The Firm of Nucingen
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
lesson in the contrast between the two stories?
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Oh! by the sacred name of shareholder, get on with your story!"
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
IMproper that Godefroid's happiness became complete. There is the
"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
"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 established.
"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,"
"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
"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
"Ah!" said Blondet, "you have set your finger on a great calamity.
If Marcel had been properly understood, there would have been no
"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
"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
"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
" '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 first——'
"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
"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
" '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
"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
"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 cheek-bones.
"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
" '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
"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
" '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.
" 'A few halfpence, kind gentlemen!' (from the beggars at the
" '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,"
" '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
"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
"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 salon.
"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
"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,
"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 it."
"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 Age."
"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
"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,"
"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
"Suppose that there is a tinge of charlatanism in the way in which
concerns are put before the public," began Couture, returning to the
charge, "that word charlatanism has come to be a damaging expression,
a middle term, as it were, between right and wrong; for where, I ask
you, does charlatanism begin? where does it end? what is charlatanism?
do me the kindness of telling me what it is NOT. Now for a little
plain speaking, the rarest social ingredient. A business which should
consist in going out at night to look for goods to sell in the day
would obviously be impossible. You find the instinct of forestalling
the market in the very match-seller. How to forestall the market—that
is the one idea of the so-called honest tradesman of the Rue Saint-
Denis, as of the most brazen-fronted speculator. If stocks are heavy,
sell you must. If sales are slow, you must tickle your customer; hence
the signs of the Middle Ages, hence the modern prospectus. I do not
see a hair's-breadth of difference between attracting custom and
forcing your goods upon the consumer. It may happen, it is sure to
happen, it often happens, that a shopkeeper gets hold of damaged
goods, for the seller always cheats the buyer. Go and ask the most
upright folk in Paris—the best known men in business, that is—and
they will all triumphantly tell you of dodges by which they passed off
stock which they knew to be bad upon the public. The well-known firm
of Minard began by sales of this kind. In the Rue Saint-Denis they
sell nothing but 'greased silk'; it is all that they can do. The most
honest merchants tell you in the most candid way that 'you must get
out of a bad bargain as best you can'—a motto for the most
unscrupulous rascality. Blondet has given you an account of the Lyons
affair, its causes and effects, and I proceed in my turn to illustrate
my theory with an anecdote:—There was once a woolen weaver, an
ambitious man, burdened with a large family of children by a wife too
much beloved. He put too much faith in the Republic, laid in a stock
of scarlet wool, and manufactured those red-knitted caps that you may
have noticed on the heads of all the street urchins in Paris. How this
came about I am just going to tell you. The Republic was beaten. After
the Saint-Merri affair the caps were quite unsalable. Now, when a
weaver finds that besides a wife and children he has some ten thousand
red woolen caps in the house, and that no hatter will take a single
one of them, notions begin to pass through his head as fast as if he
were a banker racking his brains to get rid of ten million francs'
worth of shares in some dubious investment. As for this Law of the
Faubourg, this Nucingen of caps, do you know what he did? He went to
find a pothouse dandy, one of those comic men that drive police
sergeants to despair at open-air dancing saloons at the barriers; him
he engaged to play the part of an American captain staying at
Meurice's and buying for export trade. He was to go to some large
hatter, who still had a cap in his shop window, and 'inquire for' ten
thousand red woolen caps. The hatter, scenting business in the wind,
hurried round to the woolen weaver and rushed upon the stock. After
that, no more of the American captain, you understand, and great
plenty of caps. If you interfere with the freedom of trade, because
free trade has its drawbacks, you might as well tie the hands of
justice because a crime sometimes goes unpunished, or blame the bad
organization of society because civilization produces some evils. From
the caps and the Rue Saint-Denis to joint-stock companies and the Bank
——draw your own conclusions."
