"Let him talk, and wait," cried Lucien, and took refuge in Coralie's dressing-room. Coralie, in her alluring costume, had just come off the stage.
Next morning, as Lucien and Coralie sat at breakfast, a carriage drove along the Rue de Vendome. The street was quiet enough, so that they could hear the light sound made by an elegant cabriolet; and there was that in the pace of the horse, and the manner of pulling up at the door, which tells unmistakably of a thoroughbred. Lucien went to the window, and there, in fact, beheld a splendid English horse, and no less a person than Dauriat flinging the reins to his man as he stepped down.
"'Tis the publisher, Coralie," said Lucien.
"Let him wait, Berenice," Coralie said at once.
Lucien smiled at her presence of mind, and kissed her with a great rush of tenderness. This mere girl had made his interests hers in a wonderful way; she was quick-witted where he was concerned. The apparition of the insolent publisher, the sudden and complete collapse of that prince of charlatans, was due to circumstances almost entirely forgotten, so utterly has the book trade changed during the last fifteen years.
From 1816 to 1827, when newspaper reading-rooms were only just beginning to lend new books, the fiscal law pressed more heavily than ever upon periodical publications, and necessity created the invention of advertisements. Paragraphs and articles in the newspapers were the only means of advertisement known in those days; and French newspapers before the year 1822 were so small, that the largest sheet of those times was not so large as the smallest daily paper of ours. Dauriat and Ladvocat, the first publishers to make a stand against the tyranny of journalists, were also the first to use the placards which caught the attention of Paris by strange type, striking colors, vignettes, and (at a later time) by lithograph illustrations, till a placard became a fairy-tale for the eyes, and not unfrequently a snare for the purse of the amateur. So much originality indeed was expended on placards in Paris, that one of that peculiar kind of maniacs, known as a collector, possesses a complete series.
At first the placard was confined to the shop-windows and stalls upon the Boulevards in Paris; afterwards it spread all over France, till it was supplanted to some extent by a return to advertisements in the newspapers. But the placard, nevertheless, which continues to strike the eye, after the advertisement and the book which is advertised are both forgotten, will always be among us; it took a new lease of life when walls were plastered with posters.
Newspaper advertising, the offspring of heavy stamp duties, a high rate of postage, and the heavy deposits of caution-money required by the government as security for good behavior, is within the reach of all who care to pay for it, and has turned the fourth page of every journal into a harvest field alike for the speculator and the Inland Revenue Department. The press restrictions were invented in the time of M. de Villele, who had a chance, if he had but known it, of destroying the power of journalism by allowing newspapers to multiply till no one took any notice of them; but he missed his opportunity, and a sort of privilege was created, as it were, by the almost insuperable difficulties put in the way of starting a new venture. So, in 1821, the periodical press might be said to have power of life and death over the creations of the brain and the publishing trade. A few lines among the items of news cost a fearful amount. Intrigues were multiplied in newspaper offices; and of a night when the columns were divided up, and this or that article was put in or left out to suit the space, the printing-room became a sort of battlefield; so much so, that the largest publishing firms had writers in their pay to insert short articles in which many ideas are put in little space. Obscure journalists of this stamp were only paid after the insertion of the items, and not unfrequently spent the night in the printing-office to make sure that their contributions were not omitted; sometimes putting in a long article, obtained heaven knows how, sometimes a few lines of a puff.
The manners and customs of journalism and of the publishing houses have since changed so much, that many people nowadays will not believe what immense efforts were made by writers and publishers of books to secure a newspaper puff; the martyrs of glory, and all those who are condemned to the penal servitude of a life-long success, were reduced to such shifts, and stooped to depths of bribery and corruption as seem fabulous to-day. Every kind of persuasion was brought to bear on journalists—dinners, flattery, and presents. The following story will throw more light on the close connection between the critic and the publisher than any quantity of flat assertions.
There was once upon a time an editor of an important paper, a clever writer with a prospect of becoming a statesman; he was young in those days, and fond of pleasure, and he became the favorite of a well-known publishing house. One Sunday the wealthy head of the firm was entertaining several of the foremost journalists of the time in the country, and the mistress of the house, then a young and pretty woman, went to walk in her park with the illustrious visitor. The head-clerk of the firm, a cool, steady, methodical German with nothing but business in his head, was discussing a project with one of the journalists, and as they chatted they walked on into the woods beyond the park. In among the thickets the German thought he caught a glimpse of his hostess, put up his eyeglass, made a sign to his young companion to be silent, and turned back, stepping softly.—"What did you see?" asked the journalist.—"Nothing particular," said the clerk. "Our affair of the long article is settled. To-morrow we shall have at least three columns in the Debats."
Another anecdote will show the influence of a single article.
A book of M. de Chateaubriand's on the last of the Stuarts was for some time a "nightingale" on the bookseller's shelves. A single article in the Journal des Debats sold the work in a week. In those days, when there were no lending libraries, a publisher would sell an edition of ten thousand copies of a book by a Liberal if it was well reviewed by the Opposition papers; but then the Belgian pirated editions were not as yet.
The preparatory attacks made by Lucien's friends, followed up by his article on Nathan, proved efficacious; they stopped the sale of his book. Nathan escaped with the mortification; he had been paid; he had nothing to lose; but Dauriat was like to lose thirty thousand francs. The trade in new books may, in fact, be summed up much on this wise. A ream of blank paper costs fifteen francs, a ream of printed paper is worth anything between a hundred sous and a hundred crowns, according to its success; a favorable or unfavorable review at a critical time often decides the question; and Dauriat having five hundred reams of printed paper on hand, hurried to make terms with Lucien. The sultan was now the slave.
After waiting for some time, fidgeting and making as much noise as he could while parleying with Berenice, he at last obtained speech of Lucien; and, arrogant publisher though he was, he came in with the radiant air of a courtier in the royal presence, mingled, however, with a certain self-sufficiency and easy good humor.
"Don't disturb yourselves, my little dears! How nice they look, just like a pair of turtle-doves! Who would think now, mademoiselle, that he, with that girl's face of his, could be a tiger with claws of steel, ready to tear a reputation to rags, just as he tears your wrappers, I'll be bound, when you are not quick enough to unfasten them," and he laughed before he had finished his jest.
"My dear boy——" he began, sitting down beside Lucien.—"Mademoiselle, I am Dauriat," he said, interrupting himself. He judged it expedient to fire his name at her like a pistol shot, for he considered that Coralie was less cordial than she should have been.
"Have you breakfasted, monsieur; will you keep us company?" asked Coralie.
"Why, yes; it is easier to talk at table," said Dauriat. "Besides, by accepting your invitation I shall have a right to expect you to dine with my friend Lucien here, for we must be close friends now, hand and glove!"
"Berenice! Bring oysters, lemons, fresh butter, and champagne," said Coralie.
"You are too clever not to know what has brought me here," said Dauriat, fixing his eyes on Lucien.
"You have come to buy my sonnets."
"Precisely. First of all, let us lay down our arms on both sides." As he spoke he took out a neat pocketbook, drew from it three bills for a thousand francs each, and laid them before Lucien with a suppliant air. "Is monsieur content?" asked he.
"Yes," said the poet. A sense of beatitude, for which no words exist, flooded his soul at the sight of that unhoped wealth. He controlled himself, but he longed to sing aloud, to jump for joy; he was ready to believe in Aladdin's lamp and in enchantment; he believed in his own genius, in short.
"Then the Marguerites are mine," continued Dauriat; "but you will undertake not to attack my publications, won't you?"
"The Marguerites are yours, but I cannot pledge my pen; it is at the service of my friends, as theirs are mine."
"But you are one of my authors now. All my authors are my friends. So you won't spoil my business without warning me beforehand, so that I am prepared, will you?"
"I agree to that."
"To your fame!" and Dauriat raised his glass.
"I see that you have read the Marguerites," said Lucien.
Dauriat was not disconcerted.
"My boy, a publisher cannot pay a greater compliment than by buying your Marguerites unread. In six months' time you will be a great poet. You will be written up; people are afraid of you; I shall have no difficulty in selling your book. I am the same man of business that I was four days ago. It is not I who have changed; it is you. Last week your sonnets were so many cabbage leaves for me; to-day your position has ranked them beside Delavigne."
"Ah well," said Lucien, "if you have not read my sonnets, you have read my article." With the sultan's pleasure of possessing a fair mistress, and the certainty of success, he had grown satirical and adorably impertinent of late.
"Yes, my friend; do you think I should have come here in such a hurry but for that? That terrible article of yours is very well written, worse luck. Oh! you have a very great gift, my boy. Take my advice and make the most of your vogue," he added, with good humor, which masked the extreme insolence of the speech. "But have you yourself a copy of the paper? Have you seen your article in print?"
