Honoré de Balzac.

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Produced by John Bickers, and Dagny




By Honore De Balzac


I have sometimes wondered whether it was accident or intention which
made Balzac so frequently combine early and late work in the same
volume. The question is certainly insoluble, and perhaps not worth
solving, but it presents itself once more in the present instance.
_L'Illustre Gaudissart_ is a story of 1832, the very heyday of Balzac's
creative period, when even his pen could hardly keep up with
the abundance of his fancy and the gathered stores of his minute
observation. _La Muse du Departement_ dates ten years and more later,
when, though there was plenty of both left, both sacks had been deeply
dipped into.

_L'Illustre Gaudissart_ is, of course, slight, not merely in bulk, but
in conception. Balzac's Tourangeau patriotism may have amused itself by
the idea of the villagers "rolling" the great Gaudissart; but the ending
of the tale can hardly be thought to be quite so good as the beginning.
Still, that beginning is altogether excellent. The sketch of the
_commis-voyageur_ generally smacks of that _physiologie_ style of which
Balzac was so fond; but it is good, and Gaudissart himself, as well as
the whole scene with his _epouse libre_, is delightful. The Illustrious
One was evidently a favorite character with his creator. He nowhere
plays a very great part; but it is everywhere a rather favorable
and, except in this little mishap with Margaritis (which, it must
be observed, does not turn entirely to his discomfiture), a rather
successful part. We have him in _Cesar Birotteau_ superintending the
early efforts of Popinot to launch the Huile Cephalique. He was present
at the great ball. He served as intermediary to M. de Bauvan in the
merciful scheme of buying at fancy prices the handiwork of the Count's
faithful spouse, and so providing her with a livelihood; and later as
a theatrical manager, a little spoilt by his profession, we find him
in _Le Cousin Pons_. But he is always what the French called "a good
devil," and here he is a very good devil indeed.

Although _La Muse du Departement_ is an important work, it cannot be
spoken of in quite unhesitating terms. It contains, indeed, in the
personage of Lousteau, one of the very most elaborate of Balzac's
portraits of a particular type of men of letters. The original is said
to have been Jules Janin, who is somewhat disadvantageously contrasted
here and elsewhere with Claude Vignon, said on the same rather vague
authority to be Gustave Planche. Both Janin and Planche are now too much
forgotten, but in both more or less (and in Lousteau very much "more")
Balzac cannot be said to have dealt mildly with his _bete noire_,
the critical temperament. Lousteau, indeed, though not precisely a
scoundrel, is both a rascal and a cad. Even Balzac seems a little
shocked at his _lettre de faire part_ in reference to his mistress'
child; and it is seldom possible to discern in any of his proceedings
the most remote approximation to the conduct of a gentleman. But then,
as we have seen, and shall see, Balzac's standard for the conduct of
his actual gentlemen was by no means fantastically exquisite
or discouragingly high, and in the case of his Bohemians it was
accommodating to the utmost degree. He seems to despise Lousteau, but
rather for his insouciance and neglect of his opportunities of making
himself a position than for anything else.

I have often felt disposed to ask those who would assert Balzac's
absolute infallibility as a gynaecologist to give me a reasoned
criticism of the heroine of this novel. I do not entirely "figure to
myself" Dinah de la Baudraye. It is perfectly possible that she should
have loved a "sweep" like Lousteau, there is certainly nothing extremely
unusual in a woman loving worse sweeps even than he. But would she have
done it, and having done it, have also done what she did afterwards?
These questions may be answered differently; I do not answer them in the
negative myself, but I cannot give them an affirmative answer with the
conviction which I should like to show.

Among the minor characters, the _substitut_ de Clagny has a touch of
nobility which contrasts happily enough with Lousteau's unworthiness.
Bianchon is as good as usual; Balzac always gives Bianchon a favorable
part. Madame Piedefer is one of the numerous instances in which the
unfortunate class of mothers-in-law atones for what are supposed to
be its crimes against the human race; and old La Baudraye, not so
hopelessly repulsive in a French as he would be in an English novel, is
a shrewd old rascal enough.

