Honoré de Balzac.

Honoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 35) online

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tie 33al?ac





No. 3 3 3




"The brigands, remaining masters of the field,
thanks 'to their member, searched the ivagon, which
tuas driven into a ravine for that purpose. They
covered the driver's Jiead as a blind. They broke
open the chests, the ground zvas streivn with bags of



"The brigands, remaining masters of tJie field,
thanks to their number, searched the wagon, which
was driven into a ravine for that purpose. They
covered the driver's head as a blind. They broke
open the chests, the ground was strewn with bags of

tie Uai^ac NOW FOR THE











, 3!f



As a token of the author's respectful gratitude.




"I have never seen anyone, even among the
remarkable men of the age, whose appearance was
more striking than that man's; a study of his
features aroused at first a feeling of melancholy,
and eventually caused an almost painful sensation.
There was a certain harmony between the person
and the name. The Z. that preceded the Marcas,
that appeared in the superscription of his letters and
was never forgotten in his signature, that final letter
of the alphabet conveyed to the mind an indefinable
suggestion of fatality.

"MARCAS! Repeat to yourself that name of two
syllables: do you not detect a sinister meaning in it?
Does it not seem to you that the man who bears it
is destined to be martyrized? Although a strange
and barbarous name, it is entitled none the less to
be handed down to posterity; it is well put together,
it is readily pronounced, it has the brevity desirable
in illustrious names. Is it not as soft as it is strange?
but has it not an unfinished sound to your ear? I
would not like to take it upon myself to assert
that names exercise no influence over destinies.
Between the incidents of life and the names of men,


there are secret and inexplicable accords or visible
differences that surprise one; it often happens that
distant but potent correlations are disclosed. Our
globe is full, everything clings to its place. Perhaps
we shall go back some day to the occult sciences.

"Do you not see a disappointed twist in the
formation of the Z? Does it not pursue the fortui-
tous and capricious zigzag course of a disturbed life?
What wind has blown upon that letter, which begins
hardly fifty words in any language in which it is
used? Marcas's name was Zephirin. Saint-Zephirin
is deeply venerated in Bretagne. Marcas was a

"Scrutinize that name once more: Z. Marcas!
The man's whole life is comprised in that capricious
union of the seven letters. Seven! the most sig-
nificant of cabalistic numbers. The man died at
thirty-five, so that his life was composed of seven
lusters. Marcas! Do you not get the idea of some
precious object broken by a fall, with or without a

"I was finishing my legal studies in Paris, in 1836.
I lived at that time on Rue Corneille, in a house
entirely devoted to students' lodgings, one of the
houses with a winding staircase at the rear, lighted
at the bottom from the street, then by inner windows
and at the top by a round window. There were
forty rooms, furnished as rooms intended for students
usually are. What more does youth need than was
provided in those rooms? a bed, a few chairs, a
commode, a mirror and a table. As soon as the


skies are clear, the student opens his window. But
in that street there are no pretty neighbors to ogle.
Across the street, the Odeon, long since closed,
presents to the eye its already blackening walls, the
tiny windows of its boxes, and its vast slated roof.
I was not rich enough to have a good room, I was
not able even to have a room to myself. Juste
and I shared a room with two beds, on the fifth floor.

"On that side of the stairway there were no
rooms but our own and another smaller one, occupied
by our neighbor, Z. Marcas. Juste and 1 were for
six months entirely unaware that we had such a
neighbor. An old woman who managed the house
had told us, to be sure, that the little room was
occupied, but she had added that we should not be
annoyed, as the occupant was an exceedingly quiet
person. In fact, we did not meet our neighbor once
during the first six months, and we heard no sound
in his room, notwithstanding the thinness of the
partition between us, which was one of the lath and
plaster partitions so common in Paris houses.

