Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

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escape; he sold the woman for a slave after getting her with child
himself to enhance her value. The other was the eloquent defence of a
young woman brought before the authorities for bearing a child out of
wedlock. Franklin owned to the fraud in Necker's house when he came to
Paris, much to the confusion of French philosophism. Behold how the New
World twice set a bad example to the Old!"

"In journalism," said Lousteau, "everything that is probable is true.
That is an axiom."

"Criminal procedure is based on the same rule," said Vernou.

"Very well, we meet here at nine o'clock," and with that they rose, and
the sitting broke up with the most affecting demonstrations of intimacy
and good-will.

"What have you done to Finot, Lucien, that he should make a special
arrangement with you? You are the only one that he has bound to
himself," said Etienne Lousteau, as they came downstairs.

"I? Nothing. It was his own proposal," said Lucien.

"As a matter of fact, if you should make your own terms with him, I
should be delighted; we should, both of us, be the better for it."

On the ground floor they found Finot. He stepped across to Lousteau and
asked him into the so-called private office. Giroudeau immediately put a
couple of stamped agreements before Lucien.

"Sign your agreement," he said, "and the new editor will think the whole
thing was arranged yesterday."

Lucien, reading the document, overheard fragments of a tolerably warm
dispute within as to the line of conduct and profits of the paper.
Etienne Lousteau wanted his share of the blackmail levied by Giroudeau;
and, in all probability, the matter was compromised, for the pair came
out perfectly good friends.

"We will meet at Dauriat's, Lucien, in the Wooden Galleries at eight
o'clock," said Etienne Lousteau.

A young man appeared, meanwhile, in search of employment, wearing the
same nervous shy look with which Lucien himself had come to the office
so short a while ago; and in his secret soul Lucien felt amused as
he watched Giroudeau playing off the same tactics with which the old
campaigner had previously foiled him. Self-interest opened his eyes to
the necessity of the manoeuvres which raised well-nigh insurmountable
barriers between beginners and the upper room where the elect were
gathered together.

"Contributors don't get very much as it is," he said, addressing

"If there were more of you, there would be so much less," retorted the
captain. "So there!"

The old campaigner swung his loaded cane, and went down coughing as
usual. Out in the street he was amazed to see a handsome carriage
waiting on the boulevard for Lucien.

"_You_ are the army nowadays," he said, "and we are the civilians."

"Upon my word," said Lucien, as he drove away with Coralie, "these young
writers seem to me to be the best fellows alive. Here am I a journalist,
sure of making six hundred francs a month if I work like a horse. But I
shall find a publisher for my two books, and I will write others; for my
friends will insure a success. And so, Coralie, '_vogue le galere_!' as
you say."

"You will make your way, dear boy; but you must not be as good-natured
as you are good-looking; it would be the ruin of you. Be ill-natured,
that is the proper thing."

Coralie and Lucien drove in the Bois de Boulogne, and again they met the
Marquise d'Espard, Mme. de Bargeton and the Baron du Chatelet. Mme.
de Bargeton gave Lucien a languishing glance which might be taken as
a greeting. Camusot had ordered the best possible dinner; and Coralie,
feeling that she was rid of her adorer, was more charming to the poor
silk-mercer than she had ever been in the fourteen months during
which their connection lasted; he had never seen her so kindly, so
enchantingly lovely.

"Come," he thought, "let us keep near her anyhow!"

In consequence, Camusot made secret overtures. He promised Coralie an
income of six thousand livres; he would transfer the stock in the funds
into her name (his wife knew nothing about the investment) if only she
would consent to be his mistress still. He would shut his eyes to her

"And betray such an angel?... Why, just look at him, you old fossil, and
look at yourself!" and her eyes turned to her poet. Camusot had pressed
Lucien to drink till the poet's head was rather cloudy.

There was no help for it; Camusot made up his mind to wait till sheer
want should give him this woman a second time.

"Then I can only be your friend," he said, as he kissed her on the

Lucien went from Coralie and Camusot to the Wooden Galleries. What a
change had been wrought in his mind by his initiation into Journalism!
He mixed fearlessly now with the crowd which surged to and fro in the
buildings; he even swaggered a little because he had a mistress; and
he walked into Dauriat's shop in an offhand manner because he was a

He found himself among distinguished men; gave a hand to Blondet
and Nathan and Finot, and to all the coterie with whom he had been
fraternizing for a week. He was a personage, he thought, and he
flattered himself that he surpassed his comrades. That little flick
of the wine did him admirable service; he was witty, he showed that he
could "howl with the wolves."

