Literary Life in Paris: The Drawing-Room. Part I

WE are no “ lion-hunters.” When we wish to learn something of eminent authors, we hasten to the nearest book-shop and buy their works. They put the best of themselves in their books. The old saw tells us how completely all great men give the best part of themselves to the public, while the valet-de-chambre picks up little else than food for contempt. Nevertheless, we are as inquisitive about everything that concerns eminent people as anybody can be. We would not blot a single line from Boswell. We protest against a word being effaced from the garrulous pages of Lady Blessington and Leigh Hunt. We “ hang” the stars with which Earl Russell has milky - wayed Moore’s Diary. But we are no “ lionhunters,” (the name should be “ lion-harriers,”) simply because this chase is not the best way to take the game we desire. What does the lion-hunter secure ? A commonplace observation upon the weather, an adroit or awkward parry of flattery, and some superficial compliment apon one’s native place or present residence ; for a great man at bay is nothing more nor less than a casual acquaintance extremely on his guard, and, commonly, extremely fatigued by admirers. True, one obtains an acquaintance with the great man’s voice, and the hearth where he lives, and the right to boast with truth, “ I have seen him.” Voila tout! Now this is not what we want. We desire some good, clear, faithful account of these people, as they are, when they talk freely and easily to their contemporaries, to their peers. Boswell’s picture of the Literary Club is invaluable, although, with the insatiable curiosity of the nineteenth century, we regret that the prince of reporters failed to sketch the persons and peculiarities of the dramatis personal whose conversations he has so faithfully recorded. We wish to go behind the scenes, and to hear the conversation engaged in in the green-room. We expect to see some dirt, some grease-pots, stained ropes, and unpainted pulleys,—and, to tell the truth, we want to see these blemishes. They are encouraging. They lessen the distance between us and it by teaching us that even fairy-land knows no exemption from those imperfections which blur our purest natures.

A work has lately appeared in Europe which in some measure gratifies this desire. It exhibits in full light a good many scenes of literary life in Paris. They may be and probably are exaggerated, but exaggerations do not mar truth ; if they did, we should be obliged to throw away the microscope, with nativities and divining-rods. We are tempted to give our readers a share of the pleasure we have found in perusing this picture of Paris life. We forewarn them that we have taken liberties innumerable with the book. We have compressed into these few leaves a volume of several hundred pages. We have discarded all the machinery of the author, and introduced him personally to the reader in the character of an autobiographer. We have not scrupled to make explanations and additions wherever we thought them necessary, without resorting to the artifice of notes or of quotation-marks. We repeat, that we have taken a great many liberties with the author; but we have made no statement, advanced no fact, indulged no reflection, which is not to be found in the work referred to, or in some trustworthy authority. And now we leave him the floor without another observation.

I am Count Armand de Pontmartin. I was born of noble parents at Aix, in Provence, in 1820. I was educated at Paris, but the first twelve years after I left college were passed on my estate in the enjoyment of an income of three thousand dollars a year. Belonging to a Legitimist family, my principles forbade my serving the Orléans dynasty, and 1 should scarcely have known how to satisfy that thirst tor activity which fevers youth, had I not for years burned with the ambition to acquire literary fame. Circumstances conspired to thwart these literary schemes, and it was not until I had reached my thirtieth year that I came to Paris with a heart full of emotion and hope, a trunk full of manuscripts, and some friends’ addresses on my memoran dum-book. Before I had been a week in town they had introduced me to three or four editors of newspapers or reviews, and to several publishers and theatrical managers. In less than a fortnight I breakfasted alone at Café Bignon with one of my favorite authors, the celebrated novelist, Monsieur Jules Sandeau.1 I was confounded with astonishment and gratitude that he should allow me to sit at the same table and eat with him. I felt embarrassed to know where to find viands meet to offer him, and beverages not unworthy to pass his lips. There were in his works so many souls exiled from heaven, so many tearful smiles, so many melancholy glances constantly turned towards the infinite horizon, that it seemed to me something like sacrilege to offer to the creator of this noble and charming world a dish of rosbif aux pommes and a turbot à la Hollandaise and claret wine.

I could have invented for him some of those Oriental delicacies made by sultanas during harem’s heavy hours: roseleaves kneaded with snow-water, dreams or perfumes disguised as sweetmeats, or citron and myrtle-flowers dew-diamonded in golden beakers. Of a truth, the personal appearance of my poetical guest did give something of a shock to the ideal I had formed. Many and many a time I had pictured him to myself tall and thin and pale, with large black eyes raised heavenwards, and hair curling naturally on a forehead shadowed by melancholy ! In reality, Monsieur Jules Sandeau is a good stout fellow, with broad, stalwart shoulders, a tendency to premature obesity, small, bright, gentle, acute eyes, a head as bald as my knee, rather thick lips, and a rubicund complexion ; he has an air of good-nature and simplicity which excludes everything like sentimental exaggeration; he wears a black cravat tied negligently around a muscular neck ; in fine, he looks like a sublieutenant dressed in citizen’s - clothes. 1 got over this shock, and hunted all through the bill of fare, (which, as you know, forms in Paris a duodecimo volume of a good many pages,) trying my best to discover some romantic dish and some supernal liqueur, until he cut short my chase by suggesting a dinner of the most vulgar solidity ; and when I tried to retrieve this commonplace dinner by ordering for dessert some vapory liqueurs, such as uncomprehended women sip, he proposed a glass of brandy. This was my first literary deception.

