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Honoré de Balzac.

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known. Evidently the young man had been reading there for some time,
for the librarian and attendants all knew him and paid him special
attention; the librarian would even allow him to take away books, with
which Lucien saw him return in the morning. In the stranger student he
recognized a brother in penury and hope.

Pale-faced and slight and thin, with a fine forehead hidden by masses
of black, tolerably unkempt hair, there was something about him that
attracted indifferent eyes: it was a vague resemblance which he bore
to portraits of the young Bonaparte, engraved from Robert Lefebvre's
picture. That engraving is a poem of melancholy intensity, of suppressed
ambition, of power working below the surface. Study the face carefully,
and you will discover genius in it and discretion, and all the subtlety
and greatness of the man. The portrait has speaking eyes like a woman's;
they look out, greedy of space, craving difficulties to vanquish. Even
if the name of Bonaparte were not written beneath it, you would gaze
long at that face.

Lucien's young student, the incarnation of this picture, usually wore
footed trousers, shoes with thick soles to them, an overcoat of coarse
cloth, a black cravat, a waistcoat of some gray-and-white material
buttoned to the chin, and a cheap hat. Contempt for superfluity in
dress was visible in his whole person. Lucien also discovered that the
mysterious stranger with that unmistakable stamp which genius sets
upon the forehead of its slaves was one of Flicoteaux's most regular
customers; he ate to live, careless of the fare which appeared to
be familiar to him, and drank water. Wherever Lucien saw him, at the
library or at Flicoteaux's, there was a dignity in his manner, springing
doubtless from the consciousness of a purpose that filled his life,
a dignity which made him unapproachable. He had the expression of a
thinker, meditation dwelt on the fine nobly carved brow. You could tell
from the dark bright eyes, so clear-sighted and quick to observe, that
their owner was wont to probe to the bottom of things. He gesticulated
very little, his demeanor was grave. Lucien felt an involuntary respect
for him.

Many times already the pair had looked at each other at the Bibliotheque
or at Flicoteaux's; many times they had been on the point of speaking,
but neither of them had ventured so far as yet. The silent young man
went off to the further end of the library, on the side at right angles
to the Place de la Sorbonne, and Lucien had no opportunity of making
his acquaintance, although he felt drawn to a worker whom he knew by
indescribable tokens for a character of no common order. Both, as they
came to know afterwards, were unsophisticated and shy, given to fears
which cause a pleasurable emotion to solitary creatures. Perhaps they
never would have been brought into communication if they had not come
across each other that day of Lucien's disaster; for as Lucien
turned into the Rue des Gres, he saw the student coming away from the
Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve.

"The library is closed; I don't know why, monsieur," said he.

Tears were standing in Lucien's eyes; he expressed his thanks by one of
those gestures that speak more eloquently than words, and unlock hearts
at once when two men meet in youth. They went together along the Rue des
Gres towards the Rue de la Harpe.

"As that is so, I shall go to the Luxembourg for a walk," said Lucien.
"When you have come out, it is not easy to settle down to work again."

"No; one's ideas will not flow in the proper current," remarked the
stranger. "Something seems to have annoyed you, monsieur?"

"I have just had a queer adventure," said Lucien, and he told the
history of his visit to the Quai, and gave an account of his subsequent
dealings with the old bookseller. He gave his name and said a word or
two of his position. In one month or thereabouts he had spent sixty
francs on his board, thirty for lodging, twenty more francs in going to
the theatre, and ten at Blosse's reading room - one hundred and twenty
francs in all, and now he had just a hundred and twenty francs in hand.

