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Title: The Firm of Nucingen
Author: Balzac, Honoré de
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Honore De Balzac

Translated by James Waring

                  TO MADAME ZULMA CARRAUD

  To whom, madame, but to you should I inscribe this work; to you
  whose lofty and candid intellect is a treasury to your friends;
  to you that are to me not only a whole public, but the most
  indulgent of sisters as well? Will you deign to accept a token of
  the friendship of which I am proud? You, and some few souls as
  noble, will grasp the whole of the thought underlying _The Firm of
  Nucingen_, appended to _Cesar Birotteau_. Is there not a whole social
  lesson in the contrast between the two stories?

                                                       DE BALZAC.


You know how slight the partitions are between the private rooms of
fashionable restaurants in Paris; Very’s largest room, for instance, is
cut in two by a removable screen. This Scene is _not_ laid at Very’s,
but in snug quarters, which for reasons of my own I forbear to specify.
We were two, so I will say, like Henri Monnier’s Prudhomme, “I should
not like to compromise _her_!”

We had remarked the want of solidity in the wall-structure, so we talked
with lowered voices as we sat together in the little private room,
lingering over the dainty dishes of a dinner exquisite in more senses
than one. We had come as far as the roast, however, and still we had no
neighbors; no sound came from the next room save the crackling of
the fire. But when the clock struck eight, we heard voices and noisy
footsteps; the waiters brought candles. Evidently there was a party
assembled in the next room, and at the first words I knew at once with
whom we had to do--four bold cormorants as ever sprang from the foam
on the crests of the ever-rising waves of this present generation--four
pleasant young fellows whose existence was problematical, since they
were not known to possess either stock or landed estates, yet they
lived, and lived well. These ingenious _condottieri_ of a modern
industrialism, that has come to be the most ruthless of all warfares,
leave anxieties to their creditors, and keep the pleasures for
themselves. They are careful for nothing, save dress. Still with the
courage of the Jean Bart order, that will smoke cigars on a barrel of
powder (perhaps by way of keeping up their character), with a quizzing
humor that outdoes the minor newspapers, sparing no one, not even
themselves; clear-sighted, wary, keen after business, grasping yet open
handed, envious yet self-complacent, profound politicians by fits and
starts, analyzing everything, guessing everything--not one of these in
question as yet had contrived to make his way in the world which they
chose for their scene of operations. Only one of the four, indeed, had
succeeded in coming as far as the foot of the ladder.

To have money is nothing; the self-made man only finds out all that he
lacks after six months of flatteries. Andoche Finot, the self-made man
in question, stiff, taciturn, cold, and dull-witted, possessed the sort
of spirit which will not shrink from groveling before any creature that
may be of use to him, and the cunning to be insolent when he needs a man
no longer. Like one of the grotesque figures in the ballet in _Gustave_,
he was a marquis behind, a boor in front. And this high-priest of
commerce had a following.

Emile Blondet, Journalist, with abundance of intellectual power,
reckless, brilliant, and indolent, could do anything that he chose, yet
he submitted to be exploited with his eyes open. Treacherous or kind
upon impulse, a man to love, but not to respect; quick-witted as a
_soubrette_, unable to refuse his pen to any one that asked, or his
heart to the first that would borrow it, Emile was the most fascinating
of those light-of-loves of whom a fantastic modern wit declared that “he
liked them better in satin slippers than in boots.”

The third in the party, Couture by name, lived by speculation, grafting
one affair upon another to make the gains pay for the losses. He was
always between wind and water, keeping himself afloat by his bold,
sudden strokes and the nervous energy of his play. Hither and thither
he would swim over the vast sea of interests in Paris, in quest of some
little isle that should be so far a debatable land that he might abide
upon it. Clearly Couture was not in his proper place.

As for the fourth and most malicious personage, his name will be
enough--it was Bixiou! Not (alas!) the Bixiou of 1825, but the Bixiou
of 1836, a misanthropic buffoon, acknowledged supreme, by reason of his
energetic and caustic wit; a very fiend let loose now that he saw how
he had squandered his intellect in pure waste; a Bixiou vexed by the
thought that he had not come by his share of the wreckage in the last
Revolution; a Bixiou with a kick for every one, like Pierrot at the
Funambules. Bixiou had the whole history of his own times at his
finger-ends, more particularly its scandalous chronicle, embellished
by added waggeries of his own. He sprang like a clown upon everybody’s
back, only to do his utmost to leave the executioner’s brand upon every
pair of shoulders.

The first cravings of gluttony satisfied, our neighbors reached the
stage at which we also had arrived, to wit, the dessert; and, as we made
no sign, they believed that they were alone. Thanks to the champagne,
the talk grew confidential as they dallied with the dessert amid the
cigar smoke. Yet through it all you felt the influence of the icy
_esprit_ that leaves the most spontaneous feeling frost-bound and stiff,
that checks the most generous inspirations, and gives a sharp ring to
the laughter. Their table-talk was full of bitter irony which turns
a jest into a sneer; it told of the exhaustion of souls given over
to themselves; of lives with no end in view but the satisfaction of
self--of egoism induced by these times of peace in which we live. I can
think of nothing like it save a pamphlet against mankind at large which
Diderot was afraid to publish, a book that bares man’s breast simply to
expose the plague-sores upon it. We listened to just such a pamphlet
as _Rameau’s Nephew_, spoken aloud in all good faith, in the course of
after-dinner talk in which nothing, not even the point which the speaker
wished to carry, was sacred from epigram; nothing taken for granted,
nothing built up except on ruins, nothing reverenced save the sceptic’s
adopted article of belief--the omnipotence, omniscience, and universal
applicability of money.

After some target practice at the outer circle of their acquaintances,
they turned their ill-natured shafts at their intimate friends. With a
sign I explained my wish to stay and listen as soon as Bixiou took up
his parable, as will shortly be seen. And so we listened to one of
those terrific improvisations which won that artist such a name among
a certain set of seared and jaded spirits; and often interrupted
and resumed though it was, memory serves me as a reporter of it. The
opinions expressed and the form of expression lie alike outside the
conditions of literature. It was, more properly speaking, a medley of
sinister revelations that paint our age, to which indeed no other kind
of story should be told; and, besides, I throw all the responsibility
upon the principal speaker. The pantomime and the gestures that
accompanied Bixiou’s changes of voice, as he acted the parts of the
various persons, must have been perfect, judging by the applause and
admiring comments that broke from his audience of three.

“Then did Rastignac refuse?” asked Blondet, apparently addressing Finot.


“But did you threaten him with the newspapers?” asked Bixiou.

“He began to laugh,” returned Finot.

“Rastignac is the late lamented de Marsay’s direct heir; he will make
his way politically as well as socially,” commented Blondet.

“But how did he make his money?” asked Couture. “In 1819 both he and
the illustrious Bianchon lived in a shabby boarding-house in the Latin
Quarter; his people ate roast cockchafers and their own wine so as to
send him a hundred francs every month. His father’s property was not
worth a thousand crowns; he had two sisters and a brother on his hands,
and now----”

“Now he has an income of forty thousand livres,” continued Finot; “his
sisters had a handsome fortune apiece and married into noble families;
he leaves his mother a life interest in the property----”

“Even in 1827 I have known him without a penny,” said Blondet.

“Oh! in 1827,” said Bixiou.

“Well,” resumed Finot, “yet to-day, as we see, he is in a fair way to be
a Minister, a peer of France--anything that he likes. He broke decently
with Delphine three years ago; he will not marry except on good grounds;
and he may marry a girl of noble family. The chap had the sense to take
up with a wealthy woman.”

“My friends, give him the benefit of extenuating circumstances,” urged
Blondet. “When he escaped the clutches of want, he dropped into the
claws of a very clever man.”

“You know what Nucingen is,” said Bixiou. “In the early days, Delphine
and Rastignac thought him ‘good-natured’; he seemed to regard a wife as
a plaything, an ornament in his house. And that very fact showed me
that the man was square at the base as well as in height,” added Bixiou.
“Nucingen makes no bones about admitting that his wife is his fortune;
she is an indispensable chattel, but a wife takes a second place in the
high-pressure life of a political leader and great capitalist. He once
said in my hearing that Bonaparte had blundered like a bourgeois in his
early relations with Josephine; and that after he had had the spirit to
use her as a stepping-stone, he had made himself ridiculous by trying to
make a companion of her.”

“Any man of unusual powers is bound to take Oriental views of women,”
 said Blondet.

“The Baron blended the opinions of East and West in a charming Parisian
creed. He abhorred de Marsay; de Marsay was unmanageable, but with
Rastignac he was much pleased; he exploited him, though Rastignac
was not aware of it. All the burdens of married life were put on him.
Rastignac bore the brunt of Delphine’s whims; he escorted her to
the Bois de Boulogne; he went with her to the play; and the little
politician and great man of to-day spent a good deal of his life at that
time in writing dainty notes. Eugene was scolded for little nothings
from the first; he was in good spirits when Delphine was cheerful, and
drooped when she felt low; he bore the weight of her confidences and her
ailments; he gave up his time, the hours of his precious youth, to fill
the empty void of that fair Parisian’s idleness. Delphine and he held
high councils on the toilettes which went best together; he stood the
fire of bad temper and broadsides of pouting fits, while she, by way of
trimming the balance, was very nice to the Baron. As for the Baron, he
laughed in his sleeve; but whenever he saw that Rastignac was bending
under the strain of the burden, he made ‘as if he suspected something,’
and reunited the lovers by a common dread.”

“I can imagine that a wealthy wife would have put Rastignac in the
way of a living, and an honorable living, but where did he pick up
his fortune?” asked Couture. “A fortune so considerable as his at the
present day must come from somewhere; and nobody ever accused him of
inventing a good stroke of business.”

“Somebody left it to him,” said Finot.

“Who?” asked Blondet.

“Some fool that he came across,” suggested Couture.

“He did not steal the whole of it, my little dears,” said Bixiou.

     “Let not your terrors rise to fever-heat,
      Our age is lenient with those who cheat.

Now, I will tell you about the beginnings of his fortune. In the first
place, honor to talent! Our friend is not a ‘chap,’ as Finot describes
him, but a gentleman in the English sense, who knows the cards and knows
the game; whom, moreover, the gallery respects. Rastignac has quite as
much intelligence as is needed at a given moment, as if a soldier should
make his courage payable at ninety days’ sight, with three witnesses
and guarantees. He may seem captious, wrong-headed, inconsequent,
vacillating, and without any fixed opinions; but let something serious
turn up, some combination to scheme out, he will not scatter himself
like Blondet here, who chooses these occasions to look at things from
his neighbor’s point of view. Rastignac concentrates himself, pulls
himself together, looks for the point to carry by storm, and goes full
tilt for it. He charges like a Murat, breaks squares, pounds away at
shareholders, promoters, and the whole shop, and returns, when the
breach is made, to his lazy, careless life. Once more he becomes the man
of the South, the man of pleasure, the trifling, idle Rastignac. He has
earned the right of lying in bed till noon because a crisis never finds
him asleep.”

“So far so good, but just get to his fortune,” said Finot.

“Bixiou will lash that off at a stroke,” replied Blondet. “Rastignac’s
fortune was Delphine de Nucingen, a remarkable woman; she combines
boldness with foresight.”

“Did she ever lend you money?” inquired Bixiou. Everybody burst out

“You are mistaken in her,” said Couture, speaking to Blondet; “her
cleverness simply consists in making more or less piquant remarks, in
loving Rastignac with tedious fidelity, and obeying him blindly. She is
a regular Italian.”

“Money apart,” Andoche Finot put in sourly.

“Oh, come, come,” said Bixiou coaxingly; “after what we have just been
saying, will you venture to blame poor Rastignac for living at the
expense of the firm of Nucingen, for being installed in furnished rooms
precisely as La Torpille was once installed by our friend des Lupeaulx?
You would sink to the vulgarity of the Rue Saint-Denis! First of all,
‘in the abstract,’ as Royer-Collard says, the question may abide the
_Kritik of Pure Reason_; as for the impure reason----”

“There he goes!” said Finot, turning to Blondet.