"Our chamber, which was seven feet high, was
hung with a wretched little blue flowered paper.
The painted floor knew nothing of the polish that
scrubbing imparts. We had a shabby list mat
beside our beds. The fireplace flue entered the
chimney too near the roof, and smoked so that we
were compelled to put in a chimney-pot at our own
expense. Our beds were painted wooden cots,
like those used at boarding-schools. There was
never anything on the mantel-shelf except two


copper candlesticks, sometimes with and sometimes
without candles, our two pipes and some tobacco,
loose or in a bag; then there were the little piles of
ashes that our visitors deposited there or that we
collected ourselves when smoking cigars. Two
calico curtains slid upon rods at the window, on
each side of which were two little cherry-wood
bookcases, of a pattern familiar to all those who
frequent the Latin quarter, in which we kept the
few books essential for our studies. The ink in the
inkstand was always like the thick lava in the
crater of a volcano. May not any inkstand to-day
become a Vesuvius? The quills, when twisted,
served to clean out the stems of our pipes. In
opposition to the general rule in banking, paper was
even scarcer with us than coin.

"How can people expect to induce young men to
remain in such furnished apartments? So the
students do their studying in cafes, at the theatre,
in the paths of the Luxembourg, in grisettes' rooms,
anywhere, even at the School of Law, except in
their horrible rooms horrible when it is a question
of studying there, but delightful when they meet
there to prattle and smoke. Place a cloth on yonder
table, imagine thereon the hastily ordered dinner
from the best restaurant in the quarter, with covers
laid for four, and two girls, have that domestic
scene lithographed and a saint cannot refrain from
smiling at it.

"We thought of nothing but our own entertain-
ment. Our reason for leading such a disorderly life


was founded upon most serious consideration of
what policy counsels at the present time. Juste and
myself could see no place for ourselves in the two
professions which our parents compelled us to em-
brace. There are a hundred lawyers, a hundred
doctors for every vacancy. The crowd blocks those
two roads, which seem to lead to fortune and which
are really two arenas: they fight and kill each other
there, not with side arms or with firearms, but by
intrigue and slander, by terrible labor, by campaigns
in the domain of intelligence, as deadly as the
Italian campaigns were to the republican troops.
To-day, when everything is resolved into a contest
of intellects, one must be able to remain in one's
chair in front of a table for forty-eight hours in suc-
cession, as a general sometimes remains two whole
days in the saddle. The great throng of aspirants
has compelled the medical profession to divide itself
into categories: there is the physician who writes,
the physician who teaches, the political physician
and the practising physician four different ways
of being a physician, four sections already full. As
for the fifth division doctors who sell remedies,
there is considerable rivalry there, and they fight
with disgusting placards posted on the blank walls
of Paris. In all the courts there are as many
lawyers as causes. The lawyer is thrown back upon
journalism, politics, literature. Even the State,
besieged by applications for the smallest places in the
magistracy, has ended by requiring the petitioners
to possess a considerable fortune. The pear-shaped


head of the son of a wealthy grocer will be given
the preference over the square head of a man of
talent without a sou. By straining every nerve, by
putting forth all his energy, a young man who
starts from zero may find himself, at the end of ten
years, below his starting point. To-day talent
must have the good luck that brings success to
incapacity; nay, more, if it lacks the mean qualities
that give success to mediocrity, it will never

"If we had an intimate acquaintance with our
epoch, we knew ourselves equally well, and we
preferred the idleness of thinkers to a purposeless
activity, indifference and pleasure to fruitless labors
which would have tired out our courage and worn
away the keen edge of our intellect. We had
analyzed social conditions as we sauntered through
the streets, laughing and smoking. Our reflections
and observations were none the less profound and
judicious for being evolved under such conditions.

"While remarking the servitude to which youth
is condemned, we were amazed at the brutal
indifference of the ruling powers to everything
connected with the mind, with the thought, with
poesy. What meaning glances Juste and I often
exchanged as we read the newspapers, ascertaining
what was happening in the political world, running
through the debates in the Chambers, discussing
the conduct of a court whose wilful ignorance can
be compared only to the vapidity of the courtiers, to
the mediocrity of the men who hedge about the


new throne, all without wit or talent, without
learning or fame, without influence or eminence.
What a eulogy of the court of Charles X. is the
present court, if it can properly be so called! What
hatred for the country is shown in the naturalization
of the commonplace foreigners, men. of no talent,
who are enthroned in the Chamber of Peers! What
a perversion of justice! What an insult to the
rising generation, to native-born ambition! We
looked at all these things as at a play, and we
groaned at them without coming to any decision as
to our own course.

