Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

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she had ever been; perhaps she thought that the wealth of love in her
heart should make him amends for the poverty of their lodging. She
looked bewitchingly charming, with the loose hair straying from under
the crushed white silk handkerchief about her head; there was soft
laughter in her eyes; her words were as bright as the first rays of
sunrise that shone in through the windows, pouring a flood of gold upon
such charming poverty.

Not that the room was squalid. The walls were covered with a sea-green
paper, bordered with red; there was one mirror over the chimney-piece,
and a second above the chest of drawers. The bare boards were covered
with a cheap carpet, which Berenice had bought in spite of Coralie's
orders, and paid for out of her own little store. A wardrobe, with a
glass door and a chest, held the lovers' clothing, the mahogany chairs
were covered with blue cotton stuff, and Berenice had managed to save a
clock and a couple of china vases from the catastrophe, as well as four
spoons and forks and half-a-dozen little spoons. The bedroom was entered
from the dining-room, which might have belonged to a clerk with an
income of twelve hundred francs. The kitchen was next the landing, and
Berenice slept above in an attic. The rent was not more than a hundred

The dismal house boasted a sham carriage entrance, the porter's box
being contrived behind one of the useless leaves of the gate, and
lighted by a peephole through which that personage watched the comings
and goings of seventeen families, for this hive was a "good-paying
property," in auctioneer's phrase.

Lucien, looking round the room, discovered a desk, an easy-chair, paper,
pens, and ink. The sight of Berenice in high spirits (she was building
hopes on Coralie's _debut_ at the Gymnase), and of Coralie herself
conning her part with a knot of blue ribbon tied about it, drove all
cares and anxieties from the sobered poet's mind.

"So long as nobody in society hears of this sudden comedown, we shall
pull through," he said. "After all, we have four thousand five hundred
francs before us. I will turn my new position in Royalist journalism to
account. To-morrow we shall start the _Reveil_; I am an old hand now,
and I will make something out."

And Coralie, seeing nothing but love in the words, kissed the lips that
uttered them. By this time Berenice had set the table near the fire
and served a modest breakfast of scrambled eggs, a couple of cutlets,
coffee, and cream. Just then there came a knock at the door, and
Lucien, to his astonishment, beheld three of his loyal friends of
old days - d'Arthez, Leon Giraud, and Michel Chrestien. He was deeply
touched, and asked them to share the breakfast.

"No; we have come on more serious business than condolence," said
d'Arthez; "we know the whole story, we have just come from the Rue de
Vendome. You know my opinions, Lucien. Under any other circumstances I
should be glad to hear that you had adopted my political convictions;
but situated as you are with regard to the Liberal Press, it is
impossible for you to go over to the Ultras. Your life will be sullied,
your character blighted for ever. We have come to entreat you in the
name of our friendship, weakened though it may be, not to soil yourself
in this way. You have been prominent in attacking the Romantics, the
Right, and the Government; you cannot now declare for the Government;
the Right, and the Romantics."

"My reasons for the change are based on lofty grounds; the end will
justify the means," said Lucien.

"Perhaps you do not fully comprehend our position on the side of the
Government," said Leon Giraud. "The Government, the Court, the Bourbons,
the Absolutist Party, or to sum up in the general expression, the whole
system opposed to the constitutional system, may be divided upon the
question of the best means of extinguishing the Revolution, but is
unanimous as to the advisability of extinguishing the newspapers. The
_Reveil_, the _Foudre_, and the _Drapeau Blanc_ have all been founded
for the express purpose of replying to the slander, gibes, and railing
of the Liberal press. I cannot approve them, for it is precisely this
failure to recognize the grandeur of our priesthood that has led us to
bring out a serious and self-respecting paper; which perhaps," he added
parenthetically, "may exercise a worthy influence before very long, and
win respect, and carry weight; but this Royalist artillery is destined
for a first attempt at reprisals, the Liberals are to be paid back in
their own coin - shaft for shaft, wound for wound.

