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The Firm of Nucingen by Honore de Balzac

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in the world. Nothing passes unchallenged there; the Houses of
Parliament hatch some twelve hundred laws every session, yet no member
of Parliament has ever yet raised an objection to the system----"

"A cure for plethora of the strong box. Purely vegetable remedy," put
in Bixiou, "les carottes" (gambling speculation).

"Look here!" cried Couture, firing up at this. "You have ten thousand
francs. You invest it in ten shares of a thousand francs each in ten
different enterprises. You are swindled nine times out of the ten--as
a matter of fact you are not, the public is a match for anybody, but
say that you are swindled, and only one affair turns out well (by
accident!--oh, granted!--it was not done on purpose--there, chaff
away!). Very well, the punter that has the sense to divide up his
stakes in this way hits on a splendid investment, like those who took
shares in the Wortschin mines. Gentlemen, let us admit among ourselves
that those who call out are hypocrites, desperately vexed because they
have no good ideas of their own, and neither power to advertise nor
skill to exploit a business. You will not have long to wait for proof.
In a very short time you will see the aristocracy, the court, and
public men descend into speculation in serried columns; you will see
that their claws are longer, their morality more crooked than ours,
while they have not our good points. What a head a man must have if he
has to found a business in times when the shareholder is as covetous
and keen as the inventor! What a great magnetizer must he be that can
create a Claparon and hit upon expedients never tried before! Do you
know the moral of it all? Our age is no better than we are; we live in
an era of greed; no one troubles himself about the intrinsic value of
a thing if he can only make a profit on it by selling it to somebody
else; so he passes it on to his neighbor. The shareholder that thinks
he sees a chance of making money is just as covetous as the founder
that offers him the opportunity of making it."

"Isn't he fine, our Couture? Isn't he fine?" exclaimed Bixiou, turning
to Blondet. "He will ask us next to erect statues to him as a
benefactor of the species."

"It would lead people to conclude that the fool's money is the wise
man's patrimony by divine right," said Blondet.

"Gentlemen," cried Couture, "let us have our laugh out here to make up
for all the times when we must listen gravely to solemn nonsense
justifying laws passed on the spur of the moment."

"He is right," said Blondet. "What times we live in, gentlemen! When
the fire of intelligence appears among us, it is promptly quenched by
haphazard legislation. Almost all our lawgivers come up from little
parishes where they studied human nature through the medium of the
newspapers; forthwith they shut down the safety-valve, and when the
machinery blows up there is weeping and gnashing of teeth! We do
nothing nowadays but pass penal laws and levy taxes. Will you have the
sum of it all!--There is no religion left in the State!"

"Oh, bravo, Blondet!" cried Bixiou, "thou hast set thy finger on the
weak spot. Meddlesome taxation has lost us more victories here in
France than the vexatious chances of war. I once spent seven years in
the hulks of a government department, chained with bourgeois to my
bench. There was a clerk in the office, a man with a head on his
shoulders; he had set his mind upon making a sweeping reform of the
whole fiscal system--ah, well, we took the conceit out of him nicely.
France might have been too prosperous, you know she might have amused
herself by conquering Europe again; we acted in the interests of the
peace of nations. I slew Rabourdin with a caricature."[*]

[*] See Les Employes [The Government Clerks aka Bureaucracy].

"By RELIGION I do not mean cant; I use the word in its wide political
sense," rejoined Blondet.

"Explain your meaning," said Finot.

"Here it is," returned Blondet. "There has been a good deal said about
affairs at Lyons; about the Republic cannonaded in the streets; well,
there was not a word of truth in it all. The Republic took up the
riots, just as an insurgent snatches up a rifle. The truth is queer
and profound, I can tell you. The Lyons trade is a soulless trade.
They will not weave a yard of silk unless they have the order and are
sure of payment. If orders fall off; the workmen may starve; they can
scarcely earn a living, convicts are better off. After the Revolution
of July, the distress reached such a pitch that the Lyons weavers--the
canuts, as they call them--hoisted the flag, 'Bread or Death!' a
proclamation of a kind which compels the attention of a government. It
was really brought about by the cost of living at Lyons; Lyons must
build theatres and become a metropolis, forsooth, and the octroi
duties accordingly were insanely high. The Republicans got wind of
this bread riot, they organized the canuts in two camps, and fought
among themselves. Lyons had her Three Days, but order was restored,
and the silk weavers went back to their dens. Hitherto the canut had
been honest; the silk for his work was weighed out to him in hanks,
and he brought back the same weight of woven tissue; now he made up
his mind that the silk merchants were oppressing him; he put honesty
out at the door and rubbed oil on his fingers. He still brought back
weight for weight, but he sold the silk represented by the oil; and
the French silk trade has suffered from a plague of 'greased silks,'
which might have ruined Lyons and a whole branch of French commerce.
The masters and the government, instead of removing the causes of the
evil, simply drove it in with a violent external application. They
ought to have sent a clever man to Lyons, one of those men that are
said to have no principle, an Abbe Terray; but they looked at the
affair from a military point of view. The result of the troubles is a
gros de Naples at forty sous per yard; the silk is sold at this day, I
dare say, and the masters no doubt have hit upon some new check upon
the men. This method of manufacturing without looking ahead ought
never to have existed in the country where one of the greatest
citizens that France has ever known ruined himself to keep six
thousand weavers in work without orders. Richard Lenoir fed them, and
the government was thickheaded enough to allow him to suffer from the
fall of the prices of textile fabrics brought about by the Revolution
of 1814. Richard Lenoir is the one case of a merchant that deserves a
statue. And yet the subscription set on foot for him has no
subscribers, while the fund for General Foy's children reached a
million francs. Lyons has drawn her own conclusions; she knows France,
she knows that there is no religion left. The story of Richard Lenoir
is one of those blunders which Fouche condemned as worse than a