"Not yet," said Lucien, "though this is the first long piece of prose which I have published; but Hector will have sent a copy to my address in the Rue Charlot."
"Here—read!"... cried Dauriat, copying Talma's gesture in Manlius.
Lucien took the paper but Coralie snatched it from him.
"The first-fruits of your pen belong to me, as you well know," she laughed.
Dauriat was unwontedly courtier-like and complimentary. He was afraid of Lucien, and therefore he asked him to a great dinner which he was giving to a party of journalists towards the end of the week, and Coralie was included in the invitation. He took the Marguerites away with him when he went, asking his poet to look in when he pleased in the Wooden Galleries, and the agreement should be ready for his signature. Dauriat never forgot the royal airs with which he endeavored to overawe superficial observers, and to impress them with the notion that he was a Maecenas rather than a publisher; at this moment he left the three thousand francs, waving away in lordly fashion the receipt which Lucien offered, kissed Coralie's hand, and took his departure.
"Well, dear love, would you have seen many of these bits of paper if you had stopped in your hole in the Rue de Cluny, prowling about among the musty old books in the Bibliotheque de Sainte-Genevieve?" asked Coralie, for she knew the whole story of Lucien's life by this time. "Those little friends of yours in the Rue des Quatre-Vents are great ninnies, it seems to me."
His brothers of the cenacle! And Lucien could hear the verdict and laugh.
He had seen himself in print; he had just experienced the ineffable joy of the author, that first pleasurable thrill of gratified vanity which comes but once. The full import and bearing of his article became apparent to him as he read and re-read it. The garb of print is to manuscript as the stage is to women; it brings beauties and defects to light, killing and giving life; the fine thoughts and the faults alike stare you in the face.
Lucien, in his excitement and rapture, gave not another thought to Nathan. Nathan was a stepping-stone for him—that was all; and he (Lucien) was happy exceedingly—he thought himself rich. The money brought by Dauriat was a very Potosi for the lad who used to go about unnoticed through the streets of Angouleme and down the steep path into L'Houmeau to Postel's garret, where his whole family had lived upon an income of twelve hundred francs. The pleasures of his life in Paris must inevitably dim the memories of those days; but so keen were they, that, as yet, he seemed to be back again in the Place du Murier. He thought of Eve, his beautiful, noble sister, of David his friend, and of his poor mother, and he sent Berenice out to change one of the notes. While she went he wrote a few lines to his family, and on the maid's return he sent her to the coach-office with a packet of five hundred francs addressed to his mother. He could not trust himself; he wanted to sent the money at once; later he might not be able to do it. Both Lucien and Coralie looked upon this restitution as a meritorious action. Coralie put her arms about her lover and kissed him, and thought him a model son and brother; she could not make enough of him, for generosity is a trait of character which delights these kindly creatures, who always carry their hearts in their hands.
"We have a dinner now every day for a week," she said; "we will make a little carnival; you have worked quite hard enough."
Coralie, fain to delight in the beauty of a man whom all other women should envy her, took Lucien back to Staub. He was not dressed finely enough for her. Thence the lovers went to drive in the Bois de Boulogne, and came back to dine at Mme. du Val-Noble's. Rastignac, Bixiou, des Lupeaulx, Finot, Blondet, Vignon, the Baron de Nucingen, Beaudenord, Philippe Bridau, Conti, the great musician, all the artists and speculators, all the men who seek for violent sensations as a relief from immense labors, gave Lucien a welcome among them. And Lucien had gained confidence; he gave himself out in talk as though he had not to live by his wit, and was pronounced to be a "clever fellow" in the slang of the coterie of semi-comrades.
"Oh! we must wait and see what he has in him," said Theodore Gaillard, a poet patronized by the Court, who thought of starting a Royalist paper to be entitled the Reveil at a later day.
After dinner, Merlin and Lucien, Coralie and Mme. du Val-Noble, went to the Opera, where Merlin had a box. The whole party adjourned thither, and Lucien triumphant reappeared upon the scene of his first serious check.
He walked in the lobby, arm in arm with Merlin and Blondet, looking the dandies who had once made merry at his expense between the eyes. Chatelet was under his feet. He clashed glances with de Marsay, Vandenesse, and Manerville, the bucks of that day. And indeed Lucien, beautiful and elegantly arrayed, had caused a discussion in the Marquise d'Espard's box; Rastignac had paid a long visit, and the Marquise and Mme. de Bargeton put up their opera-glasses at Coralie. Did the sight of Lucien send a pang of regret through Mme. de Bargeton's heart? This thought was uppermost in the poet's mind. The longing for revenge aroused in him by the sight of the Corinne of Angouleme was as fierce as on that day when the lady and her cousin had cut him in the Champs-Elysees.
"Did you bring an amulet with you from the provinces?"—It was Blondet who made this inquiry some few days later, when he called at eleven o'clock in the morning and found that Lucien was not yet risen.—"His good looks are making ravages from cellar to garret, high and low," continued Blondet, kissing Coralie on the forehead. "I have come to enlist you, dear fellow," he continued, grasping Lucien by the hand. "Yesterday, at the Italiens, the Comtesse de Montcornet asked me to bring you to her house. You will not give a refusal to a charming woman? You meet people of the first fashion there."
"If Lucien is nice, he will not go to see your Countess," put in Coralie. "What call is there for him to show his face in fine society? He would only be bored there."
"Have you a vested interest in him? Are you jealous of fine ladies?"
"Yes," cried Coralie. "They are worse than we are."
"How do you know that, my pet?" asked Blondet.
"From their husbands," retorted she. "You are forgetting that I once had six months of de Marsay."
"Do you suppose, child, that I am particularly anxious to take such a handsome fellow as your poet to Mme. de Montcornet's house? If you object, let us consider that nothing has been said. But I don't fancy that the women are so much in question as a poor devil that Lucien pilloried in his newspaper; he is begging for mercy and peace. The Baron du Chatelet is imbecile enough to take the thing seriously. The Marquise d'Espard, Mme. de Bargeton, and Mme. de Montcornet's set have taken up the Heron's cause; and I have undertaken to reconcile Petrarch and his Laura—Mme. de Bargeton and Lucien."
"Aha!" cried Lucien, the glow of the intoxication of revenge throbbing full-pulsed through every vein. "Aha! so my foot is on their necks! You make me adore my pen, worship my friends, bow down to the fate-dispensing power of the press. I have not written a single sentence as yet upon the Heron and the Cuttlefish-bone.—I will go with you, my boy," he cried, catching Blondet by the waist; "yes, I will go; but first, the couple shall feel the weight of this, for so light as it is." He flourished the pen which had written the article upon Nathan.
"To-morrow," he cried, "I will hurl a couple of columns at their heads. Then, we shall see. Don't be frightened, Coralie, it is not love but revenge; revenge! And I will have it to the full!"
"What a man it is!" said Blondet. "If you but knew, Lucien, how rare such explosions are in this jaded Paris, you might appreciate yourself. You will be a precious scamp" (the actual expression was a trifle stronger); "you are in a fair way to be a power in the land."
"He will get on," said Coralie.
"Well, he has come a good way already in six weeks."
"And if he should climb so high that he can reach a sceptre by treading over a corpse, he shall have Coralie's body for a stepping-stone," said the girl.
"You are a pair of lovers of the Golden Age," said Blondet.—"I congratulate you on your big article," he added, turning to Lucien. "There were a lot of new things in it. You are past master!"
Lousteau called with Hector Merlin and Vernou. Lucien was immensely flattered by this attention. Felicien Vernou brought a hundred francs for Lucien's article; it was felt that such a contributor must be well paid to attach him to the paper.
Coralie, looking round at the chapter of journalists, ordered in a breakfast from the Cadran bleu, the nearest restaurant, and asked her visitors to adjourn to her handsomely furnished dining-room when Berenice announced that the meal was ready. In the middle of the repast, when the champagne had gone to all heads, the motive of the visit came out.
"You do not mean to make an enemy of Nathan, do you?" asked Lousteau. "Nathan is a journalist, and he has friends; he might play you an ugly trick with your first book. You have your Archer of Charles IX. to sell, have you not? We went round to Nathan this morning; he is in a terrible way. But you will set about another article, and puff praise in his face."
"What! After my article against his book, would you have me say——" began Lucien.
The whole party cut him short with a shout of laughter.
"Did you ask him to supper here the day after to-morrow?" asked Blondet.
"You article was not signed," added Lousteau. "Felicien, not being quite such a new hand as you are, was careful to put an initial C at the bottom. You can do that now with all your articles in his paper, which is pure unadulterated Left. We are all of us in the Opposition. Felicien was tactful enough not to compromise your future opinions. Hector's shop is Right Centre; you might sign your work on it with an L. If you cut a man up, you do it anonymously; if you praise him, it is just as well to put your name to your article."