"Your story is mine, monsieur, and the story of ten or twelve hundred
young fellows besides who come from the country to Paris every year.
There are others even worse off than we are. Do you see that theatre?"
he continued, indicating the turrets of the Odeon. "There came one day
to lodge in one of the houses in the square a man of talent who had
fallen into the lowest depths of poverty. He was married, in addition
to the misfortunes which we share with him, to a wife whom he loved; and
the poorer or the richer, as you will, by two children. He was burdened
with debt, but he put his faith in his pen. He took a comedy in five
acts to the Odeon; the comedy was accepted, the management arranged to
bring it out, the actors learned their parts, the stage manager urged on
the rehearsals. Five several bits of luck, five dramas to be performed
in real life, and far harder tasks than the writing of a five-act play.
The poor author lodged in a garret; you can see the place from here. He
drained his last resources to live until the first representation; his
wife pawned her clothes, they all lived on dry bread. On the day of the
final rehearsal, the household owed fifty francs in the Quarter to the
baker, the milkwoman, and the porter. The author had only the strictly
necessary clothes - a coat, a shirt, trousers, a waistcoat, and a pair of
boots. He felt sure of his success; he kissed his wife. The end of their
troubles was at hand. 'At last! There is nothing against us now,'
cried he. - 'Yes, there is fire,' said his wife; 'look, the Odeon is on
fire!' - The Odeon was on fire, monsieur. So do not you complain. You
have clothes, you have neither wife nor child, you have a hundred and
twenty francs for emergencies in your pocket, and you owe no one a
penny. - Well, the piece went through a hundred and fifty representations
at the Theatre Louvois. The King allowed the author a pension. 'Genius
is patience,' as Buffon said. And patience after all is a man's nearest
approach to Nature's processes of creation. What is Art, monsieur, but
Nature concentrated?"

By this time the young men were striding along the walks of the
Luxembourg, and in no long time Lucien learned the name of the stranger
who was doing his best to administer comfort. That name has since grown
famous. Daniel d'Arthez is one of the most illustrious of living men
of letters; one of the rare few who show us an example of "a noble gift
with a noble nature combined," to quote a poet's fine thought.

"There is no cheap route to greatness," Daniel went on in his kind
voice. "The works of Genius are watered with tears. The gift that is in
you, like an existence in the physical world, passes through childhood
and its maladies. Nature sweeps away sickly or deformed creatures, and
Society rejects an imperfectly developed talent. Any man who means to
rise above the rest must make ready for a struggle and be undaunted
by difficulties. A great writer is a martyr who does not die; that
is all. - There is the stamp of genius on your forehead," d'Arthez
continued, enveloping Lucien by a glance; "but unless you have within
you the will of genius, unless you are gifted with angelic patience,
unless, no matter how far the freaks of Fate have set you from your
destined goal, you can find the way to your Infinite as the turtles in
the Indies find their way to the ocean, you had better give up at once."

"Then do you yourself expect these ordeals?" asked Lucien.

"Trials of every kind, slander and treachery, and effrontery and
cunning, the rivals who act unfairly, and the keen competition of the
literary market," his companion said resignedly. "What is a first loss,
if only your work was good?"

"Will you look at mine and give me your opinion?" asked Lucien.

"So be it," said d'Arthez. "I am living in the Rue des Quatre-Vents.
Desplein, one of the most illustrious men of genius in our time, the
greatest surgeon that the world has known, once endured the martyrdom of
early struggles with the first difficulties of a glorious career in the
same house. I think of that every night, and the thought gives me the
stock of courage that I need every morning. I am living in the very room
where, like Rousseau, he had no Theresa. Come in an hour's time. I shall
be in."

The poets grasped each other's hands with a rush of melancholy and
tender feeling inexpressible in words, and went their separate ways;
Lucien to fetch his manuscript, Daniel d'Arthez to pawn his watch and
buy a couple of faggots. The weather was cold, and his new-found friend
should find a fire in his room.

Lucien was punctual. He noticed at once that the house was of an even
poorer class than the Hotel de Cluny. A staircase gradually became
visible at the further end of a dark passage; he mounted to the fifth
floor, and found d'Arthez's room.

A bookcase of dark-stained wood, with rows of labeled cardboard cases
on the shelves, stood between the two crazy windows. A gaunt, painted
wooden bedstead, of the kind seen in school dormitories, a night-table,
picked up cheaply somewhere, and a couple of horsehair armchairs, filled
the further end of the room. The wall-paper, a Highland plaid pattern,
was glazed over with the grime of years. Between the window and
the grate stood a long table littered with papers, and opposite the
fireplace there was a cheap mahogany chest of drawers. A second-hand
carpet covered the floor - a necessary luxury, for it saved firing. A
common office armchair, cushioned with leather, crimson once, but now
hoary with wear, was drawn up to the table. Add half-a-dozen rickety
chairs, and you have a complete list of the furniture. Lucien noticed an
old-fashioned candle-sconce for a card-table, with an adjustable screen
attached, and wondered to see four wax candles in the sockets. D'Arthez
explained that he could not endure the smell of tallow, a little
trait denoting great delicacy of sense perception, and the exquisite
sensibility which accompanies it.