"Suppose that there is a tinge of charlatanism in the way in which
concerns are put before the public," began Couture, returning to the
charge, "that word charlatanism has come to be a damaging expression,
a middle term, as it were, between right and wrong; for where, I ask
you, does charlatanism begin? where does it end? what is charlatanism?
do me the kindness of telling me what it is NOT. Now for a little
plain speaking, the rarest social ingredient. A business which should
consist in going out at night to look for goods to sell in the day
would obviously be impossible. You find the instinct of forestalling
the market in the very match-seller. How to forestall the market--that
is the one idea of the so-called honest tradesman of the Rue Saint-
Denis, as of the most brazen-fronted speculator. If stocks are heavy,
sell you must. If sales are slow, you must tickle your customer; hence
the signs of the Middle Ages, hence the modern prospectus. I do not
see a hair's-breadth of difference between attracting custom and
forcing your goods upon the consumer. It may happen, it is sure to
happen, it often happens, that a shopkeeper gets hold of damaged
goods, for the seller always cheats the buyer. Go and ask the most
upright folk in Paris--the best known men in business, that is--and
they will all triumphantly tell you of dodges by which they passed off
stock which they knew to be bad upon the public. The well-known firm
of Minard began by sales of this kind. In the Rue Saint-Denis they
sell nothing but 'greased silk'; it is all that they can do. The most
honest merchants tell you in the most candid way that 'you must get
out of a bad bargain as best you can'--a motto for the most
unscrupulous rascality. Blondet has given you an account of the Lyons
affair, its causes and effects, and I proceed in my turn to illustrate
my theory with an anecdote:--There was once a woolen weaver, an
ambitious man, burdened with a large family of children by a wife too
much beloved. He put too much faith in the Republic, laid in a stock
of scarlet wool, and manufactured those red-knitted caps that you may
have noticed on the heads of all the street urchins in Paris. How this
came about I am just going to tell you. The Republic was beaten. After
the Saint-Merri affair the caps were quite unsalable. Now, when a
weaver finds that besides a wife and children he has some ten thousand
red woolen caps in the house, and that no hatter will take a single
one of them, notions begin to pass through his head as fast as if he
were a banker racking his brains to get rid of ten million francs'
worth of shares in some dubious investment. As for this Law of the
Faubourg, this Nucingen of caps, do you know what he did? He went to
find a pothouse dandy, one of those comic men that drive police
sergeants to despair at open-air dancing saloons at the barriers; him
he engaged to play the part of an American captain staying at
Meurice's and buying for export trade. He was to go to some large
hatter, who still had a cap in his shop window, and 'inquire for' ten
thousand red woolen caps. The hatter, scenting business in the wind,
hurried round to the woolen weaver and rushed upon the stock. After
that, no more of the American captain, you understand, and great
plenty of caps. If you interfere with the freedom of trade, because
free trade has its drawbacks, you might as well tie the hands of
justice because a crime sometimes goes unpunished, or blame the bad
organization of society because civilization produces some evils. From
the caps and the Rue Saint-Denis to joint-stock companies and the Bank
----draw your own conclusions."

"A crown for Couture!" said Blondet, twisting a serviette into a
wreath for his head. "I go further than that, gentlemen. If there is a
defect in the working hypothesis, what is the cause? The law! the
whole system of legislation. The blame rests with the legislature. The
great men of their districts are sent up to us by the provinces,
crammed with parochial notions of right and wrong; and ideas that are
indispensable if you want to keep clear of collisions with justice,
are stupid when they prevent a man from rising to the height at which
a maker of the laws ought to abide. Legislation may prohibit such and
such developments of human passions--gambling, lotteries, the Ninons
of the pavement, anything you please--but you cannot extirpate the
passions themselves by any amount of legislation. Abolish them, you
would abolish the society which develops them, even if it does not
produce them. The gambling passion lurks, for instance, at the bottom
of every heart, be it a girl's heart, a provincial's, a diplomatist's;
everybody longs to have money without working for it; you may hedge
the desire about with restrictions, but the gambling mania immediately
breaks out in another form. You stupidly suppress lotteries, but the
cook-maid pilfers none the less, and puts her ill-gotten gains in the
savings bank. She gambles with two hundred and fifty franc stakes
instead of forty sous; joint-stock companies and speculation take the
place of the lottery; the gambling goes on without the green cloth,
the croupier's rake is invisible, the cheating planned beforehand. The
gambling houses are closed, the lottery has come to an end; 'and now,'
cry idiots, 'morals have greatly improved in France,' as if, forsooth,
they had suppressed the punters. The gambling still goes on, only the
State makes nothing from it now; and for a tax paid with pleasure, it
has substituted a burdensome duty. Nor is the number of suicides
reduced, for the gambler never dies, though his victim does."

