Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

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this present moment you are a spy, a scoundrel, a caitiff wretch; the
day after to-morrow you will be a genius, an uncommonly clever fellow,
one of Plutarch's men. Nathan will hug you and call you his best friend.
Dauriat has been to see you; you have your three thousand francs; you
have worked the trick! Now you want Nathan's respect and esteem. Nobody
ought to be let in except the publisher. We must not immolate any one
but an enemy. We should not talk like this if it were a question of
some outsider, some inconvenient person who had made a name for himself
without us and was not wanted; but Nathan is one of us. Blondet got some
one to attack him in the _Mercure_ for the pleasure of replying in the
_Debats_. For which reason the first edition went off at once."

"My friends, upon my word and honor, I cannot write two words in praise
of that book - - "

"You will have another hundred francs," interrupted Merlin. "Nathan will
have brought you in ten louis d'or, to say nothing of an article that
you might put in Finot's paper; you would get a hundred francs for
writing that, and another hundred francs from Dauriat - total, twenty

"But what am I to say?"

"Here is your way out of the difficulty," said Blondet, after some
thought. "Say that the envy that fastens on all good work, like wasps
on ripe fruit, has attempted to set its fangs in this production. The
captious critic, trying his best to find fault, has been obliged to
invent theories for that purpose, and has drawn a distinction between
two kinds of literature - 'the literature of ideas and the literature of
imagery,' as he calls them. On the heads of that, youngster, say that to
give expression to ideas through imagery is the highest form of art. Try
to show that all poetry is summed up in that, and lament that there
is so little poetry in French; quote foreign criticisms on the
unimaginative precision of our style, and then extol M. de Canalis and
Nathan for the services they have done France by infusing a less prosaic
spirit into the language. Knock your previous argument to pieces by
calling attention to the fact that we have made progress since the
eighteenth century. (Discover the 'progress,' a beautiful word to
mystify the bourgeois public.) Say that the new methods in
literature concentrate all styles, comedy and tragedy, description,
character-drawing and dialogues, in a series of pictures set in the
brilliant frame of a plot which holds the reader's interest. The Novel,
which demands sentiment, style, and imagery, is the greatest creation of
modern days; it is the successor of stage comedy grown obsolete with its
restrictions. Facts and ideas are all within the province of fiction.
The intellect of an incisive moralist, like La Bruyere, the power of
treating character as Moliere could treat it, the grand machinery of a
Shakespeare, together with the portrayal of the most subtle shades of
passion (the one treasury left untouched by our predecessors) - for all
this the modern novel affords free scope. How far superior is all this
to the cut-and-dried logic-chopping, the cold analysis to the eighteenth
century! - 'The Novel,' say sententiously, 'is the Epic grown amusing.'
Instance _Corinne_, bring Mme. de Stael up to support your argument. The
eighteenth century called all things in question; it is the task of the
nineteenth to conclude and speak the last word; and the last word of the
nineteenth century has been for realities - realities which live
however and move. Passion, in short, an element unknown in Voltaire's
philosophy, has been brought into play. Here a diatribe against
Voltaire, and as for Rousseau, his characters are polemics and systems
masquerading. Julie and Claire are entelechies - informing spirit
awaiting flesh and bones.

"You might slip off on a side issue at this, and say that we owe a
new and original literature to the Peace and the Restoration of the
Bourbons, for you are writing for a Right Centre paper.

"Scoff at Founders of Systems. And cry with a glow of fine enthusiasm,
'Here are errors and misleading statements in abundance in our
contemporary's work, and to what end? To depreciate a fine work, to
deceive the public, and to arrive at this conclusion - "A book that
sells, does not sell."' _Proh pudor_! (Mind you put _Proh pudor_! 'tis
a harmless expletive that stimulates the reader's interest.) Foresee the
approaching decadence of criticism, in fact. Moral - 'There is but one
kind of literature, the literature which aims to please. Nathan has
started upon a new way; he understands his epoch and fulfils the
requirements of his age - the demand for drama, the natural demand of a
century in which the political stage has become a permanent puppet show.
Have we not seen four dramas in a score of years - the Revolution,
the Directory, the Empire, and the Restoration?' With that, wallow in
dithyramb and eulogy, and the second edition shall vanish like smoke.
This is the way to do it. Next Saturday put a review in our magazine,
and sign it 'de Rubempre,' out in full.

