Part 1 out of 9
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The Market-Place, Antoinette, The House
by Romain Rolland
Translated by Gilbert Cannan
Disorder in order. Untidy officials offhanded in manner. Travelers
protesting against the rules and regulations, to which they submitted all
the same. Christophe was in France. After having satisfied the curiosity of
the customs, he took his seat again in the train for Paris. Night was over
the fields that were soaked with the rain. The hard lights of the stations
accentuated the sadness of the interminable plain buried in darkness.
The trains, more and more numerous, that passed, rent the air with their
shrieking whistles, which broke upon the torpor of the sleeping passengers.
The train was nearing Paris.
Christophe was ready to get out an hour before they ran in; he had jammed
his hat down on his head; he had buttoned his coat up to his neck for fear
of the robbers, with whom he had been told Paris was infested; twenty times
he had got up and sat down; twenty times he had moved his bag from the
rack to the seat, from the seat to the rack, to the exasperation of his
fellow-passengers, against whom he knocked, every time with his usual
Just as they were about to run into the station the train suddenly stopped
in the darkness. Christophe flattened his nose against the window and tried
vainly to look out. He turned towards his fellow-travelers, hoping to find
a friendly glance which would encourage him to ask where they were. But
they were all asleep or pretending to be so: they were bored and scowling:
not one of them made any attempt to discover why they had stopped.
Christophe was surprised by their indifference: these stiff, somnolent
creatures were so utterly unlike the French of his imagination! At last he
sat down, discouraged, on his bag, rocking with every jolt of the train,
and in his turn he was just dozing off when he was roused by the noise of
the doors being opened.... Paris!... His fellow-travelers were already
Jostling and jostled, he walked towards the exit of the station, refusing
the porter who offered to carry his bag. With a peasant's suspiciousness he
thought every one was going to rob him. He lifted his precious bag on to
his shoulder and walked straight ahead, indifferent to the curses of the
people as he forced his way through them. At last he found himself in the
greasy streets of Paris.
He was too much taken up with the business in hand, the finding of
lodgings, and too weary of the whirl of carriages into which he was swept,
to think of looking at anything. The first thing was to look for a room.
There was no lack of hotels: the station was surrounded with them on all
sides: their names were flaring in gas letters. Christophe wanted to find
a less dazzling place than any of these: none of them seemed to him to
be humble enough for his purse. At last in a side street he saw a dirty
inn with a cheap eating-house on the ground floor. It was called _Hotel
de la Civilisation_. A fat man in his shirt-sleeves was sitting smoking
at a table: he hurried forward as he saw Christophe enter. He could not
understand a word of his jargon: but at the first glance he marked and
judged the awkward childish German, who refused to let his bag out of his
hands, and struggled hard to make himself understood in an incredible
language. He took him up an evil-smelling staircase to an airless room
which opened on to a closed court. He vaunted the quietness of the room, to
which no noise from outside could penetrate: and he asked a good price for
it. Christophe only half understood him; knowing nothing of the conditions
of life in Paris, and with his shoulder aching with the weight of his
bag, he accepted everything: he was, eager to be alone. But hardly was he
left alone when he was struck by the dirtiness of it all: and to avoid
succumbing to the melancholy which was creeping over him, he went out again
very soon after having dipped his face in the dusty water, which was greasy
to the touch. He tried hard not to see and not to feel, so as to escape
He went down into the street. The October mist was thick and keenly cold:
it had that stale Parisian smell, in which are mingled the exhalations of
the factories of the outskirts and the heavy breath of the town. He could
not see ten yards in front of him. The light of the gas-jets flickered like
a candle on the point of going out. In the semi-darkness there were crowds
of people moving in all directions. Carriages moved in front of each other,
collided, obstructed the road, stemming the flood of people like a dam. The
oaths of the drivers, the horns and bells of the trams, made a deafening
noise. The roar, the clamor, the smell of it all, struck fearfully on the
mind and heart of Christophe. He stopped for a moment, but was at once
swept on by the people behind him and borne on by the current. He went down
the _Boulevard de Strasbourg_, seeing nothing, bumping awkwardly into the
passers-by. He had eaten nothing since morning. The cafes, which he found
at every turn, abashed and revolted him, for they were all so crowded. He
applied to a policeman; but he was so slow in finding words that the man
did not even take the trouble to hear him out, and turned his back on him
in the middle of a sentence and shrugged his shoulders. He went on walking
mechanically. There was a small crowd in front of a shop-window. He
stopped mechanically. It was a photograph and picture-postcard shop: there
were pictures of girls in chemises, or without them: illustrated papers
displayed obscene jests. Children and young girls were looking at them
calmly. There was a slim girl with red hair who saw Christophe lost in
contemplation and accosted him. He looked at her and did not understand.
She took his arm with a silly smile. He shook her off, and rushed away,
blushing angrily. There were rows of cafe concerts: outside the doors were
displayed grotesque pictures of the comedians. The crowd grew thicker and
thicker. Christophe was struck by the number of vicious faces, prowling
rascals, vile beggars, painted women sickeningly scented. He was frozen by
it all. Weariness, weakness, and the horrible feeling of nausea, which more
and more came over him, turned him sick and giddy. He set his teeth and
walked on more quickly. The fog grew denser as he approached the Seine.
The whirl of carriages became bewildering. A horse slipped and fell on its
side: the driver flogged it to make it get up: the wretched beast, held
down by its harness, struggled and fell down again, and lay still as though
it were dead. The sight of it--common enough--was the last drop that
made the wretchedness that filled the soul of Christophe flow over. The
miserable struggles of the poor beast, surrounded by indifferent and
careless faces, made him feel bitterly his own insignificance among these
thousands of men and women--the feeling of revulsion, which for the last
hour had been choking him, his disgust with all these human beasts, with
the unclean atmosphere, with the morally repugnant people, burst forth in
him with such violence that he could not breathe. He burst into tears. The
passers-by looked in amazement at the tall young man whose face was twisted
with grief. He strode along with the tears running down his cheeks, and
made no attempt to dry them. People stopped to look at him for a moment:
and if he had been able to read the soul of the mob, which seemed to him
to be so hostile, perhaps in some of them he might have seen--mingled, no
doubt, with a little of the ironic feeling of the Parisians for any sorrow
so simple and ridiculous as to show itself--pity and brotherhood. But he
saw nothing: his tears blinded him.
He found himself in a square, near a large fountain. He bathed his hands
and dipped his face in it. A little news-vendor watched him curiously and
passed comment on him, waggishly though not maliciously: and he picked up
his hat for him--Christophe had let it fall. The icy coldness of the water
revived Christophe. He plucked up courage again. He retraced his steps, but
did not look about him: he did not even think of eating: it would have been
impossible for him to speak to anybody: it needed the merest trifle to set
him off weeping again. He was worn out. He lost his way, and wandered about
aimlessly until he found himself in front of his hotel, just when he had
made up his mind that he was lost. He had forgotten even the name of the
street in which he lodged.
He went up to his horrible room. He was empty, and his eyes were burning:
he was aching body and soul as he sank down into a chair in the corner of
the room: he stayed like that for a couple of hours and could not stir. At
last he wrenched himself out of his apathy and went to bed. He fell into
a fevered slumber, from which he awoke every few minutes, feeling that he
had been asleep for hours. The room was stifling: he was burning from head
to foot: he was horribly thirsty: he suffered from ridiculous nightmares,
which clung to him even after he had opened his eyes: sharp pains thudded
in him like the blows of a hammer. In the middle of the night he awoke,
overwhelmed by despair, so profound that he all but cried out: he stuffed
the bedclothes into his mouth so as not to be heard: he felt that he was
going mad. He sat up in bed, and struck a light. He was bathed in sweat. He
got up, opened his bag to look for a handkerchief. He laid his hand on an
old Bible, which his mother had hidden in his linen. Christophe had never
read much of the Book: but it was a comfort beyond words for him to find
it at that moment. The Bible had belonged to his grandfather and to his
grandfather's father. The heads of the family had inscribed on a blank page
at the end their names and the important dates of their lives--births,
marriages, deaths. His grandfather had written in pencil, in his large
hand, the dates when he had read and re-read each chapter: the Book was
full of tags of yellowed paper, on which the old man had jotted down his
simple thoughts. The Book used to rest on a shelf above his bed, and he
used often to take it down during the long, sleepless nights and hold
converse with it rather than read it. It had been with him to the hour
of his death, as it had been with his father. A century of the joys and
sorrows of the family was breathed forth from the pages of the Book.
Holding it in his hands, Christophe felt less lonely.
He opened it at the most somber words of all:
_Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? Are not his days also
like the days of an hireling?
When I lie down, I say, When shall I arise and the night be gone? and I am
full of tossings to and fro unto the dawn of the day.
When I say, My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint,
then Thou searest me with dreams and terrifiest me through visions.... How
long wilt Thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my
spittle? I have sinned; what shall I do unto Thee, O Thou preserver of men?
Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him._
All greatness is good, and the height of sorrow tops deliverance. What
casts down and overwhelms and blasts the soul beyond all hope is mediocrity
in sorrow and joy, selfish and niggardly suffering that has not the
strength to be rid of the lost pleasure, and in secret lends itself to
every sort of degradation to steal pleasure anew. Christophe was braced up
by the bitter savor that he found in the old Book: the wind of Sinai coming
from vast and lonely spaces and the mighty sea to sweep away the steamy
vapors. The fever in Christophe subsided. He was calm again, and lay down
and slept peacefully until the morrow. When he opened his eyes again it was
day. More acutely than ever he was conscious of the horror of his room: he
felt his loneliness and wretchedness: but he faced them. He was no longer
disheartened: he was left only with a sturdy melancholy. He read over now
the words of Job:
_Even though God slay me yet would I trust in Him._
He got up. He was ready calmly to face the fight.
He made up his mind there and then to set to work. He knew only two people
in Paris: two young fellow-countrymen: his old friend Otto Diener, who was
in the office of his uncle, a cloth merchant in the _Mail_ quarter: and a
young Jew from Mainz, Sylvain Kohn, who had a post in a great publishing
house, the address of which Christophe did not know.
He had been very intimate with Diener when he was fourteen or fifteen.
He had had for him one of those childish friendships which precede love,
and are themselves a sort of love. [Footnote: See _Jean-Christophe_--I:
"The Morning."] Diener had loved him too. The shy, reserved boy had been
attracted by Christophe's gusty independence: he had tried hard to imitate
him, quite ridiculously: that had both irritated and flattered Christophe.
Then they had made plans for the overturning of the world. In the end
Diener had gone abroad for his education in business, and they did not see
each other again: but Christophe had news of him from time to time from the
people in the town with whom Diener remained on friendly terms.
As for Sylvain Kohn, his relation with Christophe had been of another kind
altogether. They had been at school together, where the young monkey had
played many pranks on Christophe, who thrashed him for it when he saw
the trap into which he had fallen. Kohn did not put up a fight: he let
Christophe knock him down and rub his face in the dust, while he howled;
but he would begin again at once with a malice that never tired--until the
day when he became really afraid, Christophe having seriously threatened to
Christophe went out early. He stopped to breakfast at a cafe. In spite
of his self-consciousness, he forced himself to lose no opportunity of
speaking French. Since he had to live in Paris, perhaps for years, he had
better adapt himself as quickly as possible to the conditions of life
there, and overcome his repugnance. So he forced himself, although he
suffered horribly, to take no notice of the sly looks of the waiter as
he listened to his horrible lingo. He was not discouraged, and went on
obstinately constructing ponderous, formless sentences and repeating them
until he was understood.