And yet, the tacit approval, the praises spoken and unspoken on which
he had counted, were not forthcoming. He noticed the first stirrings of
jealousy among a group, less curious, perhaps, than anxious to know
the place which this newcomer might take, and the exact portion of the
sum-total of profits which he would probably secure and swallow. Lucien
only saw smiles on two faces - Finot, who regarded him as a mine to be
exploited, and Lousteau, who considered that he had proprietary rights
in the poet, looked glad to see him. Lousteau had begun already to
assume the airs of an editor; he tapped sharply on the window-panes of
Dauriat's private office.

"One moment, my friend," cried a voice within as the publisher's face
appeared above the green curtains.

The moment lasted an hour, and finally Lucien and Etienne were admitted
into the sanctum.

"Well, have you thought over our friend's proposal?" asked Etienne
Lousteau, now an editor.

"To be sure," said Dauriat, lolling like a sultan in his chair. "I have
read the volume. And I submitted it to a man of taste, a good judge; for
I don't pretend to understand these things myself. I myself, my
friend, buy reputations ready-made, as the Englishman bought his love
affairs. - You are as great as a poet as you are handsome as a man, my
boy," pronounced Dauriat. "Upon my word and honor (I don't tell you that
as a publisher, mind), your sonnets are magnificent; no sign of effort
about them, as is natural when a man writes with inspiration and verve.
You know your craft, in fact, one of the good points of the new school.
Your volume of _Marguerites_ is a fine book, but there is no business in
it, and it is not worth my while to meddle with anything but a very big
affair. In conscience, I won't take your sonnets. It would be impossible
to push them; there is not enough in the thing to pay the expenses of
a big success. You will not keep to poetry besides; this book of yours
will be your first and last attempt of the kind. You are young; you
bring me the everlasting volume of early verse which every man of
letters writes when he leaves school, he thinks a lot of it at the time,
and laughs at it later on. Lousteau, your friend, has a poem put away
somewhere among his old socks, I'll warrant. Haven't you a poem that you
thought a good deal of once, Lousteau?" inquired Dauriat, with a knowing
glance at the other.

"How should I be writing prose otherwise, eh?" asked Lousteau.

"There, you see! He has never said a word to me about it, for our friend
understands business and the trade," continued Dauriat. "For me the
question is not whether you are a great poet, I know that," he added,
stroking down Lucien's pride; "you have a great deal, a very great deal
of merit; if I were only just starting in business, I should make the
mistake of publishing your book. But in the first place, my sleeping
partners and those at the back of me are cutting off my supplies; I
dropped twenty thousand francs over poetry last year, and that is enough
for them; they will not hear of any more just now, and they are my
masters. Nevertheless, that is not the question. I admit that you may be
a great poet, but will you be a prolific writer? Will you hatch sonnets
regularly? Will you run into ten volumes? Is there business in it? Of
course not. You will be a delightful prose writer; you have too much
sense to spoil your style with tagging rhymes together. You have a
chance to make thirty thousand francs per annum by writing for the
papers, and you will not exchange that chance for three thousand
francs made with difficulty by your hemistiches and strophes and
tomfoolery - - "

"You know that he is on the paper, Dauriat?" put in Lousteau.

"Yes," Dauriat answered. "Yes, I saw his article, and in his own
interests I decline the _Marguerites_. Yes, sir, in six months' time I
shall have paid you more money for the articles that I shall ask you to
write than for your poetry that will not sell."

"And fame?" said Lucien.

Dauriat and Lousteau laughed.

"Oh dear!" said Lousteau, "there be illusions left."

"Fame means ten years of sticking to work, and a hundred thousand francs
lost or made in the publishing trade. If you find anybody mad enough to
print your poetry for you, you will feel some respect for me in
another twelvemonth, when you have had time to see the outcome of the

"Have you the manuscript here?" Lucien asked coldly.

"Here it is, my friend," said Dauriat. The publisher's manner towards
Lucien had sweetened singularly.