A theatrical newspaper was lying on the table. It contained an account of a piece played the evening before. The writer spoke of the play as a masterpiece, and of the performance as being one of those triumphs which form an epoch in the history of dramatic art. I read this panegyric with avidity, and exclaimed, —

“ Oh, what a glorious thing success is ! How happy that author must be ! ”

“ He ! ” replied Monsieur Sandeau, smiling; “ he is mortified to death; his play is execrable, and it fell flat.”

“ You must be mistaken !”

“ I was present at the performance; and I have no reason to be pleased at the miscarriage of the piece, for I am neither an enemy nor an intimate friend of the author.”

Monsieur Jules Sandeau then went on to explain to me how the theatrical newspapers, which contain the lists of performers and of pieces in all the theatres of Paris, (play-bills being unknown,) enter into a contract, which is the condition precedent of their sale in the theatres, stipulating that they will never speak otherwise than in praise of the pieces brought out. The report of the new piece is often written and set up before the performance takes place.

I blushed and said, —

“ That is deplorable ! But, thank Heaven ! these are only the Grub-Street writers, the mere penny-a-liners ; the influential reporters of the great morning papers, fortunately, are animated by a love of truth and justice.”

Monsieur Sandeau looked at me, and smiled as he remarked, —

“ Oh ! as for them, they don't care a whit for piece or author or public. They think of nothing but showing off themselves. Monsieur Théophilc Gautier has no care except to display the wealth of a palette which mistook its vocation when it sought to obtain from pen, ink, and paper those colors which pencil and canvas alone can give. He discards sentiments, ideas, characters, dialogue, probability, intellectual delicacy, everything which raises man above wood or stone. He would be the very first writer of the age, if the world would agree to suppress everything like heart and soul. He is never more at ease than when he has to report a piece whose literary beauties are its splendid scenery and costumes. He will dismiss the subject, the plot; the characters, and the details in five lines; while fifteen columns will not suffice for all the wonders of the decorations. If you ask him to send you to some person most familiar with contemporary dramatic art, instead of sending you to Alexandre Dumas, the elder or the younger, to Ponsard, or to Augier, he will send you to the celebrated scenepainters, to Cicéri or Séchan or Cambon. As for Monsieur Jules Janin, of whom I am very fond, he is —— You have sometimes been to concerts where virtuosos play variations on the sextuor of “ Lucie,” or the trio of “ William Tell,” or the duet of “ Les Huguenots ” ? You listen attentively, and do at first detect a phrase here and a phrase there which vaguely recall the work of Donizetti, or of Rossini, or of Meyerbeer; but in an instant the virtuoso himself forgets all about them. You have nothing but volley after volley of notes, a musical storm, tempest, avalanche; the primitive idea is fathoms deep under water, and when it is caught again it is drowned. Now Monsieur Jules Janin has had for the last five-and-twenty years the business of executing brilliant variations upon the piano of dramatic criticism. He acts like the virtuosos you hear at concerts. He writes, for conscience’ sake, the name of the author and the title of the play at the head of his dramatic report, and then off he goes, heels over head, with variation and variation, and variation and variation again, in French and in Latin, until at last no human being can tell what he is after, where he is going, what he is talking about, or what he means to say. He will tell you the whole story of the Second Punic War, speaking of a sentimental comedy played at the Gymnase Theatre, and a low farce of the Palais Royal Theatre will furnish him the pretext to quote ten lines of Xenophon in the original Greek. Monsieur Jules Janin is, notwithstanding all this, an excellent follow, and a man of great talents ; but you must not ask him to work miracles; in other words, you must not ask him to express briefly and clearly what he thinks of the play he criticizes, nor to remember to-day the opinion he entertained yesterday. These are miracles he cannot work. He hears a piece ; he is delighted with it; he says to the author, ‘ Your piece is charming. You will be gratified by my criticism upon it.’ He comes home; he sits at. his desk. What happens ? Why, the wind which blew from the north blows from the south; the soapbubble rose, on the left, it floats away towards the right. Ills pen runs away with him; praise is thrown out by the first hole in the road; epigram jumps in ; and at last the poor dramatic author, who was lauded to the skies yesterday, complimented this morning, finds himself cut to pieces and dragged at horses’ tails in to-morrow’s paper. Don’t blame Monsieur Jules Janin for it. ’T is not his fault. The fault lies with his inkhorn; the fault lies with his pen, which mistook the mustard-pot for the honey-jar ; ’t will be more careful next time. ’T is the fault of the hand - organ which would grind away while he was writing ; ’t is the fault of the fly which would keep buzzing about the room and bumping against the panes of glass ; ’t is the fault of the idea which took wings and flew away. The poor dramatic author is mortified to death; but, Lord bless your soul ! Monsieur Jules Janin is not guilty.”

“ What do you think of Monsieur Sainte-Beuve? Is he as unfaithful a critic as Monsieur Théophile Gautier and Monsieur Jules Janin ? ” I asked, rather timidly.