The reading lasted for seven hours. Daniel listened conscientiously,
forbearing to interrupt by word or comment - one of the rarest proofs of
good taste in a listener.

"Well?" queried Lucien, laying the manuscript on the chimney-piece.

"You have made a good start on the right way," d'Arthez answered
judicially, "but you must go over your work again. You must strike out a
different style for yourself if you do not mean to ape Sir Walter Scott,
for you have taken him for your model. You begin, for instance, as he
begins, with long conversations to introduce your characters, and only
when they have said their say does description and action follow.

"This opposition, necessary in all work of a dramatic kind, comes
last. Just put the terms of the problem the other way round. Give
descriptions, to which our language lends itself so admirably, instead
of diffuse dialogue, magnificent in Scott's work, but colorless in
your own. Lead naturally up to your dialogue. Plunge straight into the
action. Treat your subject from different points of view, sometimes in
a side-light, sometimes retrospectively; vary your methods, in fact,
to diversify your work. You may be original while adapting the Scots
novelist's form of dramatic dialogue to French history. There is
no passion in Scott's novels; he ignores passion, or perhaps it was
interdicted by the hypocritical manners of his country. Woman for him is
duty incarnate. His heroines, with possibly one or two exceptions, are
all alike; he has drawn them all from the same model, as painters
say. They are, every one of them, descended from Clarissa Harlowe. And
returning continually, as he did, to the same idea of woman, how could
he do otherwise than produce a single type, varied only by degrees of
vividness in the coloring? Woman brings confusion into Society through
passion. Passion gives infinite possibilities. Therefore depict passion;
you have one great resource open to you, foregone by the great genius
for the sake of providing family reading for prudish England. In France
you have the charming sinner, the brightly-colored life of Catholicism,
contrasted with sombre Calvinistic figures on a background of the times
when passions ran higher than at any other period of our history.

"Every epoch which has left authentic records since the time of Charles
the Great calls for at least one romance. Some require four or five; the
periods of Louis XIV., of Henry IV., of Francis I., for instance. You
would give us in this way a picturesque history of France, with the
costumes and furniture, the houses and their interiors, and domestic
life, giving us the spirit of the time instead of a laborious narration
of ascertained facts. Then there is further scope for originality. You
can remove some of the popular delusions which disfigure the memories
of most of our kings. Be bold enough in this first work of yours to
rehabilitate the great magnificent figure of Catherine, whom you have
sacrificed to the prejudices which still cloud her name. And finally,
paint Charles IX. for us as he really was, and not as Protestant writers
have made him. Ten years of persistent work, and fame and fortune will
be yours."

By this time it was nine o'clock; Lucien followed the example set in
secret by his future friend by asking him to dine at Eldon's, and spent
twelve francs at that restaurant. During the dinner Daniel admitted
Lucien into the secret of his hopes and studies. Daniel d'Arthez would
not allow that any writer could attain to a pre-eminent rank without
a profound knowledge of metaphysics. He was engaged in ransacking the
spoils of ancient and modern philosophy, and in the assimilation of
it all; he would be like Moliere, a profound philosopher first, and a
writer of comedies afterwards. He was studying the world of books and
the living world about him - thought and fact. His friends were learned
naturalists, young doctors of medicine, political writers and artists, a
number of earnest students full of promise.

D'Arthez earned a living by conscientious and ill-paid work; he wrote
articles for encyclopaedias, dictionaries of biography and natural
science, doing just enough to enable him to live while he followed his
own bent, and neither more nor less. He had a piece of imaginative work
on hand, undertaken solely for the sake of studying the resources of
language, an important psychological study in the form of a novel,
unfinished as yet, for d'Arthez took it up or laid it down as the humor
took him, and kept it for days of great distress. D'Arthez's revelations
of himself were made very simply, but to Lucien he seemed like
an intellectual giant; and by eleven o'clock, when they left the
restaurant, he began to feel a sudden, warm friendship for this nature,
unconscious of its loftiness, this unostentatious worth.