He set out to look for Diener. As usual, when he had an idea in his head,
he saw nothing of what was going on about him. During that first walk his
only impression of Paris was that of an old and ill-kept town. Christophe
was accustomed to the towns of the new German Empire, that were both very
old and very young, towns in which there is expressed a new birth of pride:
and he was unpleasantly surprised by the shabby streets, the muddy roads,
the hustling people, the confused traffic--vehicles of every sort and
shape: venerable horse omnibuses, steam trams, electric trams, all sorts
of trams--booths on the pavements, merry-go-rounds of wooden horses (or
monsters and gargoyles) in the squares that were choked up with statues of
gentlemen in frock-coats: all sorts of relics of a town of the Middle Ages
endowed with the privilege of universal suffrage, but quite incapable of
breaking free from its old vagabond existence. The fog of the preceding day
had turned to a light, soaking rain. In many of the shops the gas was lit,
although it was past ten o'clock.
Christophe lost his way in the labyrinth of streets round the _Place des
Victoires_, but eventually found the shop he was looking for in the _Rue
de la Banque_. As he entered he thought he saw Diener at the back of the
long, dark shop, arranging packages of goods, together with some of the
assistants. But he was a little short-sighted, and could not trust his
eyes, although it was very rarely that they deceived him. There was a
general movement among the people at the back of the shop when Christophe
gave his name to the clerk who approached him: and after a confabulation a
young man stepped forward from the group, and said in German:
"Herr Diener is out."
"Out? For long?"
"I think so. He has just gone."
Christophe thought for a moment; then he said:
"Very well. I will wait."
The clerk was taken aback, and hastened to add:
"But he won't be back before two or three."
"Oh! That's nothing," replied Christophe calmly. "I haven't anything to do
in Paris. I can wait all day if need be."
The young man looked at him in amazement, and thought he was joking. But
Christophe had forgotten him already. He sat down quietly in a corner, with
his back turned towards the street: and it looked as though he intended to
The clerk went back to the end of the shop and whispered to his colleagues:
they were most comically distressed, and cast about for some means of
getting rid of the insistent Christophe.
After a few uneasy moments, the door of the office was opened and Herr
Diener appeared. He had a large red face, marked with a purple scar down
his cheek and chin, a fair mustache, smooth hair, parted on one side, a
gold-rimmed eyeglass, gold studs in his shirt-front, and rings on his
fat fingers. He had his hat and an umbrella in his hands. He came up to
Christophe in a nonchalant manner. Christophe, who was dreaming as he sat,
started with surprise. He seized Diener's hands, and shouted with a noisy
heartiness that made the assistants titter and Diener blush. That majestic
personage had his reasons for not wishing to resume his former relationship
with Christophe: and he had made up his mind from the first to keep him at
a distance by a haughty manner. But he had no sooner come face to face with
Christophe than he felt like a little boy again in his presence: he was
furious and ashamed. He muttered hurriedly:
"In my office.... We shall be able to talk better there."
Christophe recognized Diener's habitual prudence.
But when they were in the office and the door was shut, Diener showed no
eagerness to offer him a chair. He remained standing, making clumsy
"Very glad.... I was just going out.... They thought I had gone.... But I
must go ... I have only a minute ... a pressing appointment...."
Christophe understood that the clerk had lied to him, and that the lie
had been arranged by Diener to get rid of him. His blood boiled: but he
controlled himself, and said dryly:
"There is no hurry."
Diener drew himself up. He was shocked by such off-handedness.
"What!" he said. "No hurry! In business..." Christophe looked him in the
Diener looked away. He hated Christophe for having so put him to shame. He
murmured irritably. Christophe cut him short:
"Come," he said. "You know..."
(He used the "_Du_," which maddened Diener, who from the first had been
vainly trying to set up between Christophe and himself the barrier of the
"You know why I am here?"
"Yes," said Diener. "I know."
(He had heard of Christophe's escapade, and the warrant out against him,
from his friends.)
"Then," Christophe went on, "you know that I am not here for fun. I have
had to fly. I have nothing. I must live."
Diener was waiting for that, for the request. He took it with a mixture of
satisfaction--(for it made it possible for him to feel his superiority over
Christophe)--and embarrassment--(for he dared not make Christophe feel his
superiority as much as he would have liked).
"Ah!" he said pompously. "It is very tiresome, very tiresome. Life here
is hard. Everything is so dear. We have enormous expenses. And all these
Christophe cut him short contemptuously:
"I am not asking you for money."
Diener was abashed. Christophe went on:
"Is your business doing well? Have you many customers?"
"Yes. Yes. Not bad, thank God!..." said Diener cautiously. (He was on his
Christophe darted a look of fury at him, and went on:
"You know many people in the German colony?"
"Very well: speak for me. They must be musical. They have children. I will
give them lessons."
Diener was embarrassed at that.
"What is it?" asked Christophe. "Do you think I'm not competent to do the
He was asking a service as though it were he who was rendering it. Diener,
who would not have done a thing for Christophe except for the sake of
putting him under an obligation, was resolved not to stir a finger for him.
"It isn't that. You're a thousand times too good for it. Only..."
"Well, you see, it's very difficult--very difficult--on account of your
"Yes.... You see, that affair, the warrant.... If that were to be known....
It is difficult for me. It might do me harm."
He stopped as he saw Christophe's face go hot with anger: and he added
"Not on my own account.... I'm not afraid.... Ah! If I were alone!... But
my uncle ... you know, the business is his. I can do nothing without
He grew more and more alarmed at Christophe's expression, and at the
thought of the gathering explosion he said hurriedly--(he was not a bad
fellow at bottom: avarice and vanity were struggling in him: he would have
liked to help Christophe, at a price):
"Can I lend you fifty francs?"
Christophe went crimson. He went up to Diener, who stepped back hurriedly
to the door and opened it, and held himself in readiness to call for help,
if necessary. But Christophe only thrust his face near his and bawled:
And he flung him aside and walked out through the little throng of
assistants. At the door he spat in disgust.
* * * * *
He strode along down the street. He was blind with fury. The rain sobered
him. Where was he going? He did not know. He did not know a soul. He
stopped to think outside a book-shop, and he stared stupidly at the rows
of books. He was struck by the name of a publisher on the cover of one of
them. He wondered why. Then he remembered that it was the name of the house
in which Sylvain Kohn was employed. He made a note of the address.... But
what was the good? He would not go.... Why should he not go?... If that
scoundrel Diener, who had been his friend, had given him such a welcome,
what had he to expect from a rascal whom he had handled roughly, who had
good cause to hate him? Vain humiliations! His blood boiled at the thought.
But his native pessimism, derived perhaps from his Christian education,
urged him on to probe to the depths of human baseness.
"I have no right to stand on ceremony. I must try everything before I give
And an inward voice added:
"And I shall not give in."
He made sure of the address, and went to hunt up Kohn He made up his mind
to hit him in the eye at the first show of impertinence.
The publishing house was in the neighborhood of the Madeleine. Christophe
went up to a room on the second floor, and asked for Sylvain Kohn. A man in
livery told him that "Kohn was not known." Christophe was taken aback, and
thought his pronunciation must be at fault, and he repeated his question:
but the man listened attentively, and repeated that no one of that name was
known in the place. Quite out of countenance, Christophe begged pardon, and
was turning to go when a door at the end of the corridor opened, and he saw
Kohn himself showing a lady out. Still suffering from the affront put upon
him by Diener, he was inclined to think that everybody was having a joke at
his expense. His first thought was that Kohn had seen him, and had given
orders to the man to say that he was not there. His gorge rose at the
impudence of it. He was on the point of going in a huff, when he heard his
name: Kohn, with his sharp eyes, had recognized him: and he ran up to him,
with a smile on his lips, and his hands held out with every mark of
Sylvain Kohn was short, thick-set, clean-shaven, like an American; his
complexion was too red, his hair too black; he had a heavy, massive face,
coarse-featured; little darting, wrinkled eyes, a rather crooked mouth,
a heavy, cunning smile. He was modishly dressed, trying to cover up the
defects of his figure, high shoulders, and wide hips. That was the only
thing that touched his vanity: he would gladly have put up with any insult
if only he could have been a few inches taller and of a better figure.
For the rest, he was very well pleased with himself: he thought himself
irresistible, as indeed he was. The little German Jew, clod as he was, had
made himself the chronicler and arbiter of Parisian fashion and smartness.
He wrote insipid society paragraphs and articles in a delicately involved
manner. He was the champion of French style, French smartness, French
gallantry, French wit--Regency, red heels, Lauzun. People laughed at him:
but that did not prevent his success. Those who say that in Paris ridicule
kills do not know Paris: so far from dying of it, there are people who live
on it: in Paris ridicule leads to everything, even to fame and fortune.
Sylvain Kohn was far beyond any need to reckon the good-will that every day
accumulated to him through his Frankfortian affectations.
He spoke with a thick accent through his nose.
"Ah! What a surprise!" he cried gaily, taking Christophe's hands in his
own clumsy paws, with their stubby fingers that looked as though they were
crammed into too tight a skin. He could not let go of Christophe's hands.
It was as though, he were encountering his best friend. Christophe was so
staggered that he wondered again if Kohn was not making fun of him. But
Kohn was doing nothing of the kind--or, rather, if he was joking, it was
no more than usual. There was no rancor about Kohn: he was too clever for
that. He had long ago forgotten the rough treatment he had suffered at
Christophe's hands: and if ever he did remember it, it did not worry him.
He was delighted to have the opportunity of showing his old schoolfellow
his importance and his new duties, and the elegance of his Parisian
manners. He was not lying in expressing his surprise: a visit from
Christophe was the last thing in the world that he expected: and if he was
too worldly-wise not to know that the visit was of set material purpose,
he took it as a reason the more for welcoming him, as it was, in fact, a
tribute to his power.
"And you have come from Germany? How is your mother?" he asked, with a
familiarity which at any other time would have annoyed Christophe, but now
gave him comfort in the strange city.
"But how was it," asked Christophe, who was still inclined to be
suspicious, "that they told me just now that Herr Kohn did not belong
"Herr Kohn doesn't belong here," said Sylvain Kohn, laughing. "My name
isn't Kohn now. My name is Hamilton."
He broke off.
"Excuse me," he said.
He went and shook hands with a lady who was passing and smiled grimacingly.
Then he came back. He explained that the lady was a writer famous for her
voluptuous and passionate novels. The modern Sappho had a purple ribbon
on her bosom, a full figure, bright golden hair round a painted face; she
made a few pretentious remarks in a mannish fashion with the accent of
Kohn plied Christophe with questions. He asked about all the people at
home, and what had become of so-and-so, pluming himself on the fact that he
remembered everybody. Christophe had forgotten his antipathy; he replied
cordially and gratefully, giving a mass of detail about which Kohn cared
nothing at all, and presently he broke off again.
"Excuse me," he said.
And he went to greet another lady who had come in.
