Part 15 out of 36
a legal limit always in sight, and then, escape. In the second,
perpetuity; the sole hope, at the distant extremity of the future,
that faint light of liberty which men call death.
In the first, men are bound only with chains; in the other,
chained by faith.
What flowed from the first? An immense curse, the gnashing of teeth,
hatred, desperate viciousness, a cry of rage against human society,
a sarcasm against heaven.
What results flowed from the second? Blessings and love.
And in these two places, so similar yet so unlike, these two species of
beings who were so very unlike, were undergoing the same work, expiation.
Jean Valjean understood thoroughly the expiation of the former;
that personal expiation, the expiation for one's self. But he
did not understand that of these last, that of creatures without
reproach and without stain, and he trembled as he asked himself:
The expiation of what? What expiation?
A voice within his conscience replied: "The most divine
of human generosities, the expiation for others."
Here all personal theory is withheld; we are only the narrator;
we place ourselves at Jean Valjean's point of view, and we translate
Before his eyes he had the sublime summit of abnegation,
the highest possible pitch of virtue; the innocence which
pardons men their faults, and which expiates in their stead;
servitude submitted to, torture accepted, punishment claimed
by souls which have not sinned, for the sake of sparing it
to souls which have fallen; the love of humanity swallowed up
in the love of God, but even there preserving its distinct and
mediatorial character; sweet and feeble beings possessing the misery
of those who are punished and the smile of those who are recompensed.
And he remembered that he had dared to murmur!
Often, in the middle of the night, he rose to listen to the grateful
song of those innocent creatures weighed down with severities,
and the blood ran cold in his veins at the thought that those who were
justly chastised raised their voices heavenward only in blasphemy,
and that he, wretch that he was, had shaken his fist at God.
There was one striking thing which caused him to meditate deeply,
like a warning whisper from Providence itself: the scaling of that wall,
the passing of those barriers, the adventure accepted even at the risk
of death, the painful and difficult ascent, all those efforts even,
which he had made to escape from that other place of expiation,
he had made in order to gain entrance into this one. Was this
a symbol of his destiny? This house was a prison likewise and bore
a melancholy resemblance to that other one whence he had fled,
and yet he had never conceived an idea of anything similar.
Again he beheld gratings, bolts, iron bars--to guard whom? Angels.
These lofty walls which he had seen around tigers, he now beheld
once more around lambs.
This was a place of expiation, and not of punishment; and yet,
it was still more austere, more gloomy, and more pitiless than
These virgins were even more heavily burdened than the convicts.
A cold, harsh wind, that wind which had chilled his youth,
traversed the barred and padlocked grating of the vultures; a still
harsher and more biting breeze blew in the cage of these doves.
When he thought on these things, all that was within him was lost
in amazement before this mystery of sublimity.
In these meditations, his pride vanished. He scrutinized his own
heart in all manner of ways; he felt his pettiness, and many a time
he wept. All that had entered into his life for the last six
months had led him back towards the Bishop's holy injunctions;
Cosette through love, the convent through humility.
Sometimes at eventide, in the twilight, at an hour when the garden
was deserted, he could be seen on his knees in the middle of the walk
which skirted the chapel, in front of the window through which he had
gazed on the night of his arrival, and turned towards the spot where,
as he knew, the sister was making reparation, prostrated in prayer.
Thus he prayed as he knelt before the sister.
It seemed as though he dared not kneel directly before God.
Everything that surrounded him, that peaceful garden, those fragrant
flowers, those children who uttered joyous cries, those grave
and simple women, that silent cloister, slowly permeated him,
and little by little, his soul became compounded of silence
like the cloister, of perfume like the flowers, of simplicity
like the women, of joy like the children. And then he reflected
that these had been two houses of God which had received him
in succession at two critical moments in his life: the first,
when all doors were closed and when human society rejected him;
the second, at a moment when human society had again set out in
pursuit of him, and when the galleys were again yawning; and that,
had it not been for the first, he should have relapsed into crime,
and had it not been for the second, into torment.
His whole heart melted in gratitude, and he loved more and more.
Many years passed in this manner; Cosette was growing up.
[The end of Volume II. "Cosette"]
BOOK FIRST.--PARIS STUDIED IN ITS ATOM
Paris has a child, and the forest has a bird; the bird is called
the sparrow; the child is called the gamin.
Couple these two ideas which contain, the one all the furnace, the other
all the dawn; strike these two sparks together, Paris, childhood;
there leaps out from them a little being. Homuncio, Plautus would say.
This little being is joyous. He has not food every day, and he
goes to the play every evening, if he sees good. He has no
shirt on his body, no shoes on his feet, no roof over his head;
he is like the flies of heaven, who have none of these things.
He is from seven to thirteen years of age, he lives in bands,
roams the streets, lodges in the open air, wears an old pair
of trousers of his father's, which descend below his heels,
an old hat of some other father, which descends below his ears,
a single suspender of yellow listing; he runs, lies in wait,
rummages about, wastes time, blackens pipes, swears like a convict,
haunts the wine-shop, knows thieves, calls gay women thou,
talks slang, sings obscene songs, and has no evil in his heart.
This is because he has in his heart a pearl, innocence; and pearls
are not to be dissolved in mud. So long as man is in his childhood,
God wills that he shall be innocent.
If one were to ask that enormous city: "What is this?" she would reply:
"It is my little one."
SOME OF HIS PARTICULAR CHARACTERISTICS
The gamin--the street Arab--of Paris is the dwarf of the giant.
Let us not exaggerate, this cherub of the gutter sometimes has
a shirt, but, in that case, he owns but one; he sometimes has shoes,
but then they have no soles; he sometimes has a lodging, and he
loves it, for he finds his mother there; but he prefers the street,
because there he finds liberty. He has his own games, his own bits
of mischief, whose foundation consists of hatred for the bourgeois;
his peculiar metaphors: to be dead is to eat dandelions by the root;
his own occupations, calling hackney-coaches, letting down
carriage-steps, establishing means of transit between the two
sides of a street in heavy rains, which he calls making the bridge
of arts, crying discourses pronounced by the authorities in favor
of the French people, cleaning out the cracks in the pavement;
he has his own coinage, which is composed of all the little
morsels of worked copper which are found on the public streets.
This curious money, which receives the name of loques--rags--has an
invariable and well-regulated currency in this little Bohemia
Lastly, he has his own fauna, which he observes attentively
in the corners; the lady-bird, the death's-head plant-louse,
the daddy-long-legs, "the devil," a black insect, which menaces
by twisting about its tail armed with two horns. He has his
fabulous monster, which has scales under its belly, but is not
a lizard, which has pustules on its back, but is not a toad,
which inhabits the nooks of old lime-kilns and wells that have run dry,
which is black, hairy, sticky, which crawls sometimes slowly,
sometimes rapidly, which has no cry, but which has a look,
and is so terrible that no one has ever beheld it; he calls this
monster "the deaf thing." The search for these "deaf things"
among the stones is a joy of formidable nature. Another pleasure
consists in suddenly prying up a paving-stone, and taking a look
at the wood-lice. Each region of Paris is celebrated for the
interesting treasures which are to be found there. There are
ear-wigs in the timber-yards of the Ursulines, there are millepeds
in the Pantheon, there are tadpoles in the ditches of the Champs-de-Mars.
As far as sayings are concerned, this child has as many of them
as Talleyrand. He is no less cynical, but he is more honest.
He is endowed with a certain indescribable, unexpected joviality;
he upsets the composure of the shopkeeper with his wild laughter.
He ranges boldly from high comedy to farce.
A funeral passes by. Among those who accompany the dead there
is a doctor. "Hey there!" shouts some street Arab, "how long has
it been customary for doctors to carry home their own work?"
Another is in a crowd. A grave man, adorned with spectacles
and trinkets, turns round indignantly: "You good-for-nothing,
you have seized my wife's waist!"--"I, sir? Search me!"
HE IS AGREEABLE
In the evening, thanks to a few sous, which he always finds means
to procure, the homuncio enters a theatre. On crossing that
magic threshold, he becomes transfigured; he was the street Arab,
he becomes the titi. Theatres are a sort of ship turned upside
down with the keel in the air. It is in that keel that the titi
huddle together. The titi is to the gamin what the moth is
to the larva; the same being endowed with wings and soaring.
It suffices for him to be there, with his radiance of happiness,
with his power of enthusiasm and joy, with his hand-clapping,
which resembles a clapping of wings, to confer on that narrow, dark,
fetid, sordid, unhealthy, hideous, abominable keel, the name of Paradise.
 Chicken: slang allusion to the noise made in calling poultry.
Bestow on an individual the useless and deprive him of the necessary,
and you have the gamin.
The gamin is not devoid of literary intuition. His tendency,
and we say it with the proper amount of regret, would not constitute
classic taste. He is not very academic by nature. Thus, to give
an example, the popularity of Mademoiselle Mars among that little
audience of stormy children was seasoned with a touch of irony.
The gamin called her Mademoiselle Muche--"hide yourself."
This being bawls and scoffs and ridicules and fights, has rags
like a baby and tatters like a philosopher, fishes in the sewer,
hunts in the cesspool, extracts mirth from foulness, whips up the
squares with his wit, grins and bites, whistles and sings, shouts,
and shrieks, tempers Alleluia with Matantur-lurette, chants every rhythm
from the De Profundis to the Jack-pudding, finds without seeking,
knows what he is ignorant of, is a Spartan to the point of thieving,
is mad to wisdom, is lyrical to filth, would crouch down on Olympus,
wallows in the dunghill and emerges from it covered with stars.
The gamin of Paris is Rabelais in this youth.
He is not content with his trousers unless they have a watch-pocket.
He is not easily astonished, he is still less easily terrified,
he makes songs on superstitions, he takes the wind out of exaggerations,
he twits mysteries, he thrusts out his tongue at ghosts, he takes
the poetry out of stilted things, he introduces caricature into
epic extravaganzas. It is not that he is prosaic; far from that;
but he replaces the solemn vision by the farcical phantasmagoria.
If Adamastor were to appear to him, the street Arab would say:
"Hi there! The bugaboo!"
HE MAY BE OF USE
Paris begins with the lounger and ends with the street Arab,
two beings of which no other city is capable; the passive acceptance,
which contents itself with gazing, and the inexhaustible initiative;
Prudhomme and Fouillou. Paris alone has this in its natural history.
The whole of the monarchy is contained in the lounger; the whole of
anarchy in the gamin.
This pale child of the Parisian faubourgs lives and develops,
makes connections, "grows supple" in suffering, in the presence
of social realities and of human things, a thoughtful witness.
He thinks himself heedless; and he is not. He looks and is on
the verge of laughter; he is on the verge of something else also.
Whoever you may be, if your name is Prejudice, Abuse, Ignorance,
Oppression, Iniquity, Despotism, Injustice, Fanaticism, Tyranny,
beware of the gaping gamin.
The little fellow will grow up.
Of what clay is he made? Of the first mud that comes to hand.
A handful of dirt, a breath, and behold Adam. It suffices for a
God to pass by. A God has always passed over the street Arab.
Fortune labors at this tiny being. By the word "fortune" we
mean chance, to some extent. That pigmy kneaded out of common
earth, ignorant, unlettered, giddy, vulgar, low. Will that become
an Ionian or a Boeotian? Wait, currit rota, the Spirit of Paris,
that demon which creates the children of chance and the men of destiny,
reversing the process of the Latin potter, makes of a jug an amphora.
