Copyright
Honoré de Balzac.

The harlot's progress : splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes (Volume 2) online

. (page 1 of 33)
Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe harlot's progress : splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


I !



I




LIBRARY

THE UNIVERSITY
OF CALIFORNIA

SANTA BARBARA



PRESENTED BY

Mr. H. H. KM iani



UCSB LIBRARY



H. DE BALZAC
THE COMEDIE HUMAINE



THE SAINTE-CHAPELLE AND GATEWAY TO THE
PALAIS DE JUSTICE, J83O.



H. DE BALZAC



THE

HARLOTS PROGRESS

(SPLENDEURS ET MlSERES DES COURTISANES)

AND OTHER STORIES
VOL. II.

TRANSLATED BY

JAMES WARING

WITH A PREFACE BY

GEORGE SAINTSBURY



PHILADELPHIA

THE GEBBIE PUBLISHING Co., Ltd.

1898



CONTENTS

PAGE

PREFACE ix

THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS

THE END OK EVIL WAYS (CONCLUDED) .... I

VAUTRIN'S LAST AVATAR 15

THE HATED SON

HOW THE MOTHER LIVED 1 69

HOW THE SON DIED .... s ... 225

A SECOND HOME 277

THE SECRETS OF THE PRINCESS OF CADIGNAN 351



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



THE SAINTE-CHAPELLE AND GATEWAY TO THE PALAIS DE JUS-
TICE, 1830 . Frontispiece.

FAGB

" OPEN THE GATE THE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR SENT ME TO

SAVE THE DEAD MAN ! " . . . . IO



THE CORSICAN AT ONCE KNELT DOWN AND PRETENDED TO BE

ABOUT TO CONFESS . . . . . . . .83



"ADIEU, MY DEAR FELLOW - THE LENGTH OF THREE CORPSES
PARTS YOU FROM ME" ........

Drawn by W. Boucher.



THERE SHE STOPPED D'ARTHEZ

Druiun by jf. Ayton Symington.



PREFACE.

As has been noted in the Introduction to the first volume
of the " Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes," "La der-
nidre Incarnation de Vautrin," though forming, according to
the author's conception, an integral part of that work, stands
in more ways than one aloof from it. It was much later
written than the earlier parts, except " Ou menent les mauvais
Chemins," and it was later written even than that. More-
over, it marks in two different ways a much maturer stage of
the author's ideas as to heroic convicts a stage in which, I
think, it is not fanciful to detect a considerable reduction of
the gigantesque element and a substitution of something else
for it.

We may note this in two ways. In the earlier conception
of the matter, as exemplified chiefly in " Ferragus " and " La
Pere Goriot," the heroic element considerably dominates the
practical. In the one Balzac had shown an ex-convict defying
society and executing a sort of private justice or injustice, just
as he pleased. In the other he had adopted (and had main-
tained still later in an apologetic epistle to a newspaper editor,
which will be found in his works) a notion of the criminal as
of a sort of puissance du mat pervading and dominating society
itself. In the present book, or section of a book, which, it
must never be forgotten, was one of his very latest, things are
adjusted to a much more actual level. The thieves' -latin
which it contains is only an indirect symptom of this. Ains-
worth in England and others in France had anticipated him
notably in this. But indirectly it shows us that he had come
down many stages from his earlier heights. Bourignard and
the early Vautrin worked in clouds, afar and apart ; they had
little to do with actual life : in " La derniere Incarnation de



x PREFACE.

Vautrin" we find ourselves face to face with the actual, or
only slightly " disrealized " realities of convict life. Some of
these details may be disgusting, but most of them, as we know
from unromantic authorities, are tolerably true ; and where
truth is, there, with an artist like Balzac, art never fails. It is
the drawback of the youthful poet or novelist that he is insuf-
ficiently provided with veracity, of the aging novelist or poet
that inspiration and the faculty of turning fact into great
fiction fail him. But there was no danger of this latter with
the author, at nearly twenty years' interval, of " Le dernier
Chouan " and " La Cousine Bette." He could only gain by
the dispelling of illusion, and he could not lose by the practice
of his craft.

Another and still more interesting mark of resipiscence is
conveyed in the practical defeat of Vautrin and in his deser-
tion to the side of society itself, which, we are given to under-
stand, he never afterward left, nor less perhaps in the virtual
rebuff which Corentin (another heros du ma/of the older time)
receives at the end. The old betrayer of Mile, de Verneuil is
told in so many words that he can be dispensed with ; the old
enemy of society has to take its wages ; the funds of la haute
pegrc are squandered on Lucien de Rubempre, just as any
foolish heir might squander them, and the whole scheme of a
conspiracy against order breaks down. True, Madame de
Maufrigneuse and Madame de Serizy get their letters ; but that
is neither here nor there.

