Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

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Lousteau drew Lucien into the shop. "There! that is Finot who edits my
paper," he said; "he is talking with Felicien Vernou, who has abilities,
but the little wretch is as dangerous as a hidden disease."

"Well, old boy, there is a first night for you," said Finot, coming up
with Vernou. "I have disposed of the box."

"Sold it to Braulard?"

"Well, and if I did, what then? You will get a seat. What do you want
with Dauriat? Oh, it is agreed that we are to push Paul de Kock, Dauriat
has taken two hundred copies, and Victor Ducange is refusing to give him
his next. Dauriat wants to set up another man in the same line, he says.
You must rate Paul de Kock above Ducange."

"But I have a piece on with Ducange at the Gaite," said Lousteau.

"Very well, tell him that I wrote the article. It can be supposed that
I wrote a slashing review, and you toned it down; and he will owe you

"Couldn't you get Dauriat's cashier to discount this bit of a bill for
a hundred francs?" asked Etienne Lousteau. "We are celebrating Florine's
house-warming with a supper to-night, you know."

"Ah! yes, you are treating us all," said Finot, with an apparent effort
of memory. "Here, Gabusson," he added, handing Barbet's bill to the
cashier, "let me have ninety francs for this individual. - Fill in your
name, old man."

Lousteau signed his name while the cashier counted out the money; and
Lucien, all eyes and ears, lost not a syllable of the conversation.

"That is not all, my friend," Etienne continued; "I don't thank you,
we have sworn an eternal friendship. I have taken it upon myself to
introduce this gentleman to Dauriat, and you must incline his ear to
listen to us."

"What is on foot?" asked Finot.

"A volume of poetry," said Lucien.

"Oh!" said Finot, with a shrug of the shoulders.

"Your acquaintance cannot have had much to do with publishers, or he
would have hidden his manuscript in the loneliest spot in his dwelling,"
remarked Vernou, looking at Lucien as he spoke.

Just at that moment a good-looking young man came into the shop, gave a
hand to Finot and Lousteau, and nodded slightly to Vernou. The newcomer
was Emile Blondet, who had made his first appearance in the _Journal des
Debats_, with articles revealing capacities of the very highest order.

"Come and have supper with us at midnight, at Florine's," said Lousteau.

"Very good," said the newcomer. "But who is going to be there?"

"Oh, Florine and Matifat the druggist," said Lousteau, "and du Bruel,
the author who gave Florine the part in which she is to make her first
appearance, a little old fogy named Cardot, and his son-in-law Camusot,
and Finot, and - - "

"Does your druggist do things properly?"

"He will not give us doctored wine," said Lucien.

"You are very witty, monsieur," Blondet returned gravely. "Is he coming,


"Then we shall have some fun."

Lucien had flushed red to the tips of his ears. Blondet tapped on the
window above Dauriat's desk.

"Is your business likely to keep you long, Dauriat?"

"I am at your service, my friend."

"That's right," said Lousteau, addressing his protege. "That young
fellow is hardly any older than you are, and he is on the _Debats_! He
is one of the princes of criticism. They are afraid of him, Dauriat will
fawn upon him, and then we can put in a word about our business with the
pasha of vignettes and type. Otherwise we might have waited till eleven
o'clock, and our turn would not have come. The crowd of people waiting
to speak with Dauriat is growing bigger every moment."

Lucien and Lousteau followed Blondet, Finot, and Vernou, and stood in a
knot at the back of the shop.

"What is he doing?" asked Blondet of the head-clerk, who rose to bid him

"He is buying a weekly newspaper. He wants to put new life into it,
and set up a rival to the _Minerve_ and the _Conservateur_; Eymery has
rather too much of his own way in the _Minerve_, and the _Conservateur_
is too blindly Romantic."

"Is he going to pay well?"

"Only too much - as usual," said the cashier.

Just as he spoke another young man entered; this was the writer of a
magnificent novel which had sold very rapidly and met with the greatest
possible success. Dauriat was bringing out a second edition. The
appearance of this odd and extraordinary looking being, so unmistakably
an artist, made a deep impression on Lucien's mind.

"That is Nathan," Lousteau said in his ear.

Nathan, then in the prime of his youth, came up to the group of
journalists, hat in hand; and in spite of his look of fierce pride he
was almost humble to Blondet, whom as yet he only knew by sight. Blondet
did not remove his hat, neither did Finot.

