Honoré de Balzac.

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over the pleasure of sending Mme. d'Espard to the scaffold. If only
he could have put de Marsay to the torture with refinements of savage
cruelty! Canalis went by on horseback, bowing to the prettiest women,
his dress elegant, as became the most dainty of poets.

"Great heavens!" exclaimed Lucien. "Money, money at all costs! money
is the one power before which the world bends the knee." ("No!" cried
conscience, "not money, but glory; and glory means work! Work! that
was what David said.") "Great heavens! what am I doing here? But I will
triumph. I will drive along this avenue in a caleche with a chasseur
behind me! I will possess a Marquise d'Espard." And flinging out the
wrathful words, he went to Hurbain's to dine for two francs.

Next morning, at nine o'clock, he went to the Rue Neuve-de-Luxembourg to
upbraid Louise for her barbarity. But Mme. de Bargeton was not at home
to him, and not only so, but the porter would not allow him to go up to
her rooms; so he stayed outside in the street, watching the house till
noon. At twelve o'clock Chatelet came out, looked at Lucien out of the
corner of his eye, and avoided him.

Stung to the quick, Lucien hurried after his rival; and Chatelet,
finding himself closely pursued, turned and bowed, evidently intending
to shake him off by this courtesy.

"Spare me just a moment for pity's sake, sir," said Lucien; "I want just
a word or two with you. You have shown me friendship, I now ask the most
trifling service of that friendship. You have just come from Mme.
de Bargeton; how have I fallen into disgrace with her and Mme.
d'Espard? - please explain."

"M. Chardon, do you know why the ladies left you at the Opera that
evening?" asked Chatelet, with treacherous good-nature.

"No," said the poor poet.

"Well, it was M. de Rastignac who spoke against you from the beginning.
They asked him about you, and the young dandy simply said that your name
was Chardon, and not de Rubempre; that your mother was a monthly nurse;
that your father, when he was alive, was an apothecary in L'Houmeau,
a suburb of Angouleme; and that your sister, a charming girl, gets up
shirts to admiration, and is just about to be married to a local printer
named Sechard. Such is the world! You no sooner show yourself than it
pulls you to pieces.

"M. de Marsay came to Mme. d'Espard to laugh at you with her; so the two
ladies, thinking that your presence put them in a false position, went
out at once. Do not attempt to go to either house. If Mme. de Bargeton
continued to receive your visits, her cousin would have nothing to do
with her. You have genius; try to avenge yourself. The world looks down
upon you; look down in your turn upon the world. Take refuge in some
garret, write your masterpieces, seize on power of any kind, and you
will see the world at your feet. Then you can give back the bruises
which you have received, and in the very place where they were given.
Mme. de Bargeton will be the more distant now because she has been
friendly. That is the way with women. But the question now for you is
not how to win back Anais' friendship, but how to avoid making an enemy
of her. I will tell you of a way. She has written letters to you; send
all her letters back to her, she will be sensible that you are acting
like a gentleman; and at a later time, if you should need her, she
will not be hostile. For my own part, I have so high an opinion of your
future, that I have taken your part everywhere; and if I can do anything
here for you, you will always find me ready to be of use."

The elderly beau seemed to have grown young again in the atmosphere of
Paris. He bowed with frigid politeness; but Lucien, woe-begone, haggard,
and undone, forgot to return the salutation. He went back to his inn,
and there found the great Staub himself, come in person, not so much
to try his customer's clothes as to make inquiries of the landlady
with regard to that customer's financial status. The report had been
satisfactory. Lucien had traveled post; Mme. de Bargeton brought him
back from Vaudeville last Thursday in her carriage. Staub addressed
Lucien as "Monsieur le Comte," and called his customer's attention to
the artistic skill with which he had brought a charming figure into

"A young man in such a costume has only to walk in the Tuileries," he
said, "and he will marry an English heiress within a fortnight."

Lucien brightened a little under the influences of the German tailor's
joke, the perfect fit of his new clothes, the fine cloth, and the sight
of a graceful figure which met his eyes in the looking-glass. Vaguely he
told himself that Paris was the capital of chance, and for the moment
he believed in chance. Had he not a volume of poems and a magnificent
romance entitled _The Archer of Charles IX._ in manuscript? He had hope
for the future. Staub promised the overcoat and the rest of the clothes
the next day.