The most interesting scene in the book, I suppose, is that
in which the scheme of the prison authorities for trapping
Vautrin fails by dint of his adroitness, and the command of a
strong mind over a weak one, as between him and the other
convicts, to whom he had been a fraudulent trustee. It is not
free from unsavory details, but the mastery of it quite exceeds
its repulsiveness. It is worth noting, too, that Balzac shows
how thoroughly he has mastered the principles of his art by
intermixing this very success with evidences of Vautrin's hu-



PREFACE. xi

manity, after all. And of minor details there is not, I think,
one more interesting in the book, while there are few more
interesting in all Balzac, than the fact that in the opening in-
terview between Camusot and his wife the author borrows
from "Guy Mannering" the incident of Pleydell's discov-
ering the importance of Dirk Hatteraick's pocket-book by the
play of his countenance as his examiner passes from that to
other things, and vice versA. The fact is that Balzac was to
the very last an ardent devotee of Sir Walter, and that like
all great novelists, I think, without exception, but not like M.
Zola and some other persons both abroad and at home he
was perfectly alive to the fact that Scott's workmanship, his
analysis, his knowledge of human nature, and his use of it, are
about as far from superficiality as the equator is from the pole.
In construction and in style Scott was careless, and as it
happens, Balzac was in neither respect impeccable. But in
other ways the pupil had, and knew that he had, little advan-
tage over the master except in a certain parade of motives and
details, as well as (though not to a very great extent) in a
greater comprehension of passion, and, of course, to a much
greater extent in liberty of exhibiting that comprehension.
Let us read Balzac and admire Balzac as much as possible ;
but when any one talks of Scott as shallow in comparison with
Balzac, let us leave the answer to Balzac himself.

(For bibliography, see preceding volume.)

"Les Secrets de la Princesse de Cadignan " is, or rather is
part of, one of Balzac's most remarkable fictitious creations
the history of Diane de Maufrigneuse. This lady, who per-
vades at least a dozen of the stories, shorter and longer, is the
subject of dispute between those who say that Balzac's grandes
dames are rather creatures of the stage and of the inner con-
sciousness than of life, and those who, as the saying is, take
them for gospel. The latter do not seem to bring forward
any argument except Balzac's greatness and a certain fascina-
tion about the personage. The former, beside dwelling on



xii PREFACE.

the obvious touches of exaggeration in the portrait, ask what
opportunity Balzac had of really acquainting himself with the
ways and manners of the Faubourg Saint-Germain? They
admit the competence of the Duchesse de Castries, but point
out that he did not know her very long ; that he was to all
appearance in the position, dangerous for a faithful portrait-
painter, of having been taken up and dropped by her ; and
that she was, so far as is known, his only intimate or much-
frequented acquaintance of the kind. It is not necessary to
argue this question at length. The piece, however, has the
special interest of having been at first dedicated to Theophile
Gautier. It was written at Les Jardies, in June, 1839, an ^
first appeared two months afterward in the "Presse," under
the title of " La Princesse Parisienne." This it kept when it
appeared next year in volume form, published by Souverain,
but forming part of a collection entitled "Le Foyer de
1'Opera." In both these forms it was divided into eight
chapters, with titles in the newspaper, without them in the
book. In 1844, when it entered the Comedie as a Scene
de la Vie Parisienne, it lost its old divisions and took its
present title.

G. S.




THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS.

PART II.

WHILE pretty women, ministers, and magistrates were con-
spiring to save Lucien, let us see what he was doing at the
Conciergerie. As he passed the gate the poet told the keeper
that Monsieur Camusot had granted him leave to write, and
he begged to have pens, ink, and paper. At a whispered word
to the governor from Camusot's usher a warder was instructed
to take them to him at once. During the short time that it
took for the warden to fetch these things and carry them up
to Lucien, the hapless young man, to whom the idea of
facing Jacques Collin had become intolerable, sank into one
of those fatal moods in which the idea of suicide to which
he had yielded before now, but without succeeding in carrying
it out rises to the pitch of mania. According to certain
alienists, suicide is in some temperaments the closing phase
of mental aberration; and since his arrest Lucien had been
possessed by that single idea. Esther's letter, read and re-
read many times, increased the vehemence of his desire to
die by reminding him of the catastrophe of Romeo dying to
be with Juliet.