The gamin loves the city, he also loves solitude, since he
has something of the sage in him. Urbis amator, like Fuscus;
ruris amator, like Flaccus.
To roam thoughtfully about, that is to say, to lounge, is a fine
employment of time in the eyes of the philosopher; particularly in
that rather illegitimate species of campaign, which is tolerably
ugly but odd and composed of two natures, which surrounds certain
great cities, notably Paris. To study the suburbs is to study
the amphibious animal. End of the trees, beginning of the roofs;
end of the grass, beginning of the pavements; end of the furrows,
beginning of the shops, end of the wheel-ruts, beginning of
the passions; end of the divine murmur, beginning of the human uproar;
hence an extraordinary interest.
Hence, in these not very attractive places, indelibly stamped by
the passing stroller with the epithet: melancholy, the apparently
objectless promenades of the dreamer.
He who writes these lines has long been a prowler about the barriers
of Paris, and it is for him a source of profound souvenirs.
That close-shaven turf, those pebbly paths, that chalk, those pools,
those harsh monotonies of waste and fallow lands, the plants
of early market-garden suddenly springing into sight in a bottom,
that mixture of the savage and the citizen, those vast desert nooks
where the garrison drums practise noisily, and produce a sort of
lisping of battle, those hermits by day and cut-throats by night,
that clumsy mill which turns in the wind, the hoisting-wheels
of the quarries, the tea-gardens at the corners of the cemeteries;
the mysterious charm of great, sombre walls squarely intersecting
immense, vague stretches of land inundated with sunshine and full
of butterflies,--all this attracted him.
There is hardly any one on earth who is not acquainted with those
singular spots, the Glaciere, the Cunette, the hideous wall of Grenelle
all speckled with balls, Mont-Parnasse, the Fosse-aux-Loups, Aubiers on
the bank of the Marne, Mont-Souris, the Tombe-Issoire, the Pierre-Plate
de Chatillon, where there is an old, exhausted quarry which no longer
serves any purpose except to raise mushrooms, and which is closed,
on a level with the ground, by a trap-door of rotten planks.
The campagna of Rome is one idea, the banlieue of Paris is another;
to behold nothing but fields, houses, or trees in what a stretch of
country offers us, is to remain on the surface; all aspects of things
are thoughts of God. The spot where a plain effects its junction
with a city is always stamped with a certain piercing melancholy.
Nature and humanity both appeal to you at the same time there.
Local originalities there make their appearance.
Any one who, like ourselves, has wandered about in these solitudes
contiguous to our faubourgs, which may be designated as the limbos
of Paris, has seen here and there, in the most desert spot, at the
most unexpected moment, behind a meagre hedge, or in the corner
of a lugubrious wall, children grouped tumultuously, fetid, muddy,
dusty, ragged, dishevelled, playing hide-and-seek, and crowned with
corn-flowers. All of them are little ones who have made their escape
from poor families. The outer boulevard is their breathing space;
the suburbs belong to them. There they are eternally playing truant.
There they innocently sing their repertory of dirty songs.
There they are, or rather, there they exist, far from every eye,
in the sweet light of May or June, kneeling round a hole in the ground,
snapping marbles with their thumbs, quarrelling over half-farthings,
irresponsible, volatile, free and happy; and, no sooner do they
catch sight of you than they recollect that they have an industry,
and that they must earn their living, and they offer to sell you an
old woollen stocking filled with cockchafers, or a bunch of lilacs.
These encounters with strange children are one of the charming
and at the same time poignant graces of the environs of Paris.
Sometimes there are little girls among the throng of boys,--
are they their sisters?--who are almost young maidens, thin, feverish,
with sunburnt hands, covered with freckles, crowned with poppies
and ears of rye, gay, haggard, barefooted. They can be seen devouring
cherries among the wheat. In the evening they can be heard laughing.
These groups, warmly illuminated by the full glow of midday,
or indistinctly seen in the twilight, occupy the thoughtful
man for a very long time, and these visions mingle with his dreams.
Paris, centre, banlieue, circumference; this constitutes all
the earth to those children. They never venture beyond this.
They can no more escape from the Parisian atmosphere than fish
can escape from the water. For them, nothing exists two leagues
beyond the barriers: Ivry, Gentilly, Arcueil, Belleville,
Aubervilliers, Menilmontant, Choisy-le-Roi, Billancourt, Mendon,
Issy, Vanvre, Sevres, Puteaux, Neuilly, Gennevilliers, Colombes,
Romainville, Chatou, Asnieres, Bougival, Nanterre, Enghien,
Noisy-le-Sec, Nogent, Gournay, Drancy, Gonesse; the universe ends there.
A BIT OF HISTORY
At the epoch, nearly contemporary by the way, when the action
of this book takes place, there was not, as there is to-day,
a policeman at the corner of every street (a benefit which there
is no time to discuss here); stray children abounded in Paris.
The statistics give an average of two hundred and sixty homeless
children picked up annually at that period, by the police patrols,
in unenclosed lands, in houses in process of construction,
and under the arches of the bridges. One of these nests, which has
become famous, produced "the swallows of the bridge of Arcola."
This is, moreover, the most disastrous of social symptoms.
All crimes of the man begin in the vagabondage of the child.
Let us make an exception in favor of Paris, nevertheless. In a
relative measure, and in spite of the souvenir which we have
just recalled, the exception is just. While in any other great city
the vagabond child is a lost man, while nearly everywhere the child
left to itself is, in some sort, sacrificed and abandoned to a kind
of fatal immersion in the public vices which devour in him honesty
and conscience, the street boy of Paris, we insist on this point,
however defaced and injured on the surface, is almost intact on
the interior. It is a magnificent thing to put on record, and one
which shines forth in the splendid probity of our popular revolutions,
that a certain incorruptibility results from the idea which exists
in the air of Paris, as salt exists in the water of the ocean.
To breathe Paris preserves the soul.
What we have just said takes away nothing of the anguish of heart
which one experiences every time that one meets one of these children
around whom one fancies that he beholds floating the threads
of a broken family. In the civilization of the present day,
incomplete as it still is, it is not a very abnormal thing
to behold these fractured families pouring themselves out into
the darkness, not knowing clearly what has become of their children,
and allowing their own entrails to fall on the public highway.
Hence these obscure destinies. This is called, for this sad thing
has given rise to an expression, "to be cast on the pavements of Paris."
Let it be said by the way, that this abandonment of children
was not discouraged by the ancient monarchy. A little of Egypt
and Bohemia in the lower regions suited the upper spheres,
and compassed the aims of the powerful. The hatred of instruction
for the children of the people was a dogma. What is the use
of "half-lights"? Such was the countersign. Now, the erring
child is the corollary of the ignorant child.
Besides this, the monarchy sometimes was in need of children,
and in that case it skimmed the streets.
Under Louis XIV., not to go any further back, the king rightly desired
to create a fleet. The idea was a good one. But let us consider
the means. There can be no fleet, if, beside the sailing ship,
that plaything of the winds, and for the purpose of towing it,
in case of necessity, there is not the vessel which goes where
it pleases, either by means of oars or of steam; the galleys were
then to the marine what steamers are to-day. Therefore, galleys
were necessary; but the galley is moved only by the galley-slave;
hence, galley-slaves were required. Colbert had the commissioners
of provinces and the parliaments make as many convicts as possible.
The magistracy showed a great deal of complaisance in the matter.
A man kept his hat on in the presence of a procession--it was
a Huguenot attitude; he was sent to the galleys. A child was
encountered in the streets; provided that he was fifteen years of age
and did not know where he was to sleep, he was sent to the galleys.
Grand reign; grand century.
Under Louis XV. children disappeared in Paris; the police
carried them off, for what mysterious purpose no one knew.
People whispered with terror monstrous conjectures as to the king's
baths of purple. Barbier speaks ingenuously of these things.
It sometimes happened that the exempts of the guard, when they
ran short of children, took those who had fathers. The fathers,
in despair, attacked the exempts. In that case, the parliament
intervened and had some one hung. Who? The exempts? No, the fathers.
THE GAMIN SHOULD HAVE HIS PLACE IN THE CLASSIFICATIONS OF INDIA
The body of street Arabs in Paris almost constitutes a caste.
One might almost say: Not every one who wishes to belong to it can
This word gamin was printed for the first time, and reached popular
speech through the literary tongue, in 1834. It is in a little
work entitled Claude Gueux that this word made its appearance.
The horror was lively. The word passed into circulation.
The elements which constitute the consideration of the gamins
for each other are very various. We have known and associated
with one who was greatly respected and vastly admired because he
had seen a man fall from the top of the tower of Notre-Dame;
another, because he had succeeded in making his way into the rear
courtyard where the statues of the dome of the Invalides had been
temporarily deposited, and had "prigged" some lead from them; a third,
because he had seen a diligence tip over; still another, because he
"knew" a soldier who came near putting out the eye of a citizen.
This explains that famous exclamation of a Parisian gamin,
a profound epiphonema, which the vulgar herd laughs at without
comprehending,--Dieu de Dieu! What ill-luck I do have! to think
that I have never yet seen anybody tumble from a fifth-story window!
(I have pronounced I'ave and fifth pronounced fift'.)
Surely, this saying of a peasant is a fine one: "Father So-and-So,
your wife has died of her malady; why did you not send for the doctor?"
"What would you have, sir, we poor folks die of ourselves."
But if the peasant's whole passivity lies in this saying, the whole
of the free-thinking anarchy of the brat of the faubourgs is, assuredly,
contained in this other saying. A man condemned to death is listening
to his confessor in the tumbrel. The child of Paris exclaims:
"He is talking to his black cap! Oh, the sneak!"
A certain audacity on matters of religion sets off the gamin.
To be strong-minded is an important item.
To be present at executions constitutes a duty. He shows himself at
the guillotine, and he laughs. He calls it by all sorts of pet names:
The End of the Soup, The Growler, The Mother in the Blue (the
sky), The Last Mouthful, etc., etc. In order not to lose anything
of the affair, he scales the walls, he hoists himself to balconies,
he ascends trees, he suspends himself to gratings, he clings fast
to chimneys. The gamin is born a tiler as he is born a mariner.
A roof inspires him with no more fear than a mast. There is no
festival which comes up to an execution on the Place de Greve.
Samson and the Abbe Montes are the truly popular names. They hoot
at the victim in order to encourage him. They sometimes admire him.
Lacenaire, when a gamin, on seeing the hideous Dautin die bravely,
uttered these words which contain a future: "I was jealous of him."
In the brotherhood of gamins Voltaire is not known, but Papavoine is.
"Politicians" are confused with assassins in the same legend.
They have a tradition as to everybody's last garment. It is
known that Tolleron had a fireman's cap, Avril an otter cap,
Losvel a round hat, that old Delaporte was bald and bare-headed,
that Castaing was all ruddy and very handsome, that Bories had
a romantic small beard, that Jean Martin kept on his suspenders,
that Lecouffe and his mother quarrelled. "Don't reproach each other
for your basket," shouted a gamin to them. Another, in order to get
a look at Debacker as he passed, and being too small in the crowd,
caught sight of the lantern on the quay and climbed it. A gendarme
stationed opposite frowned. "Let me climb up, m'sieu le gendarme,"
said the gamin. And, to soften the heart of the authorities he added:
"I will not fall." "I don't care if you do," retorted the gendarme.