"It is not the signatures that trouble me," returned Lucien, "but I cannot see anything to be said in favor of the book."
"Then did you really think as you wrote?" asked Hector.
"Oh! I thought you were cleverer than that, youngster," said Blondet. "No. Upon my word, as I looked at that forehead of yours, I credited you with the omnipotence of the great mind—the power of seeing both sides of everything. In literature, my boy, every idea is reversible, and no man can take upon himself to decide which is the right or wrong side. Everything is bi-lateral in the domain of thought. Ideas are binary. Janus is a fable signifying criticism and the symbol of Genius. The Almighty alone is triform. What raises Moliere and Corneille above the rest of us but the faculty of saying one thing with an Alceste or an Octave, and another with a Philinte or a Cinna? Rousseau wrote a letter against dueling in the Nouvelle Heloise, and another in favor of it. Which of the two represented his own opinion? will you venture to take it upon yourself to decide? Which of us could give judgement for Clarissa or Lovelace, Hector or Achilles? Who was Homer's hero? What did Richardson himself think? It is the function of criticism to look at a man's work in all its aspects. We draw up our case, in short."
"Do you really stick to your written opinions?" asked Vernou, with a satirical expression. "Why, we are retailers of phrases; that is how we make a livelihood. When you try to do a good piece of work—to write a book, in short—you can put your thoughts, yourself into it, and cling to it, and fight for it; but as for newspaper articles, read to-day and forgotten to-morrow, they are worth nothing in my eyes but the money that is paid for them. If you attach any importance to such drivel, you might as well make the sign of the Cross and invoke heaven when you sit down to write a tradesman's circular."
Every one apparently was astonished at Lucien's scruples. The last rags of the boyish conscience were torn away, and he was invested with the toga virilis of journalism.
"Do you know what Nathan said by way of comforting himself after your criticism?" asked Lousteau.
"How should I know?"
"Nathan exclaimed, 'Paragraphs pass away; but a great work lives!' He will be here to supper in two days, and he will be sure to fall flat at your feet, and kiss your claws, and swear that you are a great man."
"That would be a funny thing," was Lucien's comment.
"Funny" repeated Blondet. "He can't help himself."
"I am quite willing, my friends," said Lucien, on whom the wine had begun to take effect. "But what am I to say?"
"Oh well, refute yourself in three good columns in Merlin's paper. We have been enjoying the sight of Nathan's wrath; we have just been telling him that he owes us no little gratitude for getting up a hot controversy that will sell his second edition in a week. In his eyes at this present moment you are a spy, a scoundrel, a caitiff wretch; the day after to-morrow you will be a genius, an uncommonly clever fellow, one of Plutarch's men. Nathan will hug you and call you his best friend. Dauriat has been to see you; you have your three thousand francs; you have worked the trick! Now you want Nathan's respect and esteem. Nobody ought to be let in except the publisher. We must not immolate any one but an enemy. We should not talk like this if it were a question of some outsider, some inconvenient person who had made a name for himself without us and was not wanted; but Nathan is one of us. Blondet got some one to attack him in the Mercure for the pleasure of replying in the Debats. For which reason the first edition went off at once."
"My friends, upon my word and honor, I cannot write two words in praise of that book——"
"You will have another hundred francs," interrupted Merlin. "Nathan will have brought you in ten louis d'or, to say nothing of an article that you might put in Finot's paper; you would get a hundred francs for writing that, and another hundred francs from Dauriat—total, twenty louis."
"But what am I to say?"
"Here is your way out of the difficulty," said Blondet, after some thought. "Say that the envy that fastens on all good work, like wasps on ripe fruit, has attempted to set its fangs in this production. The captious critic, trying his best to find fault, has been obliged to invent theories for that purpose, and has drawn a distinction between two kinds of literature—'the literature of ideas and the literature of imagery,' as he calls them. On the heads of that, youngster, say that to give expression to ideas through imagery is the highest form of art. Try to show that all poetry is summed up in that, and lament that there is so little poetry in French; quote foreign criticisms on the unimaginative precision of our style, and then extol M. de Canalis and Nathan for the services they have done France by infusing a less prosaic spirit into the language. Knock your previous argument to pieces by calling attention to the fact that we have made progress since the eighteenth century. (Discover the 'progress,' a beautiful word to mystify the bourgeois public.) Say that the new methods in literature concentrate all styles, comedy and tragedy, description, character-drawing and dialogues, in a series of pictures set in the brilliant frame of a plot which holds the reader's interest. The Novel, which demands sentiment, style, and imagery, is the greatest creation of modern days; it is the successor of stage comedy grown obsolete with its restrictions. Facts and ideas are all within the province of fiction. The intellect of an incisive moralist, like La Bruyere, the power of treating character as Moliere could treat it, the grand machinery of a Shakespeare, together with the portrayal of the most subtle shades of passion (the one treasury left untouched by our predecessors)—for all this the modern novel affords free scope. How far superior is all this to the cut-and-dried logic-chopping, the cold analysis to the eighteenth century!—'The Novel,' say sententiously, 'is the Epic grown amusing.' Instance Corinne, bring Mme. de Stael up to support your argument. The eighteenth century called all things in question; it is the task of the nineteenth to conclude and speak the last word; and the last word of the nineteenth century has been for realities—realities which live however and move. Passion, in short, an element unknown in Voltaire's philosophy, has been brought into play. Here a diatribe against Voltaire, and as for Rousseau, his characters are polemics and systems masquerading. Julie and Claire are entelechies—informing spirit awaiting flesh and bones.
"You might slip off on a side issue at this, and say that we owe a new and original literature to the Peace and the Restoration of the Bourbons, for you are writing for a Right Centre paper.
"Scoff at Founders of Systems. And cry with a glow of fine enthusiasm, 'Here are errors and misleading statements in abundance in our contemporary's work, and to what end? To depreciate a fine work, to deceive the public, and to arrive at this conclusion—"A book that sells, does not sell."' Proh pudor! (Mind you put Proh pudor! 'tis a harmless expletive that stimulates the reader's interest.) Foresee the approaching decadence of criticism, in fact. Moral—'There is but one kind of literature, the literature which aims to please. Nathan has started upon a new way; he understands his epoch and fulfils the requirements of his age—the demand for drama, the natural demand of a century in which the political stage has become a permanent puppet show. Have we not seen four dramas in a score of years—the Revolution, the Directory, the Empire, and the Restoration?' With that, wallow in dithyramb and eulogy, and the second edition shall vanish like smoke. This is the way to do it. Next Saturday put a review in our magazine, and sign it 'de Rubempre,' out in full.
"In that final article say that 'fine work always brings about abundant controversy. This week such and such a paper contained such and such an article on Nathan's book, and such another paper made a vigorous reply.' Then you criticise the critics 'C' and 'L'; pay me a passing compliment on the first article in the Debats, and end by averring that Nathan's work is the great book of the epoch; which is all as if you said nothing at all; they say the same of everything that comes out.
"And so," continued Blondet, "you will have made four hundred francs in a week, to say nothing of the pleasure of now and again saying what you really think. A discerning public will maintain that either C or L or Rubempre is in the right of it, or mayhap all the three. Mythology, beyond doubt one of the grandest inventions of the human brain, places Truth at the bottom of a well; and what are we to do without buckets? You will have supplied the public with three for one. There you are, my boy, Go ahead!"
Lucien's head was swimming with bewilderment. Blondet kissed him on both cheeks.
"I am going to my shop," said he. And every man likewise departed to his shop. For these "hommes forts," a newspaper office was nothing but a shop.
They were to meet again in the evening at the Wooden Galleries, and Lucien would sign his treaty of peace with Dauriat. Florine and Lousteau, Lucien and Coralie, Blondet and Finot, were to dine at the Palais-Royal; du Bruel was giving the manager of the Panorama-Dramatique a dinner.
"They are right," exclaimed Lucien, when he was alone with Coralie. "Men are made to be tools in the hands of stronger spirits. Four hundred francs for three articles! Doguereau would scarcely give me as much for a book which cost me two years of work."
"Write criticism," said Coralie, "have a good time! Look at me, I am an Andalusian girl to-night, to-morrow I may be a gypsy, and a man the night after. Do as I do, give them grimaces for their money, and let us live happily."
Lucien, smitten with love of Paradox, set himself to mount and ride that unruly hybrid product of Pegasus and Balaam's ass; started out at a gallop over the fields of thought while he took a turn in the Bois, and discovered new possibilities in Blondet's outline.
