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

THE DRAWING-ROOM.

PART II.

IT was at this same period of time I made the acquaintance of Monsieur Edmond About. When I met him he had just appeared as an author, and his friends everywhere declared that Voltaire’s mantle had fallen on his shoulders. He had, like Voltaire, discovered instantly that mankind were divided into hammers and anvils, and he determined to be one of the hammers. He began his career by ridiculing a poetical country, Greece, whose guest he had been, and whose sovereign and ministers had received him with confidence, — repaying three years of hospitality by a satire of three hundred pages. “ Greece and the Greeks” was translated into several languages. This edifying publication, which put the laughers on his side, was followed by a different sold of work, which came near producing on this budding reputation the effect of an April frost upon an almond-tree in blossom. Voltaire’s heir had found no better mode of writing natural and true novels (so the scandalous chronicle said) than to copy an original correspondence, and indiscreet “ detectives ” of letters menaced him with publishing the whole Italian work from which he “ conveyed ” the best part of “ Tolla.” All the literary world cried, Havoc ! upon the sprightly fellow laden with Italian relics. It was a critical moment in his life.

Monsieur Edmond About was introduced to me by a fascinating lady ; — who can resist the charms of the other sex ? I saw before me a man some eight-and-twenty years old, of a slender figure; his features were irregular, but intellectual, and he looked at people like an excessively near-sighted person who abused the advantages of being near-sighted. He wore no spectacles. His eyes were small, cold, bright, and were well wadded with such thick eyebrows and eyelashes it seemed these must absorb them. I subsequently found, in a strange American book,1 some descriptions which may be applied to his odd expression of eye. Monsieur Edmond About’s mouth was sneering and sensual, and even then affected Voltaire’s sarcastic grimace. His bitter and equivocal smile put you in mind of the grinding of an epigram-mill. One could detect in his attitude, his physiognomy, and his language, that obsequious malice, that familiarity, at the same time flattering and jeering, which Voltaire turned to such good account in his commerce with the great people of Ids day, and which his disciple was learning to practise in his intercourse with the powerful of these times,—the parvenus and the wealthy. I was struck by the face of this college Macchiavelli: on it were written the desire of success and the longing to enjoy; the calculations of the ambitious man were allied with the maliciousness of the giddy child. Of course he overwhelmed me with compliments and flattery. He had, or thought he had, use for me. I benevolently became the defender of the poor calumniated fellow in the “ Revue des Deux Mondes,” just as one undertakes out of pure kindness of heart to protect the widow and the orphan. Monsieur Edmond About thanked me orally with a flood of extraordinary gratitude; but he took good care to avoid writing a word upon the subject. A letter might have laid him under engagements, and might have embarrassed him one day or another. Whereas he aimed to be both a diplomatist and a literary man. He practised the art of good writing, and the art of turning it to the best advantage.

Some months after this he brought out a piece called “ Guillery,” at the French Comedy. The first night it was played, there was a hail-storm of hisses. No cla-queur ever remembered to have heard the like before. The charitable dramatic critics — delicate fellows, who cannot bear to see people possess talents without their permission and despite them — attacked the piece as blood - hounds the fugitive murderer. It seemed as if Monsieur Edmond About was a ruined man, who could never dare hold up his head again. He resisted the death-warrant. He had friends in influential houses. He soon found lint enough for his wounds. The next winter the town heard that Monsieur Edmond About’s wounds had been well dressed and were cured, and that he was going to write in “ Figaro.” The amateurs of scandal began at once to reckon upon the gratification of their tastes. They were not mistaken. The moment his second contribution to “Figaro ’ appeared, it became evident to all that he had taken this warlike position at the advanced posts of light literature solely to shoot at those persons who had wounded his vanity. For three months he kept up such a sharp fire that every week numbered its dead. Such carnage had never been seen. Everybody was severely wounded : Jules Janin, Paulin Limayrac, Champfleury, Barbey d’Aurevilly, and a host of others. Everybody said, (a thrill of terror ran through them as they spoke,)—There is going to be one of these mornings a terrible butchery: that imprudent Edmond About will have at least ten duels on his hands. Not a bit of it! Not a bit of it! There were negotiations, embassies, explanations exchanged which explained nothing, and reparations made which repaired nothing. But there was not a shot fired. There was not a drop of blood drawn. O Lord! no! Third parties intervened, and demonstrated to the offended parties, that, when Monsieur Edmond About called them stupid boobies, humbugs, tumblers, he had no intention whatever of offending them. Good gracious ! far otherwise ! In fine, one day the farce was played, the curtain fell upon the well-spanked critics, and all this little company (so full of talents and chivalry !) went armin-arm, the insulter and the insulted, to breakfast together at Monsieur A bout’s rooms, where, between a dozen oysters and a bottle of Sauterne, he asked his victims what they thought of some Titians he had just discovered, and which he wished to sell to the Louvre for a small fortune, — Titians which were not painted even by Mignard. The insulter and the insulted fell into each other’s arms before these daubs, and they parted, each delighted with the other. These pseudo-Titians were for Monsieur About his Alcibiades’s dog’s-tail. He spent one every month. Literary, picturesque, romanesque, historical, agricultural, Greek, and Roman questions were never subjects to him: he considered them merely advertisements to puff the transcendent merits of Edmond About. Before he left “ Figaro ” he determined to show me what a grateful fellow he was. He made me the mark for all his epigrams, and I paid the price of peace with the others. I have heard, since then, that Monsieur Edmond About has made his way rapidly in the world. He is rich. He has the ribbon of the Legion of Honor. He excels in writing pamphlets. He is not afraid of the most startling truths. He writes about the Pope like a man who is not afraid of the spiritual powers, and he has demonstrated that Prince Napoleon won the Battle of the Alma and organized Algeria.