But I cannot think the scene of the Parisians _blaguing_ the Sancerrois
is a very happy one. That it is in exceedingly bad taste might not
matter so very much; Balzac would reply, and justly, that he had not
intended to represent it as anything else. That the fun is not very
funny may be a matter of definition and appreciation. But what scarcely
admits of denial or discussion is that it is tyrannously too long. The
citations of _Olympia_ are pushed beyond measure, beyond what is comic,
almost beyond the license of farce; and the comments, which remind one
rather of the heavy jesting on critics in _Un Prince de la Boheme_ and
the short-lived _Revue Parisienne_, are labored to the last degree. The
part of Nathan, too, is difficult to appreciate exactly, and altogether
the book does not seem to me a _reussite_.

The history of _L'Illustre Gaudissart_ is, for a story of Balzac's,
almost null. It was inserted without any previous newspaper appearance
in the first edition of _Scenes de la Vie de Province_ in 1833, and
entered with the rest of them into the first edition also of the
_Comedie_, when the joint title, which it has kept since and shared with
_La Muse du Departement_, of _Les Parisiens en Province_ was given to

_La Muse du Departement_ has a rather more complicated record than its
companion piece in _Les Parisiens en Province_, _L'Illustre Gaudissart_.
It appeared at first, not quite complete and under the title of _Dinah
Piedefer_, in _Le Messager_ during March and April 1843, and was almost
immediately published as a book, with works of other writers, under the
general title of _Les Mysteres de Province_, and accompanied by some
other work of its own author's. It had four parts and fifty-two chapters
in _Le Messager_, an arrangement which was but slightly altered in the
volume form. M. de Lovenjoul gives some curious indications of mosaic
work in it, and some fragments which do not now appear in the text.

George Saintsbury


Translated By Katharine Prescott Wormeley


To Madame la Duchesse de Castries.


The commercial traveller, a personage unknown to antiquity, is one of
the striking figures created by the manners and customs of our present
epoch. May he not, in some conceivable order of things, be destined to
mark for coming philosophers the great transition which welds a period
of material enterprise to the period of intellectual strength? Our
century will bind the realm of isolated power, abounding as it does
in creative genius, to the realm of universal but levelling might;
equalizing all products, spreading them broadcast among the masses, and
being itself controlled by the principle of unity, - the final expression
of all societies. Do we not find the dead level of barbarism succeeding
the saturnalia of popular thought and the last struggles of those
civilizations which accumulated the treasures of the world in one

The commercial traveller! Is he not to the realm of ideas what our
stage-coaches are to men and things? He is their vehicle; he sets them
going, carries them along, rubs them up with one another. He takes from
the luminous centre a handful of light, and scatters it broadcast among
the drowsy populations of the duller regions. This human pyrotechnic is
a scholar without learning, a juggler hoaxed by himself, an unbelieving
priest of mysteries and dogmas, which he expounds all the better for his
want of faith. Curious being! He has seen everything, known everything,
and is up in all the ways of the world. Soaked in the vices of Paris, he
affects to be the fellow-well-met of the provinces. He is the link which
connects the village with the capital; though essentially he is neither
Parisian nor provincial, - he is a traveller. He sees nothing to the
core: men and places he knows by their names; as for things, he looks
merely at their surface, and he has his own little tape-line with which
to measure them. His glance shoots over all things and penetrates none.
He occupies himself with a great deal, yet nothing occupies him.

Jester and jolly fellow, he keeps on good terms with all political
opinions, and is patriotic to the bottom of his soul. A capital mimic,
he knows how to put on, turn and turn about, the smiles of persuasion,
satisfaction, and good-nature, or drop them for the normal expression of
his natural man. He is compelled to be an observer of a certain sort in
the interests of his trade. He must probe men with a glance and guess
their habits, wants, and above all their solvency. To economize time he
must come to quick decisions as to his chances of success, - a practice
that makes him more or less a man of judgment; on the strength of which
he sets up as a judge of theatres, and discourses about those of Paris
and the provinces.