He dined as happy people dine, and signed away all his rights in the Marguerites. It never occurred to him that any trouble might arise from that transaction in the future. He took a turn of work at the office, wrote off a couple of columns, and came back to the Rue de Vendome. Next morning he found the germs of yesterday's ideas had sprung up and developed in his brain, as ideas develop while the intellect is yet unjaded and the sap is rising; and thoroughly did he enjoy the projection of this new article. He threw himself into it with enthusiasm. At the summons of the spirit of contradiction, new charms met beneath his pen. He was witty and satirical, he rose to yet new views of sentiment, of ideas and imagery in literature. With subtle ingenuity, he went back to his own first impressions of Nathan's work, when he read it in the newsroom of the Cour du Commerce; and the ruthless, bloodthirsty critic, the lively mocker, became a poet in the final phrases which rose and fell with majestic rhythm like the swaying censer before the altar.
"One hundred francs, Coralie!" cried he, holding up eight sheets of paper covered with writing while she dressed.
The mood was upon him; he went on to indite, stroke by stroke, the promised terrible article on Chatelet and Mme. de Bargeton. That morning he experienced one of the keenest personal pleasures of journalism; he knew what it was to forge the epigram, to whet and polish the cold blade to be sheathed in a victim's heart, to make of the hilt a cunning piece of workmanship for the reader to admire. For the public admires the handle, the delicate work of the brain, while the cruelty is not apparent; how should the public know that the steel of the epigram, tempered in the fire of revenge, has been plunged deftly, to rankle in the very quick of a victim's vanity, and is reeking from wounds innumerable which it has inflicted? It is a hideous joy, that grim, solitary pleasure, relished without witnesses; it is like a duel with an absent enemy, slain at a distance by a quill; a journalist might really possess the magical power of talismans in Eastern tales. Epigram is distilled rancor, the quintessence of a hate derived from all the worst passions of man, even as love concentrates all that is best in human nature. The man does not exist who cannot be witty to avenge himself; and, by the same rule, there is not one to whom love does not bring delight. Cheap and easy as this kind of wit may be in France, it is always relished. Lucien's article was destined to raise the previous reputation of the paper for venomous spite and evil-speaking. His article probed two hearts to the depths; it dealt a grievous wound to Mme. de Bargeton, his Laura of old days, as well as to his rival, the Baron du Chatelet.
"Well, let us go for a drive in the Bois," said Coralie, "the horses are fidgeting. There is no need to kill yourself."
"We will take the article on Nathan to Hector. Journalism is really very much like Achilles' lance, it salves the wounds that it makes," said Lucien, correcting a phrase here and there.
The lovers started forth in splendor to show themselves to the Paris which had but lately given Lucien the cold shoulder, and now was beginning to talk about him. To have Paris talking of you! and this after you have learned how large the great city is, how hard it is to be anybody there—it was this thought that turned Lucien's head with exultation.
"Let us go by way of your tailor's, dear boy, and tell him to be quick with your clothes, or try them on if they are ready. If you are going to your fine ladies' houses, you shall eclipse that monster of a de Marsay and young Rastignac and any Ajuda-Pinto or Maxime de Trailles or Vandenesse of them all. Remember that your mistress is Coralie! But you will not play me any tricks, eh?"
Two days afterwards, on the eve of the supper-party at Coralie's house, there was a new play at the Ambigu, and it fell to Lucien to write the dramatic criticism. Lucien and Coralie walked together after dinner from the Rue de Vendome to the Panorama-Dramatique, going along the Cafe Turc side of the Boulevard du Temple, a lounge much frequented at that time. People wondered at his luck, and praised Coralie's beauty. Chance remarks reached his ears; some said that Coralie was the finest woman in Paris, others that Lucien was a match for her. The romantic youth felt that he was in his atmosphere. This was the life for him. The brotherhood was so far away that it was almost out of sight. Only two months ago, how he had looked up to those lofty great natures; now he asked himself if they were not just a trifle ridiculous with their notions and their Puritanism. Coralie's careless words had lodged in Lucien's mind, and begun already to bear fruit. He took Coralie to her dressing-room, and strolled about like a sultan behind the scenes; the actresses gave him burning glances and flattering speeches.
"I must go to the Ambigu and attend to business," said he.
At the Ambigu the house was full; there was not a seat left for him. Indignant complaints behind the scenes brought no redress; the box-office keeper, who did not know him as yet, said that they had sent orders for two boxes to his paper, and sent him about his business.
"I shall speak of the play as I find it," said Lucien, nettled at this.
"What a dunce you are!" said the leading lady, addressing the box-office keeper, "that is Coralie's adorer."
The box-office keeper turned round immediately at this. "I will speak to the manager at once, sir," he said.
In all these small details Lucien saw the immense power wielded by the press. His vanity was gratified. The manager appeared to say that the Duc de Rhetore and Tullia the opera-dancer were in the stage-box, and they had consented to allow Lucien to join them.
"You have driven two people to distraction," remarked the young Duke, mentioning the names of the Baron du Chatelet and Mme. de Bargeton.
"Distraction? What will it be to-morrow?" said Lucien. "So far, my friends have been mere skirmishers, but I have given them red-hot shot to-night. To-morrow you will know why we are making game of 'Potelet.' The article is called 'Potelet from 1811 to 1821.' Chatelet will be a byword, a name for the type of courtiers who deny their benefactor and rally to the Bourbons. When I have done with him, I am going to Mme. de Montcornet's."
Lucien's talk was sparkling. He was eager that this great personage should see how gross a mistake Mesdames d'Espard and de Bargeton had made when they slighted Lucien de Rubempre. But he showed the tip of his ear when he asserted his right to bear the name of Rubempre, the Duc de Rhetore having purposely addressed him as Chardon.
"You should go over to the Royalists," said the Duke. "You have proved yourself a man of ability; now show your good sense. The one way of obtaining a patent of nobility and the right to bear the title of your mother's family, is by asking for it in return for services to be rendered to the Court. The Liberals will never make a count of you. The Restoration will get the better of the press, you see, in the long run, and the press is the only formidable power. They have borne with it too long as it is; the press is sure to be muzzled. Take advantage of the last moments of liberty to make yourself formidable, and you will have everything—intellect, nobility, and good looks; nothing will be out of your reach. So if you are a Liberal, let it be simply for the moment, so that you can make a better bargain for your Royalism."
With that the Duke entreated Lucien to accept an invitation to dinner, which the German Minister (of Florine's supper-party) was about to send. Lucien fell under the charm of the noble peer's arguments; the salons from which he had been exiled for ever, as he thought, but a few months ago, would shortly open their doors for him! He was delighted. He marveled at the power of the press; Intellect and the Press, these then were the real powers in society. Another thought shaped itself in his mind—Was Etienne Lousteau sorry that he had opened the gate of the temple to a newcomer? Even now he (Lucien) felt on his own account that it was strongly advisable to put difficulties in the way of eager and ambitious recruits from the provinces. If a poet should come to him as he had flung himself into Etienne's arms, he dared not think of the reception that he would give him.
The youthful Duke meanwhile saw that Lucien was deep in thought, and made a pretty good guess at the matter of his meditations. He himself had opened out wide horizons of public life before an ambitious poet, with a vacillating will, it is true, but not without aspirations; and the journalists had already shown the neophyte, from a pinnacle of the temple, all the kingdoms of the world of letters and its riches.
Lucien himself had no suspicion of a little plot that was being woven, nor did he imagine that M. de Rhetore had a hand in it. M. de Rhetore had spoken of Lucien's cleverness, and Mme. d'Espard's set had taken alarm. Mme. de Bargeton had commissioned the Duke to sound Lucien, and with that object in view, the noble youth had come to the Ambigu-Comique.
Do not believe in stories of elaborate treachery. Neither the great world nor the world of journalists laid any deep schemes; definite plans are not made by either; their Machiavelism lives from hand to mouth, so to speak, and consists, for the most part, in being always on the spot, always on the alert to turn everything to account, always on the watch for the moment when a man's ruling passion shall deliver him into the hands of his enemies. The young Duke had seen through Lucien at Florine's supper-party; he had just touched his vain susceptibilities; and now he was trying his first efforts in diplomacy upon the living subject.
Lucien hurried to the Rue Saint-Fiacre after the play to write his article. It was a piece of savage and bitter criticism, written in pure wantonness; he was amusing himself by trying his power. The melodrama, as a matter of fact, was a better piece than the Alcalde; but Lucien wished to see whether he could damn a good play and send everybody to see a bad one, as his associates had said.
