Honoré de Balzac.

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upon an actress or a mistress when he means to enjoy a life of pleasure.
Matifat was not nearly so rich a man as his friend Camusot, and he had
done his part rather shabbily, yet the sight of the dining-room took
Lucien by surprise. The walls were hung with green cloth with a border
of gilded nails, the whole room was artistically decorated, lighted by
handsome lamps, stands full of flowers stood in every direction. The
drawing-room was resplendent with the furniture in fashion in those
days - a Thomire chandelier, a carpet of Eastern design, and yellow
silken hangings relieved by a brown border. The candlesticks,
fire-irons, and clock were all in good taste; for Matifat had left
everything to Grindot, a rising architect, who was building a house for
him, and the young man had taken great pains with the rooms when he knew
that Florine was to occupy them.

Matifat, a tradesman to the backbone, went about carefully, afraid
to touch the new furniture; he seemed to have the totals of the bills
always before his eyes, and to look upon the splendors about him as so
much jewelry imprudently withdrawn from the case.

"And I shall be obliged to do as much for Florentine!" old Cardot's eyes
seemed to say.

Lucien at once began to understand Lousteau's indifference to the state
of his garret. Etienne was the real king of these festivals; Etienne
enjoyed the use of all these fine things. He was standing just now on
the hearthrug with his back to the fire, as if he were the master of the
house, chatting with the manager, who was congratulating du Bruel.

"Copy, copy!" called Finot, coming into the room. "There is nothing in
the box; the printers are setting up my article, and they will soon have

"We will manage," said Etienne. "There is a fire burning in Florine's
boudoir; there is a table there; and if M. Matifat will find us paper
and ink, we will knock off the newspaper while Florine and Coralie are

Cardot, Camusot, and Matifat disappeared in search of quills, penknives,
and everything necessary. Suddenly the door was flung open, and Tullia,
one of the prettiest opera-dancers of the day, dashed into the room.

"They agree to take the hundred copies, dear boy!" she cried, addressing
Finot; "they won't cost the management anything, for the chorus and the
orchestra and the _corps de ballet_ are to take them whether they like
it or not; but your paper is so clever that nobody will grumble. And
you are going to have your boxes. Here is the subscription for the first
quarter," she continued, holding out a couple of banknotes; "so don't
cut me up!"

"It is all over with me!" groaned Finot; "I must suppress my abominable
diatribe, and I haven't another notion in my head."

"What a happy inspiration, divine Lais!" exclaimed Blondet, who had
followed the lady upstairs and brought Nathan, Vernou and Claude Vignon
with him. "Stop to supper, there is a dear, or I will crush thee,
butterfly as thou art. There will be no professional jealousies, as you
are a dancer; and as to beauty, you have all of you too much sense to
show jealousy in public."

"Oh dear!" cried Finot, "Nathan, Blondet, du Bruel, help friends! I want
five columns."

"I can make two of the play," said Lucien.

"I have enough for one," added Lousteau.

"Very well; Nathan, Vernou, and du Bruel will make the jokes at the
end; and Blondet, good fellow, surely will vouchsafe a couple of short
columns for the first sheet. I will run round to the printer. It is
lucky that you brought your carriage, Tullia."

"Yes, but the Duke is waiting below in it, and he has a German Minister
with him."

"Ask the Duke and the Minister to come up," said Nathan.

"A German? They are the ones to drink, and they listen too; he shall
hear some astonishing things to send home to his Government," cried

"Is there any sufficiently serious personage to go down to speak to
him?" asked Finot. "Here, du Bruel, you are an official; bring up the
Duc de Rhetore and the Minister, and give your arm to Tullia. Dear me!
Tullia, how handsome you are to-night!"

"We shall be thirteen at table!" exclaimed Matifat, paling visibly.

"No, fourteen," said a voice in the doorway, and Florentine appeared.
"I have come to look after 'milord Cardot,'" she added, speaking with a
burlesque English accent.

"And besides," said Lousteau, "Claude Vignon came with Blondet."

"I brought him here to drink," returned Blondet, taking up an inkstand.
"Look here, all of you, you must use all your wit before those fifty-six
bottles of wine drive it out. And, of all things, stir up du Bruel; he
is a vaudevillist, he is capable of making bad jokes if you get him to
concert pitch."