"What can come of it Lucien? The majority of newspaper readers incline
for the Left; and in the press, as in warfare, the victory is with the
big battalions. You will be blackguards, liars, enemies of the people;
the other side will be defenders of their country, martyrs, men to be
held in honor, though they may be even more hypocritical and slippery
than their opponents. In these ways the pernicious influence of the
press will be increased, while the most odious form of journalism will
receive sanction. Insult and personalities will become a recognized
privilege of the press; newspapers have taken this tone in the
subscribers' interests; and when both sides have recourse to the same
weapons, the standard is set and the general tone of journalism
taken for granted. When the evil is developed to its fullest extent,
restrictive laws will be followed by prohibitions; there will be a
return of the censorship of the press imposed after the assassination of
the Duc de Berri, and repealed since the opening of the Chambers. And do
you know what the nation will conclude from the debate? The people will
believe the insinuations of the Liberal press; they will think that
the Bourbons mean to attack the rights of property acquired by the
Revolution, and some fine day they will rise and shake off the Bourbons.
You are not only soiling your life, Lucien, you are going over to the
losing side. You are too young, too lately a journalist, too little
initiated into the secret springs of motive and the tricks of the craft,
you have aroused too much jealousy, not to fall a victim to the general
hue and cry that will be raised against you in the Liberal newspapers.
You will be drawn into the fray by party spirit now still at fever-heat;
though the fever, which spent itself in violence in 1815 and 1816, now
appears in debates in the Chamber and polemics in the papers."

"I am not quite a featherhead, my friends," said Lucien, "though you may
choose to see a poet in me. Whatever may happen, I shall gain one solid
advantage which no Liberal victory can give me. By the time your victory
is won, I shall have gained my end."

"We will cut off - your hair," said Michel Chrestien, with a laugh.

"I shall have my children by that time," said Lucien; "and if you cut
off my head, it will not matter."

The three could make nothing of Lucien. Intercourse with the great world
had developed in him the pride of caste, the vanities of the aristocrat.
The poet thought, and not without reason, that there was a fortune
in his good looks and intellect, accompanied by the name and title of
Rubempre. Mme. d'Espard and Mme. de Bargeton held him fast by this
clue, as a child holds a cockchafer by a string. Lucien's flight was
circumscribed. The words, "He is one of us, he is sound," accidentally
overheard but three days ago in Mlle. de Touches' salon, had turned
his head. The Duc de Lenoncourt, the Duc de Navarreins, the Duc de
Grandlieu, Rastignac, Blondet, the lovely Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, the
Comte d'Escrignon, and des Lupeaulx, all the most influential people at
Court in fact, had congratulated him on his conversion, and completed
his intoxication.

"Then there is no more to be said," d'Arthez rejoined. "You, of all
men, will find it hard to keep clean hands and self-respect. I know you,
Lucien; you will feel it acutely when you are despised by the very men
to whom you offer yourself."

The three took leave, and not one of them gave him a friendly handshake.
Lucien was thoughtful and sad for a few minutes.

"Oh! never mind those ninnies," cried Coralie, springing upon his
knee and putting her beautiful arms about his neck. "They take life
seriously, and life is a joke. Besides, you are going to be Count Lucien
de Rubempre. I will wheedle the _Chancellerie_ if there is no other way.
I know how to come round that rake of a des Lupeaulx, who will sign your
patent. Did I not tell you, Lucien, that at the last you should have
Coralie's dead body for a stepping stone?"

Next day Lucien allowed his name to appear in the list of contributors
to the _Reveil_. His name was announced in the prospectus with a
flourish of trumpets, and the Ministry took care that a hundred thousand
copies should be scattered abroad far and wide. There was a dinner at
Robert's, two doors away from Frascati's, to celebrate the inauguration,
and the whole band of Royalist writers for the press were present.
Martainville was there, and Auger and Destains, and a host of others,
still living, who "did Monarchy and religion," to use the familiar
expression coined for them. Nathan had also enlisted under the banner,
for he was thinking of starting a theatre, and not unreasonably held
that it was better to have the licensing authorities for him than
against him.

"We will pay the Liberals out," cried Merlin.

"Gentlemen," said Nathan, "if we are for war, let us have war in
earnest; we must not carry it on with pop-guns. Let us fall upon all
Classicals and Liberals without distinction of age or sex, and put them
all to the sword with ridicule. There must be no quarter."

"We must act honorably; there must be no bribing with copies of books
or presents; no taking money of publishers. We must inaugurate a
Restoration of Journalism."

"Good!" said Martainville. "_Justum et tenacem propositi virum_! Let us
be implacable and virulent. I will give out La Fayette for the prince of
harlequins that he is!"