"Juste, whom none came to consult, and who
would never have sought patients, was, at twenty-
five, a profound politician, a man of wonderful
aptitude in grasping the distant connection between
present and future conditions. He told me in 1831
what was likely to happen and did actually happen:
the assassinations, the conspiracies, the reign of the
Jews, the labored movements of France, the famine
of great minds in the upper spheres, and the
abundance of talent in the lowlands, where the
noblest courage is extinguished under the ashes of
the cigar. What should he do? His family wanted
him to be a physician. Did not that mean that he
must wait twenty years for a clientage? Do you
know what has become of him? No? Well, he is
a physician; but he has left France and is in Asia.
At this very moment he may be dying of fatigue in
a desert or falling beneath the blows of a horde of
savages, or he may be prime minister to some


Indian prince. My own vocation is action. Leaving
college at the age of twenty, it was not possible for
me to enter the army except as a common soldier;
and, being disgusted by the gloomy prospect afforded
by the legal profession, I have acquired the knowl-
edge necessary for a sailor. I propose to follow
Juste's example, I am leaving France where one
expends in making a place for one's self the time and
energy essential for the loftiest achievements. Do
as I do, my friends; I am going where a man may
guide his destiny as he wills.

"These momentous resolutions were formed
deliberately in the little room in the house on Rue
Corneille, or going to the Bal Musard, paying court
to merry damsels, leading a wild and apparently
reckless life. Our resolutions, our reflections
wavered for a long while. Marcas, our neighbor,
was, in a certain sense, the guide who led us to the
brink of the precipice or the roaring torrent, and
who caused us to measure its extent, who showed
us in advance what our fate would be if we should
let ourselves fall into it. It was he who put us on
our guard against the habit of postponing the day of
reckoning, which a man contracts with increasing
want and which hope seems to justify, by accepting
precarious positions from which he has to struggle
to extricate himself, by allowing himself to float
with the current of Paris, that monstrous harlot
who takes you up and drops you, smiles upon you
and turns her back upon you with equal facility,
who wears out the firmest wills by her captious


caprices Paris, where misfortune is the kept
mistress of chance.

"Our first meeting with Marcas dazzled us, so to
speak. On returning from our respective schools,
before the dinner hour, we always went up to our
room and remained there a moment, waiting for
each other, to find out if our plans for the evening
had undergone any change. One day, at four
o'clock, Juste saw Marcas on the stairway, and I
met him on the street. It was in November and
Marcas had no cloak; he wore shoes with heavy
soles, trousers with feet, made of double-milled
cassimere, a blue coat buttoned to the neck and
with a square collar, which gave him something of
a military air, especially as he wore a black 1 cravat.
There was nothing remarkable in the costume, but
it accorded well with the man's bearing and his face.
My first impression at sight of him was neither
surprise, nor astonishment, nor melancholy, nor in-
terest, nor pity, but a curiosity which partook of all
those emotions. He was walking slowly, at a pace
that indicated profound melancholy, with his head
bent forward, but not hanging after the manner of
a man conscious of guilt. It was a large, powerful
head, which seemed to contain the treasures neces-
sary to one whose ambition was of the first order,
and it was apparently laden with thoughts; it bent
beneath the weight of mental suffering, but there
was not the slightest trace of remorse in its features.
The character of the face will be understood from a
single word of description. According to a theory