In the brotherhood of gamins, a memorable accident counts for a
great deal. One reaches the height of consideration if one chances
to cut one's self very deeply, "to the very bone."
The fist is no mediocre element of respect. One of the things
that the gamin is fondest of saying is: "I am fine and strong,
come now!" To be left-handed renders you very enviable. A squint
is highly esteemed.
IN WHICH THE READER WILL FIND A CHARMING SAYING OF THE LAST KING
In summer, he metamorphoses himself into a frog; and in the evening,
when night is falling, in front of the bridges of Austerlitz and Jena,
from the tops of coal wagons, and the washerwomen's boats, he hurls
himself headlong into the Seine, and into all possible infractions
of the laws of modesty and of the police. Nevertheless the
police keep an eye on him, and the result is a highly dramatic
situation which once gave rise to a fraternal and memorable cry;
that cry which was celebrated about 1830, is a strategic warning
from gamin to gamin; it scans like a verse from Homer, with a
notation as inexpressible as the eleusiac chant of the Panathenaea,
and in it one encounters again the ancient Evohe. Here it is:
"Ohe, Titi, oheee! Here comes the bobby, here comes the p'lice,
pick up your duds and be off, through the sewer with you!"
Sometimes this gnat--that is what he calls himself--knows how to read;
sometimes he knows how to write; he always knows how to daub.
He does not hesitate to acquire, by no one knows what mysterious
mutual instruction, all the talents which can be of use to the public;
from 1815 to 1830, he imitated the cry of the turkey; from 1830
to 1848, he scrawled pears on the walls. One summer evening,
when Louis Philippe was returning home on foot, he saw a little fellow,
no higher than his knee, perspiring and climbing up to draw a gigantic
pear in charcoal on one of the pillars of the gate of Neuilly;
the King, with that good-nature which came to him from Henry IV.,
helped the gamin, finished the pear, and gave the child a louis,
saying: "The pear is on that also." The gamin loves uproar.
A certain state of violence pleases him. He execrates "the cures."
One day, in the Rue de l'Universite, one of these scamps was putting
his thumb to his nose at the carriage gate of No. 69. "Why are you
doing that at the gate?" a passer-by asked. The boy replied:
"There is a cure there." It was there, in fact, that the Papal
 Louis XVIII. is represented in comic pictures of that day
as having a pear-shaped head.
Nevertheless, whatever may be the Voltairianism of the small gamin,
if the occasion to become a chorister presents itself, it is
quite possible that he will accept, and in that case he serves
the mass civilly. There are two things to which he plays Tantalus,
and which he always desires without ever attaining them:
to overthrow the government, and to get his trousers sewed up again.
The gamin in his perfect state possesses all the policemen of Paris,
and can always put the name to the face of any one which he chances
to meet. He can tell them off on the tips of his fingers.
He studies their habits, and he has special notes on each one
of them. He reads the souls of the police like an open book.
He will tell you fluently and without flinching: "Such an one
is a traitor; such another is very malicious; such another
is great; such another is ridiculous." (All these words:
traitor, malicious, great, ridiculous, have a particular meaning
in his mouth.) That one imagines that he owns the Pont-Neuf, and he
prevents people from walking on the cornice outside the parapet;
that other has a mania for pulling person's ears; etc., etc.
THE OLD SOUL OF GAUL
There was something of that boy in Poquelin, the son of the fish-market;
Beaumarchais had something of it. Gaminerie is a shade of the
Gallic spirit. Mingled with good sense, it sometimes adds force
to the latter, as alcohol does to wine. Sometimes it is a defect.
Homer repeats himself eternally, granted; one may say that
Voltaire plays the gamin. Camille Desmoulins was a native
of the faubourgs. Championnet, who treated miracles brutally,
rose from the pavements of Paris; he had, when a small lad,
inundated the porticos of Saint-Jean de Beauvais, and of Saint-Etienne
du Mont; he had addressed the shrine of Sainte-Genevieve
familiarly to give orders to the phial of Saint Januarius.
The gamin of Paris is respectful, ironical, and insolent. He has
villainous teeth, because he is badly fed and his stomach suffers,
and handsome eyes because he has wit. If Jehovah himself were present,
he would go hopping up the steps of paradise on one foot.
He is strong on boxing. All beliefs are possible to him.
He plays in the gutter, and straightens himself up with a revolt;
his effrontery persists even in the presence of grape-shot; he was
a scapegrace, he is a hero; like the little Theban, he shakes the skin
from the lion; Barra the drummer-boy was a gamin of Paris; he Shouts:
"Forward!" as the horse of Scripture says "Vah!" and in a moment he
has passed from the small brat to the giant.
This child of the puddle is also the child of the ideal.
Measure that spread of wings which reaches from Moliere to Barra.
To sum up the whole, and in one word, the gamin is a being
who amuses himself, because he is unhappy.
ECCE PARIS, ECCE HOMO
To sum it all up once more, the Paris gamin of to-day, like
the graeculus of Rome in days gone by, is the infant populace
with the wrinkle of the old world on his brow.
The gamin is a grace to the nation, and at the same time a disease;
a disease which must be cured, how? By light.
Light renders healthy.
All generous social irradiations spring from science, letters, arts,
education. Make men, make men. Give them light that they may warm you.
Sooner or later the splendid question of universal education will
present itself with the irresistible authority of the absolute truth;
and then, those who govern under the superintendence of the French
idea will have to make this choice; the children of France or the
gamins of Paris; flames in the light or will-o'-the-wisps in the gloom.
The gamin expresses Paris, and Paris expresses the world.
For Paris is a total. Paris is the ceiling of the human race.
The whole of this prodigious city is a foreshortening of dead manners
and living manners. He who sees Paris thinks he sees the bottom of all
history with heaven and constellations in the intervals. Paris has
a capital, the Town-Hall, a Parthenon, Notre-Dame, a Mount Aventine,
the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, an Asinarium, the Sorbonne, a Pantheon,
the Pantheon, a Via Sacra, the Boulevard des Italiens, a temple
of the winds, opinion; and it replaces the Gemoniae by ridicule.
Its majo is called "faraud," its Transteverin is the man of the faubourgs,
its hammal is the market-porter, its lazzarone is the pegre, its cockney
is the native of Ghent. Everything that exists elsewhere exists
at Paris. The fishwoman of Dumarsais can retort on the herb-seller
of Euripides, the discobols Vejanus lives again in the Forioso,
the tight-rope dancer. Therapontigonus Miles could walk arm in arm
with Vadeboncoeur the grenadier, Damasippus the second-hand dealer
would be happy among bric-a-brac merchants, Vincennes could grasp
Socrates in its fist as just as Agora could imprison Diderot,
Grimod de la Reyniere discovered larded roast beef, as Curtillus
invented roast hedgehog, we see the trapeze which figures in Plautus
reappear under the vault of the Arc of l'Etoile, the sword-eater of
Poecilus encountered by Apuleius is a sword-swallower on the PontNeuf,
the nephew of Rameau and Curculio the parasite make a pair,
Ergasilus could get himself presented to Cambaceres by d'Aigrefeuille;
the four dandies of Rome: Alcesimarchus, Phoedromus, Diabolus,
and Argyrippus, descend from Courtille in Labatut's posting-chaise;
Aulus Gellius would halt no longer in front of Congrio than would
Charles Nodier in front of Punchinello; Marto is not a tigress,
but Pardalisca was not a dragon; Pantolabus the wag jeers in the Cafe
Anglais at Nomentanus the fast liver, Hermogenus is a tenor in the
Champs-Elysees, and round him, Thracius the beggar, clad like Bobeche,
takes up a collection; the bore who stops you by the button of your
coat in the Tuileries makes you repeat after a lapse of two thousand
years Thesprion's apostrophe: Quis properantem me prehendit pallio?
The wine on Surene is a parody of the wine of Alba, the red border
of Desaugiers forms a balance to the great cutting of Balatro,
Pere Lachaise exhales beneath nocturnal rains same gleams as
the Esquiliae, and the grave of the poor bought for five years,
is certainly the equivalent of the slave's hived coffin.
Seek something that Paris has not. The vat of Trophonius
contains nothing that is not in Mesmer's tub; Ergaphilas lives
again in Cagliostro; the Brahmin Vasaphanta become incarnate
in the Comte de Saint-Germain; the cemetery of Saint-Medard
works quite as good miracles as the Mosque of Oumoumie at Damascus.
Paris has an AEsop-Mayeux, and a Canidia, Mademoiselle Lenormand.
It is terrified, like Delphos at the fulgurating realities of
the vision; it makes tables turn as Dodona did tripods. It places
the grisette on the throne, as Rome placed the courtesan there;
and, taking it altogether, if Louis XV. is worse than Claudian,
Madame Dubarry is better than Messalina. Paris combines in an
unprecedented type, which has existed and which we have elbowed,
Grecian nudity, the Hebraic ulcer, and the Gascon pun.
It mingles Diogenes, Job, and Jack-pudding, dresses up a spectre
in old numbers of the Constitutional, and makes Chodruc Duclos.
Although Plutarch says: the tyrant never grows old, Rome, under Sylla
as under Domitian, resigned itself and willingly put water in
its wine. The Tiber was a Lethe, if the rather doctrinary eulogium
made of it by Varus Vibiscus is to be credited: Contra Gracchos
Tiberim habemus, Bibere Tiberim, id est seditionem oblivisci.
Paris drinks a million litres of water a day, but that does not prevent
it from occasionally beating the general alarm and ringing the tocsin.
With that exception, Paris is amiable. It accepts everything royally;
it is not too particular about its Venus; its Callipyge is Hottentot;
provided that it is made to laugh, it condones; ugliness cheers it,
deformity provokes it to laughter, vice diverts it; be eccentric
and you may be an eccentric; even hypocrisy, that supreme cynicism,
does not disgust it; it is so literary that it does not hold
its nose before Basile, and is no more scandalized by the prayer
of Tartuffe than Horace was repelled by the "hiccup" of Priapus.
No trait of the universal face is lacking in the profile of Paris.
The bal Mabile is not the polymnia dance of the Janiculum,
but the dealer in ladies' wearing apparel there devours the lorette
with her eyes, exactly as the procuress Staphyla lay in wait for
the virgin Planesium. The Barriere du Combat is not the Coliseum,
but people are as ferocious there as though Caesar were looking on.
The Syrian hostess has more grace than Mother Saguet, but, if Virgil
haunted the Roman wine-shop, David d'Angers, Balzac and Charlet
have sat at the tables of Parisian taverns. Paris reigns.
Geniuses flash forth there, the red tails prosper there.
Adonai passes on his chariot with its twelve wheels of thunder
and lightning; Silenus makes his entry there on his ass. For Silenus
Paris is the synonym of Cosmos, Paris is Athens, Sybaris, Jerusalem,
Pantin. All civilizations are there in an abridged form, all barbarisms
also. Paris would greatly regret it if it had not a guillotine.
A little of the Place de Greve is a good thing. What would all that
eternal festival be without this seasoning? Our laws are wisely
provided, and thanks to them, this blade drips on this Shrove Tuesday.