The next day the bootmaker, linen-draper, and tailor all returned armed
each with his bill, which Lucien, still under the charm of provincial
habits, paid forthwith, not knowing how otherwise to rid himself of
them. After he had paid, there remained but three hundred and sixty
francs out of the two thousand which he had brought with him from
Angouleme, and he had been but one week in Paris! Nevertheless, he
dressed and went to take a stroll in the Terrassee des Feuillants. He
had his day of triumph. He looked so handsome and so graceful, he was so
well dressed, that women looked at him; two or three were so much struck
with his beauty, that they turned their heads to look again. Lucien
studied the gait and carriage of the young men on the Terrasse, and took
a lesson in fine manners while he meditated on his three hundred and
sixty francs.

That evening, alone in his chamber, an idea occurred to him which threw
a light on the problem of his existence at the Gaillard-Bois, where he
lived on the plainest fare, thinking to economize in this way. He asked
for his account, as if he meant to leave, and discovered that he was
indebted to his landlord to the extent of a hundred francs. The next
morning was spent in running around the Latin Quarter, recommended for
its cheapness by David. For a long while he looked about till, finally,
in the Rue de Cluny, close to the Sorbonne, he discovered a place where
he could have a furnished room for such a price as he could afford to
pay. He settled with his hostess of the Gaillard-Bois, and took up his
quarters in the Rue de Cluny that same day. His removal only cost him
the cab fare.

When he had taken possession of his poor room, he made a packet of Mme.
de Bargeton's letters, laid them on the table, and sat down to write to
her; but before he wrote he fell to thinking over that fatal week. He
did not tell himself that he had been the first to be faithless; that
for a sudden fancy he had been ready to leave his Louise without knowing
what would become of her in Paris. He saw none of his own shortcomings,
but he saw his present position, and blamed Mme. de Bargeton for it.
She was to have lighted his way; instead she had ruined him. He grew
indignant, he grew proud, he worked himself into a paroxysm of rage, and
set himself to compose the following epistle: -

"What would you think, madame, of a woman who should take a fancy
to some poor and timid child full of the noble superstitions which
the grown man calls 'illusions;' and using all the charms of
woman's coquetry, all her most delicate ingenuity, should feign a
mother's love to lead that child astray? Her fondest promises, the
card-castles which raised his wonder, cost her nothing; she leads
him on, tightens her hold upon him, sometimes coaxing, sometimes
scolding him for his want of confidence, till the child leaves his
home and follows her blindly to the shores of a vast sea. Smiling,
she lures him into a frail skiff, and sends him forth alone and
helpless to face the storm. Standing safe on the rock, she laughs
and wishes him luck. You are that woman; I am that child.

"The child has a keepsake in his hands, something which might
betray the wrongs done by your beneficence, your kindness in
deserting him. You might have to blush if you saw him struggling
for life, and chanced to recollect that once you clasped him to
your breast. When you read these words the keepsake will be in
your own safe keeping; you are free to forget everything.

"Once you pointed out fair hopes to me in the skies, I awake to
find reality in the squalid poverty of Paris. While you pass, and
others bow before you, on your brilliant path in the great world,
I, I whom you deserted on the threshold, shall be shivering in the
wretched garret to which you consigned me. Yet some pang may
perhaps trouble your mind amid festivals and pleasures; you may
think sometimes of the child whom you thrust into the depths. If
so, madame, think of him without remorse. Out of the depths of his
misery the child offers you the one thing left to him - his
forgiveness in a last look. Yes, madame, thanks to you, I have
nothing left. Nothing! was not the world created from nothing?
Genius should follow the Divine example; I begin with God-like
forgiveness, but as yet I know not whether I possess the God-like
power. You need only tremble lest I should go astray; for you
would be answerable for my sins. Alas! I pity you, for you will
have no part in the future towards which I go, with work as my

After penning this rhetorical effusion, full of the sombre dignity which
an artist of one-and-twenty is rather apt to overdo, Lucien's thoughts
went back to them at home. He saw the pretty rooms which David had
furnished for him, at the cost of part of his little store, and a vision
rose before him of quiet, simple pleasures in the past. Shadowy figures
came about him; he saw his mother and Eve and David, and heard their
sobs over his leave-taking, and at that he began to cry himself, for he
felt very lonely in Paris, and friendless and forlorn.