Among the numerous details of my grandeur and my decline, none exhibit in a clearer light our literary manners and customs than the history of my relations with Monsieur Louis Ulbach, the virtuous author, now, of “ L'Homme aux Cinq Louis d’Or,” “ Suzanne Duchemin,” “ Monsieur et Madame Fernel,” and other tales, which he hopes to see crowned by the French Academy. Monsieur Louis Ulbach at first belonged to a triumvirate which pretended to stand above the mob of democratic writers; and of a truth Monsieur Maxime du Camp and Monsieur Laurent Pichat, bis two leaders, had none of those smoking-cafe vulgarities which have procured so many subscribers to the “ Siècle ” newspaper. Both poets, Laurent Pichat with remarkable loftiness, Maxime du Camp with bizarre energy, intent upon an ideal which democracy has a right to pursue, since it has not yet found it, men of the world, capable of discussing in full dress the most perplexed questions of Socialism, they accept none of those party-chains which so often bow down the noblest minds before idols made of plaster or of clay. Besides, both of them were known by admirable acts of generosity. There were in this triumvirate such dashes of aristocracy and of revolution that they were called “the Poles of literature.”

Of course, when the storm burst which I had raised by my irreverent attacks on De Béranger, these gentlemen separated from their political friends, and complimented me. One of them even addressed me a letter, in which I read these words, which assuredly I would not have written : “ That stupid De Béranger.” There was a sort of alliance between us. Monsieur Louis Ulbach celebrated it by publishing in his magazine, “ La Revue de Paris,” an article in my honor, in which, after the usual reserves, and after declaring war upon my doctrines, he vowed my prose to be “fascinating,” and complained of being so bewitched as to believe, at times, that he was converted to the cause of the throne and of the altar. This epithet, “ fascinating,” in turn fascinated me; and I thought that my prose was, like some serpent, about to fascinate all the butcher-birds and ducks of the democratic marsh. A year passed away ; these fine friendships cooled : 't is the fate of these factitious tendernesses. With winter my second volume appeared, and Monsieur Louis Ulbach set to work again ; but this time he found me merely “ingenious.” It was a good deal more than I merited, and I would willingly have contented myself with this phrase. Unfortunately, I could not forget the austere counsel of Monsieur Louis Veuillot, and at this very epoch, Monsieur Louis Ulbach, who as a novelist could merit a great deal of praise, took it into his head to publish a thick volume of transcendental criticism, in which he attacked everything I admired and lauded everything I detested. I confess that I felt extremely embarrassed : those nice little words “ fascinating ” and “ ingenious” stuck in my mind. Monsieur Louis Ulbach himself extricated me from my perplexity. I had insufficiently praised his last novel. He wrote a third article on my third work. Alas! the honeymoon had set. The “fascinating” prose of 1855, the “ ingenious” prose of 1856, had become in 1857, in the opinion of the same judge, and in the language of the same pen, “ pretentious and tiresome.” This sudden change of things and epithets restored me to liberty. I walked abroad in all my strength and independence, and I dissected Monsieur Louis Ulbach’s thick volume with a severity which was still tempered by the courteous forms and the dimensions of my few newspaper - columns. A year passed away. My fourth work appeared. Note that these several volumes were not different works, but a series of volumes expressing the same opinions in the very same style ; in fine, they were but one work. Note, too, that Monsieur Ulbach’s “ Revue de Paris ” and “ L’Assemblée Nationale,” in which I wrote, were both suppressed by the government on the same day, which established between us a fraternity of martyrdom. All this was as nothing. Louis Ulbach, this very same Louis Ulbach, was employed by a newspaper where he was sure to please by insulting me, and the very first thing he did was to give me a kick, such a kick as twenty horses covered with sleigh-bells could not give. He called me “ ignoramus,” and wondered what “ this fellow ” meant by his literary drivelling. The most curious part of the whole business is, that he did not write the article, all he did was to sign it! Four years, and a scratch given his vanity, had proved enough to produce this change!