When the materials were brought him, he wrote :

THIS is MY LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT.

AT THE CONCIERGERIE, May 15, 1830.

I, the undersigned, give and bequeath to the children of my
sister, Madame Eve Chardon, wife of David Sechard, formerly
a printer at Angouleme, and of Monsieur David Sechard, all
the property, real and personal, of which I may be possessed
at the time of my decease, due deduction being made for the
payments and legacies, which I desire my executor to discharge.

(1)



2 THE HARLOTS PROGRESS.

And I earnestly beg Monsieur de Serizy to undertake the
charge of being the executor of this my will.

First : to Monsieur 1'Abbe Carlos Herrera I direct the pay-
ment of the sum of three hundred thousand francs. Second :
to Monsieur le Baron de Nucingen the sum of fourteen hundred
thousand francs, less seven hundred and fifty-thousand francs
if the sum stolen from Mademoiselle Esther's apartments
should be recovered.

As universal legatee to Mademoiselle Esther Gobseck, I give
and bequeath the sum of seven hundred and sixty thousand
francs to the Board of Asylums of Paris for the foundation of
a refuge especially dedicated to the use of public prostitutes
who may wish to forsake their career of vice and perdition.

I also bequeath to the Asylums of Paris the sum of money
necessary for the purchase of a certificate for dividends to the
amount of thirty thousand francs per annum in five per cents,
the annual income to be devoted every six months to the
release of prisoners for debts not exceeding two thousand
francs. The Board of Asylums to select the most respectable
of such persons imprisoned for debt.

I beg Monsieur de Serizy to devote the sum of forty thou-
sand francs to erecting a monument to Mademoiselle Esther
in the Eastern cemetery, and I desire to be buried by her side.
The monument is to be like the tombs of antiquity square,
our two effigies lying thereon, in white marble, the heads on
cushions, the hands folded and raised to heaven. There is to
be no inscription whatever.

I beg Monsieur de Serizy to give to Monsieur Eugene de
Rastignac a gold toilet-set that is in my room as a remem-
brance.

And as a remembrance, I beg my executor to accept my
library as a gift from me.

LUCIEN CHARDON DE RUBEMPRE.

This will was inclosed in a letter addressed to Monsieur le



THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS. 3

Comte de Granville, public prosecutor in the Supreme Court
at Paris, as follows :

MONSIEUR LE COMTE :

I place my Will in your hands. When you open this letter
I shall be no more. In my desire to be free, I made such
cowardly replies to Monsieur Camusot's insidious questions,
that, in spite of my innocence, I may find myself entangled in
a disgraceful trial. Even if I were acquitted, a blameless life
would henceforth be impossible to me in view of the opinions
of the world.

I beg you to transmit the inclosed letter to the Abbe Carlos
Herrera without opening it, and deliver to Monsieur Camusot
the formal retraction I also inclose.

I suppose no one will dare to break the seal of a packet
addressed to you. In this belief I bid you adieu, offering you
my best respects for the last time, and begging you to believe
that in writing you I am giving you a token of my gratitude
for all the kindness you have shown to your deceased humble
servant.

LUCIEN DE R.

To THE ABBE CARLOS HERRERA.

MY DEAR ABBE : I have had only benefits from you, and
I have betrayed you. This involuntary ingratitude is killing
me, and when you read these lines I shall have ceased to exist.
You are not here now to save me.

You had given me full liberty, if I should find it advan-
tageous, to destroy you by flinging you on the ground like a
cigar-end ; but I have sacrificed you by a blunder. To escape
from a difficulty, deluded by a clever question from the exam-
ining judge, I, your spiritual son by adoption and grace, went
over to the side of those who aim at killing you at any cost,
and insist on proving an identity, which I know to be impos-
sible, between you and a French villain. All is said.



4 THE HARLOTS PROGRESS.

Between a man of your calibre and me me of whom you
tried to make a greater man than I am capable of being no
foolish sentiment can come at the moment of final parting.
You hoped to make me powerful and famous, and you have
flung me into the gulf of suicide, that is all. I have long
heard the broad pinions of that vertigo beating over my head.