"In that final article say that 'fine work always brings about abundant
controversy. This week such and such a paper contained such and such an
article on Nathan's book, and such another paper made a vigorous reply.'
Then you criticise the critics 'C' and 'L'; pay me a passing compliment
on the first article in the _Debats_, and end by averring that Nathan's
work is the great book of the epoch; which is all as if you said nothing
at all; they say the same of everything that comes out.

"And so," continued Blondet, "you will have made four hundred francs in
a week, to say nothing of the pleasure of now and again saying what you
really think. A discerning public will maintain that either C or L or
Rubempre is in the right of it, or mayhap all the three. Mythology,
beyond doubt one of the grandest inventions of the human brain, places
Truth at the bottom of a well; and what are we to do without buckets?
You will have supplied the public with three for one. There you are, my
boy, Go ahead!"

Lucien's head was swimming with bewilderment. Blondet kissed him on both

"I am going to my shop," said he. And every man likewise departed to his
shop. For these "_hommes forts_," a newspaper office was nothing but a

They were to meet again in the evening at the Wooden Galleries,
and Lucien would sign his treaty of peace with Dauriat. Florine and
Lousteau, Lucien and Coralie, Blondet and Finot, were to dine at the
Palais-Royal; du Bruel was giving the manager of the Panorama-Dramatique
a dinner.

"They are right," exclaimed Lucien, when he was alone with Coralie.
"Men are made to be tools in the hands of stronger spirits. Four hundred
francs for three articles! Doguereau would scarcely give me as much for
a book which cost me two years of work."

"Write criticism," said Coralie, "have a good time! Look at me, I am
an Andalusian girl to-night, to-morrow I may be a gypsy, and a man the
night after. Do as I do, give them grimaces for their money, and let us
live happily."

Lucien, smitten with love of Paradox, set himself to mount and ride
that unruly hybrid product of Pegasus and Balaam's ass; started out at a
gallop over the fields of thought while he took a turn in the Bois, and
discovered new possibilities in Blondet's outline.

He dined as happy people dine, and signed away all his rights in the
_Marguerites_. It never occurred to him that any trouble might arise
from that transaction in the future. He took a turn of work at the
office, wrote off a couple of columns, and came back to the Rue de
Vendome. Next morning he found the germs of yesterday's ideas had sprung
up and developed in his brain, as ideas develop while the intellect
is yet unjaded and the sap is rising; and thoroughly did he enjoy
the projection of this new article. He threw himself into it with
enthusiasm. At the summons of the spirit of contradiction, new charms
met beneath his pen. He was witty and satirical, he rose to yet new
views of sentiment, of ideas and imagery in literature. With subtle
ingenuity, he went back to his own first impressions of Nathan's
work, when he read it in the newsroom of the Cour du Commerce; and the
ruthless, bloodthirsty critic, the lively mocker, became a poet in the
final phrases which rose and fell with majestic rhythm like the swaying
censer before the altar.

"One hundred francs, Coralie!" cried he, holding up eight sheets of
paper covered with writing while she dressed.

The mood was upon him; he went on to indite, stroke by stroke, the
promised terrible article on Chatelet and Mme. de Bargeton. That morning
he experienced one of the keenest personal pleasures of journalism; he
knew what it was to forge the epigram, to whet and polish the cold blade
to be sheathed in a victim's heart, to make of the hilt a cunning piece
of workmanship for the reader to admire. For the public admires the
handle, the delicate work of the brain, while the cruelty is not
apparent; how should the public know that the steel of the epigram,
tempered in the fire of revenge, has been plunged deftly, to rankle
in the very quick of a victim's vanity, and is reeking from wounds
innumerable which it has inflicted? It is a hideous joy, that grim,
solitary pleasure, relished without witnesses; it is like a duel with an
absent enemy, slain at a distance by a quill; a journalist might really
possess the magical power of talismans in Eastern tales. Epigram is
distilled rancor, the quintessence of a hate derived from all the worst
passions of man, even as love concentrates all that is best in human
nature. The man does not exist who cannot be witty to avenge himself;
and, by the same rule, there is not one to whom love does not bring
delight. Cheap and easy as this kind of wit may be in France, it is
always relished. Lucien's article was destined to raise the previous
reputation of the paper for venomous spite and evil-speaking. His
article probed two hearts to the depths; it dealt a grievous wound to
Mme. de Bargeton, his Laura of old days, as well as to his rival, the
Baron du Chatelet.