"And I will undertake the heroes of the _Constitutionnel_," added
Lucien; "Sergeant Mercier, M. Jouy's Complete Works, and 'the
illustrious orators of the Left.'"

A war of extermination was unanimously resolved upon, and by one o'clock
in the morning all shades of opinion were merged and drowned, together
with every glimmer of sense, in a flaming bowl of punch.

"We have had a fine Monarchical and Religious jollification," remarked
an illustrious reveler in the doorway as he went.

That comment appeared in the next day's issue of the _Miroir_ through
the good offices of a publisher among the guests, and became historic.
Lucien was supposed to be the traitor who blabbed. His defection gave
the signal for a terrific hubbub in the Liberal camp; Lucien was the
butt of the Opposition newspapers, and ridiculed unmercifully. The whole
history of his sonnets was given to the public. Dauriat was said to
prefer a first loss of a thousand crowns to the risk of publishing the
verses; Lucien was called "the Poet sans Sonnets;" and one morning, in
that very paper in which he had so brilliant a beginning, he read the
following lines, significant enough for him, but barely intelligible to
other readers:

*** "If M. Dauriat persistently withholds the Sonnets of the
future Petrarch from publication, we will act like generous foes.
We will open our own columns to his poems, which must be piquant
indeed, to judge by the following specimen obligingly communicated
by a friend of the author."

And close upon that ominous preface followed a sonnet entitled "The
Thistle" (_le Chardon)_:

A chance-come seedling, springing up one day
Among the flowers in a garden fair,
Made boast that splendid colors bright and rare
Its claims to lofty lineage should display.

So for a while they suffered it to stay;
But with such insolence it flourished there,
That, out of patience with its braggart's air,
They bade it prove its claims without delay.

It bloomed forthwith; but ne'er was blundering clown
Upon the boards more promptly hooted down;
The sister flowers began to jeer and laugh.

The owner flung it out. At close of day
A solitary jackass came to bray -
A common Thistle's fitting epitaph.

Lucien read the words through scalding tears.

Vernou touched elsewhere on Lucien's gambling propensities, and spoke
of the forthcoming _Archer of Charles IX._ as "anti-national" in its
tendency, the writer siding with Catholic cut-throats against their
Calvinist victims.

Another week found the quarrel embittered. Lucien had counted upon his
friend Etienne; Etienne owed him a thousand francs, and there had been
besides a private understanding between them; but Etienne Lousteau
during the interval became his sworn foe, and this was the manner of it.

For the past three months Nathan had been smitten with Florine's charms,
and much at a loss how to rid himself of Lousteau his rival, who was in
fact dependent upon the actress. And now came Nathan's opportunity,
when Florine was frantic with distress over the failure of the
Panorama-Dramatique, which left her without an engagement. He went as
Lucien's colleague to beg Coralie to ask for a part for Florine in a
play of his which was about to be produced at the Gymnase. Then Nathan
went to Florine and made capital with her out of the service done by the
promise of a conditional engagement. Ambition turned Florine's head; she
did not hesitate. She had had time to gauge Lousteau pretty thoroughly.
Lousteau's courses were weakening his will, and here was Nathan with
his ambitions in politics and literature, and energies strong as his
cravings. Florine proposed to reappear on the stage with renewed eclat,
so she handed over Matifat's correspondence to Nathan. Nathan drove
a bargain for them with Matifat, and took the sixth share of Finot's
review in exchange for the compromising billets. After this, Florine
was installed in sumptuously furnished apartments in the Rue Hauteville,
where she took Nathan for her protector in the face of the theatrical
and journalistic world.

Lousteau was terribly overcome. He wept (towards the close of a dinner
given by his friends to console him in his affliction). In the course of
that banquet it was decided that Nathan had not acted unfairly; several
writers present - Finot and Vernou, for instance, - knew of Florine's
fervid admiration for dramatic literature; but they all agreed that
Lucien had behaved very ill when he arranged that business at the
Gymnase; he had indeed broken the most sacred laws of friendship.
Party-spirit and zeal to serve his new friends had led the Royalist poet
on to sin beyond forgiveness.

"Nathan was carried away by passion," pronounced Bixiou, "while this
'distinguished provincial,' as Blondet calls him, is simply scheming for
his own selfish ends."