As you have sometimes said, there is the posterity of Cain
and the posterity of Abel. In the great human drama Cain
is in opposition. You are descended from Adam through
that line, in which the devil still fans the fire of which the
first spark was flung on Eve. Among the demons of that
pedigree, from time to time we see one of stupendous power,
summing up every form of human energy, and resembling the
rampant beasts of the desert, whose vitality demands the vast
spaces in which they are found. Such men are as dangerous
as lions would be in the heart of Normandy ; they must have
their prey, and they devour common men and suck the gold
of fools. Their sport is so dangerous that at last they kill the
humble dog whom they have taken for a companion and made
an idol.

When it is God's will, these mysterious beings may be a
Moses, an Attila, Charlemagne, Mahomet, Robespierre, or
Napoleon ; but when he leaves a generation of these stupen-
dous tools to rust at the bottom of the ocean, they are no
more than a Pugatchef, a Fouche, a Louvel, or the Abbe Carlos
Herrera. Gifted with immense power over tenderer souls,
they attract them and knead them. It is grand, it is fine in
its way. It is the poisonous plant with gorgeous coloring that
fascinates children in the woods. It is the poetry of evil.
Men like you ought to dwell in caves and never come out of
them. You have made me live that vast life, and I have had
all my share of existence ; so I may very well take my head
out of the Gordian knot of your policy and slip it into the
running noose of my cravat.

To repair the mischief I have done, I am forwarding to the



THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS. 5

public prosecutor a retraction of my deposition. You will
know how to take advantage of this document.

In virtue of a will formally drawn up, restitution will be
made, Monsieur 1'Abbe, of the moneys belonging to your
Order which you so imprudently devoted to my use, as a result
of your paternal affection for me.

And so, farewell. Farewell, colossal image of Evil and
corruption ; farewell to you who, if started on the right road,
might have been greater than Ximenes, greater than Richelieu !
You have kept your promises. I find myself once more just
as I was on the banks of the Charente, after enjoying, by your
help, the enchantments of a dream. But, unfortunately, it is
not now in the waters of my native place that I shall drown
the errors of a boy ; but by the Seine, and my pool is a cell
in the Conciergerie.

Do not regret me : my contempt for you is as great as my
admiration. LUCIEN.

RECANTATION.

I, the undersigned, hereby declare that I retract, without
reservation, all that I deposed at my examination to-day before
Monsieur Camusot.

The Abb6 Carlos Herrera always called himself my spiritual
father, and I was misled by the word father used in another
sense by the judge, no doubt under a misapprehension.

I am aware that, for political ends, and to quash certain
secrets concerning the cabinets of Spain and of the Tuileries,
some obscure diplomatic agents tried to show that the Abbe
Carlos Herrera is an escaped convict named Jacques Collin ;
but the Abb6 Carlos Herrera never told me anything about
the matter excepting that he was doing his best to obtain
evidence n f the death or of the continued existence of Jacques
Collin.

LUCIEN DE RUBEMPRE.

AT THE CONCIERGERIE, May 15, 1830



6 THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS.

The fever of suicide had given Lucien immense clearness
of mind and the swiftness of hand familiar to authors in the
fever of composition. The impetus was so strong within him
that these four documents were all written within half an hour ;
he folded them in a wrapper, fastened with wafers, on which
he impressed with the strength of delirium the coat-of-arms
engraved on a seal-ring he wore, and he then laid the packet
very conspicuously in the middle of the floor.

Certainly it would have been impossible to conduct himself
with greater dignity, in the false position to which all this
infamy had led him ; he was rescuing his memory from oppro-
brium, and repairing the injury done to his accomplice, so far
as the wit of a man of the world could nullify the results of the
poet's trustfulness.

If Lucien had been taken back to one of the lower cells, he
would have been wrecked on the impossibility of carrying out
his intentions, for those boxes of masonry have no furniture
but a sort of camp-bed and a pail for necessary uses. There
is not a nail, not a chair, not even a stool. The camp-bed is
so firmly fixed that it is impossible to move it without an
amount of labor that the warder could not fail to detect, for
the iron-barred peephole is always open. Indeed, if a prisoner
under suspicion gave reason for uneasiness, he was watched by
a gendarme or a constable.

In the private rooms for which prisoners pay, and in that
whither Lucien had been conveyed by the judge's courtesy to
a young man belonging to the upper ranks of society, the
movable bed, table, and chair might serve to carry out his
purpose of suicide, though they hardly made it easy. Lucien
wore a long, blue silk necktie, and on his way back from his
examination he was already meditating on the means by which
Pichegru, more or less voluntarily, ended his days. Still, to
hang himself, a man must find a purchase, and have a suffi-
cient space between it and the ground for his feet to find no
gupport. Now the window of his room, looking out on the



THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS. 7

prison yard, had no handle to the fastening; and the bars,
being fixed outside, were divided from his reach by the thick-
ness of the wall, and could not be used for a support.