“But there is reason in what he says,” exclaimed Blondet. “The problem
is a very old one; it was the grand secret of the famous duel between La
Chataigneraie and Jarnac. It was cast up to Jarnac that he was on good
terms with his mother-in-law, who, loving him only too well, equipped
him sumptuously. When a thing is so true, it ought not to be said.
Out of devotion to Henry II., who permitted himself this slander, La
Chataigneraie took it upon himself, and there followed the duel which
enriched the French language with the expression _coup de Jarnac_.”

“Oh! does it go so far back? Then it is noble?” said Finot.

“As a proprietor of newspapers and reviews of old standing, you are not
bound to know that,” said Blondet.

“There are women,” Bixiou gravely resumed, “and for that matter, men
too, who can cut their lives in two and give away but one-half. (Remark
how I word my phrase for you in humanitarian language.) For these, all
material interests lie without the range of sentiment. They give
their time, their life, their honor to a woman, and hold that between
themselves it is not the thing to meddle with bits of tissue paper
bearing the legend, ‘_Forgery is punishable with death_.’ And equally
they will take nothing from a woman. Yes, the whole thing is debased if
fusion of interests follows on fusion of souls. This is a doctrine much
preached, and very seldom practised.”

“Oh, what rubbish!” cried Blondet. “The Marechal de Richelieu understood
something of gallantry, and he settled an allowance of a thousand louis
d’or on Mme. de la Popeliniere after that affair of the hiding-place
behind the hearth. Agnes Sorel, in all simplicity, took her fortune to
Charles VII., and the King accepted it. Jacques Coeur kept the crown for
France; he was allowed to do it, and woman-like, France was ungrateful.”

“Gentlemen,” said Bixiou, “a love that does not imply an indissoluble
friendship, to my thinking, is momentary libertinage. What sort of
entire surrender is it that keeps something back? Between these two
diametrically opposed doctrines, the one as profoundly immoral as
the other, there is no possible compromise. It seems to me that any
shrinking from a complete union is surely due to a belief that the union
cannot last, and if so, farewell to illusion. The passion that does not
believe that it will last for ever is a hideous thing. (Here is pure
unadulterated Fenelon for you!) At the same time, those who know the
world, the observer, the man of the world, the wearers of irreproachable
gloves and ties, the men who do not blush to marry a woman for her
money, proclaim the necessity of a complete separation of sentiment and
interest. The other sort are lunatics that love and imagine that they
and the woman they love are the only two beings in the world; for them
millions are dirt; the glove or the camellia flower that She wore is
worth millions. If the squandered filthy lucre is never to be found
again in their possession, you find the remains of floral relics hoarded
in dainty cedar-wood boxes. They cannot distinguish themselves one from
the other; for them there is no ‘I’ left. _Thou_--that is their Word
made flesh. What can you do? Can you stop the course of this ‘hidden
disease of the heart’? There are fools that love without calculation and
wise men that calculate while they love.”

“To my thinking Bixiou is sublime,” cried Blondet. “What does Finot say
to it?”

“Anywhere else,” said Finot, drawing himself up in his cravat, “anywhere
else, I should say, with the ‘gentlemen’; but here, I think----”

“With the scoundrelly scapegraces with whom you have the honor to
associate?” said Bixiou.

“Upon my word, yes.”

“And you?” asked Bixiou, turning to Couture.

“Stuff and nonsense!” cried Couture. “The woman that will not make a
stepping-stone of her body, that the man she singles out may reach his
goal, is a woman that has no heart except for her own purposes.”

“And you, Blondet?”

“I do not preach, I practise.”

“Very good,” rejoined Bixiou in his most ironical tones. “Rastignac was
not of your way of thinking. To take without repaying is detestable, and
even rather bad form; but to take that you may render a hundred-fold,
like the Lord, is a chivalrous deed. This was Rastignac’s view. He felt
profoundly humiliated by his community of interests with Delphine de
Nucingen; I can tell you that he regretted it; I have seen him deploring
his position with tears in his eyes. Yes, he shed tears, he did
indeed--after supper. Well, now to _our_ way of thinking----”

“I say, you are laughing at us,” said Finot.

“Not the least in the world. We were talking of Rastignac. From your
point of view his affliction would be a sign of his corruption; for by
that time he was not nearly so much in love with Delphine. What would
you have? he felt the prick in his heart, poor fellow. But he was a
man of noble descent and profound depravity, whereas we are virtuous
artists. So Rastignac meant to enrich Delphine; he was a poor man, she
a rich woman. Would you believe it?--he succeeded. Rastignac, who might
have fought at need, like Jarnac, went over to the opinion of Henri II.
on the strength of his great maxim, ‘There is no such thing as absolute
right; there are only circumstances.’ This brings us to the history of
his fortune.”

“You might just as well make a start with your story instead of drawing
us on to traduce ourselves,” said Blondet with urbane good humor.

“Aha! my boy,” returned Bixiou, administering a little tap to the back
of Blondet’s head, “you are making up for lost time over the champagne!”

“Oh! by the sacred name of shareholder, get on with your story!” cried

“I was within an ace of it,” retorted Bixiou, “but you with your
profanity have brought me to the climax.”

“Then, are there shareholders in the tale?” inquired Finot.

“Yes; rich as rich can be--like yours.”

“It seems to me,” Finot began stiffly, “that some consideration is owing
to a good fellow to whom you look for a bill for five hundred francs
upon occasion----”

“Waiter!” called Bixiou.

“What do you want with the waiter?” asked Blondet.

“I want five hundred francs to repay Finot, so that I can tear up my I.
O. U. and set my tongue free.”

“Get on with your story,” said Finot, making believe to laugh.

“I take you all to witness that I am not the property of this insolent
fellow, who fancies that my silence is worth no more than five hundred
francs. You will never be a minister if you cannot gauge people’s
consciences. There, my good Finot,” he added soothingly, “I will get on
with my story without personalities, and we shall be quits.”

“Now,” said Couture with a smile, “he will begin to prove for our
benefit that Nucingen made Rastignac’s fortune.”

“You are not so far out as you think,” returned Bixiou. “You do not know
what Nucingen is, financially speaking.”

“Do you know so much as a word as to his beginnings?” asked Blondet.

“I have only known him in his own house,” said Bixiou, “but we may have
seen each other in the street in the old days.”

“The prosperity of the firm of Nucingen is one of the most extraordinary
things seen in our days,” began Blondet. “In 1804 Nucingen’s name was
scarcely known. At that time bankers would have shuddered at the idea of
three hundred thousand francs’ worth of his acceptances in the market.
The great capitalist felt his inferiority. How was he to get known? He
suspended payment. Good! Every market rang with a name hitherto only
known in Strasbourg and the Quartier Poissonniere. He issued deposit
certificates to his creditors, and resumed payment; forthwith people
grew accustomed to his paper all over France. Then an unheard-of-thing
happened--his paper revived, was in demand, and rose in value.
Nucingen’s paper was much inquired for. The year 1815 arrives, my banker
calls in his capital, buys up Government stock before the battle of
Waterloo, suspends payment again in the thick of the crisis, and meets
his engagements with shares in the Wortschin mines, which he
himself issued at twenty per cent more than he gave for them! Yes,
gentlemen!--He took a hundred and fifty thousand bottles of champagne of
Grandet to cover himself (forseeing the failure of the virtuous parent
of the present Comte d’Aubrion), and as much Bordeaux wine of Duberghe
at the same time. Those three hundred thousand bottles which he took
over (and took at thirty sous apiece, my dear boy) he supplied at the
price of six francs per bottle to the Allies in the Palais Royal during
the foreign occupation, between 1817 and 1819. Nucingen’s name and his
paper acquired a European celebrity. The illustrious Baron, so far from
being engulfed like others, rose the higher for calamities. Twice his
arrangements had paid holders of his paper uncommonly well; _he_ try to
swindle them? Impossible. He is supposed to be as honest a man as
you will find. When he suspends payment a third time, his paper will
circulate in Asia, Mexico, and Australia, among the aborigines. No one
but Ouvrard saw through this Alsacien banker, the son of some Jew or
other converted by ambition; Ouvrard said, ‘When Nucingen lets gold go,
you may be sure that it is to catch diamonds.’”

“His crony, du Tillet, is just such another,” said Finot. “And, mind
you, that of birth du Tillet has just precisely as much as is necessary
to exist; the chap had not a farthing in 1814, and you see what he is
now; and he has done something that none of us has managed to do (I am
not speaking of you, Couture), he has had friends instead of enemies.
In fact, he has kept his past life so quiet, that unless you rake the
sewers you are not likely to find out that he was an assistant in a
perfumer’s shop in the Rue Saint Honore, no further back than 1814.”

“Tut, tut, tut!” said Bixiou, “do not think of comparing Nucingen with a
little dabbler like du Tillet, a jackal that gets on in life through his
sense of smell. He scents a carcass by instinct, and comes in time to
get the best bone. Besides, just look at the two men. The one has
a sharp-pointed face like a cat, he is thin and lanky; the other is
cubical, fat, heavy as a sack, imperturbable as a diplomatist. Nucingen
has a thick, heavy hand, and lynx eyes that never light up; his depths
are not in front, but behind; he is inscrutable, you never see what he
is making for. Whereas du Tillet’s cunning, as Napoleon said to somebody
(I have forgotten the name), is like cotton spun too fine, it breaks.”

“I do not myself see that Nucingen has any advantage over du Tillet,”
 said Blondet, “unless it is that he has the sense to see that a
capitalist ought not to rise higher than a baron’s rank, while du Tillet
has a mind to be an Italian count.”

“Blondet--one word, my boy,” put in Couture. “In the first place,
Nucingen dared to say that honesty is simply a question of appearances;
and secondly, to know him well you must be in business yourself. With
him banking is but a single department, and a very small one; he holds
Government contracts for wines, wools, indigoes--anything, in short, on
which any profit can be made. He has an all-round genius. The elephant
of finance would contract to deliver votes on a division, or the Greeks
to the Turks. For him business means the sum-total of varieties; as
Cousin would say, the unity of specialties. Looked at in this way,
banking becomes a kind of statecraft in itself, requiring a powerful
head; and a man thoroughly tempered is drawn on to set himself above the
laws of a morality that cramps him.”

“Right, my son,” said Blondet; “but we, and we alone, can comprehend
that this means bringing war into the financial world. A banker is a
conquering general making sacrifices on a tremendous scale to gain ends
that no one perceives; his soldiers are private people’s interests. He
has stratagems to plan out, partisans to bring into the field, ambushes
to set, towns to take. Most men of this stamp are so close upon the
borders of politics, that in the end they are drawn into public life,
and thereby lose their fortunes. The firm of Necker, for instance, was
ruined in this way; the famous Samuel Bernard was all but ruined. Some
great capitalist in every age makes a colossal fortune, and leaves
behind him neither fortune nor a family; there was the firm of Paris
Brothers, for instance, that helped to pull down Law; there was Law
himself (beside whom other promoters of companies are but pigmies);
there was Bouret and Beaujon--none of them left any representative.
Finance, like Time, devours its own children. If the banker is to
perpetuate himself, he must found a noble house, a dynasty; like the
Fuggers of Antwerp, that lent money to Charles V. and were created
Princes of Babenhausen, a family that exists at this day--in the
_Almanach de Gotha_. The instinct of self-preservation, working it may
be unconsciously, leads the banker to seek a title. Jacques Coeur was
the founder of the great noble house of Noirmoutier, extinct in the
reign of Louis XIII. What power that man had! He was ruined for making
a legitimate king; and he died, prince of an island in the Archipelago,
where he built a magnificent cathedral.”

“Oh! you are giving us an historical lecture, we are wandering away from
the present, the crown has no right of conferring nobility, and barons
and counts are made with closed doors; more is the pity!” said Finot.

“You regret the times of the _savonnette a vilain_, when you could buy
an office that ennobled?” asked Bixiou. “You are right. _Je reviens a
nos moutons_.--Do you know Beaudenord? No? no? no? Ah, well! See how
all things pass away! Poor fellow, ten years ago he was the flower of
dandyism; and now, so thoroughly absorbed that you no more know him than
Finot just now knew the origin of the expression ‘_coup de Jarnac_’--I
repeat that simply for the sake of illustration, and not to tease you,
Finot. Well, it is a fact, he belonged to the Faubourg Saint-Germain.