TO SCOFF, TO REIGN
There is no limit to Paris. No city has had that domination
which sometimes derides those whom it subjugates. To please you,
O Athenians! exclaimed Alexander. Paris makes more than the law,
it makes the fashion; Paris sets more than the fashion, it sets
the routine. Paris may be stupid, if it sees fit; it sometimes
allows itself this luxury; then the universe is stupid in company
with it; then Paris awakes, rubs its eyes, says: "How stupid
I am!" and bursts out laughing in the face of the human race.
What a marvel is such a city! it is a strange thing that this
grandioseness and this burlesque should be amicable neighbors,
that all this majesty should not be thrown into disorder by all
this parody, and that the same mouth can to-day blow into the trump
of the Judgment Day, and to-morrow into the reed-flute! Paris has
a sovereign joviality. Its gayety is of the thunder and its farce
holds a sceptre.
Its tempest sometimes proceeds from a grimace. Its explosions,
its days, its masterpieces, its prodigies, its epics, go forth to the
bounds of the universe, and so also do its cock-and-bull stories.
Its laugh is the mouth of a volcano which spatters the whole earth.
Its jests are sparks. It imposes its caricatures as well as its
ideal on people; the highest monuments of human civilization accept
its ironies and lend their eternity to its mischievous pranks.
It is superb; it has a prodigious 14th of July, which delivers
the globe; it forces all nations to take the oath of tennis;
its night of the 4th of August dissolves in three hours a thousand
years of feudalism; it makes of its logic the muscle of unanimous will;
it multiplies itself under all sorts of forms of the sublime;
it fills with its light Washington, Kosciusko, Bolivar, Bozzaris,
Riego, Bem, Manin, Lopez, John Brown, Garibaldi; it is everywhere
where the future is being lighted up, at Boston in 1779,
at the Isle de Leon in 1820, at Pesth in 1848, at Palermo in 1860,
it whispers the mighty countersign: Liberty, in the ear of the
American abolitionists grouped about the boat at Harper's Ferry,
and in the ear of the patriots of Ancona assembled in the shadow,
to the Archi before the Gozzi inn on the seashore; it creates Canaris;
it creates Quiroga; it creates Pisacane; it irradiates the great
on earth; it was while proceeding whither its breath urge them,
that Byron perished at Missolonghi, and that Mazet died at Barcelona;
it is the tribune under the feet of Mirabeau, and a crater under the
feet of Robespierre; its books, its theatre, its art, its science,
its literature, its philosophy, are the manuals of the human race;
it has Pascal, Regnier, Corneille, Descartes, Jean-Jacques: Voltaire
for all moments, Moliere for all centuries; it makes its language to
be talked by the universal mouth, and that language becomes the word;
it constructs in all minds the idea of progress, the liberating dogmas
which it forges are for the generations trusty friends, and it is
with the soul of its thinkers and its poets that all heroes of all
nations have been made since 1789; this does not prevent vagabondism,
and that enormous genius which is called Paris, while transfiguring
the world by its light, sketches in charcoal Bouginier's nose on
the wall of the temple of Theseus and writes Credeville the thief on
Paris is always showing its teeth; when it is not scolding it
Such is Paris. The smoke of its roofs forms the ideas of the universe.
A heap of mud and stone, if you will, but, above all, a moral being.
It is more than great, it is immense. Why? Because it is daring.
To dare; that is the price of progress.
All sublime conquests are, more or less, the prizes of daring.
In order that the Revolution should take place, it does not suffice
that Montesquieu should foresee it, that Diderot should preach it,
that Beaumarchais should announce it, that Condorcet should calculate it,
that Arouet should prepare it, that Rousseau should premeditate it;
it is necessary that Danton should dare it.
The cry: Audacity! is a Fiat lux. It is necessary, for the sake
of the forward march of the human race, that there should be proud
lessons of courage permanently on the heights. Daring deeds
dazzle history and are one of man's great sources of light.
The dawn dares when it rises. To attempt, to brave, to persist,
to persevere, to be faithful to one's self, to grasp fate bodily,
to astound catastrophe by the small amount of fear that it occasions us,
now to affront unjust power, again to insult drunken victory,
to hold one's position, to stand one's ground; that is the example
which nations need, that is the light which electrifies them.
The same formidable lightning proceeds from the torch of Prometheus to
Cambronne's short pipe.
THE FUTURE LATENT IN THE PEOPLE
As for the Parisian populace, even when a man grown, it is always
the street Arab; to paint the child is to paint the city; and it is
for that reason that we have studied this eagle in this arrant sparrow.
It is in the faubourgs, above all, we maintain, that the Parisian
race appears; there is the pure blood; there is the true physiognomy;
there this people toils and suffers, and suffering and toil are the two
faces of man. There exist there immense numbers of unknown beings,
among whom swarm types of the strangest, from the porter of la
Rapee to the knacker of Montfaucon. Fex urbis, exclaims Cicero;
mob, adds Burke, indignantly; rabble, multitude, populace. These are
words and quickly uttered. But so be it. What does it matter?
What is it to me if they do go barefoot! They do not know how to read;
so much the worse. Would you abandon them for that? Would you
turn their distress into a malediction? Cannot the light penetrate
these masses? Let us return to that cry: Light! and let us obstinately
persist therein! Light! Light! Who knows whether these opacities
will not become transparent? Are not revolutions transfigurations?
Come, philosophers, teach, enlighten, light up, think aloud,
speak aloud, hasten joyously to the great sun, fraternize with the
public place, announce the good news, spend your alphabets lavishly,
proclaim rights, sing the Marseillaises, sow enthusiasms,
tear green boughs from the oaks. Make a whirlwind of the idea.
This crowd may be rendered sublime. Let us learn how to make use
of that vast conflagration of principles and virtues, which sparkles,
bursts forth and quivers at certain hours. These bare feet,
these bare arms, these rags, these ignorances, these abjectnesses,
these darknesses, may be employed in the conquest of the ideal.
Gaze past the people, and you will perceive truth. Let that vile
sand which you trample under foot be cast into the furnace, let it
melt and seethe there, it will become a splendid crystal, and it
is thanks to it that Galileo and Newton will discover stars.
Eight or nine years after the events narrated in the second part
of this story, people noticed on the Boulevard du Temple, and in the
regions of the Chateau-d'Eau, a little boy eleven or twelve years
of age, who would have realized with tolerable accuracy that ideal
of the gamin sketched out above, if, with the laugh of his age
on his lips, he had not had a heart absolutely sombre and empty.
This child was well muffled up in a pair of man's trousers, but he
did not get them from his father, and a woman's chemise, but he
did not get it from his mother. Some people or other had clothed
him in rags out of charity. Still, he had a father and a mother.
But his father did not think of him, and his mother did not love him.
He was one of those children most deserving of pity, among all,
one of those who have father and mother, and who are orphans nevertheless.
This child never felt so well as when he was in the street.
The pavements were less hard to him than his mother's heart.
His parents had despatched him into life with a kick.
He simply took flight.
He was a boisterous, pallid, nimble, wide-awake, jeering, lad, with a
vivacious but sickly air. He went and came, sang, played at hopscotch,
scraped the gutters, stole a little, but, like cats and sparrows,
gayly laughed when he was called a rogue, and got angry when
called a thief. He had no shelter, no bread, no fire, no love;
but he was merry because he was free.
When these poor creatures grow to be men, the millstones of the social
order meet them and crush them, but so long as they are children,
they escape because of their smallness. The tiniest hole saves them.
Nevertheless, abandoned as this child was, it sometimes happened,
every two or three months, that he said, "Come, I'll go and see mamma!"
Then he quitted the boulevard, the Cirque, the Porte Saint-Martin,
descended to the quays, crossed the bridges, reached the suburbs,
arrived at the Salpetriere, and came to a halt, where? Precisely at
that double number 50-52 with which the reader is acquainted--
at the Gorbeau hovel.
At that epoch, the hovel 50-52 generally deserted and eternally
decorated with the placard: "Chambers to let," chanced to be,
a rare thing, inhabited by numerous individuals who, however, as is
always the case in Paris, had no connection with each other.
All belonged to that indigent class which begins to separate
from the lowest of petty bourgeoisie in straitened circumstances,
and which extends from misery to misery into the lowest depths
of society down to those two beings in whom all the material
things of civilization end, the sewer-man who sweeps up the mud,
and the ragpicker who collects scraps.
The "principal lodger" of Jean Valjean's day was dead and had been
replaced by another exactly like her. I know not what philosopher
has said: "Old women are never lacking."
This new old woman was named Madame Bourgon, and had nothing
remarkable about her life except a dynasty of three paroquets,
who had reigned in succession over her soul.
The most miserable of those who inhabited the hovel were a family
of four persons, consisting of father, mother, and two daughters,
already well grown, all four of whom were lodged in the same attic,
one of the cells which we have already mentioned.
At first sight, this family presented no very special feature except
its extreme destitution; the father, when he hired the chamber,
had stated that his name was Jondrette. Some time after his moving in,
which had borne a singular resemblance to the entrance of nothing
at all, to borrow the memorable expression of the principal tenant,
this Jondrette had said to the woman, who, like her predecessor,
was at the same time portress and stair-sweeper: "Mother So-and-So,
if any one should chance to come and inquire for a Pole or an Italian,
or even a Spaniard, perchance, it is I."
This family was that of the merry barefoot boy. He arrived
there and found distress, and, what is still sadder, no smile;
a cold hearth and cold hearts. When he entered, he was asked:
"Whence come you?" He replied: "From the street." When he
went away, they asked him: "Whither are you going?" He replied:
"Into the streets." His mother said to him: "What did you come
This child lived, in this absence of affection, like the pale
plants which spring up in cellars. It did not cause him suffering,
and he blamed no one. He did not know exactly how a father
and mother should be.
Nevertheless, his mother loved his sisters.
We have forgotten to mention, that on the Boulevard du Temple this
child was called Little Gavroche. Why was he called Little Gavroche?
Probably because his father's name was Jondrette.
It seems to be the instinct of certain wretched families to break
The chamber which the Jondrettes inhabited in the Gorbeau hovel
was the last at the end of the corridor. The cell next to it
was occupied by a very poor young man who was called M. Marius.
Let us explain who this M. Marius was.
BOOK SECOND.--THE GREAT BOURGEOIS
NINETY YEARS AND THIRTY-TWO TEETH
In the Rue Boucherat, Rue de Normandie and the Rue de Saintonge
there still exist a few ancient inhabitants who have preserved
the memory of a worthy man named M. Gillenormand, and who mention
him with complaisance. This good man was old when they were young.
This silhouette has not yet entirely disappeared--for those who regard
with melancholy that vague swarm of shadows which is called the past--
from the labyrinth of streets in the vicinity of the Temple to which,
under Louis XIV., the names of all the provinces of France were
appended exactly as in our day, the streets of the new Tivoli quarter
have received the names of all the capitals of Europe; a progression,
by the way, in which progress is visible.
M.Gillenormand, who was as much alive as possible in 1831,
was one of those men who had become curiosities to be viewed,
simply because they have lived a long time, and who are strange
because they formerly resembled everybody, and now resemble nobody.