He knows all the good and bad haunts in France, "de actu et visu." He
can pilot you, on occasion, to vice or virtue with equal assurance.
Blest with the eloquence of a hot-water spigot turned on at will, he can
check or let run, without floundering, the collection of phrases which
he keeps on tap, and which produce upon his victims the effect of a
moral shower-bath. Loquacious as a cricket, he smokes, drinks, wears a
profusion of trinkets, overawes the common people, passes for a lord
in the villages, and never permits himself to be "stumped," - a slang
expression all his own. He knows how to slap his pockets at the right
time, and make his money jingle if he thinks the servants of the
second-class houses which he wants to enter (always eminently
suspicious) are likely to take him for a thief. Activity is not the
least surprising quality of this human machine. Not the hawk swooping
upon its prey, not the stag doubling before the huntsman and the hounds,
nor the hounds themselves catching scent of the game, can be compared
with him for the rapidity of his dart when he spies a "commission," for
the agility with which he trips up a rival and gets ahead of him, for
the keenness of his scent as he noses a customer and discovers the sport
where he can get off his wares.

How many great qualities must such a man possess! You will find in all
countries many such diplomats of low degree; consummate negotiators
arguing in the interests of calico, jewels, frippery, wines; and often
displaying more true diplomacy than ambassadors themselves, who, for
the most part, know only the forms of it. No one in France can doubt the
powers of the commercial traveller; that intrepid soul who dares all,
and boldly brings the genius of civilization and the modern inventions
of Paris into a struggle with the plain commonsense of remote villages,
and the ignorant and boorish treadmill of provincial ways. Can we ever
forget the skilful manoeuvres by which he worms himself into the minds
of the populace, bringing a volume of words to bear upon the refractory,
reminding us of the indefatigable worker in marbles whose file eats
slowly into a block of porphyry? Would you seek to know the utmost power
of language, or the strongest pressure that a phrase can bring to bear
against rebellious lucre, against the miserly proprietor squatting
in the recesses of his country lair? - listen to one of these great
ambassadors of Parisian industry as he revolves and works and sucks like
an intelligent piston of the steam-engine called Speculation.

"Monsieur," said a wise political economist, the
director-cashier-manager and secretary-general of a celebrated
fire-insurance company, "out of every five hundred thousand francs of
policies to be renewed in the provinces, not more than fifty thousand
are paid up voluntarily. The other four hundred and fifty thousand are
got in by the activity of our agents, who go about among those who are
in arrears and worry them with stories of horrible incendiaries until
they are driven to sign the new policies. Thus you see that eloquence,
the labial flux, is nine tenths of the ways and means of our business."

To talk, to make people listen to you, - that is seduction in itself.
A nation that has two Chambers, a woman who lends both ears, are soon
lost. Eve and her serpent are the everlasting myth of an hourly fact
which began, and may end, with the world itself.

"A conversation of two hours ought to capture your man," said a retired

Let us walk round the commercial traveller, and look at him well. Don't
forget his overcoat, olive green, nor his cloak with its morocco collar,
nor the striped blue cotton shirt. In this queer figure - so original
that we cannot rub it out - how many divers personalities we come across!
In the first place, what an acrobat, what a circus, what a battery,
all in one, is the man himself, his vocation, and his tongue! Intrepid
mariner, he plunges in, armed with a few phrases, to catch five or six
thousand francs in the frozen seas, in the domain of the red Indians
who inhabit the interior of France. The provincial fish will not rise
to harpoons and torches; it can only be taken with seines and nets and
gentlest persuasions. The traveller's business is to extract the gold
in country caches by a purely intellectual operation, and to extract
it pleasantly and without pain. Can you think without a shudder of the
flood of phrases which, day by day, renewed each dawn, leaps in cascades
the length and breadth of sunny France?

You know the species; let us now take a look at the individual.

There lives in Paris an incomparable commercial traveller, the
paragon of his race, a man who possesses in the highest degree all the
qualifications necessary to the nature of his success. His speech is
vitriol and likewise glue, - glue to catch and entangle his victim and
make him sticky and easy to grip; vitriol to dissolve hard heads, close
fists, and closer calculations. His line was once the HAT; but his
talents and the art with which he snared the wariest provincial had
brought him such commercial celebrity that all vendors of the "article
Paris"[*] paid court to him, and humbly begged that he would deign to
take their commissions.