much in vogue, every human face bears some
resemblance to an animal. Marcas's animal was
the lion. His hair resembled a mane, his nose was
short, flat, broad and split at the end like a lion's;
his forehead was divided into two mighty lobes, like
a lion's, by a deep furrow. Lastly, his hairy cheek-
bones, to which the thinness of his cheeks gave
added prominence, his enormous mouth and his
hollow cheeks were creased by folds that imparted
a rugged sternness to his expression, while their
effect was heightened by a coloring in which
yellowish tones predominated. That almost awe-
inspiring face seemed illumined by two lights, the
eyes, black as jet, but of infinite sweetness, calm
and deep, full of thought. If we may be permitted
to use the expression, his eyes were humiliated.
Marcas was afraid to look at people, not so much on
his own account as on account of those upon whom
his fascinating glance might rest; he possessed a
power which he did not care to exercise; he spared
those who passed him by, he dreaded to be noticed.
It was not modesty, but resignation, not the Christ-
like resignation which implies charity, but resigna-
tion advised by the reason, which has pointed out
the momentary uselessness of talent, the impossi-
bility of attaining and living in the sphere for which
we are fitted. That glance could emit lightning at
certain moments. From that mouth issued a voice
of thunder, which was much like Mirabeau's.

" 'I have just seen a remarkable man in the
street,' I said to Juste as I entered the room.


" 'It must be our neighbor,' replied Juste, and he
proceeded to give an accurate description of the man
I had met. 'A man who lives like a wood louse
must look like that,' he said in conclusion.
" 'What humility and what grandeur!'
" 'One is a consequence of the other.'
" 'How many disappointed hopes! how many
plans defeated!'

'"Seven leagues of ruins! obelisks, palaces,
towers: the ruins of Palmyra in the desert,' said
Juste jestingly.

"We dubbed our neighbor the Ruins of Palmyra.
When we went out to dine in the wretched restau-
rant on Rue de la Harpe, where we were subscribers,
we inquired the name of number 37, and we then
first heard the witching name of Z. Marcas. Like
the children that we were, we repeated the name a
hundred times or more with the most varied intona-
tions, absurd or melancholy, the pronunciation
lending itself readily to our sport. At times, Juste
succeeded in uttering the Z with the sound made by
a rocket when it is discharged, and, after making a
brilliant display of the first syllable, he depicted a fall
by the abrupt, hollow tone in which he pronounced
the last.

" 'Ah ca! where and how does he live?'
"Between that question and the harmless
espionage induced by curiosity, there was only the
brief interval required to put our plan in execution.
Instead of taking a stroll, we returned to our room,
each armed with a novel. And we read, listening


the while. We heard, in the profound silence of our
attic, the soft, regular sound produced by the
respiration of a sleeping man.

" 'He is asleep,' I said to Juste, noticing the
sound first.

" 'At seven o'clock!' replied the Doctor.

"That was the name I gave to Juste, who called
me the Keeper of the Seals.

" 'A man must be very unhappy to sleep as much
as our neighbor sleeps,' I said, jumping on the
commode, armed with an enormous knife, in the
handle of which there was a corkscrew.

"I made a round hole as large as a five-sou piece
in the partition. I had not reflected that there was
no light in the room, and when I put my eye to the
hole 1 saw nothing but darkness. About one o'clock
in the morning, when we had finished our novels
and were preparing to retire, we heard a noise in
our neighbor's room; he rose, struck a match and
lighted his candle. I remounted the commode. I
then saw Marcas seated at his table copying legal
documents. His room was half the size of ours, the
bed was in a recess beside the door, for the space
taken by the corridor, which ended at ,his den, was
subtracted from it; but the lot of land on which the
house was built was evidently a trapezium in shape
and the party wall in the rear of his attic was
narrower than the front wall of the house. He had
no fireplace, but a small white porcelain stove,
covered with green spots, the funnel of which went
out through a hole in the roof. Wretched reddish


curtains hung at the window, which was in the
rear wall. An armchair, a table, a common chair
and a rickety night table completed the furni-
ture of the room. He kept his linen in a cupboard
cut in the wall. The paper on the walls was
hideously ugly. It was evident that no one but a
servant had ever occupied the room until Marcas
came there.

" 'What did you see?' the Doctor asked me as I
descended from my perch.

" 'Look for yourself!' I replied.