"Dear me!" said Christophe. "Are there only women writers in France?"
Kohn began to laugh, and said fatuously:
"France is a woman, my dear fellow. If you want to succeed, make up to the
Christophe did not listen to the explanation, and went on with his own
story. To put a stop to it, Kohn asked:
"But how the devil do you come here?"
"Ah!" thought Christophe, "he doesn't know. That is why he was so amiable.
He'll be different when he knows."
He made it a point of honor to tell everything against himself: the brawl
with the soldiers, the warrant out against him, his flight from the
Kohn rocked with laughter.
"Bravo!" he cried. "Bravo! That's a good story!"
He shook Christophe's hand warmly. He was delighted by any smack in the eye
of authority: and the story tickled him the more as he knew the heroes of
it: he saw the funny side of it.
"I say," he said, "it is past twelve. Will you give me the pleasure ...?
Lunch with me?"
Christophe accepted gratefully. He thought:
"This is a good fellow--decidedly a good fellow. I was mistaken."
They went out together. On the way Christophe put forward his request:
"You see how I am placed. I came here to look for work--music
lessons--until I can make my name. Could you speak for me?"
"Certainly," said Kohn. "To any one you like. I know everybody here. I'm at
He was glad to be able to show how important he was.
Christophe covered him with expressions of gratitude. He felt that he was
relieved of a great weight of anxiety.
At lunch he gorged with the appetite of a man who has not broken fast for
two days. He tucked his napkin round his neck, and ate with his knife.
Kohn-Hamilton was horribly shocked by his voracity and his peasant manners.
And he was, hurt, too, by the small amount of attention that his guest gave
to his bragging. He tried to dazzle him by telling of his fine connections
and his prosperity: but it was no good: Christophe did not listen, and
bluntly interrupted him. His tongue was loosed, and he became familiar. His
heart was full, and he overwhelmed Kohn with his simple confidences of his
plans for the future. Above all, he exasperated him by insisting on taking
his hand across the table and pressing it effusively. And he brought him to
the pitch of irritation at last by wanting to clink glasses in the German
fashion, and, with sentimental speeches, to drink to those at home and
to _Vater Rhein_. Kohn saw, to his horror, that he was on the point of
singing. The people at the next table were casting ironic glances in their
direction. Kohn made some excuse on the score of pressing business, and got
up. Christophe clung to him: he wanted to know when he could have a letter
of introduction, and go and see some one, and begin giving lessons.
"I'll see about it. To-day--this evening," said Kohn. "I'll talk about you
at once. You can be easy on that score."
"When shall I know?"
"To-morrow ... to-morrow ... or the day after."
"Very well. I'll come back to-morrow."
"No, no!" said Kohn quickly. "I'll let you know. Don't you worry."
"Oh! it's no trouble. Quite the contrary. Eh? I've nothing else to do in
Paris in the meanwhile."
"Good God!" thought Kohn.... "No," he said aloud. "But I would rather write
to you. You wouldn't find me the next few days. Give me your address."
Christophe dictated it.
"Good. I'll write you to-morrow."
"To-morrow. You can count on it"
He cut short Christophe's hand-shaking and escaped.
"Ugh!" he thought. "What a bore!"
As he went into his office he told the boy that he would not be in when
"the German" came to see him. Ten minutes later he had forgotten him.
Christophe went back to his lair. He was full of gentle thoughts.
"What a good fellow! What a good fellow!" he thought. "How unjust I was
about him. And he bears me no ill-will!"
He was remorseful, and he was on the point of writing to tell Kohn how
sorry he was to have misjudged him, and to beg his forgiveness for all the
harm he had done him. The tears came to his eyes as he thought of it. But
it was harder for him to write a letter than a score of music: and after he
had cursed and cursed the pen and ink of the hotel--which were, in fact,
horrible--after he had blotted, criss-crossed, and torn up five or six
sheets of paper, he lost patience and dropped it.
The rest of the day dragged wearily: but Christophe was so worn out by his
sleepless night and his excursions in the morning that at length he dozed
off in his chair. He only woke up in the evening, and then he went to bed:
and he slept for twelve hours on end.
* * * * *
Next day from eight o'clock on he sat waiting for the promised letter. He
had no doubt of Kohn's sincerity. He did not go out, telling himself that
perhaps Kohn would come round by the hotel on his way to his office. So as
not to be out, about midday he had his lunch sent up from the eating-house
downstairs. Then he sat waiting again. He was sure Kohn would come on his
way back from lunch. He paced up and down his room, sat down, paced up and
down again, opened his door whenever he heard footsteps on the stairs.
He had no desire to go walking about Paris to stay his anxiety. He lay
down on his bed. His thoughts went back and back to his old mother, who
was thinking of him too--she alone thought of him. He had an infinite
tenderness for her, and he was remorseful at having left her. But he did
not write to her. He was waiting until he could tell her that he had found
work. In spite of the love they had for each other, it would never have
occurred to either of them to write just to tell their love: letters were
for things more definite than that. He lay on the bed with his hands locked
behind his head, and dreamed. Although his room was away from the street,
the roar of Paris invaded the silence: the house shook. Night came again,
and brought no letter.
Came another day like unto the last.
On the third day, exasperated by his voluntary seclusion, Christophe
decided to go out. But from the impression of his first evening he was
instinctively in revolt against Paris. He had no desire to see anything:
no curiosity: he was too much taken up with the problem of his own life
to take any pleasure in watching the lives of others: and the memories of
lives past, the monuments of a city, had always left him cold. And so,
hardly had he set foot out of doors, than, although he had made up his mind
not to go near Kohn for a week, he went straight to his office.
The boy obeyed his orders, and said that M. Hamilton had left Paris on
business. It was a blow to Christophe. He gasped and asked when M. Hamilton
would return. The boy replied at random:
"In ten days."
Christophe went back utterly downcast, and buried himself in his room
during the following days. He found it impossible to work. His heart sank
as he saw that his small supply of money--the little sum that his mother
had sent him, carefully wrapped up in a handkerchief at the bottom of his
bag--was rapidly decreasing. He imposed a severe regime on himself. He
only went down in the evening to dinner in the little pot-house, where
he quickly became known to the frequenters of it as the "Prussian" or
"Sauerkraut." With frightful effort, he wrote two or three letters to
French musicians whose names he knew hazily. One of them had been dead
for ten years. He asked them to be so kind as to give him a hearing. His
spelling was wild, and his style was complicated by those long inversions
and ceremonious formulae which are the custom in Germany. He addressed his
letters: "To the Palace of the Academy of France." The only man to read his
gave it to his friends as a joke.
After a week Christophe went once more to the publisher's office. This time
he was in luck. He met Sylvain Kohn going out, on the doorstep. Kohn made a
face as he saw that he was caught: but Christophe was so happy that he did
not see that. He took his hands in his usual uncouth way, and asked gaily:
"You've been away? Did you have a good time?"
Kohn said that he had had a very good time, but he did not unbend.
Christophe went on:
"I came, you know.... They told you, I suppose?... Well, any news? You
mentioned my name? What did they say?"
Kohn looked blank. Christophe was amazed at his frigid manner: he was not
the same man.
"I mentioned you," said Kohn: "but I haven't heard yet. I haven't had time.
I have been very busy since I saw you--up to my ears in business. I don't
know how I can get through. It is appalling. I shall be ill with it all."
"Aren't you well?" asked Christophe anxiously and solicitously.
Kohn looked at him slyly, and replied:
"Not at all well. I don't know what is the matter, the last few days. I'm
"I'm so sorry," said Christophe, taking his arm. "Do be careful. You must
rest. I'm so sorry to have been a bother to you. You should have told me.
What is the matter with you, really?"
He took Kohn's sham excuses so seriously that the little Jew was hard put
to it to hide his amusement, and disarmed by his funny simplicity. Irony is
so dear a pleasure to the Jews--(and a number of Christians in Paris are
Jewish in this respect)--that they are indulgent with bores, and even with
their enemies, if they give them the opportunity of tasting it at their
expense. Besides, Kohn was touched by Christophe's interest in himself. He
felt inclined to help him.
"I've got an idea," he said. "While you are waiting for lessons, would you
care to do some work for a music publisher?"
Christophe accepted eagerly.
"I've got the very thing," said Kohn. "I know one of the partners in a big
firm of music publishers--Daniel Hecht. I'll introduce you. You'll see what
there is to do. I don't know anything about it, you know. But Hecht is a
real musician. You'll get on with him all right."
They parted until the following day. Kohn was not sorry to be rid of
Christophe by doing him this service.
* * * * *
Next day Christophe fetched Kohn at his office. On his advice, he had
brought several of his compositions to show to Hecht. They found him in his
music-shop near the Opera. Hecht did not put himself out when they went
in: he coldly held out two fingers to take Kohn's hand, did not reply to
Christophe's ceremonious bow, and at Kohn's request he took them into the
next room. He did not ask them to sit down. He stood with his back to the
empty chimney-place, and stared at the wall.
Daniel Hecht was a man of forty, tall, cold, correctly dressed, a marked
Phenician type; he looked clever and disagreeable: there was a scowl on his
face: he had black hair and a beard like that of an Assyrian King, long
and square-cut. He hardly ever looked straight forward, and he had an
icy brutal way of talking which sounded insulting even when he only said
"Good-day." His insolence was more apparent than real. No doubt it emanated
from a contemptuous strain in his character: but really it was more a part
of the automatic and formal element in him. Jews of that sort are quite
common: opinion is not kind towards them: that hard stiffness of theirs is
looked upon as arrogance, while it is often in reality the outcome of an
incurable boorishness in body and soul.
Sylvain Kohn introduced his protege, in a bantering, pretentious voice,
with exaggerated praises. Christophe was abashed by his reception, and
stood shifting from one foot to the other, holding his manuscripts and his
hat in his hand. When Kohn had finished, Hecht, who up to then had seemed
to be unaware of Christophe's existence, turned towards him disdainfully,
and, without looking at him, said:
"Krafft ... Christophe Krafft.... Never heard the name."
To Christophe it was as though he had been struck, full in the chest. The
blood rushed to his cheeks. He replied angrily:
"You'll hear it later on."
Hecht took no notice, and went on imperturbably, as though Christophe did
"Krafft ... no, never heard it."
He was one of those people for whom not to be known to them is a mark
against a man.
He went on in German:
"And you come from the _Rhine-land_?... It's wonderful how many people
there are there who dabble in music! But I don't think there is a man among
them who has any claim to be a musician."
He meant it as a joke, not as an insult: but Christophe did not take it so.
He would have replied in kind if Kohn had not anticipated him.
"Oh, come, come!" he said to Hecht. "You must do me the justice to admit
that I know nothing at all about it."
"That's to your credit," replied Hecht.
"If I am to be no musician in order to please you," said Christophe dryly,
"I am sorry, but I'm not that."
Hecht, still looking aside, went on, as indifferently as ever.
"You have written music? What have you written? _Lieder_, I suppose?"
"_Lieder_, two symphonies, symphonic poems, quartets, piano suites, theater
music," said Christophe, boiling.
"People write a great deal in Germany," said Hecht, with scornful
It made him all the more suspicious of the newcomer to think that he had
written so many works, and that he, Daniel Hecht, had not heard of them.
