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The Magic Skin by Honore de Balzac

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"Where but in Paris will you find such a ready and rapid exchange of
thought?" cried Bixiou in a deep, bass voice.

"Bixiou! Act a classical farce for us! Come now."

"Would you like me to depict the nineteenth century?"


"Pay attention."

"Clap a muffle on your trumpets."

"Shut up, you Turk!"

"Give him some wine, and let that fellow keep quiet."

"Now, then, Bixiou!"

The artist buttoned his black coat to the collar, put on yellow
gloves, and began to burlesque the Revue des Deux Mondes by acting a
squinting old lady; but the uproar drowned his voice, and no one heard
a word of the satire. Still, if he did not catch the spirit of the
century, he represented the Revue at any rate, for his own intentions
were not very clear to him.

Dessert was served as if by magic. A huge epergne of gilded bronze
from Thomire's studio overshadowed the table. Tall statuettes, which a
celebrated artist had endued with ideal beauty according to
conventional European notions, sustained and carried pyramids of
strawberries, pines, fresh dates, golden grapes, clear-skinned
peaches, oranges brought from Setubal by steamer, pomegranates,
Chinese fruit; in short, all the surprises of luxury, miracles of
confectionery, the most tempting dainties, and choicest delicacies.
The coloring of this epicurean work of art was enhanced by the
splendors of porcelain, by sparkling outlines of gold, by the chasing
of the vases. Poussin's landscapes, copied on Sevres ware, were
crowned with graceful fringes of moss, green, translucent, and fragile
as ocean weeds.

The revenue of a German prince would not have defrayed the cost of
this arrogant display. Silver and mother-of-pearl, gold and crystal,
were lavished afresh in new forms; but scarcely a vague idea of this
almost Oriental fairyland penetrated eyes now heavy with wine, or
crossed the delirium of intoxication. The fire and fragrance of the
wines acted like potent philters and magical fumes, producing a kind
of mirage in the brain, binding feet, and weighing down hands. The
clamor increased. Words were no longer distinct, glasses flew in
pieces, senseless peals of laughter broke out. Cursy snatched up a
horn and struck up a flourish on it. It acted like a signal given by
the devil. Yells, hisses, songs, cries, and groans went up from the
maddened crew. You might have smiled to see men, light-hearted by
nature, grow tragical as Crebillon's dramas, and pensive as a sailor
in a coach. Hard-headed men blabbed secrets to the inquisitive, who
were long past heeding them. Saturnine faces were wreathed in smiles
worthy of a pirouetting dancer. Claude Vignon shuffled about like a
bear in a cage. Intimate friends began to fight.

Animal likenesses, so curiously traced by physiologists in human
faces, came out in gestures and behavior. A book lay open for a Bichat
if he had repaired thither fasting and collected. The master of the
house, knowing his condition, did not dare stir, but encouraged his
guests' extravangances with a fixed grimacing smile, meant to be
hospitable and appropriate. His large face, turning from blue and red
to a purple shade terrible to see, partook of the general commotion by
movements like the heaving and pitching of a brig.

"Now, did you murder them?" Emile asked him.

"Capital punishment is going to be abolished, they say, in favor of
the Revolution of July," answered Taillefer, raising his eyebrows with
drunken sagacity.

"Don't they rise up before you in dreams at times?" Raphael persisted.

"There's a statute of limitations," said the murderer-Croesus.

"And on his tombstone," Emile began, with a sardonic laugh, "the
stonemason will carve 'Passer-by, accord a tear, in memory of one
that's here!' Oh," he continued, "I would cheerfully pay a hundred
sous to any mathematician who would prove the existence of hell to me
by an algebraical equation."

He flung up a coin and cried:

"Heads for the existence of God!"

"Don't look!" Raphael cried, pouncing upon it. "Who knows? Suspense is
so pleasant."

"Unluckily," Emile said, with burlesque melancholy, "I can see no
halting-place between the unbeliever's arithmetic and the papal Pater
noster. Pshaw! let us drink. Trinq was, I believe, the oracular answer
of the dive bouteille and the final conclusion of Pantagruel."

"We owe our arts and monuments to the Pater noster, and our knowledge,
too, perhaps; and a still greater benefit--modern government--whereby
a vast and teeming society is wondrously represented by some five
hundred intellects. It neutralizes opposing forces and gives free play
to CIVILIZATION, that Titan queen who has succeeded the ancient
terrible figure of the KING, that sham Providence, reared by man
between himself and heaven. In the face of such achievements, atheism
seems like a barren skeleton. What do you say?"

"I am thinking of the seas of blood shed by Catholicism." Emile
replied, quite unimpressed. "It has drained our hearts and veins dry
to make a mimic deluge. No matter! Every man who thinks must range
himself beneath the banner of Christ, for He alone has consummated the
triumph of spirit over matter; He alone has revealed to us, like a
poet, an intermediate world that separates us from the Deity."

"Believest thou?" asked Raphael with an unaccountable drunken smile.
"Very good; we must not commit ourselves; so we will drink the
celebrated toast, Diis ignotis!"

And they drained the chalice filled up with science, carbonic acid
gas, perfumes, poetry, and incredulity.

"If the gentlemen will go to the drawing-room, coffee is ready for
them," said the major-domo.

There was scarcely one of those present whose mind was not floundering
by this time in the delights of chaos, where every spark of
intelligence is quenched, and the body, set free from its tyranny,
gives itself up to the frenetic joys of liberty. Some who had arrived
at the apogee of intoxication were dejected, as they painfully tried
to arrest a single thought which might assure them of their own
existence; others, deep in the heavy morasses of indigestion, denied
the possibility of movement. The noisy and the silent were oddly

For all that, when new joys were announced to them by the stentorian
tones of the servant, who spoke on his master's behalf, they all rose,
leaning upon, dragging or carrying one another. But on the threshold
of the room the entire crew paused for a moment, motionless, as if
fascinated. The intemperate pleasures of the banquet seemed to fade
away at this titillating spectacle, prepared by their amphitryon to
appeal to the most sensual of their instincts.

Beneath the shining wax-lights in a golden chandelier, round about a
table inlaid with gilded metal, a group of women, whose eyes shone
like diamonds, suddenly met the stupefied stare of the revelers. Their
toilettes were splendid, but less magnificent than their beauty, which
eclipsed the other marvels of this palace. A light shone from their
eyes, bewitching as those of sirens, more brilliant and ardent than
the blaze that streamed down upon the snowy marble, the delicately
carved surfaces of bronze, and lit up the satin sheen of the tapestry.
The contrasts of their attitudes and the slight movements of their
heads, each differing in character and nature of attraction, set the
heart afire. It was like a thicket, where blossoms mingled with
rubies, sapphires, and coral; a combination of gossamer scarves that
flickered like beacon-lights; of black ribbons about snowy throats; of
gorgeous turbans and demurely enticing apparel. It was a seraglio that
appealed to every eye, and fulfilled every fancy. Each form posed to
admiration was scarcely concealed by the folds of cashmere, and half
hidden, half revealed by transparent gauze and diaphanous silk. The
little slender feet were eloquent, though the fresh red lips uttered
no sound.

Demure and fragile-looking girls, pictures of maidenly innocence, with
a semblance of conventional unction about their heads, were there like
apparitions that a breath might dissipate. Aristocratic beauties with
haughty glances, languid, flexible, slender, and complaisant, bent
their heads as though there were royal protectors still in the market.
An English-woman seemed like a spirit of melancholy--some coy, pale,
shadowy form among Ossian's mists, or a type of remorse flying from
crime. The Parisienne was not wanting in all her beauty that consists
in an indescribable charm; armed with her irresistible weakness, vain
of her costume and her wit, pliant and hard, a heartless, passionless
siren that yet can create factitious treasures of passion and
counterfeit emotion.

Italians shone in the throng, serene and self-possessed in their
bliss; handsome Normans, with splendid figures; women of the south,
with black hair and well-shaped eyes. Lebel might have summoned
together all the fair women of Versailles, who since morning had
perfected all their wiles, and now came like a troupe of Oriental
women, bidden by the slave merchant to be ready to set out at dawn.
They stood disconcerted and confused about the table, huddled together
in a murmuring group like bees in a hive. The combination of timid
embarrassment with coquettishness and a sort of expostulation was the
result either of calculated effect or a spontaneous modesty. Perhaps a
sentiment of which women are never utterly divested prescribed to them
the cloak of modesty to heighten and enhance the charms of wantonness.
So the venerable Taillefer's designs seemed on the point of collapse,
for these unbridled natures were subdued from the very first by the
majesty with which woman is invested. There was a murmur of
admiration, which vibrated like a soft musical note. Wine had not
taken love for traveling companion; instead of a violent tumult of
passions, the guests thus taken by surprise, in a moment of weakness,
gave themselves up to luxurious raptures of delight.

Artists obeyed the voice of poetry which constrains them, and studied
with pleasure the different delicate tints of these chosen examples of
beauty. Sobered by a thought perhaps due to some emanation from a
bubble of carbonic acid in the champagne, a philosopher shuddered at
the misfortunes which had brought these women, once perhaps worthy of
the truest devotion, to this. Each one doubtless could have unfolded a
cruel tragedy. Infernal tortures followed in the train of most of
them, and they drew after them faithless men, broken vows, and
pleasures atoned for in wretchedness. Polite advances were made by the
guests, and conversations began, as varied in character as the
speakers. They broke up into groups. It might have been a fashionable
drawing-room where ladies and young girls offer after dinner the
assistance that coffee, liqueurs, and sugar afford to diners who are
struggling in the toils of a perverse digestion. But in a little while
laughter broke out, the murmur grew, and voices were raised. The
saturnalia, subdued for a moment, threatened at times to renew itself.
The alternations of sound and silence bore a distant resemblance to a
symphony of Beethoven's.

The two friends, seated on a silken divan, were first approached by a
tall, well-proportioned girl of stately bearing; her features were
irregular, but her face was striking and vehement in expression, and
impressed the mind by the vigor of its contrasts. Her dark hair fell
in luxuriant curls, with which some hand seemed to have played havoc
already, for the locks fell lightly over the splendid shoulders that
thus attracted attention. The long brown curls half hid her queenly
throat, though where the light fell upon it, the delicacy of its fine
outlines was revealed. Her warm and vivid coloring was set off by the
dead white of her complexion. Bold and ardent glances came from under
the long eyelashes; the damp, red, half-open lips challenged a kiss.
Her frame was strong but compliant; with a bust and arms strongly
developed, as in figures drawn by the Caracci, she yet seemed active
and elastic, with a panther's strength and suppleness, and in the same
way the energetic grace of her figure suggested fierce pleasures.

But though she might romp perhaps and laugh, there was something
terrible in her eyes and her smile. Like a pythoness possessed by the
demon, she inspired awe rather than pleasure. All changes, one after
another, flashed like lightning over every mobile feature of her face.
She might captivate a jaded fancy, but a young man would have feared
her. She was like some colossal statue fallen from the height of a
Greek temple, so grand when seen afar, too roughly hewn to be seen
anear. And yet, in spite of all, her terrible beauty could have
stimulated exhaustion; her voice might charm the deaf; her glances
might put life into the bones of the dead; and therefore Emile was
vaguely reminded of one of Shakespeare's tragedies--a wonderful maze,
in which joy groans, and there is something wild even about love, and
the magic of forgiveness and the warmth of happiness succeed to cruel
storms of rage. She was a siren that can both kiss and devour; laugh
like a devil, or weep as angels can. She could concentrate in one
instant all a woman's powers of attraction in a single effort (the
sighs of melancholy and the charms of maiden's shyness alone
excepted), then in a moment rise in fury like a nation in revolt, and
tear herself, her passion, and her lover, in pieces.

Dressed in red velvet, she trampled under her reckless feet the stray
flowers fallen from other heads, and held out a salver to the two
friends, with careless hands. The white arms stood out in bold relief
against the velvet. Proud of her beauty; proud (who knows?) of her
corruption, she stood like a queen of pleasure, like an incarnation of
enjoyment; the enjoyment that comes of squandering the accumulations
of three generations; that scoffs at its progenitors, and makes merry
over a corpse; that will dissolve pearls and wreck thrones, turn old
men into boys, and make young men prematurely old; enjoyment only
possible to giants weary of their power, tormented by reflection, or
for whom strife has become a plaything.