He was a peculiar old man, and in very truth, a man of another age,
the real, complete and rather haughty bourgeois of the eighteenth
century, who wore his good, old bourgeoisie with the air with which
marquises wear their marquisates. He was over ninety years of age,
his walk was erect, he talked loudly, saw clearly, drank neat,
ate, slept, and snored. He had all thirty-two of his teeth.
He only wore spectacles when he read. He was of an amorous disposition,
but declared that, for the last ten years, he had wholly and
decidedly renounced women. He could no longer please, he said;
he did not add: "I am too old," but: "I am too poor." He said:
"If I were not ruined--Heee!" All he had left, in fact, was an
income of about fifteen thousand francs. His dream was to come
into an inheritance and to have a hundred thousand livres income
for mistresses. He did not belong, as the reader will perceive,
to that puny variety of octogenaries who, like M. de Voltaire,
have been dying all their life; his was no longevity of a cracked pot;
this jovial old man had always had good health. He was superficial,
rapid, easily angered. He flew into a passion at everything,
generally quite contrary to all reason. When contradicted, he raised
his cane; he beat people as he had done in the great century.
He had a daughter over fifty years of age, and unmarried, whom he
chastised severely with his tongue, when in a rage, and whom he
would have liked to whip. She seemed to him to be eight years old.
He boxed his servants' ears soundly, and said: "Ah! carogne!"
One of his oaths was: "By the pantoufloche of the pantouflochade!"
He had singular freaks of tranquillity; he had himself shaved
every day by a barber who had been mad and who detested him,
being jealous of M. Gillenormand on account of his wife, a pretty
and coquettish barberess. M. Gillenormand admired his own discernment
in all things, and declared that he was extremely sagacious;
here is one of his sayings: "I have, in truth, some penetration;
I am able to say when a flea bites me, from what woman it came."
The words which he uttered the most frequently were: the sensible man,
and nature. He did not give to this last word the grand acceptation
which our epoch has accorded to it, but he made it enter,
after his own fashion, into his little chimney-corner satires:
"Nature," he said, "in order that civilization may have a little
of everything, gives it even specimens of its amusing barbarism.
Europe possesses specimens of Asia and Africa on a small scale.
The cat is a drawing-room tiger, the lizard is a pocket crocodile.
The dancers at the opera are pink female savages. They do not eat men,
they crunch them; or, magicians that they are, they transform them
into oysters and swallow them. The Caribbeans leave only the bones,
they leave only the shell. Such are our morals. We do not devour,
we gnaw; we do not exterminate, we claw."
LIKE MASTER, LIKE HOUSE
He lived in the Marais, Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, No. 6.
He owned the house. This house has since been demolished and rebuilt,
and the number has probably been changed in those revolutions
of numeration which the streets of Paris undergo. He occupied
an ancient and vast apartment on the first floor, between street
and gardens, furnished to the very ceilings with great Gobelins
and Beauvais tapestries representing pastoral scenes; the subjects
of the ceilings and the panels were repeated in miniature on the
arm-chairs. He enveloped his bed in a vast, nine-leaved screen
of Coromandel lacquer. Long, full curtains hung from the windows,
and formed great, broken folds that were very magnificent.
The garden situated immediately under his windows was attached
to that one of them which formed the angle, by means of a staircase
twelve or fifteen steps long, which the old gentleman ascended and
descended with great agility. In addition to a library adjoining
his chamber, he had a boudoir of which he thought a great deal,
a gallant and elegant retreat, with magnificent hangings of straw,
with a pattern of flowers and fleurs-de-lys made on the galleys
of Louis XIV. and ordered of his convicts by M. de Vivonne for
his mistress. M. Gillenormand had inherited it from a grim maternal
great-aunt, who had died a centenarian. He had had two wives.
His manners were something between those of the courtier,
which he had never been, and the lawyer, which he might have been.
He was gay, and caressing when he had a mind. In his youth he
had been one of those men who are always deceived by their wives
and never by their mistresses, because they are, at the same time,
the most sullen of husbands and the most charming of lovers
in existence. He was a connoisseur of painting. He had in his chamber
a marvellous portrait of no one knows whom, painted by Jordaens,
executed with great dashes of the brush, with millions of details,
in a confused and hap-hazard manner. M. Gillenormand's attire
was not the habit of Louis XIV. nor yet that of Louis XVI.;
it was that of the Incroyables of the Directory. He had thought
himself young up to that period and had followed the fashions.
His coat was of light-weight cloth with voluminous revers, a long
swallow-tail and large steel buttons. With this he wore knee-breeches
and buckle shoes. He always thrust his hands into his fobs.
He said authoritatively: "The French Revolution is a heap
At the age of sixteen, one evening at the opera, he had had the
honor to be stared at through opera-glasses by two beauties at the
same time--ripe and celebrated beauties then, and sung by Voltaire,
the Camargo and the Salle. Caught between two fires, he had beaten
a heroic retreat towards a little dancer, a young girl named Nahenry,
who was sixteen like himself, obscure as a cat, and with whom he was
in love. He abounded in memories. He was accustomed to exclaim:
"How pretty she was--that Guimard-Guimardini-Guimardinette, the
last time I saw her at Longchamps, her hair curled in sustained
sentiments, with her come-and-see of turquoises, her gown of the
color of persons newly arrived, and her little agitation muff!"
He had worn in his young manhood a waistcoat of Nain-Londrin,
which he was fond of talking about effusively. "I was dressed
like a Turk of the Levant Levantin," said he. Madame de Boufflers,
having seen him by chance when he was twenty, had described him as "a
charming fool." He was horrified by all the names which he saw
in politics and in power, regarding them as vulgar and bourgeois.
He read the journals, the newspapers, the gazettes as he said,
stifling outbursts of laughter the while. "Oh!" he said,
"what people these are! Corbiere! Humann! Casimir Perier!
There's a minister for you! I can imagine this in a journal:
`M. Gillenorman, minister!' that would be a farce. Well! They are so
stupid that it would pass"; he merrily called everything by its name,
whether decent or indecent, and did not restrain himself in the least
before ladies. He uttered coarse speeches, obscenities, and filth
with a certain tranquillity and lack of astonishment which was elegant.
It was in keeping with the unceremoniousness of his century.
It is to be noted that the age of periphrase in verse was the age
of crudities in prose. His god-father had predicted that he
would turn out a man of genius, and had bestowed on him these two
significant names: Luc-Esprit.
A CENTENARIAN ASPIRANT
He had taken prizes in his boyhood at the College of Moulins, where he
was born, and he had been crowned by the hand of the Duc de Nivernais,
whom he called the Duc de Nevers. Neither the Convention, nor the
death of Louis XVI., nor the Napoleon, nor the return of the Bourbons,
nor anything else had been able to efface the memory of this crowning.
The Duc de Nevers was, in his eyes, the great figure of the century.
"What a charming grand seigneur," he said, "and what a fine air he
had with his blue ribbon!"
In the eyes of M. Gillenormand, Catherine the Second had made reparation
for the crime of the partition of Poland by purchasing, for three
thousand roubles, the secret of the elixir of gold, from Bestucheff.
He grew animated on this subject: "The elixir of gold," he exclaimed,
"the yellow dye of Bestucheff, General Lamotte's drops, in the
eighteenth century,--this was the great remedy for the catastrophes
of love, the panacea against Venus, at one louis the half-ounce phial.
Louis XV. sent two hundred phials of it to the Pope." He would have
been greatly irritated and thrown off his balance, had any one told
him that the elixir of gold is nothing but the perchloride of iron.
M. Gillenormand adored the Bourbons, and had a horror of 1789;
he was forever narrating in what manner he had saved himself during
the Terror, and how he had been obliged to display a vast deal of
gayety and cleverness in order to escape having his head cut off.
If any young man ventured to pronounce an eulogium on the Republic
in his presence, he turned purple and grew so angry that he was on
the point of swooning. He sometimes alluded to his ninety years,
and said, "I hope that I shall not see ninety-three twice."
On these occasions, he hinted to people that he meant to live to be
BASQUE AND NICOLETTE
He had theories. Here is one of them: "When a man is passionately
fond of women, and when he has himself a wife for whom he cares
but little, who is homely, cross, legitimate, with plenty of rights,
perched on the code, and jealous at need, there is but one way
of extricating himself from the quandry and of procuring peace,
and that is to let his wife control the purse-strings. This
abdication sets him free. Then his wife busies herself,
grows passionately fond of handling coin, gets her fingers
covered with verdigris in the process, undertakes the education
of half-share tenants and the training of farmers, convokes lawyers,
presides over notaries, harangues scriveners, visits limbs of the law,
follows lawsuits, draws up leases, dictates contracts, feels herself
the sovereign, sells, buys, regulates, promises and compromises,
binds fast and annuls, yields, concedes and retrocedes, arranges,
disarranges, hoards, lavishes; she commits follies, a supreme
and personal delight, and that consoles her. While her husband
disdains her, she has the satisfaction of ruining her husband."
This theory M. Gillenormand had himself applied, and it had become
his history. His wife--the second one--had administered his fortune
in such a manner that, one fine day, when M. Gillenormand found
himself a widower, there remained to him just sufficient to live on,
by sinking nearly the whole of it in an annuity of fifteen
thousand francs, three-quarters of which would expire with him.
He had not hesitated on this point, not being anxious to leave
a property behind him. Besides, he had noticed that patrimonies are
subject to adventures, and, for instance, become national property;
he had been present at the avatars of consolidated three per cents,
and he had no great faith in the Great Book of the Public Debt.
"All that's the Rue Quincampois!" he said. His house in the Rue
Filles-du-Clavaire belonged to him, as we have already stated.
He had two servants, "a male and a female." When a servant entered
his establishment, M. Gillenormand re-baptized him. He bestowed on
the men the name of their province: Nimois, Comtois, Poitevin, Picard.
His last valet was a big, foundered, short-winded fellow of fifty-five,
who was incapable of running twenty paces; but, as he had been born
at Bayonne, M. Gillenormand called him Basque. All the female
servants in his house were called Nicolette (even the Magnon,
of whom we shall hear more farther on). One day, a haughty cook,
a cordon bleu, of the lofty race of porters, presented herself.
"How much wages do you want a month?" asked M. Gillenormand.
"Thirty francs." "What is your name?" "Olympie." "You shall
have fifty francs, and you shall be called Nicolette."
IN WHICH MAGNON AND HER TWO CHILDREN ARE SEEN
With M. Gillenormand, sorrow was converted into wrath; he was furious
at being in despair. He had all sorts of prejudices and took
all sorts of liberties. One of the facts of which his exterior
relief and his internal satisfaction was composed, was, as we have
just hinted, that he had remained a brisk spark, and that he passed
energetically for such. This he called having "royal renown."
This royal renown sometimes drew down upon him singular windfalls.
One day, there was brought to him in a basket, as though it had
been a basket of oysters, a stout, newly born boy, who was yelling
like the deuce, and duly wrapped in swaddling-clothes, which a
servant-maid, dismissed six months previously, attributed to him.
M. Gillenormand had, at that time, fully completed his
eighty-fourth year. Indignation and uproar in the establishment.
And whom did that bold hussy think she could persuade to believe that?