"Well," he said, "I might perhaps find work for you as you are recommended
by my friend Hamilton. At present we are making a collection, a 'Library
for Young People,' in which we are publishing some easy pianoforte pieces.
Could you 'simplify' the _Carnival_ of Schumann, and arrange it for six and
Christophe was staggered.
"And you offer that to me, to me--me...?"
His naive "Me" delighted Kohn: but Hecht was offended.
"I don't see that there is anything surprising in that," he said. "It is
not such easy work as all that! If you think it too easy, so much the
better. We'll see about that later on. You tell me you are a good musician.
I must believe you. But I've never heard of you."
He thought to himself:
"If one were to believe all these young sparks, they would knock the
stuffing out of Johannes Brahms himself."
Christophe made no reply--(for he had vowed to hold himself in
check)--clapped his hat on his head, and turned towards the door. Kohn
stopped him, laughing:
"Wait, wait!" he said. And he turned to Hecht: "He has brought some of his
work to give you an idea."
"Ah!" said Hecht warily. "Very well, then: let us see them."
Without a word Christophe held out his manuscripts. Hecht cast his eyes
over them carelessly.
"What's this? A _suite for piano_ ... (reading): _A Day_.... Ah! Always
In spite of his apparent indifference he was reading carefully. He was an
excellent musician, and knew his job: he knew nothing outside it: with the
first bar or two he gauged his man. He was silent as he turned over the
pages with a scornful air: he was struck by the talent revealed in them:
but his natural reserve and his vanity, piqued by Christophe's manner, kept
him from showing anything. He went on to the end in silence, not missing a
"Yes," he said, in a patronizing tone of voice, "they're well enough."
Violent criticism would have hurt Christophe less.
"I don't need to be told that," he said irritably.
"I fancy," said Hecht, "that you showed me them for me to say what I
"Not at all."
"Then," said Hecht coldly, "I fail to see what you have come for."
"I came to ask for work, and nothing else."
"I have nothing to offer you for the time being, except what I told you.
And I'm not sure of that. I said it was possible, that's all."
"And you have no other work to offer a musician like myself?"
"A musician like you?" said Hecht ironically and cuttingly. "Other
musicians at least as good as yourself have not thought the work beneath
their dignity. There are men whose names I could give you, men who are now
very well known in Paris, have been very grateful to me for it."
"Then they must have been--swine!" bellowed Christophe.--(He had already
learned certain of the most useful words in the French language)--"You are
wrong if you think you have to do with a man of that kidney. Do you think
you can take me in with looking anywhere but at me, and clipping your
words? You didn't even deign to acknowledge my bow when I came in.... But
what the hell are you to treat me like that? Are you even a musician? Have
you ever written anything?... And you pretend to teach me how to write--me,
to whom writing is life!... And you can find nothing better to offer me,
when you have read my music, than a hashing up of great musicians, a filthy
scrabbling over their works to turn them into parlor tricks for little
girls!... You go to your Parisians who are rotten enough to be taught their
work by you! I'd rather die first!"
It was impossible to stem the torrent of his words.
Hecht said icily:
"Take it or leave it."
Christophe went out and slammed the doors. Hecht shrugged, and said to
Sylvain Kohn, who was laughing:
"He will come to it like the rest."
At heart he valued Christophe. He was clever enough to feel not only the
worth of a piece of work, but also the worth of a man. Behind Christophe's
outburst he had marked a force. And he knew its rarity--in the world of
art more than anywhere else. But his vanity was ruffled by it: nothing
would ever induce him to admit himself in the wrong. He desired loyally
to be just to Christophe, but he could not do it unless Christophe came
and groveled to him. He expected Christophe to return: his melancholy
skepticism and his experience of men had told him how inevitably the will
is weakened and worn down by poverty.
* * * * *
Christophe went home. Anger had given place to despair. He felt that he
was lost. The frail prop on which he had counted had failed him. He had no
doubt but that he had made a deadly enemy, not only of Hecht, but of Kohn,
who had introduced him. He was in absolute solitude in a hostile city.
Outside Diener and Kohn he knew no one. His friend Corinne, the beautiful
actress whom he had met in Germany, was not in Paris: she was still touring
abroad, in America, this time on her own account: the papers published
clamatory descriptions of her travels. As for the little French governess
whom he had unwittingly robbed of her situation,--the thought of her had
long filled him with remorse--how often had he vowed that he would find
her when he reached Paris. [Footnote: See _Jean-Christophe_--I: "Revolt."]
But now that he was in Paris he found that he had forgotten one important
thing: her name. He could not remember it. He could only recollect her
Christian name: Antoinette. And then, even if he remembered, how was he to
find a poor little governess in that ant-heap of human beings?
He had to set to work as soon as possible to find a livelihood. He had five
francs left. In spite of his dislike of him, he forced himself to ask the
innkeeper if he did not know of anybody in the neighborhood to whom he
could give music-lessons. The innkeeper, who had no great opinion of a
lodger who only ate once a day and spoke German, lost what respect he had
for him when he heard that he was only a musician. He was a Frenchman of
the old school, and music was to him an idler's job. He scoffed:
"The piano!... I don't know. You strum the piano! Congratulations!... But
'tis a queer thing to take to that trade as a matter of taste! When I hear
music, it's just for all the world like listening to the rain.... But
perhaps you might teach me. What do you say, you fellows?" he cried,
turning to some fellows who were drinking.
They laughed loudly.
"It's a fine trade," said one of them. "Not dirty work. And the ladies like
Christophe did not rightly understand the French or the jest: he floundered
for his words: he did not know whether to be angry or not. The innkeeper's
wife took pity on him:
"Come, come, Philippe, you're not serious," she said to her husband. "All
the same," she went on, turning to Christophe, "there is some one who might
do for you."
"Who?" asked her husband.
"The Grasset girl. You know, they've bought a piano."
"Ah! Those stuck-up folk! So they have."
They told Christophe that the girl in question was the daughter of a
butcher: her parents were trying to make a lady of her; they would perhaps
like her to have lessons, if only for the sake of making people talk. The
innkeeper's wife promised to see to it.
Next day she told Christophe that the butcher's wife would like to see him.
He went to her house, and found her in the shop, surrounded with great
pieces of meat. She was a pretty, rather florid woman, and she smiled
sweetly, but stood on her dignity when she heard why he had come. Quite
abruptly she came to the question of payment, and said quickly that she did
not wish to give much, because the piano is quite an agreeable thing, but
not necessary: she offered him fifty centimes an hour. In any case, she
would not pay more than four francs a week. After that she asked Christophe
a little doubtfully if he knew much about music. She was reassured, and
became more amiable when he told her that not only did he know about music,
but wrote it into the bargain: that flattered her vanity: it would be a
good thing to spread about the neighborhood that her daughter was taking
lessons with a composer.
Next day, when Christophe found himself sitting by the piano--a horrible
instrument, bought second-hand, which sounded like a guitar--with the
butcher's little daughter, whose short, stubby fingers fumbled with the
keys; who was unable to tell one note from another; who was bored to tears;
who began at once to yawn in his face; and he had to submit to the mother's
superintendence, and to her conversation, and to her ideas on music and the
teaching of music--then he felt so miserable, so wretchedly humiliated,
that he had not even the strength to be angry about it. He relapsed into a
state of despair: there were evenings when he could not eat. If in a few
weeks he had fallen so low, where would he end? What good was it to have
rebelled against Hecht's offer? The thing to which he had submitted was
even more degrading.
One evening, as he sat in his room, he could not restrain his tears: he
flung himself on his knees by his bed and prayed.... To whom did he pray?
To whom could he pray? He did not believe in God; he believed that there
was no God.... But he had to pray--he had to pray within his soul. Only
the mean of spirit never need to pray. They never know the need that comes
to the strong in spirit of taking refuge within the inner sanctuary of
themselves. As he left behind him the humiliations of the day, in the vivid
silence of his heart Christophe felt the presence of his eternal Being, of
his God. The waters of his wretched life stirred and shifted above Him and
never touched Him: what was there in common between that and Him? All the
sorrows of the world rushing on to destruction dashed against that rock.
Christophe heard the blood beating in his veins, beating like an inward
"Eternal ... I am ... I am...."
Well did he know that voice: as long as he could remember he had heard
it. Sometimes he forgot it: often for months together he would lose
consciousness of its mighty monotonous rhythm: but he knew that it was
there, that it never ceased, like the ocean roaring in the night. In the
music of it he found once more the same energy that he gained from it
whenever he bathed in its waters. He rose to his feet. He was fortified.
No: the hard life that he led contained nothing of which he need be
ashamed: he could eat the bread he earned, and never blush for it: it was
for those who made him earn it at such a price to blush and be ashamed.
Patience! Patience! The time would come....
But next day he began to lose patience again: and, in spite of all his
efforts, he did at last explode angrily, one day during a lesson, at the
silly little ninny, who had been maddeningly impertinent and laughed at his
accent, and had taken a malicious delight in doing exactly the opposite
of what he told her. The girl screamed in response to Christophe's angry
shouts. She was frightened and enraged at a man whom she paid daring to
show her no respect. She declared that he had struck her--(Christophe had
shaken her arm rather roughly). Her mother bounced in on them like a Fury,
and covered her daughter with kisses and Christophe with abuse. The butcher
also appeared, and declared that he would not suffer any infernal Prussian
to take upon himself to touch his daughter. Furious, pale with rage,
itching to choke the life out of the butcher and his wife and daughter,
Christophe rushed away. His host and hostess, seeing him come in in an
abject condition, had no difficulty in worming the story out of him: and it
fed the malevolence with which they regarded their neighbors. But by the
evening the whole neighborhood was saying that the German was a brute and a
* * * * *
Christophe made fresh advances to the music-vendors: but in vain. He found
the French lacking in cordiality: and the whirl and confusion of their
perpetual agitation crushed him. They seemed to him to live in a state of
anarchy, directed by a cunning and despotic bureaucracy.
One evening, he was wandering along the boulevards, discouraged by the
futility of his efforts, when he saw Sylvain Kohn coming from the opposite
direction. He was convinced that they had quarreled irrevocably and looked
away and tried to pass unnoticed. But Kohn called to him:
"What became of you after that great day?" he asked with a laugh. "I've
been wanting to look you up, but I lost your address.... Good Lord, my dear
fellow, I didn't know you! You were epic: that's what you were, epic!"
Christophe stared at him. He was surprised and a little ashamed.
"You're not angry with me?"
"Angry? What an idea!"
So far from being angry, he had been delighted with the way in which
Christophe had trounced Hecht: it had been a treat to him. It really
mattered nothing to him whether Christophe or Hecht was right: he only
regarded people as source of entertainment: and he saw in Christophe a
spring of high comedy, which he intended to exploit to the full.
"You should have come to see me," he went on. "I was expecting you. What
are you doing this evening? Come to dinner. I won't let you off. Quite
informal: just a few artists: we meet once a fortnight. You should know
these people. Come. I'll introduce you."
In vain did Christophe beg to be excused on the score of his clothes.
Sylvain Kohn carried him off.