"Monsieur, I am delighted to avail myself of an opportunity yielded by
chance - - "

("He is so nervous that he is committing a pleonasm," said Felicien in
an aside to Lousteau.)

" - - to give expression to my gratitude for the splendid review which
you were so good as to give me in the _Journal des Debats_. Half the
success of my book is owing to you."

"No, my dear fellow, no," said Blondet, with an air of patronage
scarcely masked by good-nature. "You have talent, the deuce you have,
and I'm delighted to make your acquaintance."

"Now that your review has appeared, I shall not seem to be courting
power; we can feel at ease. Will you do me the honor and the pleasure of
dining with me to-morrow? Finot is coming. - Lousteau, old man, you
will not refuse me, will you?" added Nathan, shaking Etienne by the
hand. - "Ah, you are on the way to a great future, monsieur," he added,
turning again to Blondet; "you will carry on the line of Dussaults,
Fievees, and Geoffrois! Hoffmann was talking about you to a friend of
mine, Claude Vignon, his pupil; he said that he could die in peace,
the _Journal des Debats_ would live forever. They ought to pay you
tremendously well."

"A hundred francs a column," said Blondet. "Poor pay when one is
obliged to read the books, and read a hundred before you find one worth
interesting yourself in, like yours. Your work gave me pleasure, upon my

"And brought him in fifteen hundred francs," said Lousteau for Lucien's

"But you write political articles, don't you?" asked Nathan.

"Yes; now and again."

Lucien felt like an embryo among these men; he had admired Nathan's
book, he had reverenced the author as an immortal; Nathan's abject
attitude before this critic, whose name and importance were both unknown
to him, stupefied Lucien.

"How if I should come to behave as he does?" he thought. "Is a man
obliged to part with his self-respect? - Pray put on your hat again,
Nathan; you have written a great book, and the critic has only written a
review of it."

These thoughts set the blood tingling in his veins. Scarce a minute
passed but some young author, poverty-stricken and shy, came in, asked
to speak with Dauriat, looked round the crowded shop despairingly, and
went out saying, "I will come back again." Two or three politicians were
chatting over the convocation of the Chambers and public business with
a group of well-known public men. The weekly newspaper for which Dauriat
was in treaty was licensed to treat of matters political, and the number
of newspapers suffered to exist was growing smaller and smaller, till a
paper was a piece of property as much in demand as a theatre. One of the
largest shareholders in the _Constitutionnel_ was standing in the midst
of the knot of political celebrities. Lousteau performed the part of
cicerone to admiration; with every sentence he uttered Dauriat rose
higher in Lucien's opinion. Politics and literature seemed to converge
in Dauriat's shop. He had seen a great poet prostituting his muse to
journalism, humiliating Art, as woman was humiliated and prostituted in
those shameless galleries without, and the provincial took a terrible
lesson to heart. Money! That was the key to every enigma. Lucien
realized the fact that he was unknown and alone, and that the fragile
clue of an uncertain friendship was his sole guide to success and
fortune. He blamed the kind and loyal little circle for painting the
world for him in false colors, for preventing him from plunging into the
arena, pen in hand. "I should be a Blondet at this moment!" he exclaimed
within himself.

Only a little while ago they had sat looking out over Paris from the
Gardens of the Luxembourg, and Lousteau had uttered the cry of a wounded
eagle; then Lousteau had been a great man in Lucien's eyes, and now he
had shrunk to scarce visible proportions. The really important man for
him at this moment was the fashionable bookseller, by whom all these men
lived; and the poet, manuscript in hand, felt a nervous tremor that
was almost like fear. He noticed a group of busts mounted on wooden
pedestals, painted to resemble marble; Byron stood there, and Goethe and
M. de Canalis. Dauriat was hoping to publish a volume by the last-named
poet, who might see, on his entrance into the shop, the estimation in
which he was held by the trade. Unconsciously Lucien's own self-esteem
began to shrink, and his courage ebbed. He began to see how large a part
this Dauriat would play in his destinies, and waited impatiently for him
to appear.

"Well, children," said a voice, and a short, stout man appeared, with
a puffy face that suggested a Roman pro-consul's visage, mellowed by
an air of good-nature which deceived superficial observers. "Well,
children, here am I, the proprietor of the only weekly paper in the
market, a paper with two thousand subscribers!"

"Old joker! The registered number is seven hundred, and that is over the
mark," said Blondet.