And Lucien wrote his first newspaper article at the round table in
Florine's boudoir, by the light of the pink candles lighted by Matifat;
before such a remarkable audience he was eager to show what he could do.


First performance of the _Alcalde in a Fix_, an imbroglio in three
acts. - First appearance of Mademoiselle Florine. - Mademoiselle
Coralie. - Vignol.

People are coming and going, walking and talking, everybody is
looking for something, nobody finds anything. General hubbub. The
Alcalde has lost his daughter and found his cap, but the cap does
not fit; it must belong to some thief. Where is the thief? People
walk and talk, and come and go more than ever. Finally the Alcalde
finds a man without his daughter, and his daughter without the
man, which is satisfactory for the magistrate, but not for the
audience. Quiet being resorted, the Alcalde tries to examine the
man. Behold a venerable Alcalde, sitting in an Alcalde's great
armchair, arranging the sleeves of his Alcalde's gown. Only in
Spain do Alcaldes cling to their enormous sleeves and wear plaited
lawn ruffles about the magisterial throat, a good half of an
Alcalde's business on the stage in Paris. This particular Alcalde,
wheezing and waddling about like an asthmatic old man, is Vignol,
on whom Potier's mantle has fallen; a young actor who personates
old age so admirably that the oldest men in the audience cannot
help laughing. With that quavering voice of his, that bald
forehead, and those spindle shanks trembling under the weight of a
senile frame, he may look forward to a long career of decrepitude.
There is something alarming about the young actor's old age; he is
so very old; you feel nervous lest senility should be infectious.
And what an admirable Alcalde he makes! What a delightful, uneasy
smile! what pompous stupidity! what wooden dignity! what judicial
hesitation! How well the man knows that black may be white, or
white black! How eminently well he is fitted to be Minister to a
constitutional monarch! The stranger answers every one of his
inquiries by a question; Vignol retorts in such a fashion, that
the person under examination elicits all the truth from the
Alcalde. This piece of pure comedy, with a breath of Moliere
throughout, puts the house in good humor. The people on the stage
all seemed to understand what they were about, but I am quite
unable to clear up the mystery, or to say wherein it lay; for the
Alcalde's daughter was there, personified by a living, breathing
Andalusian, a Spaniard with a Spaniard's eyes, a Spaniard's
complexion, a Spaniard's gait and figure, a Spaniard from top to
toe, with her poniard in her garter, love in her heart, and a
cross on the ribbon about her neck. When the act was over, and
somebody asked me how the piece was going, I answered, "She wears
scarlet stockings with green clocks to them; she has a little
foot, no larger than _that_, in her patent leather shoes, and the
prettiest pair of ankles in Andalusia!" Oh! that Alcalde's
daughter brings your heart into your mouth; she tantalizes you so
horribly, that you long to spring upon the stage and offer her
your thatched hovel and your heart, or thirty thousand livres per
annum and your pen. The Andalusian is the loveliest actress in
Paris. Coralie, for she must be called by her real name, can be a
countess or a _grisette_, and in which part she would be more
charming one cannot tell. She can be anything that she chooses;
she is born to achieve all possibilities; can more be said of a
boulevard actress?

With the second act, a Parisian Spaniard appeared upon the scene,
with her features cut like a cameo and her dangerous eyes. "Where
does she come from?" I asked in my turn, and was told that she
came from the greenroom, and that she was Mademoiselle Florine;
but, upon my word, I could not believe a syllable of it, such
spirit was there in her gestures, such frenzy in her love. She is
the rival of the Alcalde's daughter, and married to a grandee cut
out to wear an Almaviva's cloak, with stuff sufficient in it for a
hundred boulevard noblemen. Mlle. Florine wore neither scarlet
stockings with green clocks, nor patent leather shoes, but she
appeared in a mantilla, a veil which she put to admirable uses,
like the great lady that she is! She showed to admiration that the
tigress can be a cat. I began to understand, from the sparkling
talk between the two, that some drama of jealousy was going on;
and just as everything was put right, the Alcalde's stupidity
embroiled everybody again. Torchbearers, rich men, footmen,
Figaros, grandees, alcaldes, dames, and damsels - the whole company
on the stage began to eddy about, and come and go, and look for
one another. The plot thickened, again I left it to thicken; for
Florine the jealous and the happy Coralie had entangled me once
more in the folds of mantilla and basquina, and their little feet
were twinkling in my eyes.