He unfolded the sheet at breakfast next morning, telling Coralie as he did so that he had cut up the Ambigu-Comique; and not a little astonished was he to find below his paper on Mme. de Bargeton and Chatelet a notice of the Ambigu, so mellowed and softened in the course of the night, that although the witty analysis was still preserved, the judgment was favorable. The article was more likely to fill the house than to empty it. No words can describe his wrath. He determined to have a word or two with Lousteau. He had already begun to think himself an indispensable man, and he vowed that he would not submit to be tyrannized over and treated like a fool. To establish his power beyond cavil, he wrote the article for Dauriat's review, summing up and weighing all the various opinions concerning Nathan's book; and while he was in the humor, he hit off another of his short sketches for Lousteau's newspaper. Inexperienced journalists, in the first effervescence of youth, make a labor of love of ephemeral work, and lavish their best thought unthriftily thereon.
The manager of the Panorama-Dramatique gave a first performance of a vaudeville that night, so that Florine and Coralie might be free for the evening. There were to be cards before supper. Lousteau came for the short notice of the vaudeville; it had been written beforehand after the general rehearsal, for Etienne wished to have the paper off his mind. Lucien read over one of the charming sketches of Parisian whimsicalities which made the fortune of the paper, and Lousteau kissed him on both eyelids, and called him the providence of journalism.
"Then why do you amuse yourself by turning my article inside out?" asked Lucien. He had written his brilliant sketch simply and solely to give emphasis to his grievance.
"I?" exclaimed Lousteau.
"Well, who else can have altered my article?"
"You do not know all the ins and outs yet, dear fellow. The Ambigu pays for thirty copies, and only takes nine for the manager and box office-keeper and their mistresses, and for the three lessees of the theatre. Every one of the Boulevard theatres pays eight hundred francs in this way to the paper; and there is quite as much again in boxes and orders for Finot, to say nothing of the contributions of the company. And if the minor theatres do this, you may imagine what the big ones do! Now you understand? We are bound to show a good deal of indulgence."
"I understand this, that I am not at liberty to write as I think——"
"Eh! what does that matter, so long as you turn an honest penny?" cried Lousteau. "Besides, my boy, what grudge had you against the theatre? You must have had some reason for it, or you would not have cut up the play as you did. If you slash for the sake of slashing, the paper will get into trouble, and when there is good reason for hitting hard it will not tell. Did the manager leave you out in the cold?"
"He had not kept a place for me."
"Good," said Lousteau. "I shall let him see your article, and tell him that I softened it down; you will find it serves you better than if it had appeared in print. Go and ask him for tickets to-morrow, and he will sign forty blank orders every month. I know a man who can get rid of them for you; I will introduce you to him, and he will buy them all up at half-price. There is a trade done in theatre tickets, just as Barbet trades in reviewers' copies. This is another Barbet, the leader of the claque. He lives near by; come and see him, there is time enough."
"But, my dear fellow, it is a scandalous thing that Finot should levy blackmail in matters intellectual. Sooner or later——"
"Really!" cried Lousteau, "where do you come from? For what do you take Finot? Beneath his pretence of good-nature, his ignorance and stupidity, and those Turcaret's airs of his, there is all the cunning of his father the hatter. Did you notice an old soldier of the Empire in the den at the office? That is Finot's uncle. The uncle is not only one of the right sort, he has the luck to be taken for a fool; and he takes all that kind of business upon his shoulders. An ambitious man in Paris is well off indeed if he has a willing scapegoat at hand. In public life, as in journalism, there are hosts of emergencies in which the chiefs cannot afford to appear. If Finot should enter on a political career, his uncle would be his secretary, and receive all the contributions levied in his department on big affairs. Anybody would take Giroudeau for a fool at first sight, but he has just enough shrewdness to be an inscrutable old file. He is on picket duty; he sees that we are not pestered with hubbub, beginners wanting a job, or advertisements. No other paper has his equal, I think."
"He plays his part well," said Lucien; "I saw him at work."
Etienne and Lucien reached a handsome house in the Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple.
"Is M. Braulard in?" Etienne asked of the porter.
"Monsieur?" said Lucien. "Then, is the leader of the claque 'Monsieur'?"
"My dear boy, Braulard has twenty thousand francs of income. All the dramatic authors of the Boulevards are in his clutches, and have a standing account with him as if he were a banker. Orders and complimentary tickets are sold here. Braulard knows where to get rid of such merchandise. Now for a turn at statistics, a useful science enough in its way. At the rate of fifty complimentary tickets every evening for each theatre, you have two hundred and fifty tickets daily. Suppose, taking one with another, that they are worth a couple of francs apiece, Braulard pays a hundred and twenty-five francs daily for them, and takes his chance of making cent per cent. In this way authors' tickets alone bring him in about four thousand francs every month, or forty-eight thousand francs per annum. Allow twenty thousand francs for loss, for he cannot always place all his tickets——"
"Oh! the people who pay at the door go in with the holders of complimentary tickets for unreserved seats, and the theatre reserves the right of admitting those who pay. There are fine warm evenings to be reckoned with besides, and poor plays. Braulard makes, perhaps, thirty thousand francs every year in this way, and he has his claqueurs besides, another industry. Florine and Coralie pay tribute to him; if they did not, there would be no applause when they come on or go off."
Lousteau gave this explanation in a low voice as they went up the stair.
"Paris is a queer place," said Lucien; it seemed to him that he saw self-interest squatting in every corner.
A smart maid-servant opened the door. At the sight of Etienne Lousteau, the dealer in orders and tickets rose from a sturdy chair before a large cylinder desk, and Lucien beheld the leader of the claque, Braulard himself, dressed in a gray molleton jacket, footed trousers, and red slippers; for all the world like a doctor or a solicitor. He was a typical self-made man, Lucien thought—a vulgar-looking face with a pair of exceedingly cunning gray eyes, hands made for hired applause, a complexion over which hard living had passed like rain over a roof, grizzled hair, and a somewhat husky voice.
"You have come from Mlle. Florine, no doubt, sir, and this gentleman for Mlle. Coralie," said Braulard; "I know you very well by sight. Don't trouble yourself, sir," he continued, addressing Lucien; "I am buying the Gymnase connection, I will look after your lady, and I will give her notice of any tricks they may try to play on her."
"That is not an offer to be refused, my dear Braulard, but we have come about the press orders for the Boulevard theatres—I as editor, and this gentleman as dramatic critic."
"Oh!—ah, yes! Finot has sold his paper. I heard about it. He is getting on, is Finot. I have asked him to dine with me at the end of the week; if you will do me the honor and pleasure of coming, you may bring your ladies, and there will be a grand jollification. Adele Dupuis is coming, and Ducange, and Frederic du Petit-Mere, and Mlle. Millot, my mistress. We shall have good fun and better liquor."
"Ducange must be in difficulties. He has lost his lawsuit."
"I have lent him ten thousand francs; if Calas succeeds, it will repay the loan, so I have been organizing a success. Ducange is a clever man; he has brains——"
Lucien fancied that he must be dreaming when he heard a claqueur appraising a writer's value.
"Coralie has improved," continued Braulard, with the air of a competent critic. "If she is a good girl, I will take her part, for they have got up a cabal against her at the Gymnase. This is how I mean to do it. I will have a few well-dressed men in the balconies to smile and make a little murmur, and the applause will follow. That is a dodge which makes a position for an actress. I have a liking for Coralie, and you ought to be satisfied, for she has feeling. Aha! I can hiss any one on the stage if I like."
"But let us settle this business about the tickets," put in Lousteau.
"Very well, I will come to this gentleman's lodging for them at the beginning of the month. He is a friend of yours, and I will treat him as I do you. You have five theatres; you will get thirty tickets—that will be something like seventy-five francs a month. Perhaps you will be wanting an advance?" added Braulard, lifting a cash-box full of coin out of his desk.
"No, no," said Lousteau; "we will keep that shift against a rainy day."
"I will work with Coralie, sir, and we will come to an understanding," said Braulard, addressing Lucien, who was looking about him, not without profound astonishment. There was a bookcase in Braulard's study, there were framed engravings and good furniture; and as they passed through the drawing room, he noticed that the fittings were neither too luxurious nor yet mean. The dining-room seemed to be the best ordered room, he remarked on this jokingly.
"But Braulard is an epicure," said Lousteau; "his dinners are famous in dramatic literature, and they are what you might expect from his cash-box."
"I have good wine," Braulard replied modestly.—"Ah! here are my lamplighters," he added, as a sound of hoarse voices and strange footsteps came up from the staircase.
Lucien on his way down saw a march past of claqueurs and retailers of tickets. It was an ill smelling squad, attired in caps, seedy trousers, and threadbare overcoats; a flock of gallows-birds with bluish and greenish tints in their faces, neglected beards, and a strange mixture of savagery and subservience in their eyes. A horrible population lives and swarms upon the Paris boulevards; selling watch guards and brass jewelry in the streets by day, applauding under the chandeliers of the theatre at night, and ready to lend themselves to any dirty business in the great city.