Lucien took d'Arthez's advice unquestioningly, and followed it out to
the letter. The most magnificent palaces of fancy had been suddenly
flung open to him by a nobly-gifted mind, matured already by thought
and critical examinations undertaken for their own sake, not for
publication, but for the solitary thinker's own satisfaction. The
burning coal had been laid on the lips of the poet of Angouleme, a word
uttered by a hard student in Paris had fallen upon ground prepared to
receive it in the provincial. Lucien set about recasting his work.

In his gladness at finding in the wilderness of Paris a nature abounding
in generous and sympathetic feeling, the distinguished provincial
did, as all young creatures hungering for affection are wont to do;
he fastened, like a chronic disease, upon this one friend that he had
found. He called for D'Arthez on his way to the Bibliotheque, walked
with him on fine days in the Luxembourg Gardens, and went with his
friend every evening as far as the door of his lodging-house after
sitting next to him at Flicoteaux's. He pressed close to his friend's
side as a soldier might keep by a comrade on the frozen Russian plains.

During those early days of his acquaintance, he noticed, not without
chagrin, that his presence imposed a certain restraint on the circle of
Daniel's intimates. The talk of those superior beings of whom d'Arthez
spoke to him with such concentrated enthusiasm kept within the bounds
of a reserve but little in keeping with the evident warmth of their
friendships. At these times Lucien discreetly took his leave, a feeling
of curiosity mingling with the sense of something like pain at the
ostracism to which he was subjected by these strangers, who all
addressed each other by their Christian names. Each one of them, like
d'Arthez, bore the stamp of genius upon his forehead.

After some private opposition, overcome by d'Arthez without Lucien's
knowledge, the newcomer was at length judged worthy to make one of the
_cenacle_ of lofty thinkers. Henceforward he was to be one of a little
group of young men who met almost every evening in d'Arthez's room,
united by the keenest sympathies and by the earnestness of their
intellectual life. They all foresaw a great writer in d'Arthez; they
looked upon him as their chief since the loss of one of their number,
a mystical genius, one of the most extraordinary intellects of the age.
This former leader had gone back to his province for reasons on which
it serves no purpose to enter, but Lucien often heard them speak of this
absent friend as "Louis." Several of the group were destined to fall by
the way; but others, like d'Arthez, have since won all the fame that was
their due. A few details as to the circle will readily explain Lucien's
strong feeling of interest and curiosity.

One among those who still survive was Horace Bianchon, then a
house-student at the Hotel-Dieu; later, a shining light at the Ecole de
Paris, and now so well known that it is needless to give any description
of his appearance, genius, or character.

Next came Leon Giraud, that profound philosopher and bold theorist,
turning all systems inside out, criticising, expressing, and
formulating, dragging them all to the feet of his idol - Humanity; great
even in his errors, for his honesty ennobled his mistakes. An intrepid
toiler, a conscientious scholar, he became the acknowledged head of a
school of moralists and politicians. Time alone can pronounce upon the
merits of his theories; but if his convictions have drawn him into paths
in which none of his old comrades tread, none the less he is still their
faithful friend.

Art was represented by Joseph Bridau, one of the best painters among the
younger men. But for a too impressionable nature, which made havoc of
Joseph's heart, he might have continued the traditions of the great
Italian masters, though, for that matter, the last word has not yet been
said concerning him. He combines Roman outline with Venetian color; but
love is fatal to his work, love not merely transfixes his heart, but
sends his arrow through the brain, deranges the course of his life, and
sets the victim describing the strangest zigzags. If the mistress of the
moment is too kind or too cruel, Joseph will send into the Exhibition
sketches where the drawing is clogged with color, or pictures finished
under the stress of some imaginary woe, in which he gave his whole
attention to the drawing, and left the color to take care of itself. He
is a constant disappointment to his friends and the public; yet Hoffmann
would have worshiped him for his daring experiments in the realms of
art. When Bridau is wholly himself he is admirable, and as praise is
sweet to him, his disgust is great when one praises the failures in
which he alone discovers all that is lacking in the eyes of the public.
He is whimsical to the last degree. His friends have seen him destroy
a finished picture because, in his eyes, it looked too smooth. "It is
overdone," he would say; "it is niggling work."

