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Honoré de Balzac.

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Cerberus of the paper. This was an elderly officer with a medal on his
chest and a silk skull-cap on his head; his nose was almost hidden by a
pair of grizzled moustaches, and his person was hidden as completely in
an ample blue overcoat as the body of the turtle in its carapace.

"From what date do you wish your subscription to commence, sir?"
inquired the Emperor's officer.

"I did not come about a subscription," returned Lucien. Looking about
him, he saw a placard fastened on a door, corresponding to the one by
which he had entered, and read the words - EDITOR'S OFFICE, and below, in
smaller letters, _No admittance except on business_.

"A complaint, I expect?" replied the veteran. "Ah! yes; we have
been hard on Mariette. What would you have? I don't know the why and
wherefore of it yet. - But if you want satisfaction, I am ready for you,"
he added, glancing at a collection of small arms and foils stacked in a
corner, the armory of the modern warrior.

"That was still further from my intention, sir. I have come to speak to
the editor."

"Nobody is ever here before four o'clock."

"Look you here, Giroudeau, old chap," remarked a voice, "I make it
eleven columns; eleven columns at five francs apiece is fifty-five
francs, and I have only been paid forty; so you owe me another fifteen
francs, as I have been telling you."

These words proceeded from a little weasel-face, pallid and
semi-transparent as the half-boiled white of an egg; two slits of
eyes looked out of it, mild blue in tint, but appallingly malignant in
expression; and the owner, an insignificant young man, was completely
hidden by the veteran's opaque person. It was a blood-curdling voice, a
sound between the mewing of a cat and the wheezy chokings of a hyena.

"Yes, yes, my little militiaman," retorted he of the medal, "but you are
counting the headings and white lines. I have Finot's instructions to
add up the totals of the lines, and to divide them by the proper number
for each column; and after I performed that concentrating operation on
your copy, there were three columns less."

"He doesn't pay for the blanks, the Jew! He reckons them in though when
he sends up the total of his work to his partner, and he gets paid for
them too. I will go and see Etienne Lousteau, Vernou - - "

"I cannot go beyond my orders, my boy," said the veteran. "What! do you
cry out against your foster-mother for a matter of fifteen francs? you
that turn out an article as easily as I smoke a cigar. Fifteen francs!
why, you will give a bowl of punch to your friends, or win an extra game
of billiards, and there's an end of it!"

"Finot's savings will cost him very dear," said the contributor as he
took his departure.

"Now, would not anybody think that he was Rousseau and Voltaire rolled
in one?" the cashier remarked to himself as he glanced at Lucien.

"I will come in again at four, sir," said Lucien.

While the argument proceeded, Lucien had been looking about him. He saw
upon the walls the portraits of Benjamin Constant, General Foy, and the
seventeen illustrious orators of the Left, interspersed with caricatures
at the expense of the Government; but he looked more particularly at
the door of the sanctuary where, no doubt, the paper was elaborated,
the witty paper that amused him daily, and enjoyed the privilege of
ridiculing kings and the most portentous events, of calling anything
and everything in question with a jest. Then he sauntered along the
boulevards. It was an entirely novel amusement; and so agreeable did he
find it, that, looking at the turret clocks, he saw the hour hands were
pointing to four, and only then remembered that he had not breakfasted.

He went at once in the direction of the Rue Saint-Fiacre, climbed the
stair, and opened the door.

The veteran officer was absent; but the old pensioner, sitting on a
pile of stamped papers, was munching a crust and acting as sentinel
resignedly. Coloquinte was as much accustomed to his work in the office
as to the fatigue duty of former days, understanding as much or as
little about it as the why and wherefore of forced marches made by the
Emperor's orders. Lucien was inspired with the bold idea of deceiving
that formidable functionary. He settled his hat on his head, and walked
into the editor's office as if he were quite at home.

Looking eagerly about him, he beheld a round table covered with a green
cloth, and half-a-dozen cherry-wood chairs, newly reseated with straw.
The colored brick floor had not been waxed, but it was clean; so clean
that the public, evidently, seldom entered the room. There was a mirror
above the chimney-piece, and on the ledge below, amid a sprinkling of
visiting-cards, stood a shopkeeper's clock, smothered with dust, and a
couple of candlesticks with tallow dips thrust into their sockets. A few
antique newspapers lay on the table beside an inkstand containing some
black lacquer-like substance, and a collection of quill pens twisted
into stars. Sundry dirty scraps of paper, covered with almost
undecipherable hieroglyphs, proved to be manuscript articles torn across
the top by the compositor to check off the sheets as they were set up.
He admired a few rather clever caricatures, sketched on bits of brown
paper by somebody who evidently had tried to kill time by killing
something else to keep his hand in.