“ Monsieur Sainte-Beuve has received from Heaven (which he has ceased to believe in) an exquisite taste, an extraordinary delicacy of tact, admirable talents of criticism, relieved, and, as it were, fertilized, by rare poetical faculties. He possesses and exercises in the most masterly manner the art of shading, of hints, of hesitations, of insinuations, of infiltrations, of evolutions, of circumlocutions, of precautions, of ambuscades, of feline gambols, of ground and lofty tumbling, of strategy, and of literary diplomacy. He excels in the art of distilling a drop of poison in a phial of perfume so as to render the poison delicious and the perfume venomous. His prose is as attractive and magnetizing as a woman slightly compromised in public opinion, and who does not tell all her secrets, but increases her attractions both by what she shows and by what she conceals. Monsieur Sainte - Beuve has had no desire but to be a pilgrim of ideas, lacking the first requisite in a pilgrim, which is faith. He has circumnavigated, merely in the character of amateur, every doctrine of the century; but though he has never adopted one of them for his creed, when he abandoned them he seemed to have betrayed them. Accused unjustly of treachery and apostasy, he has done his best to confirm his reputation, and has ended by becoming the enemy of those from whom at first he had only deserted. His error has been in adulterating that which he might have put, with singular grace, talents, and natural superiority, pure into currency, — in acting as if literature were a war of treachery, where one was constantly obliged to keep a sword in the hand and a poniard in the pocket. They say he is at great pains to provide himself with an immense arsenal of defensive and offensive weapons, that he may be able to crush those he loves to-day and may detest to-morrow, and those he hates to - day and wishes to wreak vengeance on hereafter. Monsieur Sainte-Beuve might have been the most indisputable of authorities: he is only the most delightful of literary curiosities.”

Such was the language of Monsieur Jules Sandeau. He spoke in the same strain of many another eminent literary man. Around these illustrious planets gravitated satellites. When new pieces were brought out, he told me one could see between the acts the lieutenants go up to the captain - critics and receive instructions from them ; the consequence was, the theatrical criticisms were either collective apotheoses or collective executions. One day it was Mademoiselle Rachel they put on the black list, for three months, and they raised up against her Madame Ristori, declaring that she was as superior to Rachel as Alfieri was to Racine. Then 't was the Gymnase Theatre they put in Coventry, for having spoken disrespectfully of newspaper - writers. Another day Monsieur Scribe was their victim, to punish him for fatiguing with his dramatic longevity the young men, the new-comers, who are neither young men, nor new men, nor men of talents. Monsieur Jules Sandeau had passed through the thorny paths, the steppes, and the waste frontiers of literary life in Paris, without losing his honor, but without retaining a particle of illusion. He told me of his days of harsh and pernicious poverty, the abyss of debt, the constable at the door, the agony of hunting after dollar by dollar, “ copy ” hastily written to meet urgent wants, and the sweet toil of literary exertion changed into torture. I questioned him about Madame George Sand. What child of twenty has not been fired by that free, proud poetry which refused to accept the cold chains of commonplace life and justified the paradoxes of revolt by the eloquence of the pleading and the beauty of the dream ? I soon discovered that the ideal and the real are two hostile brothers. Do Balzac’s works had kindled sincere enthusiasm in my breast. Monsieur Jules Sandeau showed me the dash of madness and of ingenuous depravity mixed with incontestable genius in that powerful mind. He told me of De Balzac’s insane vanity, of his furious passion for wealth and luxury, of his readiness to plunge and to drag others after him into the most hazardous adventures, and of his insensibility to commercial honor.

After parting from Monsieur Jules Sandeau, I strolled towards a circulating - library. I was asking the mistress of the establishment some questions about the latest publications, when all of a sudden the glass door opened in the most violent manner, and who should come in but Monsieur Philoxène Boyer, rushing forward like a whirlwind, a last lock of hair dancing on top of a bald pate, a livid complexion, a feverish eye, a sack-overcoat friable as tinder, a hat reddened by the rain, trousers falling in lint upon boots run down at the heel: such was the appearance presented by Monsieur Philoxène Boyer, our old classmate at college, and now a critic, a romantic, an uncomprehended man of genius, and a literary man. 1 had already seen at the Exchange the martyrs of money; I now saw a martyr of letters. Monsieur Philoxène Boyer is neither a fool nor a foundling; he was educated with care; he belongs to an excellent family of Normandy; he might have been at this very hour an excellent gentlemanfarmer, honored by his neighbors, and leading a quiet, useful life, while cultivating his paternal acres, and making a respectable woman happy. But when he graduated at the Law School, the demon of literature seized and refused to release him. His patrimonial estate was worth thirty thousand dollars; ignorant of business, he sold it below its true value, and, instead of placing the capital out at interest, he put it in his pocket and dissipated it in those taxes, as varied as old feudal burdens, which the poor, uncomprehended men of genius levy on their wealthy brethren. One day it went in dinners given to brethren who deliver diplomas of genius; another day it went in money lent to Grub-Street penny-a-liners who were starving; again it went to found petty newspapers established to demolish old reputations and raise new ones, and to die of inanition at their fifth number for want of a sixth subscriber. In fine, before three years had passed away, not a cent was left of Monsieur Philoxène Boyer’s estate, and in return he had acquired neither talents nor fame. He is scarcely thirty years old: he looks like a man of sixty. I know no man in the world who, for the hope of half a million of dollars and a place in the French Academy, would consent to bear the burden of tortures, privations, and humiliations which make up Monsieur Philoxène Boyer’s existence. He undergoes the torments of the damned; he fasts; he flounders in all the sewers of Paris. But he is riveted to this horrible existence as the galley-slave to his chain; he can breathe no other air than this mephitic atmosphere ; he can lead no other life. When I saw him on the threshold of that sombre and humid reading-room, muddied, wet, pale, thin, almost in rags, I could not help thinking of this wretched galley-slave of literary ambition as he might have been at home in his old Norman mansion, cozily stretched before a blazing fire, with a cellar full of cider and a larder groaning beneath the flit of that favored land, smiling at a young wife on whose lap merry children were gambolling. He was in the vein of bitter frankness. He had not dined the preceding day. He seized me by the arm, and, dragging me Out of the circulating-library, said to me, in a voice as abrupt as a feverish pulsation, —