“Beaudenord is the first pigeon that I will bring on the scene. And, in
the first place, his name was Godefroid de Beaudenord; neither Finot,
nor Blondet, nor Couture, nor I am likely to undervalue such an
advantage as that! After a ball, when a score of pretty women stand
behooded waiting for their carriages, with their husbands and adorers at
their sides, Beaudenord could hear his people called without a pang of
mortification. In the second place, he rejoiced in the full complement
of limbs; he was whole and sound, had no mote in his eyes, no false
hair, no artificial calves; he was neither knock-kneed nor bandy-legged,
his dorsal column was straight, his waist slender, his hands white and
shapely. His hair was black; he was of a complexion neither too pink,
like a grocer’s assistant, nor yet too brown, like a Calabrese. Finally,
and this is an essential point, Beaudenord was not too handsome, like
some of our friends that look rather too much of professional beauties
to be anything else; but no more of that; we have said it, it is
shocking! Well, he was a crack shot, and sat a horse to admiration; he
had fought a duel for a trifle, and had not killed his man.

“If you wish to know in what pure, complete, and unadulterated happiness
consists in this Nineteenth Century in Paris--the happiness, that is to
say, of a young man of twenty-six--do you realize that you must enter
into the infinitely small details of existence? Beaudenord’s bootmaker
had precisely hit off his style of foot; he was well shod; his tailor
loved to clothe him. Godefroid neither rolled his r’s, nor lapsed into
Normanisms nor Gascon; he spoke pure and correct French, and tied his
cravat correctly (like Finot). He had neither father nor mother--such
luck had he!--and his guardian was the Marquis d’Aiglemont, his cousin
by marriage. He could go among city people as he chose, and the Faubourg
Saint-Germain could make no objection; for, fortunately, a young
bachelor is allowed to make his own pleasure his sole rule of life, he
is at liberty to betake himself wherever amusement is to be found, and
to shun the gloomy places where cares flourish and multiply. Finally, he
had been vaccinated (you know what I mean, Blondet).

“And yet, in spite of all these virtues,” continued Bixiou, “he
might very well have been a very unhappy young man. Eh! eh! that word
happiness, unhappily, seems to us to mean something absolute, a delusion
which sets so many wiseacres inquiring what happiness is. A very clever
woman said that ‘Happiness was where you chose to put it.’”

“She formulated a dismal truth,” said Blondet.

“And a moral,” added Finot.

“Double distilled,” said Blondet. “Happiness, like Good, like Evil, is
relative. Wherefore La Fontaine used to hope that in the course of time
the damned would feel as much at home in hell as a fish in water.”

“La Fontaine’s sayings are known in Philistia!” put in Bixiou.

“Happiness at six-and-twenty in Paris is not the happiness of
six-and-twenty at--say Blois,” continued Blondet, taking no notice of
the interruption. “And those that proceed from this text to rail at
the instability of opinion are either knaves or fools for their pains.
Modern medicine, which passed (it is its fairest title to glory) from a
hypothetical to a positive science, through the influence of the great
analytical school of Paris, has proved beyond a doubt that a man is
periodically renewed throughout----”

“New haft, new blade, like Jeannot’s knife, and yet you think that he is
still the same man,” broke in Bixiou. “So there are several lozenges
in the harlequin’s coat that we call happiness; and--well, there was
neither hole nor stain in this Godefroid’s costume. A young man of
six-and-twenty, who would be happy in love, who would be loved, that
is to say, not for his blossoming youth, nor for his wit, nor for his
figure, but spontaneously, and not even merely in return for his own
love; a young man, I say, who has found love in the abstract, to quote
Royer-Collard, might yet very possibly find never a farthing in the
purse which She, loving and beloved, embroidered for him; he might owe
rent to his landlord; he might be unable to pay the bootmaker before
mentioned; his very tailor, like France herself, might at last show
signs of disaffection. In short, he might have love and yet be poor.
And poverty spoils a young man’s happiness, unless he holds our
transcendental views of the fusion of interests. I know nothing more
wearing than happiness within combined with adversity without. It is as
if you had one leg freezing in the draught from the door, and the
other half-roasted by a brazier--as I have at this moment. I hope to
be understood. Comes there an echo from thy waistcoat-pocket, Blondet?
Between ourselves, let the heart alone, it spoils the intellect.

“Let us resume. Godefroid de Beaudenord was respected by his
tradespeople, for they were paid with tolerable regularity. The witty
woman before quoted--I cannot give her name, for she is still living,
thanks to her want of heart----”

“Who is this?”

“The Marquise d’Espard. She said that a young man ought to live on an
entresol; there should be no sign of domesticity about the place; no
cook, no kitchen, an old manservant to wait upon him, and no pretence of
permanence. In her opinion, any other sort of establishment is bad
form. Godefroid de Beaudenord, faithful to this programme, lodged on an
entresol on the Quai Malaquais; he had, however, been obliged to have
this much in common with married couples, he had put a bedstead in his
room, though for that matter it was so narrow that he seldom slept
in it. An Englishwoman might have visited his rooms and found nothing
‘improper’ there. Finot, you have yet to learn the great law of the
‘Improper’ that rules Britain. But, for the sake of the bond between
us--that bill for a thousand francs--I will just give you some idea of
it. I have been in England myself.--I will give him wit enough for a
couple of thousand,” he added in an aside to Blondet.

“In England, Finot, you grow extremely intimate with a woman in the
course of an evening, at a ball or wherever it is; next day you meet
her in the street and look as though you knew her again--‘improper.’--At
dinner you discover a delightful man beneath your left-hand neighbor’s
dresscoat; a clever man; no high mightiness, no constraint, nothing
of an Englishman about him. In accordance with the tradition of
French breeding, so urbane, so gracious as they are, you address your
neighbor--‘improper.’--At a ball you walk up to a pretty woman to ask
her to dance--‘improper.’ You wax enthusiastic, you argue, laugh,
and give yourself out, you fling yourself heart and soul into the
conversation, you give expression to your real feelings, you play
when you are at the card-table, chat while you chat, eat while you
eat--‘improper! improper! improper!’ Stendhal, one of the cleverest and
profoundest minds of the age, hit off the ‘improper’ excellently well
when he said that such-and-such a British peer did not dare to cross his
legs when he sat alone before his own hearth for fear of being improper.
An English gentlewoman, were she one of the rabid ‘Saints’--that most
straitest sect of Protestants that would leave their whole family to
starve if the said family did anything ‘improper’--may play the deuce’s
own delight in her own bedroom, and need not be ‘improper,’ but she
would look on herself as lost if she received a visit from a man of her
acquaintance in the aforesaid room. Thanks to propriety, London and its
inhabitants will be found petrified some of these days.”

“And to think that there are asses here in France that want to import
the solemn tomfoolery that the English keep up among themselves with
that admirable self-possession which you know!” added Blondet. “It is
enough to make any man shudder if he has seen the English at home, and
recollects the charming, gracious French manners. Sir Walter Scott was
afraid to paint women as they are for fear of being ‘improper’; and at
the close of his life repented of the creation of the great character of
Effie in _The Heart of Midlothian_.”

“Do you wish not to be ‘improper’ in England?” asked Bixiou, addressing


“Go to the Tuileries and look at a figure there, something like a
fireman carved in marble [‘Themistocles,’ the statuary calls it), try to
walk like the Commandant’s statue, and you will never be ‘improper.’ It
was through strict observance of the great law of the _im_proper that
Godefroid’s happiness became complete. There is the story:

“Beaudenord had a tiger, not a ‘groom,’ as they write that know nothing
of society. The tiger, a diminutive Irish page called Paddy, Toby,
Joby (which you please), was three feet in height by twenty inches
in breadth, a weasel-faced infant, with nerves of steel tempered in
fire-water, and agile as a squirrel. He drove a landau with a skill
never yet at fault in London or Paris. He had a lizard’s eye, as sharp
as my own, and he could mount a horse like the elder Franconi. With
the rosy cheeks and yellow hair of one of Rubens’ Madonnas he was
double-faced as a prince, and as knowing as an old attorney; in short,
at the age of ten he was nothing more nor less than a blossom of
depravity, gambling and swearing, partial to jam and punch, pert as a
_feuilleton_, impudent and light-fingered as any Paris street-arab. He
had been a source of honor and profit to a well-known English lord,
for whom he had already won seven hundred thousand francs on the
race-course. The aforesaid nobleman set no small store on Toby. His
tiger was a curiosity, the very smallest tiger in town. Perched aloft on
the back of a thoroughbred, Joby looked like a hawk. Yet--the great man
dismissed him. Not for greediness, not for dishonesty, nor murder, nor
rudeness to my lady, nor for cutting holes in my lady’s own woman’s
pockets, nor because he had been ‘got at’ by some of his master’s rivals
on the turf, nor for playing games of a Sunday, nor for bad behavior of
any sort or description. Toby might have done all these things, he might
even have spoken to milord before milord spoke to him, and his noble
master might, perhaps, have pardoned that breach of the law domestic.
Milord would have put up with a good deal from Toby; he was very fond
of him. Toby could drive a tandem dog-cart, riding on the wheeler,
postilion fashion; his legs did not reach the shafts, he looked in fact
very much like one of the cherub heads circling about the Eternal Father
in old Italian pictures. But an English journalist wrote a delicious
description of the little angel, in the course of which he said that
Paddy was quite too pretty for a tiger; in fact, he offered to bet
that Paddy was a tame tigress. The description, on the heads of it,
was calculated to poison minds and end in something ‘improper.’ And
the superlative of ‘improper’ is the way to the gallows. Milord’s
circumspection was highly approved by my lady.

“But poor Toby, now that his precise position in insular zoology had
been called in question, found himself hopelessly out of place. At that
time Godefroid had blossomed out at the French Embassy in London, where
he learned the adventures of Toby, Joby, Paddy. Godefroid found the
infant weeping over a pot of jam (he had already lost the guineas with
which milord gilded his misfortune). Godefroid took possession of him;
and so it fell out that on his return among us he brought back with him
the sweetest thing in tigers from England. He was known by his tiger--as
Couture is known by his waistcoats--and found no difficulty in entering
the fraternity of the club yclept to-day the Grammont. He had
renounced the diplomatic career; he ceased accordingly to alarm the
susceptibilites of the ambitious; and as he had no very dangerous amount
of intellect, he was well looked upon everywhere.

“Some of us would feel mortified if we saw only smiling faces wherever
we went; we enjoy the sour contortions of envy. Godefroid did not like
to be disliked. Every one has his taste. Now for the solid, practical
aspects of life!

“The distinguishing feature of his chambers, where I have licked my lips
over breakfast more than once, was a mysterious dressing-closet, nicely
decorated, and comfortably appointed, with a grate in it and a bath-tub.
It gave upon a narrow staircase, the folding doors were noiseless,
the locks well oiled, the hinges discreet, the window panes of frosted
glass, the curtain impervious to light. While the bedroom was, as
it ought to have been, in a fine disorder which would suit the most
exacting painter in water-colors; while everything therein was redolent
of the Bohemian life of a young man of fashion, the dressing-closet was
like a shrine--white, spotless, neat, and warm. There were no draughts
from door or window, the carpet had been made soft for bare feet hastily
put to the floor in a sudden panic of alarm--which stamps him as your
thoroughbred dandy that knows life; for here, in a few moments, he may
show himself either a noodle or a master in those little details in
which a man’s character is revealed. The Marquise previously quoted--no,
it was the Marquise de Rochefide--came out of that dressing-closet in
a furious rage, and never went back again. She discovered nothing
‘improper’ in it. Godefroid used to keep a little cupboard full of----”

“Waistcoats?” suggested Finot.