"What is your name?" asked Raphael.


"Out of Venice Preserved!" exclaimed Emile.

"Yes," she answered. "Just as a pope takes a new name when he is
exalted above all other men, I, too, took another name when I raised
myself above women's level."

"Then have you, like your patron saint, a terrible and noble lover, a
conspirator, who would die for you?" cried Emile eagerly--this gleam
of poetry had aroused his interest.

"Once I had," she answered. "But I had a rival too in La Guillotine. I
have worn something red about me ever since, lest any happiness should
carry me away."

"Oh, if you are going to get her on to the story of those four lads of
La Rochelle, she will never get to the end of it. That's enough,
Aquilina. As if every woman could not bewail some lover or other,
though not every one has the luck to lose him on the scaffold, as you
have done. I would a great deal sooner see a lover of mine in a trench
at the back of Clamart than in a rival's arms."

All this in the gentlest and most melodious accents, and pronounced by
the prettiest, gentlest, and most innocent-looking little person that
a fairy wand ever drew from an enchanted eggshell. She had come up
noiselessly, and they became aware of a slender, dainty figure,
charmingly timid blue eyes, and white transparent brows. No ingenue
among the naiads, a truant from her river spring, could have been
shyer, whiter, more ingenuous than this young girl, seemingly about
sixteen years old, ignorant of evil and of the storms of life, and
fresh from some church in which she must have prayed the angels to
call her to heaven before the time. Only in Paris are such natures as
this to be found, concealing depths of depravity behind a fair mask,
and the most artificial vices beneath a brow as young and fair as an
opening flower.

At first the angelic promise of those soft lineaments misled the
friends. Raphael and Emile took the coffee which she poured into the
cups brought by Aquilina, and began to talk with her. In the eyes of
the two poets she soon became transformed into some sombre allegory,
of I know not what aspect of human life. She opposed to the vigorous
and ardent expression of her commanding acquaintance a revelation of
heartless corruption and voluptuous cruelty. Heedless enough to
perpetrate a crime, hardy enough to feel no misgivings; a pitiless
demon that wrings larger and kinder natures with torments that it is
incapable of knowing, that simpers over a traffic in love, sheds tears
over a victim's funeral, and beams with joy over the reading of the
will. A poet might have admired the magnificent Aquilina; but the
winning Euphrasia must be repulsive to every one--the first was the
soul of sin; the second, sin without a soul in it.

"I should dearly like to know," Emile remarked to this pleasing being,
"if you ever reflect upon your future?"

"My future!" she answered with a laugh. "What do you mean by my
future? Why should I think about something that does not exist as yet?
I never look before or behind. Isn't one day at a time more than I can
concern myself with as it is? And besides, the future, as we know,
means the hospital."

"How can you forsee a future in the hospital, and make no effort to
avert it?"

"What is there so alarming about the hospital?" asked the terrific
Aquilina. "When we are neither wives nor mothers, when old age draws
black stockings over our limbs, sets wrinkles on our brows, withers up
the woman in us, and darkens the light in our lover's eyes, what could
we need when that comes to pass? You would look on us then as mere
human clay; we with our habiliments shall be for you like so much mud
--worthless, lifeless, crumbling to pieces, going about with the
rustle of dead leaves. Rags or the daintiest finery will be as one to
us then; the ambergris of the boudoir will breathe an odor of death
and dry bones; and suppose there is a heart there in that mud, not one
of you but would make mock of it, not so much as a memory will you
spare to us. Is not our existence precisely the same whether we live
in a fine mansion with lap-dogs to tend, or sort rags in a workhouse?
Does it make much difference whether we shall hide our gray heads
beneath lace or a handkerchief striped with blue and red; whether we
sweep a crossing with a birch broom, or the steps of the Tuileries
with satins; whether we sit beside a gilded hearth, or cower over the
ashes in a red earthen pot; whether we go to the Opera or look on in
the Place de Greve?"

"Aquilina mia, you have never shown more sense than in this depressing
fit of yours," Euphrasia remarked. "Yes, cashmere, point d'Alencon,
perfumes, gold, silks, luxury, everything that sparkles, everything
pleasant, belongs to youth alone. Time alone may show us our folly,
but good fortune will acquit us. You are laughing at me," she went on,
with a malicious glance at the friends; "but am I not right? I would
sooner die of pleasure than of illness. I am not afflicted with a
mania for perpetuity, nor have I a great veneration for human nature,
such as God has made it. Give me millions, and I would squander them;
I should not keep one centime for the year to come. Live to be
charming and have power, that is the decree of my every heartbeat.
Society sanctions my life; does it not pay for my extravagances? Why
does Providence pay me every morning my income, which I spend every
evening? Why are hospitals built for us? And Providence did not put
good and evil on either hand for us to select what tires and pains us.
I should be very foolish if I did not amuse myself."

"And how about others?" asked Emile.

"Others? Oh, well, they must manage for themselves. I prefer laughing
at their woes to weeping over my own. I defy any man to give me the
slightest uneasiness."

"What have you suffered to make you think like this?" asked Raphael.

"I myself have been forsaken for an inheritance," she said, striking
an attitude that displayed all her charms; "and yet I had worked night
and day to keep my lover! I am not to be gulled by any smile or vow,
and I have set myself to make one long entertainment of my life."

"But does not happiness come from the soul within?" cried Raphael.

"It may be so," Aquilina answered; "but is it nothing to be conscious
of admiration and flattery; to triumph over other women, even over the
most virtuous, humiliating them before our beauty and our splendor?
Not only so; one day of our life is worth ten years of a bourgeoise
existence, and so it is all summed up."

"Is not a woman hateful without virtue?" Emile said to Raphael.

Euphrasia's glance was like a viper's, as she said, with an irony in
her voice that cannot be rendered:

"Virtue! we leave that to deformity and to ugly women. What would the
poor things be without it?"

"Hush, be quiet," Emile broke in. "Don't talk about something you have
never known."

"That I have never known!" Euphrasia answered. "You give yourself for
life to some person you abominate; you must bring up children who will
neglect you, who wound your very heart, and you must say, 'Thank you!'
for it; and these are the virtues you prescribe to woman. And that is
not enough. By way of requiting her self-denial, you must come and add
to her sorrows by trying to lead her astray; and though you are
rebuffed, she is compromised. A nice life! How far better to keep
one's freedom, to follow one's inclinations in love, and die young!"

"Have you no fear of the price to be paid some day for all this?"

"Even then," she said, "instead of mingling pleasures and troubles, my
life will consist of two separate parts--a youth of happiness is
secure, and there may come a hazy, uncertain old age, during which I
can suffer at my leisure."

"She has never loved," came in the deep tones of Aquilina's voice.
"She never went a hundred leagues to drink in one look and a denial
with untold raptures. She has not hung her own life on a thread, nor
tried to stab more than one man to save her sovereign lord, her king,
her divinity. . . . Love, for her, meant a fascinating colonel."

"Here she is with her La Rochelle," Euphrasia made answer. "Love comes
like the wind, no one knows whence. And, for that matter, if one of
those brutes had once fallen in love with you, you would hold sensible
men in horror."

"Brutes are put out of the question by the Code," said the tall,
sarcastic Aquilina.

"I thought you had more kindness for the army," laughed Euphrasia.

"How happy they are in their power of dethroning their reason in this
way," Raphael exclaimed.

"Happy?" asked Aquilina, with dreadful look, and a smile full of pity
and terror. "Ah, you do not know what it is to be condemned to a life
of pleasure, with your dead hidden in your heart. . . ."

A moment's consideration of the rooms was like a foretaste of Milton's
Pandemonium. The faces of those still capable of drinking wore a
hideous blue tint, from burning draughts of punch. Mad dances were
kept up with wild energy; excited laughter and outcries broke out like
the explosion of fireworks. The boudoir and a small adjoining room
were strewn like a battlefield with the insensible and incapable.
Wine, pleasure, and dispute had heated the atmosphere. Wine and love,
delirium and unconsciousness possessed them, and were written upon all
faces, upon the furniture; were expressed by the surrounding disorder,
and brought light films over the vision of those assembled, so that
the air seemed full of intoxicating vapor. A glittering dust arose, as
in the luminous paths made by a ray of sunlight, the most bizarre
forms flitted through it, grotesque struggles were seen athwart it.
Groups of interlaced figures blended with the white marbles, the noble
masterpieces of sculpture that adorned the rooms.

Though the two friends yet preserved a sort of fallacious clearness in
their ideas and voices, a feeble appearance and faint thrill of
animation, it was yet almost impossible to distinguish what was real
among the fantastic absurdities before them, or what foundation there
was for the impossible pictures that passed unceasingly before their
weary eyes. The strangest phenomena of dreams beset them, the lowering
heavens, the fervid sweetness caught by faces in our visions, and
unheard-of agility under a load of chains,--all these so vividly, that
they took the pranks of the orgy about them for the freaks of some
nightmare in which all movement is silent, and cries never reach the
ear. The valet de chambre succeeded just then, after some little
difficulty, in drawing his master into the ante-chamber to whisper to

"The neighbors are all at their windows, complaining of the racket,

"If noise alarms them, why don't they lay down straw before their
doors?" was Taillefer's rejoinder.

Raphael's sudden burst of laughter was so unseasonable and abrupt,
that his friend demanded the reason of his unseemly hilarity.

"You will hardly understand me," he replied. "In the first place, I
must admit that you stopped me on the Quai Voltaire just as I was
about to throw myself into the Seine, and you would like to know, no
doubt, my motives for dying. And when I proceed to tell you that by an
almost miraculous chance the most poetic memorials of the material
world had but just then been summed up for me as a symbolical
interpretation of human wisdom; whilst at this minute the remains of
all the intellectual treasures ravaged by us at table are comprised in
these two women, the living and authentic types of folly, would you be
any the wiser? Our profound apathy towards men and things supplied the
half-tones in a crudely contrasted picture of two theories of life so
diametrically opposed. If you were not drunk, you might perhaps catch
a gleam of philosophy in this."

"And if you had not both feet on that fascinating Aquilina, whose
heavy breathing suggests an analogy with the sounds of a storm about
to burst," replied Emile, absently engaged in the harmless amusement
of winding and unwinding Euphrasia's hair, "you would be ashamed of
your inebriated garrulity. Both your systems can be packed in a
phrase, and reduced to a single idea. The mere routine of living
brings a stupid kind of wisdom with it, by blunting our intelligence
with work; and on the other hand, a life passed in the limbo of the
abstract or in the abysses of the moral world, produces a sort of
wisdom run mad. The conditions may be summed up in brief; we may
extinguish emotion, and so live to old age, or we may choose to die
young as martyrs to contending passions. And yet this decree is at
variance with the temperaments with which we were endowed by the
bitter jester who modeled all creatures."

"Idiot!" Raphael burst in. "Go on epitomizing yourself after that
fashion, and you will fill volumes. If I attempted to formulate those
two ideas clearly, I might as well say that man is corrupted by the
exercise of his wits, and purified by ignorance. You are calling the
whole fabric of society to account. But whether we live with the wise
or perish with the fool, isn't the result the same sooner or later?
And have not the prime constituents of the quintessence of both
systems been before expressed in a couple of words--Carymary,

"You make me doubt the existence of a God, for your stupidity is
greater than His power," said Emile. "Our beloved Rabelais summed it
all up in a shorter word than your 'Carymary, Carymara'; from his
Peut-etre Montaigne derived his own Que sais-je? After all, this last
word of moral science is scarcely more than the cry of Pyrrhus set
betwixt good and evil, or Buridan's ass between the two measures of
oats. But let this everlasting question alone, resolved to-day by a
'Yes' and a 'No.' What experience did you look to find by a jump into
the Seine? Were you jealous of the hydraulic machine on the Pont Notre

"Ah, if you but knew my history!"

"Pooh," said Emile; "I did not think you could be so commonplace; that
remark is hackneyed. Don't you know that every one of us claims to
have suffered as no other ever did?"

"Ah!" Raphael sighed.