"Behold the Romans!" laughed Lousteau; "behold fame incarnate for actresses and dramatic authors. It is no prettier than our own when you come to look at it close."
"It is difficult to keep illusions on any subject in Paris," answered Lucien as they turned in at his door. "There is a tax upon everything—everything has its price, and anything can be made to order—even success."
Thirty guests were assembled that evening in Coralie's rooms, her dining room would not hold more. Lucien had asked Dauriat and the manager of the Panorama-Dramatique, Matifat and Florine, Camusot, Lousteau, Finot, Nathan, Hector Merlin and Mme. du Val-Noble, Felicien Vernou, Blondet, Vignon, Philippe Bridau, Mariette, Giroudeau, Cardot and Florentine, and Bixiou. He had also asked all his friends of the Rue des Quatre-Vents. Tullia the dancer, who was not unkind, said gossip, to du Bruel, had come without her duke. The proprietors of the newspapers, for whom most of the journalists wrote, were also of the party.
At eight o'clock, when the lights of the candles in the chandeliers shone over the furniture, the hangings, and the flowers, the rooms wore the festal air that gives to Parisian luxury the appearance of a dream; and Lucien felt indefinable stirrings of hope and gratified vanity and pleasure at the thought that he was the master of the house. But how and by whom the magic wand had been waved he no longer sought to remember. Florine and Coralie, dressed with the fanciful extravagance and magnificent artistic effect of the stage, smiled on the poet like two fairies at the gates of the Palace of Dreams. And Lucien was almost in a dream.
His life had been changed so suddenly during the last few months; he had gone so swiftly from the depths of penury to the last extreme of luxury, that at moments he felt as uncomfortable as a dreaming man who knows that he is asleep. And yet, he looked round at the fair reality about him with a confidence to which envious minds might have given the name of fatuity.
Lucien himself had changed. He had grown paler during these days of continual enjoyment; languor had lent a humid look to his eyes; in short, to use Mme. d'Espard's expression, he looked like a man who is loved. He was the handsomer for it. Consciousness of his powers and his strength was visible in his face, enlightened as it was by love and experience. Looking out over the world of letters and of men, it seemed to him that he might go to and fro as lord of it all. Sober reflection never entered his romantic head unless it was driven in by the pressure of adversity, and just now the present held not a care for him. The breath of praise swelled the sails of his skiff; all the instruments of success lay there to his hand; he had an establishment, a mistress whom all Paris envied him, a carriage, and untold wealth in his inkstand. Heart and soul and brain were alike transformed within him; why should he care to be over nice about the means, when the great results were visibly there before his eyes.
As such a style of living will seem, and with good reason, to be anything but secure to economists who have any experience of Paris, it will not be superfluous to give a glance to the foundation, uncertain as it was, upon which the prosperity of the pair was based.
Camusot had given Coralie's tradesmen instructions to grant her credit for three months at least, and this had been done without her knowledge. During those three months, therefore, horses and servants, like everything else, waited as if by enchantment at the bidding of two children, eager for enjoyment, and enjoying to their hearts' content.
Coralie had taken Lucien's hand and given him a glimpse of the transformation scene in the dining-room, of the splendidly appointed table, of chandeliers, each fitted with forty wax-lights, of the royally luxurious dessert, and a menu of Chevet's. Lucien kissed her on the forehead and held her closely to his heart.
"I shall succeed, child," he said, "and then I will repay you for such love and devotion."
"Pshaw!" said Coralie. "Are you satisfied?"
"I should be very hard to please if I were not."
"Very well, then, that smile of yours pays for everything," she said, and with a serpentine movement she raised her head and laid her lips against his.
When they went back to the others, Florine, Lousteau, Matifat, and Camusot were setting out the card-tables. Lucien's friends began to arrive, for already these folk began to call themselves "Lucien's friends"; and they sat over the cards from nine o'clock till midnight. Lucien was unacquainted with a single game, but Lousteau lost a thousand francs, and Lucien could not refuse to lend him the money when he asked for it.
Michel, Fulgence, and Joseph appeared about ten o'clock; and Lucien, chatting with them in a corner, saw that they looked sober and serious enough, not to say ill at ease. D'Arthez could not come, he was finishing his book; Leon Giraud was busy with the first number of his review; so the brotherhood had sent three artists among their number, thinking that they would feel less out of their element in an uproarious supper party than the rest.
"Well, my dear fellows," said Lucien, assuming a slightly patronizing tone, "the 'comical fellow' may become a great public character yet, you see."
"I wish I may be mistaken; I don't ask better," said Michel.
"Are you living with Coralie until you can do better?" asked Fulgence.
"Yes," said Lucien, trying to look unconscious. "Coralie had an elderly adorer, a merchant, and she showed him the door, poor fellow. I am better off than your brother Philippe," he added, addressing Joseph Bridau; "he does not know how to manage Mariette."
"You are a man like another now; in short, you will make your way," said Fulgence.
"A man that will always be the same for you, under all circumstances," returned Lucien.
Michel and Fulgence exchanged incredulous scornful smiles at this. Lucien saw the absurdity of his remark.
"Coralie is wonderfully beautiful," exclaimed Joseph Bridau. "What a magnificent portrait she would make!"
"Beautiful and good," said Lucien; "she is an angel, upon my word. And you shall paint her portrait; she shall sit to you if you like for your Venetian lady brought by the old woman to the senator."
"All women who love are angelic," said Michel Chrestien.
Just at that moment Raoul Nathan flew upon Lucien, and grasped both his hands and shook them in a sudden access of violent friendship.
"Oh, my good friend, you are something more than a great man, you have a heart," cried he, "a much rarer thing than genius in these days. You are a devoted friend. I am yours, in short, through thick and thin; I shall never forget all that you have done for me this week."
Lucien's joy had reached the highest point; to be thus caressed by a man of whom everyone was talking! He looked at his three friends of the brotherhood with something like a superior air. Nathan's appearance upon the scene was the result of an overture from Merlin, who sent him a proof of the favorable review to appear in to-morrow's issue.
"I only consented to write the attack on condition that I should be allowed to reply to it myself," Lucien said in Nathan's ear. "I am one of you." This incident was opportune; it justified the remark which amused Fulgence. Lucien was radiant.
"When d'Arthez's book comes out," he said, turning to the three, "I am in a position to be useful to him. That thought in itself would induce me to remain a journalist."
"Can you do as you like?" Michel asked quickly.
"So far as one can when one is indispensable," said Lucien modestly.
It was almost midnight when they sat down to supper, and the fun grew fast and furious. Talk was less restrained in Lucien's house than at Matifat's, for no one suspected that the representatives of the brotherhood and the newspaper writers held divergent opinions. Young intellects, depraved by arguing for either side, now came into conflict with each other, and fearful axioms of the journalistic jurisprudence, then in its infancy, hurtled to and fro. Claude Vignon, upholding the dignity of criticism, inveighed against the tendency of the smaller newspapers, saying that the writers of personalities lowered themselves in the end. Lousteau, Merlin, and Finot took up the cudgels for the system known by the name of blague; puffery, gossip, and humbug, said they, was the test of talent, and set the hall-mark, as it were, upon it. "Any man who can stand that test has real power," said Lousteau.
"Besides," cried Merlin, "when a great man receives ovations, there ought to be a chorus in insults to balance, as in a Roman triumph."
"Oho!" put in Lucien; "then every one held up to ridicule in print will fancy that he has made a success."
"Any one would think that the question interested you," exclaimed Finot.
"And how about our sonnets," said Michel Chrestien; "is that the way they will win us the fame of a second Petrarch?"
"Laura already counts for something in his fame," said Dauriat, a pun [Laure (l'or)] received with acclamations.
"Faciamus experimentum in anima vili," retorted Lucien with a smile.
"And woe unto him whom reviewers shall spare, flinging him crowns at his first appearance, for he shall be shelved like the saints in their shrines, and no man shall pay him the slightest attention," said Vernou.
"People will say, 'Look elsewhere, simpleton; you have had your due already,' as Champcenetz said to the Marquis de Genlis, who was looking too fondly at his wife," added Blondet.
"Success is the ruin of a man in France," said Finot. "We are so jealous of one another that we try to forget, and to make others forget, the triumphs of yesterday."
"Contradiction is the life of literature, in fact," said Claude Vignon.
"In art as in nature, there are two principles everywhere at strife," exclaimed Fulgence; "and victory for either means death."
"So it is with politics," added Michel Chrestien.