I managed, however, to reach the third act without any mishap. The
commissary of police was not compelled to interfere, and I did
nothing to scandalize the house, wherefore I begin to believe in
the influence of that "public and religious morality," about which
the Chamber of Deputies is so anxious, that any one might think
there was no morality left in France. I even contrived to gather
that a man was in love with two women who failed to return his
affection, or else that two women were in love with a man who
loved neither of them; the man did not love the Alcalde, or the
Alcalde had no love for the man, who was nevertheless a gallant
gentleman, and in love with somebody, with himself, perhaps, or
with heaven, if the worst came to the worst, for he becomes a
monk. And if you want to know any more, you can go to the
Panorama-Dramatique. You are hereby given fair warning - you must
go once to accustom yourself to those irresistible scarlet
stockings with the green clocks, to little feet full of promises,
to eyes with a ray of sunlight shining through them, to the subtle
charm of a Parisienne disguised as an Andalusian girl, and of an
Andalusian masquerading as a Parisienne. You must go a second time
to enjoy the play, to shed tears over the love-distracted grandee,
and die of laughing at the old Alcalde. The play is twice a
success. The author, who writes it, it is said, in collaboration
with one of the great poets of the day, was called before the
curtain, and appeared with a love-distraught damsel on each arm,
and fairly brought down the excited house. The two dancers seemed
to have more wit in their legs than the author himself; but when
once the fair rivals left the stage, the dialogue seemed witty at
once, a triumphant proof of the excellence of the piece. The
applause and calls for the author caused the architect some
anxiety; but M. de Cursy, the author, being accustomed to volcanic
eruptions of the reeling Vesuvius beneath the chandelier, felt no
tremor. As for the actresses, they danced the famous bolero of
Seville, which once found favor in the sight of a council of
reverend fathers, and escaped ecclesiastical censure in spite of
its wanton dangerous grace. The bolero in itself would be enough
to attract old age while there is any lingering heat of youth in
the veins, and out of charity I warn these persons to keep the
lenses of their opera-glasses well polished.

While Lucien was writing a column which was to set a new fashion in
journalism and reveal a fresh and original gift, Lousteau indited an
article of the kind described as _moeurs_ - a sketch of contemporary
manners, entitled _The Elderly Beau_.

"The buck of the Empire," he wrote, "is invariably long, slender, and
well preserved. He wears a corset and the Cross of the Legion of Honor.
His name was originally Potelet, or something very like it; but to stand
well with the Court, he conferred a _du_ upon himself, and _du_ Potelet
he is until another revolution. A baron of the Empire, a man of two
ends, as his name (_Potelet_, a post) implies, he is paying his court to
the Faubourg Saint-Germain, after a youth gloriously and usefully spent
as the agreeable trainbearer of a sister of the man whom decency forbids
me to mention by name. Du Potelet has forgotten that he was once
in waiting upon Her Imperial Highness; but he still sings the songs
composed for the benefactress who took such a tender interest in his
career," and so forth and so forth. It was a tissue of personalities,
silly enough for the most part, such as they used to write in those
days. Other papers, and notably the _Figaro_, have brought the art to
a curious perfection since. Lousteau compared the Baron to a heron,
and introduced Mme. de Bargeton, to whom he was paying his court, as
a cuttlefish bone, a burlesque absurdity which amused readers who knew
neither of the personages. A tale of the loves of the Heron, who tried
in vain to swallow the Cuttlefish bone, which broke into three pieces
when he dropped it, was irresistibly ludicrous. Everybody remembers the
sensation which the pleasantry made in the Faubourg Saint-Germain;
it was the first of a series of similar articles, and was one of the
thousand and one causes which provoked the rigorous press legislation of
Charles X.

An hour later, Blondet, Lousteau, and Lucien came back to the
drawing-room, where the other guests were chatting. The Duke was there
and the Minister, the four women, the three merchants, the manager, and
Finot. A printer's devil, with a paper cap on his head, was waiting even
then for copy.

"The men are just going off, if I have nothing to take them," he said.

"Stay a bit, here are ten francs, and tell them to wait," said Finot.

"If I give them the money, sir, they would take to tippleography, and
good-night to the newspaper."

"That boy's common-sense is appalling to me," remarked Finot; and the
Minister was in the middle of a prediction of a brilliant future for the
urchin, when the three came in. Blondet read aloud an extremely clever
article against the Romantics; Lousteau's paragraph drew laughter, and
by the Duc de Rhetore's advice an indirect eulogium of Mme. d'Espard was
slipped in, lest the whole Faubourg Saint-Germain should take offence.