They entered a restaurant on one of the boulevards, and went up to the
second floor. Christophe found himself among about thirty young men, whose
ages ranged from twenty to thirty-five, and they were all engaged in
animated discussion. Kohn introduced him as a man who had just escaped
from a German prison. They paid no attention to him and did not stop their
passionate discussion, and Kohn plunged into it at once.
Christophe was shy in this select company, and said nothing: but he was
all ears. He could not grasp--he had great difficulty in following the
volubility of the French--what great artistic interests were in dispute.
He listened attentively, but he could only make out words like "trust,"
"monopoly," "fall in prices," "receipts," mixed up with phrases like "the
dignity of art," and the "rights of the author." And at last he saw that
they were talking business. A certain number of authors, it appeared,
belonged to a syndicate and were angry about certain attempts which had
been made to float a rival concern, which, according to them, would dispute
their monopoly of exploitation. The defection of certain of their members
who had found it to their advantage to go over bag and baggage to the rival
house had roused them, to the wildest fury. They talked of decapitation.
"... Burked.... Treachery.... Shame.... Sold...."
Others did not worry about the living: they were incensed against the dead,
whose sales without royalties choked up the market. It appeared that the
works of De Musset had just become public property, and were selling far
too well. And so they demanded that the State should give them rigorous
protection, and heavily tax the masterpieces of the past so as to check
their circulation at reduced prices, which, they declared, was unfair
competition with the work of living artists.
They stopped each other to hear the takings of such and such a theater on
the preceding evening. They all went into ecstasies over the fortune of
a veteran dramatist, famous in two continents--a man whom they despised,
though they envied him even more. From the incomes of authors they passed
to those of the critics. They talked of the sum--(pure calumny, no
doubt)--received by one of their colleagues for every first performance
at one of the theaters on the boulevards, the consideration being that he
should speak well of it. He was an honest man: having made his bargain he
stuck to it: but his great secret lay--(so they said)--in so eulogizing the
piece that it would be taken off as quickly as possible so that there might
be many new plays. The tale--(or the account)--caused laughter, but nobody
And mingled with all that talk they threw out fine phrases: they talked of
"poetry" and "art for art's sake." But through it all there rang "art for
money's sake"; and this jobbing spirit, newly come into French literature,
scandalized Christophe. As he understood nothing at all about their talk of
money he had given it up. But then they began to talk of letters, or rather
of men of letters.--Christophe pricked up his ears as he heard the name of
They were debating whether he had been cuckolded: they argued at length
about the love of Sainte-Beuve and Madame Hugo. And then they turned to
the lovers of George Sand and their respective merits. That was the chief
occupation of criticism just then: when they had ransacked the houses of
great men, rummaged through the closets, turned out the drawers, ransacked
the cupboards, they burrowed down to their inmost lives. The attitude
of Monsieur de Lauzun lying flat under the bed of the King and Madame
de Montespan was the attitude of criticism in its cult of history and
truth--(everybody just then, of course, made a cult of truth). These young
men were subscribers to the cult: no detail was too small for them in their
search for truth. They applied it to the art of the present as well as to
that of the past: and they analyzed the private life of certain of the more
notorious of their contemporaries with the same passion for exactness.
It was a queer thing that they were possessed of the smallest details of
scenes which are usually enacted without witnesses. It was really as though
the persons concerned had been the first to give exact information to the
public out of their great devotion to the truth.
Christophe was more and more embarrassed and tried to talk to his neighbors
of something else; but nobody listened to him. At first they asked him
a few vague questions about Germany--questions which, to his amazement,
displayed the almost complete ignorance of these distinguished and
apparently cultured young men concerning the most elementary things of
their work--literature and art--outside Paris; at most they had heard of a
few great names: Hauptmann, Sudermann, Liebermann, Strauss (David, Johann,
Richard), and they picked their way gingerly among them for fear of getting
mixed. If they had questioned Christophe it was from politeness rather than
from curiosity: they had no curiosity: they hardly seemed to notice his
replies: and they hurried back at once to the Parisian topics which were
regaling the rest of the company.
Christophe timidly tried to talk of music. Not one of these men of letters
was a musician. At heart they considered music an inferior art. But the
growing success of music during the last few years had made them secretly
uneasy: and since it was the fashion they pretended to be interested in it.
They frothed especially about a new opera and declared that music dated
from its performance, or at least the new era in music. This idea made
things easy for their ignorance and snobbishness, for it relieved them
of the necessity of knowing anything else. The author of the opera, a
Parisian, whose name Christophe heard for the first time, had, said some,
made a clean sweep of all that had gone before him, cleaned up, renovated,
and recreated music. Christophe started at that. He asked nothing better
than to believe in genius. But such a genius as that, a genius who had at
one swoop wiped out the past.... Good heavens! He must be a lusty lad: how
the devil had he done it? He asked for particulars. The others, who would
have been hard put to it to give any explanation and were disconcerted by
Christophe, referred him to the musician of the company, Theophile Goujart,
the great musical critic, who began at once to talk of sevenths and ninths.
Goujart knew music much as Sganarelle knew Latin....
"_... You don't know Latin?_"
_(With enthusiasm) "Cabricias, arci thuram, catalamus, singulariter ...
bonus, bona, bonum."_
Finding himself with a man who "understood Latin" he prudently took refuge
in the chatter of esthetics. From that impregnable fortress he began to
bombard Beethoven, Wagner, and classical art, which was not before the
house (but in France it is impossible to praise an artist without making
as an offering a holocaust of all those who are unlike him). He announced
the advent of a new art which trampled under foot the conventions of the
past. He spoke of a new musical language which had been discovered by the
Christopher Columbus of Parisian music, and he said it made an end of the
language of the classics: that was a dead language.
Christophe reserved his opinion of this reforming genius to wait until
he had seen his work before he said anything: but in spite of himself he
felt an instinctive distrust of this musical Baal to whom all music was
sacrificed. He was scandalized to hear the Masters so spoken of: and he
forgot that he had said much the same sort of thing in Germany. He who at
home had thought himself a revolutionary in art, he who had scandalized
others by the boldness of his judgments and the frankness of his
expressions, felt, as soon as he heard these words spoken in France, that
he was at heart a conservative. He tried to argue, and was tactless enough
to speak, not like a man of culture, who advances arguments without
exposition, but as a professional, bringing out disconcerting facts. He did
not hesitate to plunge into technical explanations: and his voice, as he
talked, struck a note which was well calculated to offend the ears of a
company of superior persons to whom his arguments and the vigor with which
he supported them were alike ridiculous. The critic tried to demolish
him with an attempt at wit, and to end the discussion which had shown
Christophe to his stupefaction that he had to deal with a man who did
not in the least know what he was talking about. And so they came to
the opinion that the German was pedantic and superannuated: and without
knowing anything about it they decided that his music was detestable. But
Christophe's bizarre personality had made an impression on the company of
young men, and with their quickness in seizing on the ridiculous they had
marked the awkward, violent gestures of his thin arms with their enormous
hands, and the furious glances that darted from his eyes as his voice rose
to a falsetto. Sylvain Kohn saw to it that his friends were kept amused.
Conversation had deserted literature in favor of women. As a matter of
fact they were only two aspects of the same subject: for their literature
was concerned with nothing but women, and their women were concerned with
nothing but literature, they were so much taken up with the affairs and men
They spoke of one good lady, well known in Parisian society, who had, it
was said, just married her lover to her daughter, the better to keep him.
Christophe squirmed in his chair, and tactlessly made a face of disgust.
Kohn saw it, and nudged his neighbor and pointed out that the subject
seemed to excite the German--that no doubt he was longing to know the lady.
Christophe blushed, muttered angrily, and finally said hotly that such
women ought to be whipped. His proposition was received with a shout of
Homeric laughter: and Sylvain Kohn cooingly protested that no man should
touch a woman, even with a flower, etc., etc. (In Paris he was the very
Knight of Love.) Christophe replied that a woman of that sort was neither
more nor less than a bitch, and that there was only one remedy for vicious
dogs: the whip. They roared at him. Christophe said that their gallantry
was hypocritical, and that those who talked most of their respect for women
were those who possessed the least of it: and he protested against these
scandalous tales. They replied that there was no scandal in it, and that it
was only natural: and they were all agreed that the heroine of the story
was not only a charming woman, but _the_ Woman, _par excellence_. The
German waxed indignant. Sylvain Kohn asked him slyly what he thought Woman
was like. Christophe felt that they were pulling his leg and laying a trap
for him: but he fell straight into it in the violent expression of his
convictions. He began to explain his ideas on love to these bantering
Parisians. He could not find his words, floundered about after them, and
finally fished up from the phrases he remembered such impossible words,
such enormities, that he had all his hearers rocking with laughter, while
all the time he was perfectly and admirably serious, never bothered about
them, and was touchingly impervious to their ridicule: for he could not
help seeing that they were making fun of him. At last he tied himself up
in a sentence, could not extricate himself, brought his fist down on the
table, and was silent.
They tried to bring him back into the discussion: he scowled and did not
flinch, but sat with his elbows on the table, ashamed and irritated. He
did not open his lips again, except to eat and drink, until the dinner was
over. He drank enormously, unlike the Frenchmen, who only sipped their
wine. His neighbor wickedly encouraged him, and went on filling his glass,
which he emptied absently. But, although he was not used to these excesses,
especially after the weeks of privation through which he had passed, he
took his liquor well, and did not cut so ridiculous a figure as the others
hoped. He sat there lost in thought: they paid no attention to him: they
thought he was made drowsy by the wine. He was exhausted by the effort of
following the conversation in French, and tired of hearing about nothing
but literature--actors, authors, publishers, the chatter of the _coulisses_
and literary life: everything seemed to be reduced to that. Amid all these
new faces and the buzz of words he could not fix a single face, nor a
single thought. His short-sighted eyes, dim and dreamy, wandered slowly
round the table, and they rested on one man after another without seeming
to see them. And yet he saw them better than any one, though he himself was
not conscious of it. He did not, like these Jews and Frenchmen, peck at
the things he saw and dissect them, tear them to rags, and leave them in
tiny, tiny pieces. Slowly, like a sponge, he sucked up the essence of men
and women, and bore away their image in his soul. He seemed to have seen
nothing and to remember nothing. It was only long afterwards--hours, often
days--when he was alone, gazing in upon himself, that he saw that he had
borne away a whole impression.
But for the moment he seemed to be just a German boor, stuffing himself
with food, concerned only with not missing a mouthful. And he heard nothing
clearly, except when he heard the others calling each other by name, and
then, with a silly drunken insistency, he wondered why so many Frenchmen
have foreign names: Flemish, German, Jewish, Levantine, Anglo- or
He did not notice when they got up from the table. He went on sitting
alone: and he dreamed of the Rhenish hills, the great woods, the tilled
fields, the meadows by the waterside, his old mother. Most of the others
had gone. At last he thought of going, and got up, too, without looking
at anybody, and went and took down his hat and cloak, which were hanging
by the door. When he had put them on he was turning away without saying
good-night, when through a half-open door he saw an object which fascinated
him: a piano. He had not touched a musical instrument for weeks. He went in
and lovingly touched the keys, sat down just as he was, with his hat on his
head and his cloak on his shoulders, and began to play. He had altogether
forgotten where he was. He did not notice that two men crept into the room
to listen to him. One was Sylvain Kohn, a passionate lover of music--God
knows why! for he knew nothing at all about it, and he liked bad music
just as well as good. The other was the musical critic, Theophile Goujart.