“ Don’t listen to that old hag ! All the books she offers you are miserable stuff, fit at best for the pastry-cooks. Oh! you don’t know how success is won nowadays. I ’ll tell you. There is an assurance society between the book, the piece, and the judge. Praise me, and I ’ll praise you. If you will praise us, we will praise you. The public buys.”

Then he went on with his bitter voice to utter a furious philippic against our celebrated literary men. He attacked them all, with scarcely an exception. This one sold his pen to the highest bidder; that one levied Contributions of all sorts on the vanity of authors and artists; another was a mere actor; a fourth was nothing but a mountebank; a fifth was a mere babbler; and so on he went through the whole catalogue of authors. The illustrious literary democrats were Liberals and Spartans only for the public eye. They cared as much about liberty as about old moons: this one speculated on a title ; that one on a vice; a third, to possess a carriage and dine at Vefour’s, had become the thrall of a wealthy stockjobber who paid his virtues by the month and his opinions by the line. He spoke in this way for an hour, bitter, excessive, nervous, extravagant, and sometimes eloquent. All at once he stopped, — and pressing my hand with a mixture of bitterness and cynicism, he said,—“ Old boy,

I have now given you a dollar’s worth of literature ; lend me ten dimes.” I hastily drew from my pocket three or four gold coins, and, blushing, slipped them into his hand; it trembled a little; he thanked me with a glance, and, muttering something like “ Good bye,” disappeared around the next corner.

The next time I met Monsieur Jules Sandeau he said to me, — “ I want you to go with me to Madame Émile de Girardin’s to-morrow evening. She is to read a tragedy she has written in five acts and in verse. You will meet a good many of our celebrated literary men there. You must remember that the watchword at that house is, Admiration, more admiration, still more admiration. You must excite enthusiasm to ecstasy, compliments to lyrical poetry, and carry flattery to apotheosis. But before we go there I beg you to allow me to return your aristocratic breakfast by a poor literary man’s dinner, which we will eat, not in Bignon’s sumptuous private room, but outside the walls of Paris, at ‘ Uncle ’ Moulinon’s, which is the rendezvous of the supernumeraries of art and literature. The wine, roast, and salad are cheaper than you find them on the Boulevard des Italiens, and it is advisable that a fervent neophyte like you should take all the degrees in our freemasonry as soon as possible.

‘ Uncle ’ Moulinon’s dining-saloon is to Madame Émile de Girardin’s drawingroom what a conscripts’ barrack is to the official mansion of a French marshal.”

I gratefully accepted the invitation, and at the appointed time I joined Monsieur Jules Sandeau. We left Paris by the Barrière des Martyrs, climbed Montmartre hill, and entered “ Uncle ” Moulinon’s dining-saloon when it was full of its usual frequenters. I had never seen such a sight before. Imagine a gourmand obliged to witness with gaping mouth all, even the most prosaic details of the culinary preparations for a grand dinner.

The dining - saloon was a long, narrow room, low - pitched and sombre; it was filled with small tables, where in unequal groups were seated young men between eighteen and fifty-five, anticipating glory by tobacco-smoke. Here were beardless chins accompanied by long locks; there were bushy beards which covered three - quarters of the owners’ cadaverous, wasted faces ; yonder were premature bald heads, leaden eyes, feverish glances: look where you would, you saw everywhere that uneasy, startled air which bore witness to a disordered life. To the sharp aroma of tobacco were joined the stale and rancid odors peculiar to fifth-rate eating-houses. I sought in vain upon all those faces youth’s gentle and poetical gayety, the exuberance of gifted natures, the amiable cordiality of travelling-companions pressing on together in different paths. The most salient characteristics of this bizarre assembly were sickly smiles, an incredible mixture of triviality and affectation, motions of wild beasts trying their teeth and claws, starving attitudes, words tortured to make them look like ideas, a brutal familiarity, and the evident desire to devour all their superiors that they might next crush all their equals. I was glad when dinner was over, for I felt ill at ease,—the sight before me differed so much from that I had dreamed.