"What have _you_ written?" asked Finot, turning to Lucien.

And Lucien read, quaking for fear, but the room rang with applause when
he finished; the actresses embraced the neophyte; and the two merchants,
following suit, half choked the breath out of him. There were tears in
du Bruel's eyes as he grasped his critic's hand, and the manager invited
him to dinner.

"There are no children nowadays," said Blondet. "Since M. de
Chateaubriand called Victor Hugo a 'sublime child,' I can only tell
you quite simply that you have spirit and taste, and write like a

"He is on the newspaper," said Finot, as he thanked Etienne, and gave
him a shrewd glance.

"What jokes have you made?" inquired Lousteau, turning to Blondet and du

"Here are du Bruel's," said Nathan.

*** "Now, that M. le Vicomte d'A - - is attracting so much
attention, they will perhaps let _me_ alone," M. le Vicomte
Demosthenes was heard to say yesterday.

*** An Ultra, condemning M. Pasquier's speech, said his programme
was only a continuation of Decaze's policy. "Yes," said a lady,
"but he stands on a Monarchical basis, he has just the kind of leg
for a Court suit."

"With such a beginning, I don't ask more of you," said Finot; "it will
be all right. - Run round with this," he added, turning to the boy; "the
paper is not exactly a genuine article, but it is our best number yet,"
and he turned to the group of writers. Already Lucien's colleagues were
privately taking his measure.

"That fellow has brains," said Blondet.

"His article is well written," said Claude Vignon.

"Supper!" cried Matifat.

The Duke gave his arm to Florine, Coralie went across to Lucien, and
Tullia went in to supper between Emile Blondet and the German Minister.

"I cannot understand why you are making an onslaught on Mme. de Bargeton
and the Baron du Chatelet; they say that he is prefect-designate of the
Charente, and will be Master of Requests some day."

"Mme. de Bargeton showed Lucien the door as if he had been an imposter,"
said Lousteau.

"Such a fine young fellow!" exclaimed the Minister.

Supper, served with new plate, Sevres porcelain, and white damask, was
redolent of opulence. The dishes were from Chevet, the wines from a
celebrated merchant on the Quai Saint-Bernard, a personal friend
of Matifat's. For the first time Lucien beheld the luxury of Paris
displayed; he went from surprise to surprise, but he kept his
astonishment to himself, like a man who had spirit and taste and wrote
like a gentleman, as Blondet had said.

As they crossed the drawing-room, Coralie bent to Florine, "Make
Camusot so drunk that he will be compelled to stop here all night," she

"So you have hooked your journalist, have you?" returned Florine, using
the idiom of women of her class.

"No, dear; I love him," said Coralie, with an adorable little shrug of
the shoulders.

Those words rang in Lucien's ears, borne to them by the fifth deadly
sin. Coralie was perfectly dressed. Every woman possesses some personal
charm in perfection, and Coralie's toilette brought her characteristic
beauty into prominence. Her dress, moreover, like Florine's, was of some
exquisite stuff, unknown as yet to the public, a _mousseline de soie_,
with which Camusot had been supplied a few days before the rest of the
world; for, as owner of the _Golden Cocoon_, he was a kind of Providence
in Paris to the Lyons silkweavers.

Love and toilet are like color and perfume for a woman, and Coralie
in her happiness looked lovelier than ever. A looked-for delight which
cannot elude the grasp possesses an immense charm for youth; perhaps in
their eyes the secret of the attraction of a house of pleasure lies
in the certainty of gratification; perhaps many a long fidelity is
attributable to the same cause. Love for love's sake, first love indeed,
had blent with one of the strange violent fancies which sometimes
possess these poor creatures; and love and admiration of Lucien's great
beauty taught Coralie to express the thoughts in her heart.