He--it simplifies matters so much--neither understood nor loved music: but
that did not keep him from talking about it. On the contrary: nobody is so
free in mind as the man who knows nothing of what he is talking about: for
to such a man it does not matter whether he says one thing more than
Theophile Goujart was tall, strong, and muscular: he had a black beard,
thick curls on his forehead, which was lined with deep inexpressive
wrinkles, short arms, short legs, a big chest: a type of woodman or porter
of the Auvergne. He had common manners and an arrogant way of speaking. He
had gone into music through politics, at that time the only road to success
in France. He had attached himself to the fortunes of a Minister to whom he
had discovered that he was distantly related--a son "of the bastard of his
apothecary." Ministers are not eternal, and when it seemed that the day of
his Minister was over Theophile Goujart deserted the ship, taking with him
all that he could lay his hands on, notably several orders: for he loved
glory. Tired of politics, in which for some time past he had received
various snubs, both on his own account and on that of his patron, he
looked out for a shelter from the storm, a restful position in which he
could annoy others without being himself annoyed. Everything pointed to
criticism. Just at that moment there fell vacant the post of musical critic
to one of the great Parisian papers. The previous holder of the post, a
young and talented composer, had been dismissed because he insisted on
saying what he thought of the authors and their work. Goujart had never
taken any interest in music, and knew nothing at all about it: he was
chosen without a moment's hesitation. They had had enough of competent
critics: with Goujart there was at least nothing to fear: he did not attach
an absurd importance to his opinions: he was always at the editor's orders,
and ready to comply with a slashing article or enthusiastic approbation.
That he was no musician was a secondary consideration. Everybody in
France knows a little about music. Goujart quickly acquired the requisite
knowledge. His method was quite simple: it consisted in sitting at every
concert next to some good musician, a composer if possible, and getting him
to say what he thought of the works performed. At the end of a few months
of this apprenticeship, he knew his job: the fledgling could fly. He did
not, it is true, soar like an eagle: and God knows what howlers Goujart
committed with the greatest show of authority in his paper! He listened and
read haphazard, stirred the mixture up well in his sluggish brains, and
arrogantly laid down the law for others; he wrote in a pretentious style,
interlarded with puns, and plastered over with an aggressive pedantry: he
had the mind of a schoolmaster. Sometimes, every now and then, he drew down
on himself cruel replies: then he shammed dead, and took good care not to
answer them. He was a mixture of cunning and thick-headedness, insolent or
groveling as circumstances demanded. He cringed to the masters who had an
official position or an established fame (he had no other means of judging
merit in music). He scorned everybody else, and exploited writers who were
starving. He was no fool.
In spite of his reputation and the authority he had acquired, he knew in
his heart of hearts that he knew nothing about music: and he recognized
that Christophe knew a great deal about it. Nothing would have induced him
to say so: but it was borne in upon him. And now he heard Christophe play:
and he made great efforts to understand him, looking absorbed, profound,
without a thought in his head: he could not see a yard ahead of him through
the fog of sound, and he wagged his head solemnly as one who knew and
adjusted the outward and visible signs of his approval to the fluttering of
the eyelids of Sylvain Kohn, who found it hard to stand still.
At last Christophe, emerging to consciousness from the fumes of wine and
music, became dimly aware of the pantomime going on behind his back: he
turned and saw the two amateurs of music. They rushed at him and violently
shook hands with him--Sylvain Kohn gurgling that he had played like a god,
Goujart declaring solemnly that he had the left hand of Rubinstein and the
right hand of Paderewski (or it might be the other way round). Both agreed
that such talent ought not to be hid under a bushel, and they pledged
themselves to reveal it. And, incidentally, they were both resolved to
extract from it as much honor and profit as possible.
From that day on Sylvain Kohn took to inviting Christophe to his rooms,
and put at his disposal his excellent piano, which he never used himself.
Christophe, who was bursting with suppressed music, did not need to be
urged, and accepted: and for a time he made good use of the invitation.
At first all went well. Christophe was only too happy to play: and
Sylvain Kohn was tactful enough to leave him to play in peace. He enjoyed
it thoroughly himself. By one of those queer phenomena which must be
in everybody's observation, the man, who was no musician, no artist,
cold-hearted and devoid of all poetic feeling and real kindness, was
enslaved sensually by Christophe's music, which he did not understand,
though he found in it a strongly voluptuous pleasure. Unfortunately, he
could not hold his tongue. He had to talk, loudly, while Christophe was
playing. He had to underline the music with affected exclamations, like a
concert snob, or else he passed ridiculous comment on it. Then Christophe
would thump the piano, and declare that he could not go on like that. Kohn
would try hard to be silent: but he could not do it: at once he would
begin again to sniffle, sigh, whistle, beat time, hum, imitate the various
instruments. And when the piece was ended he would have burst if he had not
given Christophe the benefit of his inept comment.
He was a queer mixture of German sentimentality, Parisian humbug, and
intolerable fatuousness. Sometimes he expressed second-hand precious
opinions; sometimes he made extravagant comparisons; and then he would
make dirty, obscene remarks, or propound some insane nonsense. By way of
praising Beethoven, he would point out some trickery, or read a lascivious
sensuality into his music. The _Quartet in C Minor_ seemed to him jolly
spicy. The sublime _Adagio of the Ninth Symphony_ made him think of
Cherubino. After the three crashing chords at the opening of the _Symphony
in C Minor_, he called out: "Don't come in! I've some one here." He admired
the Battle of _Heldenleben_ because he pretended that it was like the noise
of a motor-car. And always he had some image to explain each piece, a
puerile incongruous image. Really, it seemed impossible that he could have
any love for music. However, there was no doubt about it: he really did
love it: at certain passages to which he attached the most ridiculous
meanings the tears would come into his eyes. But after having been moved by
a scene from Wagner, he would strum out a gallop of Offenbach, or sing some
music-hall ditty after the _Ode to Joy_. Then Christophe would bob about
and roar with rage. But the worst of all to bear was not when Sylvain Kohn
was absurd so much as when he was trying to be profound and subtle, when he
was trying to impress Christophe, when it was Hamilton speaking, and not
Sylvain Kohn. Then Christophe would scowl blackly at him, and squash him
with cold contempt, which hurt Hamilton's vanity: very often these musical
evenings would end in a quarrel. But Kohn would forget it next day, and
Christophe, sorry for his rudeness, would make a point of going back.
That would not have mattered much if Kohn had been able to refrain from
inviting his friends to hear Christophe. But he could not help wanting to
show off his musician. The first time Christophe found in Kohn's rooms
three or four little Jews and Kohn's mistress--a large florid woman, all
paint and powder, who repeated idiotic jokes and talked about her food, and
thought herself a musician because she showed her legs every evening in the
Revue of the Varietes--Christophe looked black. Next time he told Sylvain
Kohn curtly that he would never again play in his rooms. Sylvain Kohn swore
by all his gods that he would not invite anybody again. But he did so by
stealth, and hid his guests in the next room. Naturally, Christophe found
that out, and went away in a fury, and this time did not return.
And yet he had to accommodate Kohn, who had introduced him to various
cosmopolitan families, and found him pupils.
* * * * *
A few days after Theophile Goujart hunted Christophe up in his lair. He did
not seem to mind his being in such a horrible place. On the contrary, he
was charming. He said:
"I thought perhaps you would like to hear a little music from time to time:
and as I have tickets for everything, I came to ask if you would care to
come with me."
Christophe was delighted. He was glad of the kindly attention, and thanked
him effusively. Goujart was a different man from what he had been at their
first meeting. He had dropped his conceit, and, man to man, he was timid,
docile, anxious to learn. It was only when they were with others that he
resumed his superior manner and his blatant tone of voice. His eagerness to
learn had a practical side to it. He had no curiosity about anything that
was not actual. He wanted to know what Christophe thought of a score he had
received which he would have been hard put to it to write about, for he
could hardly read a note.
They went to a symphony concert. They had to go in by the entrance to a
music-hall. They went down a winding passage to an ill-ventilated hall:
the air was stifling: the seats were very narrow, and placed too close
together: part of the audience was standing and blocking up every way
out:--the uncomfortable French. A man who looked as though he were
hopelessly bored was racing through a Beethoven symphony as though he
were in a hurry to get to the end of it. The voluptuous strains of a
stomach-dance coming from the music-hall next door were mingled with the
funeral march of the _Eroica_. People kept coming in and taking their
seats, and turning their glasses on the audience. As soon as the last
person had arrived, they began to go out again. Christophe strained every
nerve to try and follow the thread of the symphony through the babel;
and he did manage to wrest some pleasure from it--(for the orchestra was
skilful, and Christophe had been deprived of symphony music for a long
time)--and then Goujart took his arm and, in the middle of the concert,
"Now let us go. We'll go to another concert."
Christophe frowned: but he made no reply and followed his guide. They went
half across Paris, and then reached another hall, that smelled of stables,
in which at other times fairy plays and popular pieces were given--(in
Paris music is like those poor workingmen who share a lodging: when one
of them leaves the bed, the other creeps into the warm sheets). No air,
of course: since the reign of Louis XIV the French have considered air
unhealthy: and the ventilation of the theaters, like that of old at
Versailles, makes it impossible for people to breathe. A noble old man,
waving his arms like a lion-tamer, was letting loose an act of Wagner: the
wretched beast--the act--was like the lions of a menagerie, dazzled and
cowed by the footlights, so that they have to be whipped to be reminded
that they are lions. The audience consisted of female Pharisees and foolish
women, smiling inanely. After the lion had gone through its performance,
and the tamer had bowed, and they had both been rewarded by the applause of
the audience, Goujart suggested that they should go to yet another concert.
But this time Christophe gripped the arms of his stall, and declared that
he would not budge: he had had enough of running from concert to concert,
picking up the crumbs of a symphony and scraps of a concert on the way.
In vain did Goujart try to explain to him that musical criticism in Paris
was a trade in which it was more important to see than to hear. Christophe
protested that music was not written to be heard in a cab, and needed more
concentration. Such a hotch-potch of concerts was sickening to him: one at
a time was enough for him.
He was much surprised at the extraordinary number of concerts in Paris.
Like most Germans, he thought that music held a subordinate place in
France: and he expected that it would be served up in small delicate
portions. By way of a beginning, he was given fifteen concerts in seven
days. There was one for every evening in the week, and often two or three
an evening at the same time in different quarters of the city. On Sundays
there were four, all at the same time. Christophe marveled at this appetite
for music. And he was no less amazed at the length of the programs. Till
then he had thought that his fellow-countrymen had a monopoly of these
orgies of sound which had more than once disgusted him in Germany. He
saw now that the Parisians could have given them points in the matter of
gluttony. They were given full measure: two symphonies, a concerto, one
or two overtures, an act from an opera. And they came from all sources:
German, Russian, Scandinavian, French--beer, champagne, orgeat, wine--they
gulped down everything without winking. Christophe was amazed that these
indolent Parisians should have had such capacious stomachs. They did not
suffer for it at all. It was the cask of the Danaides. It held nothing.
It was not long before Christophe perceived that this mass of music
amounted to very little really. He saw the same faces and heard the
same pieces at every concert. Their copious programs moved in a circle.