Monsieur Jules Sandeau gave me his arm, and we walked towards the Avenue des Champs Élysées. It was nine o’clock when we reached the Rue de Chaillot, where Madame Émile de Girardin resided. She lived in a sort of Greek temple, built about thirty feet below the level of the street, and down to which we had to go as if we were entering a cellar. The house was full of columns, statues, flowers, paintings, candelabra, and servants in black dress-coats and short breeches ; but everything about the place looked so accidental and ephemeral that the Comte de Saint-Brice, a very witty frequenter of the house, used to say,—“ Whenever I visit the place, I am always afraid of finding the horses sold, the servants dismissed, the husband run away, the drawing-room closed, and the house razed.” The Comte de Saint-Brice’s fears must have been allayed on this evening. Everything was in its place, —horses, servants, husband, drawing-room, house. Madame Émile de Girardin was in full dress; the manuscript tragedy was in her lap. I found in the drawing-room Monsieur Victor Hugo, Monsieur de Lamartine, Monsieur Alfred de Musset, the three stars of our poetical heavens; Monsieur Théophile Gautier, Monsieur Méry, Monsieur Paulin Limayrac, the secondary planets; Madame George Sand, the great Amazon novelist; some doctors, some artists, two or three actors from the French Comedy, and some other gentlemen. At this period of time Madame Émile de Girardin was forty-five years old. Her flatterers still spoke of her beauty. Her conversation was dazzling, but it lacked charm: her talents forced themselves upon one ; her bons mots took you by storm. Strength had overcome everything like grace, and two hours’ conversation with Madame Émile de Girardin left one with a sick-headache or exhausted by fatigue. Nevertheless, one of her most fervent admirers has uttered this singular paradox about her: “ She would be the first woman of the age, if she had always talked and never written a line.”

Her husband, Monsieur Émile de Girardin, was present, with his pale face, lymphatic complexion, glassy eye, and forehead checkered with a Napoleon-like lock. He was then, and has remained ever since, the most exact personification of a pasteboard man of genius lighted by histrionic foot-lights. He was a compound of the dandy, the sophist, and the agitator. His talents lay in making people believe him in possession of ideas, when he had none,—just as speculators disseminate the illusion of their capital, when in reality they are worse than bankrupt. He began what others have since completed, — that is, he made trade and advertisements the Sovereign masters of literature and newspapers. Abetted by the spirit of the age, he introduced into the intellectual world the risks and unexpected hazards of stock-jobbing circles. He made a great deal of money in this trade, and, besides, it gave him the pleasure of making a great deal of noise in the world, of overturning governments, of dreaming of being minister, nay, prime - minister, when the day may come in which good sense is to be challenged and France made bankrupt. Everybody around him, even his wife, seemed to accept his superiority for something unquestionable. Their union was not one of those affectionate, faithful, and tender marriages, such as commonplace folk hope to enjoy, but it was a copartnership of two smart people, aided by two bunches of quills. Each pretended to admire the other with an extravagance of show which made it hard for the bystander to repress doubts and smiles.

Monsieur Jules Sandeau had informed Madame Émile de Girardin that he intended to bring me with him. I do not know how she found out that I had, in the very heart of the Faubourg Saint Germain, an old aunt, a real duchess, who was recognized as an authority whose dicta could not be disputed by any noble family to be found from the Quai Voltaire to the Rue de Babylone, which, as all the world knows, are the frontiers of that, the most aristocratic quarter of Paris. Madame de Girardin knew that my aunt was in a position to open to vanity the portals of some noble houses which talents and fame alone could not open. Now Madame Émile de Girardin’s monomania was to be received in the noble faubourg,— to live there perfectly at home, as if it were her native sphere,— to be able to say, “ My friend, the little Marchioness,” or, “ 1 have just come from our dear Jeanne’s house, my charming Countess, you know : she is suffering dreadfully from her neuralgia.” She reckoned a triumph of this sort a thousand times preferable to the applause of her readers and her friends. All the dull pleasantries with which she adorned her over-praised “Letters” owed their origin solely to the unequivocal veto placed by two or three courageous noble ladies on the attempts made by Madame Émile de Girardin to force her entrance vi et armis into their mansions. For my aunt’s sake, she received me with especial courtesy, which I was ingenuous enough to attribute to my own personal merit. However, I had not time to indulge in analysis: she was about to begin to read her tragedy.

The tragedy was that “ Cléopâtre ” in which Mademoiselle Rachel appeared, after wrangling for some time with the authoress to induce the latter to give Antony some other name, vowing that Antoine was entirely too vulgar to be uttered on the stage. The great tragic actress had never heard of the illustrious Roman, and knew no other Antony but the Antoine who scrubbed her doors and brought her water. It was a woman’s tragedy, but written by a woman in man’s attire, determined to write a very masculine, vigorous work, but succeeding in producing only a plated piece, in which everything was puerile, artificial, and conventional, from the first word to the last line. It was an olla podrida, in which Shakspeare hobnobbed with Campistron, Théophile Gautier locked arms with Dorat, Plutarch was dovetailed with the Mantua - Makers’ Journal of Fashions. Cleopatra spouted long speeches upon archæology, hieroglyphics, the sun, climate, and virtue ; Antony was guilty of concetti in the style of Seneca ; Octavia prattled like a respectable Parisian lady, who takes care of her children when they have the measles, and hides from them their father’s bad habits. It was neither antique nor Roman, nor classic nor romantic, nor good nor bad nor indifferent ; it was a tragical wager won by a smart woman at the expense of her audience. The latter, nevertheless, bravely did their duty. Neither “ Le Cid,” nor “ Polyeucte,” nor “ Andromaque,” nor “ Athalie ’’—Corneille and Racine’s masterpieces—ever produced such rapturous enthusiasm. Monsieur Méry dashed off extemporaneously, in Marseillais accent, admiring paradoxes which lacked nothing but splendid rhyme. Monsieur Théophile Gautier, who looked like an obese Turk habited in European clothes, laid aside his Moslem placidity to cry that the tragedy was marvellous. Monsieur Alfred de Musset, lolling in his arm-chair in an attitude which seemed a compromise between sleep and Kief, smiled beatifically. Monsieur Victor Hugo vowed that nothing half so fine had ever before been written in any age or in any country or in any language — except (aside) “ my own ‘ Burgraves ’ ” ! Monsieur de Lamartine, like a god descended upon earth and astounded to find himself at home, let fall from his divine lips compliments perfumed with ambrosia, sparkling with poetry, and glittering with indifference. Monsieur Paulin Limayrac, that little bit of a fellow, the fly of the political and literary coach, went first to one and then to another, his eye - glass incrusted in his eyebrow, stiffening his wee form as long as he could make it, rattling his high-heeled boots as loudly as he could contrive, stretching out his round, dogmatic face, puffing and blowing to give himself importance, dying to be the Coryphæus of the company, and mortified to see himself reduced to sing his enthusiasm in the chorus; he frisked about the room, and seemed to be handing around his rapture on a waiter, as domestics hand around cake and ices at parties.