And so it came to pass that deep plots were laid by all parties alike to
rid themselves of this little upstart intruder of a poet who wanted to
eat everybody up. Vernou bore Lucien a personal grudge, and undertook
to keep a tight hand on him; and Finot declared that Lucien had betrayed
the secret of the combination against Matifat, and thereby swindled
him (Finot) out of fifty thousand francs. Nathan, acting on Florine's
advice, gained Finot's support by selling him the sixth share for
fifteen thousand francs, and Lousteau consequently lost his commission.
His thousand crowns had vanished away; he could not forgive Lucien for
this treacherous blow (as he supposed it) dealt to his interests. The
wounds of vanity refuse to heal if oxide of silver gets into them.

No words, no amount of description, can depict the wrath of an author in
a paroxysm of mortified vanity, nor the energy which he discovers when
stung by the poisoned darts of sarcasm; but, on the other hand, the man
that is roused to fighting-fury by a personal attack usually subsides
very promptly. The more phlegmatic race, who take these things quietly,
lay their account with the oblivion which speedily overtakes the
spiteful article. These are the truly courageous men of letters; and if
the weaklings seem at first to be the strong men, they cannot hold out
for any length of time.

During that first fortnight, while the fury was upon him, Lucien poured
a perfect hailstorm of articles into the Royalist papers, in which he
shared the responsibilities of criticism with Hector Merlin. He was
always in the breach, pounding away with all his might in the _Reveil_,
backed up by Martainville, the only one among his associates who stood
by him without an afterthought. Martainville was not in the secret of
certain understandings made and ratified amid after-dinner jokes, or
at Dauriat's in the Wooden Galleries, or behind the scenes at the
Vaudeville, when journalists of either side met on neutral ground.

When Lucien went to the greenroom of the Vaudeville, he met with no
welcome; the men of his own party held out a hand to shake, the
others cut him; and all the while Hector Merlin and Theodore Gaillard
fraternized unblushingly with Finot, Lousteau, and Vernou, and the rest
of the journalists who were known for "good fellows."

The greenroom of the Vaudeville in those days was a hotbed of gossip, as
well as a neutral ground where men of every shade of opinion could
meet; so much so that the President of a court of law, after reproving a
learned brother in a certain council chamber for "sweeping the greenroom
with his gown," met the subject of his strictures, gown to gown, in the
greenroom of the Vaudeville. Lousteau, in time, shook hands again with
Nathan; Finot came thither almost every evening; and Lucien, whenever he
could spare the time, went to the Vaudeville to watch the enemies, who
showed no sign of relenting towards the unfortunate boy.

In the time of the Restoration party hatred was far more bitter than in
our day. Intensity of feeling is diminished in our high-pressure age.
The critic cuts a book to pieces and shakes hands with the author
afterwards, and the victim must keep on good terms with his slaughterer,
or run the gantlet of innumerable jokes at his expense. If he refuses,
he is unsociable, eaten up with self-love, he is sulky and rancorous,
he bears malice, he is a bad bed-fellow. To-day let an author receive a
treacherous stab in the back, let him avoid the snares set for him with
base hypocrisy, and endure the most unhandsome treatment, he must still
exchange greetings with his assassin, who, for that matter, claims
the esteem and friendship of his victim. Everything can be excused and
justified in an age which has transformed vice into virtue and virtue
into vice. Good-fellowship has come to be the most sacred of our
liberties; the representatives of the most opposite opinions courteously
blunt the edge of their words, and fence with buttoned foils. But in
those almost forgotten days the same theatre could scarcely hold certain
Royalist and Liberal journalists; the most malignant provocation was
offered, glances were like pistol-shots, the least spark produced an
explosion of quarrel. Who has not heard his neighbor's half-smothered
oath on the entrance of some man in the forefront of the battle on
the opposing side? There were but two parties - Royalists and Liberals,
Classics and Romantics. You found the same hatred masquerading in either
form, and no longer wondered at the scaffolds of the Convention.

