Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

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upon his forehead and barren furrows in his soul, where seeds had been
sown that had come to nothing. Lucien felt drawn to the stranger by
these tokens; his sympathies went out to him with irresistible fervor.

After a week's exchange of small courtesies and remarks, the poet from
Angouleme found the first person with whom he could chat. The stranger's
name was Etienne Lousteau. Two years ago he had left his native place,
a town in Berri, just as Lucien had come from Angouleme. His lively
gestures, bright eyes, and occasionally curt speech revealed a bitter
apprenticeship to literature. Etienne had come from Sancerre with his
tragedy in his pocket, drawn to Paris by the same motives that impelled
Lucien - hope of fame and power and money.

Sometimes Etienne Lousteau came for several days together; but in a
little while his visits became few and far between, and he would stay
away for five or six days in succession. Then he would come back, and
Lucien would hope to see his poet next day, only to find a stranger in
his place. When two young men meet daily, their talk harks back to their
last conversation; but these continual interruptions obliged Lucien to
break the ice afresh each time, and further checked an intimacy which
made little progress during the first few weeks. On inquiry of the
damsel at the counter, Lucien was told that his future friend was on
the staff of a small newspaper, and wrote reviews of books and dramatic
criticism of pieces played at the Ambigu-Comique, the Gaite, and the
Panorama-Dramatique. The young man became a personage all at once in
Lucien's eyes. Now, he thought, he would lead the conversation on rather
more personal topics, and make some effort to gain a friend so likely
to be useful to a beginner. The journalist stayed away for a fortnight.
Lucien did not know that Etienne only dined at Flicoteaux's when he
was hard up, and hence his gloomy air of disenchantment and the chilly
manner, which Lucien met with gracious smiles and amiable remarks. But,
after all, the project of a friendship called for mature deliberation.
This obscure journalist appeared to lead an expensive life in which
_petits verres_, cups of coffee, punch-bowls, sight-seeing, and suppers
played a part. In the early days of Lucien's life in the Latin Quarter,
he behaved like a poor child bewildered by his first experience of Paris
life; so that when he had made a study of prices and weighed his
purse, he lacked courage to make advances to Etienne; he was afraid of
beginning a fresh series of blunders of which he was still repenting.
And he was still under the yoke of provincial creeds; his two guardian
angels, Eve and David, rose up before him at the least approach of an
evil thought, putting him in mind of all the hopes that were centered
on him, of the happiness that he owed to the old mother, of all the
promises of his genius.

He spent his mornings in studying history at the Bibliotheque
Sainte-Genevieve. His very first researches made him aware of frightful
errors in the memoirs of _The Archer of Charles IX._ When the library
closed, he went back to his damp, chilly room to correct his work,
cutting out whole chapters and piecing it together anew. And after
dining at Flicoteaux's, he went down to the Passage du Commerce to
see the newspapers at Blosse's reading-room, as well as new books and
magazines and poetry, so as to keep himself informed of the movements
of the day. And when, towards midnight, he returned to his wretched
lodgings, he had used neither fuel nor candle-light. His reading in
those days made such an enormous change in his ideas, that he revised
the volume of flower-sonnets, his beloved _Marguerites_, working them
over to such purpose, that scarce a hundred lines of the original verses
were allowed to stand.

So in the beginning Lucien led the honest, innocent life of the country
lad who never leaves the Latin Quarter; devoting himself wholly to
his work, with thoughts of the future always before him; who finds
Flicoteaux's ordinary luxurious after the simple home-fare; and strolls
for recreation along the alleys of the Luxembourg, the blood surging
back to his heart as he gives timid side glances to the pretty women.
But this could not last. Lucien, with his poetic temperament and
boundless longings, could not withstand the temptations held out by the

The Theatre-Francais, the Vaudeville, the Varietes, the Opera-Comique
relieved him of some sixty francs, although he always went to the pit.
What student could deny himself the pleasure of seeing Talma in one of
his famous roles? Lucien was fascinated by the theatre, that first love
of all poetic temperaments; the actors and actresses were awe-inspiring
creatures; he did not so much as dream of the possibility of crossing
the footlights and meeting them on familiar terms. The men and women
who gave him so much pleasure were surely marvelous beings, whom the
newspapers treated with as much gravity as matters of national interest.
To be a dramatic author, to have a play produced on the stage! What a
dream was this to cherish! A dream which a few bold spirits like Casimir
Delavigne had actually realized. Thick swarming thoughts like these, and
moments of belief in himself, followed by despair gave Lucien no rest,
and kept him in the narrow way of toil and frugality, in spite of the
smothered grumblings of more than one frenzied desire.