What audacity! What an abominable calumny! M. Gillenormand himself
was not at all enraged. He gazed at the brat with the amiable smile
of a good man who is flattered by the calumny, and said in an aside:
"Well, what now? What's the matter? You are finely taken aback,
and really, you are excessively ignorant. M. le Duc d'Angouleme,
the bastard of his Majesty Charles IX., married a silly jade of fifteen
when he was eighty-five; M. Virginal, Marquis d'Alluye, brother
to the Cardinal de Sourdis, Archbishop of Bordeaux, had, at the age
of eighty-three, by the maid of Madame la Presidente Jacquin,
a son, a real child of love, who became a Chevalier of Malta
and a counsellor of state; one of the great men of this century,
the Abbe Tabaraud, is the son of a man of eighty-seven. There is
nothing out of the ordinary in these things. And then, the Bible!
Upon that I declare that this little gentleman is none of mine.
Let him be taken care of. It is not his fault." This manner
of procedure was good-tempered. The woman, whose name was Magnon,
sent him another parcel in the following year. It was a boy again.
Thereupon, M. Gillenormand capitulated. He sent the two brats
back to their mother, promising to pay eighty francs a month
for their maintenance, on the condition that the said mother would
not do so any more. He added: "I insist upon it that the mother
shall treat them well. I shall go to see them from time to time."
And this he did. He had had a brother who was a priest, and who had
been rector of the Academy of Poitiers for three and thirty years,
and had died at seventy-nine. "I lost him young," said he.
This brother, of whom but little memory remains, was a peaceable
miser, who, being a priest, thought himself bound to bestow alms
on the poor whom he met, but he never gave them anything except
bad or demonetized sous, thereby discovering a means of going
to hell by way of paradise. As for M. Gillenormand the elder,
he never haggled over his alms-giving, but gave gladly and nobly.
He was kindly, abrupt, charitable, and if he had been rich,
his turn of mind would have been magnificent. He desired
that all which concerned him should be done in a grand manner,
even his rogueries. One day, having been cheated by a business
man in a matter of inheritance, in a gross and apparent manner,
he uttered this solemn exclamation: "That was indecently done!
I am really ashamed of this pilfering. Everything has degenerated
in this century, even the rascals. Morbleu! this is not the way
to rob a man of my standing. I am robbed as though in a forest,
but badly robbed. Silva, sint consule dignae!" He had had two wives,
as we have already mentioned; by the first he had had a daughter,
who had remained unmarried, and by the second another daughter,
who had died at about the age of thirty, who had wedded, through love,
or chance, or otherwise, a soldier of fortune who had served
in the armies of the Republic and of the Empire, who had won
the cross at Austerlitz and had been made colonel at Waterloo.
"He is the disgrace of my family," said the old bourgeois.
He took an immense amount of snuff, and had a particularly graceful
manner of plucking at his lace ruffle with the back of one hand.
He believed very little in God.
RULE: RECEIVE NO ONE EXCEPT IN THE EVENING
Such was M. Luc-Esprit Gillenormand, who had not lost his hair,--
which was gray rather than white,--and which was always dressed in
"dog's ears." To sum up, he was venerable in spite of all this.
He had something of the eighteenth century about him; frivolous and great.
In 1814 and during the early years of the Restoration, M. Gillenormand,
who was still young,--he was only seventy-four,--lived in the
Faubourg Saint Germain, Rue Servandoni, near Saint-Sulpice.
He had only retired to the Marais when he quitted society,
long after attaining the age of eighty.
And, on abandoning society, he had immured himself in his habits.
The principal one, and that which was invariable, was to keep his
door absolutely closed during the day, and never to receive any one
whatever except in the evening. He dined at five o'clock, and after
that his door was open. That had been the fashion of his century,
and he would not swerve from it. "The day is vulgar," said he,
"and deserves only a closed shutter. Fashionable people only light up
their minds when the zenith lights up its stars." And he barricaded
himself against every one, even had it been the king himself.
This was the antiquated elegance of his day.
TWO DO NOT MAKE A PAIR
We have just spoken of M. Gillenormand's two daughters. They had
come into the world ten years apart. In their youth they had
borne very little resemblance to each other, either in character
or countenance, and had also been as little like sisters to each
other as possible. The youngest had a charming soul, which turned
towards all that belongs to the light, was occupied with flowers,
with verses, with music, which fluttered away into glorious space,
enthusiastic, ethereal, and was wedded from her very youth, in ideal,
to a vague and heroic figure. The elder had also her chimera;
she espied in the azure some very wealthy purveyor, a contractor,
a splendidly stupid husband, a million made man, or even a prefect;
the receptions of the Prefecture, an usher in the antechamber
with a chain on his neck, official balls, the harangues of the
town-hall, to be "Madame la Prefete,"--all this had created
a whirlwind in her imagination. Thus the two sisters strayed,
each in her own dream, at the epoch when they were young girls.
Both had wings, the one like an angel, the other like a goose.
No ambition is ever fully realized, here below at least.
No paradise becomes terrestrial in our day. The younger wedded
the man of her dreams, but she died. The elder did not marry at all.
At the moment when she makes her entrance into this history which we
are relating, she was an antique virtue, an incombustible prude,
with one of the sharpest noses, and one of the most obtuse minds
that it is possible to see. A characteristic detail; outside of
her immediate family, no one had ever known her first name.
She was called Mademoiselle Gillenormand, the elder.
In the matter of cant, Mademoiselle Gillenormand could have given
points to a miss. Her modesty was carried to the other extreme
of blackness. She cherished a frightful memory of her life; one day,
a man had beheld her garter.
Age had only served to accentuate this pitiless modesty. Her guimpe
was never sufficiently opaque, and never ascended sufficiently high.
She multiplied clasps and pins where no one would have dreamed
of looking. The peculiarity of prudery is to place all the more
sentinels in proportion as the fortress is the less menaced.
Nevertheless, let him who can explain these antique mysteries
of innocence, she allowed an officer of the Lancers, her grand nephew,
named Theodule, to embrace her without displeasure.
In spite of this favored Lancer, the label: Prude, under which we have
classed her, suited her to absolute perfection. Mademoiselle Gillenormand
was a sort of twilight soul. Prudery is a demi-virtue and a demi-vice.
To prudery she added bigotry, a well-assorted lining. She belonged
to the society of the Virgin, wore a white veil on certain festivals,
mumbled special orisons, revered "the holy blood," venerated "the
sacred heart," remained for hours in contemplation before a
rococo-jesuit altar in a chapel which was inaccessible to the rank
and file of the faithful, and there allowed her soul to soar among
little clouds of marble, and through great rays of gilded wood.
She had a chapel friend, an ancient virgin like herself,
named Mademoiselle Vaubois, who was a positive blockhead,
and beside whom Mademoiselle Gillenormand had the pleasure of being
an eagle. Beyond the Agnus Dei and Ave Maria, Mademoiselle Vaubois
had no knowledge of anything except of the different ways of
making preserves. Mademoiselle Vaubois, perfect in her style,
was the ermine of stupidity without a single spot of intelligence.
Let us say it plainly, Mademoiselle Gillenormand had gained rather
than lost as she grew older. This is the case with passive natures.
She had never been malicious, which is relative kindness; and then,
years wear away the angles, and the softening which comes with time
had come to her. She was melancholy with an obscure sadness
of which she did not herself know the secret. There breathed
from her whole person the stupor of a life that was finished,
and which had never had a beginning.
She kept house for her father. M. Gillenormand had his daughter
near him, as we have seen that Monseigneur Bienvenu had his sister
with him. These households comprised of an old man and an old
spinster are not rare, and always have the touching aspect of two
weaknesses leaning on each other for support.
There was also in this house, between this elderly spinster
and this old man, a child, a little boy, who was always trembling
and mute in the presence of M. Gillenormand. M. Gillenormand
never addressed this child except in a severe voice, and sometimes,
with uplifted cane: "Here, sir! rascal, scoundrel, come here!--
Answer me, you scamp! Just let me see you, you good-for-nothing!"
etc., etc. He idolized him.
This was his grandson. We shall meet with this child again later on.
BOOK THIRD.--THE GRANDFATHER AND THE GRANDSON
AN ANCIENT SALON
When M. Gillenormand lived in the Rue Servandoni, he had frequented
many very good and very aristocratic salons. Although a bourgeois,
M. Gillenormand was received in society. As he had a double
measure of wit, in the first place, that which was born with him,
and secondly, that which was attributed to him, he was even sought
out and made much of. He never went anywhere except on condition
of being the chief person there. There are people who will have
influence at any price, and who will have other people busy
themselves over them; when they cannot be oracles, they turn wags.
M. Gillenormand was not of this nature; his domination in the
Royalist salons which he frequented cost his self-respect nothing.
He was an oracle everywhere. It had happened to him to hold his own
against M. de Bonald, and even against M. Bengy-Puy-Vallee.
About 1817, he invariably passed two afternoons a week in a house in his
own neighborhood, in the Rue Ferou, with Madame la Baronne de T., a worthy
and respectable person, whose husband had been Ambassador of France
to Berlin under Louis XVI. Baron de T., who, during his lifetime,
had gone very passionately into ecstasies and magnetic visions,
had died bankrupt, during the emigration, leaving, as his entire
fortune, some very curious Memoirs about Mesmer and his tub, in ten
manuscript volumes, bound in red morocco and gilded on the edges.
Madame de T. had not published the memoirs, out of pride, and
maintained herself on a meagre income which had survived no one knew how.
Madame de T. lived far from the Court; "a very mixed society,"
as she said, in a noble isolation, proud and poor. A few friends
assembled twice a week about her widowed hearth, and these constituted
a purely Royalist salon. They sipped tea there, and uttered groans
or cries of horror at the century, the charter, the Bonapartists,
the prostitution of the blue ribbon, or the Jacobinism of Louis
XVIII., according as the wind veered towards elegy or dithyrambs;
and they spoke in low tones of the hopes which were presented
by Monsieur, afterwards Charles X.
The songs of the fishwomen, in which Napoleon was called Nicolas,
were received there with transports of joy. Duchesses, the most
delicate and charming women in the world, went into ecstasies over
couplets like the following, addressed to "the federates":--
Refoncez dans vos culottes
Le bout d' chemis' qui vous pend.
Qu'on n' dis' pas qu' les patriotes
Ont arbore l' drapeau blanc?
 Tuck into your trousers the shirt-tail that is hanging out.
Let it not be said that patriots have hoisted the white flag.
There they amused themselves with puns which were considered terrible,
with innocent plays upon words which they supposed to be venomous,
with quatrains, with distiches even; thus, upon the Dessolles ministry,
a moderate cabinet, of which MM. Decazes and Deserre were members:--
Pour raffermir le trone ebranle sur sa base,
Il faut changer de sol, et de serre et de case.
 In order to re-establish the shaken throne firmly on its base,
soil (Des solles), greenhouse and house (Decazes) must be changed.
Or they drew up a list of the chamber of peers, "an abominably
Jacobin chamber," and from this list they combined alliances of names,
in such a manner as to form, for example, phrases like the following:
Damas. Sabran. Gouvion-Saint-Cyr.--All this was done merrily.
In that society, they parodied the Revolution. They used I know
not what desires to give point to the same wrath in inverse sense.
They sang their little Ca ira:--
Ah! ca ira ca ira ca ira!
Les Bonapartistes a la lanterne!
Songs are like the guillotine; they chop away indifferently,
to-day this head, to-morrow that. It is only a variation.
In the Fualdes affair, which belongs to this epoch, 1816, they took
part for Bastide and Jausion, because Fualdes was "a Buonapartist."