“Come, now, just like you, great Turcaret that you are. (I shall never
form that fellow.) Why, no. Full of cakes, and fruit, and dainty little
flasks of Malaga and Lunel; an en cas de nuit in Louis Quatorze’s style;
anything that can tickle the delicate and well-bred appetite of
sixteen quarterings. A knowing old man-servant, very strong in matters
veterinary, waited on the horses and groomed Godefroid. He had been with
the late M. de Beaudenord, Godefroid’s father, and bore Godefroid
an inveterate affection, a kind of heart complaint which has
almost disappeared among domestic servants since savings banks were

“All material well-being is based upon arithmetic. You to whom Paris is
known down to its very excrescences, will see that Beaudenord must have
acquired about seventeen thousand livres per annum; for he paid some
seventeen francs of taxes and spent a thousand crowns on his own whims.
Well, dear boys, when Godefroid came of age, the Marquis d’Aiglemont
submitted to him such an account of his trust as none of us would be
likely to give a nephew; Godefroid’s name was inscribed as the owner of
eighteen thousand livres of _rentes_, a remnant of his father’s wealth
spared by the harrow of the great reduction under the Republic and the
hailstorms of Imperial arrears. D’Aiglemont, that upright guardian, also
put his ward in possession of some thirty thousand francs of savings
invested with the firm of Nucingen; saying with all the charm of a
_grand seigneur_ and the indulgence of a soldier of the Empire, that he
had contrived to put it aside for his ward’s young man’s follies. ‘If
you will take my advice, Godefroid,’ added he, ‘instead of squandering
the money like a fool, as so many young men do, let it go in follies
that will be useful to you afterwards. Take an attache’s post at Turin,
and then go to Naples, and from Naples to London, and you will be
amused and learn something for your money. Afterwards, if you think of a
career, the time and the money will not have been thrown away.’ The late
lamented d’Aiglemont had more sense than people credited him with, which
is more than can be said of some of us.”

“A young fellow that starts with an assured income of eighteen thousand
livres at one-and-twenty is lost,” said Couture.

“Unless he is miserly, or very much above the ordinary level,” added

“Well, Godefroid sojourned in the four capitals of Italy,” continued
Bixiou. “He lived in England and Germany, he spent some little time
at St. Petersburg, he ran over Holland but he parted company with the
aforesaid thirty thousand francs by living as if he had thirty thousand
a year. Everywhere he found the same _supreme de volaille_, the same
aspics, and French wines; he heard French spoken wherever he went--in
short, he never got away from Paris. He ought, of course, to have tried
to deprave his disposition, to fence himself in triple brass, to get rid
of his illusions, to learn to hear anything said without a blush, and
to master the inmost secrets of the Powers.--Pooh! with a good deal of
trouble he equipped himself with four languages--that is to say, he laid
in a stock of four words for one idea. Then he came back, and certain
tedious dowagers, styled ‘conquests’ abroad, were left disconsolate.
Godefroid came back, shy, scarcely formed, a good fellow with a
confiding disposition, incapable of saying ill of any one who honored
him with an admittance to his house, too staunch to be a diplomatist,
altogether he was what we call a thoroughly good fellow.”

“To cut it short, a brat with eighteen thousand livres per annum to drop
over the first investment that turns up,” said Couture.

“That confounded Couture has such a habit of anticipating dividends,
that he is anticipating the end of my tale. Where was I? Oh! Beaudenord
came back. When he took up his abode on the Quai Malaquais, it came
to pass that a thousand francs over and above his needs was altogether
insufficient to keep up his share of a box at the Italiens and the Opera
properly. When he lost twenty-five or thirty louis at play at one swoop,
naturally he paid; when he won, he spent the money; so should we if we
were fools enough to be drawn into a bet. Beaudenord, feeling pinched
with his eighteen thousand francs, saw the necessity of creating what we
to-day call a balance in hand. It was a great notion of his ‘not to get
too deep.’ He took counsel of his sometime guardian. ‘The funds are now
at par, my dear boy,’ quoth d’Aiglemont; ‘sell out. I have sold mine and
my wife’s. Nucingen has all my capital, and is giving me six per cent;
do likewise, you will have one per cent the more upon your capital, and
with that you will be quite comfortable.’

“In three days’ time our Godefroid was comfortable. His increase of
income exactly supplied his superfluities; his material happiness was

“Suppose that it were possible to read the minds of all the young men in
Paris at one glance (as, it appears, will be done at the Day of Judgment
with all the millions upon millions that have groveled in all spheres,
and worn all uniforms or the uniform of nature), and to ask them whether
happiness at six-and-twenty is or is not made up of the following
items--to wit, to own a saddle-horse and a tilbury, or a cab, with a
fresh, rosy-faced Toby Joby Paddy no bigger than your fist, and to
hire an unimpeachable brougham for twelve francs an evening; to appear
elegantly arrayed, agreeably to the laws that regulate a man’s clothes,
at eight o’clock, at noon, four o’clock in the afternoon, and in
the evening; to be well received at every embassy, and to cull the
short-lived flowers of superficial, cosmopolitan friendships; to be
not insufferably handsome, to carry your head, your coat, and your name
well; to inhabit a charming little entresol after the pattern of the
rooms just described on the Quai Malaquais; to be able to ask a party
of friends to dine at the _Rocher de Cancale_ without a previous
consultation with your trousers’ pocket; never to be pulled up in any
rational project by the words, ‘And the money?’ and finally, to be able
to renew at pleasure the pink rosettes that adorn the ears of three
thoroughbreds and the lining of your hat?

“To such inquiry any ordinary young man (and we ourselves that are not
ordinary men) would reply that the happiness is incomplete; that it is
like the Madeleine without the altar; that a man must love and be loved,
or love without return, or be loved without loving, or love at cross
purposes. Now for happiness as a mental condition.

“In January 1823, after Godefroid de Beaudenord had set foot in the
various social circles which it pleased him to enter, and knew his
way about in them, and felt himself secure amid these joys, he saw
the necessity of a sunshade--the advantage of having a great lady to
complain of, instead of chewing the stems of roses bought for fivepence
apiece of Mme. Prevost, after the manner of the callow youngsters that
chirp and cackle in the lobbies of the Opera, like chickens in a
coop. In short, he resolved to centre his ideas, his sentiments, his
affections upon a woman, _one woman_?--LA PHAMME! Ah!....

“At first he conceived the preposterous notion of an unhappy passion,
and gyrated for a while about his fair cousin, Mme. d’Aiglemont,
not perceiving that she had already danced the waltz in Faust with
a diplomatist. The year ‘25 went by, spent in tentatives, in futile
flirtations, and an unsuccessful quest. The loving object of which he
was in search did not appear. Passion is extremely rare; and in our
time as many barriers have been raised against passion in social life
as barricades in the streets. In truth, my brothers, the ‘improper’ is
gaining upon us, I tell you!

“As we may incur reproach for following on the heels of portrait
painters, auctioneers, and fashionable dressmakers, I will not inflict
any description upon you of _her_ in whom Godefroid recognized the
female of his species. Age, nineteen; height, four feet eleven inches;
fair hair, eyebrows _idem_, blue eyes, forehead neither high nor
low, curved nose, little mouth, short turned-up chin, oval face;
distinguishing signs--none. Such was the description on the passport
of the beloved object. You will not ask more than the police, or their
worships the mayors, of all the towns and communes of France, the
gendarmes and the rest of the powers that be? In other respects--I give
you my word for it--she was a rough sketch of a Venus dei Medici.

“The first time that Godefroid went to one of the balls for which Mme.
de Nucingen enjoyed a certain not undeserved reputation, he caught a
glimpse of his future lady-love in a quadrille, and was set marveling
by that height of four feet eleven inches. The fair hair rippled in a
shower of curls about the little girlish head, she looked as fresh as a
naiad peeping out through the crystal pane of her stream to take a look
at the spring flowers. (This is quite in the modern style, strings of
phrases as endless as the macaroni on the table a while ago.) On that
‘eyebrows _idem_’ (no offence to the prefect of police) Parny, that
writer of light and playful verse, would have hung half-a-dozen
couplets, comparing them very agreeably to Cupid’s bow, at the same time
bidding us to observe that the dart was beneath; the said dart,
however, was neither very potent nor very penetrating, for as yet it
was controlled by the namby-pamby sweetness of a Mlle. de la Valliere
as depicted on fire-screens, at the moment when she solemnizes her
betrothal in the sight of heaven, any solemnization before the registrar
being quite out to the question.

“You know the effect of fair hair and blue eyes in the soft, voluptuous
decorous dance? Such a girl does not knock audaciously at your heart,
like the dark-haired damsels that seem to say after the fashion of
Spanish beggars, ‘Your money or your life; give me five francs or take
my contempt!’ These insolent and somewhat dangerous beauties may find
favor in the sight of many men, but to my thinking the blonde that has
the good fortune to look extremely tender and yielding, while foregoing
none of her rights to scold, to tease, to use unmeasured language, to
be jealous without grounds, to do anything, in short, that makes woman
adorable,--the fair-haired girl, I say, will always be more sure to
marry than the ardent brunette. Firewood is dear, you see.

“Isaure, white as an Alsacienne (she first saw the light at Strasbourg,
and spoke German with a slight and very agreeable French accent), danced
to admiration. Her feet, omitted on the passport, though they really
might have found a place there under the heading Distinguishing Signs,
were remarkable for their small size, and for that particular something
which old-fashioned dancing masters used to call flic-flac, a something
that put you in mind of Mlle. Mars’ agreeable delivery, for all the
Muses are sisters, and the dancer and poet alike have their feet upon
the earth. Isaure’s feet spoke lightly and swiftly with a clearness
and precision which augured well for things of the heart. ‘_Elle a duc
flic-flac_,’ was old Marcel’s highest word of praise, and old Marcel was
the dancing master that deserved the epithet of ‘the Great.’ People used
to say ‘the Great Marcel,’ as they said ‘Frederick the Great,’ and in
Frederick’s time.”

“Did Marcel compose any ballets?” inquired Finot.

“Yes, something in the style of _Les Quatre Elements_ and _L’Europe

“What times they were, when great nobles dressed the dancers!” said

“Improper!” said Bixiou. “Isaure did not raise herself on the tips of
her toes, she stayed on the ground, she swayed in the dance without
jerks, and neither more nor less voluptuously than a young lady ought
to do. There was a profound philosophy in Marcel’s remark that every
age and condition had its dance; a married woman should not dance like
a young girl, nor a little jackanapes like a capitalist, nor a soldier
like a page; he even went so far as to say that the infantry ought not
to dance like the cavalry, and from this point he proceeded to classify
the world at large. All these fine distinctions seem very far away.”

“Ah!” said Blondet, “you have set your finger on a great calamity. If
Marcel had been properly understood, there would have been no French

“It had been Godefroid’s privilege to run over Europe,” resumed Bixiou,
“nor had he neglected his opportunities of making a thorough comparative
study of European dancing. Perhaps but for profound diligence in the
pursuit of what is usually held to be useless knowledge, he would never
have fallen in love with this young lady; as it was, out of the three
hundred guests that crowded the handsome rooms in the Rue Saint-Lazare,
he alone comprehended the unpublished romance revealed by a garrulous
quadrille. People certainly noticed Isaure d’Aldrigger’s dancing; but in
this present century the cry is ‘Skim lightly over the surface, do not
lean your weight on it;’ so one said (he was a notary’s clerk), ‘There
is a girl that dances uncommonly well;’ another (a lady in a turban),
‘There is a young lady that dances enchantingly;’ and a third (a woman
of thirty), ‘That little thing is not dancing badly.’--But to return to
the great Marcel, let us parody his best known saying with, ‘How much
there is in an _avant-deux_.’”

“And let us get on a little faster,” said Blondet; “you are maundering.”

“Isaure,” continued Bixiou, looking askance at Blondet, “wore a simple
white crepe dress with green ribbons; she had a camellia in her hair,
a camellia at her waist, another camellia at her skirt-hem, and a

“Come, now! here comes Sancho’s three hundred goats.”

“Therein lies all literature, dear boy. _Clarissa_ is a masterpiece,
there are fourteen volumes of her, and the most wooden-headed playwright
would give you the whole of _Clarissa_ in a single act. So long as I
amuse you, what have you to complain of? That costume was positively
lovely. Don’t you like camillias? Would you rather have dahlias? No?
Very good, chestnuts then, here’s for you.” (And probably Bixiou flung a
chestnut across the table, for we heard something drop on a plate.)

“I was wrong, I acknowledge it. Go on,” said Blondet.

“I resume. ‘Pretty enough to marry, isn’t she?’ said Rastignac, coming
up to Godefroid de Beaudenord, and indicating the little one with the
spotless white camellias, every petal intact.