Carrying prudence to an extreme, he made it a rule never to enter the
precincts of the Palais Royal, that place of perdition where he had
spent fifty francs at Very's in a single day, and nearly five hundred
francs on his clothes; and when he yielded to temptation, and saw
Fleury, Talma, the two Baptistes, or Michot, he went no further than
the murky passage where theatre-goers used to stand in a string from
half-past five in the afternoon till the hour when the doors opened,
and belated comers were compelled to pay ten sous for a place near the
ticket-office. And after waiting for two hours, the cry of "All tickets
are sold!" rang not unfrequently in the ears of disappointed students.
When the play was over, Lucien went home with downcast eyes, through
streets lined with living attractions, and perhaps fell in with one of
those commonplace adventures which loom so large in a young and timorous

One day Lucien counted over his remaining stock of money, and took alarm
at the melting of his funds; a cold perspiration broke out upon him when
he thought that the time had come when he must find a publisher, and
try also to find work for which a publisher would pay him. The young
journalist, with whom he had made a one-sided friendship, never came
now to Flicoteaux's. Lucien was waiting for a chance - which failed to
present itself. In Paris there are no chances except for men with a very
wide circle of acquaintance; chances of success of every kind increase
with the number of your connections; and, therefore, in this sense also
the chances are in favor of the big battalions. Lucien had sufficient
provincial foresight still left, and had no mind to wait until only a
last few coins remained to him. He resolved to face the publishers.

So one tolerably chilly September morning Lucien went down the Rue de la
Harpe, with his two manuscripts under his arm. As he made his way to
the Quai des Augustins, and went along, looking into the booksellers'
windows on one side and into the Seine on the other, his good genius
might have counseled him to pitch himself into the water sooner than
plunge into literature. After heart-searching hesitations, after a
profound scrutiny of the various countenances, more or less encouraging,
soft-hearted, churlish, cheerful, or melancholy, to be seen through the
window panes, or in the doorways of the booksellers' establishments,
he espied a house where the shopmen were busy packing books at a great
rate. Goods were being despatched. The walls were plastered with bills:


LE SOLITAIRE, by M. le Vicomte d'Arlincourt.
Third edition.
LEONIDE, by Victor Ducange; five volumes
12mo, printed on fine paper. 12 francs.

"They are lucky, that they are!" exclaimed Lucien.

The placard, a new and original idea of the celebrated Ladvocat, was
just beginning to blossom out upon the walls. In no long space Paris
was to wear motley, thanks to the exertions of his imitators, and the
Treasury was to discover a new source of revenue.

Anxiety sent the blood surging to Lucien's heart, as he who had been so
great at Angouleme, so insignificant of late in Paris, slipped past the
other houses, summoned up all his courage, and at last entered the shop
thronged with assistants, customers, and booksellers - "And authors too,
perhaps!" thought Lucien.

"I want to speak with M. Vidal or M. Porchon," he said, addressing a
shopman. He had read the names on the sign-board - VIDAL & PORCHON (it
ran), _French and foreign booksellers' agents_.

"Both gentlemen are engaged," said the man.

"I will wait."

Left to himself, the poet scrutinized the packages, and amused himself
for a couple of hours by scanning the titles of books, looking into
them, and reading a page or two here and there. At last, as he stood
leaning against a window, he heard voices, and suspecting that the green
curtains hid either Vidal or Porchon, he listened to the conversation.

"Will you take five hundred copies of me? If you will, I will let you
have them at five francs, and give fourteen to the dozen."

"What does that bring them in at?"

"Sixteen sous less."

"Four francs four sous?" said Vidal or Porchon, whichever it was.

"Yes," said the vendor.

"Credit your account?" inquired the purchaser.

"Old humbug! you would settle with me in eighteen months' time, with
bills at a twelvemonth."

"No. Settled at once," returned Vidal or Porchon.

"Bills at nine months?" asked the publisher or author, who evidently was
selling his book.