"I am not speaking now of foreign capital lost to France," continued
Couture, "nor of the Frankfort lotteries. The Convention passed a
decree of death against those who hawked foreign lottery-tickets, and
procureur-syndics used to traffic in them. So much for the sense of
our legislator and his driveling philanthropy. The encouragement given
to savings banks is a piece of crass political folly. Suppose that
things take a doubtful turn and people lose confidence, the Government
will find that they have instituted a queue for money, like the queues
outside the bakers' shops. So many savings banks, so many riots. Three
street boys hoist a flag in some corner or other, and you have a
revolution ready made.

"But this danger, however great it may be, seems to me less to be
dreaded than the widespread demoralization. Savings banks are a means
of inoculating the people, the classes least restrained by education
or by reason from schemes that are tacitly criminal, with the vices
bred of self-interest. See what comes of philanthropy!

"A great politician ought to be without a conscience in abstract
questions, or he is a bad steersman for a nation. An honest politician
is a steam-engine with feelings, a pilot that would make love at the
helm and let the ship go down. A prime minister who helps himself to
millions but makes France prosperous and great is preferable, is he
not, to a public servant who ruins his country, even though he is
buried at the public expense? Would you hesitate between a Richelieu,
a Mazarin, or a Potemkin, each with his hundreds of millions of
francs, and a conscientious Robert Lindet that could make nothing out
of assignats and national property, or one of the virtuous imbeciles
who ruined Louis XVI.? Go on, Bixiou."

"I will not go into the details of the speculation which we owe to
Nucingen's financial genius. It would be the more inexpedient because
the concern is still in existence and shares are quoted on the Bourse.
The scheme was so convincing, there was such life in an enterprise
sanctioned by royal letters patent, that though the shares issued at a
thousand francs fell to three hundred, they rose to seven and will
reach par yet, after weathering the stormy years '27, '30, and '32.
The financial crisis of 1827 sent them down; after the Revolution of
July they fell flat; but there really is something in the affair,
Nucingen simply could not invent a bad speculation. In short, as
several banks of the highest standing have been mixed up in the
affair, it would be unparliamentary to go further into detail. The
nominal capital amounted to ten millions; the real capital to seven.
Three millions were allotted to the founders and bankers that brought
it out. Everything was done with a view to sending up the shares two
hundred francs during the first six months by the payment of a sham
dividend. Twenty per cent, on ten millions! Du Tillet's interest in
the concern amounted to five hundred thousand francs. In the
stock-exchange slang of the day, this share of the spoils was a 'sop
in the pan.' Nucingen, with his millions made by the aid of a
lithographer's stone and a handful of pink paper, proposed to himself
to operate certain nice little shares carefully hoarded in his private
office till the time came for putting them on the market. The
shareholders' money floated the concern, and paid for splendid
business premises, so they began operations. And Nucingen held in
reserve founders' shares in Heaven knows what coal and argentiferous
lead-mines, also in a couple of canals; the shares had been given to
him for bringing out the concerns. All four were in working order,
well got up and popular, for they paid good dividends.

"Nucingen might, of course, count on getting the differences if the
shares went up, but this formed no part of the Baron's schemes; he
left the shares at sea-level on the market to tempt the fishes.

"So he had massed his securities as Napoleon massed his troops, all
with a view to suspending payment in the thick of the approaching
crisis of 1826-27 which revolutionized European markets. If Nucingen
had had his Prince of Wagram, he might have said, like Napoleon from
the heights of Santon, 'Make a careful survey of the situation; on
such and such a day, at such an hour funds will be poured in at such a
spot.' But in whom could he confide? Du Tillet had no suspicion of his
own complicity in Nucingen's plot; and the bold Baron had learned from
his previous experiments in suspensions of payment that he must have
some man whom he could trust to act at need as a lever upon the
creditor. Nucingen had never a nephew, he dared not take a confidant;
yet he must have a devoted and intelligent Claparon, a born
diplomatist with a good manner, a man worthy of him, and fit to take
office under government. Such connections are not made in a day nor
yet in a year. By this time Rastignac had been so thoroughly entangled
by Nucingen, that being, like the Prince de la Paix, equally beloved
by the King and Queen of Spain, he fancied that he (Rastignac) had
secured a very valuable dupe in NUCINGEN! For a long while he had
laughed at a man whose capacities he was unable to estimate; he ended
in a sober, serious, and devout admiration of Nucingen, owning that
Nucingen really had the power which he thought he himself alone

"From Rastignac's introduction to society in Paris, he had been led to
contemn it utterly. From the year 1820 he thought, like the Baron,
that honesty was a question of appearances; he looked upon the world
as a mixture of corruption and rascality of every sort. If he admitted
exceptions, he condemned the mass; he put no belief in any virtue--men
did right or wrong, as circumstances decided. His worldly wisdom was
the work of a moment; he learned his lesson at the summit of Pere
Lachaise one day when he buried a poor, good man there; it was his
Delphine's father, who died deserted by his daughters and their
husbands, a dupe of our society and of the truest affection. Rastignac
then and there resolved to exploit this world, to wear full dress of
virtue, honesty, and fine manners. He was empanoplied in selfishness.
When the young scion of nobility discovered that Nucingen wore the
same armor, he respected him much as some knight mounted upon a barb
and arrayed in damascened steel would have respected an adversary
equally well horsed and equipped at a tournament in the Middle Ages.
But for the time he had grown effeminate amid the delights of Capua.
The friendship of such a woman as the Baronne de Nucingen is of a kind
that sets a man abjuring egoism in all its forms.