"What a mountebank art thou with thy 'Ah'! Look here, now. Does some
disease of the mind or body, by contracting your muscles, bring back
of a morning the wild horses that tear you in pieces at night, as with
Damiens once upon a time? Were you driven to sup off your own dog in a
garret, uncooked and without salt? Have your children ever cried, 'I
am hungry'? Have you sold your mistress' hair to hazard the money at
play? Have you ever drawn a sham bill of exchange on a fictitious
uncle at a sham address, and feared lest you should not be in time to
take it up? Come now, I am attending! If you were going to drown
yourself for some woman, or by way of a protest, or out of sheer
dulness, I disown you. Make your confession, and no lies! I don't at
all want a historical memoir. And, above all things, be as concise as
your clouded intellect permits; I am as critical as a professor, and
as sleepy as a woman at her vespers."

"You silly fool!" said Raphael. "When has not suffering been keener
for a more susceptible nature? Some day when science has attained to a
pitch that enables us to study the natural history of hearts, when
they are named and classified in genera, sub-genera, and families;
into crustaceae, fossils, saurians, infusoria, or whatever it is,--
then, my dear fellow, it will be ascertained that there are natures as
tender and fragile as flowers, that are broken by the slight bruises
that some stony hearts do not even feel----"

"For pity's sake, spare me thy exordium," said Emile, as, half
plaintive, half amused, he took Raphael's hand.



After a moment's silence, Raphael said with a careless gesture:

"Perhaps it is an effect of the fumes of punch--I really cannot tell--
this clearness of mind that enables me to comprise my whole life in a
single picture, where figures and hues, lights, shades, and half-tones
are faithfully rendered. I should not have been so surprised at this
poetical play of imagination if it were not accompanied with a sort of
scorn for my past joys and sorrows. Seen from afar, my life appears to
contract by some mental process. That long, slow agony of ten years'
duration can be brought to memory to-day in some few phrases, in which
pain is resolved into a mere idea, and pleasure becomes a
philosophical reflection. Instead of feeling things, I weigh and
consider them----"

"You are as tiresome as the explanation of an amendment," cried Emile.

"Very likely," said Raphael submissively. "I spare you the first
seventeen years of my life for fear of abusing a listener's patience.
Till that time, like you and thousands of others, I had lived my life
at school or the lycee, with its imaginary troubles and genuine
happinesses, which are so pleasant to look back upon. Our jaded
palates still crave for that Lenten fare, so long as we have not tried
it afresh. It was a pleasant life, with the tasks that we thought so
contemptible, but which taught us application for all that. . . ."

"Let the drama begin," said Emile, half-plaintively, half-comically.

"When I left school," Raphael went on, with a gesture that claimed the
right of speaking, "my father submitted me to a strict discipline; he
installed me in a room near his own study, and I had to rise at five
in the morning and be in bed by nine at night. He meant me to take my
law studies seriously. I attended the Schools, and read with an
advocate as well, but my lectures and work were so narrowly
circumscribed by the laws of time and space, and my father required
such a strict account of my doings, at dinner, that . . ."

"What is this to me?" asked Emile.

"The devil take you!" said Raphael. "How are you to enter into my
feelings if I do not relate the facts that insensibly shaped my
character, made me timid, and prolonged the period of youthful
simplicity? In this manner I cowered under as strict a despotism as a
monarch's till I came of age. To depict the tedium of my life, it will
be perhaps enough to portray my father to you. He was tall, thin, and
slight, with a hatchet face, and pale complexion; a man of few words,
fidgety as an old maid, exacting as a senior clerk. His paternal
solicitude hovered over my merriment and gleeful thoughts, and seemed
to cover them with a leaden pall. Any effusive demonstration on my
part was received by him as a childish absurdity. I was far more
afraid of him than I had been of any of our masters at school.

"I seem to see him before me at this moment. In his chestnut-brown
frock-coat he looked like a red herring wrapped up in the cover of a
pamphlet, and he held himself as erect as an Easter candle. But I was
fond of my father, and at heart he was right enough. Perhaps we never
hate severity when it has its source in greatness of character and
pure morals, and is skilfully tempered with kindness. My father, it is
true, never left me a moment to myself, and only when I was twenty
years old gave me so much as ten francs of my own, ten knavish
prodigals of francs, such a hoard as I had long vainly desired, which
set me a-dreaming of unutterable felicity; yet, for all that he sought
to procure relaxations for me. When he had promised me a treat
beforehand, he would take me to Les Boufoons, or to a concert or ball,
where I hoped to find a mistress. . . . A mistress! that meant
independence. But bashful and timid as I was, knowing nobody, and
ignorant of the dialect of drawing-rooms, I always came back as
awkward as ever, and swelling with unsatisfied desires, to be put in
harness like a troop horse next day by my father, and to return with
morning to my advocate, the Palais de Justice, and the law. To have
swerved from the straight course which my father had mapped out for
me, would have drawn down his wrath upon me; at my first delinquency,
he threatened to ship me off as a cabin-boy to the Antilles. A
dreadful shiver ran through me if I had ventured to spend a couple of
hours in some pleasure party.

"Imagine the most wandering imagination and passionate temperament,
the tenderest soul and most artistic nature, dwelling continually in
the presence of the most flint-hearted, atrabilious, and frigid man on
earth; think of me as a young girl married to a skeleton, and you will
understand the life whose curious scenes can only be a hearsay tale to
you; the plans for running away that perished at the sight of my
father, the despair soothed by slumber, the dark broodings charmed
away by music. I breathed my sorrows forth in melodies. Beethoven or
Mozart would keep my confidences sacred. Nowadays, I smile at
recollections of the scruples which burdened my conscience at that
epoch of innocence and virtue.

"If I set foot in a restaurant, I gave myself up for lost; my fancy
led me to look on a cafe as a disreputable haunt, where men lost their
characters and embarrassed their fortunes; as for engaging in play, I
had not the money to risk. Oh, if I needed to send you to sleep, I
would tell you about one of the most frightful pleasures of my life,
one of those pleasures with fangs that bury themselves in the heart as
the branding-iron enters the convict's shoulder. I was at a ball at
the house of the Duc de Navarreins, my father's cousin. But to make my
position the more perfectly clear, you must know that I wore a
threadbare coat, ill-fitting shoes, a tie fit for a stableman, and a
soiled pair of gloves. I shrank into a corner to eat ices and watch
the pretty faces at my leisure. My father noticed me. Actuated by some
motive that I did not fathom, so dumfounded was I by this act of
confidence, he handed me his keys and purse to keep. Ten paces away
some men were gambling. I heard the rattling of gold; I was twenty
years old; I longed to be steeped for one whole day in the follies of
my time of life. It was a license of the imagination that would find a
parallel neither in the freaks of courtesans, nor in the dreams of
young girls. For a year past I had beheld myself well dressed, in a
carriage, with a pretty woman by my side, playing the great lord,
dining at Very's, deciding not to go back home till the morrow; but
was prepared for my father with a plot more intricate than the
Marriage of Figaro, which he could not possibly have unraveled. All
this bliss would cost, I estimated, fifty crowns. Was it not the
artless idea of playing truant that still had charms for me?

"I went into a small adjoining room, and when alone counted my
father's money with smarting eyes and trembling fingers--a hundred
crowns! The joys of my escapade rose before me at the thought of the
amount; joys that flitted about me like Macbeth's witches round their
caldron; joys how alluring! how thrilling! how delicious! I became a
deliberate rascal. I heeded neither my tingling ears nor the violent
beating of my heart, but took out two twenty-franc pieces that I seem
to see yet. The dates had been erased, and Bonaparte's head simpered
upon them. After I had put back the purse in my pocket, I returned to
the gaming-table with the two pieces of gold in the palms of my damp
hands, prowling about the players like a sparrow-hawk round a coop of
chickens. Tormented by inexpressible terror, I flung a sudden
clairvoyant glance round me, and feeling quite sure that I was seen by
none of my acquaintance, betted on a stout, jovial little man, heaping
upon his head more prayers and vows than are put up during two or
three storms at sea. Then, with an intuitive scoundrelism, or
Machiavelism, surprising in one of my age, I went and stood in the
door, and looked about me in the rooms, though I saw nothing; for both
mind and eyes hovered about that fateful green cloth.

"That evening fixes the date of a first observation of a physiological
kind; to it I owe a kind of insight into certain mysteries of our
double nature that I have since been enabled to penetrate. I had my
back turned on the table where my future felicity lay at stake, a
felicity but so much the more intense that it was criminal. Between me
and the players stood a wall of onlookers some five feet deep, who
were chatting; the murmur of voices drowned the clinking of gold,
which mingled in the sounds sent up by this orchestra; yet, despite
all obstacles, I distinctly heard the words of the two players by a
gift accorded to the passions, which enables them to annihilate time
and space. I saw the points they made; I knew which of the two turned
up the king as well as if I had actually seen the cards; at a distance
of ten paces, in short, the fortunes of play blanched my face.

"My father suddenly went by, and then I knew what the Scripture meant
by 'The Spirit of God passed before his face.' I had won. I slipped
through the crowd of men who had gathered about the players with the
quickness of an eel escaping through a broken mesh in a net. My nerves
thrilled with joy instead of anguish. I felt like some criminal on the
way to torture released by a chance meeting with the king. It happened
that a man with a decoration found himself short by forty francs.
Uneasy eyes suspected me; I turned pale, and drops of perspiration
stood on my forehead, I was well punished, I thought, for having
robbed my father. Then the kind little stout man said, in a voice like
an angel's surely, 'All these gentlemen have paid their stakes,' and
put down the forty francs himself. I raised my head in triumph upon
the players. After I had returned the money I had taken from it to my
father's purse, I left my winnings with that honest and worthy
gentleman, who continued to win. As soon as I found myself possessed
of a hundred and sixty francs, I wrapped them up in my handkerchief,
so that they could neither move or rattle on the way back; and I
played no more.

" 'What were you doing at the card-table?' said my father as we
stepped into the carriage.

" 'I was looking on,' I answered, trembling.

" 'But it would have been nothing out of the common if you had been
prompted by self-love to put some money down on the table. In the eyes
of men of the world you are quite old enough to assume the right to
commit such follies. So I should have pardoned you, Raphael, if you
had made use of my purse. . . . .'

"I did not answer. When we reached home, I returned the keys and money
to my father. As he entered his study, he emptied out his purse on the
mantelpiece, counted the money, and turned to me with a kindly look,
saying with more or less long and significant pauses between each

" 'My boy, you are very nearly twenty now. I am satisfied with you.
You ought to have an allowance, if only to teach you how to lay it
out, and to gain some acquaintance with everyday business.
Henceforward I shall let you have a hundred francs each month. Here is
your first quarter's income for this year,' he added, fingering a pile
of gold, as if to make sure that the amount was correct. 'Do what you
please with it.'

"I confess that I was ready to fling myself at his feet, to tell him
that I was a thief, a scoundrel, and, worse than all, a liar! But a
feeling of shame held me back. I went up to him for an embrace, but he
gently pushed me away.

" 'You are a man now, MY CHILD,' he said. 'What I have just done was a
very proper and simple thing, for which there is no need to thank me.
If I have any claim to your gratitude, Raphael,' he went on, in a kind
but dignified way, 'it is because I have preserved your youth from the
evils that destroy young men in Paris. We will be two friends
henceforth. In a year's time you will be a doctor of law. Not without
some hardship and privations you have acquired the sound knowledge and
the love of, and application to, work that is indispensable to public
men. You must learn to know me, Raphael. I do not want to make either
an advocate or a notary of you, but a statesman, who shall be the
pride of our poor house. . . . Good-night,' he added.

"From that day my father took me fully into confidence. I was an only
son; and ten years before, I had lost my mother. In time past my
father, the head of a historic family remembered even now in Auvergne,
had come to Paris to fight against his evil star, dissatisfied at the
prospect of tilling the soil, with his useless sword by his side. He
was endowed with the shrewdness that gives the men of the south of
France a certain ascendency when energy goes with it. Almost unaided,
he made a position for himself near the fountain of power. The
revolution brought a reverse of fortune, but he had managed to marry
an heiress of good family, and, in the time of the Empire, appeared to
be on the point of restoring to our house its ancient splendor.