"No, my dear fellow, twelve months," returned one of the firm of
booksellers' agents.

There was a pause.

"You are simply cutting my throat!" said the visitor.

"But in a year's time shall we have placed a hundred copies of
_Leonide_?" said the other voice. "If books went off as fast as the
publishers would like, we should be millionaires, my good sir; but they
don't, they go as the public pleases. There is some one now bringing out
an edition of Scott's novels at eighteen sous per volume, three livres
twelve sous per copy, and you want me to give you more for your stale
remainders? No. If you mean me to push this novel of yours, you must
make it worth my while. - Vidal!"

A stout man, with a pen behind his ear, came down from his desk.

"How many copies of Ducange did you place last journey?" asked Porchon
of his partner.

"Two hundred of _Le Petit Vieillard de Calais_, but to sell them I
was obliged to cry down two books which pay in less commission, and
uncommonly fine 'nightingales' they are now."

(A "nightingale," as Lucien afterwards learned, is a bookseller's name
for books that linger on hand, perched out of sight in the loneliest
nooks in the shop.)

"And besides," added Vidal, "Picard is bringing out some novels, as you
know. We have been promised twenty per cent on the published price to
make the thing a success."

"Very well, at twelve months," the publisher answered in a piteous
voice, thunderstruck by Vidal's confidential remark.

"Is it an offer?" Porchon inquired curtly.

"Yes." The stranger went out. After he had gone, Lucien heard Porchon
say to Vidal:

"We have three hundred copies on order now. We will keep him waiting for
his settlement, sell the _Leonides_ for five francs net, settlement in
six months, and - - "

"And that will be fifteen hundred francs into our pockets," said Vidal.

"Oh, I saw quite well that he was in a fix. He is giving Ducange four
thousand francs for two thousand copies."

Lucien cut Vidal short by appearing in the entrance of the den.

"I have the honor of wishing you a good day, gentlemen," he said,
addressing both partners. The booksellers nodded slightly.

"I have a French historical romance after the style of Scott. It is
called _The Archer of Charles IX._; I propose to offer it to you - - "

Porchon glanced at Lucien with lustreless eyes, and laid his pen down on
the desk. Vidal stared rudely at the author.

"We are not publishing booksellers, sir; we are booksellers' agents,"
he said. "When we bring out a book ourselves, we only deal in well-known
names; and we only take serious literature besides - history and

"But my book is very serious. It is an attempt to set the struggle
between Catholics and Calvinists in its true light; the Catholics were
supporters of absolute monarchy, and the Protestants for a republic."

"M. Vidal!" shouted an assistant. Vidal fled.

"I don't say, sir, that your book is not a masterpiece," replied
Porchon, with scanty civility, "but we only deal in books that are
ready printed. Go and see somebody that buys manuscripts. There is old
Doguereau in the Rue du Coq, near the Louvre, he is in the romance line.
If you had only spoken sooner, you might have seen Pollet, a competitor
of Doguereau and of the publisher in the Wooden Galleries."

"I have a volume of poetry - - "

"M. Porchon!" somebody shouted.

"_Poetry_!" Porchon exclaimed angrily. "For what do you take me?" he
added, laughing in Lucien's face. And he dived into the regions of the
back shop.

Lucien went back across the Pont Neuf absorbed in reflection. From all
that he understood of this mercantile dialect, it appeared that books,
like cotton nightcaps, were to be regarded as articles of merchandise to
be sold dear and bought cheap.

"I have made a mistake," said Lucien to himself; but, all the same, this
rough-and-ready practical aspect of literature made an impression upon

In the Rue du Coq he stopped in front of a modest-looking shop, which he
had passed before. He saw the inscription DOGUEREAU, BOOKSELLER, painted
above it in yellow letters on a green ground, and remembered that he
had seen the name at the foot of the title-page of several novels at
Blosse's reading-room. In he went, not without the inward trepidation
which a man of any imagination feels at the prospect of a battle.
Inside the shop he discovered an odd-looking old man, one of the queer
characters of the trade in the days of the Empire.