"Twelve thousand, on my sacred word of honor - I said two thousand
for the benefit of the printers and paper-dealers yonder," he added,
lowering his voice, then raising it again. "I thought you had more tact,
my boy," he added.

"Are you going to take any partners?" inquired Finot.

"That depends," said Dauriat. "Will you take a third at forty thousand

"It's a bargain, if you will take Emile Blondet here on the staff, and
Claude Vignon, Scribe, Theodore Leclercq, Felicien Vernou, Jay, Jouy,
Lousteau, and - - "

"And why not Lucien de Rubempre?" the provincial poet put in boldly.

" - - and Nathan," concluded Finot.

"Why not the people out there in the street?" asked Dauriat, scowling
at the author of the _Marguerites_. - "To whom have I the honor of
speaking?" he added, with an insolent glance.

"One moment, Dauriat," said Lousteau. "I have brought this gentleman to
you. Listen to me, while Finot is thinking over your proposals."

Lucien watched this Dauriat, who addressed Finot with the familiar tu,
which even Finot did not permit himself to use in reply; who called the
redoubtable Blondet "my boy," and extended a hand royally to Nathan with
a friendly nod. The provincial poet felt his shirt wet with perspiration
when the formidable sultan looked indifferent and ill pleased.

"Another piece of business, my boy!" exclaimed Dauriat. "Why, I have
eleven hundred manuscripts on hand, as you know! Yes, gentlemen, I have
eleven hundred manuscripts submitted to me at this moment; ask Gabusson.
I shall soon be obliged to start a department to keep account of the
stock of manuscripts, and a special office for reading them, and a
committee to vote on their merits, with numbered counters for those who
attend, and a permanent secretary to draw up the minutes for me. It will
be a kind of local branch of the Academie, and the Academicians will be
better paid in the Wooden Galleries than at the Institut."

"'Tis an idea," said Blondet.

"A bad idea," returned Dauriat. "It is not my business to take stock of
the lucubrations of those among you who take to literature because they
cannot be capitalists, and there is no opening for them as bootmakers,
nor corporals, nor domestic servants, nor officials, nor bailiffs.
Nobody comes here until he has made a name for himself! Make a name for
yourself, and you will find gold in torrents. I have made three
great men in the last two years; and lo and behold three examples of
ingratitude! Here is Nathan talking of six thousand francs for the
second edition of his book, which cost me three thousand francs in
reviews, and has not brought in a thousand yet. I paid a thousand
francs for Blondet's two articles, besides a dinner, which cost me five
hundred - - "

"But if all booksellers talked as you do, sir, how could a man publish
his first book at all?" asked Lucien. Blondet had gone down tremendously
in his opinion since he had heard the amount given by Dauriat for the
articles in the _Debats_.

"That is not my affair," said Dauriat, looking daggers at this handsome
young fellow, who was smiling pleasantly at him. "I do not publish books
for amusement, nor risk two thousand francs for the sake of seeing my
money back again. I speculate in literature, and publish forty volumes
of ten thousand copies each, just as Panckouke does and the Baudoins.
With my influence and the articles which I secure, I can push a business
of a hundred thousand crowns, instead of a single volume involving a
couple of thousand francs. It is just as much trouble to bring out a new
name and to induce the public to take up an author and his book, as to
make a success with the _Theatres etrangers_, _Victoires et Conquetes_,
or _Memoires sur la Revolution_, books that bring in a fortune. I am not
here as a stepping-stone to future fame, but to make money, and to find
it for men with distinguished names. The manuscripts for which I give a
hundred thousand francs pay me better than work by an unknown author
who asks six hundred. If I am not exactly a Maecenas, I deserve the
gratitude of literature; I have doubled the prices of manuscripts. I am
giving you this explanation because you are a friend of Lousteau's
my boy," added Dauriat, clapping Lucien on the shoulder with odious
familiarity. "If I were to talk to all the authors who have a mind that
I should be their publisher, I should have to shut up shop; I should
pass my time very agreeably no doubt, but the conversations would cost
too much. I am not rich enough yet to listen to all the monologues of
self-conceit. Nobody does, except in classical tragedies on the stage."

The terrible Dauriat's gorgeous raiment seemed in the provincial poet's
eyes to add force to the man's remorseless logic.

"What is it about?" he continued, addressing Lucien's protector.

"It is a volume of magnificent poetry."

At that word, Dauriat turned to Gabusson with a gesture worthy of Talma.