The tragedy fatigued me. This comedy of adulation disgusted me. My very humble and obscure position in the midst of all these illustrious shareholders of the Mutual-Admiration Society, organized by the vanity of all to the profit of the vanity of each, kindled in me a desire to show myself frank and independent. I murmured, loud enough to he heard by all my neighbors,— “ Of a truth, the Country’s Muse is not Melpomene!” Madame Émile de Girardin, when Mademoiselle Delphine Gay and in the most brilliant period of her poetical youth, had styled herself “the Country’s Muse”; her admirers had adopted the title, and it had remained her poetical alias. The exclamation was, therefore, if not very brilliant, at least very plain and quite just. It soon went around the room as rapidly as every ill-natured phrase will go; for everybody is glad to borrow such remarks from his neighbor without paying the price of them himself. I soon saw one of Madame Émile de Girardin’s intimate friends whisper something into her ear. She blushed. Her thin lips became thinner. Her nose and her chin, which always seemed as if about to wage war on each other, became more menacing than ever; her bright, clear eyes turned from her friend and gave me a glance ten times more tragic than the five acts of her tragedy. I saw that my exclamation had been repeated to her, and that a universal anathema was thundered at the rustic boor, at the barbarian impudent enough to dare to be witty by Monsieur Méry’s side, and to affect to be insensible to the sublime beauties of “ Cléopâtre.” However, all was not yet lost; I had unconsciously another way of conquering Madame de Girardin’s favor. Her countenance became wreathed in smiles, she advanced towards me, and said, in a honeyed tone, — “ Well, Count, give me some tidings of our excellent Duchess de ——, your aunt, I believe ? ”

In the mood of mind I was then in, nothing could have been more disagreeable to me than this way of recalling my aristocratic titles at the very moment when I sought to be nothing but a literary man. I replied with a careless, indifferent, plebeian air, as if noble titles were nothing in my opinion, — “ The Duchess de —— ! Gracious me ! I never see her, and I could not tell you for the life of me whether she is my aunt or my cousin. Her drawing-room is the stupidest place on earth. They played whist there at two cents a point. Every door was wadded to keep draughts and ideas out. I long ago ceased to go there, and now I would not dare show my face again.”

“ Admirable ! The Provinces are not devoid of sprightliness!” dryly replied Madame Émile de Girardin.

That was enough. I was weighed in the balance and found sadly wanting by an ill-natured remark plus and a duchess minus. Fifteen minutes afterwards we took leave of Madame de Girardin. She gave Monsieur Jules Sandeau a fraternal and virile shake of the hand in the English style; I received only a very cold and very dry nod, which was as much as to say, — “ You are an ill-bred fellow and a fool; I have no fancy for you ; return here as rarely as possible.”

Soon after this memorable evening, Monsieur Jules Sandeau’s friendly offices acquainted literary circles that a young man of the best society, devoted to literature, the author of some remarkable sketches in the newspapers and reviews, was about to appear as the literary critic of “ L’Assemblée Nationale,” the wellknown daily newspaper, which has been since suppressed by the government. A month afterwards my signature might have been read at the foot of a feuilleton of fifteen columns. About the same period of time a fashionable publisher brought out a volume of tales by me. This was my literary honey-moon. I was astonished at the number of friends and admirers that rose on every side of me. I could scarcely restrain myself from parodying Alceste’s phrase,—“ Really, Gentlemen, I did not think myself the fellow of talents I find I am ! ” But, of all surprises, the human heart finds this the easiest to grow accustomed to. I soon found it perfectly natural that people should look upon me as a genius, and I ingenuously reproached myself for not having sooner made the discovery. Everybody praised my little book as if it were a masterpiece. I might have made a volume with the packets of praises sent to me ; but I must add, for truth’s sake, that most of my panegyrists took care to slip under the envelope which covered their letter of praise a volume of their works. I have kept several of these letters. Here are copies of three of them.

“ Sir,—Your appearance among us is an honor in which every literary man feels he has a share. You will regenerate criticism, as you have purified novel-writing. One becomes better as he reads your works, and feels an irresistible desire to do better that he may be more worthy of your esteem. The days your criticisms appear are our red-letter days, and every line you give our poor little books is worth to them the sale of a hundred copies. I take the liberty to send you herewith a humble volume. You may, perhaps, find in it some overcrude tones, some raw shades; but do not forbear to exercise your critical perspicuity. I submit myself in advance to your reproaches and to your reservations ; to be censured by you is even a piece of good fortune, as your reprimands themselves are adorned with courtesy and grace.”

