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Honore De Balzac - A Distinguished Provincial At Paris (1839)

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



This work originally formed the second part of Illusions Perdues (" Lost Illusions"), and two chapters first appeared in the Estafette, in 1839. It is included in the Scenes de la Vie de Province. Many of the characters appear in other works. Etienne Lousteau is supposed to be a portrait of the critic, Jules Janin. In 1839 Balzac wrote to Madame Hanska: "You will read the Grand Homme, a work full of verve, in which you will once more encounter Florine, Nathan, Lousteau, Blondet, Finot, those `great personages' of my work, as you have the kindness to call them. But what will recommend this book to the attention of strangers is the audacious painting of the inner life of Parisian journalism—which is of terrifying exactitude. I alone was in a position to tell our journalists the truth, and to make war upon them a l'outrance" The Grand Homme de Province stirred up a great deal of trouble for the realistic author.

LUCIEN CHARDON, traveling post with his inamorata for the first time in his life, was horrified to see nearly the whole sum he meant to live on for a year in Paris used up on the road. He made a great mistake in expressing surprise at the new and wonderful things he saw. Many a woman likes to see the god in her idol and cannot forgive any childishness; and Madame de Bargeton's love was grafted on pride—a fact that Lucien had not yet guessed. Instead of keeping himself to himself, he indulged in the playfulness of a young rat emerging from his hole for the first time. The travelers were set down at the sign of the Gaillard-Bois in the Rue de l'Echelle, at daybreak. They did not see each other till four o'clock. Lucien noticed an unaccountable change in his Louise. A change had indeed taken place. While Lucien slept, she had received a call from Monsieur du Chatelet, who had followed her to Paris; and he told her if she wanted the influence of Madame d'Espard she must not live in the same house with Lucien. The Baron offered to find suitable lodgings for her that evening. She agreed; and the elderly dandy, perfectly familiar with Parisian ways and faultlessly dressed, formed a striking contrast to the half-awakened, hastily dressed Lucien, in his last year's nankeen trousers and shabby, tight jacket. After dinner Louise told her young lover, Lucien, of the new arrangement; and two hours later she was installed in the Rue Neuve de Luxembourg. The Baron called and impressed the provincial lady still more. The next day Lucien rambled about the streets and called to see Louise. He found the Baron there, who took them to dinner at the Rocher de Cancale and afterward to the Vaudeville.

That evening marked an epoch in Lucien's career; he bade farewell to many of his provincial ideas; his horizon widened and society assumed different proportions. He looked around at the fair Parisiennes in their beautiful toilets, and thought that the once peerless Louise seemed rather dowdy. The arrangement of her hair, too, so bewitching in Angouleme, was simply frightful in Paris. Madame de Bargeton thought her poet cut a "positively pitiable" figure, as she compared him with the correct young dandies in the balcony. His sleeves were too short; his country gloves ill-cut; and his waistcoat was too tight—indeed, he looked "prodigiously ridiculous." In these lovers a process of disenchantment was at work; Paris was the cause. The next evening, Madame de Bargeton, who was spending the day with Madame d'Espard, invited Lucien to join them at the Opera. Lucien spent the afternoon in the Garden of the Tuileries, where he noted the well-dressed youths and men of fashion. A cold sweat broke out over him as he compared his appearance with theirs, and thought of the clothes he must wear at the Opera. He noted also the famous Mademoiselle des Touches, Madame Firmiani, and other celebrities. Compared with these queens, Louise was an old woman. After dining at Very's (he could have lived a month in Angouleme on the price of that dinner), he rushed to his inn, got a hundred crowns, and returned to the Palais-Royal, where he made the necessary purchases for his evening outfit, and then inquired for a hair-dresser. The Marquise invited Monsieur de Rubempre to take a front seat in her box, which was conspicuously situated. Louise de Negrepelisse looked the same as on the previous night—tall, lean, withered, angular, affected in manner, provincial and pompous in her speech, and dowdily dressed.