Lucien had been a Liberal and a hot Voltairean; now he was a rabid
Royalist and a Romantic. Martainville, the only one among his colleagues
who really liked him and stood by him loyally, was more hated by the
Liberals than any man on the Royalist side, and this fact drew down
all the hate of the Liberals on Lucien's head. Martainville's staunch
friendship injured Lucien. Political parties show scanty gratitude to
outpost sentinels, and leave leaders of forlorn hopes to their fate;
'tis a rule of warfare which holds equally good in matters political, to
keep with the main body of the army if you mean to succeed. The spite of
the small Liberal papers fastened at once on the opportunity of coupling
the two names, and flung them into each other's arms. Their friendship,
real or imaginary, brought down upon them both a series of articles
written by pens dipped in gall. Felicien Vernou was furious with
jealousy of Lucien's social success; and believed, like all his old
associates, in the poet's approaching elevation.

The fiction of Lucien's treason was embellished with every kind of
aggravating circumstance; he was called Judas the Less, Martainville
being Judas the Great, for Martainville was supposed (rightly or
wrongly) to have given up the Bridge of Pecq to the foreign invaders.
Lucien said jestingly to des Lupeaulx that he himself, surely, had given
up the Asses' Bridge.

Lucien's luxurious life, hollow though it was, and founded on
expectations, had estranged his friends. They could not forgive him for
the carriage which he had put down - for them he was still rolling about
in it - nor yet for the splendors of the Rue de Vendome which he had
left. All of them felt instinctively that nothing was beyond the reach
of this young and handsome poet, with intellect enough and to spare;
they themselves had trained him in corruption; and, therefore, they left
no stone unturned to ruin him.

Some few days before Coralie's first appearance at the Gymnase, Lucien
and Hector Merlin went arm-in-arm to the Vaudeville. Merlin was scolding
his friend for giving a helping hand to Nathan in Florine's affair.

"You then and there made two mortal enemies of Lousteau and Nathan," he
said. "I gave you good advice, and you took no notice of it. You gave
praise, you did them a good turn - you will be well punished for your
kindness. Florine and Coralie will never live in peace on the same
stage; both will wish to be first. You can only defend Coralie in our
papers; and Nathan not only has a pull as a dramatic author, he can
control the dramatic criticism in the Liberal newspapers. He has been a
journalist a little longer than you!"

The words responded to Lucien's inward misgivings. Neither Nathan nor
Gaillard was treating him with the frankness which he had a right to
expect, but so new a convert could hardly complain. Gaillard utterly
confounded Lucien by saying roundly that newcomers must give proofs of
their sincerity for some time before their party could trust them. There
was more jealousy than he had imagined in the inner circles of Royalist
and Ministerial journalism. The jealousy of curs fighting for a bone is
apt to appear in the human species when there is a loaf to divide; there
is the same growling and showing of teeth, the same characteristics come

In every possible way these writers of articles tried to injure each
other with those in power; they brought reciprocal accusations of
lukewarm zeal; they invented the most treacherous ways of getting rid
of a rival. There had been none of this internecine warfare among the
Liberals; they were too far from power, too hopelessly out of favor;
and Lucien, amid the inextricable tangle of ambitions, had neither the
courage to draw sword and cut the knot, or the patience to unravel it.
He could not be the Beaumarchais, the Aretino, the Freron of his epoch;
he was not made of such stuff; he thought of nothing but his one
desire, the patent of nobility; for he saw clearly that for him such
a restoration meant a wealthy marriage, and, the title once secured,
chance and his good looks would do the rest. This was all his plan, and
Etienne Lousteau, who had confided so much to him, knew his secret, knew
how to deal a deathblow to the poet of Angouleme. That very night, as
Lucien and Merlin went to the Vaudeville, Etienne had laid a terrible
trap, into which an inexperienced boy could not but fall.

"Here is our handsome Lucien," said Finot, drawing des Lupeaulx in the
direction of the poet, and shaking hands with feline amiability. "I
cannot think of another example of such rapid success," continued Finot,
looking from des Lupeaulx to Lucien. "There are two sorts of success in
Paris: there is a fortune in solid cash, which any one can amass, and
there is the intangible fortune of connections, position, or a footing
in certain circles inaccessible for certain persons, however rich they
may be. Now my friend here - - "

"Our friend," interposed des Lupeaulx, smiling blandly.

"Our friend," repeated Finot, patting Lucien's hand, "has made a
brilliant success from this point of view. Truth to tell, Lucien has
more in him, more gift, more wit than the rest of us that envy him, and

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 25 of 29)