Shall I speak to you now of Henry Murger ? I wrote this chapter of my Memoirs during his life. I should have suppressed it, did I feel the least drop of bitterness mingled with the recollection of the acts of petty ingratitude of this charming writer. But my object in writing this work is less to satisfy sterile revenge than to exhibit to you a corner of literary life in Paris in the nineteenth century.

In 1850 Henry Murger published a book in which the manners and customs of people who live by their wits were painted in colors scarcely likely to fascinate healthy imaginations. He declared to the world that the novitiate of our future great authors was nothing but one incessant hunt after a halfdollar and a mutton-chop. The world was told by others that Henry Murger had learned to paint this existence by actual experience. There were, however, in his book some excellent flashes of fancy and youth ; besides, the public then had grown tired of interminable adventures and novels in fifty volumes. So Henry Murger’s first work, “ La Vie de Bohême,” was very popular; but it did not swell his purse or improve his wardrobe. He was introduced to me, and I shall never forget the low bow he made me. I was afraid for one moment that his bald head would fall between his legs. This precocious baldness gave to his delicate and sad face a singular physiognomy. He looked not so much like a young old man as like an old young man. Henry Murger’s warmest desire was to write in the celebrated and influential “ Revue des Deux Mondes,” which we all abuse so violently when we have reason to complain of it, and which has but to make a sign to us and we instantly fall into its arms. I was then on the best terms with the “ Revue des Deux Mondes.” Monsieur Castil-Blaze, being from the same neighborhood with me, had obtained a place for me in the “ Revue,” which belonged to his son-inlaw, Monsieur Buloz. I promised Henry Murger to speak a good word for him. A favorable opportunity of doing so occurred a few days afterwards.

“ I do not know what is to become of ns,” said Monsieur Buloz to me ; “ our old contributors are dying, and no new ones make their appearance.”

“ They appear, but you refuse to see them. There is Henry Murger, for instance ; he has just written an amusing book, which is the most successful of the season.”

“ Henry Murger ! And is it you, Count Armand de Pontmartin, the literary nobleman, the aristocratic writer, who wear (as the world avers) a white cravat and white kid gloves from the time you get up, (I confess I have never seen you with them,) — is it you who propose to me to admit Henry Murger as a contributor to the ‘ Revue des Deux Mondes,’ —Henry Murger, the ringleader of people who live by their wits ? ”

“Why should n’t I? We live in a day when white cravats have to be very respectful to red cravats. Besides, nothing is too strange to happen ; and I would not bet you that Murger does not write in ' Le Momteur ' before I do.”

“If you think I had better admit Henry Murger, I consent; but remember what I say to you : It will be the source of annoyance to you.”

The next day a hack bore Henry Murger and me from the corner of the Boulevard des Italiens and the Rue du Helder to the office of the “ Revue des Deux Mondes.” We talked on the way. If I had had any illusions left of the poetical dreams and virginal thoughts of young men fevered by literary ambition, these few minutes would have been enough to dispel them all. Henry Murger thought of nothing upon earth but money. How was he going to pay his quarter’s rent, or rather his two or three quarters’ rent ? for he was two or threequarters behindhand. He still had credit with this restaurateur, but he owed so much to Such another that he dared not show his face there. He was over head and ears in debt to his tailor. He was afraid to think of the amount of money he owed his shoemaker. The list was long, and “bills payable” lamentable. To end this dreary balance-sheet, I took it into my bead to deliver him a lecture on the morality of literature and the duty of literary men. “ Art,” Said I to him, “ must escape the materialism which oppresses and will at last absorb it. We romantics of 1828 were mistaken. We thought we were reacting against the pagan and mummified school of the eighteenth century and of the First Empire. We did not perceive that a revolutionary Art can under no circumstances turn to the profit of grand spiritual and Christian traditions, to the worship of the ideal, to the elevation of intellects. We did not see that it would be a little sooner or a little later discounted by literary demagogues, who, without tradition, without a creed, without any law except their own whims, would become the slaves of every base passion, and of all physical and moral deformities. It is not yet too late. Let us repair our faults. Let us elevate, let us regenerate literature ; let us bear it aloft to those noble spheres where the soul soars in her native, majes ” —