"The Restoration, while it brought back considerable property to my
mother, was my father's ruin. He had formerly purchased several
estates abroad, conferred by the Emperor on his generals; and now for
ten years he struggled with liquidators, diplomatists, and Prussian
and Bavarian courts of law, over the disputed possession of these
unfortunate endowments. My father plunged me into the intricate
labyrinths of law proceedings on which our future depended. We might
be compelled to return the rents, as well as the proceeds arising from
sales of timber made during the years 1814 to 1817; in that case my
mother's property would have barely saved our credit. So it fell out
that the day on which my father in a fashion emancipated me, brought
me under a most galling yoke. I entered on a conflict like a
battlefield; I must work day and night; seek interviews with
statesmen, surprise their convictions, try to interest them in our
affairs, and gain them over, with their wives and servants, and their
very dogs; and all this abominable business had to take the form of
pretty speeches and polite attentions. Then I knew the mortifications
that had left their blighting traces on my father's face. For about a
year I led outwardly the life of a man of the world, but enormous
labors lay beneath the surface of gadding about, and eager efforts to
attach myself to influential kinsmen, or to people likely to be useful
to us. My relaxations were lawsuits, and memorials still furnished the
staple of my conversation. Hitherto my life had been blameless, from
the sheer impossibility of indulging the desires of youth; but now I
became my own master, and in dread of involving us both in ruin by
some piece of negligence, I did not dare to allow myself any pleasure
or expenditure.

"While we are young, and before the world has rubbed off the delicate
bloom from our sentiments, the freshness of our impressions, the noble
purity of conscience which will never allow us to palter with evil,
the sense of duty is very strong within us, the voice of honor clamors
within us, and we are open and straightforward. At that time I was all
these things. I wished to justify my father's confidence in me. But
lately I would have stolen a paltry sum from him, with secret delight;
but now that I shared the burden of his affairs, of his name and of
his house, I would secretly have given up my fortune and my hopes for
him, as I was sacrificing my pleasures, and even have been glad of the
sacrifice! So when M. de Villele exhumed, for our special benefit, an
imperial decree concerning forfeitures, and had ruined us, I
authorized the sale of my property, only retaining an island in the
middle of the Loire where my mother was buried. Perhaps arguments and
evasions, philosophical, philanthropic, and political considerations
would not fail me now, to hinder the perpetration of what my solicitor
termed a 'folly'; but at one-and-twenty, I repeat, we are all aglow
with generosity and affection. The tears that stood in my father's
eyes were to me the most splendid of fortunes, and the thought of
those tears has often soothed my sorrow. Ten months after he had paid
his creditors, my father died of grief; I was his idol, and he had
ruined me! The thought killed him. Towards the end of the autumn of
1826, at the age of twenty-two, I was the sole mourner at his
graveside--the grave of my father and my earliest friend. Not many
young men have found themselves alone with their thoughts as they
followed a hearse, or have seen themselves lost in crowded Paris, and
without money or prospects. Orphans rescued by public charity have at
any rate the future of the battlefield before them, and find a shelter
in some institution and a father in the government or in the procureur
du roi. I had nothing.

"Three months later, an agent made over to me eleven hundred and
twelve francs, the net proceeds of the winding up of my father's
affairs. Our creditors had driven us to sell our furniture. From my
childhood I had been used to set a high value on the articles of
luxury about us, and I could not help showing my astonishment at the
sight of this meagre balance.

" 'Oh, rococo, all of it!' said the auctioneer. A terrible word that
fell like a blight on the sacred memories of my childhood, and
dispelled my earliest illusions, the dearest of all. My entire fortune
was comprised in this 'account rendered,' my future lay in a linen bag
with eleven hundred and twelve francs in it, human society stood
before me in the person of an auctioneer's clerk, who kept his hat on
while he spoke. Jonathan, an old servant who was much attached to me,
and whom my mother had formerly pensioned with an annuity of four
hundred francs, spoke to me as I was leaving the house that I had so
often gaily left for a drive in my childhood.

" 'Be very economical, Monsieur Raphael!'

"The good fellow was crying.

"Such were the events, dear Emile, that ruled my destinies, moulded my
character, and set me, while still young, in an utterly false social
position," said Raphael after a pause. "Family ties, weak ones, it is
true, bound me to a few wealthy houses, but my own pride would have
kept me aloof from them if contempt and indifference had not shut
their doors on me in the first place. I was related to people who were
very influential, and who lavished their patronage on strangers; but I
found neither relations nor patrons in them. Continually circumscribed
in my affections, they recoiled upon me. Unreserved and simple by
nature, I must have appeared frigid and sophisticated. My father's
discipline had destroyed all confidence in myself. I was shy and
awkward; I could not believe that my opinion carried any weight
whatever; I took no pleasure in myself; I thought myself ugly, and was
ashamed to meet my own eyes. In spite of the inward voice that must be
the stay of a man with anything in him, in all his struggles, the
voice that cries, 'Courage! Go forward!' in spite of sudden
revelations of my own strength in my solitude; in spite of the hopes
that thrilled me as I compared new works, that the public admired so
much, with the schemes that hovered in my brain,--in spite of all
this, I had a childish mistrust of myself.

"An overweening ambition preyed upon me; I believed that I was meant
for great things, and yet I felt myself to be nothing. I had need of
other men, and I was friendless. I found I must make my way in the
world, where I was quite alone, and bashful, rather than afraid.

"All through the year in which, by my father's wish, I threw myself
into the whirlpool of fashionable society, I came away with an
inexperienced heart, and fresh in mind. Like every grown child, I
sighed in secret for a love affair. I met, among young men of my own
age, a set of swaggerers who held their heads high, and talked about
trifles as they seated themselves without a tremor beside women who
inspired awe in me. They chattered nonsense, sucked the heads of their
canes, gave themselves affected airs, appropriated the fairest women,
and laid, or pretended that they had laid their heads on every pillow.
Pleasure, seemingly, was at their beck and call; they looked on the
most virtuous and prudish as an easy prey, ready to surrender at a
word, at the slightest impudent gesture or insolent look. I declare,
on my soul and conscience, that the attainment of power, or of a great
name in literature, seemed to me an easier victory than a success with
some young, witty, and gracious lady of high degree.

"So I found the tumult of my heart, my feelings, and my creeds all at
variance with the axioms of society. I had plenty of audacity in my
character, but none in my manner. Later, I found out that women did
not like to be implored. I have from afar adored many a one to whom I
devoted a soul proof against all tests, a heart to break, energy that
shrank from no sacrifice and from no torture; THEY accepted fools whom
I would not have engaged as hall porters. How often, mute and
motionless, have I not admired the lady of my dreams, swaying in the
dance; given up my life in thought to one eternal caress, expressed
all my hopes in a look, and laid before her, in my rapture, a young
man's love, which should outstrip all fables. At some moments I was
ready to barter my whole life for one single night. Well, as I could
never find a listener for my impassioned proposals, eyes to rest my
own upon, a heart made for my heart, I lived on in all the sufferings
of impotent force that consumes itself; lacking either opportunity or
courage or experience. I despaired, maybe, of making myself
understood, or I feared to be understood but too well; and yet the
storm within me was ready to burst at every chance courteous look. In
spite of my readiness to take the semblance of interest in look or
word for a tenderer solicitude, I dared neither to speak nor to be
silent seasonably. My words grew insignificant, and my silence stupid,
by sheer stress of emotion. I was too ingenuous, no doubt, for that
artificial life, led by candle-light, where every thought is expressed
in conventional phrases, or by words that fashion dictates; and not
only so, I had not learned how to employ speech that says nothing, and
silence that says a great deal. In short, I concealed the fires that
consumed me, and with such a soul as women wish to find, with all the
elevation of soul that they long for, and a mettle that fools plume
themselves upon, all women have been cruelly treacherous to me.

"So in my simplicity I admired the heroes of this set when they
bragged about their conquests, and never suspected them of lying. No
doubt it was a mistake to wish for a love that springs for a word's
sake; to expect to find in the heart of a vain, frivolous woman,
greedy for luxury and intoxicated with vanity, the great sea of
passion that surged tempestuously in my own breast. Oh! to feel that
you were born to love, to make some woman's happiness, and yet to find
not one, not even a noble and courageous Marceline, not so much as an
old Marquise! Oh! to carry a treasure in your wallet, and not find
even some child, or inquisitive young girl, to admire it! In my
despair I often wished to kill myself."

"Finely tragical to-night!" cried Emile.

"Let me pass sentence on my life," Raphael answered. "If your
friendship is not strong enough to bear with my elegy, if you cannot
put up with half an hour's tedium for my sake, go to sleep! But, then,
never ask again for the reason of suicide that hangs over me, that
comes nearer and calls to me, that I bow myself before. If you are to
judge a man, you must know his secret thoughts, sorrows, and feelings;
to know merely the outward events of a man's life would only serve to
make a chronological table--a fool's notion of history."

Emile was so much struck with the bitter tones in which these words
were spoken, that he began to pay close attention to Raphael, whom he
watched with a bewildered expression.

"Now," continued the speaker, "all these things that befell me appear
in a new light. The sequence of events that I once thought so
unfortunate created the splendid powers of which, later, I became so
proud. If I may believe you, I possess the power of readily expressing
my thoughts, and I could take a forward place in the great field of
knowledge; and is not this the result of scientific curiosity, of
excessive application, and a love of reading which possessed me from
the age of seven till my entry on life? The very neglect in which I
was left, and the consequent habits of self-repression and self-
concentration; did not these things teach me how to consider and
reflect? Nothing in me was squandered in obedience to the exactions of
the world, which humble the proudest soul and reduce it to a mere
husk; and was it not this very fact that refined the emotional part of
my nature till it became the perfected instrument of a loftier purpose
than passionate desires? I remember watching the women who mistook me
with all the insight of contemned love.

"I can see now that my natural sincerity must have been displeasing to
them; women, perhaps, even require a little hypocrisy. And I, who in
the same hour's space am alternately a man and a child, frivolous and
thoughtful, free from bias and brimful of superstition, and oftentimes
myself as much a woman as any of them; how should they do otherwise
than take my simplicity for cynicism, my innocent candor for
impudence? They found my knowledge tiresome; my feminine languor,
weakness. I was held to be listless and incapable of love or of steady
purpose; a too active imagination, that curse of poets, was no doubt
the cause. My silence was idiotic; and as I daresay I alarmed them by
my efforts to please, women one and all have condemned me. With tears
and mortification, I bowed before the decision of the world; but my
distress was not barren. I determined to revenge myself on society; I
would dominate the feminine intellect, and so have the feminine soul
at my mercy; all eyes should be fixed upon me, when the servant at the
door announced my name. I had determined from my childhood that I
would be a great man; I said with Andre Chenier, as I struck my
forehead, 'There is something underneath that!' I felt, I believed,
the thought within me that I must express, the system I must
establish, the knowledge I must interpret.

"Let me pour out my follies, dear Emile; to-day I am barely twenty-six
years old, certain of dying unrecognized, and I have never been the
lover of the woman I dreamed of possessing. Have we not all of us,
more or less, believed in the reality of a thing because we wished it?
I would never have a young man for my friend who did not place himself
in dreams upon a pedestal, weave crowns for his head, and have
complaisant mistresses. I myself would often be a general, nay,
emperor; I have been a Byron, and then a nobody. After this sport on
these pinnacles of human achievement, I became aware that all the
difficulties and steeps of life were yet to face. My exuberant self-
esteem came to my aid; I had that intense belief in my destiny, which
perhaps amounts to genius in those who will not permit themselves to
be distracted by contact with the world, as sheep that leave their
wool on the briars of every thicket they pass by. I meant to cover
myself with glory, and to work in silence for the mistress I hoped to
have one day. Women for me were resumed into a single type, and this
woman I looked to meet in the first that met my eyes; but in each and
all I saw a queen, and as queens must make the first advances to their
lovers, they must draw near to me--to me, so sickly, shy, and poor.
For her, who should take pity on me, my heart held in store such
gratitude over and beyond love, that I had worshiped her her whole
life long. Later, my observations have taught me bitter truths.