Two or three days later he wrote to his sister: -

"MY DEAR EVE, - When a sister shares the life of a brother who
devotes himself to art, it is her sad privilege to take more
sorrow than joy into her life; and I am beginning to fear that I
shall be a great trouble to you. Have I not abused your goodness
already? have not all of you sacrificed yourselves to me? It is
the memory of the past, so full of family happiness, that helps me
to bear up in my present loneliness. Now that I have tasted the
first beginnings of poverty and the treachery of the world of
Paris, how my thoughts have flown to you, swift as an eagle back
to its eyrie, so that I might be with true affection again. Did
you see sparks in the candle? Did a coal pop out of the fire? Did
you hear singing in your ears? And did mother say, 'Lucien is
thinking of us,' and David answer, 'He is fighting his way in the

"My Eve, I am writing this letter for your eyes only. I cannot
tell any one else all that has happened to me, good and bad,
blushing for both, as I write, for good here is as rare as evil
ought to be. You shall have a great piece of news in a very few
words. Mme. de Bargeton was ashamed of me, disowned me, would not
see me, and gave me up nine days after we came to Paris. She saw
me in the street and looked another way; when, simply to follow
her into the society to which she meant to introduce me, I had
spent seventeen hundred and sixty francs out of the two thousand I
brought from Angouleme, the money so hardly scraped together. 'How
did you spend it?' you will ask. Paris is a strange bottomless
gulf, my poor sister; you can dine here for less than a franc, yet
the simplest dinner at a fashionable restaurant costs fifty
francs; there are waistcoats and trousers to be had for four
francs and two francs each; but a fashionable tailor never charges
less than a hundred francs. You pay for everything; you pay a
halfpenny to cross the kennel in the street when it rains; you
cannot go the least little way in a cab for less than thirty-two

"I have been staying in one of the best parts of Paris, but now I
am living at the Hotel de Cluny, in the Rue de Cluny, one of the
poorest and darkest slums, shut in between three churches and the
old buildings of the Sorbonne. I have a furnished room on the
fourth floor; it is very bare and very dirty, but, all the same, I
pay fifteen francs a month for it. For breakfast I spend a penny
on a roll and a halfpenny for milk, but I dine very decently for
twenty-two sous at a restaurant kept by a man named Flicoteaux in
the Place de la Sorbonne itself. My expenses every month will not
exceed sixty francs, everything included, until the winter begins
- at least I hope not. So my two hundred and forty francs ought to
last me for the first four months. Between now and then I shall
have sold _The Archer of Charles IX._ and the _Marguerites_ no doubt.
Do not be in the least uneasy on my account. If the present is
cold and bare and poverty-stricken, the blue distant future is
rich and splendid; most great men have known the vicissitudes
which depress but cannot overwhelm me.

"Plautus, the great comic Latin poet, was once a miller's lad.
Machiavelli wrote _The Prince_ at night, and by day was a common
working-man like any one else; and more than all, the great
Cervantes, who lost an arm at the battle of Lepanto, and helped to
win that famous day, was called a 'base-born, handless dotard' by
the scribblers of his day; there was an interval of ten years
between the appearance of the first part and the second of his
sublime _Don Quixote_ for lack of a publisher. Things are not so bad
as that nowadays. Mortifications and want only fall to the lot of
unknown writers; as soon as a man's name is known, he grows rich,
and I will be rich. And besides, I live within myself, I spend
half the day at the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve, learning all
that I want to learn; I should not go far unless I knew more than
I do. So at this moment I am almost happy. In a few days I have
fallen in with my life very gladly. I begin the work that I love
with daylight, my subsistence is secure, I think a great deal, and
I study. I do not see that I am open to attack at any point, now
that I have renounced a world where my vanity might suffer at any
moment. The great men of every age are obliged to lead lives
apart. What are they but birds in the forest? They sing, nature
falls under the spell of their song, and no one should see them.
That shall be my lot, always supposing that I can carry out my
ambitious plans.