Lucien felt ashamed to have fallen in love with "this cuttlefish bone." He, on his part, was ill at ease, and his manners astonished the Marquise. The social celebrities stared hard at Madame d'Espard's two country guests, and Rastignac and Chatelet, who were in the audience, pulled the feathers off M. de Rubempre, and said that his name was really Chardon, and that he was an apothecary's son. Madame d'Espard and Louise, not willing to stand the ridicule, left the Opera; and the doors of the Marquise's house were closed to M. de Rubempre.

The next time Lucien saw these ladies they were driving in the Bois; and they cut him dead. By this time, Madame de Bargeton had become quite Parisian in appearance, under the Marquise's guidance. Lucien removed to a cheap room in the Latin Quarter, and wrote a rhetorical epistle to Louise and another to his sister Eve, who had just married David Sechard, the Angouleme printer. Dining at the famous Flicoteaux's restaurant, he came across a young man, Etienne Lousteau, who, like Lucien, had come to Paris from the provinces to win fame and money through literature. An experience of two years and some fame as a journalist—he wrote book reviews and dramatic criticisms—made him a hero in Lucien's eyes. Lucien spent his mornings studying at the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve; strolled in the Luxembourg Gardens; dined at Flicoteaux's; and went to the theater at night. He now began his rounds with his two manuscripts. The conversations that he overheard while waiting to see the heads of firms destroyed more illusions. He was astonished to discover that publishers regarded books "as merchandise to be sold dear and bought cheap"; that they drove sharp bargains; and that there was a great deal of chicanery in the business. Lucien left his Archer of Charles IX with " Old Doguereau," as he was familiarly called, who took his address, and said he would call. Doguereau liked the book, and had made up his mind to buy it for a thou-sand francs. But when he climbed the stairs, and saw the forlorn room, "the destitution of genius made an impression on Daddy Doguereau."

"Let him preserve these simple habits of life, this frugality, these modest requirements," thought he. Aloud he said: "It is a pleasure to me to see you. Thus, sir, lived Jean- Jacques, whom you resemble in more ways than one. Amid such surroundings the fire of genius shines brightly; good work is done in such rooms as these." Thereupon, he offered Lucien four hundred francs for his book. Lucien declined. In his disappointment, he met a fellow-worker that afternoon, coming out of the library. They had seen each other here and at Flicoteaux's. They spoke. Lucien told his troubles, and, in ex-change, received a longer story of hard experiences from the talented Daniel d'Arthez, who invited him to call and show him his manuscript. Lucien did so that evening, and found his new friend in a poor room. D'Arthez read and criticized the historical romance, and told Lucien that he earned a scanty living by writing for encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc., while he studied philosophy and literature. His friends were all earnest students—young naturalists, doctors, artists, and writers. Lucien was soon invited to join this "cenacle of lofty thinkers," who often met in D'Arthez's room. Horace Bianchon, Leon Giraud, Joseph Bridau, Fulgence Ridal, and Michel Chrestien made an oasis for Lucien in the Rue des Quatre-Vents. They lent him money, and, better still, gave him faithful friendship. Chrestien's advice was : " Carry all the cravings of imagination into the world of vanity."

Lucien insisted that he could not bear the burden of Parisian life. "I cannot struggle bravely," he said.

"We will stand by you," said D'Arthez; "it is just in these ways that a faithful friendship is of use."

"Stick by us," said Bianchon, "bear up bravely and trust in hard work."

"But what is hardship for you is death for me," Lucien put in quickly.

"Before the cock crows thrice," smiled Leon Giraud, "this man will betray the cause of work for an idle life and the vices of Paris."

These friends begged him not to go into journalism. They said it was "an inferno, a bottomless pit of iniquity and treachery and lies, which no one can traverse undefiled, unless, like Dante, he is protected by Virgil's sacred laurel."

Lucien would not listen; and, having tried the publishers, he now tried the newspapers. He had his first shock at the Solitaire, where he got an insight into the ways of dealing with subscribers. Then he ran across Lousteau, and talked over the question of journalism with him. He also read to him some of his sonnets from The Marguerites: Easter Daisies, The Marguerite, The Camellia, and The Tulip (the latter admired by the cenacle). Lousteau told him that poetry meant starvation; and then he enlightened him with regard to the universal corruption in the world of journalism and literature. "It is always the same story," he said; "year after year the same rush from the provinces to Paris; but one by one they drop, some into the trench where failures lie, some into the mire of journalism, some again into the quagmires of the book-trade."