Practically nothing earlier than Beethoven. Practically nothing later than
Wagner. And what gaps between them! It seemed as though music were reduced
to five or six great German names, three or four French names, and, since
the Franco-Russian alliance, half a dozen Muscovites. None of the old
French Masters. None of the great Italians. None of the German giants of
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. No contemporary German music,
with the single exception of Richard Strauss, who was more acute than the
rest, and came once a year to plant his new works on the Parisian public.
No Belgian music. No Tschek music. But, most surprising of all, practically
no contemporary French music. And yet everybody was talking about it
mysteriously as a thing that would revolutionize the world. Christophe was
yearning for an opportunity of hearing it: he was very curious about it,
and absolutely without prejudice: he was longing to hear new music, and to
admire the works of genius. But he never succeeded in hearing any of it:
for he did not count a few short pieces, quite cleverly written, but cold
and brain-spun, to which he had not listened very attentively.
* * * * *
While he was waiting to form an opinion, Christophe tried to find out
something about it from musical criticism.
That was not easy. It was like the Court of King Petaud. Not only did
the various papers lightly contradict each other: but they contradicted
themselves in different articles--almost on different pages. To read
them all was enough to drive a man crazy. Fortunately, the critics only
read their own articles, and the public did not read any of them. But
Christophe, who wanted to gain a clear idea about French musicians, labored
hard to omit nothing: and he marveled at the agility of the critics, who
darted about in a sea of contradictions like fish in water.
But amid all these divergent opinions one thing struck him: the pedantic
manner of most of the critics. Who was it said that the French were amiable
fantastics who believed in nothing? Those whom Christophe saw were more
hag-ridden by the science of music--even when they knew nothing--than all
the critics on the other side of the Rhine.
At that time the French musical critics had set about learning what music
was. There were even a few who knew something about it: they were men of
original thought, who had taken the trouble to think about their art, and
to think for themselves. Naturally, they were not very well known: they
were shelved in their little reviews: with only one or two exceptions,
the newspapers were not for them. They were honest men--intelligent,
interesting, sometimes driven by their isolation to paradox and the habit
of thinking aloud, intolerance, and garrulity. The rest had hastily learned
the rudiments of harmony: and they stood gaping in wonder at their newly
acquired knowledge. Like Monsieur Jourdain when he learned the rules of
grammar, they marvelled at their knowledge:
"_D, a, Da; F, a, Fa; R, a, Ra.... Ah! How fine it is!... Ah! How splendid
it is to know something!..._"
They only babbled of theme and counter-theme, of harmonies and resultant
sounds, of consecutive ninths and tierce major. When they had labeled the
succeeding harmonies which made up a page of music, they proudly mopped
their brows: they thought they had explained the music, and almost believed
that they had written it. As a matter of fact, they had only repeated it
in school language, like a boy making a grammatical analysis of a page of
Cicero. But it was so difficult for the best of them to conceive music as
a natural language of the soul that, when they did not make it an adjunct
to painting, they dragged it into the outskirts of science, and reduced it
to the level of a problem in harmonic construction. Some who were learned
enough took upon themselves to show a thing or two to past musicians. They
found fault with Beethoven, and rapped Wagner over the knuckles. They
laughed openly at Berlioz and Gluck. Nothing existed for them just then but
Johann Sebastian Bach, and Claude Debussy. And Bach, who had lately been
roundly abused, was beginning to seem pedantic, a periwig, and in fine, a
hack. Quite distinguished men extolled Rameau in mysterious terms--Rameau
and Couperin, called the Great.
There were tremendous conflicts waged between these learned men. They were
all musicians: but as they all affected different styles, each of them
claimed that his was the only true style, and cried "Raca!" to that of
their colleagues. They accused each other of sham writing and sham culture,
and hurled at each other's heads the words "idealism" and "materialism,"
"symbolism" and "verism," "subjectivism" and "objectivism." Christophe
thought it was hardly worth while leaving Germany to find the squabbles
of the Germans in Paris. Instead of being grateful for having good music
presented in so many different fashions, they would only tolerate their own
particular fashion: and a new _Lutrin_, a fierce war, divided musicians
into two hostile camps, the camp of counterpoint and the camp of harmony.
Like the _Gros-boutiens_ and the _Petits-boutiens_, one side maintained
with acrimony that music should be read horizontally, and the other that
it should be read vertically. One party would only hear of full-sounding
chords, melting concatenations, succulent harmonies: they spoke of music as
though it were a confectioner's shop. The other party would not hear of the
ear, that trumpery organ, being considered: music was for them a lecture,
a Parliamentary assembly, in which all the orators spoke at once without
bothering about their neighbors, and went on talking until they had done:
if people could not hear, so much the worse for them! They could read their
speeches next day in the _Official Journal_: music was made to be read, and
not to be heard. When Christophe first heard of this quarrel between the
_Horizontalists_ and the _Verticalists_, he thought they were all mad. When
he was summoned to join in the fight between the army of _Succession_ and
the army of _Superposition_, he replied, with his usual formula, which was
very different from that of Sosia:
"Gentlemen, I am everybody's enemy."
And when they insisted, saying:
"Which matters most in music, harmony or counterpoint?"
"Music. Show me what you have done."
They were all agreed about their own music. These intrepid warriors who,
when they were not pummeling each other, were whacking away at some dead
Master whose fame had endured too long, were reconciled by the one passion
which was common to them all: an ardent musical patriotism. France was to
them _the_ great musical nation. They were perpetually proclaiming the
decay of Germany. That did not hurt Christophe. He had declared so himself,
and therefore was not in a position to contradict them. But he was a little
surprised to hear of the supremacy of French music: there was, in fact,
very little trace of it in the past. And yet French musicians maintained
that their art had been admirable from the earliest period. By way of
glorifying French music, they set to work to throw ridicule on the famous
men of the last century, with the exception of one Master, who was very
good and very pure--and a Belgian. Having done that amount of slaughter,
they were free to admire the archaic Masters, who had been forgotten, while
a certain number of them were absolutely unknown. Unlike the lay schools
of France which date the world from the French Revolution, the musicians
regarded it as a chain of mighty mountains, to be scaled before it could
be possible to look back on the Golden Age of music, the Eldorado of art.
After a long eclipse the Golden Age was to emerge again: the hard wall
was to crumble away: a magician of sound was to call forth in full flower
a marvelous spring: the old tree of music was to put forth young green
leaves: in the bed of harmony thousands of flowers were to open their
smiling eyes upon the new dawn: and silvery trickling springs were to
bubble forth with the vernal sweet song of streams--a very idyl.
Christophe was delighted. But when he looked at the bills of the Parisian
theaters, he saw the names of Meyerbeer, Gounod, Massenet, and Mascagni and
Leoncavallo--names with which he was only too familiar: and he asked his
friends if all this brazen music, with its girlish rapture, its artificial
flowers, like nothing so much as a perfumery shop, was the garden of Armide
that they had promised him. They were hurt and protested: if they were to
be believed, these things were the last vestiges of a moribund age: no
one attached any value to them. But the fact remained that _Cavalleria
Rusticana_ flourished at the Opera Comique, and _Pagliacci_ at the Opera:
Massenet and Gounod were more frequently performed than anybody else, and
the musical trinity--_Mignon_, _Les Huguenots_, and _Faust_--had safely
crossed the bar of the thousandth performance. But these were only trivial
accidents: there was no need to go and see them. When some untoward fact
upsets a theory, nothing is more simple than to ignore it. The French
critics shut their eyes to these blatant works and to the public which
applauded them: and only a very little more was needed to make them ignore
the whole music-theater in France. The music-theater was to them a literary
form, and therefore impure. (Being all literary men, they set a ban on
literature.) Any music that was expressive, descriptive, suggestive--in
short, any music with any meaning--was condemned as impure. In every
Frenchman there is a Robespierre. He must be for ever chopping the head
off something or somebody to purify it. The great French critics only
recognized pure music: the rest they left to the rabble.
Christophe was rather mortified when he thought how vulgar his taste must
be. But he found some comfort in the discovery that all these musicians who
despised the theater spent their time in writing for it: there was not one
of them who did not compose operas. But no doubt that was also a trivial
accident. They were to be judged, as they desired, by their pure music.
Christophe looked about for their pure music.
* * * * *
Theophile Goujart took him to the concerts of a Society dedicated to
the national art. There the new glories of French music were elaborated
and carefully hatched. It was a club, a little church, with several
side-chapels. Each chapel had its saint, each saint his devotees, who
blackguarded the saint in the next chapel. It was some time before
Christophe could differentiate between the various saints. Naturally
enough, being accustomed to a very different sort of art, he was at first
baffled by the new music, and the more he thought he understood it, the
farther was he from a real understanding.
It all seemed to him to be bathed in a perpetual twilight. It was a dull
gray ground on which were drawn lines, shading off and blurring into
each other, sometimes starting from the mist, and then sinking back into
it again. Among all these lines there were stiff, crabbed, and cramped
designs, as though they were drawn with a set-square--patterns with sharp
corners, like the elbow of a skinny woman. There were patterns in curves
floating and curling like the smoke of a cigar. But they were all enveloped
in the gray light. Did the sun never shine in France? Christophe had only
had rain and fog since his arrival, and was inclined to believe so; but
it is the artist's business to create sunshine when the sun fails. These
men lit up their little lanterns, it is true: but they were like the
glow-worm's lamp, giving no warmth and very little light. The titles of
their works were changed: they dealt with Spring, the South, Love, the Joy
of Living, Country Walks; but the music never changed: it was uniformly
soft, pale, enervated, anemic, wasting away. It was then the mode in
France, among the fastidious, to whisper in music. And they were quite
right: for as soon as they tried to talk aloud they shouted: there was no
mean. There was no alternative but distinguished somnolence and
Christophe shook off the drowsiness that was creeping over him, and looked
at his program; and he was surprised to read that the little puffs of cloud
floating across the gray sky claimed to represent certain definite things.
For, in spite of theory, all their pure music was almost always program
music, or at least music descriptive of a certain subject. It was in vain
that they denounced literature: they needed the support of a literary
crutch. Strange crutches they were, too, as a rule! Christophe observed
the odd puerility of the subjects which they labored to depict--orchards,
kitchen-gardens, farmyards, musical menageries, a whole Zoo. Some musicians
transposed for orchestra or piano the pictures in the Louvre, or the
frescoes of the Opera: they turned into music Cuyp, Baudry, and Paul
Potter: explanatory notes helped the hearer to recognize the apple of
Paris, a Dutch inn, or the crupper of a white horse. To Christophe it was
like the production of children obsessed by images, who, not knowing how to
draw, scribble down in their exercise-books anything that comes into their
heads, and naively write down under it in large letters an inscription to
the effect that it is a house or a tree.