"Gabusson, my friend," he said, "from this day forward, when anybody
begins to talk of works in manuscript here - Do you hear that, all of
you?" he broke in upon himself; and three assistants at once emerged
from among the piles of books at the sound of their employer's wrathful
voice. "If anybody comes here with manuscripts," he continued, looking
at the finger-nails of a well-kept hand, "ask him whether it is poetry
or prose; and if he says poetry, show him the door at once. Verses mean
reverses in the booktrade."

"Bravo! well put, Dauriat," cried the chorus of journalists.

"It is true!" cried the bookseller, striding about his shop with
Lucien's manuscript in his hand. "You have no idea, gentlemen, of the
amount of harm that Byron, Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Casimir Delavigne,
Canalis, and Beranger have done by their success. The fame of them has
brought down an invasion of barbarians upon us. I know _this_: there
are a thousand volumes of manuscript poetry going the round of the
publishers at this moment, things that nobody can make head nor tail
of, stories in verse that begin in the middle, like _The Corsair_ and
_Lara_. They set up to be original, forsooth, and indulge in stanzas
that nobody can understand, and descriptive poetry after the pattern of
the younger men who discovered Delille, and imagine that they are doing
something new. Poets have been swarming like cockchafers for two years
past. I have lost twenty thousand francs through poetry in the last
twelvemonth. You ask Gabusson! There may be immortal poets somewhere in
the world; I know of some that are blooming and rosy, and have no beards
on their chins as yet," he continued, looking at Lucien; "but in
the trade, young man, there are only four poets - Beranger, Casimir
Delavigne, Lamartine, and Victor Hugo; as for Canalis - he is a poet made
by sheer force of writing him up."

Lucien felt that he lacked the courage to hold up his head and show his
spirit before all these influential persons, who were laughing with
all their might. He knew very well that he should look hopelessly
ridiculous, and yet he felt consumed by a fierce desire to catch the
bookseller by the throat, to ruffle the insolent composure of his
cravat, to break the gold chain that glittered on the man's chest,
trample his watch under his feet, and tear him in pieces. Mortified
vanity opened the door to thoughts of vengeance, and inwardly he swore
eternal enmity to that bookseller. But he smiled amiably.

"Poetry is like the sun," said Blondet, "giving life alike to primeval
forests and to ants and gnats and mosquitoes. There is no virtue but has
a vice to match, and literature breeds the publisher."

"And the journalist," said Lousteau.

Dauriat burst out laughing.

"What is this after all?" he asked, holding up the manuscript.

"A volume of sonnets that will put Petrarch to the blush," said

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I say," answered Lousteau, seeing the knowing smile that went
round the group. Lucien could not take offence but he chafed inwardly.

"Very well, I will read them," said Dauriat, with a regal gesture that
marked the full extent of the concession. "If these sonnets of yours are
up to the level of the nineteenth century, I will make a great poet of
you, my boy."

"If he has brains to equal his good looks, you will run no great risks,"
remarked one of the greatest public speakers of the day, a deputy who
was chatting with the editor of the _Minerve_, and a writer for the

"Fame means twelve thousand francs in reviews, and a thousand more for
dinners, General," said Dauriat. "If M. Benjamin de Constant means to
write a paper on this young poet, it will not be long before I make a
bargain with him."

At the title of General, and the distinguished name of Benjamin
Constant, the bookseller's shop took the proportions of Olympus for the
provincial great man.

"Lousteau, I want a word with you," said Finot; "but I shall see you
again later, at the theatre. - Dauriat, I will take your offer, but on
conditions. Let us step into your office."

"Come in, my boy," answered Dauriat, allowing Finot to pass before him.
Then, intimating to some ten persons still waiting for him that he was
engaged, he likewise was about to disappear when Lucien impatiently
stopped him.

"You are keeping my manuscript. When shall I have an answer?"

"Oh, come back in three or four days, my little poet, and we will see."