“Rastignac being an intimate friend, Godefroid answered in a low
voice, ‘Well, so I was thinking. I was saying to myself that instead of
enjoying my happiness with fear and trembling at every moment; instead
of taking a world of trouble to whisper a word in an inattentive ear,
of looking over the house at the Italiens to see if some one wears a red
flower or a white in her hair, or watching along the Corso for a gloved
hand on a carriage door, as we used to do at Milan; instead of snatching
a mouthful of baba like a lackey finishing off a bottle behind a door,
or wearing out one’s wits with giving and receiving letters like a
postman--letters that consist not of a mere couple of tender lines, but
expand to five folio volumes to-day and contract to a couple of sheets
to-morrow (a tiresome practice); instead of dragging along over the
ruts and dodging behind hedges--it would be better to give way to the
adorable passion that Jean-Jacques Rousseau envied, to fall frankly in
love with a girl like Isaure, with a view to making her my wife, if upon
exchange of sentiments our hearts respond to each other; to be Werther,
in short, with a happy ending.’

“‘Which is a common weakness,’ returned Rastignac without laughing.
‘Possibly in your place I might plunge into the unspeakable delights of
that ascetic course; it possesses the merits of novelty and originality,
and it is not very expensive. Your Monna Lisa is sweet, but inane as
music for the ballet; I give you warning.’

“Rastignac made this last remark in a way which set Beaudenord thinking
that his friend had his own motives for disenchanting him; Beaudenord
had not been a diplomatist for nothing; he fancied that Rastignac wanted
to cut him out. If a man mistakes his vocation, the false start none the
less influences him for the rest of his life. Godefroid was so evidently
smitten with Mlle. Isaure d’Aldrigger, that Rastignac went off to a tall
girl chatting in the card-room.--‘Malvina,’ he said, lowering his voice,
‘your sister has just netted a fish worth eighteen thousand francs a
year. He has a name, a manner, and a certain position in the world;
keep an eye on them; be careful to gain Isaure’s confidence; and if
they philander, do not let her send word to him unless you have seen it

“Towards two o’clock in the morning, Isaure was standing beside a
diminutive Shepherdess of the Alps, a little woman of forty, coquettish
as a Zerlina. A footman announced that ‘Mme. la Baronne’s carriage stops
the way,’ and Godefroid forthwith saw his beautiful maiden out of a
German song draw her fantastical mother into the cloakroom, whither
Malvina followed them; and (boy that he was) he must needs go to
discover into what pot of preserves the infant Joby had fallen, and
had the pleasure of watching Isaure and Malvina coaxing that sparkling
person, their mamma, into her pelisse, with all the little tender
precautions required for a night journey in Paris. Of course, the girls
on their side watched Beaudenord out of the corners of their eyes, as
well-taught kittens watch a mouse, without seeming to see it at all.
With a certain satisfaction Beaudenord noted the bearing, manner, and
appearance, of the tall well-gloved Alsacien servant in livery who
brought three pairs of fur-lined overshoes for his mistresses.

“Never were two sisters more unlike than Isaure and Malvina. Malvina
the elder was tall and dark-haired, Isaure was short and fair, and
her features were finely and delicately cut, while her sister’s were
vigorous and striking. Isaure was one of those women who reign like
queens through their weakness, such a woman as a schoolboy would feel it
incumbent upon him to protect; Malvina was the _Andalouse_ of Musset’s
poem. As the sisters stood together, Isaure looked like a miniature
beside a portrait in oils.

“‘She is rich!’ exclaimed Godefroid, going back to Rastignac in the


“‘That young lady.’

“‘Oh, Isaure d’Aldrigger? Why, yes. The mother is a widow; Nucingen was
once a clerk in her husband’s bank at Strasbourg. Do you want to see
them again? Just turn off a compliment for Mme. de Restaud; she is
giving a ball the day after to-morrow; the Baroness d’Aldrigger and her
two daughters will be there. You will have an invitation.’

“For three days Godefroid beheld Isaure in the camera obscura of his
brain--_his_ Isaure with her white camellias and the little ways she
had with her head--saw her as you see the bright thing on which you have
been gazing after your eyes are shut, a picture grown somewhat
smaller; a radiant, brightly-colored vision flashing out of a vortex of

“Bixiou, you are dropping into phenomena, block us out our pictures,”
 put in Couture.

“Here you are, gentlemen! Here is the picture you ordered!” (from the
tones of Bixiou’s voice, he evidently was posing as a waiter.) “Finot,
attention, one has to pull at your mouth as a jarvie pulls at his
jade. In Madame Theodora Marguerite Wilhelmine Adolphus (of the firm of
Adolphus and Company, Manheim), relict of the late Baron d’Aldrigger,
you might expect to find a stout, comfortable German, compact and
prudent, with a fair complexion mellowed to the tint of the foam on
a pot of beer; and as to virtues, rich in all the patriarchal good
qualities that Germany possesses--in romances, that is to say. Well
there was not a gray hair in the frisky ringlets that she wore on either
side of her face; she was still as fresh and as brightly colored on
the cheek-bone as a Nuremberg doll; her eyes were lively and bright; a
closely-fitting bodice set off the slenderness of her waist. Her brow
and temples were furrowed by a few involuntary wrinkles which, like
Ninon, she would fain have banished from her head to her heel, but they
persisted in tracing their zigzags in the more conspicuous place. The
outlines of the nose had somewhat fallen away, and the tip had reddened,
and this was the more awkward because it matched the color on the

“An only daughter and an heiress, spoilt by her father and mother,
spoilt by her husband and the city of Strasbourg, spoilt still by two
daughters who worshiped their mother, the Baroness d’Aldrigger indulged
a taste for rose color, short petticoats, and a knot of ribbon at the
point of the tightly-fitting corselet bodice. Any Parisian meeting the
Baroness on the boulevard would smile and condemn her outright; he does
not admit any plea of extenuating circumstances, like a modern jury on a
case of fratricide. A scoffer is always superficial, and in consequence
cruel; the rascal never thinks of throwing the proper share of ridicule
on society that made the individual what he is; for Nature only makes
dull animals of us, we owe the fool to artificial conditions.”

“The thing that I admire about Bixiou is his completeness,” said
Blondet; “whenever he is not gibing at others, he is laughing at

“I will be even with you for that, Blondet,” returned Bixiou in a
significant tone. “If the little Baroness was giddy, careless, selfish,
and incapable in practical matters, she was not accountable for her
sins; the responsibility is divided between the firm of Adolphus and
Company of Manheim and Baron d’Aldrigger with his blind love for his
wife. The Baroness was a gentle as a lamb; she had a soft heart that was
very readily moved; unluckily, the emotion never lasted long, but it was
all the more frequently renewed.

“When the Baron died, for instance, the Shepherdess all but followed
him to the tomb, so violent and sincere was her grief, but--next morning
there was green peas at lunch, she was fond of green peas, the delicious
green peas calmed the crisis. Her daughters and her servants loved her
so blindly that the whole household rejoiced over a circumstance that
enabled them to hide the dolorous spectacle of the funeral from the
sorrowing Baroness. Isaure and Malvina would not allow their idolized
mother to see their tears.

“While the Requiem was chanted, they diverted her thoughts to the choice
of mourning dresses. While the coffin was placed in the huge, black and
white, wax-besprinkled catafalque that does duty for some three
thousand dead in the course of its career--so I was informed by a
philosophically-minded mute whom I once consulted on a point over a
couple of glasses of _petit blanc_--while an indifferent priest mumbling
the office for the dead, do you know what the friends of the departed
were saying as, all dressed in black from head to foot, they sat or
stood in the church? (Here is the picture you ordered.) Stay, do you see

“‘How much do you suppose old d’Aldrigger will leave?’ Desroches asked
of Taillefer.--You remember Taillefer that gave us the finest orgy ever
known not long before he died?”

“He was in treaty for practice in 1822,” said Couture. “It was a bold
thing to do, for he was the son of a poor clerk who never made more than
eighteen hundred francs a year, and his mother sold stamped paper. But
he worked very hard from 1818 to 1822. He was Derville’s fourth clerk
when he came; and in 1819 he was second!”


“Yes. Desroches, like the rest of us, once groveled in the poverty of
Job. He grew so tired of wearing coats too tight and sleeves too short
for him, that he swallowed down the law in desperation and had just
bought a bare license. He was a licensed attorney, without a penny, or a
client, or any friends beyond our set; and he was bound to pay interest
on the purchase-money and the cautionary deposit besides.”

“He used to make me feel as if I had met a tiger escaped from the Jardin
des Plantes,” said Couture. “He was lean and red-haired, his eyes were
the color of Spanish snuff, and his complexion was harsh. He looked cold
and phlegmatic. He was hard upon the widow, pitiless to the orphan,
and a terror to his clerks; they were not allowed to waste a minute.
Learned, crafty, double-faced, honey-tongued, never flying into a
passion, rancorous in his judicial way.”

“But there is goodness in him,” cried Finot; “he is devoted to his
friends. The first thing he did was to take Godeschal, Mariette’s
brother, as his head-clerk.”

“At Paris,” said Blondet, “there are attorneys of two shades. There
is the honest man attorney; he abides within the province of the law,
pushes on his cases, neglects no one, never runs after business, gives
his clients his honest opinion, and makes them compromise on doubtful
points--he is a Derville, in short. Then there is the starveling
attorney, to whom anything seems good provided that he is sure of
expenses; he will set, not mountains fighting, for he sells them, but
planets; he will work to make the worse appear the better cause, and
take advantage of a technical error to win the day for a rogue. If one
of these fellows tries one of Maitre Gonin’s tricks once too often,
the guild forces him to sell his connection. Desroches, our friend
Desroches, understood the full resources of a trade carried on in a
beggarly way enough by poor devils; he would buy up causes of men
who feared to lose the day; he plunged into chicanery with a fixed
determination to make money by it. He was right; he did his business
very honestly. He found influence among men in public life by getting
them out of awkward complications; there was our dear les Lupeaulx, for
instance, whose position was so deeply compromised. And Desroches stood
in need of influence; for when he began, he was anything but well looked
on at the court, and he who took so much trouble to rectify the errors
of his clients was often in trouble himself. See now, Bixiou, to go back
to the subject--How came Desroches to be in the church?”

“‘D’Aldrigger is leaving seven or eight hundred thousand francs,’
Taillefer answered, addressing Desroches.

“‘Oh, pooh, there is only one man who knows how much _they_ are worth,’
put in Werbrust, a friend of the deceased.


“‘That fat rogue Nucingen; he will go as far as the cemetery;
d’Aldrigger was his master once, and out of gratitude he put the old
man’s capital into his business.’

“‘The widow will soon feel a great difference.’

“‘What do you mean?’

“‘Well, d’Aldrigger was so fond of his wife. Now, don’t laugh, people
are looking at us.’

“‘Look here comes du Tillet; he is very late. The epistle is just

“‘He will marry the eldest girl in all probability.’

“‘Is it possible?’ asked Desroches; ‘why, he is tied more than ever to
Mme. Roguin.’

“‘_Tied_--he?--You do not know him.’

“‘Do you know how Nucingen and du Tillet stand?’ asked Desroches.

“‘Like this,’ said Taillefer; ‘Nucingen is just the man to swallow down
his old master’s capital, and then to disgorge it.’

“‘Ugh! ugh!’ coughed Werbrust, ‘these churches are confoundedly damp;
ugh! ugh! What do you mean by “disgorge it”’?

“‘Well, Nucingen knows that du Tillet has a lot of money; he wants to
marry him to Malvina; but du Tillet is shy of Nucingen. To a looker-on,
the game is good fun.’

“‘What!’ exclaimed Werbrust, ‘is she old enough to marry? How quickly we
grow old!’

“‘Malvina d’Aldrigger is quite twenty years old, my dear fellow. Old
d’Aldrigger was married in 1800. He gave some rather fine entertainments
in Strasbourg at the time of his wedding, and afterwards when Malvina
was born. That was in 1801 at the peace of Amiens, and here are we in
the year 1823, Daddy Werbrust! In those days everything was Ossianized;
he called his daughter Malvina. Six years afterwards there was a rage
for chivalry, _Partant pour la Syrie_--a pack of nonsense--and he
christened his second daughter Isaure. She is seventeen. So there are
two daughters to marry.’