Doguereau wore a black coat with vast square skirts, when fashion
required swallow-tail coats. His waistcoat was of some cheap material,
a checked pattern of many colors; a steel chain, with a copper key
attached to it, hung from his fob and dangled down over a roomy pair of
black nether garments. The booksellers' watch must have been the size
of an onion. Iron-gray ribbed stockings, and shoes with silver buckles
completed is costume. The old man's head was bare, and ornamented with
a fringe of grizzled locks, quite poetically scanty. "Old Doguereau," as
Porchon styled him, was dressed half like a professor of belles-lettres
as to his trousers and shoes, half like a tradesman with respect to the
variegated waistcoat, the stockings, and the watch; and the same odd
mixture appeared in the man himself. He united the magisterial, dogmatic
air, and the hollow countenance of the professor of rhetoric with the
sharp eyes, suspicious mouth, and vague uneasiness of the bookseller.

"M. Doguereau?" asked Lucien.

"That is my name, sir."

"You are very young," remarked the bookseller.

"My age, sir, has nothing to do with the matter."

"True," and the old bookseller took up the manuscript. "Ah, begad! _The
Archer of Charles IX._, a good title. Let us see now, young man, just
tell me your subject in a word or two."

"It is a historical work, sir, in the style of Scott. The character
of the struggle between the Protestants and Catholics is depicted as a
struggle between two opposed systems of government, in which the throne
is seriously endangered. I have taken the Catholic side."

"Eh! but you have ideas, young man. Very well, I will read your book, I
promise you. I would rather have had something more in Mrs. Radcliffe's
style; but if you are industrious, if you have some notion of style,
conceptions, ideas, and the art of telling a story, I don't ask better
than to be of use to you. What do we want but good manuscripts?"

"When can I come back?"

"I am going into the country this evening; I shall be back again the day
after to-morrow. I shall have read your manuscript by that time; and if
it suits me, we might come to terms that very day."

Seeing his acquaintance so easy, Lucien was inspired with the unlucky
idea of bringing the _Marguerites_ upon the scene.

"I have a volume of poetry as well, sir - - " he began.

"Oh! you are a poet! Then I don't want your romance," and the old man
handed back the manuscript. "The rhyming fellows come to grief when
they try their hands at prose. In prose you can't use words that mean
nothing; you absolutely must say something."

"But Sir Walter Scott, sir, wrote poetry as well as - - "

"That is true," said Doguereau, relenting. He guessed that the young
fellow before him was poor, and kept the manuscript. "Where do you live?
I will come and see you."

Lucien, all unsuspicious of the idea at the back of the old man's head,
gave his address; he did not see that he had to do with a bookseller of
the old school, a survival of the eighteenth century, when booksellers
tried to keep Voltaires and Montesquieus starving in garrets under lock
and key.

"The Latin Quarter. I am coming back that very way," said Doguereau,
when he had read the address.

"Good man!" thought Lucien, as he took his leave. "So I have met with a
friend to young authors, a man of taste who knows something. That is the
kind of man for me! It is just as I said to David - talent soon makes its
way in Paris."

Lucien went home again happy and light of heart; he dreamed of glory. He
gave not another thought to the ominous words which fell on his ear as
he stood by the counter in Vidal and Porchon's shop; he beheld himself
the richer by twelve hundred francs at least. Twelve hundred francs! It
meant a year in Paris, a whole year of preparation for the work that he
meant to do. What plans he built on that hope! What sweet dreams, what
visions of a life established on a basis of work! Mentally he found new
quarters, and settled himself in them; it would not have taken much to
set him making a purchase or two. He could only stave off impatience by
constant reading at Blosse's.

Two days later old Doguereau come to the lodgings of his budding Sir
Walter Scott. He was struck with the pains which Lucien had taken with
the style of this his first work, delighted with the strong contrasts
of character sanctioned by the epoch, and surprised at the spirited
imagination which a young writer always displays in the scheming of a
first plot - he had not been spoiled, thought old Daddy Doguereau. He had
made up his mind to give a thousand francs for _The Archer of Charles
IX._; he would buy the copyright out and out, and bind Lucien by an
engagement for several books, but when he came to look at the house, the
old fox thought better of it.

"A young fellow that lives here has none but simple tastes," said he to
himself; "he is fond of study, fond of work; I need not give more than
eight hundred francs."

"Fourth floor," answered the landlady, when he asked for M. Lucien de
Rubempre. The old bookseller, peering up, saw nothing but the sky above
the fourth floor.