"In this way, dear Emile, I ran the risk of remaining companionless
for good. The incomprehensible bent of women's minds appears to lead
them to see nothing but the weak points in a clever man, and the
strong points of a fool. They feel the liveliest sympathy with the
fool's good qualities, which perpetually flatter their own defects;
while they find the man of talent hardly agreeable enough to
compensate for his shortcomings. All capacity is a sort of
intermittent fever, and no woman is anxious to share in its
discomforts only; they look to find in their lovers the wherewithal to
gratify their own vanity. It is themselves that they love in us! But
the artist, poor and proud, along with his endowment of creative
power, is furnished with an aggressive egotism! Everything about him
is involved in I know not what whirlpool of his ideas, and even his
mistress must gyrate along with them. How is a woman, spoilt with
praise, to believe in the love of a man like that? Will she go to seek
him out? That sort of lover has not the leisure to sit beside a sofa
and give himself up to the sentimental simperings that women are so
fond of, and on which the false and unfeeling pride themselves. He
cannot spare the time from his work, and how can he afford to humble
himself and go a-masquerading! I was ready to give my life once and
for all, but I could not degrade it in detail. Besides, there is
something indescribably paltry in a stockbroker's tactics, who runs on
errands for some insipid affected woman; all this disgusts an artist.
Love in the abstract is not enough for a great man in poverty; he has
need of its utmost devotion. The frivolous creatures who spend their
lives in trying on cashmeres, or make themselves into clothes-pegs to
hang the fashions from, exact the devotion which is not theirs to
give; for them, love means the pleasure of ruling and not of obeying.
She who is really a wife, one in heart, flesh, and bone, must follow
wherever he leads, in whom her life, her strength, her pride, and
happiness are centered. Ambitious men need those Oriental women whose
whole thought is given to the study of their requirements; for
unhappiness means for them the incompatibility of their means with
their desires. But I, who took myself for a man of genius, must needs
feel attracted by these very she-coxcombs. So, as I cherished ideas so
different from those generally received; as I wished to scale the
heavens without a ladder, was possessed of wealth that could not
circulate, and of knowledge so wide and so imperfectly arranged and
digested that it overtaxed my memory; as I had neither relations nor
friends in the midst of this lonely and ghastly desert, a desert of
paving stones, full of animation, life, and thought, wherein every one
is worse than inimical, indifferent to wit; I made a very natural if
foolish resolve, which required such unknown impossibilities, that my
spirits rose. It was as if I had laid a wager with myself, for I was
at once the player and the cards.

"This was my plan. The eleven hundred francs must keep life in me for
three years--the time I allowed myself in which to bring to light a
work which should draw attention to me, and make me either a name or a
fortune. I exulted at the thought of living on bread and milk, like a
hermit in the Thebaid, while I plunged into the world of books and
ideas, and so reached a lofty sphere beyond the tumult of Paris, a
sphere of silent labor where I would entomb myself like a chrysalis to
await a brilliant and splendid new birth. I imperiled my life in order
to live. By reducing my requirements to real needs and the barest
necessaries, I found that three hundred and sixty-five francs sufficed
for a year of penury; and, in fact, I managed to exist on that slender
sum, so long as I submitted to my own claustral discipline."

"Impossible!" cried Emile.

"I lived for nearly three years in that way," Raphael answered, with a
kind of pride. "Let us reckon it out. Three sous for bread, two for
milk, and three for cold meat, kept me from dying of hunger, and my
mind in a state of peculiar lucidity. I have observed, as you know,
the wonderful effects produced by diet upon the imagination. My
lodgings cost me three sous daily; I burnt three sous more in oil at
night; I did my own housework, and wore flannel shirts so as to reduce
the laundress' bill to two sous per day. The money I spent yearly in
coal, if divided up, never cost more than two sous for each day. I had
three years' supply of clothing, and I only dressed when going out to
some library or public lecture. These expenses, all told, only
amounted to eighteen sous, so two were left over for emergencies. I
cannot recollect, during that long period of toil, either crossing the
Pont des Arts, or paying for water; I went out to fetch it every
morning from the fountain in the Place Saint Michel, at the corner of
the Rue de Gres. Oh, I wore my poverty proudly. A man urged on towards
a fair future walks through life like an innocent person to his death;
he feels no shame about it.

"I would not think of illness. Like Aquilina, I faced the hospital
without terror. I had not a moment's doubt of my health, and besides,
the poor can only take to their beds to die. I cut my own hair till
the day when an angel of love and kindness . . . But I do not want to
anticipate the state of things that I shall reach later. You must
simply know that I lived with one grand thought for a mistress, a
dream, an illusion which deceives us all more or less at first. To-day
I laugh at myself, at that self, holy perhaps and heroic, which is now
no more. I have since had a closer view of society and the world, of
our manners and customs, and seen the dangers of my innocent credulity
and the superfluous nature of my fervent toil. Stores of that sort are
quite useless to aspirants for fame. Light should be the baggage of
seekers after fortune!

"Ambitious men spend their youth in rendering themselves worthy of
patronage; it is their great mistake. While the foolish creatures are
laying in stores of knowledge and energy, so that they shall not sink
under the weight of responsible posts that recede from them, schemers
come and go who are wealthy in words and destitute in ideas, astonish
the ignorant, and creep into the confidence of those who have a little
knowledge. While the first kind study, the second march ahead; the one
sort is modest, and the other impudent; the man of genius is silent
about his own merits, but these schemers make a flourish of theirs,
and they are bound to get on. It is so strongly to the interest of men
in office to believe in ready-made capacity, and in brazen-faced
merit, that it is downright childish of the learned to expect material
rewards. I do not seek to paraphrase the commonplace moral, the song
of songs that obscure genius is for ever singing; I want to come, in a
logical manner, by the reason of the frequent successes of mediocrity.
Alas! study shows us such a mother's kindness that it would be a sin
perhaps to ask any other reward of her than the pure and delightful
pleasures with which she sustains her children.

"Often I remember soaking my bread in milk, as I sat by the window to
take the fresh air; while my eyes wandered over a view of roofs--
brown, gray, or red, slated or tiled, and covered with yellow or green
mosses. At first the prospect may have seemed monotonous, but I very
soon found peculiar beauties in it. Sometimes at night, streams of
light through half-closed shutters would light up and color the dark
abysses of this strange landscape. Sometimes the feeble lights of the
street lamps sent up yellow gleams through the fog, and in each street
dimly outlined the undulations of a crowd of roofs, like billows in a
motionless sea. Very occasionally, too, a face appeared in this gloomy
waste; above the flowers in some skyey garden I caught a glimpse of an
old woman's crooked angular profile as she watered her nasturtiums;
or, in a crazy attic window, a young girl, fancying herself quite
alone as she dressed herself--a view of nothing more than a fair
forehead and long tresses held above her by a pretty white arm.

"I liked to see the short-lived plant-life in the gutters--poor weeds
that a storm soon washed away. I studied the mosses, with their colors
revived by showers, or transformed by the sun into a brown velvet that
fitfully caught the light. Such things as these formed my recreations
--the passing poetic moods of daylight, the melancholy mists, sudden
gleams of sunlight, the silence and the magic of night, the mysteries
of dawn, the smoke wreaths from each chimney; every chance event, in
fact, in my curious world became familiar to me. I came to love this
prison of my own choosing. This level Parisian prairie of roofs,
beneath which lay populous abysses, suited my humor, and harmonized
with my thoughts.

"Sudden descents into the world from the divine height of scientific
meditation are very exhausting; and, besides, I had apprehended
perfectly the bare life of the cloister. When I made up my mind to
carry out this new plan of life, I looked for quarters in the most
out-of-the-way parts of Paris. One evening, as I returned home to the
Rue des Cordiers from the Place de l'Estrapade, I saw a girl of
fourteen playing with a battledore at the corner of the Rue de Cluny,
her winsome ways and laughter amused the neighbors. September was not
yet over; it was warm and fine, so that women sat chatting before
their doors as if it were a fete-day in some country town. At first I
watched the charming expression of the girl's face and her graceful
attitudes, her pose fit for a painter. It was a pretty sight. I looked
about me, seeking to understand this blithe simplicity in the midst of
Paris, and saw that the street was a blind alley and but little
frequented. I remembered that Jean Jacques had once lived here, and
looked up the Hotel Saint-Quentin. Its dilapidated condition awakened
hopes of a cheap lodging, and I determined to enter.

"I found myself in a room with a low ceiling; the candles, in classic-
looking copper candle-sticks, were set in a row under each key. The
predominating cleanliness of the room made a striking contrast to the
usual state of such places. This one was as neat as a bit of genre;
there was a charming trimness about the blue coverlet, the cooking
pots and furniture. The mistress of the house rose and came to me. She
seemed to be about forty years of age; sorrows had left their traces
on her features, and weeping had dimmed her eyes. I deferentially
mentioned the amount I could pay; it seemed to cause her no surprise;
she sought out a key from the row, went up to the attics with me, and
showed me a room that looked out on the neighboring roofs and courts;
long poles with linen drying on them hung out of the window.

"Nothing could be uglier than this garret, awaiting its scholar, with
its dingy yellow walls and odor of poverty. The roofing fell in a
steep slope, and the sky was visible through chinks in the tiles.
There was room for a bed, a table, and a few chairs, and beneath the
highest point of the roof my piano could stand. Not being rich enough
to furnish this cage (that might have been one of the Piombi of
Venice), the poor woman had never been able to let it; and as I had
saved from the recent sale the furniture that was in a fashion
peculiarly mine, I very soon came to terms with my landlady, and moved
in on the following day.

"For three years I lived in this airy sepulchre, and worked
unflaggingly day and night; and so great was the pleasure that study
seemed to me the fairest theme and the happiest solution of life. The
tranquillity and peace that a scholar needs is something as sweet and
exhilarating as love. Unspeakable joys are showered on us by the
exertion of our mental faculties; the quest of ideas, and the tranquil
contemplation of knowledge; delights indescribable, because purely
intellectual and impalpable to our senses. So we are obliged to use
material terms to express the mysteries of the soul. The pleasure of
striking out in some lonely lake of clear water, with forests, rocks,
and flowers around, and the soft stirring of the warm breeze,--all
this would give, to those who knew them not, a very faint idea of the
exultation with which my soul bathed itself in the beams of an unknown
light, hearkened to the awful and uncertain voice of inspiration, as
vision upon vision poured from some unknown source through my
throbbing brain.

"No earthly pleasure can compare with the divine delight of watching
the dawn of an idea in the space of abstractions as it rises like the
morning sun; an idea that, better still, attains gradually like a
child to puberty and man's estate. Study lends a kind of enchantment
to all our surroundings. The wretched desk covered with brown leather
at which I wrote, my piano, bed, and armchair, the odd wall-paper and
furniture seemed to have for me a kind of life in them, and to be
humble friends of mine and mute partakers of my destiny. How often
have I confided my soul to them in a glance! A warped bit of beading
often met my eyes, and suggested new developments,--a striking proof
of my system, or a felicitous word by which to render my all but
inexpressible thought. By sheer contemplation of the things about me I
discerned an expression and a character in each. If the setting sun
happened to steal in through my narrow window, they would take new
colors, fade or shine, grow dull or gay, and always amaze me with some
new effect. These trifling incidents of a solitary life, which escape
those preoccupied with outward affairs, make the solace of prisoners.
And what was I but the captive of an idea, imprisoned in my system,
but sustained also by the prospect of a brilliant future? At each
obstacle that I overcame, I seemed to kiss the soft hands of a woman
with a fair face, a wealthy, well-dressed woman, who should some day
say softly, while she caressed my hair:

" 'Poor Angel, how thou hast suffered!'

"I had undertaken two great works--one a comedy that in a very short
time must bring me wealth and fame, and an entry into those circles
whither I wished to return, to exercise the royal privileges of a man
of genius. You all saw nothing in that masterpiece but the blunder of
a young man fresh from college, a babyish fiasco. Your jokes clipped
the wings of a throng of illusions, which have never stirred since
within me. You, dear Emile, alone brought soothing to the deep wounds
that others had made in my heart. You alone will admire my 'Theory of
the Will.' I devoted most of my time to that long work, for which I
studied Oriental languages, physiology and anatomy. If I do not
deceive myself, my labors will complete the task begun by Mesmer,
Lavater, Gall, and Bichat, and open up new paths in science.