I was declaiming with fire, my enthusiasm was becoming more and more heated, when Henry Murger interrupted me by asking, — “ Do you think Monsieur Buloz will pay me in advance ? ”

This question produced on my missionary’s enthusiasm the same effect a tub of cold water would have upon an excited poodle-dog.

“Monsieur Murger,” I replied, without, being too much disconcerted, “ you will arrange those details with Monsieur Buloz. All I can do is to introduce you.”

We reached the office. I was afraid I might embarrass Monsieur Buloz and Monsieur Murger, if I remained with them; I therefore took a book and went into the garden. I was called back in twenty minutes, and was briefly told that Henry Murger had engaged to write a novel for the “Revue.” We went out together ; but we had scarcely passed three doors, when Murger said hurriedly to me, — “ I beg your pardon, I have forgotten something !” — and he went back to the office. I afterwards found out that this “something” was an advance of money which he asked for upon a novel whose first syllable he had not yet written.

If I dwell upon these miserable details, it is not (God forbid!) to insult laborious poverty, or talent forced to struggle against the hardships of life or the embarrassments of improvident, careless youth. No,—but there was here, and this is the reason I speak of it, the trade-mark of that literary living-by-the-wits which had taken entire possession of Henry Murger, against which he had struggled in vain all his life long, and which at last crushed him in its feverish grasp. Living by the wits was to Henry Murger what roulette is to the gambler, what brandy is to the drunkard, what the traps of the police are to the knave and the burglar: he cursed it, but he could not quit it; he lived in it, he lived by it, he died of it. The first time I talked with Murger, and every subsequent conversation I had with him, brought up money incessantly, in every tone, in every form ; and when, having become more familiar with what he called my squeamishness, he talked more frankly to me, I saw that he required to support him a sum of money three times greater than the annual income on which a whole family of officeholders in the country, or even in Paris, live with ease. This brought on him protests, bailiffs, constables, incredible complications, continual uneasiness, a hankering after pecuniary success, eternal complaints against publishers, magazineeditors, theatre-managers, anxious negotiations, an immense loss of time, an incredible wear-and-tear of brain, annoyances and cares enough to put every thought to flight and to dry every source of inspiration and of poetry. Remember that Henry Murger is one of the luckiest of the new men who have appeared within these last fifteen years, for he received the cross of the Legion of Honor, which, as everybody knows, is never given except to men who deserve it. Judge, then, what the others must be ! Judge what must be the abortions, the disdained, the supernumeraries, — those who sleep in lodging-houses at two cents a night, or who eat their pitiful dinner outside the barrier-gate in a wretched eating-house patronized by hack-drivers, — those who kill themselves with charcoal, or who hang themselves, murdered by madness or by hunger, the two pale goddesses of atheistical literatures!

“ Well,” said I to Henry Murger, after we were once more seated in our carriage, “ are you pleased with Monsieur Buloz ? ”

“Yes — and no. The most difficult step is taken. He allows me to contribute my masterpieces to the ‘ Revue des Deux Mondes,’ and I shall never forget the immense service you have done me. Although you and I do not serve the same literary gods, I am henceforward yours to the death ! But—the book-keeper is deusedly hard on trigger. Will you believe it ? I asked him to advance me forty dollars, and he refused ! ”

We parted excellent friends, and he continued to assure me of his gratitude, until the carriage stopped at my door.

Years passed away. Henry Murger’s promised novel was long coming to the “ Revue des Deux Mondes.” At last it came; another followed eighteen months afterwards; then he contributed a third. He displayed unquestionable talents ; he commanded moderate success. He had been told by so many people that it was a hard matter to please the readers of the “ Revue des Deux Mondes,” that it was necessary for him to free himself from all his studios’ fun, and everything tinctured with the petty press, that he really believed for true everything he heard, and appeared awkward in his movements. His students, his grisettes, and his young artists were all on their good behavior, but were not more droll. Marivaux had come down one more flight of stairs. Alfred de Musset had steeped the powder and the patches in a glass of Champagne wine. Henry Murger soaked them in a bottle of brandy or in a flagon of beer.