"Delphine had been deceived once already; in her first venture of the
affections she came across a piece of Birmingham manufacture, in the
shape of the late lamented de Marsay; and therefore she could not but
feel a limitless affection for a young provincial's articles of faith.
Her tenderness reacted upon Rastignac. So by the time that Nucingen
had put his wife's friend into the harness in which the exploiter
always gets the exploited, he had reached the precise juncture when he
(the Baron) meditated a third suspension of payment. To Rastignac he
confided his position; he pointed out to Rastignac a means of making
'reparation.' As a consequence of his intimacy, he was expected to
play the part of confederate. The Baron judged it unsafe to
communicate the whole of his plot to his conjugal collaborator.
Rastignac quite believed in impending disaster; and the Baron allowed
him to believe further that he (Rastignac) saved the shop.

"But when there are so many threads in a skein, there are apt to be
knots. Rastignac trembled for Delphine's money. He stipulated that
Delphine must be independent and her estate separated from her
husband's, swearing to himself that he would repay her by trebling her
fortune. As, however, Rastignac said nothing of himself, Nucingen
begged him to take, in the event of success, twenty-five shares of a
thousand francs in the argentiferous lead-mines, and Eugene took them
--not to offend him! Nucingen had put Rastignac up to this the day
before that evening in the Rue Joubert when our friend counseled
Malvina to marry. A cold shiver ran through Rastignac at the sight of
so many happy folk in Paris going to and fro unconscious of the
impending loss; even so a young commander might shiver at the first
sight of an army drawn up before a battle. He saw the d'Aiglemonts,
the d'Aldriggers, and Beaudenord. Poor little Isaure and Godefroid
playing at love, what were they but Acis and Galatea under the rock
which a hulking Polyphemus was about to send down upon them?"

"That monkey of a Bixiou has something almost like talent," said

"Oh! so I am not maundering now?" asked Bixiou, enjoying his success
as he looked round at his surprised auditors.--"For two months past,"
he continued, "Godefroid had given himself up to all the little
pleasures of preparation for the marriage. At such times men are like
birds building nests in spring; they come and go, pick up their bits
of straw, and fly off with them in their beaks to line the nest that
is to hold a brood of young birds by and by. Isaure's bridegroom had
taken a house in the Rue de la Plancher at a thousand crowns, a
comfortable little house neither too large nor too small, which suited
them. Every morning he went round to take a look at the workmen and to
superintend the painters. He had introduced 'comfort' (the only good
thing in England)--heating apparatus to maintain an even temperature
all over the house; fresh, soft colors, carefully chosen furniture,
neither too showy nor too much in fashion; spring-blinds fitted to
every window inside and out; silver plate and new carriages. He had
seen to the stables, coach-house, and harness-room, where Toby Joby
Paddy floundered and fidgeted about like a marmot let loose,
apparently rejoiced to know that there would be women about the place
and a 'lady'! This fervent passion of a man that sets up housekeeping,
choosing clocks, going to visit his betrothed with his pockets full of
patterns of stuffs, consulting her as to the bedroom furniture, going,
coming, and trotting about, for love's sake,--all this, I say, is a
spectacle in the highest degree calculated to rejoice the hearts of
honest people, especially tradespeople. And as nothing pleases folk
better than the marriage of a good-looking young fellow of seven-and-
twenty and a charming girl of nineteen that dances admirably well,
Godefroid in his perplexity over the corbeille asked Mme. de Nucingen
and Rastignac to breakfast with him and advise him on this all-
important point. He hit likewise on the happy idea of asking his
cousin d'Aiglemont and his wife to meet them, as well as Mme. de
Serizy. Women of the world are ready enough to join for once in an
improvised breakfast-party at a bachelor's rooms."

"It is their way of playing truant," put in Blondet.

"Of course they went over the new house," resumed Bixiou. "Married
women relish these little expeditions as ogres relish warm flesh; they
feel young again with the young bliss, unspoiled as yet by fruition.
Breakfast was served in Godefroid's sitting-room, decked out like a
troop horse for a farewell to bachelor life. There were dainty little
dishes such as women love to devour, nibble at, and sip of a morning,
when they are usually alarmingly hungry and horribly afraid to confess
to it. It would seem that a woman compromises herself by admitting
that she is hungry.--'Why have you come alone?' inquired Godefroid
when Rastignac appeared.--'Mme. de Nucingen is out of spirits; I will
tell you all about it,' answered Rastignac, with the air of a man
whose temper has been tried.--'A quarrel?' hazarded Godefroid.--'No.'
--At four o'clock the women took flight for the Bois de Boulogne;
Rastignac stayed in the room and looked out of the window, fixing his
melancholy gaze upon Toby Joby Paddy, who stood, his arms crossed in
Napoleonic fashion, audaciously posted in front of Beaudenord's cab
horse. The child could only control the animal with his shrill little
voice, but the horse was afraid of Joby Toby.

" 'Well,' began Godefroid, 'what is the matter with you, my dear
fellow? You look gloomy and anxious; your gaiety is forced. You are
tormented by incomplete happiness. It is wretched, and that is a fact,
when one cannot marry the woman one loves at the mayor's office and
the church.'