This, then, was the plan hit upon by Lucien to put himself
out of the world. The boarding of the lower part of the
opening, which prevented his seeing out into the yard, also
hindered the warders outside from seeing what was done in
the room ; but while the lower portion of the window was
replaced by two thick planks, the upper part of both halves
still was filled with small panes, held in place by the cross-
pieces in which they were set. By standing on his table
Lucien could reach the glazed part of the window, and take
or break out two panes, so as to have a firm point of attach-
ment in the angle of the lower bar. Round this he would tie
his cravat, turn round once to tighten it about his neck after
securing it firmly, and kick the table from under his feet.

He drew the table up ander the window without making any
noise, took off his coat and vest, and got on the table un-
hesitatingly to break a pane above and one below the iron
cross-bar. Standing on the table, he could look out across
the yard on a magical view, which he then beheld for the first
time. The governor of the prison, in deference to Monsieur
Camusot's request that he should deal as leniently as possible
with Lucien, had led him, as we have seen, through the back
passages of the Conciergerie, entered from the dark vault op-
posite the Tour d'Argent, thus avoiding the exhibition of a
young man of fashion to the crowd of prisoners airing them-
selves in the yard. It will be for the reader to judge whether
the aspect of this promenade was not such as to appeal deeply
to a poet's soul.

The yard of the Conciergerie ends at the quay between the
Tour d'Argent and the Tour Bonbec ; thus the distance be-
tween them exactly shows from the outside the width of the
plot of ground. The corridor called the Galerie de Saint-
Louis, which extends from the Galerie Marchande to the



8 THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS.

Court of Appeals and the Bonbec tower, in which, it is said,
Saint-Louis' room still exists may enable the curious to esti-
mate the depth of the yard, as it is of the same length. Thus
the solitary-confinement cells and the private rooms are under
the Galerie Marchande. Queen Marie Antoinette, whose
dungeon was under the present cells, was conducted to the
presence of the Revolutionary Tribunal, which held its sit-
tings in the place where the Court of Appeals now performs
its solemn functions, up a horrible flight of steps, now never
used, in the very thickness of the wall on which the Galerie
Marchande is built.

One side of the prison yard that on which the Hall of
Saint-Louis forms the first floor displays a long row of Gothic
columns, between which the architects of I know not what
period have built up two floors of cells to accommodate as
many prisoners as possible, by choking the capitals, the
arches, and the vaults of this magnificent cloister with plaster,
barred loopholes, and partitions. Under the room known as
the Cabinet de Saint-Louis, in the Bonbec tower, there is a
spiral stair leading to these dens. This degradation of one of
the immemorial buildings of France is hideous to behold.

At the height at which Lucien was standing he could see
this cloister, and the details of the building that joins the two
towers, in sharp perspective; before him were the gothic
caps of the towers. He stood amazed ; his suicide was post-
poned to his admiration. The phenomena of hallucination
are in these days so fully recognized by the medical faculty
that this mirage of the senses, this strange illusion >. f the mind,
is beyond dispute. A man under the stress of a feeling which
by its intensity has become monomania, often finds himself in
the frame of mind to which opium, hashish, or the protoxyde
of azote might have brought him. Spectres appear, phantoms
and dreams take shape, things of the past live again as once
they were. What was but an image of the brain becomes a
moving or a living object. Science is now beginning to be-



THE HARLOT'S PROGRESS. 9

lieve that under the action of a paroxysm of passion the blood
rushes to the brain, and that such congestion has the terrible
effects of a dream in a waking state, so averse are we to regard
thought as a physical and generative force.

Lucien saw the building in all its pristine beauty; the
columns were new, slender, and bright; Saint-Louis' palace
rose before him as it had once appeared ; he admired its
Babylonian proportions and Oriental fancy. He took this
exquisite vision as a poetic farewell from civilized creation.
While making his arrangements to die, he wondered how this
marvel of architecture could exist in Paris so utterly unknown.
He was two Luciens one Lucien the poet, wandering through
the Middle Ages under the vaults and the turrets of Saint-
Louis, the other Lucien ready for suicide.

Just as Monsieur de Granville had ended giving his instruc-
tions to the young secretary, the governor of the Conciergerie
came in, and the expression of his face was such as to give



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe harlot's progress : splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 33)