Henry Murger’s gratitude, whenever we met, continued to exhale in enthusiastic hymns. I lost sight of him for some time. I was told that he lived somewhere in the Forest of Fontainebleau, to escape his creditors’ pursuit. At the critical moment of my literary life, I read one morning in a petty newspaper a biting burlesque of which I was the grotesque hero : I figured (my name was given in full) as a member of a temperance society, whose members were pledged to total abstinence from the use of ideas, wit, and style; at one of our monthly dinners, we were said to have devoured Balzac at the first course, De Beranger for the roast, Michelet for a side - dish, and George Sand for dessert. The next day, and every day the petty paper appeared, the joke was renewed with all sorts of variations. It was evidently a “rig” run on me. This joke was signed every day “ Marcel,” which was the name of one of the heroes of Henry Murger’s novel, “ La Vie de Bohême ”; but I was very far indeed from thinking that the man who was under so many “obligations” to me (as Henry Murger always declared himself to be) should have joined the ranks of my persecutors. A few days afterwards I heard, on the best authority, that Henry Murger was the author of these articles. I felt a deep chagrin at this discovery. Literary men constantly call Philistines and Prudhommes those who lay great stress upon the absence of moral sense as one of the great defects of the school of literature and art to which Murger and his friends belong; and yet there should be a name for such conduct as this, if for no other reason, for the sake of the culprits themselves, — as, when poor Murger acted in this way to me, he was as unconscious of what he did as when he raised heaven and earth to hunt down a dollar. He was not guilty of a black heart, it was only absolute deficiency of everything like moral sense. Henry Murger was under obligations to me, as he said constantly; I had introduced and recommended him to a man and a magazine that are, as of right, difficult in the choice of their contributors ; I had, for his sake, conquered their prejudices, borne their reproaches. Whenever his novels appeared, I treated them with indulgence, and gave them praise without examining too particularly into their moral tendency, to the great scandal of my usual readers, and despite the scoldings Monsieur Louis Veuillot gave me. There never was the least coolness between Henry Murger and myself; and yet, when I was attacked and harassed on every side, he hid himself under a pseudonyme, and added his sarcasms to all the others directed against me, that he might gratify his admiration for De Balzac and put a little money in his pocket.

By-and-by I continued to meet Henry Murger again on the Boulevard, and at the first performance of new pieces. Do you imagine he shunned me ? Not a bit of it. He did not seem on these rare occasions to feel the least embarrassment He gave me cordial shakes of the hand, or he bestowed on me one of those profound bows which brought his bald head on a level with his waistcoat - pockets. Then he published a novel in “ Le Moniteur,” after which he was decorated. Nothing was now heard from or of him for a long time. Not a line by Henry Murger appeared anywhere. I never heard that any piece by him was received, or even refused, by a single one of the eighteen theatres in Paris. At last I met him one day before the Variétés Theatre. I went up to speak to him, and ended by asking the invariable question between literary men,—“ What are you at work on now ? How comes it that so long a time has elapsed since you gave us something to read or to applaud ? ”

“ I will tell you why,” he replied, with melancholy sang-froid. “ It is not a question of literature, it is a question of arithmetic. I owe eight hundred dollars to Madame Porcher, the wife of the ‘ authrors’-tickets ’ dealer, who is always ready to advance money to dramatic authors, and to whom we are all constantly in debt. I owe four hundred dollars to the ‘ Moniteur,’ and three hundred dollare to the ‘ Revue des Deux Mondes.’ Follow my reasoning now : Were I to bring out a play, my excellent friend, Madame Porcher, would lay hands on all the proceeds, and I should receive nothing. Were I to give a novel to the ‘Moniteur,’ I should have to write twenty feuilletons (you know they pay twenty dollars a feuilleton there) before I cancelled my old debt. Were I to contribute to the ‘ Revue des Deux Mondes,’ as soon as my six sheets (at fifty dollars a sheet, that would be three hundred dollars) were printed and published, the editor would say to me, ' We are even now.’ So you see that it would be unpardonable prodigality on my part to publish anything; therefore I have determined not to work at all, in order to avoid spending my money, and I am lazy — from economy ! ”

His reply disarmed the little resentment I had left, I took his hand in mine, and said to him, — “ See here, Murger, I must confess to you I was a little angry with you; but your arithmetic is more literary than you think it. You have given me a lesson of contemporary literature ; and I say to you, as the ' Revue des Deux Mondes ’ would say, ‘ Murger, we are even ! ’ ”

I ran off without waiting for his reply, and whispered to myself, as I went, “ And yet Henry Murger is the most talented and the most honest of them all!”