Other works of art were pinned in the cheap sea-green wall-paper. These
consisted of nine pen-and-ink illustrations for _Le Solitaire_. The work
had attained to such an unheard-of European popularity, that journalists
evidently were tired of it. - "The Solitary makes his first appearance
in the provinces; sensation among the women. - The Solitary perused at
a chateau. - Effect of the Solitary on domestic animals. - The Solitary
explained to savage tribes, with the most brilliant results. - The
Solitary translated into Chinese and presented by the author to the
Emperor at Pekin. - The Mont Sauvage, Rape of Elodie." - (Lucien though
this caricature very shocking, but he could not help laughing at
it.) - "The Solitary under a canopy conducted in triumphal procession by
the newspapers. - The Solitary breaks the press to splinters, and wounds
the printers. - Read backwards, the superior beauties of the Solitary
produce a sensation at the Academie." - On a newspaper-wrapper Lucien
noticed a sketch of a contributor holding out his hat, and beneath it
the words, "Finot! my hundred francs," and a name, since grown more
notorious than famous.

Between the window and the chimney-piece stood a writing-table, a
mahogany armchair, and a waste-paper basket on a strip of hearth-rug;
the dust lay thick on all these objects. There were short curtains
in the windows. About a score of new books lay on the writing-table,
deposited there apparently during the day, together with prints, music,
snuff-boxes of the "Charter" pattern, a copy of the ninth edition of
_Le Solitaire_ (the great joke of the moment), and some ten unopened
letters.

Lucien had taken stock of this strange furniture, and made reflections
of the most exhaustive kind upon it, when, the clock striking five, he
returned to question the pensioner. Coloquinte had finished his crust,
and was waiting with the patience of a commissionaire, for the man of
medals, who perhaps was taking an airing on the boulevard.

At this conjuncture the rustle of a dress sounded on the stair, and the
light unmistakable footstep of a woman on the threshold. The newcomer
was passably pretty. She addressed herself to Lucien.

"Sir," she said, "I know why you cry up Mlle. Virginie's hats so much;
and I have come to put down my name for a year's subscription in the
first place; but tell me your conditions - - "

"I am not connected with the paper, madame."

"Oh!"

"A subscription dating from October?" inquired the pensioner.

"What does the lady want to know?" asked the veteran, reappearing on the
scene.

The fair milliner and the retired military man were soon deep in
converse; and when Lucien, beginning to lose patience, came back to the
first room, he heard the conclusion of the matter.

"Why, I shall be delighted, quite delighted, sir. Mlle. Florentine
can come to my shop and choose anything she likes. Ribbons are in my
department. So it is all quite settled. You will say no more about
Virginie, a botcher that cannot design a new shape, while I have ideas
of my own, I have."

Lucien heard a sound as of coins dropping into a cashbox, and the
veteran began to make up his books for the day.

"I have been waiting here for an hour, sir," Lucien began, looking not a
little annoyed.

"And 'they' have not come yet!" exclaimed Napoleon's veteran, civilly
feigning concern. "I am not surprised at that. It is some time since
I have seen 'them' here. It is the middle of the month, you see. Those
fine fellows only turn up on pay days - the 29th or the 30th."

"And M. Finot?" asked Lucien, having caught the editor's name.

"He is in the Rue Feydeau, that's where he lives. Coloquinte, old chap,
just take him everything that has come in to-day when you go with the
paper to the printers."

"Where is the newspaper put together?" Lucien said to himself.

"The newspaper?" repeated the officer, as he received the rest of the
stamp money from Coloquinte, "the newspaper? - broum! broum! - (Mind you
are round at the printers' by six o'clock to-morrow, old chap, to send
off the porters.) - The newspaper, sir, is written in the street, at
the writers' houses, in the printing-office between eleven and twelve
o'clock at night. In the Emperor's time, sir, these shops for spoiled
paper were not known. Oh! he would have cleared them out with four men
and a corporal; they would not have come over _him_ with their talk. But
that is enough of prattling. If my nephew finds it worth his while, and
so long as they write for the son of the Other (broum! broum!) - - after
all, there is no harm in that. Ah! by the way, subscribers don't seem to
me to be advancing in serried columns; I shall leave my post."