Lucien had made up his mind. He agreed to call for Lousteau, dine with him at Dauriat's, be introduced to several journalists, attend a first night at the Panorama-Dramatique, and have supper with Lousteau's mistress, Florine, where he would meet Finot, editor and proprietor of Lousteau's paper. The atmosphere of Lousteau's room was a great contrast to that of D'Arthez. Before going out, Lousteau had to get some money from an old pawnbroker and bookseller, Bat-bet, who called and took away some of the books sent for review. Lousteau then told Lucien how book-reviews were written without the writer seeing the books. Lousteau paid the cabman three francs (which astounded the provincial poet), when they got out at the "Wooden Galleries," where " fashionable literature, as it is called, used to reign in state."

The Wooden Galleries of the Palais-Royal were, at this period, one of the sights of Paris. Here were shops full of striking articles; booksellers, tailors, and milliners were side by side; and ventriloquists and charlatans, performing dogs and automatic chess-players plied their queer trades in a jumble with florists and fruiterers. Women of the town, too, made a promenade of this place. Lucien was dazzled and thunder-struck at the book-talk between Lousteau, Dauriat, and Finot, regarding the sales of poetry. Lousteau shrunk somewhat in Lucien's eyes. The most important man in Paris was undoubtedly the fashionable bookseller, by whom all great literary men lived. Lucien halted no longer between the resignation preached by the brotherhood in the Latin Quarter and Lousteau's militant doctrine.

He was impressed with the power of the press when he entered the Panorama-Dramatique with Lousteau. He went with him behind the scenes, and saw all the curious life and manners there. He was introduced to Monsieur Raoul Nathan, a critic, Vernou, Finot, and several actresses, including Florine and Coralie. Matifat, a wealthy chemist, was in her dressing-room. Coralie also had an admirer, a rich silk-mercer named Camusot. Lucien had gone from surprise to surprise. For two months he had seen literature in poverty and want in the Latin Quarter; he had seen literature at its cynical worst in Lousteau's rooms; and he had seen literature abject and literature insolent in the Wooden Galleries. Now he was to undergo his initiation into the intrigues of actors, critics, journalists, and playwrights, as well as the dissipated, frivolous life of the votaries of the footlights. The beautiful Jewess, Cora-lie, with her oval and ivory-tinted face, pomegranate lips, ebony hair, and jet-black, long-lashed eyes, lost her heart. Lousteau told this to Lucien during the play. Lucien told Lousteau about his love-affair with Madame de Bargeton and his enmity to the Baron du Chatelet.

"Very good!" said Lousteau, "we want a bete noire for our newspaper; we will take him up. Finot is short of copy. You can do the play, and I will get out three columns about the elderly buck and your disdainful lady."

"So this is how a newspaper is written!" said Lucien. After the play they went to Florine's luxurious rooms, provided by Matifat. Lucien retired to her pretty boudoir, and, by the light of the pink candles, wrote his first newspaper article on the first performance of the Alcalde in a Fix, an imbroglio in three acts—first appearance of Mademoiselle Florine and Mademoiselle Coralie. At the same time Lousteau wrote The Elderly Beau, and hit off the Baron du Chatelet and "the cuttlefish bone." That evening Lucien saw the very heart's core of cankerous Paris; but, so far from shuddering at the sight, he was intoxicated with the enjoyment of the intellectual and stimulating society in which he found himself. The extraordinary men, clad in armor damascened by their vices, these intellects environed by cold and bitter analysis, seemed far greater in his eyes than the grave and earnest members of the brotherhood. Besides all this he was reveling in his first taste of luxury; for the first time in his life he tasted delicious wines and saw cookery carried to the pitch of a fine art. A minister and a duke were present, and amid the fragrance of wine, steaming dishes, and bright candles was the loveliest actress in Paris—the beautiful Coralie, made happy by a few words of his!