" 'Have you courage to hear what I have to say? I wonder whether you
will see how much a man must be attached to a friend if he can be
guilty of such a breach of confidence as this for his sake.'

"Something in Rastignac's voice stung like a lash of a whip.

" 'WHAT?' asked Godefroid de Beaudenord, turning pale.

" 'I was unhappy over your joy; I had not the heart to keep such a
secret to myself when I saw all these preparations, your happiness in

" 'Just say it out in three words!'

" 'Swear to me on your honor that you will be as silent as the

" 'As the grave,' repeated Beaudenord.

" 'That if one of your relatives were concerned in this secret, he
should not know it.'

" 'No.'

" 'Very well. Nucingen started to-night for Brussels. He must file his
schedule if he cannot arrange a settlement. This very morning Delphine
petitioned for the separation of her estate. You may still save your

" 'How?' faltered Godefroid; the blood turned to ice in his veins.

" 'Simply write to the Baron de Nucingen, antedating your letter a
fortnight, and instruct him to invest all your capital in shares.'--
Rastignac suggested Claparon and Company, and continued--'You have a
fortnight, a month, possibly three months, in which to realize and
make something; the shares are still going up----'

" 'But d'Aiglemont, who was here at breakfast with us, has a million
in Nucingen's bank.'

" 'Look here; I do not know whether there will be enough of these
shares to cover it; and besides, I am not his friend, I cannot betray
Nucingen's confidence. You must not speak to d'Aiglemont. If you say a
word, you must answer to me for the consequences.'

"Godefroid stood stock still for ten minutes.

" 'Do you accept? Yes or no!' said the inexorable Rastignac.

"Godefroid took up the pen, wrote at Rastignac's dictation, and signed
his name.

" 'My poor cousin!' he cried.

" 'Each for himself,' said Rastignac. 'And there is one more settled!'
he added to himself as he left Beaudenord.

"While Rastignac was manoeuvring thus in Paris, imagine the state of
things on the Bourse. A friend of mine, a provincial, a stupid
creature, once asked me as we came past the Bourse between four and
five in the afternoon what all that crowd of chatterers was doing,
what they could possibly find to say to each other, and why they were
wandering to and fro when business in public securities was over for
the day. 'My friend,' said I, 'they have made their meal, and now they
are digesting it; while they digest it, they gossip about their
neighbors, or there would be no commercial security in Paris. Concerns
are floated here, such and such a man--Palma, for instance, who is
something the same here as Sinard at the Academie Royale des Sciences
--Palma says, "let the speculation be made!" and the speculation is
made.' "

"What a man that Hebrew is," put in Blondet; "he has not had a
university education, but a universal education. And universal does
not in his case mean superficial; whatever he knows, he knows to the
bottom. He has a genius, an intuitive faculty for business. He is the
oracle of all the lynxes that rule the Paris market; they will not
touch an investment until Palma has looked into it. He looks solemn,
he listens, ponders, and reflects; his interlocutor thinks that after
this consideration he has come round his man, till Palma says, 'This
will not do for me.'--The most extraordinary thing about Palma, to my
mind, is the fact that he and Werbrust were partners for ten years,
and there was never the shadow of a disagreement between them."

"That is the way with the very strong or the very weak; any two
between the extremes fall out and lose no time in making enemies of
each other," said Couture.

"Nucingen, you see, had neatly and skilfully put a little bombshell
under the colonnades of the Bourse, and towards four o'clock in the
afternoon it exploded.--'Here is something serious; have you heard the
news?' asked du Tillet, drawing Werbrust into a corner. 'Here is
Nucingen gone off to Brussels, and his wife petitioning for a
separation of her estate.'

" 'Are you and he in it together for a liquidation?' asked Werbrust,

" 'No foolery, Werbrust,' said du Tillet. 'You know the holders of his
paper. Now, look here. There is business in it. Shares in this new
concern of ours have gone up twenty per cent already; they will go up
to five-and-twenty by the end of the quarter; you know why. They are
going to pay a splendid dividend.'

" 'Sly dog,' said Werbrust. 'Get along with you; you are a devil with
long and sharp claws, and you have them deep in the butter.'

" 'Just let me speak, or we shall not have time to operate. I hit on
the idea as soon as I heard the news. I positively saw Mme. de
Nucingen crying; she is afraid for her fortune.'

" 'Poor little thing!' said the old Alsacien Jew, with an ironical
expression. 'Well?' he added, as du Tillet was silent.

" 'Well. At my place I have a thousand shares of a thousand francs in
our concern; Nucingen handed them over to me to put on the market, do
you understand? Good. Now let us buy up a million of Nucingen's paper
at a discount of ten or twenty per cent, and we shall make a handsome
percentage out of it. We shall be debtors and creditors both;
confusion will be worked! But we must set about it carefully, or the
holders may imagine that we are operating in Nucingen's interests.'

"Then Werbrust understood. He squeezed du Tillet's hand with an
expression such as a woman's face wears when she is playing her
neighbor a trick.

"Martin Falleix came up.--'Well, have you heard the news?' he asked.
'Nucingen has stopped payment.'

" 'Pooh,' said Werbrust, 'pray don't noise it about; give those that
hold his paper a chance.'

" 'What is the cause of the smash; do you know?' put in Claparon.