“‘The women will not have a penny left in ten years’ time,’ said
Werbrust, speaking to Desroches in a confidential tone.

“‘There is d’Aldrigger’s man-servant, the old fellow bellowing away at
the back of the church; he has been with them since the two young ladies
were children, and he is capable of anything to keep enough together for
them to live upon,’ said Taillefer.

“_Dies iroe_! (from the minor cannons). _Dies illa_! (from the

“‘Good-day, Werbrust (from Taillefer), the _Dies iroe_ puts me too much
in mind of my poor boy.’

“‘I shall go too; it is too damp in here,’ said Werbrust.

“_In favilla_.

“‘A few halfpence, kind gentlemen!’ (from the beggars at the door).

“‘For the expenses of the church!’ (from the beadle, with a rattling
clatter of the money-box).

“‘_Amen_’ (from the choristers).

“‘What did he die of?’ (from a friend).

“‘He broke a blood-vessel in the heel’ (from an inquisitive wag).

“‘Who is dead?’ (from a passer-by).

“‘The President de Montesquieu!’ (from a relative).

“The sacristan to the poor, ‘Get away, all of you; the money for you has
been given to us; don’t ask for any more.’”

“Done to the life!” cried Couture. And indeed it seemed to us that we
heard all that went on in the church. Bixiou imitated everything, even
the shuffling sound of the feet of the men that carried the coffin over
the stone floor.

“There are poets and romancers and writers that say many fine things
abut Parisian manners,” continued Bixiou, “but that is what really
happens at a funeral. Ninety-nine out of a hundred that come to pay
their respects to some poor devil departed, get together and talk
business or pleasure in the middle of the church. To see some poor
little touch of real sorrow, you need an impossible combination of
circumstances. And, after all, is there such a thing as grief without a
thought of self in it?”

“Ugh!” said Blondet. “Nothing is less respected than death; is it that
there is nothing less respectable?”

“It is so common!” resumed Bixiou. “When the service was over Nucingen
and du Tillet went to the graveside. The old man-servant walked;
Nucingen and du Tillet were put at the head of the procession of
mourning coaches.--‘Goot, mein goot friend,’ said Nucingen as they
turned into the boulevard. ‘It ees a goot time to marry Malfina; you
vill be der brodector off that boor family vat ess in tears; you
vill haf ein family, a home off your own; you vill haf a house ready
vurnished, und Malfina is truly ein dreashure.’”

“I seem to hear that old Robert Macaire of a Nucingen himself,” said

“‘A charming girl,’ said Ferdinand du Tillet in a cool, unenthusiastic
tone,” Bixiou continued.

“Just du Tillet himself summed up in a word!” cried Couture.

“‘Those that do not know her may think her plain,’ pursued du Tillet,
‘but she has character, I admit.’

“‘Und ein herz, dot is the pest of die pizness, mein der poy; she vould
make you an indelligent und defoted vife. In our beastly pizness, nopody
cares to know who lifs or dies; it is a crate plessing gif a mann kann
put drust in his vife’s heart. Mein Telvine prouht me more as a million,
as you know, but I should gladly gif her for Malfina dot haf not so pig
a _dot_.’

“‘But how much has she?’

“‘I do not know precisely; boot she haf somdings.’

“‘Yes, she has a mother with a great liking for rose-color.’ said du
Tillet; and with that epigram he cut Nucingen’s diplomatic efforts

“After dinner the Baron de Nucingen informed Wilhelmine Adolphus that
she had barely four hundred thousand francs deposited with him.
The daughter of Adolphus of Manheim, thus reduced to an income of
twenty-four thousand livres, lost herself in arithmetical exercises that
muddled her wits.

“‘I have _always_ had six thousand francs for our dress allowance,’ she
said to Malvina. ‘Why, how did your father find money? We shall have
nothing now with twenty-four thousand francs; it is destitution! Oh! if
my father could see me so come down in the world, it would kill him if
he were not dead already! Poor Wilhelmine!’ and she began to cry.

“Malvina, puzzled to know how to comfort her mother, represented to her
that she was still young and pretty, that rose-color still became her,
that she could continue to go to the Opera and the Bouffons, where Mme.
de Nucingen had a box. And so with visions of gaieties, dances, music,
pretty dresses, and social success, the Baroness was lulled to sleep
and pleasant dreams in the blue, silk-curtained bed in the charming
room next to the chamber in which Jean Baptiste, Baron d’Aldrigger, had
breathed his last but two nights ago.

“Here in a few words is the Baron’s history. During his lifetime that
worthy Alsacien accumulated about three millions of francs. In 1800,
at the age of thirty-six, in the apogee of a fortune made during
the Revolution, he made a marriage partly of ambition, partly of
inclination, with the heiress of the family of Adolphus of Manheim.
Wilhelmine, being the idol of her whole family, naturally inherited
their wealth after some ten years. Next, d’Aldrigger’s fortune being
doubled, he was transformed into a Baron by His Majesty, Emperor and
King, and forthwith became a fanatical admirer of the great man to whom
he owed his title. Wherefore, between 1814 and 1815 he ruined himself
by a too serious belief in the sun of Austerlitz. Honest Alsacien as he
was, he did not suspend payment, nor did he give his creditors shares
in doubtful concerns by way of settlement. He paid everything over the
counter, and retired from business, thoroughly deserving Nucingen’s
comment on his behavior--‘Honest but stoobid.’

“All claims satisfied, there remained to him five hundred thousand
francs and certain receipts for sums advanced to that Imperial
Government, which had ceased to exist. ‘See vat komms of too much pelief
in Nappolion,’ said he, when he had realized all his capital.

“When you have been one of the leading men in a place, how are you to
remain in it when your estate has dwindled? D’Aldrigger, like all ruined
provincials, removed to Paris, there intrepidly wore the tricolor braces
embroidered with Imperial eagles, and lived entirely in Bonapartist
circles. His capital he handed over to Nucingen, who gave him eight per
cent upon it, and took over the loans to the Imperial Government at
a mere sixty per cent of reduction; wherefore d’Aldrigger squeezed
Nucingen’s hand and said, ‘I knew dot in you I should find de heart of
ein Elzacien.’

“(Nucingen was paid in full through our friend des Lupeaulx.) Well
fleeced as d’Aldrigger had been, he still possessed an income
of forty-four thousand francs; but his mortification was further
complicated by the spleen which lies in wait for the business man
so soon as he retires from business. He set himself, noble heart, to
sacrifice himself to his wife, now that her fortune was lost, that
fortune of which she had allowed herself to be despoiled so easily,
after the manner of a girl entirely ignorant of money matters. Mme.
d’Aldrigger accordingly missed not a single pleasure to which she had
been accustomed; any void caused by the loss of Strasbourg acquaintances
were speedily filled, and more than filled, with Paris gaieties.

“Even then as now the Nucingens lived at the higher end of financial
society, and the Baron de Nucingen made it a point of honor to treat the
honest banker well. His disinterested virtue looked well in the Nucingen

“Every winter dipped into d’Aldrigger’s principal, but he did not
venture to remonstrate with his pearl of a Wilhelmine. His was the
most ingenious unintelligent tenderness in the world. A good man, but
a stupid one! ‘What will become of them when I am gone?’ he said, as he
lay dying; and when he was left alone for a moment with Wirth, his
old man-servant, he struggled for breath to bid him take care of his
mistress and her two daughters, as if the one reasonable being in the
house was this Alsacien Caleb Balderstone.

“Three years afterwards, in 1826, Isaure was twenty years old, and
Malvina still unmarried. Malvina had gone into society, and in course of
time discovered for herself how superficial their friendships were, how
accurately every one was weighed and appraised. Like most girls that
have been ‘well brought up,’ as we say, Malvina had no idea of the
mechanism of life, of the importance of money, of the difficulty of
obtaining it, of the prices of things. And so, for six years, every
lesson that she had learned had been a painful one for her.

“D’Aldrigger’s four hundred thousand francs were carried to the
credit of the Baroness’ account with the firm of Nucingen (she was her
husband’s creditor for twelve hundred thousand francs under her marriage
settlement), and when in any difficulty the Shepherdess of the Alps
dipped into her capital as though it were inexhaustible.

“When our pigeon first advanced towards his dove, Nucingen, knowing
the Baroness’ character, must have spoken plainly to Malvina on the
financial position. At that time three hundred thousand francs were
left; the income of twenty-four thousand francs was reduced to eighteen
thousand. Wirth had kept up this state of things for three years! After
that confidential interview, Malvina put down the carriage, sold the
horses, and dismissed the coachman, without her mother’s knowledge. The
furniture, now ten years old, could not be renewed, but it all faded
together, and for those that like harmony the effect was not half bad.
The Baroness herself, that so well-preserved flower, began to look
like the last solitary frost-touched rose on a November bush. I myself
watched the slow decline of luxury by half-tones and semi-tones!
Frightful, upon my honor! It was my last trouble of the kind; afterwards
I said to myself, ‘It is silly to care so much about other people.’
But while I was in civil service, I was fool enough to take a personal
interest in the houses where I dined; I used to stand up for them; I
would say no ill of them myself; I--oh! I was a child.

“Well, when the ci-devant pearl’s daughter put the state of the case
before her, ‘Oh my poor children,’ cried she, ‘who will make my dresses
now? I cannot afford new bonnets; I cannot see visitors here nor go
out.’--Now by what token do you know that a man is in love?” said
Bixiou, interrupting himself. “The question is, whether Beaudenord was
genuinely in love with the fair-haired girl.”

“He neglects his interests,” said Couture.

“He changes his shirt three times a day,” opined Blondet; “a man of more
than ordinary ability, can he, and ought he, to fall in love?”

“My friends,” resumed Bixiou, with a sentimental air, “there is a kind
of man who, when he feels that he is in peril of falling in love, will
snap his fingers or fling away his cigar (as the case may be) with a
‘Pooh! there are other women in the world.’ Beware of that man for
a dangerous reptile. Still, the Government may employ that citizen
somewhere in the Foreign Office. Blondet, I call your attention to the
fact that this Godefroid had thrown up diplomacy.”

“Well, he was absorbed,” said Blondet. “Love gives the fool his one
chance of growing great.”

“Blondet, Blondet, how is it that we are so poor?” cried Bixiou.

“And why is Finot so rich?” returned Blondet. “I will tell you how
it is; there, my son, we understand each other. Come, there is Finot
filling up my glass as if I had carried in his firewood. At the end of
dinner one ought to sip one’s wine slowly,--Well?”

“Thou has said. The absorbed Godefroid became fully acquainted with the
family--the tall Malvina, the frivolous Baroness, and the little lady
of the dance. He became a servant after the most conscientious and
restricted fashion. He was not scared away by the cadaverous remains
of opulence; not he! by degrees he became accustomed to the threadbare
condition of things. It never struck the young man that the green silk
damask and white ornaments in the drawing-room needed refurnishing.
The curtains, the tea-table, the knick-knacks on the chimney-piece, the
rococo chandelier, the Eastern carpet with the pile worn down to the
thread, the pianoforte, the little flowered china cups, the fringed
serviettes so full of holes that they looked like open work in the
Spanish fashion, the green sitting-room with the Baroness’ blue bedroom
beyond it,--it was all sacred, all dear to him. It is only your stupid
woman with the brilliant beauty that throws heart, brain, and soul into
the shade, who can inspire forgetfulness like this; a clever woman never
abuses her advantages; she must be small-natured and silly to gain such
a hold upon a man. Beaudenord actually loved the solemn old Wirth--he
has told me so himself!

“That old rogue regarded his future master with the awe which a good
Catholic feels for the Eucharist. Honest Wirth was a kind of Gaspard,
a beer-drinking German sheathing his cunning in good-nature, much as a
cardinal in the Middle Ages kept his dagger up his sleeve. Wirth saw a
husband for Isaure, and accordingly proceeded to surround Godefroid with
the mazy circumlocutions of his Alsacien’s geniality, that most adhesive
of all known varieties of bird-lime.