"There ends that fair life of mine, the daily sacrifice, the
unrecognized silkworm's toil, that is, perhaps, its own sole
recompense. Since attaining years of discretion, until the day when I
finished my 'Theory,' I observed, learned, wrote, and read
unintermittingly; my life was one long imposition, as schoolboys say.
Though by nature effeminately attached to Oriental indolence, sensual
in tastes, and a wooer of dreams, I worked incessantly, and refused to
taste any of the enjoyments of Parisian life. Though a glutton, I
became abstemious; and loving exercise and sea voyages as I did, and
haunted by the wish to visit many countries, still child enough to
play at ducks and drakes with pebbles over a pond, I led a sedentary
life with a pen in my fingers. I liked talking, but I went to sit and
mutely listen to professors who gave public lectures at the
Bibliotheque or the Museum. I slept upon my solitary pallet like a
Benedictine brother, though woman was my one chimera, a chimera that
fled from me as I wooed it! In short, my life has been a cruel
contradiction, a perpetual cheat. After that, judge a man!

"Sometimes my natural propensities broke out like a fire long
smothered. I was debarred from the women whose society I desired,
stripped of everything and lodged in an artist's garret, and by a sort
of mirage or calenture I was surrounded by captivating mistresses. I
drove through the streets of Paris, lolling on the soft cushions of a
fine equipage. I plunged into dissipation, into corroding vice, I
desired and possessed everything, for fasting had made me light-headed
like the tempted Saint Anthony. Slumber, happily, would put an end at
last to these devastating trances; and on the morrow science would
beckon me, smiling, and I was faithful to her. I imagine that women
reputed virtuous, must often fall a prey to these insane tempests of
desire and passion, which rise in us in spite of ourselves. Such
dreams have a charm of their own; they are something akin to evening
gossip round the winter fire, when one sets out for some voyage in
China. But what becomes of virtue during these delicious excursions,
when fancy overleaps all difficulties?

"During the first ten months of seclusion I led the life of poverty
and solitude that I have described to you; I used to steal out
unobserved every morning to buy my own provisions for the day; I
tidied my room; I was at once master and servant, and played the
Diogenes with incredible spirit. But afterwards, while my hostess and
her daughter watched my ways and behavior, scrutinized my appearance
and divined my poverty, there could not but be some bonds between us;
perhaps because they were themselves so very poor. Pauline, the
charming child, whose latent and unconscious grace had, in a manner,
brought me there, did me many services that I could not well refuse.
All women fallen on evil days are sisters; they speak a common
language; they have the same generosity--the generosity that possesses
nothing, and so is lavish of its affection, of its time, and of its
very self.

"Imperceptibly Pauline took me under her protection, and would do
things for me. No kind of objection was made by her mother, whom I
even surprised mending my linen; she blushed for the charitable
occupation. In spite of myself, they took charge of me, and I accepted
their services.

"In order to understand the peculiar condition of my mind, my
preoccupation with work must be remembered, the tyranny of ideas, and
the instinctive repugnance that a man who leads an intellectual life
must ever feel for the material details of existence. Could I well
repulse the delicate attentions of Pauline, who would noiselessly
bring me my frugal repast, when she noticed that I had taken nothing
for seven or eight hours? She had the tact of a woman and the
inventiveness of a child; she would smile as she made sign to me that
I must not see her. Ariel glided under my roof in the form of a sylph
who foresaw every want of mine.

"One evening Pauline told me her story with touching simplicity. Her
father had been a major in the horse grenadiers of the Imperial Guard.
He had been taken prisoner by the Cossacks, at the passage of
Beresina; and when Napoleon later on proposed an exchange, the Russian
authorities made search for him in Siberia in vain; he had escaped
with a view of reaching India, and since then Mme. Gaudin, my
landlady, could hear no news of her husband. Then came the disasters
of 1814 and 1815; and, left alone and without resource, she had
decided to let furnished lodgings in order to keep herself and her

"She always hoped to see her husband again. Her greatest trouble was
about her daughter's education; the Princess Borghese was her
Pauline's godmother; and Pauline must not be unworthy of the fair
future promised by her imperial protectress. When Mme. Gaudin confided
to me this heavy trouble that preyed upon her, she said, with sharp
pain in her voice, 'I would give up the property and the scrap of
paper that makes Gaudin a baron of the empire, and all our rights to
the endowment of Wistchnau, if only Pauline could be brought up at
Saint-Denis?' Her words struck me; now I could show my gratitude for
the kindnesses expended on me by the two women; all at once the idea
of offering to finish Pauline's education occurred to me; and the
offer was made and accepted in the most perfect simplicity. In this
way I came to have some hours of recreation. Pauline had natural
aptitude; she learned so quickly, that she soon surpassed me at the
piano. As she became accustomed to think aloud in my presence, she
unfolded all the sweet refinements of a heart that was opening itself
out to life, as some flower-cup opens slowly to the sun. She listened
to me, pleased and thoughtful, letting her dark velvet eyes rest upon
me with a half smile in them; she repeated her lessons in soft and
gentle tones, and showed childish glee when I was satisfied with her.
Her mother grew more and more anxious every day to shield the young
girl from every danger (for all the beauty promised in early life was
developing in the crescent moon), and was glad to see her spend whole
days indoors in study. My piano was the only one she could use, and
while I was out she practised on it. When I came home, Pauline would
be in my room, in her shabby dress, but her slightest movement
revealed her slender figure in its attractive grace, in spite of the
coarse materials that she wore. As with the heroine of the fable of
'Peau-d'Ane,' a dainty foot peeped out of the clumsy shoes. But all
her wealth of girlish beauty was as lost upon me. I had laid commands
upon myself to see a sister only in Pauline. I dreaded lest I should
betray her mother's faith in me. I admired the lovely girl as if she
had been a picture, or as the portrait of a dead mistress; she was at
once my child and my statue. For me, another Pygmalion, the maiden
with the hues of life and the living voice was to become a form of
inanimate marble. I was very strict with her, but the more I made her
feel my pedagogue's severity, the more gentle and submissive she grew.

"If a generous feeling strengthened me in my reserve and self-
restraint, prudent considerations were not lacking beside. Integrity
of purpose cannot, I think, fail to accompany integrity in money
matters. To my mind, to become insolvent or to betray a woman is the
same sort of thing. If you love a young girl, or allow yourself to be
beloved by her, a contract is implied, and its conditions should be
thoroughly understood. We are free to break with the woman who sells
herself, but not with the young girl who has given herself to us and
does not know the extent of her sacrifice. I must have married
Pauline, and that would have been madness. Would it not have given
over that sweet girlish heart to terrible misfortunes? My poverty made
its selfish voice heard, and set an iron barrier between that gentle
nature and mine. Besides, I am ashamed to say, that I cannot imagine
love in the midst of poverty. Perhaps this is a vitiation due to that
malady of mankind called civilization; but a woman in squalid poverty
would exert no fascination over me, were she attractive as Homer's
Galatea, the fair Helen.

"Ah, vive l'amour! But let it be in silk and cashmere, surrounded with
the luxury which so marvelously embellishes it; for is it not perhaps
itself a luxury? I enjoy making havoc with an elaborate erection of
scented hair; I like to crush flowers, to disarrange and crease a
smart toilette at will. A bizarre attraction lies for me in burning
eyes that blaze through a lace veil, like flame through cannon smoke.
My way of love would be to mount by a silken ladder, in the silence of
a winter night. And what bliss to reach, all powdered with snow, a
perfumed room, with hangings of painted silk, to find a woman there,
who likewise shakes away the snow from her; for what other name can be
found for the white muslin wrappings that vaguely define her, like
some angel form issuing from a cloud! And then I wish for furtive
joys, for the security of audacity. I want to see once more that woman
of mystery, but let it be in the throng, dazzling, unapproachable,
adored on all sides, dressed in laces and ablaze with diamonds, laying
her commands upon every one; so exalted above us, that she inspires
awe, and none dares to pay his homage to her.

"She gives me a stolen glance, amid her court, a look that exposes the
unreality of all this; that resigns for me the world and all men in
it! Truly I have scorned myself for a passion for a few yards of lace,
velvet, and fine lawn, and the hairdresser's feats of skill; a love of
wax-lights, a carriage and a title, a heraldic coronet painted on
window panes, or engraved by a jeweler; in short, a liking for all
that is adventitious and least woman in woman. I have scorned and
reasoned with myself, but all in vain.

"A woman of rank with her subtle smile, her high-born air, and self-
esteem captivates me. The barriers she erects between herself and the
world awaken my vanity, a good half of love. There would be more
relish for me in bliss that all others envied. If my mistress does
nothing that other women do, and neither lives nor conducts herself
like them, wears a cloak that they cannot attain, breathes a perfume
of her own, then she seems to rise far above me. The further she rises
from earth, even in the earthlier aspects of love, the fairer she
becomes for me.

"Luckily for me we have had no queen in France these twenty years, for
I should have fallen in love with her. A woman must be wealthy to
acquire the manners of a princess. What place had Pauline among these
far-fetched imaginings? Could she bring me the love that is death,
that brings every faculty into play, the nights that are paid for by
life? We hardly die, I think, for an insignificant girl who gives
herself to us; and I could never extinguish these feelings and poet's
dreams within me. I was born for an inaccessible love, and fortune has
overtopped my desire.

"How often have I set satin shoes on Pauline's tiny feet, confined her
form, slender as a young poplar, in a robe of gauze, and thrown a
loose scarf about her as I saw her tread the carpets in her mansion
and led her out to her splendid carriage! In such guise I should have
adored her. I endowed her with all the pride she lacked, stripped her
of her virtues, her natural simple charm, and frank smile, in order to
plunge her heart in our Styx of depravity that makes invulnerable,
load her with our crimes, make of her the fantastical doll of our
drawing-rooms, the frail being who lies about in the morning and comes
to life again at night with the dawn of tapers. Pauline was fresh-
hearted and affectionate--I would have had her cold and formal.

"In the last days of my frantic folly, memory brought Pauline before
me, as it brings the scenes of our childhood, and made me pause to
muse over past delicious moments that softened my heart. I sometimes
saw her, the adorable girl who sat quietly sewing at my table, wrapped
in her meditations; the faint light from my window fell upon her and
was reflected back in silvery rays from her thick black hair;
sometimes I heard her young laughter, or the rich tones of her voice
singing some canzonet that she composed without effort. And often my
Pauline seemed to grow greater, as music flowed from her, and her face
bore a striking resemblance to the noble one that Carlo Dolci chose
for the type of Italy. My cruel memory brought her back athwart the
dissipations of my existence, like a remorse, or a symbol of purity.
But let us leave the poor child to her own fate. Whatever her troubles
may have been, at any rate I protected her from a menacing tempest--I
did not drag her down into my hell.

"Until last winter I led the uneventful studious life of which I have
given you some faint picture. In the earliest days of December 1829, I
came across Rastignac, who, in spite of the shabby condition of my
wardrobe, linked his arm in mine, and inquired into my affairs with a
quite brotherly interest. Caught by his engaging manner, I gave him a
brief account of my life and hopes; he began to laugh, and treated me
as a mixture of a man of genius and a fool. His Gascon accent and
knowledge of the world, the easy life his clever management procured
for him, all produced an irresistible effect upon me. I should die an
unrecognized failure in a hospital, Rastignac said, and be buried in a
pauper's grave. He talked of charlatanism. Every man of genius was a
charlatan, he plainly showed me in that pleasant way of his that makes
him so fascinating. He insisted that I must be out of my senses, and
would be my own death, if I lived on alone in the Rue des Cordiers.
According to him, I ought to go into society, to accustom people to
the sound of my name, and to rid myself of the simple title of
'monsieur' which sits but ill on a great man in his lifetime.