With his eccentric, yet lofty nature, with a nervous organization and
all that it entails of torment and delight, the craving for perfection
becomes morbid. Intellectually he is akin to Sterne, though he is not a
literary worker. There is an indescribable piquancy about his epigrams
and sallies of thought. He is eloquent, he knows how to love, but the
uncertainty that appears in his execution is a part of the very nature
of the man. The brotherhood loved him for the very qualities which the
philistine would style defects.

Last among the living comes Fulgence Ridal. No writer of our times
possesses more of the exuberant spirit of pure comedy than this poet,
careless of fame, who will fling his more commonplace productions to
theatrical managers, and keep the most charming scenes in the seraglio
of his brain for himself and his friends. Of the public he asks just
sufficient to secure his independence, and then declines to do
anything more. Indolent and prolific as Rossini, compelled, like
great poet-comedians, like Moliere and Rabelais, to see both sides of
everything, and all that is to be said both for and against, he is
a sceptic, ready to laugh at all things. Fulgence Ridal is a great
practical philosopher. His worldly wisdom, his genius for observation,
his contempt for fame ("fuss," as he calls it) have not seared a kind
heart. He is as energetic on behalf of another as he is careless where
his own interests are concerned; and if he bestirs himself, it is for a
friend. Living up to his Rabelaisian mask, he is no enemy to good cheer,
though he never goes out of his way to find it; he is melancholy and
gay. His friends dubbed him the "Dog of the Regiment." You could have no
better portrait of the man than his nickname.

Three more of the band, at least as remarkable as the friends who have
just been sketched in outline, were destined to fall by the way. Of
these, Meyraux was the first. Meyraux died after stirring up the famous
controversy between Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a great question
which divided the whole scientific world into two opposite camps, with
these two men of equal genius as leaders. This befell some months before
the death of the champion of rigorous analytical science as opposed
to the pantheism of one who is still living to bear an honored name in
Germany. Meyraux was the friend of that "Louis" of whom death was so
soon to rob the intellectual world.

With these two, both marked by death, and unknown to-day in spite of
their wide knowledge and their genius, stands a third, Michel Chrestien,
the great Republican thinker, who dreamed of European Federation, and
had no small share in bringing about the Saint-Simonian movement of
1830. A politician of the calibre of Saint-Just and Danton, but simple,
meek as a maid, and brimful of illusions and loving-kindness; the owner
of a singing voice which would have sent Mozart, or Weber, or Rossini
into ecstasies, for his singing of certain songs of Beranger's could
intoxicate the heart in you with poetry, or hope, or love - Michel
Chrestien, poor as Lucien, poor as Daniel d'Arthez, as all the rest
of his friends, gained a living with the haphazard indifference of
a Diogenes. He indexed lengthy works, he drew up prospectuses for
booksellers, and kept his doctrines to himself, as the grave keeps the
secrets of the dead. Yet the gay bohemian of intellectual life, the
great statesman who might have changed the face of the world, fell as a
private soldier in the cloister of Saint-Merri; some shopkeeper's bullet
struck down one of the noblest creatures that ever trod French soil, and
Michel Chrestien died for other doctrines than his own. His Federation
scheme was more dangerous to the aristocracy of Europe than the
Republican propaganda; it was more feasible and less extravagant than
the hideous doctrines of indefinite liberty proclaimed by the young
madcaps who assume the character of heirs of the Convention. All who
knew the noble plebeian wept for him; there is not one of them but
remembers, and often remembers, a great obscure politician.

Esteem and friendship kept the peace between the extremes of hostile
opinion and conviction represented in the brotherhood. Daniel d'Arthez
came of a good family in Picardy. His belief in the Monarchy was quite
as strong as Michel Chrestien's faith in European Federation. Fulgence
Ridal scoffed at Leon Giraud's philosophical doctrines, while Giraud
himself prophesied for d'Arthez's benefit the approaching end of
Christianity and the extinction of the institution of the family. Michel
Chrestien, a believer in the religion of Christ, the divine lawgiver,
who taught the equality of men, would defend the immortality of the soul



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 6 of 29)