" 'You know nothing about it,' said du Tillet. 'There isn't any smash.
Payment will be made in full. Nucingen will start again; I shall find
him all the money he wants. I know the causes of the suspension. He
has put all his capital into Mexican securities, and they are sending
him metal in return; old Spanish cannon cast in such an insane fashion
that they melted down gold and bell-metal and church plate for it, and
all the wreck of the Spanish dominion in the Indies. The specie is
slow in coming, and the dear Baron is hard up. That is all.'

" 'It is a fact,' said Werbrust; 'I am taking his paper myself at
twenty per cent discount.'

"The news spread swift as fire in a straw rick. The most contradictory
reports got about. But such confidence was felt in the firm after the
two previous suspensions, that every one stuck to Nucingen's paper.
'Palma must lend us a hand,' said Werbrust.

"Now Palma was the Keller's oracle, and the Kellers were brimful of
Nucingen's paper. A hint from Palma would be enough. Werbrust arranged
with Palma, and he rang the alarm bell. There was a panic next day on
the Bourse. The Kellers, acting on Palma's advice, let go Nucingen's
paper at ten per cent of loss; they set the example on 'Change, for
they were supposed to know very well what they were about. Taillefer
followed up with three hundred thousand francs at a discount of twenty
per cent, and Martin Falleix with two hundred thousand at fifteen.
Gigonnet saw what was going on. He helped to spread the panic, with a
view to buying up Nucingen's paper himself and making a commission of
two or three per cent out of Werbrust.

"In a corner of the Bourse he came upon poor Matifat, who had three
hundred thousand francs in Nucingen's bank. Matifat, ghastly and
haggard, beheld the terrible Gigonnet, the bill-discounter of his old
quarter, coming up to worry him. He shuddered in spite of himself.

" 'Things are looking bad. There is a crisis on hand. Nucingen is
compounding with his creditors. But this does not interest you, Daddy
Matifat; you are out of business.'

" 'Oh, well, you are mistaken, Gigonnet; I am in for three hundred
thousand francs. I meant to speculate in Spanish bonds.'

" 'Then you have saved your money. Spanish bonds would have swept
everything away; whereas I am prepared to offer you something like
fifty per cent for your account with Nucingen.'

" 'You are very keen about it, it seems to me,' said Matifat. 'I never
knew a banker yet that paid less than fifty per cent. Ah, if it were
only a matter of ten per cent of loss--' added the retired man of

" 'Well, will you take fifteen?' asked Gigonnet.

" 'You are very keen about it, it seems to me,' said Matifat.

" 'Good-night.'

" 'Will you take twelve?'

" 'Done,' said Gigonnet.

"Before night two millions had been bought up in the names of the
three chance-united confederates, and posted by du Tillet to the debit
side of Nucingen's account. Next day they drew their premium.

"The dainty little old Baroness d'Aldrigger was at breakfast with her
two daughters and Godefroid, when Rastignac came in with a diplomatic
air to steer the conversation on the financial crisis. The Baron de
Nucingen felt a lively regard for the d'Aldrigger family; he was
prepared, if things went amiss, to cover the Baroness' account with
his best securities, to wit, some shares in the argentiferous lead-
mines, but the application must come from the lady.

" 'Poor Nucingen!' said the Baroness. 'What can have become of him?'

" 'He is in Belgium. His wife is petitioning for a separation of her
property; but he had gone to see if he can arrange with some bankers
to see him through.'

" 'Dear me! That reminds me of my poor husband! Dear M. de Rastignac,
how you must feel this, so attached as you are to the house!'

" 'If all the indifferent are covered, his personal friends will be
rewarded later on. He will pull through; he is a clever man.'

" 'An honest man, above all things,' said the Baroness.

"A month later, Nucingen met all his liabilities, with no formalities
beyond the letters by which creditors signified the investments which
they preferred to take in exchange for their capital; and with no
action on the part of other banks beyond registering the transfer of
Nucingen's paper for the investments in favor.

"While du Tillet, Werbrust, Claparon, Gigonnet, and others that
thought themselves clever were fetching in Nucingen's paper from
abroad with a premium of one per cent--for it was still worth their
while to exchange it for securities in a rising market--there was all
the more talk on the Bourse, because there was nothing now to fear.
They babbled over Nucingen; he was discussed and judged; they even
slandered him. His luxurious life, his enterprises! When a man has so
much on his hands, he overreaches himself, and so forth, and so forth.

"The talk was at its height, when several people were greatly
astonished to receive letters from Geneva, Basel, Milan, Naples,
Genoa, Marseilles, and London, in which their correspondents,
previously advised of the failure, informed them that somebody was
offering one per cent for Nucingen's paper! 'There is something up,'
said the lynxes of the Bourse.

"The Court meanwhile had granted the application for Mme. de
Nucingen's separation as to her estate, and the question became still
more complicated. The newspapers announced the return of M. le Baron
de Nucingen from a journey to Belgium; he had been arranging, it was
said, with a well-known Belgian firm to resume the working of some
coal-pits in the Bois de Bossut. The Baron himself appeared on the
Bourse, and never even took the trouble to contradict the slanders
circulating against him. He scorned to reply through the press; he
simply bought a splendid estate just outside Paris for two millions of
francs. Six weeks afterwards, the Bordeaux shipping intelligence
announced that two vessels with cargoes of bullion to the amount of
seven millions, consigned to the firm of Nucingen, were lying in the

"Then it was plain to Palma, Werbrust, and du Tillet that the trick
had been played. Nobody else was any the wiser. The three scholars
studied the means by which the great bubble had been created, saw that
it had been preparing for eleven months, and pronounced Nucingen the
greatest financier in Europe.