"Well, let us go for a drive in the Bois," said Coralie, "the horses are
fidgeting. There is no need to kill yourself."

"We will take the article on Nathan to Hector. Journalism is really very
much like Achilles' lance, it salves the wounds that it makes," said
Lucien, correcting a phrase here and there.

The lovers started forth in splendor to show themselves to the Paris
which had but lately given Lucien the cold shoulder, and now was
beginning to talk about him. To have Paris talking of you! and this
after you have learned how large the great city is, how hard it is to
be anybody there - it was this thought that turned Lucien's head with

"Let us go by way of your tailor's, dear boy, and tell him to be quick
with your clothes, or try them on if they are ready. If you are going to
your fine ladies' houses, you shall eclipse that monster of a de
Marsay and young Rastignac and any Ajuda-Pinto or Maxime de Trailles or
Vandenesse of them all. Remember that your mistress is Coralie! But you
will not play me any tricks, eh?"

Two days afterwards, on the eve of the supper-party at Coralie's house,
there was a new play at the Ambigu, and it fell to Lucien to write the
dramatic criticism. Lucien and Coralie walked together after dinner from
the Rue de Vendome to the Panorama-Dramatique, going along the Cafe Turc
side of the Boulevard du Temple, a lounge much frequented at that
time. People wondered at his luck, and praised Coralie's beauty. Chance
remarks reached his ears; some said that Coralie was the finest woman in
Paris, others that Lucien was a match for her. The romantic youth
felt that he was in his atmosphere. This was the life for him. The
brotherhood was so far away that it was almost out of sight. Only two
months ago, how he had looked up to those lofty great natures; now
he asked himself if they were not just a trifle ridiculous with their
notions and their Puritanism. Coralie's careless words had lodged in
Lucien's mind, and begun already to bear fruit. He took Coralie to her
dressing-room, and strolled about like a sultan behind the scenes; the
actresses gave him burning glances and flattering speeches.

"I must go to the Ambigu and attend to business," said he.

At the Ambigu the house was full; there was not a seat left for
him. Indignant complaints behind the scenes brought no redress; the
box-office keeper, who did not know him as yet, said that they had sent
orders for two boxes to his paper, and sent him about his business.

"I shall speak of the play as I find it," said Lucien, nettled at this.

"What a dunce you are!" said the leading lady, addressing the box-office
keeper, "that is Coralie's adorer."

The box-office keeper turned round immediately at this. "I will speak to
the manager at once, sir," he said.

In all these small details Lucien saw the immense power wielded by the
press. His vanity was gratified. The manager appeared to say that the
Duc de Rhetore and Tullia the opera-dancer were in the stage-box, and
they had consented to allow Lucien to join them.

"You have driven two people to distraction," remarked the young Duke,
mentioning the names of the Baron du Chatelet and Mme. de Bargeton.

"Distraction? What will it be to-morrow?" said Lucien. "So far, my
friends have been mere skirmishers, but I have given them red-hot shot
to-night. To-morrow you will know why we are making game of 'Potelet.'
The article is called 'Potelet from 1811 to 1821.' Chatelet will be a
byword, a name for the type of courtiers who deny their benefactor and
rally to the Bourbons. When I have done with him, I am going to Mme. de

Lucien's talk was sparkling. He was eager that this great personage
should see how gross a mistake Mesdames d'Espard and de Bargeton had
made when they slighted Lucien de Rubempre. But he showed the tip of his
ear when he asserted his right to bear the name of Rubempre, the Duc de
Rhetore having purposely addressed him as Chardon.

"You should go over to the Royalists," said the Duke. "You have proved
yourself a man of ability; now show your good sense. The one way of
obtaining a patent of nobility and the right to bear the title of
your mother's family, is by asking for it in return for services to be
rendered to the Court. The Liberals will never make a count of you. The
Restoration will get the better of the press, you see, in the long run,
and the press is the only formidable power. They have borne with it too
long as it is; the press is sure to be muzzled. Take advantage of the
last moments of liberty to make yourself formidable, and you will have
everything - intellect, nobility, and good looks; nothing will be out of
your reach. So if you are a Liberal, let it be simply for the moment, so
that you can make a better bargain for your Royalism."