Lucien took up the roll without looking at the string, so sure he felt
that Dauriat had read his _Marguerites_. He went out with Lousteau,
seemingly neither disconcerted nor dissatisfied. Dauriat went with them
into the shop, talking of his newspaper and Lousteau's daily, while
Lucien played with the manuscript of the _Marguerites_.

"Do you suppose that Dauriat has read your sonnets or sent them to any
one else?" Etienne Lousteau snatched an opportunity to whisper.

"Yes," said Lucien.

"Look at the string." Lucien looked down at the blot of ink, and saw
that the mark on the string still coincided; he turned white with rage.

"Which of the sonnets was it that you particularly liked?" he asked,
turning to the publisher.

"They are all of them remarkable, my friend; but the sonnet on the
_Marguerite_ is delightful, the closing thought is fine, and exquisitely
expressed. I felt sure from that sonnet that your prose work would
command a success, and I spoke to Finot about you at once. Write
articles for us, and we will pay you well for them. Fame is a very fine
thing, you see, but don't forget the practical and solid, and take every
chance that turns up. When you have made money, you can write poetry."

The poet dashed out of the shop to avoid an explosion. He was furious.
Lousteau followed.

"Well, my boy, pray keep cool. Take men as they are - for means to an
end. Do you wish for revenge?"

"At any price," muttered the poet.

"Here is a copy of Nathan's book. Dauriat has just given it to me. The
second edition is coming out to-morrow; read the book again, and knock
off an article demolishing it. Felicien Vernou cannot endure Nathan, for
he thinks that Nathan's success will injure his own forthcoming book. It
is a craze with these little minds to fancy that there is not room for
two successes under the sun; so he will see that your article finds a
place in the big paper for which he writes."

"But what is there to be said against the book; it is good work!" cried

"Oh, I say! you must learn your trade," said Lousteau, laughing. "Given
that the book was a masterpiece, under the stroke of your pen it must
turn to dull trash, dangerous and unwholesome stuff."

"But how?"

"You turn all the good points into bad ones."

"I am incapable of such a juggler's feat."

"My dear boy, a journalist is a juggler; a man must make up his mind to
the drawbacks of the calling. Look here! I am not a bad fellow; this
is the way _I_ should set to work myself. Attention! You might begin by
praising the book, and amuse yourself a while by saying what you really
think. 'Good,' says the reader, 'this critic is not jealous; he will be
impartial, no doubt,' and from that point your public will think that
your criticism is a piece of conscientious work. Then, when you have
won your reader's confidence, you will regret that you must blame the
tendency and influence of such work upon French literature. 'Does
not France,' you will say, 'sway the whole intellectual world? French
writers have kept Europe in the path of analysis and philosophical
criticism from age to age by their powerful style and the original turn
given by them to ideas.' Here, for the benefit of the philistine, insert
a panegyric on Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Montesquieu, and Buffon.
Hold forth upon the inexorable French language; show how it spreads a
varnish, as it were, over thought. Let fall a few aphorisms, such
as - 'A great writer in France is invariably a great man; he writes in
a language which compels him to think; it is otherwise in other
countries' - and so on, and so on. Then, to prove your case, draw a
comparison between Rabener, the German satirical moralist, and La
Bruyere. Nothing gives a critic such an air as an apparent familiarity
with foreign literature. Kant is Cousin's pedestal.

"Once on that ground you bring out a word which sums up the French men
of genius of the eighteenth century for the benefit of simpletons - you
call that literature the 'literature of ideas.' Armed with this
expression, you fling all the mighty dead at the heads of the
illustrious living. You explain that in the present day a new form of
literature has sprung up; that dialogue (the easiest form of writing)
is overdone, and description dispenses with any need for thinking on
the part of the author or reader. You bring up the fiction of Voltaire,
Diderot, Sterne, and Le Sage, so trenchant, so compact of the stuff of
life; and turn from them to the modern novel, composed of scenery and
word-pictures and metaphor and the dramatic situations, of which Scott
is full. Invention may be displayed in such work, but there is no room
for anything else. 'The romance after the manner of Scott is a mere
passing fashion in literature,' you will say, and fulminate against the
fatal way in which ideas are diluted and beaten thin; cry out against a
style within the reach of any intellect, for any one can commence author
at small expense in a way of literature, which you can nickname the
'literature of imagery.'