"The next morning at nine o'clock Marcas was in
bed. He had breakfasted on a Bologna sausage: we
saw on a plate, among crumbs of bread, the remains
of that delicacy, which was well known to us.
Marcas was asleep. He did not wake until eleven.
He returned to the copy he had been at work on the
night before, which lay on the table. When we
went downstairs we inquired the price of the room
and learned that it was let for fifteen francs per
month. In a few days we were fully acquainted
with Z. Marcas's mode of life. He made copies, at
so much the line doubtless, for a contractor for
clerical work who lived in the courtyard of Sainte-
Chapelle; he worked half the night; after sleeping
from six o'clock to ten, he rose and worked again
until three o'clock; then he went out to deliver his
copies before dinner, and dined at Mizerai's on Rue
Michel-le-Comte, for nine sous a meal; then he
went home and to bed at six o'clock. We were
satisfied that Marcas did not say fifteen sentences in


a month; he never spoke to anyone, nor did he ever
say a word to himself in his miserable garret.

"'The Ruins of Palmyra are terribly silent,
there's no doubt about that!' cried Juste.

"There was something profoundly significant in
this silence on the part of a man whose exterior was
so imposing. Sometimes, when we met him, we
exchanged glances pregnant with thought, but
followed by no treaty. By insensible degrees we
came to feel a profound admiration for the man,
although neither of us could understand its-cause.
Was it his simple habits, his monastic regularity, his
recluse-like frugality, his unexacting occupation,
which allowed his mind to remain inactive or to
work, and which denoted either that he was awaiting
some lucky chance or that he had determined what
direction to give his life? After walking a long time
among the Ruins of Palmyra, we forgot them, we
were so young! Then came the carnival, the
Parisian carnival, which will eventually overshadow
the carnival of Venice, and will attract all Europe to
Paris a few years hence, if officious prefects of
police do not interfere. Gambling ought to be
tolerated during the carnival; but the imbecile
moralists who have caused its suppression are foolish
schemers who will not rehabilitate that necessary
canker until it is proved that France leaves millions
of money in Germany.

"That joyous carnival season brought great
destitution upon us as upon all students. We had
disposed of all our objects of luxury; we had sold


one of our coats, one pair of boots, one of our waist-
coats, one of everything that we had in duplicate,
except our friends. We lived on bread and scraps
of pork, we walked cautiously, we worked; we
owed two months' rent and we were certain of
having an account of sixty or eighty lines each with
the concierge, amounting to forty or fifty francs in
all. We were no longer brusque or merry as we
crossed the tiled landing at the foot of the staircase,
and we often went from the lower step into the
street at a single bound. On the day when the
tobacco for our pipes was exhausted we noticed that
for several days we had been eating our bread with-
out any sort of butter. Our sadness was heart-

" 'No more tobacco!' said the Doctor.

" 'No more cloak!' said the Keeper of the Seals.

" 'Ah! you rascals, you dressed like Longjumeau
postilions! you would array yourselves in barge-
men's costume, sup in the morning and breakfast
in the evening at Very's, and sometimes at the
Rocker de Cancale! To your dry crust, messieurs!
You ought,' I said, raising my voice, 'to lie under
your beds, you are unworthy to lie on top of them.'

" 'Very true, O Keeper of the Seals, but there's
no more tobacco!' said Juste.

" 'It is time to write to our mothers, our aunts,
our sisters, that we haven't any linen, that life in
Paris would wear out knitted iron wire. We will
solve an interesting problem in chemistry by chang-
ing linen into cash.'


" 'We must live until we get their reply.

" 'Very well, I will go and negotiate a loan with
such of my friends as have not yet exhausted their

" 'What will you get?'

" 'Get! ten francs!' I replied proudly.

"Marcas had overheard everything; it was noon;
he knocked at our door and said:

" 'Here is some tobacco, messieurs; you can
return it to me when convenient.'

"We were struck dumb not by the offer, which
we accepted, but by the fulness and depth and rich
quality of that voice, which can be compared to
nothing but the fourth string of Paganini's violin.
Marcas disappeared without awaiting our thanks.
Juste and I gazed at each other in perfect silence.
To be assisted by someone evidently poorer than
ourselves! Juste bestirred himself to write to all
the branches of his family, and I went to negotiate

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Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 35) → online text (page 1 of 21)