With that the Duke entreated Lucien to accept an invitation to dinner,
which the German Minister (of Florine's supper-party) was about to send.
Lucien fell under the charm of the noble peer's arguments; the salons
from which he had been exiled for ever, as he thought, but a few months
ago, would shortly open their doors for him! He was delighted. He
marveled at the power of the press; Intellect and the Press, these then
were the real powers in society. Another thought shaped itself in his
mind - Was Etienne Lousteau sorry that he had opened the gate of the
temple to a newcomer? Even now he (Lucien) felt on his own account that
it was strongly advisable to put difficulties in the way of eager and
ambitious recruits from the provinces. If a poet should come to him
as he had flung himself into Etienne's arms, he dared not think of the
reception that he would give him.

The youthful Duke meanwhile saw that Lucien was deep in thought, and
made a pretty good guess at the matter of his meditations. He himself
had opened out wide horizons of public life before an ambitious poet,
with a vacillating will, it is true, but not without aspirations; and
the journalists had already shown the neophyte, from a pinnacle of the
temple, all the kingdoms of the world of letters and its riches.

Lucien himself had no suspicion of a little plot that was being woven,
nor did he imagine that M. de Rhetore had a hand in it. M. de Rhetore
had spoken of Lucien's cleverness, and Mme. d'Espard's set had taken
alarm. Mme. de Bargeton had commissioned the Duke to sound Lucien,
and with that object in view, the noble youth had come to the

Do not believe in stories of elaborate treachery. Neither the great
world nor the world of journalists laid any deep schemes; definite plans
are not made by either; their Machiavelism lives from hand to mouth, so
to speak, and consists, for the most part, in being always on the spot,
always on the alert to turn everything to account, always on the watch
for the moment when a man's ruling passion shall deliver him into
the hands of his enemies. The young Duke had seen through Lucien at
Florine's supper-party; he had just touched his vain susceptibilities;
and now he was trying his first efforts in diplomacy upon the living

Lucien hurried to the Rue Saint-Fiacre after the play to write his
article. It was a piece of savage and bitter criticism, written in pure
wantonness; he was amusing himself by trying his power. The melodrama,
as a matter of fact, was a better piece than the _Alcalde_; but Lucien
wished to see whether he could damn a good play and send everybody to
see a bad one, as his associates had said.

He unfolded the sheet at breakfast next morning, telling Coralie as
he did so that he had cut up the Ambigu-Comique; and not a little
astonished was he to find below his paper on Mme. de Bargeton and
Chatelet a notice of the Ambigu, so mellowed and softened in the course
of the night, that although the witty analysis was still preserved, the
judgment was favorable. The article was more likely to fill the house
than to empty it. No words can describe his wrath. He determined to have
a word or two with Lousteau. He had already begun to think himself
an indispensable man, and he vowed that he would not submit to be
tyrannized over and treated like a fool. To establish his power beyond
cavil, he wrote the article for Dauriat's review, summing up and
weighing all the various opinions concerning Nathan's book; and while
he was in the humor, he hit off another of his short sketches
for Lousteau's newspaper. Inexperienced journalists, in the first
effervescence of youth, make a labor of love of ephemeral work, and
lavish their best thought unthriftily thereon.

The manager of the Panorama-Dramatique gave a first performance of a
vaudeville that night, so that Florine and Coralie might be free for
the evening. There were to be cards before supper. Lousteau came for the
short notice of the vaudeville; it had been written beforehand after the
general rehearsal, for Etienne wished to have the paper off his mind.
Lucien read over one of the charming sketches of Parisian whimsicalities
which made the fortune of the paper, and Lousteau kissed him on both
eyelids, and called him the providence of journalism.

"Then why do you amuse yourself by turning my article inside out?" asked
Lucien. He had written his brilliant sketch simply and solely to give
emphasis to his grievance.

"_I_?" exclaimed Lousteau.

"Well, who else can have altered my article?"

"You do not know all the ins and outs yet, dear fellow. The Ambigu
pays for thirty copies, and only takes nine for the manager and box
office-keeper and their mistresses, and for the three lessees of the
theatre. Every one of the Boulevard theatres pays eight hundred francs
in this way to the paper; and there is quite as much again in boxes and
orders for Finot, to say nothing of the contributions of the company.
And if the minor theatres do this, you may imagine what the big ones do!
Now you understand? We are bound to show a good deal of indulgence."