[*] "Article Paris" means anything - especially articles of wearing
apparel - which originates or is made in Paris. The name is
supposed to give to the thing a special value in the provinces.

Thus, when he returned to Paris in the intervals of his triumphant
progress through France, he lived a life of perpetual festivity in
the shape of weddings and suppers. When he was in the provinces, the
correspondents in the smaller towns made much of him; in Paris, the
great houses feted and caressed him. Welcomed, flattered, and fed
wherever he went, it came to pass that to breakfast or to dine alone was
a novelty, an event. He lived the life of a sovereign, or, better still,
of a journalist; in fact, he was the perambulating "feuilleton" of
Parisian commerce.

His name was Gaudissart; and his renown, his vogue, the flatteries
showered upon him, were such as to win for him the surname of
Illustrious. Wherever the fellow went, - behind a counter or before a
bar, into a salon or to the top of a stage-coach, up to a garret or to
dine with a banker, - every one said, the moment they saw him, "Ah! here
comes the illustrious Gaudissart!"[*] No name was ever so in keeping
with the style, the manners, the countenance, the voice, the language,
of any man. All things smiled upon our traveller, and the traveller
smiled back in return. "Similia similibus," - he believed in homoeopathy.
Puns, horse-laugh, monkish face, skin of a friar, true Rabelaisian
exterior, clothing, body, mind, and features, all pulled together to put
a devil-may-care jollity into every inch of his person. Free-handed and
easy-going, he might be recognized at once as the favorite of grisettes,
the man who jumps lightly to the top of a stage-coach, gives a hand to
the timid lady who fears to step down, jokes with the postillion about
his neckerchief and contrives to sell him a cap, smiles at the maid and
catches her round the waist or by the heart; gurgles at dinner like a
bottle of wine and pretends to draw the cork by sounding a filip on his
distended cheek; plays a tune with his knife on the champagne glasses
without breaking them, and says to the company, "Let me see you do
THAT"; chaffs the timid traveller, contradicts the knowing one, lords it
over a dinner-table and manages to get the titbits for himself. A strong
fellow, nevertheless, he can throw aside all this nonsense and mean
business when he flings away the stump of his cigar and says, with a
glance at some town, "I'll go and see what those people have got in
their stomachs."

[*] "Se gaudir," to enjoy, to make fun. "Gaudriole," gay discourse,
rather free. - Littre.

When buckled down to his work he became the slyest and cleverest of
diplomats. All things to all men, he knew how to accost a banker like a
capitalist, a magistrate like a functionary, a royalist with pious and
monarchical sentiments, a bourgeois as one of themselves. In short,
wherever he was he was just what he ought to be; he left Gaudissart at
the door when he went in, and picked him up when he came out.

Until 1830 the illustrious Gaudissart was faithful to the article Paris.
In his close relation to the caprices of humanity, the varied paths of
commerce had enabled him to observe the windings of the heart of man. He
had learned the secret of persuasive eloquence, the knack of loosening
the tightest purse-strings, the art of rousing desire in the souls of
husbands, wives, children, and servants; and what is more, he knew
how to satisfy it. No one had greater faculty than he for inveigling
a merchant by the charms of a bargain, and disappearing at the instant
when desire had reached its crisis. Full of gratitude to the hat-making
trade, he always declared that it was his efforts in behalf of the
exterior of the human head which had enabled him to understand its
interior: he had capped and crowned so many people, he was always
flinging himself at their heads, etc. His jokes about hats and heads
were irrepressible, though perhaps not dazzling.

Nevertheless, after August and October, 1830, he abandoned the hat
trade and the article Paris, and tore himself from things mechanical and
visible to mount into the higher spheres of Parisian speculation. "He
forsook," to use his own words, "matter for mind; manufactured products
for the infinitely purer elaborations of human intelligence." This
requires some explanation.