They designated the liberals as friends and brothers; this constituted
the most deadly insult.
Like certain church towers, Madame de T.'s salon had two cocks.
One of them was M. Gillenormand, the other was Comte de Lamothe-Valois,
of whom it was whispered about, with a sort of respect: "Do you know?
That is the Lamothe of the affair of the necklace." These singular
amnesties do occur in parties.
Let us add the following: in the bourgeoisie, honored situations
decay through too easy relations; one must beware whom one admits;
in the same way that there is a loss of caloric in the vicinity of those
who are cold, there is a diminution of consideration in the approach
of despised persons. The ancient society of the upper classes held
themselves above this law, as above every other. Marigny, the brother
of the Pompadour, had his entry with M. le Prince de Soubise.
In spite of? No, because. Du Barry, the god-father of the Vaubernier,
was very welcome at the house of M. le Marechal de Richelieu.
This society is Olympus. Mercury and the Prince de Guemenee are
at home there. A thief is admitted there, provided he be a god.
The Comte de Lamothe, who, in 1815, was an old man seventy-five
years of age, had nothing remarkable about him except his silent
and sententious air, his cold and angular face, his perfectly
polished manners, his coat buttoned up to his cravat, and his long legs
always crossed in long, flabby trousers of the hue of burnt sienna.
His face was the same color as his trousers.
This M. de Lamothe was "held in consideration" in this salon
on account of his "celebrity" and, strange to say, though true,
because of his name of Valois.
As for M. Gillenormand, his consideration was of absolutely
first-rate quality. He had, in spite of his levity, and without its
interfering in any way with his dignity, a certain manner about him
which was imposing, dignified, honest, and lofty, in a bourgeois fashion;
and his great age added to it. One is not a century with impunity.
The years finally produce around a head a venerable dishevelment.
In addition to this, he said things which had the genuine sparkle
of the old rock. Thus, when the King of Prussia, after having restored
Louis XVIII., came to pay the latter a visit under the name of the
Count de Ruppin, he was received by the descendant of Louis XIV.
somewhat as though he had been the Marquis de Brandebourg, and with
the most delicate impertinence. M. Gillenormand approved: "All kings
who are not the King of France," said he, "are provincial kings."
One day, the following question was put and the following answer
returned in his presence: "To what was the editor of the Courrier
Francais condemned?" "To be suspended." "Sus is superfluous,"
observed M. Gillenormand. Remarks of this nature found a situation.
 Suspendu, suspended; pendu, hung.
At the Te Deum on the anniversary of the return of the Bourbons,
he said, on seeing M. de Talleyrand pass by: "There goes his
Excellency the Evil One."
M. Gillenormand was always accompanied by his daughter,
that tall mademoiselle, who was over forty and looked fifty,
and by a handsome little boy of seven years, white, rosy, fresh,
with happy and trusting eyes, who never appeared in that salon
without hearing voices murmur around him: "How handsome he is!
What a pity! Poor child!" This child was the one of whom
we dropped a word a while ago. He was called "poor child,"
because he had for a father "a brigand of the Loire."
This brigand of the Loire was M. Gillenormand's son-in-law,
who has already been mentioned, and whom M. Gillenormand called
"the disgrace of his family."
ONE OF THE RED SPECTRES OF THAT EPOCH
Any one who had chanced to pass through the little town of Vernon
at this epoch, and who had happened to walk across that fine
monumental bridge, which will soon be succeeded, let us hope,
by some hideous iron cable bridge, might have observed, had he
dropped his eyes over the parapet, a man about fifty years of age
wearing a leather cap, and trousers and a waistcoat of coarse
gray cloth, to which something yellow which had been a red ribbon,
was sewn, shod with wooden sabots, tanned by the sun, his face
nearly black and his hair nearly white, a large scar on his forehead
which ran down upon his cheek, bowed, bent, prematurely aged,
who walked nearly every day, hoe and sickle in hand, in one of
those compartments surrounded by walls which abut on the bridge,
and border the left bank of the Seine like a chain of terraces,
charming enclosures full of flowers of which one could say, were they
much larger: "these are gardens," and were they a little smaller:
"these are bouquets." All these enclosures abut upon the river
at one end, and on a house at the other. The man in the waistcoat
and the wooden shoes of whom we have just spoken, inhabited the
smallest of these enclosures and the most humble of these houses
about 1817. He lived there alone and solitary, silently and poorly,
with a woman who was neither young nor old, neither homely
nor pretty, neither a peasant nor a bourgeoise, who served him.
The plot of earth which he called his garden was celebrated in the
town for the beauty of the flowers which he cultivated there.
These flowers were his occupation.
By dint of labor, of perseverance, of attention, and of buckets
of water, he had succeeded in creating after the Creator, and he
had invented certain tulips and certain dahlias which seemed to have
been forgotten by nature. He was ingenious; he had forestalled
Soulange Bodin in the formation of little clumps of earth of
heath mould, for the cultivation of rare and precious shrubs from
America and China. He was in his alleys from the break of day,
in summer, planting, cutting, hoeing, watering, walking amid
his flowers with an air of kindness, sadness, and sweetness,
sometimes standing motionless and thoughtful for hours, listening to
the song of a bird in the trees, the babble of a child in a house,
or with his eyes fixed on a drop of dew at the tip of a spear of grass,
of which the sun made a carbuncle. His table was very plain,
and he drank more milk than wine. A child could make him give way,
and his servant scolded him. He was so timid that be seemed shy,
he rarely went out, and he saw no one but the poor people who
tapped at his pane and his cure, the Abbe Mabeuf, a good old man.
Nevertheless, if the inhabitants of the town, or strangers, or any
chance comers, curious to see his tulips, rang at his little cottage,
he opened his door with a smile. He was the "brigand of the Loire."
Any one who had, at the same time, read military memoirs, biographies,
the Moniteur, and the bulletins of the grand army, would have been
struck by a name which occurs there with tolerable frequency, the name
of Georges Pontmercy. When very young, this Georges Pontmercy had
been a soldier in Saintonge's regiment. The revolution broke out.
Saintonge's regiment formed a part of the army of the Rhine;
for the old regiments of the monarchy preserved their names
of provinces even after the fall of the monarchy, and were only
divided into brigades in 1794. Pontmercy fought at Spire, at Worms,
at Neustadt, at Turkheim, at Alzey, at Mayence, where he was one
of the two hundred who formed Houchard's rearguard. It was the
twelfth to hold its ground against the corps of the Prince of Hesse,
behind the old rampart of Andernach, and only rejoined the main body
of the army when the enemy's cannon had opened a breach from the cord
of the parapet to the foot of the glacis. He was under Kleber at
Marchiennes and at the battle of Mont-Palissel, where a ball from
a biscaien broke his arm. Then he passed to the frontier of Italy,
and was one of the thirty grenadiers who defended the Col de Tende
with Joubert. Joubert was appointed its adjutant-general, and
Pontmercy sub-lieutenant. Pontmercy was by Berthier's side in the
midst of the grape-shot of that day at Lodi which caused Bonaparte
to say: "Berthier has been cannoneer, cavalier, and grenadier."
He beheld his old general, Joubert, fall at Novi, at the moment when,
with uplifted sabre, he was shouting: "Forward!" Having been embarked
with his company in the exigencies of the campaign, on board a pinnace
which was proceeding from Genoa to some obscure port on the coast,
he fell into a wasps'-nest of seven or eight English vessels.
The Genoese commander wanted to throw his cannon into the sea,
to hide the soldiers between decks, and to slip along in the dark
as a merchant vessel. Pontmercy had the colors hoisted to the peak,
and sailed proudly past under the guns of the British frigates.
Twenty leagues further on, his audacity having increased, he attacked
with his pinnace, and captured a large English transport which was
carrying troops to Sicily, and which was so loaded down with men
and horses that the vessel was sunk to the level of the sea.
In 1805 he was in that Malher division which took Gunzberg from
the Archduke Ferdinand. At Weltingen he received into his arms,
beneath a storm of bullets, Colonel Maupetit, mortally wounded at
the head of the 9th Dragoons. He distinguished himself at Austerlitz
in that admirable march in echelons effected under the enemy's fire.
When the cavalry of the Imperial Russian Guard crushed a battalion
of the 4th of the line, Pontmercy was one of those who took their
revenge and overthrew the Guard. The Emperor gave him the cross.
Pontmercy saw Wurmser at Mantua, Melas, and Alexandria, Mack at Ulm,
made prisoners in succession. He formed a part of the eighth corps
of the grand army which Mortier commanded, and which captured Hamburg.
Then he was transferred to the 55th of the line, which was the old
regiment of Flanders. At Eylau he was in the cemetery where,
for the space of two hours, the heroic Captain Louis Hugo,
the uncle of the author of this book, sustained alone with his
company of eighty-three men every effort of the hostile army.
Pontmercy was one of the three who emerged alive from that cemetery.
He was at Friedland. Then he saw Moscow. Then La Beresina, then Lutzen,
Bautzen, Dresden, Wachau, Leipzig, and the defiles of Gelenhausen;
then Montmirail, Chateau-Thierry, Craon, the banks of the Marne,
the banks of the Aisne, and the redoubtable position of Laon.
At Arnay-Le-Duc, being then a captain, he put ten Cossacks to the sword,
and saved, not his general, but his corporal. He was well slashed
up on this occasion, and twenty-seven splinters were extracted from
his left arm alone. Eight days before the capitulation of Paris
he had just exchanged with a comrade and entered the cavalry.
He had what was called under the old regime, the double hand,
that is to say, an equal aptitude for handling the sabre or the musket
as a soldier, or a squadron or a battalion as an officer. It is
from this aptitude, perfected by a military education, which certain
special branches of the service arise, the dragoons, for example,
who are both cavalry-men and infantry at one and the same time.
He accompanied Napoleon to the Island of Elba. At Waterloo, he was
chief of a squadron of cuirassiers, in Dubois' brigade. It was he
who captured the standard of the Lunenburg battalion. He came and
cast the flag at the Emperor's feet. He was covered with blood.
While tearing down the banner he had received a sword-cut across
his face. The Emperor, greatly pleased, shouted to him: "You are
a colonel, you are a baron, you are an officer of the Legion of Honor!"
Pontmercy replied: "Sire, I thank you for my widow." An hour later,
he fell in the ravine of Ohain. Now, who was this Georges Pontmercy?
He was this same "brigand of the Loire."
We have already seen something of his history. After Waterloo,
Pontmercy, who had been pulled out of the hollow road of Ohain,
as it will be remembered, had succeeded in joining the army,
and had dragged himself from ambulance to ambulance as far
as the cantonments of the Loire.
The Restoration had placed him on half-pay, then had sent him
into residence, that is to say, under surveillance, at Vernon.
King Louis XVIII., regarding all that which had taken place
during the Hundred Days as not having occurred at all, did not
recognize his quality as an officer of the Legion of Honor,
nor his grade of colonel, nor his title of baron. He, on his side,
neglected no occasion of signing himself "Colonel Baron Pontmercy."
He had only an old blue coat, and he never went out without
fastening to it his rosette as an officer of the Legion of Honor.
The Attorney for the Crown had him warned that the authorities
would prosecute him for "illegal" wearing of this decoration.