" 'Those who know no better,' he cried, 'call this sort of business
SCHEMING, and moral people condemn it for a "dissipated life." We need
not stop to look at what people think, but see the results. You work,
you say? Very good, but nothing will ever come of that. Now, I am
ready for anything and fit for nothing. As lazy as a lobster? Very
likely, but I succeed everywhere. I go out into society, I push myself
forward, the others make way before me; I brag and am believed; I
incur debts which somebody else pays! Dissipation, dear boy, is a
methodical policy. The life of a man who deliberately runs through his
fortune often becomes a business speculation; his friends, his
pleasures, patrons, and acquaintances are his capital. Suppose a
merchant runs a risk of a million, for twenty years he can neither
sleep, eat, nor amuse himself, he is brooding over his million, it
makes him run about all over Europe; he worries himself, goes to the
devil in every way that man has invented. Then comes a liquidation,
such as I have seen myself, which very often leaves him penniless and
without a reputation or a friend. The spendthrift, on the other hand,
takes life as a serious game and sees his horses run. He loses his
capital, perhaps, but he stands a chance of being nominated Receiver-
General, of making a wealthy marriage, or of an appointment of attache
to a minister or ambassador; and he has his friends left and his name,
and he never wants money. He knows the standing of everybody, and uses
every one for his own benefit. Is this logical, or am I a madman after
all? Haven't you there all the moral of the comedy that goes on every
day in this world? . . . Your work is completed' he went on after a
pause; 'you are immensely clever! Well, you have only arrived at my
starting-point. Now, you had better look after its success yourself;
it is the surest way. You will make allies in every clique, and secure
applause beforehand. I mean to go halves in your glory myself; I shall
be the jeweler who set the diamonds in your crown. Come here to-morrow
evening, by way of a beginning. I will introduce you to a house where
all Paris goes, all OUR Paris, that is--the Paris of exquisites,
millionaires, celebrities, all the folk who talk gold like Chrysostom.
When they have taken up a book, that book becomes the fashion; and
if it is something really good for once, they will have declared it
to be a work of genius without knowing it. If you have any sense, my
dear fellow, you will ensure the success of your "Theory," by a
better understanding of the theory of success. To-morrow evening you
shall go to see that queen of the moment--the beautiful Countess
Foedora. . . .'

" 'I have never heard of her. . . .'

" 'You Hottentot!' laughed Rastignac; 'you do not know Foedora? A
great match with an income of nearly eighty thousand livres, who has
taken a fancy to nobody, or else no one has taken a fancy to her. A
sort of feminine enigma, a half Russian Parisienne, or a half Parisian
Russian. All the romantic productions that never get published are
brought out at her house; she is the handsomest woman in Paris, and
the most gracious! You are not even a Hottentot; you are something
between the Hottentot and the beast. . . . Good-bye till to-morrow.'

"He swung round on his heel and made off without waiting for my
answer. It never occurred to him that a reasoning being could refuse
an introduction to Foedora. How can the fascination of a name be
explained? FOEDORA haunted me like some evil thought, with which you
seek to come to terms. A voice said in me, 'You are going to see
Foedora!' In vain I reasoned with that voice, saying that it lied to
me; all my arguments were defeated by the name 'Foedora.' Was not the
name, and even the woman herself, the symbol of all my desires, and
the object of my life?

"The name called up recollections of the conventional glitter of the
world, the upper world of Paris with its brilliant fetes and the
tinsel of its vanities. The woman brought before me all the problems
of passion on which my mind continually ran. Perhaps it was neither
the woman nor the name, but my own propensities, that sprang up within
me and tempted me afresh. Here was the Countess Foedora, rich and
loveless, proof against the temptations of Paris; was not this woman
the very incarnation of my hopes and visions? I fashioned her for
myself, drew her in fancy, and dreamed of her. I could not sleep that
night; I became her lover; I overbrimmed a few hours with a whole
lifetime--a lover's lifetime; the experience of its prolific delights
burned me.

"The next day I could not bear the tortures of delay; I borrowed a
novel, and spent the whole day over it, so that I could not possibly
think nor keep account of the time till night. Foedora's name echoed
through me even as I read, but only as a distant sound; though it
could be heard, it was not troublesome. Fortunately, I owned a fairly
creditable black coat and a white waistcoat; of all my fortune there
now remained abut thirty francs, which I had distributed about among
my clothes and in my drawers, so as to erect between my whims and the
spending of a five-franc piece a thorny barrier of search, and an
adventurous peregrination round my room. While I as dressing, I dived
about for my money in an ocean of papers. This scarcity of specie will
give you some idea of the value of that squandered upon gloves and
cab-hire; a month's bread disappeared at one fell swoop. Alas! money
is always forthcoming for our caprices; we only grudge the cost of
things that are useful or necessary. We recklessly fling gold to an
opera-dancer, and haggle with a tradesman whose hungry family must
wait for the settlement of our bill. How many men are there that wear
a coat that cost a hundred francs, and carry a diamond in the head of
their cane, and dine for twenty-five SOUS for all that! It seems as
though we could never pay enough for the pleasures of vanity.

"Rastignac, punctual to his appointment, smiled at the transformation,
and joked about it. On the way he gave me benevolent advice as to my
conduct with the countess; he described her as mean, vain, and
suspicious; but though mean, she was ostentatious, her vanity was
transparent, and her mistrust good-humored.

" 'You know I am pledged,' he said, 'and what I should lose, too, if I
tried a change in love. So my observation of Foedora has been quite
cool and disinterested, and my remarks must have some truth in them. I
was looking to your future when I thought of introducing you to her;
so mind very carefully what I am about to say. She has a terrible
memory. She is clever enough to drive a diplomatist wild; she would
know it at once if he spoke the truth. Between ourselves, I fancy that
her marriage was not recognized by the Emperor, for the Russian
ambassador began to smile when I spoke of her; he does not receive her
either, and only bows very coolly if he meets her in the Bois. For all
that, she is in Madame de Serizy's set, and visits Mesdames de
Nucingen and de Restaud. There is no cloud over her here in France;
the Duchesse de Carigliano, the most-strait-laced marechale in the
whole Bonapartist coterie, often goes to spend the summer with her at
her country house. Plenty of young fops, sons of peers of France, have
offered her a title in exchange for her fortune, and she has politely
declined them all. Her susceptibilities, maybe, are not to be touched
by anything less than a count. Aren't you a marquis? Go ahead if you
fancy her. This is what you may call receiving your instructions.'

"His raillery made me think that Rastignac wished to joke and excite
my curiosity, so that I was in a paroxysm of my extemporized passion
by the time that we stopped before a peristyle full of flowers. My
heart beat and my color rose as we went up the great carpeted
staircase, and I noticed about me all the studied refinements of
English comfort; I was infatuatedly bourgeois; I forgot my origin and
all my personal and family pride. Alas! I had but just left a garret,
after three years of poverty, and I could not just then set the
treasures there acquired above such trifles as these. Nor could I
rightly estimate the worth of the vast intellectual capital which
turns to riches at the moment when opportunity comes within our reach,
opportunity that does not overwhelm, because study has prepared us for
the struggles of public life.

"I found a woman of about twenty-two years of age; she was of average
height, was dressed in white, and held a feather fire-screen in her
hand; a group of men stood around her. She rose at the sight of
Rastignac, and came towards us with a gracious smile and a musically-
uttered compliment, prepared no doubt beforehand, for me. Our friend
had spoken of me as a rising man, and his clever way of making the
most of me had procured me this flattering reception. I was confused
by the attention that every one paid to me; but Rastignac had luckily
mentioned my modesty. I was brought in contact with scholars, men of
letters, ex-ministers, and peers of France. The conversation,
interrupted a while by my coming, was resumed. I took courage, feeling
that I had a reputation to maintain, and without abusing my privilege,
I spoke when it fell to me to speak, trying to state the questions at
issue in words more or less profound, witty or trenchant, and I made a
certain sensation. Rastignac was a prophet for the thousandth time in
his life. As soon as the gathering was large enough to restore freedom
to individuals, he took my arm, and we went round the rooms.

" 'Don't look as if you were too much struck by the princess,' he
said, 'or she will guess your object in coming to visit her.'

"The rooms were furnished in excellent taste. Each apartment had a
character of its own, as in wealthy English houses; and the silken
hangings, the style of the furniture, and the ornaments, even the most
trifling, were all subordinated to the original idea. In a gothic
boudoir the doors were concealed by tapestried curtains, and the
paneling by hangings; the clock and the pattern of the carpet were
made to harmonize with the gothic surroundings. The ceiling, with its
carved cross-beams of brown wood, was full of charm and originality;
the panels were beautifully wrought; nothing disturbed the general
harmony of the scheme of decoration, not even the windows with their
rich colored glass. I was surprised by the extensive knowledge of
decoration that some artist had brought to bear on a little modern
room, it was so pleasant and fresh, and not heavy, but subdued with
its dead gold hues. It had all the vague sentiment of a German ballad;
it was a retreat fit for some romance of 1827, perfumed by the exotic
flowers set in their stands. Another apartment in the suite was a
gilded reproduction of the Louis Quatorze period, with modern
paintings on the walls in odd but pleasant contrast.

" 'You would not be so badly lodged,' was Rastignac's slightly
sarcastic comment. 'It is captivating, isn't it?' he added, smiling as
he sat down. Then suddenly he rose, and led me by the hand into a
bedroom, where the softened light fell upon the bed under its canopy
of muslin and white watered silk--a couch for a young fairy betrothed
to one of the genii.

" 'Isn't it wantonly bad taste, insolent and unbounded coquetry,' he
said, lowering his voice, 'that allows us to see this throne of love?
She gives herself to no one, and anybody may leave his card here. If I
were not committed, I should like to see her at my feet all tears and

" 'Are you so certain of her virtue?'

" 'The boldest and even the cleverest adventurers among us,
acknowledge themselves defeated, and continue to be her lovers and
devoted friends. Isn't that woman a puzzle?'

"His words seemed to intoxicate me; I had jealous fears already of the
past. I leapt for joy, and hurried back to the countess, whom I had
seen in the gothic boudoir. She stopped me by a smile, made me sit
beside her, and talked about my work, seeming to take the greatest
interest in it, and all the more when I set forth my theories
amusingly, instead of adopting the formal language of a professor for
their explanation. It seemed to divert her to be told that the human
will was a material force like steam; that in the moral world nothing
could resist its power if a man taught himself to concentrate it, to
economize it, and to project continually its fluid mass in given
directions upon other souls. Such a man, I said, could modify all
things relatively to man, even the peremptory laws of nature. The
questions Foedora raised showed a certain keenness of intellect. I
took a pleasure in deciding some of them in her favor, in order to
flatter her; then I confuted her feminine reasoning with a word, and
roused her curiosity by drawing her attention to an everyday matter--
to sleep, a thing so apparently commonplace, that in reality is an
insoluble problem for science. The countess sat in silence for a
moment when I told her that our ideas were complete organic beings,
existing in an invisible world, and influencing our destinies; and for
witnesses I cited the opinions of Descartes, Diderot, and Napoleon,
who had directed, and still directed, all the currents of the age.

"So I had the honor of amusing this woman; who asked me to come to see
her when she left me; giving me les grande entrees, in the language of
the court. Whether it was by dint of substituting polite formulas for
genuine expressions of feeling, a commendable habit of mine, or
because Foedora hailed in me a coming celebrity, an addition to her
learned menagerie; for some reason I thought that I had pleased her. I
called all my previous physiological studies and knowledge of woman to
my aid, and minutely scrutinized this singular person and her ways all
evening. I concealed myself in the embrasure of a window, and sought
to discover her thoughts from her bearing. I studied the tactics of
the mistress of the house, as she came and went, sat and chatted,
beckoned to this one or that, asked questions, listened to the
answers, as she leaned against the frame of the door; I detected a
languid charm in her movements, a grace in the flutterings of her
dress, remarked the nature of the feelings she so powerfully excited,
and became very incredulous as to her virtue. If Foedora would none of
love to-day, she had had strong passions at some time; past experience
of pleasure showed itself in the attitudes she chose in conversation,
in her coquettish way of leaning against the panel behind her; she
seemed scarcely able to stand alone, and yet ready for flight from too
bold a glance. There was a kind of eloquence about her lightly folded
arms, which, even for benevolent eyes, breathed sentiment. Her fresh
red lips sharply contrasted with her brilliantly pale complexion. Her
brown hair brought out all the golden color in her eyes, in which blue
streaks mingled as in Florentine marble; their expression seemed to
increase the significance of her words. A studied grace lay in the
charms of her bodice. Perhaps a rival might have found the lines of
the thick eyebrows, which almost met, a little hard; or found a fault
in the almost invisible down that covered her features. I saw the
signs of passion everywhere, written on those Italian eyelids, on the
splendid shoulders worthy of the Venus of Milo, on her features, in
the darker shade of down above a somewhat thick under-lip. She was not
merely a woman, but a romance. The whole blended harmony of lines, the
feminine luxuriance of her frame, and its passionate promise, were
subdued by a constant inexplicable reserve and modesty at variance
with everything else about her. It needed an observation as keen as my
own to detect such signs as these in her character. To explain myself
more clearly; there were two women in Foedora, divided perhaps by the
line between head and body: the one, the head alone, seemed to be
susceptible, and the other phlegmatic. She prepared her glance before
she looked at you, something unspeakably mysterious, some inward
convulsion seemed revealed by her glittering eyes.