Lucien, unaccustomed to orgies of this kind, succumbed, and was taken by Coralie to her home in the Rue de Vendome, where she and her servant, Berenice, put him to bed. Lucien now made his home with Coralie in the luxurious apartments provided by Camusot. His review made a great success. Daniel d'Arthez, too, saw it, and wrote him a letter full of con-gratulation and regrets. He saw the road on which Lucien had begun to travel.

Lucien then went to see his friends in the Latin Quarter; but he had gone too far away from their lofty ideals. Under the tutelage of Lousteau, Lucien began to pull many wires. Lousteau got the editorship of Finot's paper, and Lucien was taken on the staff. Dauriat now returned The Marguerites to Lucien, and Lousteau showed him how to get him to publish it. A severe review by Lucien of Nathan's new book, published by Dauriat, caused that publisher to make terms. He called on Lucien at Coralie's house, and agreed to issue The Marguerites if Lucien would agree to attack no more of his publications.

Coralie bestowed everything upon Lucien : her love, beautiful presents, and handsome clothes. In a fit of sentiment, he sent some money to Eve, David, and his mother; and Coralie thought him a model son and brother. One night, at the Opera, he attracted attention, and the Comtesse de Mont cornet told Blondet to bring him to her home. The Baron du Chatelet had taken the skit about the Baron Heron and the cuttlefish seriously, and Blondet was willing to try to reconcile Madame de Bargeton and Lucien at Madame de Montcornet's house. Lucien, however, wanted to write something sharp against "the Heron and the Cuttlefish," before going. For a month, Lucien's time was taken up with supper-parties, breakfasts, and evening gatherings. Easy work and dissipation, without a thought of the future, filled his whole time. In dress and figure he was a rival to all the dandies of the day. When he went to the German Minister's dinner, he was the equal in appearance of Rastignac, De Marsay, Vandenesse, Maxime de Trailles, and the other young men of fashion. Madame de Montcornet and Madame d'Espard overwhelmed him with attentions. The Marquise told him that Monsieur de Bargeton was dead, and reproached him for having wounded Louise's heart. The insight she gave him into society was another lost illusion. Of the bad faith in journal-ism he had had some experience; but he hardly expected to find bad faith or treachery in society. There were still some sharp lessons in store for him. The Marquise told him also that Louise was trying to get a royal patent, permitting him to bear the name and title of De Rubempre.

In the Minister's hotel in the Faubourg Saint-Germain Lucien saw a very different kind of splendor from that of the world in which he had been living. When he stepped into the carriage in the courtyard, however, Coralie was waiting for him. A week later, Lucien went to Madame de Montcornet's house. There he met Louise, now a happy widow. Her old feeling for Lucien returned; but he would not sacrifice the actress for the great lady. She left the room with a fixed determination to be revenged.

Lucien was a great success. Beautiful Mademoiselle des Touches, so well known as "Camille Maupin," asked him to one of her Wednesday dinners. Another thing turned the poet's head: every man who entered a drawing-room had a title, while he was plain Chardon. He learned to ride, and escorted great ladies in the Bois, and Finot gave him an order to criticize the Opera, where he spent many evenings. In short, he became one of the exquisites of the day. He made mistakes, however, and one of his greatest blunders was in giving a breakfast in Coralie's rooms to Rastignac and his fashionable friends. Lucien also took to cards and gambling—rivals that Coralie did not fear. Chatelet, seeing that his rival still had a chance, became Lucien's friend, and encouraged him in dissipation that wasted his energies. Debts increased, and finally creditors seized Coralie's horses, carriages, and furniture for four thousand francs; everything else was at the pawnbroker's.