"Then you fall upon Nathan with your argument, and establish it beyound
cavil that he is a mere imitator with an appearance of genius. The
concise grand style of the eighteenth century is lacking; you show that
the author substitutes events for sentiments. Action and stir is not
life; he gives you pictures, but no ideas.

"Come out with such phrases, and people will take them up. - In spite of
the merits of the work, it seems to you to be a dangerous, nay, a fatal
precedent. It throws open the gates of the temple of Fame to the crowd;
and in the distance you descry a legion of petty authors hastening to
imitate this novel and easy style of writing.

"Here you launch out into resounding lamentations over the decadence
and decline of taste, and slip in eulogies of Messieurs Etienne Jouy,
Tissot, Gosse, Duval, Jay, Benjamin Constant, Aignan, Baour-Lormian,
Villemain, and the whole Liberal-Bonapartist chorus who patronize
Vernou's paper. Next you draw a picture of that glorious phalanx of
writers repelling the invasion of the Romantics; these are the upholders
of ideas and style as against metaphor and balderdash; the modern
representatives of the school of Voltaire as opposed to the English and
German schools, even as the seventeen heroic deputies of the Left fought
the battle for the nation against the Ultras of the Right.

"And then, under cover of names respected by the immense majority of
Frenchmen (who will always be against the Government), you can crush
Nathan; for although his work is far above the average, it confirms
the bourgeois taste for literature without ideas. And after that, you
understand, it is no longer a question of Nathan and his book, but
of France and the glory of France. It is the duty of all honest
and courageous pens to make strenuous opposition to these foreign
importations. And with that you flatter your readers. Shrewd French
mother-wit is not easily caught napping. If publishers, by ways which
you do not choose to specify, have stolen a success, the reading public
very soon judges for itself, and corrects the mistakes made by some five
hundred fools, who always rush to the fore.

"Say that the publisher who sold a first edition of the book is
audacious indeed to issue a second, and express regret that so clever a
man does not know the taste of the country better. There is the gist of
it. Just a sprinkle of the salt of wit and a dash of vinegar to bring
out the flavor, and Dauriat will be done to a turn. But mind that you
end with seeming to pity Nathan for a mistake, and speak of him as of
a man from whom contemporary literature may look for great things if he
renounces these ways."

Lucien was amazed at this talk from Lousteau. As the journalist spoke,
the scales fell from his eyes; he beheld new truths of which he had
never before caught so much as a glimpse.

"But all this that you are saying is quite true and just," said he.

"If it were not, how could you make it tell against Nathan's book?"
asked Lousteau. "That is the first manner of demolishing a book, my
boy; it is the pickaxe style of criticism. But there are plenty of
other ways. Your education will complete itself in time. When you
are absolutely obliged to speak of a man whom you do not like, for
proprietors and editors are sometimes under compulsion, you bring out
a neutral special article. You put the title of the book at the head of
it, and begin with general remarks, on the Greeks and the Romans if you
like, and wind up with - 'and this brings us to Mr. So-and-so's book,
which will form the subject of a second article.' The second article
never appears, and in this way you snuff out the book between two
promises. But in this case you are writing down, not Nathan, but
Dauriat; he needs the pickaxe style. If the book is really good, the
pickaxe does no harm; but it goes to the core of it if it is bad. In the
first case, no one but the publisher is any the worse; in the second,
you do the public a service. Both methods, moreover, are equally
serviceable in political criticism."

Etienne Lousteau's cruel lesson opened up possibilities for Lucien's
imagination. He understood this craft to admiration.

"Let us go to the office," said Lousteau; "we shall find our friends
there, and we will agree among ourselves to charge at Nathan; they will
laugh, you will see."

Arrived in the Rue Saint-Fiacre, they went up to the room in the roof
where the paper was made up, and Lucien was surprised and gratified no
less to see the alacrity with which his comrades proceeded to demolish
Nathan's book. Hector Merlin took up a piece of paper and wrote a few
lines for his own newspaper. -

"A second edition of M. Nathan's book is announced. We had
intended to keep silence with regard to that work, but its
apparent success obliges us to publish an article, not so much
upon the book itself as upon certain tendencies of the new school
of literature."