Let me continue the story of my misfortunes. The tempest was unchained against me. It is true, there were among my adversaries some persons under obligations to me, — some persons who were full of enthusiasm at my first manner, and who would have made wry faces enough, had I published their flattering letters to me, — other persons, to whom I had rendered pecuniary services, — others, again, who had come to me with hat in hand and supple knees, to beg my permission to allow them to dramatize my novels. But what were these miserable considerations, when the great interests of national literature, taste, and glory were at stake ? I was the vile detractor, the impious scorner of these glories, and it was but justice that I should be put in the pillory and made the butt of rotten eggs. Voltaire blasphemed, Béranger insulted, Victor Hugo outraged, were offences which cried aloud for chastisement and for vengeance. Balzac’s shade especially complained and clamored for justice. It is true, that, while Balzac was alive, he was not accustomed to anything like such admiration. He openly avowed that he detested newspaperwriters, and they returned the detestation with interest. Everybody, while he was alive, declared him to be odd, eccentric, half-crazy, absurd. His friends and his publishers, in fine, everybody who had anything to do with him, told rather disreputable stories about him. No matter for that. Balzac was dead, Balzac was a god, the god of all these livers-by-thewits, who but for him would have been atheists. Monsieur Paulin Limayrac tore me to pieces in “ La Presse.” Monsieur Eugène Pelletan shot me in “ Le Siècle.” Monsieur Taxile Delord mauled me in “ Le Charivari.” To this episode of my exposition in the pillory belongs an anecdote which I cannot omit.

I was about to set off for the country, where I reckoned upon spending some weeks of the month of May, in order to recover somewhat from these incessant attacks made upon me. I had read in a café, while taking my beefsteak and cup of chocolate, the various details of the punishment I was about to undergo. One of my tormentors, who was a great deal more celebrated for his aversion to water and clean linen than for any article he had ever written, declared that I was about to be banished from everything like decent society ; another vowed by all the deities of his Olympus that I was a mountebank and a skeptic, who had undertaken to defend sound doctrines and to tomahawk eminent writers simply by way of bringing myself into public notice ; a third painted me as a poor wretch who had come from his provincial home with his pockets filled with manuscripts, and was going about Paris begging favorable notices as a means of touching publishers and booksellers; a fourth depicted me, on the other hand, as a wealthy fellow, who was so diseased with a mania for literature that I paid newspapers and reviews to publish my contributions, which no human being would have accepted gratuitously. As I left the cafe, one of my intimate friends ran np to me. His face expressed that mixture of cordial commiseration and desire to make a fuss about the matter which one’s friends’ faces always wear under these circumstances.

“ Well,” said he, “ what do you think of the way they treat you ? ”

“Why, they are all at it, — Monsieur Edmond About, Monsieur Louis Ulbach, Monsieur Paulin Limayrac, Monsieur Henry Murger, Monsieur Taxile Delord, ”-

« Ah ! by the way, have you seen his article of yesterday ? ”

“No.”

“ You should have read that. Those in the morning’s papers are nothing to it. Really, you ought not to leave town without seeing it.” Looking very important, he added, — “ In your position, you should know everything written against you.”

I Followed this friendly advice, and went to the Rue du Croissant, where the office of “ Le Charivari ” moulders. As the place is anything but attractive to well-bred persons, allow me to get there by the longest road, and to go through the Faubourg Saint Honoré. A month before the conversation above reported took place in front of a café - door, I had the pleasure of meeting the Count do -, an intellectual gentleman who occupies an influential place in some aristocratic drawing-rooms which still retain a partiality for literature. He said to me, —

“ Do you know Monsieur Ernest Legouvé ? ”

« Assuredly ! The most polite and most agreeable of all the generals of Alexander Scribe; the author of ' Adrienne Lecouvreur,’ which Rachel played so well, of ‘ Médée,’ in which Madame Ristori shines; a charming gentleman, who, in our age of clubs, cigars, stables, jockeys, and slang, has had the good taste to like feminine Society. He has a considerable estate ; he belongs to the French Academy ; his house Is agreeable ; his manners delightful; his dinners unequalledIf in all happiness there is a dash of management, where is the harm in Monsieur Ernest Legouvé’s case ? Why should not gentlemen, too, be sometimes adroit? Rogues are so always ! Besides, has not a little art always been necessary to effect an entrance into the French Academy ? ”

“ Monsieur Ernest Legouvé and I were at college together, and he bids me bear you an invitation which I am sure you will not refuse. He has written a play upon the delicate and thorny subject on which Monsieur Jules Sandeau has written his admirable comedy, ‘ Le Gendre de Monsieur Poirier ’: with this difference, however : Monsieur Legouvé has taken, not a ruined and brilliant noble who marries the daughter of a plebeian, but a young man, the architect of his own fortunes, with a most vulgar name, who, on the score of talents, energy, delicacy of head and heart, is loved by a young lady of noble birth, is accepted by her family, and enters by right of conquest into that society from which his birth excluded him.”