"You seem to know all about the newspaper, sir," Lucien began.

"From a business point of view, broum! broum!" coughed the soldier,
clearing his throat. "From three to five francs per column, according to
ability. - Fifty lines to a column, forty letters to a line; no blanks;
there you are! As for the staff, they are queer fish, little youngsters
whom I wouldn't take on for the commissariat; and because they make fly
tracks on sheets of white paper, they look down, forsooth, on an old
Captain of Dragoons of the Guard, that retired with a major's rank after
entering every European capital with Napoleon."

The soldier of Napoleon brushed his coat, and made as if he would go
out, but Lucien, swept to the door, had courage enough to make a stand.

"I came to be a contributor of the paper," he said. "I am full of
respect, I vow and declare, for a captain of the Imperial Guard, those
men of bronze - - "

"Well said, my little civilian, there are several kinds of contributors;
which kind do you wish to be?" replied the trooper, bearing down on
Lucien, and descending the stairs. At the foot of the flight he stopped,
but it was only to light a cigar at the porter's box.

"If any subscribers come, you see them and take note of them, Mother
Chollet. - Simply subscribers, never know anything but subscribers," he
added, seeing that Lucien followed him. "Finot is my nephew; he is
the only one of my family that has done anything to relieve me in my
position. So when anybody comes to pick a quarrel with Finot, he finds
old Giroudeau, Captain of the Dragoons of the Guard, that set out as a
private in a cavalry regiment in the army of the Sambre-et-Meuse, and
was fencing-master for five years to the First Hussars, army of Italy!
One, two, and the man that had any complaints to make would be turned
off into the dark," he added, making a lunge. "Now writers, my boy, are
in different corps; there is the writer who writes and draws his pay;
there is the writer who writes and gets nothing (a volunteer we call
him); and, lastly, there is the writer who writes nothing, and he is by
no means the stupidest, for he makes no mistakes; he gives himself out
for a literary man, he is on the paper, he treats us to dinners, he
loafs about the theatres, he keeps an actress, he is very well off. What
do you mean to be?"

"The man that does good work and gets good pay."

"You are like the recruits. They all want to be marshals of France. Take
old Giroudeau's word for it, and turn right about, in double-quick time,
and go and pick up nails in the gutter like that good fellow yonder; you
can tell by the look of him that he has been in the army. - Isn't it a
shame that an old soldier who has walked into the jaws of death hundreds
of times should be picking up old iron in the streets of Paris? Ah! God
A'mighty! 'twas a shabby trick to desert the Emperor. - Well, my boy, the
individual you saw this morning has made his forty francs a month. Are
you going to do better? And, according to Finot, he is the cleverest man
on the staff."

"When you enlisted in the Sambre-et-Meuse, did they talk about danger?"

"Rather."

"Very well?"

"Very well. Go and see my nephew Finot, a good fellow, as good a fellow
as you will find, if you can find him, that is, for he is like a fish,
always on the move. In his way of business, there is no writing, you
see, it is setting others to write. That sort like gallivanting about
with actresses better than scribbling on sheets of paper, it seems. Oh!
they are queer customers, they are. Hope I may have the honor of seeing
you again."

With that the cashier raised his formidable loaded cane, one of the
defenders of Germainicus, and walked off, leaving Lucien in the street,
as much bewildered by this picture of the newspaper world as he had
formerly been by the practical aspects of literature at Messrs. Vidal
and Porchon's establishment.

Ten several times did Lucien repair to the Rue Feydeau in search of
Andoche Finot, and ten times he failed to find that gentleman. He went
first thing in the morning; Finot had not come in. At noon, Finot had
gone out; he was breakfasting at such and such a cafe. At the cafe, in
answer to inquiries of the waitress, made after surmounting unspeakable
repugnance, Lucien heard that Finot had just left the place. Lucien,
at length tired out, began to regard Finot as a mythical and
fabulous character; it appeared simpler to waylay Etienne Lousteau at
Flicoteaux's. That youthful journalist would, doubtless, explain the
mysteries that enveloped the paper for which he wrote.