At the head of the "Facetiae" in the morning's paper, Lousteau inserted
the following note: -

"M. Dauriat is bringing out a second edition of M. Nathan's book.
Evidently he does not know the legal maxim, _Non bis in idem_. All
honor to rash courage."

Lousteau's words had been like a torch for burning; Lucien's hot desire
to be revenged on Dauriat took the place of conscience and inspiration.
For three days he never left Coralie's room; he sat at work by the fire,
waited upon by Berenice; petted, in moments of weariness, by the silent
and attentive Coralie; till, at the end of that time, he had made a
fair copy of about three columns of criticism, and an astonishingly good
piece of work.

It was nine o'clock in the evening when he ran round to the office,
found his associates, and read over his work to an attentive audience.
Felicien said not a syllable. He took up the manuscript, and made off
with it pell-mell down the staircase.

"What has come to him?" cried Lucien.

"He has taken your article straight to the printer," said Hector Merlin.
"'Tis a masterpiece; not a line to add, nor a word to take out."

"There was no need to do more than show you the way," said Lousteau.

"I should like to see Nathan's face when he reads this to-morrow," said
another contributor, beaming with gentle satisfaction.

"It is as well to have you for a friend," remarked Hector Merlin.

"Then it will do?" Lucien asked quickly.

"Blondet and Vignon will feel bad," said Lousteau.

"Here is a short article which I have knocked together for you," began
Lucien; "if it takes, I could write you a series."

"Read it over," said Lousteau, and Lucien read the first of the
delightful short papers which made the fortune of the little newspaper;
a series of sketches of Paris life, a portrait, a type, an ordinary
event, or some of the oddities of the great city. This specimen - "The
Man in the Street" - was written in a way that was fresh and original;
the thoughts were struck out by the shock of the words, the sounding
ring of the adverbs and adjectives caught the reader's ear. The paper
was as different from the serious and profound article on Nathan as the
_Lettres persanes_ from the _Esprit des lois_.

"You are a born journalist," said Lousteau. "It shall go in to-morrow.
Do as much of this sort of thing as you like."

"Ah, by the by," said Merlin, "Dauriat is furious about those two
bombshells hurled into his magazine. I have just come from him. He was
hurling imprecations, and in such a rage with Finot, who told him that
he had sold his paper to you. As for me, I took him aside and just said
a word in his ear. 'The _Marguerites_ will cost you dear,' I told him.
'A man of talent comes to you, you turn the cold shoulder on him, and
send him into the arms of the newspapers.'"

"Dauriat will be dumfounded by the article on Nathan," said Lousteau.
"Do you see now what journalism is, Lucien? Your revenge is beginning to
tell. The Baron Chatelet came here this morning for your address.
There was a cutting article upon him in this morning's issue; he is a
weakling, that buck of the Empire, and he has lost his head. Have you
seen the paper? It is a funny article. Look, 'Funeral of the Heron,
and the Cuttlefish-bone's lament.' Mme. de Bargeton is called the
Cuttlefish-bone now, and no mistake, and Chatelet is known everywhere as
Baron Heron."

Lucien took up the paper, and could not help laughing at Vernou's
extremely clever skit.

"They will capitulate soon," said Hector Merlin.

Lucien merrily assisted at the manufacture of epigrams and jokes at the
end of the paper; and the associates smoked and chatted over the day's
adventures, over the foibles of some among their number, or some new bit
of personal gossip. From their witty, malicious, bantering talk, Lucien
gained a knowledge of the inner life of literature, and of the manners
and customs of the craft.

"While they are setting up the paper, I will go round with you and
introduce you to the managers of your theatres, and take you behind the
scenes," said Lousteau. "And then we will go to the Panorama-Dramatique,
and have a frolic in their dressing-rooms."

Arm-in-arm, they went from theatre to theatre. Lucien was introduced
to this one and that, and enthroned as a dramatic critic. Managers
complimented him, actresses flung him side glances; for every one of
them knew that this was the critic who, by a single article, had gained
an engagement at the Gymnase, with twelve thousand francs a year, for
Coralie, and another for Florine at the Panorama-Dramatique with eight
thousand francs. Lucien was a man of importance. The little ovations
raised Lucien in his own eyes, and taught him to know his power. At
eleven o'clock the pair arrived at the Panorama-Dramatique; Lucien with
a careless air that worked wonders. Nathan was there. Nathan held out a

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 18 of 29)