Lousteau hurried Lucien away; he had not time to take leave of Vernou
and Blondet and Raoul Nathan, nor to salute General Foy nor Benjamin
Constant, whose book on the Hundred Days was just about to appear.
Lucien scarcely caught a glimpse of fair hair, a refined oval-shaped
face, keen eyes, and the pleasant-looking mouth belonging to the man who
had played the part of a Potemkin to Mme. de Stael for twenty years, and
now was at war with the Bourbons, as he had been at war with Napoleon.
He was destined to win his cause and to die stricken to earth by his

"What a shop!" exclaimed Lucien, as he took his place in the cab beside

"To the Panorama-Dramatique; look sharp, and you shall have thirty
sous," Etienne Lousteau called to the cabman. - "Dauriat is a rascal who
sells books to the amount of fifteen or sixteen hundred thousand francs
every year. He is a kind of Minister of Literature," Lousteau continued.
His self-conceit had been pleasantly tickled, and he was showing off
before Lucien. "Dauriat is just as grasping as Barbet, but it is on a
wholesale scale. Dauriat can be civil, and he is generous, but he has a
great opinion of himself; as for his wit, it consists in a faculty
for picking up all that he hears, and his shop is a capital place to
frequent. You meet all the best men at Dauriat's. A young fellow learns
more there in an hour than by poring over books for half-a-score of
years. People talk about articles and concoct subjects; you make the
acquaintance of great or influential people who may be useful to you.
You must know people if you mean to get on nowadays. - It is all luck,
you see. And as for sitting by yourself in a corner alone with your
intellect, it is the most dangerous thing of all."

"But what insolence!" said Lucien.

"Pshaw! we all of us laugh at Dauriat," said Etienne. "If you are in
need of him, he tramples upon you; if he has need of the _Journal des
Debats_, Emile Blondet sets him spinning like a top. Oh, if you take
to literature, you will see a good many queer things. Well, what was I
telling you, eh?"

"Yes, you were right," said Lucien. "My experience in that shop was even
more painful than I expected, after your programme."

"Why do you choose to suffer? You find your subject, you wear out your
wits over it with toiling at night, you throw your very life into it:
and after all your journeyings in the fields of thought, the monument
reared with your life-blood is simply a good or a bad speculation for
a publisher. Your work will sell or it will not sell; and therein, for
them, lies the whole question. A book means so much capital to risk,
and the better the book, the less likely it is to sell. A man of talent
rises above the level of ordinary heads; his success varies in direct
ratio with the time required for his work to be appreciated. And no
publisher wants to wait. To-day's book must be sold by to-morrow. Acting
on this system, publishers and booksellers do not care to take real
literature, books that call for the high praise that comes slowly."

"D'Arthez was right," exclaimed Lucien.

"Do you know d'Arthez?" asked Lousteau. "I know of no more dangerous
company than solitary spirits like that fellow yonder, who fancy that
they can draw the world after them. All of us begin by thinking that
we are capable of great things; and when once a youthful imagination is
heated by this superstition, the candidate for posthumous honors makes
no attempt to move the world while such moving of the world is both
possible and profitable; he lets the time go by. I am for Mahomet's
system - if the mountain does not come to me, I am for going to the

The common-sense so trenchantly put in this sally left Lucien halting
between the resignation preached by the brotherhood and Lousteau's
militant doctrine. He said not a word till they reached the Boulevard du

The Panorama-Dramatique no longer exists. A dwelling-house stands on the
site of the once charming theatre in the Boulevard du Temple, where two
successive managements collapsed without making a single hit; and yet
Vignol, who has since fallen heir to some of Potier's popularity, made
his _debut_ there; and Florine, five years later a celebrated actress,
made her first appearance in the theatre opposite the Rue Charlot.
Play-houses, like men, have their vicissitudes. The Panorama-Dramatique
suffered from competition. The machinations of its rivals, the Ambigu,
the Gaite, the Porte Saint-Martin, and the Vaudeville, together with a
plethora of restrictions and a scarcity of good plays, combined to bring
about the downfall of the house. No dramatic author cared to quarrel
with a prosperous theatre for the sake of the Panorama-Dramatique, whose
existence was, to say the least, problematical. The management at this
moment, however, was counting on the success of a new melodramatic
comedy by M. du Bruel, a young author who, after working in
collaboration with divers celebrities, had now produced a piece
professedly entirely his own. It had been specially composed for
the leading lady, a young actress who began her stage career as a
supernumerary at the Gaite, and had been promoted to small parts for the
last twelvemonth. But though Mlle. Florine's acting had attracted some
attention, she obtained no engagement, and the Panorama accordingly had
carried her off. Coralie, another actress, was to make her _debut_ at
the same time.

Lucien was amazed at the power wielded by the press. "This gentleman is
with me," said Etienne Lousteau, and the box-office clerks bowed before

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 11 of 29)