“Mme. d’Aldrigger was radically ‘improper.’ She thought love the most
natural thing imaginable. When Isaure and Malvina went out together to
the Champs Elysees or the Tuileries, where they were sure to meet the
young men of their set, she would simply say, ‘A pleasant time to you,
dear girls.’ Their friends among men, the only persons who might have
slandered the sisters, championed them; for the extraordinary liberty
permitted in the d’Aldriggers’ salon made it unique in Paris. Vast
wealth could scarcely have procured such evenings, the talk was good on
any subject; dress was not insisted upon; you felt so much at home there
that you could ask for supper. The sisters corresponded as they pleased,
and quietly read their letters by their mother’s side; it never occurred
to the Baroness to interfere in any way; the adorable woman gave the
girls the full benefits of her selfishness, and in a certain sense
selfish persons are the easiest to live with; they hate trouble, and
therefore do not trouble other people; they never beset the lives of
their fellow-creatures with thorny advice and captious fault-finding;
nor do they torment you with the waspish solicitude of excessive
affection that must know all things and rule all things----”

“This comes home,” said Blondet, “but my dear fellow, this is not
telling a story, this is _blague_----”

“Blondet, if you were not tipsy, I should really feel hurt! He is the
one serious literary character among us; for his benefit, I honor you by
treating you like men of taste, I am distilling my tale for you, and now
he criticises me! There is no greater proof of intellectual sterility,
my friends, than the piling up of facts. _Le Misanthrope_, that supreme
comedy, shows us that art consists in the power of building a palace
on a needle’s point. The gist of my idea is in the fairy wand which can
turn the Desert into an Interlaken in ten seconds (precisely the time
required to empty this glass). Would you rather that I fired off at you
like a cannon-ball, or a commander-in-chief’s report? We chat and laugh;
and this journalist, a bibliophobe when sober, expects me, forsooth,
when he is drunk, to teach my tongue to move at the dull jogtrot of
a printed book.” (Here he affected to weep.) “Woe unto the French
imagination when men fain would blunt the needle points of her pleasant
humor! _Dies iroe_! Let us weep for _Candide_. Long live the _Kritik of
Pure Reason_, _La Symbolique_, and the systems in five closely packed
volumes, printed by Germans, who little suspect that the gist of the
matter has been known in Paris since 1750, and crystallized in a few
trenchant words--the diamonds of our national thought. Blondet is
driving a hearse to his own suicide; Blondet, forsooth! who manufactures
newspaper accounts of the last words of all the great men that die
without saying anything!”

“Come, get on,” put in Finot.

“It was my intention to explain to you in what the happiness of a man
consists when he is not a shareholder (out of compliment to Couture).
Well, now, do you not see at what a price Godefroid secured the greatest
happiness of a young man’s dreams? He was trying to understand Isaure,
by way of making sure that she should understand him. Things which
comprehend one another must needs be similar. Infinity and Nothingness,
for instance, are like; everything that lies between the two is like
neither. Nothingness is stupidity; genius, Infinity. The lovers wrote
each other the stupidest letters imaginable, putting down various
expressions then in fashion upon bits of scented paper: ‘Angel! Aeolian
harp! with thee I shall be complete! There is a heart in my man’s
breast! Weak woman, poor me!’ all the latest heart-frippery. It was
Godefroid’s wont to stay in a drawing-room for a bare ten minutes; he
talked without any pretension to the women in it, and at these times
they thought him very clever. In short, judge of his absorption; Joby,
his horses and carriages, became secondary interests in his life. He was
never happy except in the depths of a snug settee opposite the Baroness,
by the dark-green porphyry chimney-piece, watching Isaure, taking tea,
and chatting with the little circle of friends that dropped in every
evening between eleven and twelve in the Rue Joubert. You could play
bouillotte there safely. (I always won.) Isaure sat with one little foot
thrust out in its black satin shoe; Godefroid would gaze and gaze, and
stay till every one else was gone, and say, ‘Give me your shoe!’ and
Isaure would put her little foot on a chair and take it off and give
it to him, with a glance, one of those glances that--in short, you

“At length Godefroid discovered a great mystery in Malvina. Whenever
du Tillet knocked at the door, the live red that colored Malvina’s face
said ‘Ferdinand!’ When the poor girl’s eyes fell on that two-footed
tiger, they lighted up like a brazier fanned by a current of air. When
Ferdinand drew her away to the window or a side table, she betrayed her
secret infinite joy. It is a rare and wonderful thing to see a woman so
much in love that she loses her cunning to be strange, and you can read
her heart; as rare (dear me!) in Paris as the Singing Flower in the
Indies. But in spite of a friendship dating from the d’Aldriggers’
first appearance at the Nucingens’, Ferdinand did not marry Malvina.
Our ferocious friend was not apparently jealous of Desroches, who paid
assiduous court to the young lady; Desroches wanted to pay off the rest
of the purchase-money due for his connection; Malvina could not well
have less than fifty thousand crowns, he thought, and so the lawyer
was fain to play the lover. Malvina, deeply humiliated as she was by
du Tillet’s carelessness, loved him too well to shut the door upon
him. With her, an enthusiastic, highly-wrought, sensitive girl, love
sometimes got the better of pride, and pride again overcame wounded
love. Our friend Ferdinand, cool and self-possessed, accepted her
tenderness, and breathed the atmosphere with the quiet enjoyment of a
tiger licking the blood that dyes his throat. He would come to make sure
of it with new proofs; he never allowed two days to pass without a visit
to the Rue Joubert.

“At that time the rascal possessed something like eighteen hundred
thousand francs; money must have weighted very little with him in the
question of marriage; and he had not merely been proof against Malvina,
he had resisted the Barons de Nucingen and de Rastignac; though both of
them had set him galloping at the rate of seventy-five leagues a day,
with outriders, regardless of expense, through mazes of their cunning
devices--and with never a clue of thread.

“Godefroid could not refrain from saying a word to his future
sister-in-law as to her ridiculous position between a banker and an

“‘You mean to read me a lecture on the subject of Ferdinand,’ she said
frankly, ‘to know the secret between us. Dear Godefroid, never mention
this again. Ferdinand’s birth, antecedents, and fortune count for
nothing in this, so you may think it is something extraordinary.’ A few
days afterwards, however, Malvina took Godefroid apart to say, ‘I do
not think that Desroches is sincere’ (such is the instinct of love);
‘he would like to marry me, and he is paying court to some tradesman’s
daughter as well. I should very much like to know whether I am a second
shift, and whether marriage is a matter of money with him.’ The fact was
that Desroches, deep as he was, could not make out du Tillet, and
was afraid that he might marry Malvina. So the fellow had secured
his retreat. His position was intolerable, he was scarcely paying his
expenses and interest on the debt. Women understand nothing of these
things; for them, love is always a millionaire.”

“But since neither du Tillet nor Desroches married her; just explain
Ferdinand’s motive,” said Finot.

“Motive?” repeated Bixiou; “why, this. General Rule: A girl that has
once given away her slipper, even if she refused it for ten years, is
never married by the man who----”

“Bosh!” interrupted Blondet, “one reason for loving is the fact that
one has loved. His motive? Here it is. General Rule: Do not marry as a
sergeant when some day you may be Duke of Dantzig and Marshal of France.
Now, see what a match du Tillet has made since then. He married one of
the Comte de Granville’s daughters, into one of the oldest families in
the French magistracy.”

“Desroches’ mother had a friend, a druggist’s wife,” continued Bixiou.
“Said druggist had retired with a fat fortune. These druggist folk have
absurdly crude notions; by way of giving his daughter a good education,
he had sent her to a boarding-school! Well, Matifat meant the girl to
marry well, on the strength of two hundred thousand francs, good hard
coin with no scent of drugs about it.”

“Florine’s Matifat?” asked Blondet.

“Well, yes. Lousteau’s Matifat; ours, in fact. The Matifats, even then
lost to us, had gone to live in the Rue du Cherche-Midi, as far as may
be from the Rue des Lombards, where their money was made. For my own
part, I had cultivated those Matifats. While I served my time in the
galleys of the law, when I was cooped up for eight hours out of the
twenty-four with nincompoops of the first water, I saw queer characters
enough to convince myself that all is not dead-level even in obscure
places, and that in the flattest inanity you may chance upon an angle.
Yes, dear boy, such and such a philistine is to such another as Raphael
is to Natoire.

“Mme. Desroches, the widowed mother, had long ago planned this marriage
for her son, in spite of a tremendous obstacle which took the shape
of one Cochin, Matifat’s partner’s son, a young clerk in the adult
department. M. and Mme. Matifat were of the opinion that an attorney’s
position ‘gave some guarantee for a wife’s happiness,’ to use their own
expression; and as for Desroches, he was prepared to fall in with his
mother’s views in case he could do no better for himself. Wherefore, he
kept up his acquaintance with the druggists in the Rue du Cherche-Midi.

“To put another kind of happiness before you, you should have a
description of these shopkeepers, male and female. They rejoiced in
the possession of a handsome ground floor and a strip of garden; for
amusement, they watched a little squirt of water, no bigger than a
cornstalk, perpetually rising and falling upon a small round freestone
slab in the middle of a basin some six feet across; they would rise
early of a morning to see if the plants in the garden had grown in the
night; they had nothing to do, they were restless, they dressed for the
sake of dressing, bored themselves at the theatre, and were for ever
going to and fro between Paris and Luzarches, where they had a country
house. I have dined there.

“Once they tried to quiz me, Blondet. I told them a long-winded story
that lasted from nine o’clock till midnight, one tale inside another.
I had just brought my twenty-ninth personage upon the scene (the
newspapers have plagiarized with their ‘continued in our next’), when
old Matifat, who as host still held out, snored like the rest, after
blinking for five minutes. Next day they all complimented me upon the
ending of my tale!

“These tradespeople’s society consisted of M. and Mme. Cochin, Mme.
Desroches, and a young Popinot, still in the drug business, who used
to bring them news of the Rue des Lombards. (You know him, Finot.) Mme.
Matifat loved the arts; she bought lithographs, chromo-lithographs, and
colored prints,--all the cheapest things she could lay her hands on. The
Sieur Matifat amused himself by looking into new business speculations,
investing a little capital now and again for the sake of the excitement.
Florine had cured him of his taste for the Regency style of thing. One
saying of his will give you some idea of the depths in my Matifat. ‘Art
_thou_ going to bed, my nieces?’ he used to say when he wished them
good-night, because (as he explained) he was afraid of hurting their
feelings with the more formal ‘you.’

“The daughter was a girl with no manner at all. She looked rather like a
superior sort of housemaid. She could get through a sonata, she wrote
a pretty English hand, knew French grammar and orthography--a complete
commercial education, in short. She was impatient enough to be married
and leave the paternal roof, finding it as dull at home as a lieutenant
finds the nightwatch at sea; at the same time, it should be said that
her watch lasted through the whole twenty-four hours. Desroches or
Cochin junior, a notary or a lifeguardsman, or a sham English lord,--any
husband would have suited her. As she so obviously knew nothing of life,
I took pity upon her, I determined to reveal the great secret of it.
But, pooh! the Matifats shut their doors on me. The bourgeois and I
shall never understand each other.”

“She married General Gouraud,” said Finot.

“In forty-eight hours, Godefroid de Beaudenord, late of the diplomatic
corps, saw through the Matifats and their nefarious designs,” resumed
Bixiou. “Rastignac happened to be chatting with the frivolous Baroness
when Godefroid came in to give his report to Malvina. A word here and
there reached his ear; he guessed the matter on foot, more particularly
from Malvina’s look of satisfaction that it was as she had suspected.
Then Rastignac actually stopped on till two o’clock in the morning. And
yet there are those that call him selfish! Beaudenord took his departure
when the Baroness went to bed.

“As soon as Rastignac was left alone with Malvina, he spoke in a
fatherly, good-humored fashion. ‘Dear child, please to bear in mind that
a poor fellow, heavy with sleep, has been drinking tea to keep himself
awake till two o’clock in the morning, all for a chance of saying a
solemn word of advice to you--_Marry_! Do not be too particular; do not
brood over your feelings; never mind the sordid schemes of men that have
one foot here and another in the Matifats’ house; do not stop to think
at all: Marry!--When a girl marries, it means that the man whom she
marries undertakes to maintain her in a more or less good position in
life, and at any rate her comfort is assured. I know the world. Girls,
mammas, and grandmammas are all of them hypocrites when they fly off
into sentiment over a question of marriage. Nobody really thinks of
anything but a good position. If a mother marries her daughter well, she
says that she has made an excellent bargain.’ Here Rastignac unfolded
his theory of marriage, which to his way of thinking is a business
arrangement, with a view to making life tolerable; and ended up with,
‘I do not ask to know your secret, Malvina; I know it already. Men talk
things over among themselves, just as you women talk after you leave the
dinner-table. This is all I have to say: Marry. If you do not, remember
that I begged you to marry, here, in this room, this evening!’