"We have a case in point," said Lousteau. "Dauriat will sell a couple of thousand copies of Nathan's book in the coming week. And why? Because the book that was cleverly attacked will be ably defended."
Merlin took up the proof of to-morrow's paper. "How can such an article fail to sell an edition?" he asked.
"Read the article," said Dauriat. "I am a publisher wherever I am, even at supper."
Merlin read Lucien's triumphant refutation aloud, and the whole party applauded.
"How could that article have been written unless the attack had preceded it?" asked Lousteau.
Dauriat drew the proof of the third article from his pocket and read it over, Finot listening closely; for it was to appear in the second number of his own review, and as editor he exaggerated his enthusiasm.
"Gentlemen," said he, "so and not otherwise would Bossuet have written if he had lived in our day."
"I am sure of it," said Merlin. "Bossuet would have been a journalist to-day."
"To Bossuet the Second!" cried Claude Vignon, raising his glass with an ironical bow.
"To my Christopher Columbus!" returned Lucien, drinking a health to Dauriat.
"Bravo!" cried Nathan.
"Is it a nickname?" Merlin inquired, looking maliciously from Finot to Lucien.
"If you go on at this pace, you will be quite beyond us," said Dauriat; "these gentlemen" (indicating Camusot and Matifat) "cannot follow you as it is. A joke is like a bit of thread; if it is spun too fine, it breaks, as Bonaparte said."
"Gentlemen," said Lousteau, "we have been eye-witnesses of a strange, portentous, unheard-of, and truly surprising phenomenon. Admire the rapidity with which our friend here has been transformed from a provincial into a journalist!"
"He is a born journalist," said Dauriat.
"Children!" called Finot, rising to his feet, "all of us here present have encouraged and protected our amphitryon in his entrance upon a career in which he has already surpassed our hopes. In two months he has shown us what he can do in a series of excellent articles known to us all. I propose to baptize him in form as a journalist."
"A crown of roses! to signalize a double conquest," cried Bixiou, glancing at Coralie.
Coralie made a sign to Berenice. That portly handmaid went to Coralie's dressing-room and brought back a box of tumbled artificial flowers. The more incapable members of the party were grotesquely tricked out in these blossoms, and a crown of roses was soon woven. Finot, as high priest, sprinkled a few drops of champagne on Lucien's golden curls, pronouncing with delicious gravity the words—"In the name of the Government Stamp, the Caution-money, and the Fine, I baptize thee, Journalist. May thy articles sit lightly on thee!"
"And may they be paid for, including white lines!" cried Merlin.
Just at that moment Lucien caught sight of three melancholy faces. Michel Chrestien, Joseph Bridau, and Fulgence Ridal took up their hats and went out amid a storm of invective.
"Queer customers!" said Merlin.
"Fulgence used to be a good fellow," added Lousteau, "before they perverted his morals."
"Who are 'they'?" asked Claude Vignon.
"Some very serious young men," said Blondet, "who meet at a philosophico-religious symposium in the Rue des Quatre-Vents, and worry themselves about the meaning of human life——"
"They are trying to find out whether it goes round in a circle, or makes some progress," continued Blondet. "They were very hard put to it between the straight line and the curve; the triangle, warranted by Scripture, seemed to them to be nonsense, when, lo! there arose among them some prophet or other who declared for the spiral."
"Men might meet to invent more dangerous nonsense than that!" exclaimed Lucien, making a faint attempt to champion the brotherhood.
"You take theories of that sort for idle words," said Felicien Vernou; "but a time comes when the arguments take the form of gunshot and the guillotine."
"They have not come to that yet," said Bixiou; "they have only come as far as the designs of Providence in the invention of champagne, the humanitarian significance of breeches, and the blind deity who keeps the world going. They pick up fallen great men like Vico, Saint-Simon, and Fourier. I am much afraid that they will turn poor Joseph Bridau's head among them."
"Bianchon, my old schoolfellow, gives me the cold shoulder now," said Lousteau; "it is all their doing——"
"Do they give lectures on orthopedy and intellectual gymnastics?" asked Merlin.
"Very likely," answered Finot, "if Bianchon has any hand in their theories."
"Pshaw!" said Lousteau; "he will be a great physician anyhow."
"Isn't d'Arthez their visible head?" asked Nathan, "a little youngster that is going to swallow all of us up."
"He is a genius!" cried Lucien.
"Genius, is he! Well, give me a glass of sherry!" said Claude Vignon, smiling.
Every one, thereupon, began to explain his character for the benefit of his neighbor; and when a clever man feels a pressing need of explaining himself, and of unlocking his heart, it is pretty clear that wine has got the upper hand. An hour later, all the men in the company were the best friends in the world, addressing each other as great men and bold spirits, who held the future in their hands. Lucien, in his quality of host, was sufficiently clearheaded to apprehend the meaning of the sophistries which impressed him and completed his demoralization.
"The Liberal party," announced Finot, "is compelled to stir up discussion somehow. There is no fault to find with the action of the Government, and you may imagine what a fix the Opposition is in. Which of you now cares to write a pamphlet in favor of the system of primogeniture, and raise a cry against the secret designs of the Court? The pamphlet will be paid for handsomely."
"I will write it," said Hector Merlin. "It is my own point of view."
"Your party will complain that you are compromising them," said Finot. "Felicien, you must undertake it; Dauriat will bring it out, and we will keep the secret."
"How much shall I get?"
"Six hundred francs. Sign it 'Le Comte C, three stars.'"
"It's a bargain," said Felicien Vernou.
"So you are introducing the canard to the political world," remarked Lousteau.
"It is simply the Chabot affair carried into the region of abstract ideas," said Finot. "Fasten intentions on the Government, and then let loose public opinion."
"How a Government can leave the control of ideas to such a pack of scamps as we are, is matter for perpetual and profound astonishment to me," said Claude Vignon.
"If the Ministry blunders so far as to come down into the arena, we can give them a drubbing. If they are nettled by it, the thing will rankle in people's minds, and the Government will lose its hold on the masses. The newspaper risks nothing, and the authorities have everything to lose."
"France will be a cipher until newspapers are abolished by law," said Claude Vignon. "You are making progress hourly," he added, addressing Finot. "You are a modern order of Jesuits, lacking the creed, the fixed idea, the discipline, and the union."
They went back to the card-tables; and before long the light of the candles grew feeble in the dawn.
"Lucien, your friends from the Rue des Quatre-Vents looked as dismal as criminals going to be hanged," said Coralie.
"They were the judges, not the criminals," replied the poet.
"Judges are more amusing than that," said Coralie.
For a month Lucien's whole time was taken up with supper parties, dinner engagements, breakfasts, and evening parties; he was swept away by an irresistible current into a vortex of dissipation and easy work. He no longer thought of the future. The power of calculation amid the complications of life is the sign of a strong will which poets, weaklings, and men who live a purely intellectual life can never counterfeit. Lucien was living from hand to mouth, spending his money as fast as he made it, like many another journalist; nor did he give so much as a thought to those periodically recurrent days of reckoning which chequer the life of the bohemian in Paris so sadly.
In dress and figure he was a rival for the great dandies of the day. Coralie, like all zealots, loved to adorn her idol. She ruined herself to give her beloved poet the accoutrements which had so stirred his envy in the Garden of the Tuileries. Lucien had wonderful canes, and a charming eyeglass; he had diamond studs, and scarf-rings, and signet-rings, besides an assortment of waistcoats marvelous to behold, and in sufficient number to match every color in a variety of costumes. His transition to the estate of dandy swiftly followed. When he went to the German Minister's dinner, all the young men regarded him with suppressed envy; yet de Marsay, Vandenesse, Ajuda-Pinto, Maxime de Trailles, Rastignac, Beaudenord, Manerville, and the Duc de Maufrigneuse gave place to none in the kingdom of fashion. Men of fashion are as jealous among themselves as women, and in the same way. Lucien was placed between Mme. de Montcornet and Mme. d'Espard, in whose honor the dinner was given; both ladies overwhelmed him with flatteries.
"Why did you turn your back on society when you would have been so well received?" asked the Marquise. "Every one was prepared to make much of you. And I have a quarrel with you too. You owed me a call—I am still waiting to receive it. I saw you at the Opera the other day, and you would not deign to come to see me nor to take any notice of me."