"So, to be brief, either my imperfect moral science had left me a good
deal to learn in the moral world, or a lofty soul dwelt in the
countess, lent to her face those charms that fascinated and subdued
us, and gave her an ascendency only the more complete because it
comprehended a sympathy of desire.

"I went away completely enraptured with this woman, dazzled by the
luxury around her, gratified in every faculty of my soul--noble and
base, good and evil. When I felt myself so excited, eager, and elated,
I thought I understood the attraction that drew thither those artists,
diplomatists, men in office, those stock-jobbers encased in triple
brass. They came, no doubt, to find in her society the delirious
emotion that now thrilled through every fibre in me, throbbing through
my brain, setting the blood a-tingle in every vein, fretting even the
tiniest nerve. And she had given herself to none, so as to keep them
all. A woman is a coquette so long as she knows not love.

" 'Well,' I said to Rastignac, 'they married her, or sold her perhaps,
to some old man, and recollections of her first marriage have caused
her aversion for love.'

"I walked home from the Faubourg St. Honore, where Foedora lived.
Almost all the breadth of Paris lies between her mansion and the Rue
des Cordiers, but the distance seemed short, in spite of the cold. And
I was to lay siege to Foedora's heart, in winter, and a bitter winter,
with only thirty francs in my possession, and such a distance as that
lay between us! Only a poor man knows what such a passion costs in
cab-hire, gloves, linen, tailor's bills, and the like. If the Platonic
stage lasts a little too long, the affair grows ruinous. As a matter
of fact, there is many a Lauzun among students of law, who finds it
impossible to approach a ladylove living on a first floor. And I,
sickly, thin, poorly dressed, wan and pale as any artist convalescent
after a work, how could I compete with other young men, curled,
handsome, smart, outcravatting Croatia; wealthy men, equipped with
tilburys, and armed with assurance?

" 'Bah, death or Foedora!' I cried, as I went round by a bridge; 'my
fortune lies in Foedora.'

"That gothic boudoir and Louis Quatorze salon came before my eyes. I
saw the countess again in her white dress with its large graceful
sleeves, and all the fascinations of her form and movements. These
pictures of Foedora and her luxurious surroundings haunted me even in
my bare, cold garret, when at last I reached it, as disheveled as any
naturalist's wig. The contrast suggested evil counsel; in such a way
crimes are conceived. I cursed my honest, self-respecting poverty, my
garret where such teeming fancies had stirred within me. I trembled
with fury, I reproached God, the devil, social conditions, my own
father, the whole universe, indeed, with my fate and my misfortunes. I
went hungry to bed, muttering ludicrous imprecations, but fully
determined to win Foedora. Her heart was my last ticket in the
lottery, my fortune depended upon it.

"I spare you the history of my earlier visits, to reach the drama the
sooner. In my efforts to appeal to her, I essayed to engage her
intellect and her vanity on my side; in order to secure her love, I
gave her any quantity of reasons for increasing her self-esteem; I
never left her in a state of indifference; women like emotions at any
cost, I gave them to her in plenty; I would rather have had her angry
with me than indifferent.

"At first, urged by a strong will and a desire for her love, I assumed
a little authority, but my own feelings grew stronger and mastered me;
I relapsed into truth, I lost my head, and fell desperately in love.

"I am not very sure what we mean by the word love in our poetry and
our talk; but I know that I have never found in all the ready
rhetorical phrases of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in whose room perhaps I
was lodging; nor among the feeble inventions of two centuries of our
literature, nor in any picture that Italy has produced, a
representation of the feelings that expanded all at once in my double
nature. The view of the lake of Bienne, some music of Rossini's, the
Madonna of Murillo's now in the possession of General Soult,
Lescombat's letters, a few sayings scattered through collections of
anecdotes; but most of all the prayers of religious ecstatics, and
passages in our fabliaux,--these things alone have power to carry me
back to the divine heights of my first love.

"Nothing expressed in human language, no thought reproducible in
color, marble, sound, or articulate speech, could ever render the
force, the truth, the completeness, the suddenness with which love
awoke in me. To speak of art, is to speak of illusion. Love passes
through endless transformations before it passes for ever into our
existence and makes it glow with its own color of flame. The process
is imperceptible, and baffles the artist's analysis. Its moans and
complaints are tedious to an uninterested spectator. One would need to
be very much in love to share the furious transports of Lovelace, as
one reads Clarissa Harlowe. Love is like some fresh spring, that
leaves its cresses, its gravel bed and flowers to become first a
stream and then a river, changing its aspect and its nature as it
flows to plunge itself in some boundless ocean, where restricted
natures only find monotony, but where great souls are engulfed in
endless contemplation.

"How can I dare to describe the hues of fleeting emotions, the
nothings beyond all price, the spoken accents that beggar language,
the looks that hold more than all the wealth of poetry? Not one of the
mysterious scenes that draw us insensibly nearer and nearer to a
woman, but has depths in it which can swallow up all the poetry that
ever was written. How can the inner life and mystery that stirs in our
souls penetrate through our glozes, when we have not even words to
describe the visible and outward mysteries of beauty? What enchantment
steeped me for how many hours in unspeakable rapture, filled with the
sight of Her! What made me happy? I know not. That face of hers
overflowed with light at such times; it seemed in some way to glow
with it; the outlines of her face, with the scarcely perceptible down
on its delicate surface, shone with a beauty belonging to the far
distant horizon that melts into the sunlight. The light of day seemed
to caress her as she mingled in it; rather it seemed that the light of
her eyes was brighter than the daylight itself; or some shadow passing
over that fair face made a kind of change there, altering its hues and
its expression. Some thought would often seem to glow on her white
brows; her eyes appeared to dilate, and her eyelids trembled; a smile
rippled over her features; the living coral of her lips grew full of
meaning as they closed and unclosed; an indistinguishable something in
her hair made brown shadows on her fair temples; in each new phase
Foedora spoke. Every slight variation in her beauty made a new
pleasure for my eyes, disclosed charms my heart had never known
before; I tried to read a separate emotion or a hope in every change
that passed over her face. This mute converse passed between soul and
soul, like sound and answering echo; and the short-lived delights then
showered upon me have left indelible impressions behind. Her voice
would cause a frenzy in me that I could hardly understand. I could
have copied the example of some prince of Lorraine, and held a live
coal in the hollow of my hand, if her fingers passed caressingly
through my hair the while. I felt no longer mere admiration and
desire: I was under the spell; I had met my destiny. When back again
under my own roof, I still vaguely saw Foedora in her own home, and
had some indefinable share in her life; if she felt ill, I suffered
too. The next day I used to say to her:

" 'You were not well yesterday.'

"How often has she not stood before me, called by the power of
ecstasy, in the silence of the night! Sometimes she would break in
upon me like a ray of light, make me drop my pen, and put science and
study to flight in grief and alarm, as she compelled my admiration by
the alluring pose I had seen but a short time before. Sometimes I went
to seek her in the spirit world, and would bow down to her as to a
hope, entreating her to let me hear the silver sounds of her voice,
and I would wake at length in tears.

"Once, when she had promised to go to the theatre with me, she took it
suddenly into her head to refuse to go out, and begged me to leave her
alone. I was in such despair over the perversity which cost me a day's
work, and (if I must confess it) my last shilling as well, that I went
alone where she was to have been, desiring to see the play she had
wished to see. I had scarcely seated myself when an electric shock
went through me. A voice told me, 'She is here!' I looked round, and
saw the countess hidden in the shadow at the back of her box in the
first tier. My look did not waver; my eyes saw her at once with
incredible clearness; my soul hovered about her life like an insect
above its flower. How had my senses received this warning? There is
something in these inward tremors that shallow people find
astonishing, but the phenomena of our inner consciousness are produced
as simple as those of external vision; so I was not surprised, but
much vexed. My studies of our mental faculties, so little understood,
helped me at any rate to find in my own excitement some living proofs
of my theories. There was something exceedingly odd in this
combination of lover and man of science, of downright idolatry of a
woman with the love of knowledge. The causes of the lover's despair
were highly interesting to the man of science; and the exultant lover,
on the other hand, put science far away from him in his joy. Foedora
saw me, and grew grave: I annoyed her. I went to her box during the
first interval, and finding her alone, I stayed there. Although we had
not spoken of love, I foresaw an explanation. I had not told her my
secret, still there was a kind of understanding between us. She used
to tell me her plans for amusement, and on the previous evening had
asked with friendly eagerness if I meant to call the next day. After
any witticism of hers, she would give me an inquiring glance, as if
she had sought to please me alone by it. She would soothe me if I was
vexed; and if she pouted, I had in some sort a right to ask an
explanation. Before she would pardon any blunder, she would keep me a
suppliant for long. All these things that we so relished, were so many
lovers' quarrels. What arch grace she threw into it all! and what
happiness it was to me!

"But now we stood before each other as strangers, with the close
relation between us both suspended. The countess was glacial: a
presentiment of trouble filled me.

" 'Will you come home with me?' she said, when the play was over.

"There had been a sudden change in the weather, and sleet was falling
in showers as we went out. Foedora's carriage was unable to reach the
doorway of the theatre. At the sight of a well-dressed woman about to
cross the street, a commissionaire held an umbrella above us, and
stood waiting at the carriage-door for his tip. I would have given ten
years of life just then for a couple of halfpence, but I had not a
penny. All the man in me and all my vainest susceptibilities were
wrung with an infernal pain. The words, 'I haven't a penny about me,
my good fellow!' came from me in the hard voice of thwarted passion;
and yet I was that man's brother in misfortune, as I knew too well;
and once I had so lightly paid away seven hundred thousand francs! The
footman pushed the man aside, and the horses sprang forward. As we
returned, Foedora, in real or feigned abstraction, answered all my
questions curtly and by monosyllables. I said no more; it was a
hateful moment. When we reached her house, we seated ourselves by the
hearth, and when the servant had stirred the fire and left us alone,
the countess turned to me with an inexplicable expression, and spoke.
Her manner was almost solemn.

" 'Since my return to France, more than one young man, tempted by my
money, has made proposals to me which would have satisfied my pride. I
have come across men, too, whose attachment was so deep and sincere
that they might have married me even if they had found me the
penniless girl I used to be. Besides these, Monsieur de Valentin, you
must know that new titles and newly-acquired wealth have been also
offered to me, and that I have never received again any of those who
were so ill-advised as to mention love to me. If my regard for you was
but slight, I would not give you this warning, which is dictated by
friendship rather than by pride. A woman lays herself open to a rebuff
of some kind, if she imagines herself to be loved, and declines,
before it is uttered, to listen to language which in its nature
implies a compliment. I am well acquainted with the parts played by
Arsinoe and Araminta, and with the sort of answer I might look for
under such circumstances; but I hope to-day that I shall not find
myself misconstrued by a man of no ordinary character, because I have
frankly spoken my mind.'

"She spoke with the cool self-possession of some attorney or solicitor
explaining the nature of a contract or the conduct of a lawsuit to a
client. There was not the least sign of feeling in the clear soft
tones of her voice. Her steady face and dignified bearing seemed to me
now full of diplomatic reserve and coldness. She had planned this
scene, no doubt, and carefully chosen her words beforehand. Oh, my
friend, there are women who take pleasure in piercing hearts, and
deliberately plunge the dagger back again into the wound; such women
as these cannot but be worshiped, for such women either love or would
fain be loved. A day comes when they make amends for all the pain they
gave us; they repay us for the pangs, the keenness of which they
recognize, in joys a hundred-fold, even as God, they tell us,
recompenses our good works. Does not their perversity spring from the
strength of their feelings? But to be so tortured by a woman, who
slaughters you with indifference! was not the suffering hideous?

"Foedora did not know it, but in that minute she trampled all my hopes
beneath her feet; she maimed my life and she blighted my future with
the cool indifference and unconscious barbarity of an inquisitive
child who plucks its wings from a butterfly.

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