"I understand this, that I am not at liberty to write as I think - - "

"Eh! what does that matter, so long as you turn an honest penny?" cried
Lousteau. "Besides, my boy, what grudge had you against the theatre? You
must have had some reason for it, or you would not have cut up the play
as you did. If you slash for the sake of slashing, the paper will get
into trouble, and when there is good reason for hitting hard it will not
tell. Did the manager leave you out in the cold?"

"He had not kept a place for me."

"Good," said Lousteau. "I shall let him see your article, and tell him
that I softened it down; you will find it serves you better than if it
had appeared in print. Go and ask him for tickets to-morrow, and he will
sign forty blank orders every month. I know a man who can get rid of
them for you; I will introduce you to him, and he will buy them all up
at half-price. There is a trade done in theatre tickets, just as Barbet
trades in reviewers' copies. This is another Barbet, the leader of the
_claque_. He lives near by; come and see him, there is time enough."

"But, my dear fellow, it is a scandalous thing that Finot should levy
blackmail in matters intellectual. Sooner or later - - "

"Really!" cried Lousteau, "where do you come from? For what do you take
Finot? Beneath his pretence of good-nature, his ignorance and stupidity,
and those Turcaret's airs of his, there is all the cunning of his father
the hatter. Did you notice an old soldier of the Empire in the den at
the office? That is Finot's uncle. The uncle is not only one of the
right sort, he has the luck to be taken for a fool; and he takes all
that kind of business upon his shoulders. An ambitious man in Paris is
well off indeed if he has a willing scapegoat at hand. In public life,
as in journalism, there are hosts of emergencies in which the chiefs
cannot afford to appear. If Finot should enter on a political career,
his uncle would be his secretary, and receive all the contributions
levied in his department on big affairs. Anybody would take Giroudeau
for a fool at first sight, but he has just enough shrewdness to be an
inscrutable old file. He is on picket duty; he sees that we are not
pestered with hubbub, beginners wanting a job, or advertisements. No
other paper has his equal, I think."

"He plays his part well," said Lucien; "I saw him at work."

Etienne and Lucien reached a handsome house in the Rue du

"Is M. Braulard in?" Etienne asked of the porter.

"_Monsieur_?" said Lucien. "Then, is the leader of the _claque_

"My dear boy, Braulard has twenty thousand francs of income. All the
dramatic authors of the Boulevards are in his clutches, and have
a standing account with him as if he were a banker. Orders and
complimentary tickets are sold here. Braulard knows where to get rid of
such merchandise. Now for a turn at statistics, a useful science enough
in its way. At the rate of fifty complimentary tickets every evening
for each theatre, you have two hundred and fifty tickets daily. Suppose,
taking one with another, that they are worth a couple of francs apiece,
Braulard pays a hundred and twenty-five francs daily for them, and takes
his chance of making cent per cent. In this way authors' tickets alone
bring him in about four thousand francs every month, or forty-eight
thousand francs per annum. Allow twenty thousand francs for loss, for he
cannot always place all his tickets - - "

"Why not?"

"Oh! the people who pay at the door go in with the holders of
complimentary tickets for unreserved seats, and the theatre reserves
the right of admitting those who pay. There are fine warm evenings to be
reckoned with besides, and poor plays. Braulard makes, perhaps, thirty
thousand francs every year in this way, and he has his _claqueurs_
besides, another industry. Florine and Coralie pay tribute to him; if
they did not, there would be no applause when they come on or go off."

Lousteau gave this explanation in a low voice as they went up the stair.

"Paris is a queer place," said Lucien; it seemed to him that he saw
self-interest squatting in every corner.

A smart maid-servant opened the door. At the sight of Etienne Lousteau,
the dealer in orders and tickets rose from a sturdy chair before a large
cylinder desk, and Lucien beheld the leader of the _claque_, Braulard
himself, dressed in a gray molleton jacket, footed trousers, and red
slippers; for all the world like a doctor or a solicitor. He was a
typical self-made man, Lucien thought - a vulgar-looking face with a
pair of exceedingly cunning gray eyes, hands made for hired applause,

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 20 of 29)