But besides these blind image-fanciers who saw with their ears, there were
the philosophers: they discussed metaphysical problems in music: their
symphonies were composed of the struggle between abstract principles and
stated symbols or religions. And in their operas they affected to study the
judicial and social questions of the day: the Declaration of the Rights of
Woman and the Citizen, elaborated by the metaphysicians of the Butte and
the Palais-Bourbon. They did not shrink from bringing the question of
divorce on to the platform together with the inquiry into the birth-rate
and the separation of the Church and State. Among them were to be found
lay symbolists and clerical symbolists. They introduced philosophic
rag-pickers, sociological grisettes, prophetic bakers, and apostolic
fishermen to the stage. Goethe spoke of the artists of his day, "who
reproduced the ideas of Kant in allegorical pictures." The artists of
Christophe's day wrote sociology in semi-quavers. Zola, Nietzsche,
Maeterlinck, Barres, Jaures, Mendes, the Gospel, and the Moulin Rouge, all
fed the cistern whence the writers of operas and symphonies drew their
ideas. Many of them, intoxicated by the example of Wagner, cried: "And I,
too, am a poet!" And with perfect assurance they tacked on to their music
verses in rhyme, or unrhymed, written in the style of an elementary school
or a decadent feuilleton.
All these thinkers and poets were partisans of pure music. But they
preferred talking about it to writing it. And yet they did sometimes manage
to write it. Then they wrote music that was not intended to say anything.
Unfortunately, they often succeeded: their music was meaningless--at least,
to Christophe. It is only fair to say that he had not the key to it.
In order to understand the music of a foreign nation a man must take the
trouble to learn the language, and not make up his mind beforehand that he
knows it. Christophe, like every good German, thought he knew it. That was
excusable. Many Frenchmen did not understand it any more than he. Like the
Germans of the time of Louis XIV, who tried so hard to speak French that
in the end they forgot their own language, the French musicians of the
nineteenth century had taken so much pains to unlearn their language that
their music had become a foreign lingo. It was only of recent years that a
movement had sprung up to speak French in France. They did not all succeed:
the force of habit was very strong: and with a few exceptions their French
was Belgian, or still smacked faintly of Germany. It was quite natural,
therefore, that a German should be mistaken, and declare, with his usual
assurance, that it was very bad German, and meant nothing, since he could
make nothing of it.
Christophe was in exactly that case. The symphonies of the French seemed
to him to be abstract, dialectic, and musical themes were opposed and
superposed arithmetically in them: their combinations and permutations
might just as well have been expressed in figures or the letters of the
alphabet. One man would construct a symphony on the progressive development
of a sonorous formula which did not seem to be complete until the last page
of the last movement, so that for nine-tenths of the work it never advanced
beyond the grub stage of its existence. Another would erect variations on a
theme which was not stated until the end, so that the symphony gradually
descended from the complex to the simple. They were very clever toys. But a
man would need to be both very old and very young to be able to enjoy them.
They had cost their inventors untold effort. They took years to write a
fantasy. They worried their hair white in the search for new combinations
of chords--to express ...? No matter! New expressions. As the organ creates
the need, they say, so the expression must in the end create the idea: the
chief thing is that the expression should be novel. Novelty at all costs!
They had a morbid horror of anything that "had been said." The best of them
were paralyzed by it all. They seemed always to be keeping a fearful guard
on themselves, and crossing out what they had written, wondering: "Good
Lord! Where did I read that?" ... There are some musicians--especially in
Germany--who spend their time in piecing together other people's music. The
musicians of France were always looking out at every bar to see that they
had not included in their catalogues melodies that had already been used by
others, and erasing, erasing, changing the shape of the note until it was
like no known note, and even ceased to be like a note at all.
But they did not take Christophe in: in vain did they muffle themselves
up in a complicated language, and make superhuman and prodigious efforts,
go into orchestral fits, or cultivate inorganic harmonies, an obsessing
monotony, declamations a la Sarah Bernhardt, beginning in a minor key, and
going on for hours plodding along like mules, half asleep, along the edge
of the slippery slope--always under the mask Christophe found the souls of
these men, cold, weary, horribly scented, like Gounod and Massenet, but
even less natural. And he repeated the unjust comment on the French of
"Let them be: they always go back to their giddy-go-round."
Only they did try so hard to be learned. They took popular songs as themes
for learned symphonies, like dissertations for the Sorbonne. That was the
great game at the time. All sorts and kinds of popular songs, songs of all
nations, were pressed into the service. And they worked them up into things
like the _Ninth Symphony_ and the _Quartet_ of Cesar Franck, only much more
difficult. A musician would conceive quite a simple air. At once he would
mix it up with another, which meant nothing at all, though it jarred
hideously with the first. And all these people were obviously so calm, so
And there was a young conductor, properly haggard and dressed for the part,
who produced these works: he flung himself about, darted lightnings, made
Michael Angelesque gestures as though he were summoning up the armies of
Beethoven or Wagner. The audience, which was composed of society people,
was bored to tears, though nothing would have induced them to renounce the
honor of paying a high price for such glorious boredom: and there were
young tyros who were only too glad to bring their school knowledge into
play as they picked up the threads of the music, and they applauded with
an enthusiasm as frantic as the gestures of the conductor, and the fearful
noise of the music....
"What rot!" said Christopher. (For he was well up in Parisian slang by
* * * * *
But it is easier to penetrate the mystery of Parisian slang than the
mystery of Parisian music. Christophe judged it with the passion which he
brought to bear on everything, and the native incapacity of the Germans to
understand French art. At least, he was sincere, and only asked to be put
right if he was mistaken. And he did not regard himself as bound by his
judgment, but left it open to any new impression that might alter it.
As matters stood, he readily admitted that there was much talent in the
music he heard, interesting stuff, certain odd happy rhythms and harmonies,
an assortment of fine materials, mellow and brilliant, glittering colors,
a perpetual outpouring of invention and cleverness. Christophe was
entertained by it, and learned a thing or two. All these small masters had
infinitely more freedom of thought than the musicians of Germany: they
bravely left the highroad and plunged through the woods. They did their
best to lose themselves. But they were so clever that they could not manage
it. Some of them found themselves on the road again in twenty yards. Others
tired at once, and stopped wherever they might be. There were a few who
almost discovered new paths, but instead of following them up they sat down
at the edge of the wood and fell to musing under a tree. What they most
lacked was will-power, force: they had all the gifts save one--vigor and
life. And all their multifarious efforts were confusedly directed, and were
lost on the road. It was only rarely that these artists became conscious of
the nature of their efforts, and could join forces to a common and a given
end. It was the usual result of French anarchy, which wastes the enormous
wealth of talent and good intentions through the paralyzing influence of
its uncertainty and contradictions. With hardly an exception, all the great
French musicians, like Berlioz and Saint-Saens--to mention only the most
recent--have been hopelessly muddled, self-destructive, and forsworn, for
want of energy, want of faith, and, above all, for want of an inward guide.
Christophe, with the insolence and disdain of the latter-day German,
"The French do no more than fritter away their energy in inventing things
which they are incapable of using. They need a master of another race, a
Gluck or a Napoleon, to turn their Revolutions to any account."
And he smiled at the notion of an Eighteenth of Brumaire.
* * * * *
And yet, in the midst of all this anarchy, there was a group striving to
restore order and discipline to the minds of artists and public. By way
of a beginning, they had taken a Latin name reminiscent of a clerical
institution which had flourished thirteen or fourteen centuries ago at the
time of the great Invasion of the Goths and Vandals. Christophe was rather
surprised at their going back so far. It was a good thing, certainly, to
dominate one's generation. But it looked as though a watch-tower fourteen
centuries high might be, a little inconvenient, and more suitable perhaps
for observing the movements of the stars than those of the men of the
present day. But Christophe was soon reassured when he saw that the sons of
St. Gregory spent very little time on their tower: they only went up it to
ring the bells, and spent the rest of their time in the church below. It
was some time before Christophe, who attended some of their services, saw
that it was a Catholic cult: he had been sure at the outset that their
rites were those of some little Protestant sect. The audience groveled: the
disciples were pious, intolerant, aggressive on the smallest provocation:
at their head was a man of a cold sort of purity, rather childish and
wilful, maintaining the integrity of his doctrine, religious, moral, and
artistic, explaining in abstract terms the Gospel of music to the small
number of the Elect, and calmly damning Pride and Heresy. To these two
states of mind he attributed every defect in art and every vice of
humanity: the Renaissance, the Reformation, and present-day Judaism, which
he lumped together in one category. The Jews of music were burned in
effigy after being ignominiously dressed. The colossal Handel was soundly
trounced. Only Johann Sebastian Bach attained salvation by the grace of the
Lord, who recognized that he had been a Protestant by mistake.
The temple of the _Rue Saint-Jacques_ fulfilled an apostolic function:
souls and music found salvation there. The rules of genius were taught
there most methodically. Laborious pupils applied the formulas with
infinite pains and absolute certainty. It looked as though by their pious
labors they were trying to regain the criminal levity of their ancestors:
the Aubers, the Adams, and the trebly damned, the diabolical Berlioz, the
devil himself, _diabolus in musica_. With laudable ardor and a sincere
piety they spread the cult of the acknowledged masters. In ten years the
work they had to show was considerable: French music was transformed. Not
only the French critics, but the musicians themselves had learned something
about music. There were now composers, and even virtuosi, who were
acquainted with the works of Bach. And that was not so common even in
Germany! But, above all, a great effort had been made to combat the
stay-at-home spirit of the French, who will shut themselves up in their
homes, and cannot be induced to go out. So their music lacks air: it is
sealed-chamber music, sofa music, music with no sort of vigor. Think
of Beethoven composing as he strode across country, rushing down the
hillsides, swinging along through sun and rain, terrifying the cattle with
his wild shouts and gestures! There was no danger of the musicians of Paris
upsetting their neighbors with the noise of their inspiration, like the
bear of Bonn. When they composed they muted the strings of their thought:
and the heavy hangings of their rooms prevented any sound from outside
breaking in upon them.
The _Schola_ had tried to let in fresh air, and had opened the windows upon
the past. But only on the past. The windows were opened upon a courtyard,
not into the street. And it was not much use. Hardly had they opened the
windows than they closed the shutters, like old women afraid of catching
cold. And there came up a gust or two of the Middle Ages, Bach, Palestrina,
popular songs. But what was the good of that? The room still smelt of stale
air. But really that suited them very well: they were afraid of the great
modern draughts of air. And if they knew more than other people, they also
denied more in art. Their music took on a doctrinal character: there was no
relaxation: their concerts were history lectures, or a string of edifying
examples. Advanced ideas became academic. The great Bach, he whose music is
like a torrent, was received into the bosom of the Church and then tamed.
His music was submitted to a transformation in the minds of the _Schola_
very like the transformation to which the savagely sensual Bible has been
submitted in the minds of the English. As for modern music, the doctrine
promulgated was aristocratic and eclectic, an attempt to compound the
distinctive characteristics of the three or four great periods of music
from the sixth to the twentieth century. If it had been possible to carry
it out, the resulting music would have been like those hybrid structures
raised by a Viceroy of India on his return from his travels, with rare
materials collected in every corner of the earth. But the good sense of
the French saved them from any such barbarically erudite excesses: they
carefully avoided any application of their theories: they treated them as
Moliere treated his doctors: they took their prescriptions, but did not
carry them out. The best of them went their own way. The rest of them
contented themselves in practice with very intricate and difficult
exercises in counterpoint: they called them sonatas, quartets, and
symphonies.... "Sonata, what do you desire of me?" The poor thing desired
nothing at all except to be a sonata. The idea behind it was abstract