The general upset of 1830 brought to birth, as everybody knows, a number
of old ideas which clever speculators tried to pass off in new bodies.
After 1830 ideas became property. A writer, too wise to publish
his writings, once remarked that "more ideas are stolen than
pocket-handkerchiefs." Perhaps in course of time we may have an Exchange
for thought; in fact, even now ideas, good or bad, have their consols,
are bought up, imported, exported, sold, and quoted like stocks. If
ideas are not on hand ready for sale, speculators try to pass off words
in their stead, and actually live upon them as a bird lives on the seeds
of his millet. Pray do not laugh; a word is worth quite as much as an
idea in a land where the ticket on a sack is of more importance than the
contents. Have we not seen libraries working off the word "picturesque"
when literature would have cut the throat of the word "fantastic"?
Fiscal genius has guessed the proper tax on intellect; it has accurately
estimated the profits of advertising; it has registered a prospectus of
the quantity and exact value of the property, weighing its thought at
the intellectual Stamp Office in the Rue de la Paix.

Having become an article of commerce, intellect and all its products
must naturally obey the laws which bind other manufacturing interests.
Thus it often happens that ideas, conceived in their cups by certain
apparently idle Parisians, - who nevertheless fight many a moral battle
over their champagne and their pheasants, - are handed down at their
birth from the brain to the commercial travellers who are employed to
spread them discreetly, "urbi et orbi," through Paris and the provinces,
seasoned with the fried pork of advertisement and prospectus, by means
of which they catch in their rat-trap the departmental rodent commonly
called subscriber, sometimes stockholder, occasionally corresponding
member or patron, but invariably fool.

"I am a fool!" many a poor country proprietor has said when, caught by
the prospect of being the first to launch a new idea, he finds that he
has, in point of fact, launched his thousand or twelve hundred francs
into a gulf.

"Subscribers are fools who never can be brought to understand that to
go ahead in the intellectual world they must start with more money than
they need for the tour of Europe," say the speculators.

Consequently there is endless warfare between the recalcitrant public
which refuses to pay the Parisian imposts and the tax-gatherer who,
living by his receipt of custom, lards the public with new ideas, turns
it on the spit of lively projects, roasts it with prospectuses (basting
all the while with flattery), and finally gobbles it up with some
toothsome sauce in which it is caught and intoxicated like a fly with
a black-lead. Moreover, since 1830 what honors and emoluments have been
scattered throughout France to stimulate the zeal and self-love of the
"progressive and intelligent masses"! Titles, medals, diplomas, a sort
of legion of honor invented for the army of martyrs, have followed each
other with marvellous rapidity. Speculators in the manufactured products
of the intellect have developed a spice, a ginger, all their own. From
this have come premiums, forestalled dividends, and that conscription
of noted names which is levied without the knowledge of the unfortunate
writers who bear them, and who thus find themselves actual co-operators
in more enterprises than there are days in the year; for the law, we may
remark, takes no account of the theft of a patronymic. Worse than all
is the rape of ideas which these caterers for the public mind, like the
slave-merchants of Asia, tear from the paternal brain before they are
well matured, and drag half-clothed before the eyes of their blockhead
of a sultan, their Shahabaham, their terrible public, which, if they
don't amuse it, will cut off their heads by curtailing the ingots and
emptying their pockets.

This madness of our epoch reacted upon the illustrious Gaudissart, and
here follows the history of how it happened. A life-insurance company
having been told of his irresistible eloquence offered him an unheard-of
commission, which he graciously accepted. The bargain concluded and
the treaty signed, our traveller was put in training, or we might say
weaned, by the secretary-general of the enterprise, who freed his mind
of its swaddling-clothes, showed him the dark holes of the business,
taught him its dialect, took the mechanism apart bit by bit, dissected
for his instruction the particular public he was expected to gull,
crammed him with phrases, fed him with impromptu replies, provisioned
him with unanswerable arguments, and, so to speak, sharpened the file of
the tongue which was about to operate upon the life of France.

The puppet amply rewarded the pains bestowed upon him. The heads of the
company boasted of the illustrious Gaudissart, showed him such attention
and proclaimed the great talents of this perambulating prospectus so
loudly in the sphere of exalted banking and commercial diplomacy, that
the financial managers of two newspapers (celebrated at that time
but since defunct) were seized with the idea of employing him to get
subscribers. The proprietors of the "Globe," an organ of Saint-Simonism,
and the "Movement," a republican journal, each invited the illustrious
Gaudissart to a conference, and proposed to give him ten francs a head
for every subscriber, provided he brought in a thousand, but only five

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