“ That theme is rather more difficult: for, when Mademoiselle Poirier marries the Marquis de Presles, she becomes the Marquise de Presles; whereas, when Mademoiselle de Montmorency marries Monsieur Bernard, she becomes plain Madame Bernard.”

“ True enough! But Monsieur Legouvé is perplexed by a scruple which reflects the greatest honor upon him: he entertains sincere respect, great sympathy, for aristocratic distinctions; therefore he is anxious to assure himself, before his piece is brought out in public, that it does not contain a single scene or a single word which will be offensive or disagreeable to noble ears. To satisfy himself in this particular, he has asked me to allow him to read his comedy at my house. I shall invite the Duchess de—, the Marquis de—, the Countess de—, the General de—, the Duke de—, the Marquise de—, and the Baroness de—. I shall add to these two or three critics known in good society, among whom I reckon upon you. In fine, this preliminary Areopagus will be composed of sons of the Crusaders, who are almost as sprightly as sons of Voltaire. Now Monsieur Ernest Legouvé will not be satisfied with his comedy, unless these gentlefolk unanimously decide that he need not blot a single line of it. Will you come ? Remember, Monsieur Ernest Legouvé invites you.”

“ My dear Count, I willingly accept your proposition. Monsieur Legouvé reads admirably, and his plays are all agreeable. Nevertheless, let me tell you that this trial will prove nothing. Our poor society is like Sganarelle’s wife, who liked to be thrashed. It has borne smiling, and repaid with wealth and fame, much more ardent attacks than Monsieur Legouvé can make.”

Count de—and I shook hands, and parted. A few evenings afterwards the reading took place. It was just what I expected. There were as many marquises and duchesses (real duchesses) as there were kings to applaud Talma in the Erfurt pit. The noble assembly listened to Monsieur Legouvé’s comedy with that rather absent-minded urbanity and with those charming exclamations of admiration which have been constantly given to everybody who has read a piece in a drawing-room, from the days of the Viscount d’Arlincourt and his “Le Solitaire,” to the days of Monsieur Viennet, of the French Academy, and his “ Arbogaste.” Monsieur Legouvé’s play, which was then called “ Le Nom du Mari,” and which has since been played under the title of “ Par Droit de Conquête,” was pleasing. My ears were not so much offended by the antagonism of poor nobility and wealthy upstarts, which Monsieur Legouvé treated neither better nor worse than any other has done, as by the details of roads, bridges, marsh-draining, canals, railways, coal, coke, and the like, which were dead-weights on Thalia’s light robe ; and the improbability of the plot was not so much the marriage of a noble girl to the son of an apple-dealer as was the perfection given to the young engineer : every virtue and every grace were showered on him. The piece was unanimously pronounced successful. The aristocratic audience applauded Monsieur Legouvé with their little gloved bauds, which never make much noise. He was complimented so delicately that he was sincerely touched. There was not the slightest objection, the lightest murmur made to the piece, and there trembled in my eye that little tear Madame de Sévigné speaks of.

