did not spend three francs a year on candles.

A joy came into their sober hard-working lives ; it was a
joy that came in the natural order of things, and caused the
only outlay which they had been known to make. In May,
1802, La Sauviat bore a daughter. No one was called in to her
assistance, and five days later she was stirring about her house
again. She nursed her child herself, sitting on the chair in


the doorway, selling her wares as usual, with the baby at her
breast. Her milk cost nothing, so tor two years she suckled
the little one, who was none the worse for it, for little Vero-
nique grew to be the prettiest child in the lower town, so
pretty indeed that passers-by would stop to look at her. The
neighbors saw in old Sauviat traces of a tenderness of which
they had believed him incapable. While the wife made the
dinner ready he used to rock the little one in his arms, croon-
ing the refrain of some Auvergnat song ; and the workmen
as they passed sometimes saw him sitting motionless, gazing
at little Veronique asleep on her mother's knee. His gruff
voice grew gentle for the child ; he would wipe his hands on
his trousers before taking her up. When Veronique was learn-
ing to walk, her father squatted on his heels four paces away,
holding out his arms to her, gleeful smiles puckering the deep
wrinkles on the harsh, stern face of bronze ; it seemed as if
the man of iron, brass, and lead had once more become flesh
and blood. As he stood leaning against the pillar motionless
as a statue, he would start at a cry from Veronique, and spring
over the iron to find her, for she spent her childhood in play-
ing about among the metallic spoils of old chateaux heaped
up in the recesses of the shop, and never hurt herself ; and if
she played in the street or with the neighbors' children, she
was never allowed out of her mother's sight.

It is worth while to add that the Sauviats were eminently
devout. Even when the Revolution was at its height Sauviat
kept Sundays and holidays punctually. Twice in those days
he had all but lost his head for going to hear mass said by a

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacCountry parson (le curé de village) & Albert Savaron (De Savarus); → online text (page 1 of 34)