When this notice was conveyed to him through an officious intermediary,
Pontmercy retorted with a bitter smile: "I do not know whether I
no longer understand French, or whether you no longer speak it;
but the fact is that I do not understand." Then he went out for eight
successive days with his rosette. They dared not interfere with him.
Two or three times the Minister of War and the general in command
of the department wrote to him with the following address:
A Monsieur le Commandant Pontmercy." He sent back the letters
with the seals unbroken. At the same moment, Napoleon at Saint
Helena was treating in the same fashion the missives of Sir Hudson
Lowe addressed to General Bonaparte. Pontmercy had ended, may we
be pardoned the expression, by having in his mouth the same saliva as
In the same way, there were at Rome Carthaginian prisoners who refused
to salute Flaminius, and who had a little of Hannibal's spirit.
One day he encountered the district-attorney in one of the streets
of Vernon, stepped up to him, and said: "Mr. Crown Attorney,
am I permitted to wear my scar?"
He had nothing save his meagre half-pay as chief of squadron.
He had hired the smallest house which he could find at Vernon.
He lived there alone, we have just seen how. Under the Empire,
between two wars, he had found time to marry Mademoiselle Gillenormand.
The old bourgeois, thoroughly indignant at bottom, had given his consent
with a sigh, saying: "The greatest families are forced into it."
In 1815, Madame Pontmercy, an admirable woman in every sense,
by the way, lofty in sentiment and rare, and worthy of her husband,
died, leaving a child. This child had been the colonel's joy
in his solitude; but the grandfather had imperatively claimed
his grandson, declaring that if the child were not given to him he would
disinherit him. The father had yielded in the little one's interest,
and had transferred his love to flowers.
Moreover, he had renounced everything, and neither stirred up mischief
nor conspired. He shared his thoughts between the innocent things
which he was then doing and the great things which he had done.
He passed his time in expecting a pink or in recalling Austerlitz.
M. Gillenormand kept up no relations with his son-in-law. The
colonel was "a bandit" to him. M. Gillenormand never mentioned
the colonel, except when he occasionally made mocking allusions
to "his Baronship." It had been expressly agreed that Pontmercy
should never attempt to see his son nor to speak to him, under penalty
of having the latter handed over to him disowned and disinherited.
For the Gillenormands, Pontmercy was a man afflicted with the plague.
They intended to bring up the child in their own way. Perhaps the
colonel was wrong to accept these conditions, but he submitted to them,
thinking that he was doing right and sacrificing no one but himself.
The inheritance of Father Gillenormand did not amount to much; but the
inheritance of Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder was considerable.
This aunt, who had remained unmarried, was very rich on the
maternal side, and her sister's son was her natural heir. The boy,
whose name was Marius, knew that he had a father, but nothing more.
No one opened his mouth to him about it. Nevertheless, in the society
into which his grandfather took him, whispers, innuendoes, and winks,
had eventually enlightened the little boy's mind; he had finally
understood something of the case, and as he naturally took in the
ideas and opinions which were, so to speak, the air he breathed,
by a sort of infiltration and slow penetration, he gradually came
to think of his father only with shame and with a pain at his heart.
While he was growing up in this fashion, the colonel slipped away
every two or three months, came to Paris on the sly, like a criminal
breaking his ban, and went and posted himself at Saint-Sulpice,
at the hour when Aunt Gillenormand led Marius to the mass.
There, trembling lest the aunt should turn round, concealed behind
a pillar, motionless, not daring to breathe, he gazed at his child.
The scarred veteran was afraid of that old spinster.
From this had arisen his connection with the cure of Vernon,
M. l'Abbe Mabeuf.
That worthy priest was the brother of a warden of Saint-Sulpice,
who had often observed this man gazing at his child, and the scar on
his cheek, and the large tears in his eyes. That man, who had so manly
an air, yet who was weeping like a woman, had struck the warden.
That face had clung to his mind. One day, having gone to Vernon to
see his brother, he had encountered Colonel Pontmercy on the bridge,
and had recognized the man of Saint-Sulpice. The warden had mentioned
the circumstance to the cure, and both had paid the colonel a visit,
on some pretext or other. This visit led to others. The colonel,
who had been extremely reserved at first, ended by opening his heart,
and the cure and the warden finally came to know the whole history,
and how Pontmercy was sacrificing his happiness to his child's future.
This caused the cure to regard him with veneration and tenderness,
and the colonel, on his side, became fond of the cure. And moreover,
when both are sincere and good, no men so penetrate each other,
and so amalgamate with each other, as an old priest and an old soldier.
At bottom, the man is the same. The one has devoted his life to his
country here below, the other to his country on high; that is the
Twice a year, on the first of January and on St. George's day,
Marius wrote duty letters to his father, which were dictated by his aunt,
and which one would have pronounced to be copied from some formula;
this was all that M. Gillenormand tolerated; and the father answered
them with very tender letters which the grandfather thrust into his
Madame de T.'s salon was all that Marius Pontmercy knew of the world.
It was the only opening through which he could get a glimpse
of life. This opening was sombre, and more cold than warmth,
more night than day, came to him through this skylight. This child,
who had been all joy and light on entering this strange world,
soon became melancholy, and, what is still more contrary to his age,
grave. Surrounded by all those singular and imposing personages,
he gazed about him with serious amazement. Everything conspired
to increase this astonishment in him. There were in Madame de T.'s
salon some very noble ladies named Mathan, Noe, Levis,--which was
pronounced Levi,--Cambis, pronounced Cambyse. These antique visages
and these Biblical names mingled in the child's mind with the Old
Testament which he was learning by heart, and when they were
all there, seated in a circle around a dying fire, sparely lighted
by a lamp shaded with green, with their severe profiles, their gray
or white hair, their long gowns of another age, whose lugubrious
colors could not be distinguished, dropping, at rare intervals,
words which were both majestic and severe, little Marius stared
at them with frightened eyes, in the conviction that he beheld
not women, but patriarchs and magi, not real beings, but phantoms.
With these phantoms, priests were sometimes mingled, frequenters of this
ancient salon, and some gentlemen; the Marquis de Sass****, private
secretary to Madame de Berry, the Vicomte de Val***, who published,
under the pseudonyme of Charles-Antoine, monorhymed odes, the Prince
de Beauff*******, who, though very young, had a gray head and a pretty
and witty wife, whose very low-necked toilettes of scarlet velvet with
gold torsades alarmed these shadows, the Marquis de C*****d'E******,
the man in all France who best understood "proportioned politeness,"
the Comte d'Am*****, the kindly man with the amiable chin, and the
Chevalier de Port-de-Guy, a pillar of the library of the Louvre,
called the King's cabinet, M. de Port-de-Guy, bald, and rather aged
than old, was wont to relate that in 1793, at the age of sixteen,
he had been put in the galleys as refractory and chained with an
octogenarian, the Bishop of Mirepoix, also refractory, but as a priest,
while he was so in the capacity of a soldier. This was at Toulon.
Their business was to go at night and gather up on the scaffold
the heads and bodies of the persons who had been guillotined during
the day; they bore away on their backs these dripping corpses,
and their red galley-slave blouses had a clot of blood at the back
of the neck, which was dry in the morning and wet at night.
These tragic tales abounded in Madame de T.'s salon, and by dint
of cursing Marat, they applauded Trestaillon. Some deputies
of the undiscoverable variety played their whist there; M. Thibord
du Chalard, M. Lemarchant de Gomicourt, and the celebrated scoffer
of the right, M. Cornet-Dincourt. The bailiff de Ferrette, with his
short breeches and his thin legs, sometimes traversed this salon
on his way to M. de Talleyrand. He had been M. le Comte d'Artois'
companion in pleasures and unlike Aristotle crouching under Campaspe,
he had made the Guimard crawl on all fours, and in that way he
had exhibited to the ages a philosopher avenged by a bailiff.
As for the priests, there was the Abbe Halma, the same to whom
M. Larose, his collaborator on la Foudre, said: "Bah! Who is
there who is not fifty years old? a few greenhorns perhaps?"
The Abbe Letourneur, preacher to the King, the Abbe Frayssinous,
who was not, as yet, either count, or bishop, or minister, or peer,
and who wore an old cassock whose buttons were missing, and the Abbe
Keravenant, Cure of Saint-Germain-des-Pres; also the Pope's Nuncio,
then Monsignor Macchi, Archbishop of Nisibi, later on Cardinal,
remarkable for his long, pensive nose, and another Monsignor,
entitled thus: Abbate Palmieri, domestic prelate, one of the seven
participant prothonotaries of the Holy See, Canon of the illustrious
Liberian basilica, Advocate of the saints, Postulatore dei Santi,
which refers to matters of canonization, and signifies very nearly:
Master of Requests of the section of Paradise. Lastly, two cardinals,
M. de la Luzerne, and M. de Cl****** T*******. The Cardinal of Luzerne
was a writer and was destined to have, a few years later, the honor
of signing in the Conservateur articles side by side with Chateaubriand;
M. de Cl****** T******* was Archbishop of Toul****, and often made
trips to Paris, to his nephew, the Marquis de T*******, who was
Minister of Marine and War. The Cardinal of Cl****** T*******
was a merry little man, who displayed his red stockings beneath his
tucked-up cassock; his specialty was a hatred of the Encyclopaedia,
and his desperate play at billiards, and persons who, at that epoch,
passed through the Rue M***** on summer evenings, where the hotel
de Cl****** T******* then stood, halted to listen to the shock
of the balls and the piercing voice of the Cardinal shouting to
his conclavist, Monseigneur Cotiret, Bishop in partibus of Caryste:
"Mark, Abbe, I make a cannon." The Cardinal de Cl****** T*******
had been brought to Madame de T.'s by his most intimate friend,
M. de Roquelaure, former Bishop of Senlis, and one of the Forty.
M. de Roquelaure was notable for his lofty figure and his assiduity
at the Academy; through the glass door of the neighboring hall
of the library where the French Academy then held its meetings,
the curious could, on every Tuesday, contemplate the Ex-Bishop
of Senlis, usually standing erect, freshly powdered, in violet hose,
with his back turned to the door, apparently for the purpose of
allowing a better view of his little collar. All these ecclesiastics,
though for the most part as much courtiers as churchmen, added to the
gravity of the T. salon, whose seigniorial aspect was accentuated
by five peers of France, the Marquis de Vib****, the Marquis de
Tal***, the Marquis de Herb*******, the Vicomte Damb***, and the Duc
de Val********. This Duc de Val********, although Prince de Mon***,
that is to say a reigning prince abroad, had so high an idea of France
and its peerage, that he viewed everything through their medium.
It was he who said: "The Cardinals are the peers of France of Rome;
the lords are the peers of France of England." Moreover, as it is
indispensable that the Revolution should be everywhere in this century,
this feudal salon was, as we have said, dominated by a bourgeois.
M. Gillenormand reigned there.
There lay the essence and quintessence of the Parisian white society.
There reputations, even Royalist reputations, were held in quarantine.
There is always a trace of anarchy in renown. Chateaubriand, had he
entered there, would have produced the effect of Pere Duchene. Some of
the scoffed-at did, nevertheless, penetrate thither on sufferance.
Comte Beug*** was received there, subject to correction.
The "noble" salons of the present day no longer resemble those salons.
The Faubourg Saint-Germain reeks of the fagot even now. The Royalists