"Mme. de Bargeton I do not regret. A woman who could behave as she
behaved does not deserve a thought. Nor am I sorry that I left
Angouleme. She did wisely when she flung me into the sea of Paris
to sink or swim. This is the place for men of letters and thinkers
and poets; here you cultivate glory, and I know how fair the
harvest is that we reap in these days. Nowhere else can a writer
find the living works of the great dead, the works of art which
quicken the imagination in the galleries and museums here; nowhere
else will you find great reference libraries always open in which
the intellect may find pasture. And lastly, here in Paris there is
a spirit which you breathe in the air; it infuses the least
details, every literary creation bears traces of its influence.
You learn more by talk in a cafe, or at a theatre, in one half
hour, than you would learn in ten years in the provinces. Here, in
truth, wherever you go, there is always something to see,
something to learn, some comparison to make. Extreme cheapness and
excessive dearness - there is Paris for you; there is honeycomb
here for every bee, every nature finds its own nourishment. So,
though life is hard for me just now, I repent of nothing. On the
contrary, a fair future spreads out before me, and my heart
rejoices though it is saddened for the moment. Good-bye my dear
sister. Do not expect letters from me regularly; it is one of the
peculiarities of Paris that one really does not know how the time
goes. Life is so alarmingly rapid. I kiss the mother and you and
David more tenderly than ever.


The name of Flicoteaux is engraved on many memories. Few indeed were the
students who lived in the Latin Quarter during the last twelve years of
the Restoration and did not frequent that temple sacred to hunger and
impecuniosity. There a dinner of three courses, with a quarter bottle
of wine or a bottle of beer, could be had for eighteen sous; or for
twenty-two sous the quarter bottle becomes a bottle. Flicoteaux, that
friend of youth, would beyond a doubt have amassed a colossal fortune
but for a line on his bill of fare, a line which rival establishments
are wont to print in capital letters, thus - BREAD AT DISCRETION, which,
being interpreted, should read "indiscretion."

Flicoteaux has been nursing-father to many an illustrious name. Verily,
the heart of more than one great man ought to wax warm with innumerable
recollections of inexpressible enjoyment at the sight of the small,
square window panes that look upon the Place de la Sorbonne, and the Rue
Neuve-de-Richelieu. Flicoteaux II. and Flicoteaux III. respected the old
exterior, maintaining the dingy hue and general air of a respectable,
old-established house, showing thereby the depth of their contempt for
the charlatanism of the shop-front, the kind of advertisement which
feasts the eyes at the expense of the stomach, to which your modern
restaurant almost always has recourse. Here you beheld no piles of
straw-stuffed game never destined to make the acquaintance of the spit,
no fantastical fish to justify the mountebank's remark, "I saw a fine
carp to-day; I expect to buy it this day week." Instead of the prime
vegetables more fittingly described by the word primeval, artfully
displayed in the window for the delectation of the military man and his
fellow country-woman the nursemaid, honest Flicoteaux exhibited full
salad-bowls adorned with many a rivet, or pyramids of stewed prunes
to rejoice the sight of the customer, and assure him that the word
"dessert," with which other handbills made too free, was in this case
no charter to hoodwink the public. Loaves of six pounds' weight, cut in
four quarters, made good the promise of "bread at discretion." Such was
the plenty of the establishment, that Moliere would have celebrated it
if it had been in existence in his day, so comically appropriate is the

Flicoteaux still subsists; so long as students are minded to live,
Flicoteaux will make a living. You feed there, neither more nor less;
and you feed as you work, with morose or cheerful industry, according to
the circumstances and the temperament.

At that time his well-known establishment consisted of two dining-halls,
at right angles to each other; long, narrow, low-ceiled rooms, looking
respectively on the Rue Neuve-de-Richelieu and the Place de la Sorbonne.
The furniture must have come originally from the refectory of some
abbey, for there was a monastic look about the lengthy tables, where the
serviettes of regular customers, each thrust through a numbered ring of
crystallized tin plate, were laid by their places. Flicoteaux I. only
changed the serviettes of a Sunday; but Flicoteaux II. changed them
twice a week, it is said, under pressure of competition which threatened
his dynasty.