"Rastignac understood nothing of all this, but he had the four hundred
thousand francs which Nucingen had allowed him to shear from the
Parisian sheep, and he portioned his sisters. D'Aiglemont, at a hint
from his cousin Beaudenord, besought Rastignac to accept ten per cent
upon his million if he would undertake to convert it into shares in a
canal which is still to make, for Nucingen worked things with the
Government to such purpose that the concessionaires find it to their
interest not to finish their scheme. Charles Grandet implored
Delphine's lover to use his interest to secure shares for him in
exchange for his cash. And altogether Rastignac played the part of Law
for ten days; he had the prettiest duchesses in France praying to him
to allot shares to them, and to-day the young man very likely has an
income of forty thousand livres, derived in the first instance from
the argentiferous lead-mines."

"If every one was better off, who can have lost?" asked Finot.

"Hear the conclusion," rejoined Bixiou. "The Marquis d'Aiglemont and
Beaudenord (I put them forward as two examples out of many) kept their
allotted shares, enticed by the so-called dividend that fell due a few
months afterwards. They had another three per cent on their capital,
they sang Nucingen's praises, and took his part at a time when
everybody suspected that he was going bankrupt. Godefroid married his
beloved Isaure and took shares in the mines to the value of a hundred
thousand francs. The Nucingens gave a ball even more splendid than
people expected of them on the occasion of the wedding; Delphine's
present to the bride was a charming set of rubies. Isaure danced, a
happy wife, a girl no longer. The little Baroness was more than ever a
Shepherdess of the Alps. The ball was at its height when Malvina, the
Andalouse of Musset's poem, heard du Tillet's voice drily advising her
to take Desroches. Desroches, warmed to the right degree by Rastignac
and Nucingen, tried to come to an understanding financially; but at
the first hint of shares in the mines for the bride's portion, he
broke off and went back to the Matifat's in the Rue du Cherche-Midi,
only to find the accursed canal shares which Gigonnet had foisted on
Matifat in lieu of cash.

"They had not long to wait for the crash. The firm of Claparon did
business on too large a scale, the capital was locked up, the concern
ceased to serve its purposes, or to pay dividends, though the
speculations were sound. These misfortunes coincided with the events
of 1827. In 1829 it was too well known that Claparon was a man of
straw set up by the two giants; he fell from his pedestal. Shares that
had fetched twelve hundred and fifty francs fell to four hundred,
though intrinsically they were worth six. Nucingen, knowing their
value, bought them up at four.

"Meanwhile the little Baroness d'Aldrigger had sold out of the mines
that paid no dividends, and Godefroid had reinvested the money
belonging to his wife and her mother in Claparon's concern. Debts
compelled them to realize when the shares were at their lowest, so
that of seven hundred thousand francs only two hundred thousand
remained. They made a clearance, and all that was left was prudently
invested in the three per cents at seventy-five. Godefroid, the
sometime gay and careless bachelor who had lived without taking
thought all his life long, found himself saddled with a little goose
of a wife totally unfitted to bear adversity (indeed, before six
months were over, he had witnessed the anserine transformation of his
beloved) to say nothing of a mother-in-law whose mind ran on pretty
dresses while she had not bread to eat. The two families must live
together to live at all. It was only by stirring up all his
considerably chilled interest that Godefroid got a post in the audit
department. His friends?--They were out of town. His relatives?--All
astonishment and promises. 'What! my dear boy! Oh! count upon me! Poor
fellow!' and Beaudenord was clean forgotten fifteen minutes
afterwards. He owed his place to Nucingen and de Vandenesse.

"And to-day these so estimable and unfortunate people are living on a
third floor (not counting the entresol) in the Rue du Mont Thabor.
Malvina, the Adolphus' pearl of a granddaughter, has not a farthing.
She gives music-lessons, not to be a burden upon her brother-in-law.
You may see a tall, dark, thin, withered woman, like a mummy escaped
from Passalacqua's about afoot through the streets of Paris. In 1830
Beaudenord lost his situation just as his wife presented him with a
fourth child. A family of eight and two servants (Wirth and his wife)
and an income of eight thousand livres. And at this moment the mines
are paying so well, that an original share of a thousand francs brings
in a dividend of cent per cent.

"Rastignac and Mme. de Nucingen bought the shares sold by the Baroness
and Godefroid. The Revolution made a peer of France of Nucingen and a
Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor. He has not stopped payment since
1830, but still I hear that he has something like seventeen millions.
He put faith in the Ordinances of July, sold out of all his
investments, and boldly put his money into the funds when the three
per cents stood at forty-five. He persuaded the Tuileries that this
was done out of devotion, and about the same time he and du Tillet
between them swallowed down three millions belonging to that great
scamp Philippe Bridau.

"Quite lately our Baron was walking along the Rue de Rivoli on his way
to the Bois when he met the Baroness d'Aldrigger under the colonnade.
The little old lady wore a tiny green bonnet with a rose-colored
lining, a flowered gown, and a mantilla; altogether, she was more than
ever the Shepherdess of the Alps. She could no more be made to
understand the causes of her poverty than the sources of her wealth.
As she went along, leaning upon poor Malvina, that model of heroic
devotion, she seemed to be the young girl and Malvina the old mother.
Wirth followed them, carrying an umbrella.