"Your cousin, madame, so unmistakably dismissed me—"
"Oh! you do not know women," the Marquise d'Espard broke in upon him. "You have wounded the most angelic heart, the noblest nature that I know. You do not know all that Louise was trying to do for you, nor how tactfully she laid her plans for you.—Oh! and she would have succeeded," the Marquise continued, replying to Lucien's mute incredulity. "Her husband is dead now; died, as he was bound to die, of an indigestion; could you doubt that she would be free sooner or later? And can you suppose that she would like to be Madame Chardon? It was worth while to take some trouble to gain the title of Comtesse de Rubempre. Love, you see, is a great vanity, which requires the lesser vanities to be in harmony with itself—especially in marriage. I might love you to madness—which is to say, sufficiently to marry you—and yet I should find it very unpleasant to be called Madame Chardon. You can see that. And now that you understand the difficulties of Paris life, you will know how many roundabout ways you must take to reach your end; very well, then, you must admit that Louise was aspiring to an all but impossible piece of Court favor; she was quite unknown, she is not rich, and therefore she could not afford to neglect any means of success.
"You are clever," the Marquise d'Espard continued; "but we women, when we love, are cleverer than the cleverest man. My cousin tried to make that absurd Chatelet useful—Oh!" she broke off, "I owe not a little amusement to you; your articles on Chatelet made me laugh heartily."
Lucien knew not what to think of all this. Of the treachery and bad faith of journalism he had had some experience; but in spite of his perspicacity, he scarcely expected to find bad faith or treachery in society. There were some sharp lessons in store for him.
"But, madame," he objected, for her words aroused a lively curiosity, "is not the Heron under your protection?"
"One is obliged to be civil to one's worst enemies in society," protested she; "one may be bored, but one must look as if the talk was amusing, and not seldom one seems to sacrifice friends the better to serve them. Are you still a novice? You mean to write, and yet you know nothing of current deceit? My cousin apparently sacrificed you to the Heron, but how could she dispense with his influence for you? Our friend stands well with the present ministry; and we have made him see that your attacks will do him service—up to a certain point, for we want you to make it up again some of these days. Chatelet has received compensations for his troubles; for, as des Lupeaulx said, 'While the newspapers are making Chatelet ridiculous, they will leave the Ministry in peace.'"
There was a pause; the Marquise left Lucien to his own reflections.
"M. Blondet led me to hope that I should have the pleasure of seeing you in my house," said the Comtesse de Montcornet. "You will meet a few artists and men of letters, and some one else who has the keenest desire to become acquainted with you—Mlle. des Touches, the owner of talents rare among our sex. You will go to her house, no doubt. Mlle. de Touches (or Camille Maupin, if you prefer it) is prodigiously rich, and presides over one of the most remarkable salons in Paris. She has heard that you are as handsome as you are clever, and is dying to meet you."
Lucien could only pour out incoherent thanks and glance enviously at Emile Blondet. There was as great a difference between a great lady like Mme. de Montcornet and Coralie as between Coralie and a girl out of the streets. The Countess was young and witty and beautiful, with the very white fairness of women of the north. Her mother was the Princess Scherbellof, and the Minister before dinner had paid her the most respectful attention.
By this time the Marquise had made an end of trifling disdainfully with the wing of a chicken.
"My poor Louise felt so much affection for you," she said. "She took me into her confidence; I knew her dreams of a great career for you. She would have borne a great deal, but what scorn you showed her when you sent back her letters! Cruelty we can forgive; those who hurt us must have still some faith in us; but indifference! Indifference is like polar snows, it extinguishes all life. So, you must see that you have lost a precious affection through your own fault. Why break with her? Even if she had scorned you, you had your way to make, had you not?—your name to win back? Louise thought of all that."
"Then why was she silent?"
"Eh! mon Dieu!" cried the Marquise, "it was I myself who advised her not to take you into her confidence. Between ourselves, you know, you seemed so little used to the ways of the world, that I took alarm. I was afraid that your inexperience and rash ardor might wreck our carefully-made schemes. Can you recollect yourself as you were then? You must admit that if you could see your double to-day, you would say the same yourself. You are not like the same man. That was our mistake. But would one man in a thousand combine such intellectual gifts with such wonderful aptitude for taking the tone of society? I did not think that you would be such an astonishing exception. You were transformed so quickly, you acquired the manner of Paris so easily, that I did not recognize you in the Bois de Boulogne a month ago."
Lucien heard the great lady with inexpressible pleasure; the flatteries were spoken with such a petulant, childlike, confiding air, and she seemed to take such a deep interest in him, that he thought of his first evening at the Panorama-Dramatique, and began to fancy that some such miracle was about to take place a second time. Everything had smiled upon him since that happy evening; his youth, he thought, was the talisman that worked this change. He would prove this great lady; she should not take him unawares.
"Then, what were these schemes which have turned to chimeras, madame?" asked he.
"Louise meant to obtain a royal patent permitting you to bear the name and title of Rubempre. She wished to put Chardon out of sight. Your opinions have put that out of the question now, but then it would not have been so hard to manage, and a title would mean a fortune for you.
"You will look on these things as trifles and visionary ideas," she continued; "but we know something of life, and we know, too, all the solid advantages of a Count's title when it is borne by a fashionable and extremely charming young man. Announce 'M. Chardon' and 'M. le Comte de Rubempre' before heiresses or English girls with a million to their fortune, and note the difference of the effect. The Count might be in debt, but he would find open hearts; his good looks, brought into relief by his title, would be like a diamond in a rich setting; M. Chardon would not be so much as noticed. WE have not invented these notions; they are everywhere in the world, even among the burgeois. You are turning your back on fortune at this minute. Do you see that good-looking young man? He is the Vicomte Felix de Vandenesse, one of the King's private secretaries. The King is fond enough of young men of talent, and Vandenesse came from the provinces with baggage nearly as light as yours. You are a thousand times cleverer than he; but do you belong to a great family, have you a name? You know des Lupeaulx; his name is very much like yours, for he was born a Chardin; well, he would not sell his little farm of Lupeaulx for a million, he will be Comte des Lupeaulx some day, and perhaps his grandson may be a duke.—You have made a false start; and if you continue in that way, it will be all over with you. See how much wiser M. Emile Blondet has been! He is engaged on a Government newspaper; he is well looked on by those in authority; he can afford to mix with Liberals, for he holds sound opinions; and soon or later he will succeed. But then he understood how to choose his opinions and his protectors.
"Your charming neighbor" (Mme. d'Espard glanced at Mme. de Montcornet) "was a Troisville; there are two peers of France in the family and two deputies. She made a wealthy marriage with her name; she sees a great deal of society at her house; she has influence, she will move the political world for young M. Blondet. Where will a Coralie take you? In a few years' time you will be hopelessly in debt and weary of pleasure. You have chosen badly in love, and you are arranging your life ill. The woman whom you delight to wound was at the Opera the other night, and this was how she spoke of you. She deplored the way in which you were throwing away your talent and the prime of youth; she was thinking of you, and not of herself, all the while."
"Ah! if you were only telling me the truth, madame!" cried Lucien.
"What object should I have in telling lies?" returned the Marquise, with a glance of cold disdain which annihilated him. He was so dashed by it, that the conversation dropped, for the Marquise was offended, and said no more.
Lucien was nettled by her silence, but he felt that it was due to his own clumsiness, and promised himself that he would repair his error. He turned to Mme. de Montcornet and talked to her of Blondet, extolling that young writer for her benefit. The Countess was gracious to him, and asked him (at a sign from Mme. d'Espard) to spend an evening at her house. It was to be a small and quiet gathering to which only friends were invited—Mme. de Bargeton would be there in spite of her mourning; Lucien would be pleased, she was sure, to meet Mme. de Bargeton.
"Mme. la Marquise says that all the wrong is on my side," said Lucien; "so surely it rests with her cousin, does it not, to decide whether she will meet me?"
"Put an end to those ridiculous attacks, which only couple her name with the name of a man for whom she does not care at all, and you will soon sign a treaty of peace. You thought that she had used you ill, I am told, but I myself have seen her in sadness because you had forsaken her. Is it true that she left the provinces on your account?"
Lucien smiled; he did not venture to make any other reply.
"Oh! how could you doubt the woman who made such sacrifices for you? Beautiful and intellectual as she is, she deserves besides to be loved for her own sake; and Mme. de Bargeton cared less for you than for your talents. Believe me, women value intellect more than good looks," added the Countess, stealing a glance at Emile Blondet.
In the Minister's hotel Lucien could see the differences between the great world and that other world beyond the pale in which he had lately been living. There was no sort of resemblance between the two kinds of splendor, no single point in common. The loftiness and disposition of the rooms in one of the handsomest houses in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, the ancient gilding, the breadth of decorative style, the subdued richness of the accessories, all this was strange and new to him; but Lucien had learned very quickly to take luxury for granted, and he showed no surprise. His behavior was as far removed from assurance or fatuity on the one hand as from complacency and servility upon the other. His manner was good; he found favor in the eyes of all who were not prepared to be hostile, like the younger men, who resented his sudden intrusion into the great world, and felt jealous of his good looks and his success.