Flicoteaux's restaurant is no banqueting-hall, with its refinements
and luxuries; it is a workshop where suitable tools are provided, and
everybody gets up and goes as soon as he has finished. The coming and
going within are swift. There is no dawdling among the waiters; they are
all busy; every one of them is wanted.

The fare is not very varied. The potato is a permanent institution;
there might not be a single tuber left in Ireland, and prevailing dearth
elsewhere, but you would still find potatoes at Flicoteaux's. Not once
in thirty years shall you miss its pale gold (the color beloved of
Titian), sprinkled with chopped verdure; the potato enjoys a privilege
that women might envy; such as you see it in 1814, so shall you find
it in 1840. Mutton cutlets and fillet of beef at Flicoteaux's represent
black game and fillet of sturgeon at Very's; they are not on the regular
bill of fare, that is, and must be ordered beforehand. Beef of the
feminine gender there prevails; the young of the bovine species appears
in all kinds of ingenious disguises. When the whiting and mackerel
abound on our shores, they are likewise seen in large numbers at
Flicoteaux's; his whole establishment, indeed, is directly affected by
the caprices of the season and the vicissitudes of French agriculture.
By eating your dinners at Flicoteaux's you learn a host of things of
which the wealthy, the idle, and folk indifferent to the phases of
Nature have no suspicion, and the student penned up in the Latin Quarter
is kept accurately informed of the state of the weather and good or bad
seasons. He knows when it is a good year for peas or French beans, and
the kind of salad stuff that is plentiful; when the Great Market is
glutted with cabbages, he is at once aware of the fact, and the failure
of the beetroot crop is brought home to his mind. A slander, old in
circulation in Lucien's time, connected the appearance of beef-steaks
with a mortality among horseflesh.

Few Parisian restaurants are so well worth seeing. Every one at
Flicoteaux's is young; you see nothing but youth; and although earnest
faces and grave, gloomy, anxious faces are not lacking, you see hope and
confidence and poverty gaily endured. Dress, as a rule, is careless, and
regular comers in decent clothes are marked exceptions. Everybody knows
at once that something extraordinary is afoot: a mistress to visit, a
theatre party, or some excursion into higher spheres. Here, it is said,
friendships have been made among students who became famous men in after
days, as will be seen in the course of this narrative; but with the
exception of a few knots of young fellows from the same part of France
who make a group about the end of a table, the gravity of the diners is
hardly relaxed. Perhaps this gravity is due to the catholicity of the
wine, which checks good fellowship of any kind.

Flicoteaux's frequenters may recollect certain sombre and mysterious
figures enveloped in the gloom of the chilliest penury; these beings
would dine there daily for a couple of years and then vanish, and the
most inquisitive regular comer could throw no light on the disappearance
of such goblins of Paris. Friendships struck up over Flicoteaux's
dinners were sealed in neighboring cafes in the flames of heady punch,
or by the generous warmth of a small cup of black coffee glorified by a
dash of something hotter and stronger.

Lucien, like all neophytes, was modest and regular in his habits in
those early days at the Hotel de Cluny. After the first unlucky venture
in fashionable life which absorbed his capital, he threw himself into
his work with the first earnest enthusiasm, which is frittered away so
soon over the difficulties or in the by-paths of every life in Paris.
The most luxurious and the very poorest lives are equally beset with
temptations which nothing but the fierce energy of genius or the morose
persistence of ambition can overcome.

Lucien used to drop in at Flicoteaux's about half-past four, having
remarked the advantages of an early arrival; the bill-of-fare was more
varied, and there was still some chance of obtaining the dish of
your choice. Like all imaginative persons, he had taken a fancy to a
particular seat, and showed discrimination in his selection. On the very
first day he had noticed a table near the counter, and from the faces of
those who sat about it, and chance snatches of their talk, he recognized
brothers of the craft. A sort of instinct, moreover, pointed out the
table near the counter as a spot whence he could parlay with the owners
of the restaurant. In time an acquaintance would grow up, he thought,
and then in the day of distress he could no doubt obtain the necessary
credit. So he took his place at a small square table close to the desk,
intended probably for casual comers, for the two clean serviettes were
unadorned with rings. Lucien's opposite neighbor was a thin, pallid
youth, to all appearance as poor as himself; his handsome face was
somewhat worn, already it told of hopes that had vanished, leaving lines

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 4 of 29)