“ SIR, — I admire you the more because our opinions are not the same ; they may be said to be contrary; but extremes meet, and we join hands on a great many points: are we not both of us vanquished'? Châteaubriand sympathized, nay, more, fraternized, with Armand Carrel. I am not Carrel, but you may be Châteaubriand before a very long while. I would beg to lay before you the book which goes with this note; some passages of it may, perhaps, wound your honorable regrets, your chivalrous respects, but they are sincere; and this sincerity I have never better understood and practised than when I assure you that I am your most assiduous reader and most fervent admirer.”

“ SIR, —Do not judge me, I pray you, from the newspapers in which, to my great regret, I write : imperious circumstances, old acquaintance, and — why shall I not confess it? — the necessities of Parisian life, have driven me to appear to have enlisted on the side of the most numerous battalions. But I have in the Provinces a good old mother who reads no newspaper but yours; one of my uncles is a Chevalier de Saint Louis; another served in Conde’s army ; my Aunt Veronica is a pious woman, who would forever look kindly upon me, if she should ever perceive through her spectacles her nephew’s name followed by praise from your pen. For I need not say that you are her favorite author, as, of a truth, you are of everybody ; for who can remain insensible to those treasures of . . . . . [Here my modesty refuses to copy the text before me]. There is but one opinion upon this subject. Royalists and democrats, disciples of tradition or fanatics of fancy, voltigeurs of the old monarchy or reformers of the future, are all unanimous In saluting, as a rising glory of our literature, the pure and noble talent which . . . . . [Here my modesty again refuses to copy the text before me].

“ P. S. I send you herewith two copies of my works, which I submit to your able and kind criticism.”

Nor were appeals like these the only sort of seduction to which I was exposed when I became the literary critic of “ L’Assemblée Nationale.” The eminent men, sublime philosophers like Monsieur Victor Cousin and Monsieur de Rémusat, incomparable historians like Monsieur Guizot, Monsieur Thiers, Monsieur de Barante, admirable literary men like Monsieur Villemain and Monsieur de Salvandy, (all of whom had spent their lives in laying down political maxims, and in expressing their astonishment that French heads were too hard or French nature too fickle to conform French life to the profound maxims which they, the former, had weighed and meditated in the silence of their study,) who had for eighteen years ruled France, found themselves, one February morning in 1848, stripped of power and of place. They returned to their favorite studies, and produced new works, to the delight of lettered men everywhere. But, as the human heart, even in the best of men, has its weaknesses, these eminent men, who could not for a single instant doubt either their talents or their success or the universal admiration in which they were held, were a little too fond of hearing these agreeable truths told them in articles devoted especially to their works. Now to heighten the zeal of the authors of these articles, the eminent retired statesmen held in their hands an infallible method : They would take these trumpeters of fame aside, and, without contracting any positive engagement, would distinctly hint to these critics, (a word to the wise is sufficient!) that, after a few years of these excellent and useful services in the daily press or in the periodicals, they, the former, would elect the latter members of the French Academy. A seat In the French Academy was the object of the most ardent ambition. No sooner was the breath out of the body of one of the forty members of the French Academy than twenty candidates entered the lists, and canvassed, canvassed, canvassed the nineand-thirty living Academicians, without losing a minute in eating, drinking, or sleeping, until the election took place.

You may now see the various sorts of seductions which assailed me during this short and brilliant period of my literary life. The world lay smiling before me, and I felt, quite happy, — when 1 met Monsieur Louis Veuillot, the eminent editor of “ L’Univers,” which the government has since suppressed.

We had exchanged visiting-cards several times, and a few letters, but I did not as yet know him. I was attracted to him by the very contrasts which existed between us. My elegant and delicate nature (as the newspapers then styled it: they now call it my weak and morbid nature) seemed in absolute contradiction to that robust frame, that oaken solidity, which revealed beneath its rugged bark its virile juices. His masculine and potent ugliness reminded me of Mirabeau, of a plebeian Mirabeau with straight black hair, of a Mirabeau who had found at the foot of the altar calmness for his tempest-tossed soul. His conversation delighted and fascinated me. One felt (despite some coarseness in minor details, and which almost seemed to be assumed) that there glowed within him the energetic convictions of an honest man and a Christian, who had at command the most stinging language that ever wrung the withers of Voltaire’s pale successors. No man among our contemporaries has been more hated than Monsieur Louis Veuillot. He has flagellated, kicked, cuffed, jeered, mocked, humiliated, exasperated, better than anybody else, the writers I most detest. He has given them wounds which will forever rankle. He has indelibly branded these miserable actors who play upon the theatre of their vices the comedy of their vanity. We together examined the pages where I had expressed my opinion upon contemporary authors.

“ Are these,” said Monsieur Louis Veuillot, speaking severely to me, “ are these all your sacrifices to the truth ? Praises to that one, flattery to this one, soft words to him, compliments to another ? You blame them just enough t'o incite people to buy their books. Is that what you call serving our noble and austere cause ? Oh, Sir! Sir!” . . . .