"This young fellow," thought he, "is a good-looking lad; one might go
so far as to say that he is very handsome. If he were to make too much
money, he would only fall into dissipated ways, and then he would
not work. In the interests of us both, I shall only offer six hundred
francs, in coin though, not paper."

He climbed the stairs and gave three raps at the door. Lucien came to
open it. The room was forlorn in its bareness. A bowl of milk and
a penny roll stood on the table. The destitution of genius made an
impression on Daddy Doguereau.

"Let him preserve these simple habits of life, this frugality, these
modest requirements," thought he. - Aloud he said: "It is a pleasure to
me to see you. Thus, sir, lived Jean-Jacques, whom you resemble in
more ways than one. Amid such surroundings the fire of genius shines
brightly; good work is done in such rooms as these. This is how men
of letters should work, instead of living riotously in cafes and
restaurants, wasting their time and talent and our money."

He sat down.

"Your romance is not bad, young man. I was a professor of rhetoric once;
I know French history, there are some capital things in it. You have a
future before you, in fact."

"Oh! sir."

"No; I tell you so. We may do business together. I will buy your

Lucien's heart swelled and throbbed with gladness. He was about to enter
the world of literature; he should see himself in print at last.

"I will give you four hundred francs," continued Doguereau in honeyed
accents, and he looked at Lucien with an air which seemed to betoken an
effort of generosity.

"The volume?" queried Lucien.

"For the romance," said Doguereau, heedless of Lucien's surprise. "In
ready money," he added; "and you shall undertake to write two books for
me every year for six years. If the first book is out of print in six
months, I will give you six hundred francs for the others. So, if you
write two books each year, you will be making a hundred francs a month;
you will have a sure income, you will be well off. There are some
authors whom I only pay three hundred francs for a romance; I give two
hundred for translations of English books. Such prices would have been
exorbitant in the old days."

"Sir, we cannot possibly come to an understanding. Give me back my
manuscript, I beg," said Lucien, in a cold chill.

"Here it is," said the old bookseller. "You know nothing of business,
sir. Before an author's first book can appear, a publisher is bound to
sink sixteen hundred francs on the paper and the printing of it. It is
easier to write a romance than to find all that money. I have a hundred
romances in manuscript, and I have not a hundred and sixty thousand
francs in my cash box, alas! I have not made so much in all these twenty
years that I have been a bookseller. So you don't make a fortune by
printing romances, you see. Vidal and Porchon only take them of us on
conditions that grow harder and harder day by day. You have only your
time to lose, while I am obliged to disburse two thousand francs. If we
fail, _habent sua fata libelli_, I lose two thousand francs; while, as
for you, you simply hurl an ode at the thick-headed public. When you
have thought over this that I have the honor of telling you, you
will come back to me. - _You will come back to me_!" he asserted
authoritatively, by way of reply to a scornful gesture made
involuntarily by Lucien. "So far from finding a publisher obliging
enough to risk two thousand francs for an unknown writer, you will not
find a publisher's clerk that will trouble himself to look through your
screed. Now that I have read it I can point out a good many slips in
grammar. You have put _observer_ for _faire observer_ and _malgre que_.
_Malgre_ is a preposition, and requires an object."

Lucien appeared to be humiliated.

"When I see you again, you will have lost a hundred francs," he added.
"I shall only give a hundred crowns."

With that he rose and took his leave. On the threshold he said, "If you
had not something in you, and a future before you; if I did not take an
interest in studious youth, I should not have made you such a handsome
offer. A hundred francs per month! Think of it! After all, a romance in
a drawer is not eating its head off like a horse in a stable, nor will
it find you in victuals either, and that's a fact."

Lucien snatched up his manuscript and dashed it on the floor.

"I would rather burn it, sir!" he exclaimed.

"You have a poet's head," returned his senior.

Lucien devoured his bread and supped his bowl of milk, then he went
downstairs. His room was not large enough for him; he was turning round
and round in it like a lion in a cage at the Jardin des Plantes.

At the Bibliotheque Saint-Genevieve, whither Lucien was going, he had
come to know a stranger by sight; a young man of five-and-twenty or
thereabouts, working with the sustained industry which nothing can
disturb nor distract, the sign by which your genuine literary worker is

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 5 of 29)