" 'Dere are beoples whose vordune I vound it imbossible to make,' said
the Baron, addressing his companion (M. Cointet, a cabinet minister).
'Now dot de baroxysm off brincibles haf bassed off, chust reinshtate
dot boor Peautenord.'

"So Beaudenord went back to his desk, thanks to Nucingen's good
offices; and the d'Aldriggers extol Nucingen as a hero of friendship,
for he always sends the little Shepherdess of the Alps and her
daughters invitations to his balls. No creature whatsoever can be made
to understand that the Baron yonder three times did his best to
plunder the public without breaking the letter of the law, and
enriched people in spite of himself. No one has a word to say against
him. If anybody should suggest that a big capitalist often is another
word for a cut-throat, it would be a most egregious calumny. If stocks
rise and fall, if property improves and depreciates, the fluctuations
of the market are caused by a common movement, a something in the air,
a tide in the affairs of men subject like other tides to lunar
influences. The great Arago is much to blame for giving us no
scientific theory to account for this important phenomenon. The only
outcome of all this is an axiom which I have never seen anywhere in

"And that is?"

"The debtor is more than a match for the creditor."

"Oh!" said Blondet. "For my own part, all that we have been saying
seems to me to be a paraphrase of the epigram in which Montesquieu
summed up l'Espirit des Lois."

"What?" said Finot.

"Laws are like spiders' webs; the big flies get through, while the
little ones are caught."

"Then, what are you for?" asked Finot.

"For absolute government, the only kind of government under which
enterprises against the spirit of the law can be put down. Yes.
Arbitrary rule is the salvation of a country when it comes to the
support of justice, for the right of mercy is strictly one-sided. The
king can pardon a fraudulent bankrupt; he cannot do anything for the
victims. The letter of the law is fatal to modern society."

"Just get that into the electors' heads!" said Bixiou.

"Some one has undertaken to do it."


"Time. As the Bishop of Leon said, 'Liberty is ancient, but kingship
is eternal; any nation in its right mind returns to monarchical
government in one form or another.' "

"I say, there was somebody next door," said Finot, hearing us
rise to go.

"There always is somebody next door," retorted Bixiou. "But he must
have been drunk."

PARIS, November 1837.


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Aiglemont, General, Marquis Victor d'
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
A Woman of Thirty

Beaudenord, Godefroid de
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Ball at Sceaux

Bidault (known as Gigonnet)
The Government Clerks
The Vendetta
Cesar Birotteau
A Daughter of Eve

Bixiou, Jean-Jacques
The Purse
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Government Clerks
Modeste Mignon
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Muse of the Department
Cousin Betty
The Member for Arcis
A Man of Business
Gaudissart II.
The Unconscious Humorists
Cousin Pons

Blondet, Emile
Jealousies of a Country Town
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Modeste Mignon
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Peasantry

Claparon, Charles
A Bachelor's Establishment
Cesar Birotteau
Melmoth Reconciled
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes

Cochin, Emile-Louis-Lucien-Emmanuel
Cesar Birotteau
The Government Clerks
The Middle Classes

Cochin, Adolphe
Cesar Birotteau

Cointet, Boniface
Lost Illusions
The Member for Arcis

The Middle Classes

Desroches (son)
A Bachelor's Establishment
Colonel Chabert
A Start in Life
A Woman of Thirty
The Commission in Lunacy
The Government Clerks
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes

Falleix, Martin
The Government Clerks

Finot, Andoche
Cesar Birotteau
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Government Clerks
A Start in Life
Gaudissart the Great

Gobseck, Esther Van
A Bachelor's Establishment
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Grandet, Victor-Ange-Guillaume
Eugenie Grandet

Grandet, Charles
Eugenie Grandet

Matifat (wealthy druggist)
Cesar Birotteau
A Bachelor's Establishment
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Cousin Pons

Matifat, Madame
Cesar Birotteau

Matifat, Mademoiselle

Minard, Auguste-Jean-Francois
The Government Clerks
The Middle Classes

Nucingen, Baron Frederic de
Father Goriot
Cesar Birotteau
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
A Man of Business
Cousin Betty
The Muse of the Department
The Unconscious Humorists

Nucingen, Baronne Delphine de
Father Goriot
The Thirteen
Eugenie Grandet
Cesar Birotteau
Melmoth Reconciled
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Commission in Lunacy
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Modeste Mignon
Another Study of Woman
A Daughter of Eve
The Member for Arcis

Palma (banker)
Cesar Birotteau
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Ball at Sceaux

Rastignac, Eugene de
Father Goriot
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Interdiction
A Study of Woman
Another Study of Woman
The Magic Skin
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Gondreville Mystery
Cousin Betty
The Member for Arcis
The Unconscious Humorists

Taillefer, Jean-Frederic
Father Goriot
The Magic Skin
The Red Inn

Tillet, Ferdinand du
Cesar Birotteau
The Middle Classes
A Bachelor's Establishment
Melmoth Reconciled
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Member for Arcis
Cousin Betty
The Unconscious Humorists

Toby (Joby, Paddy)
The Secrets of a Princess

Cesar Birotteau

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