But let us quit this drawing-room, and turn our steps towards the Rue du Croissant, where the office of “ Le Charivari” is to be found. Balzac has described in “ Les Illusions Perdues” the offices of these petty newspapers : the passage divided into two equal portions, one of which leads to the editor’s room, and the other to the grated counter where the clerk sits to receive subscribers. Everybody knows the appearance of these old houses, these staircases, these flimsy partitions, with their bad light coming through a window whose panes are veiled with a triple coating of dust, smoke, and soot,—the whitewashed walls bearing innumerable traces of fingers covered with ink, mingled with pencilcaricatures and grotesque inscriptions. Although it was in the month of May that I made this visit, I shivered with cold as I entered this old house, and my gorge rose in disgust at the unaired smell and ignoble scenes which everywhere appeared. The clerk I applied to had the very face one might expect to find in such a place : one of those colorless, hard, sinister faces which are to be seen in nearly all the scenes of Paris reality. All things were in harmony in this shop: the air, and the light, and the house, — the letter as well as the spirit. I asked the clerk to give me the file for the month of April. I soon found and read Monsieur Taxile Delord’s article. Monsieur Taxile Delord comes from some one of the southern departments of France. He made his first appearance in public in “Le Sémaphore,” the well-known newspaper of Marseilles; but the twilight of a provincial life could not suit this eagle, and in the course of a few years he came up to Paris. Alas ! Monsieur Taxile Delord was soon obliged to add the secret sorrows of disappointed ambition to the original gayety of his character. His deepest sorrow was to look upon himself for a grave and thoughtful statesman, and be condemned by fate to a chronic state of fun and to hard labor at pun-making for life. Imagine Junius damned to lead Touchstone’s life ! He became sourness itself. His puns were lugubrious. His fun grew heavy, and his gayety was funereal. The pretensions of this checked gravity which settled upon his factitious hilarity were enough to melt the hearts even of his enemies, if such a fellow could pretend to have enemies. Once this galley-slave of fun tried to make his escape from the galley. He wrote a play; and as the manager of one of the theatres was his friend, he had it played. The democratic opinions of Monsieur Taxile Delord raised favorable prejudices among the school-boys of the Latin Quarter; but who can escape his fate ? The masterpiece was hissed. Its title was “ The End of the Comedy ”; and a wretched witling pretended that the piece was illnamed, since the pit refused to see the end of the comedy. Thereupon Monsieur Taxile Delord adopted the method of Gulliver’s tailor, who measured for clothes according to the rules of arithmetic : he demonstrated that his piece was played three times from beginning to end, — that, as the manager was his particular friend, and as the Odeon was always empty, he might have had it played thirty times,—and therefore that we were all bound to be grateful to him for his moderation. This last argument met no person bold enough to contradict it, and the subscribers to “ Le Charivari ” (which is the “ Punch ” of Paris) were seized with holy horror, when they thought, that, but for Monsieur Taxile Delord’s moderation, “ The End of the Comedy ” might have been played seven - and - twenty times more.

What had I done to excite his ire ? I had not treated Beranger with sufficient respect, and Monsieur Taxile Delord, though a joker by trade, would not hear of any fun on this subject. His genius bad shaped itself exactly on Béranger’s, and he resented as a personal affront every insult offered to the songster. Of a truth, Béranger’s fate was a hard one, and all my attacks on him were not half so bad as this treatment he received at the hands of Monsieur Taxile Delord. Poor Béranger! So Monsieur Taxile Delord took up the quarrel on his account, and relieved his gall by throwing it on me. When I read his article, I felt humiliated,— but not as the writer desired,— I felt humiliated for the press, and for literature, and for Béranger, who really did not deserve this hard fate. The humid office, full of dirt and dust and printing-ink, disgusted and depressed me, and I involuntarily thought of Count de—’s drawing-room, and that aristocratic society where everything was flowers, courtesy, perfumes, elegance, where people could not even feel hatred towards their enemies, and where the genial poet, Monsieur Ernest Legouvé, surrounded by the most charming and most sprightly women of Paris, recently obtained so delightful a triumph.

All at once a sympathetic and clear voice, a voice which I thought I had heard in better society than where I was, reached my ears. Hid in the dark corner where I sat, and where nobody could discover me, I saw the door of the editor’s room open and Monsieur Taxile Delord appear and escort to the door a visitor. It was Monsieur Ernest Legouvé ! They passed close to me, and I heard Monsieur Ernest Legouvé say to Monsieur Delord,— “ My dear Sir, I recommend my play, ' Le Nom du Mari,’ to you; I hope you will be pleased with it! ”

This contrast annoyed me. I was then horribly out of humor from an irritating prelection, and I felt towards Monsieur Legouvé that sort of vexation the unlucky feel towards the lucky, the poor towards the rich, the hunchbacks towards handsome men, and the awkward towards the adroit. I said to myself,—“ Armand, my poor Armand, you will never be aught but a most stupid fool!" Wo add no commentary to this picture of literary life in Paris. We leave the reader to draw his own conclusions. He needs no assistance,—for the picture is painted in bright colors, and the light is thrown with no parsimonious hand upon every corner. It is a curious exhibition of a most unhealthy state of things. It explains a great many of those literary mysteries, which seem so unaccountable, in the most brilliant capital of the world.

  1. 2Elsie Venner, by Oliver Œendell (sic) Holmes.