"I should love you if you were ill and ugly," she whispered as they sat

What a saying for a poet! Camusot utterly vanished, Lucien had forgotten
his existence, he saw Coralie, and had eyes for nothing else. How should
he draw back - this creature, all sensation, all enjoyment of life,
tired of the monotony of existence in a country town, weary of poverty,
harassed by enforced continence, impatient of the claustral life of the
Rue de Cluny, of toiling without reward? The fascination of the under
world of Paris was upon him; how should he rise and leave this brilliant
gathering? Lucien stood with one foot in Coralie's chamber and the other
in the quicksands of Journalism. After so much vain search, and climbing
of so many stairs, after standing about and waiting in the Rue de
Sentier, he had found Journalism a jolly boon companion, joyous over the
wine. His wrongs had just been avenged. There were two for whom he had
vainly striven to fill the cup of humiliation and pain which he had been
made to drink to the dregs, and now to-morrow they should receive a stab
in their very hearts. "Here is a real friend!" he thought, as he looked
at Lousteau. It never crossed his mind that Lousteau already regarded
him as a dangerous rival. He had made a blunder; he had done his very
best when a colorless article would have served him admirably well.
Blondet's remark to Finot that it would be better to come to terms with
a man of that calibre, had counteracted Lousteau's gnawing jealousy. He
reflected that it would be prudent to keep on good terms with Lucien,
and, at the same time, to arrange with Finot to exploit this formidable
newcomer - he must be kept in poverty. The decision was made in a moment,
and the bargain made in a few whispered words.

"He has talent."

"He will want the more."



"A supper among French journalists always fills me with dread," said
the German diplomatist, with serene urbanity; he looked as he spoke at
Blondet, whom he had met at the Comtesse de Montcornet's. "It is laid
upon you, gentlemen, to fulfil a prophecy of Blucher's."

"What prophecy?" asked Nathan.

"When Blucher and Sacken arrived on the heights of Montmartre in 1814
(pardon me, gentlemen, for recalling a day unfortunate for France),
Sacken (a rough brute), remarked, 'Now we will set Paris alight!' - 'Take
very good care that you don't,' said Blucher. 'France will die of
_that_, nothing else can kill her,' and he waved his hand over the
glowing, seething city, that lay like a huge canker in the valley of
the Seine. - There are no journalists in our country, thank Heaven!"
continued the Minister after a pause. "I have not yet recovered from
the fright that the little fellow gave me, a boy of ten, in a paper cap,
with the sense of an old diplomatist. And to-night I feel as if I were
supping with lions and panthers, who graciously sheathe their claws in
my honor."

"It is clear," said Blondet, "that we are at liberty to inform Europe
that a serpent dropped from your Excellency's lips this evening,
and that the venomous creature failed to inoculate Mlle. Tullia, the
prettiest dancer in Paris; and to follow up the story with a commentary
on Eve, and the Scriptures, and the first and last transgression. But
have no fear, you are our guest."

"It would be funny," said Finot.

"We would begin with a scientific treatise on all the serpents found
in the human heart and human body, and so proceed to the _corps
diplomatique_," said Lousteau.

"And we could exhibit one in spirits, in a bottle of brandied cherries,"
said Vernou.

"Till you yourself would end by believing in the story," added Vignon,
looking at the diplomatist.

"Gentlemen," cried the Duc de Rhetore, "let sleeping claws lie."

"The influence and power of the press is only dawning," said Finot.
"Journalism is in its infancy; it will grow. In ten years' time,
everything will be brought into publicity. The light of thought will be
turned on all subjects, and - - "

"The blight of thought will be over it all," corrected Blondet.

"Here is an apothegm," cried Claude Vignon.

"Thought will make kings," said Lousteau.

"And undo monarchs," said the German.

"And therefore," said Blondet, "if the press did not exist, it would be
necessary to invent it forthwith. But here we have it, and live by it."

"You will die of it," returned the German diplomatist. "Can you not see
that if you enlighten the masses, and raise them in the political scale,
you make it all the harder for the individual to rise above their
level? Can you not see that if you sow the seeds of reasoning among the
working-classes, you will reap revolt, and be the first to fall victims?
What do they smash in Paris when a riot begins?"

"The street-lamps!" said Nathan; "but we are too modest to fear for
ourselves, we only run the risk of cracks."

"As a nation, you have too much mental activity to allow any government
to run its course without interference. But for that, you would make
the conquest of Europe a second time, and win with the pen all that you
failed to keep with the sword."

"Journalism is an evil," said Claude Vignon. "The evil may have its
uses, but the present Government is resolved to put it down. There will
be a battle over it. Who will give way? That is the question."

"The Government will give way," said Blondet. "I keep telling people
that with all my might! Intellectual power is _the_ great power in

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 14 of 29)