Since the day, a hundred times blessed, when Lucien made the
acquaintance of Daniel d'Arthez, he had taken another seat at
Flicoteaux's. The two friends dined side by side, talking in lowered
voices of the higher literature, of suggested subjects, and ways of
presenting, opening up, and developing them. At the present time Daniel
d'Arthez was correcting the manuscript of _The Archer of Charles IX._ He
reconstructed whole chapters, and wrote the fine passages found therein,
as well as the magnificent preface, which is, perhaps, the best thing
in the book, and throws so much light on the work of the young school
of literature. One day it so happened that Daniel had been waiting
for Lucien, who now sat with his friend's hand in his own, when he saw
Etienne Lousteau turn the door-handle. Lucien instantly dropped Daniel's
hand, and told the waiter that he would dine at his old place by the
counter. D'Arthez gave Lucien a glance of divine kindness, in which
reproach was wrapped in forgiveness. The glance cut the poet to the
quick; he took Daniel's hand and grasped it anew.

"It is an important question of business for me; I will tell you about
it afterwards," said he.

Lucien was in his old place by the time that Lousteau reached the table;
as the first comer, he greeted his acquaintance; they soon struck up a
conversation, which grew so lively that Lucien went off in search of the
manuscript of the _Marguerites_, while Lousteau finished his dinner. He
had obtained leave to lay his sonnets before the journalist, and mistook
the civility of the latter for willingness to find him a publisher, or
a place on the paper. When Lucien came hurrying back again, he saw
d'Arthez resting an elbow on the table in a corner of the restaurant,
and knew that his friend was watching him with melancholy eyes, but he
would not see d'Arthez just then; he felt the sharp pangs of poverty,
the goadings of ambition, and followed Lousteau.

In the late afternoon the journalist and the neophyte went to the
Luxembourg, and sat down under the trees in that part of the gardens
which lies between the broad Avenue de l'Observatoire and the Rue de
l'Ouest. The Rue de l'Ouest at that time was a long morass, bounded by
planks and market-gardens; the houses were all at the end nearest
the Rue de Vaugirard; and the walk through the gardens was so little
frequented, that at the hour when Paris dines, two lovers might fall out
and exchange the earnest of reconciliation without fear of intruders.
The only possible spoil-sport was the pensioner on duty at the little
iron gate on the Rue de l'Ouest, if that gray-headed veteran should
take it into his head to lengthen his monotonous beat. There, on a
bench beneath the lime-trees, Etienne Lousteau sat and listened to
sample-sonnets from the _Marguerites_.

Etienne Lousteau, after a two-years' apprenticeship, was on the staff
of a newspaper; he had his foot in the stirrup; he reckoned some of the
celebrities of the day among his friends; altogether, he was an imposing
personage in Lucien's eyes. Wherefore, while Lucien untied the string
about the _Marguerites_, he judged it necessary to make some sort of
preface.

"The sonnet, monsieur," said he, "is one of the most difficult forms of
poetry. It has fallen almost entirely into disuse. No Frenchman can hope
to rival Petrarch; for the language in which the Italian wrote, being
so infinitely more pliant than French, lends itself to play of thought
which our positivism (pardon the use of the expression) rejects. So
it seemed to me that a volume of sonnets would be something quite new.
Victor Hugo has appropriated the old, Canalis writes lighter verse,
Beranger has monopolized songs, Casimir Delavigne has taken tragedy, and
Lamartine the poetry of meditation."

"Are you a 'Classic' or a 'Romantic'?" inquired Lousteau.

Lucien's astonishment betrayed such complete ignorance of the state of
affairs in the republic of letters, that Lousteau thought it necessary
to enlighten him.

"You have come up in the middle of a pitched battle, my dear fellow;
you must make your decision at once. Literature is divided, in the first
place, into several zones, but our great men are ranged in two hostile
camps. The Royalists are 'Romantics,' the Liberals are 'Classics.' The
divergence of taste in matters literary and divergence of political
opinion coincide; and the result is a war with weapons of every sort,
double-edged witticisms, subtle calumnies and nicknames _a outrance_,
between the rising and the waning glory, and ink is shed in torrents.
The odd part of it is that the Royalist-Romantics are all for liberty
in literature, and for repealing laws and conventions; while the
Liberal-Classics are for maintaining the unities, the Alexandrine, and
the classical theme. So opinions in politics on either side are directly
at variance with literary taste. If you are eclectic, you will have no
one for you. Which side do you take?"

"Which is the winning side?"