Lousteau and Florine were in the same plight. Lousteau and Lucien tried in various ways to raise money, among publishers, booksellers, and Jew usurers; then they tried gambling. When Lucien went home he found a note from Coralie. The Panorama-Dramatique had suddenly failed; and she, in alarm, had sold her furniture and hurried with Berenice and twelve hundred francs to a fourth-floor lodging in the Rue de la Lune. Lucien awoke next morning in an enchanted world of happiness made about him by Coralie. She was even more loving and tender in these days of poverty. Coralie began to study a part for the Gymnase, and Lucien built hopes on his new position as a Royalist journalist. As Berenice was serving a modest breakfast, there was a knock at the door. Giraud, Chrestien, and D'Arthez entered. They had come to beg Lucien not to sully his character by becoming a turncoat. They could do nothing with him; for he was determined to take his place in society as Count Lucien de Rubempre. The next day Lucien allowed his name to appear in the list of contributors to the Revell, and joined the Royalist journalists with a great flourish and a dinner at Robert's. The Opposition papers ridiculed him unmercifully; and, in the very paper in which he had made so brilliant a beginning, Lucien was called "the Poet sans Sonnets"; and a paragraph, pretending to explain why Dauriat withheld them from publication was accompanied by a bitter burlesque sonnet called Le Chardon ("The Thistle"), in allusion to his name.

Lucien had been a Liberal and a hot Voltairean; now he was a rabid Royalist and a Romantic. "I cannot think of another example of such rapid success," said Finot one night; "his old friends cannot forgive him for it; they call it luck." The fact was, he had lost all of his friends, even Lousteau.

Lucien now took a humiliating step : he actually went to Camusot and got him to discount some bills; but he did not tell this to Coralie. Next, he played traitor to D'Arthez, whose book was given him to review. It was on the eve of Coralie's debut at the Gymnase. He was ordered to write "a slashing article," which he at first refused to do. He was told that a renegade could not do as he pleased, and to choose between D'Arthez and Coralie; for, if he did not "slate" the book, a blow should be dealt to Coralie. Lucien went to D'Arthez and told him that he was ordered to write an attack of his book. After all, Coralie failed; for the audience was cold and the press bitter. Coralie became ill, and Florine (who was in the intrigue) took her part and created a sensation. Lucien then tried Frascati's, and lost everything; and, running across Finot, who gave him an anecdote of the Keeper of the Seals, promised to write articles for his paper. He also persuaded Mademoiselle des Touches to give Coralie the heroine's part in a play she was writing. The terrible story of the Keeper of the Seals was published. Lucien was discovered as the author and disgraced. Baron du Chatelet told Lucien that but for his articles he would not so soon have been given the title of Comte du Chatelet, and that he was now Councilor Extraordinary, with the promise of the prefecture of the Charente. They went together to the Secretary-General's office. Des Lupeaulx, a functionary, denounced Lucien, and showed him the manuscript of the article that had appeared in Finot's paper. Lucien was stunned. He went into the Place Vendome; and, while wandering about, saw his book advertised, with a ridiculous title. He did not notice Rastignac and De Marsay, nor Leon Giraud and Michel Chrestien approaching.

"Are you Monsieur Chardon?" said the latter.

" Do you not know me?" said Lucien, turning pale.

Michel spat in his face: "Take that as your wages for your article against D'Arthez. If everybody would do as I do, in his own or his friend's behalf, the press would be as it ought to be—a self-respecting and respected priesthood." Lucien struck Michel in the face, and asked Rastignac to be his second. In the duel, Lucien was wounded, and Coralie found it difficult to act away from her prostrate lover. Lucien's book failed; Camusot entered proceedings against him; Coralie broke down and had to give her part to Florine; and debt, distress, and poverty threatened to engulf them. In despair, Lucien imitated the handwriting of his brother-in-law, David Sechard, and drew three bills of a thousand francs each, due in one, two, and three months, and indorsed and took them to Metivier, who gave him the cash. Lucien paid the debts and tried to work, but he had "written himself out."

Bianchon now told them that Coralie had only a few days to live. Her death took all the heart out of Lucien; and, in order to pay the funeral expenses, he had to write ten rollicking songs to fit popular airs. He was shouting the reckless refrain when D'Arthez and Bianchon arrived to find him in a paroxysm of despair and exhaustion. Mademoiselle des Touches arrived with money, but she came too late: Coralie, aged nineteen years, was dead !

Lucien now decided to return to Angouleme; but he could not find enough money. Berenice got it for him from a stranger. "Here are your twenty francs," she said, "they may cost dear, yet; but you can go." She fled. This was the final brand set upon Lucien by life in Paris.

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