“There was a certain ring in Rastignac’s voice which compelled,
not attention, but reflection. There was something startling in his
insistence; something that went, as Rastignac meant that it should, to
the quick of Malvina’s intelligence. She thought over the counsel again
next day, and vainly asked herself why it had been given.”

Couture broke in. “In all these tops that you have set spinning, I see
nothing at all like the beginnings of Rastignac’s fortune,” said he.
“You apparently take us for Matifats multiplied by half-a-dozen bottles
of champagne.”

“We are just coming to it,” returned Bixiou. “You have followed the
course of all the rivulets which make up that forty thousand livres a
year which so many people envy. By this time Rastignac held the threads
of all these lives in his hand.”

“Desroches, the Matifats, Beaudenord, the d’Aldriggers, d’Aiglemont?”

“Yes, and a hundred others,” assented Bixiou.

“Oh, come now, how?” cried Finot. “I know a few things, but I cannot see
a glimpse of an answer to this riddle.”

“Blondet has roughly given you the account of Nucingen’s first two
suspensions of payment; now for the third, with full details.--After
the peace of 1815, Nucingen grasped an idea which some of us only fully
understood later, to wit, that capital is a power only when you are very
much richer than other people. In his own mind, he was jealous of the
Rothschilds. He had five millions of francs, he wanted ten. He knew a
way to make thirty millions with ten, while with five he could only
make fifteen. So he made up his mind to operate a third suspension of
payment. About that time, the great man hit on the idea of indemnifying
his creditors with paper of purely fictitious value and keeping their
coin. On the market, a great idea of this sort is not expressed in
precisely this cut-and-dried way. Such an arrangement consists in giving
a lot of grown-up children a small pie in exchange for a gold piece;
and, like children of a smaller growth, they prefer the pie to the gold
piece, not suspecting that they might have a couple of hundred pies for

“What is this all about, Bixiou?” cried Couture. “Nothing more _bona
fide_. Not a week passes but pies are offered to the public for a louis.
But who compels the public to take them? Are they not perfectly free to
make inquiries?”

“You would rather have it made compulsory to take up shares, would you?”
 asked Blondet.

“No,” said Finot. “Where would the talent come in?”

“Very good for Finot.”

“Who put him up to it?” asked Couture.

“The fact was,” continued Bixiou, “that Nucingen had twice had the luck
to present the public (quite unintentionally) with a pie that turned out
to be worth more than the money he received for it. That unlucky good
luck gave him qualms of conscience. A course of such luck is fatal to a
man in the long run. This time he meant to make no mistake of this sort;
he waited ten years for an opportunity of issuing negotiable securities
which should seem on the face of it to be worth something, while as a
matter of fact----”

“But if you look at banking in that light,” broke in Couture, “no sort
of business would be possible. More than one _bona fide_ banker, backed
up by a _bona fide_ government, has induced the hardest-headed men on
‘Change to take up stock which is bound to fall within a given time.
You have seen better than that. Have you not seen stock created with the
concurrence of a government to pay the interest upon older stock, so as
to keep things going and tide over the difficulty? These operations were
more or less like Nucingen’s settlements.”

“The thing may look queer on a small scale,” said Blondet, “but on a
large we call it finance. There are high-handed proceedings criminal
between man and man that amount to nothing when spread out over any
number of men, much as a drop of prussic acid becomes harmless in a pail
of water. You take a man’s life, you are guillotined. But if, for any
political conviction whatsoever, you take five hundred lives, political
crimes are respected. You take five thousand francs out of my desk;
to the hulks you go. But with a sop cleverly pushed into the jaws of a
thousand speculators, you can cram the stock of any bankrupt republic
or monarchy down their throats; even if the loan has been floated,
as Couture says, to pay the interest on that very same national debt.
Nobody can complain. These are the real principles of the present Golden

“When the stage machinery is so huge,” continued Bixiou, “a good many
puppets are required. In the first place, Nucingen had purposely and
with his eyes open invested his five millions in an American investment,
foreseeing that the profits would not come in until it was too late. The
firm of Nucingen deliberately emptied its coffers. Any liquidation
ought to be brought about naturally. In deposits belonging to private
individuals and other investments, the firm possessed about six millions
of capital altogether. Among those private individuals was the Baroness
d’Aldrigger with her three hundred thousand francs, Beaudenord with four
hundred thousand, d’Aiglemont with a million, Matifat with three hundred
thousand, Charles Grandet (who married Mlle. d’Aubrion) with half a
million, and so forth, and so forth.

“Now, if Nucingen had himself brought out a joint-stock company, with
the shares of which he proposed to indemnify his creditors after more or
less ingenious manoeuvring, he might perhaps have been suspected. He
set about it more cunningly than that. He made some one else put up the
machinery that was to play the part of the Mississippi scheme in Law’s
system. Nucingen can make the longest-headed men work out schemes
for him without confiding a word to them; it is his peculiar talent.
Nucingen just let fall a hint to du Tillet of the pyramidal, triumphant
notion of bringing out a joint-stock enterprise with capital sufficient
to pay very high dividends for a time. Tried for the first time, in days
when noodles with capital were plentiful, the plan was pretty sure
to end in a run upon the shares, and consequently in a profit for the
banker that issued them. You must remember that this happened in 1826.

“Du Tillet, struck through he was by an idea both pregnant and
ingenious, naturally bethought himself that if the enterprise failed,
the blame must fall upon somebody. For which reason, it occurred to
him to put forward a figurehead director in charge of his commercial
machinery. At this day you know the secret of the firm of Claparon and
Company, founded by du Tillet, one of the finest inventions----”

“Yes,” said Blondet, “the responsible editor in business matters, the
instigator, and scapegoat; but we know better than that nowadays. We
put, ‘Apply at the offices of the Company, such and such a number, such
and such a street,’ where the public find a staff of clerks in green
caps, about as pleasing to behold as broker’s men.”

“Nucingen,” pursued Bixiou, “had supported the firm of Charles Claparon
and Company with all his credit. There were markets in which you might
safely put a million francs’ worth of Claparon’s paper. So du Tillet
proposed to bring his firm of Claparon to the fore. So said, so done.
In 1825 the shareholder was still an unsophisticated being. There was
no such thing as cash lying at call. Managing directors did not pledge
themselves not to put their own shares upon the market; they kept no
deposit with the Bank of France; they guaranteed nothing. They did not
even condescend to explain to shareholders the exact limits of their
liabilities when they informed them that the directors in their
goodness, refrained from asking any more than a thousand, or five
hundred, or even two hundred and fifty francs. It was not given out that
the experiment in _aere publico_ was not meant to last for more than
seven, five, or even three years, so that shareholders would not have
long to wait for the catastrophe. It was in the childhood of the art.
Promoters did not even publish the gigantic prospectuses with which they
stimulate the imagination, and at the same time make demands for money
of all and sundry.”

“That only comes when nobody wishes to part with money,” said Couture.

“In short, there was no competition in investments,” continued Bixiou.
“Paper-mache manufacturers, cotton printers, zinc-rollers, theatres, and
newspapers as yet did not hurl themselves like hunting dogs upon their
quarry--the expiring shareholder. ‘Nice things in shares,’ as Couture
says, put thus artlessly before the public, and backed up by the
opinions of experts [‘the princes of science’), were negotiated
shamefacedly in the silence and shadow of the Bourse. Lynx-eyed
speculators used to execute (financially speaking) the air _Calumny_ out
of _The Barber of Seville_. They went about piano, piano, making known
the merits of the concern through the medium of stock-exchange gossip.
They could only exploit the victim in his own house, on the Bourse, or
in company; so they reached him by means of the skilfully created rumor
which grew till it reached a _tutti_ of a quotation in four figures----”

“And as we can say anything among ourselves,” said Couture, “I will go
back to the last subject.”

“_Vous etes orfevre, Monsieur Josse_!” cried Finot.

“Finot will always be classic, constitutional, and pedantic,” commented

“Yes,” rejoined Couture, on whose account Cerizet had just been
condemned on a criminal charge. “I maintain that the new way is
infinitely less fraudulent, less ruinous, more straightforward than the
old. Publicity means time for reflection and inquiry. If here and there
a shareholder is taken in, he has himself to blame, nobody sells him a
pig in a poke. The manufacturing industry----”

“Ah!” exclaimed Bixiou, “here comes industry----”

“---- is a gainer by it,” continued Couture, taking no notice of the
interruption. “Every government that meddles with commerce and
cannot leave it free, sets about an expensive piece of folly; State
interference ends in a _maximum_ or a monopoly. To my thinking, few
things can be more in conformity with the principles of free trade than
joint-stock companies. State interference means that you try to regulate
the relations of principal and interest, which is absurd. In business,
generally speaking, the profits are in proportion to the risks. What
does it matter to the State how money is set circulating, provided that
it is always in circulation? What does it matter who is rich or who is
poor, provided that there is a constant quantity of rich people to be
taxed? Joint-stock companies, limited liability companies, every sort of
enterprise that pays a dividend, has been carried on for twenty years
in England, commercially the first country in the world. Nothing passes
unchallenged there; the Houses of Parliament hatch some twelve hundred
laws every session, yet no member of Parliament has ever yet raised an
objection to the system----”

“A cure for plethora of the strong box. Purely vegetable remedy,” put in
Bixiou, “_les carottes_” (gambling speculation).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“By _religion_ I do not mean cant; I use the word in its wide political
sense,” rejoined Blondet.

“Explain your meaning,” said Finot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Something in Rastignac’s voice stung like a lash of a whip.

“‘_What_?’ asked Godefroid de Beaudenord, turning pale.

“‘I was unhappy over your joy; I had not the heart to keep such a secret
to myself when I saw all these preparations, your happiness in bloom.’

“‘Just say it out in three words!’

“‘Swear to me on your honor that you will be as silent as the grave----’

“‘As the grave,’ repeated Beaudenord.

“‘That if one of your relatives were concerned in this secret, he should
not know it.’


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

“‘How?’ faltered Godefroid; the blood turned to ice in his veins.

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

“‘But d’Aiglemont, who was here at breakfast with us, has a million in
Nucingen’s bank.’

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

“Godefroid stood stock still for ten minutes.

“‘Do you accept? Yes or no!’ said the inexorable Rastignac.

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

“‘My poor cousin!’ he cried.

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Are you and he in it together for a liquidation?’ asked Werbrust,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘What is the cause of the smash; do you know?’ put in Claparon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Well, will you take fifteen?’ asked Gigonnet.

“‘You are very keen about it, it seems to me,’ said Matifat.


“‘Will you take twelve?’

“‘Done,’ said Gigonnet.

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

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

“‘Poor Nucingen!’ said the Baroness. ‘What can have become of him?’

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

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

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

“‘An honest man, above all things,’ said the Baroness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And that is?”

“The debtor is more than a match for the creditor.”

“Oh!” said Blondet. “For my own part, all that we have been saying seems
to me to be a paraphrase of the epigram in which Montesquieu summed up
_l’Esprit des Lois_.”

“What?” said Finot.

“Laws are like spiders’ webs; the big flies get through, while the
little ones are caught.”

“Then, what are you for?” asked Finot.

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

“Just get that into the electors’ heads!” said Bixiou.

“Some one has undertaken to do it.”


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

“I say, there was somebody next door,” said Finot, hearing us rise to

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

PARIS, November 1837.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Cochin, Adolphe
       Cesar Birotteau

     Cointet, Boniface
       Lost Illusions
       The Member for Arcis

       The Middle Classes

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

     Falleix, Martin
       The Government Clerks

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

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

     Grandet, Victor-Ange-Guillaume
       Eugenie Grandet

     Grandet, Charles
       Eugenie Grandet

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

     Matifat, Madame
       Cesar Birotteau

     Matifat, Mademoiselle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Toby (Joby, Paddy)
       The Secrets of a Princess

       Cesar Birotteau

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