"The Liberal newspapers have far more subscribers than the Royalist and
Ministerial journals; still, though Canalis is for Church and King,
and patronized by the Court and the clergy, he reaches other
readers. - Pshaw! sonnets date back to an epoch before Boileau's time,"
said Etienne, seeing Lucien's dismay at the prospect of choosing between
two banners. "Be a Romantic. The Romantics are young men, and the
Classics are pedants; the Romantics will gain the day."

The word "pedant" was the latest epithet taken up by Romantic journalism
to heap confusion on the Classical faction.

Lucien began to read, choosing first of all the title-sonnets.


EASTER DAISIES.

The daisies in the meadows, not in vain,
In red and white and gold before our eyes,
Have written an idyll for man's sympathies,
And set his heart's desire in language plain.

Gold stamens set in silver filigrane
Reveal the treasures which we idolize;
And all the cost of struggle for the prize
Is symboled by a secret blood-red stain.

Was it because your petals once uncurled
When Jesus rose upon a fairer world,
And from wings shaken for a heav'nward flight
Shed grace, that still as autumn reappears
You bloom again to tell of dead delight,
To bring us back the flower of twenty years?


Lucien felt piqued by Lousteau's complete indifference during the
reading of the sonnet; he was unfamiliar as yet with the disconcerting
impassibility of the professional critic, wearied by much reading of
poetry, prose, and plays. Lucien was accustomed to applause. He choked
down his disappointment and read another, a favorite with Mme. de
Bargeton and with some of his friends in the Rue des Quatre-Vents.

"This one, perhaps, will draw a word from him," he thought.


THE MARGUERITE.

I am the Marguerite, fair and tall I grew
In velvet meadows, 'mid the flowers a star.
They sought me for my beauty near and far;
My dawn, I thought, should be for ever new.
But now an all unwished-for gift I rue,
A fatal ray of knowledge shed to mar
My radiant star-crown grown oracular,
For I must speak and give an answer true.
An end of silence and of quiet days,
The Lover with two words my counsel prays;
And when my secret from my heart is reft,
When all my silver petals scattered lie,
I am the only flower neglected left,
Cast down and trodden under foot to die.


At the end, the poet looked up at his Aristarchus. Etienne Lousteau was
gazing at the trees in the Pepiniere.

"Well?" asked Lucien.

"Well, my dear fellow, go on! I am listening to you, am I not? That fact
in itself is as good as praise in Paris."

"Have you had enough?" Lucien asked.

"Go on," the other answered abruptly enough.

Lucien proceeded to read the following sonnet, but his heart was dead
within him; Lousteau's inscrutable composure froze his utterance. If
he had come a little further upon the road, he would have known
that between writer and writer silence or abrupt speech, under such
circumstances, is a betrayal of jealousy, and outspoken admiration means
a sense of relief over the discovery that the work is not above the
average after all.


THE CAMELLIA.

In Nature's book, if rightly understood,
The rose means love, and red for beauty glows;
A pure, sweet spirit in the violet blows,
And bright the lily gleams in lowlihood.

But this strange bloom, by sun and wind unwooed,
Seems to expand and blossom 'mid the snows,
A lily sceptreless, a scentless rose,
For dainty listlessness of maidenhood.

Yet at the opera house the petals trace
For modesty a fitting aureole;
An alabaster wreath to lay, methought,
In dusky hair o'er some fair woman's face
Which kindles ev'n such love within the soul
As sculptured marble forms by Phidias wrought.


"What do you think of my poor sonnets?" Lucien asked, coming straight to
the point.

"Do you want the truth?"

"I am young enough to like the truth, and so anxious to succeed that I
can hear it without taking offence, but not without despair," replied
Lucien.

"Well, my dear fellow, the first sonnet, from its involved style, was
evidently written at Angouleme; it gave you so much trouble, no doubt,
that you cannot give it up. The second and third smack of Paris already;
but read us one more sonnet," he added, with a gesture that seemed
charming to the provincial.

Encouraged by the request, Lucien read with more confidence, choosing a
sonnet which d'Arthez and Bridau liked best, perhaps on account of its
color.


THE TULIP.

I am the Tulip from Batavia's shore;
The thrifty Fleming for my beauty rare
Pays a king's ransom, when that I am fair,
And tall, and straight, and pure my petal's core.

And, like some Yolande of the days of yore,
My long and amply folded skirts I wear,
O'er-painted with the blazon that I bear
- Gules, a fess azure; purpure, fretty, or.

The fingers of the Gardener divine
Have woven for me my vesture fair and fine,



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 8 of 29)