He lectured me long and well. He spoke with the edification of a sermon and the brilliancy of a satire. At last, ashamed of my weakness, electrified by his language, burning to repair lost time, I said to him, pressing his hands in mine, —

“ I am dwelling amid the luxuries of Capua ; when next you hear from me, I shall be in the midst of the field of battle.”

I at once began my campaign. I made war upon Voltaire, Béranger, Eugene Sue, De Balzac, George Sand, Victor Hugo, Michelet, Quinet; and as for the small fry of literature, I showed them no mercy. War was soon declared on me, — war without quarter.

My first adversary was little Monsieur Paulin Limayrac. He has become the most accomplished specimen of the jobeditor. As firmly convinced of the supremacy of the Articles of War as the best disciplined private soldier who ever showed how perfect an automaton man may become by thorough discipline, his political opinions are something more than a creed : they are a watchword which he observes with a most supple obstinacy. The cabinet-minister he calls master is a corporal who has the right to think for him ; and were the corporal to contradict himself ten times in the course of a single day, imperturbable little Paulin Limayrac would demonstrate to him that he was ten times in the right. But then (that is, in 1855) Monsieur Paulin Limayrac was a Republican, a Socialist; and his weakness lay in imagining not only that people read his articles in “ La Presse,” but that they remembered them for a whole sennight after reading them. When you met him, he always commenced conversation : —

“ Ah, ha ! what did I tell you ? Am I not an excellent prophet ? You remember the prophecy I made the other day ? It has come to pass just as I predicted it!”

Poor Paulin Limayrac really thought himself a prophet, when in good truth he was not even a conjurer. Stiffening himself up on his stumpy legs, he stared as hard as he could through his eye-glass, and from his giant’s height of four feet ten, at everybody who pretended to believe there was a God in heaven. His occupation just at that time was to toss the incense-burning censer in honor of Madame Émile de Girardin under her aquiline nose. He had become the page, the groom, the dwarf of this celebrated woman, who had, alas! only a few months more to live. He opened the fire against me. To gratify Madame Émile de Girardin, he one day wrote on the corner of her table twenty harsh lines against me, (he took good care not to sign them,) in which he said of me exactly the contrary of what he had written to me. As these lines were anonymous, I did not care to pretend to recognize the author; besides, can you feel anger towards such a whipper-snapper ? I met him a short time afterwards, and he gave me a more cordial shake-hands than ever. Now comes the cream of the fellow’s conduct: for all this that I have mentioned is as nothing, so common of occurrence is it in Paris. Note that Madame Émile de Girardin was dying : I was ignorant of it, but Monsieur Paulin Limayrac knew it well. Note further, that for weeks before this he had celebrated in the tenderest sentimental strains the loving friendship which existed between Madame George Sand and Madame Émile de Girardin. Note lastly, that Monsieur Paulin Limayrac had good reason to think that I knew perfectly well who was really the author of the malicious attack on me in “ La Presse,” which was his paper. Remember all this while I repeat to you the dialogue which took place between us under an arcade of the Rue Castiglione. I said to him, —

“ Ah ! my dear Sir, Madame George Sand must be gratified this time ! Your article this morning upon her autobiography really did hit the bull’s-eye, plumb ! What fire ! what enthusiasm ! what lyric strains! ”

“ I could not help myself,” replied he. “ It is one of the fatigues of my place. I was obliged to write it.”

“ Well, between you and me, the truth is that your admiration is a little exaggerated. The work is less dull since Madame George Sand has reached the really interesting periods of her life; but how fatiguing the first part of it was! What stuff she thrust into it! What particulars relating to her family and her mother, which were, to say the least of it, useless! ”

“ Why, my dear fellow,” replied Monsieur Paulin Limayrac, with a knowing look, “ don’t you know the secret ? ”

“ What secret ? ”

“ Ah! you have not yet shaken off provincial dust! Madame George Sand, with that carelessness one almost always finds in great artists, sent to Monsieur Emile de Girardin that enormous packet of four-and-twenty volumes, at the same time authorizing him to retrench at least one-third of the manuscript, if he thought fit. But Madame de Girardin (who is extremely astute) thought, that, if the work were published without the numerous dull chapters of the first part, it would command too brilliant a success; and Her Most Gracious Majesty determined that the whole four-and-twenty volumes should appear without the omission of a single line, — which is all the more noble, grand, and generous, as we pay a high price for the ‘copy,’ and it has curtailed our subscription - list a good deal.”

“ I thought Madame George Sand and Madame Émile de Girardin were upon the footing of a most affectionate friendship.”

“’Tis a woman’s friendship. ’T is a poet’s love for a poet. Each adores the other; but then what is more vulgar than to love one’s friends when they are successful ? Every hind can do that; while none but delicate and sensitive souls can shed torrents of tears over a friend’s reverses.”

A fortnight after this conversation took place, Madame Émile de Girardin died. There was a flood of panegyrics and of tears. Monsieur Paulin Limayrac was chief pall-bearer, and demonstrated in the columns of É La Presse ” that Madame Émile de Girardin had herself alone more genius than Sappho, Corinne, Madame de Sévigné, Madame de Staël, and Madame George Sand, all put together.

  1. Need we say that this gentleman is a member of the French Academy, a librarian of the Jlazarin Library, and the well-known author of “ Mademoiselle dela Seigli^re,” “La Maison de Penarvan,” “ Sacs et Parchemins,” etc. ?