"A crown for Couture!" said Blondet, twisting a serviette into a
wreath for his head. "I go further than that, gentlemen. If there is a
defect in the working hypothesis, what is the cause? The law! the
whole system of legislation. The blame rests with the legislature. The
great men of their districts are sent up to us by the provinces,
crammed with parochial notions of right and wrong; and ideas that are
indispensable if you want to keep clear of collisions with justice,
are stupid when they prevent a man from rising to the height at which
a maker of the laws ought to abide. Legislation may prohibit such and
such developments of human passions—gambling, lotteries, the Ninons
of the pavement, anything you please—but you cannot extirpate the
passions themselves by any amount of legislation. Abolish them, you
would abolish the society which develops them, even if it does not
produce them. The gambling passion lurks, for instance, at the bottom
of every heart, be it a girl's heart, a provincial's, a diplomatist's;
everybody longs to have money without working for it; you may hedge
the desire about with restrictions, but the gambling mania immediately
breaks out in another form. You stupidly suppress lotteries, but the
cook-maid pilfers none the less, and puts her ill-gotten gains in the
savings bank. She gambles with two hundred and fifty franc stakes
instead of forty sous; joint-stock companies and speculation take the
place of the lottery; the gambling goes on without the green cloth,
the croupier's rake is invisible, the cheating planned beforehand. The
gambling houses are closed, the lottery has come to an end; 'and now,'
cry idiots, 'morals have greatly improved in France,' as if, forsooth,
they had suppressed the punters. The gambling still goes on, only the
State makes nothing from it now; and for a tax paid with pleasure, it
has substituted a burdensome duty. Nor is the number of suicides
reduced, for the gambler never dies, though his victim does."
"I am not speaking now of foreign capital lost to France,"
continued Couture, "nor of the Frankfort lotteries. The Convention
passed a decree of death against those who hawked foreign
lottery-tickets, and procureur-syndics used to traffic in them. So
much for the sense of our legislator and his driveling philanthropy.
The encouragement given to savings banks is a piece of crass political
folly. Suppose that things take a doubtful turn and people lose
confidence, the Government will find that they have instituted a queue
for money, like the queues outside the bakers' shops. So many savings
banks, so many riots. Three street boys hoist a flag in some corner or
other, and you have a revolution ready made.
"But this danger, however great it may be, seems to me less to be
dreaded than the widespread demoralization. Savings banks are a means
of inoculating the people, the classes least restrained by education
or by reason from schemes that are tacitly criminal, with the vices
bred of self-interest. See what comes of philanthropy!
"A great politician ought to be without a conscience in abstract
questions, or he is a bad steersman for a nation. An honest politician
is a steam-engine with feelings, a pilot that would make love at the
helm and let the ship go down. A prime minister who helps himself to
millions but makes France prosperous and great is preferable, is he
not, to a public servant who ruins his country, even though he is
buried at the public expense? Would you hesitate between a Richelieu,
a Mazarin, or a Potemkin, each with his hundreds of millions of
francs, and a conscientious Robert Lindet that could make nothing out
of assignats and national property, or one of the virtuous imbeciles
who ruined Louis XVI.? Go on, Bixiou."
"I will not go into the details of the speculation which we owe to
Nucingen's financial genius. It would be the more inexpedient because
the concern is still in existence and shares are quoted on the Bourse.
The scheme was so convincing, there was such life in an enterprise
sanctioned by royal letters patent, that though the shares issued at a
thousand francs fell to three hundred, they rose to seven and will
reach par yet, after weathering the stormy years '27, '30, and '32.
The financial crisis of 1827 sent them down; after the Revolution of
July they fell flat; but there really is something in the affair,
Nucingen simply could not invent a bad speculation. In short, as
several banks of the highest standing have been mixed up in the
affair, it would be unparliamentary to go further into detail. The
nominal capital amounted to ten millions; the real capital to seven.
Three millions were allotted to the founders and bankers that brought
it out. Everything was done with a view to sending up the shares two
hundred francs during the first six months by the payment of a sham
dividend. Twenty per cent, on ten millions! Du Tillet's interest in
the concern amounted to five hundred thousand francs. In the
stock-exchange slang of the day, this share of the spoils was a 'sop
in the pan.' Nucingen, with his millions made by the aid of a
lithographer's stone and a handful of pink paper, proposed to himself
to operate certain nice little shares carefully hoarded in his private
office till the time came for putting them on the market. The
shareholders' money floated the concern, and paid for splendid
business premises, so they began operations. And Nucingen held in
reserve founders' shares in Heaven knows what coal and argentiferous
lead-mines, also in a couple of canals; the shares had been given to
him for bringing out the concerns. All four were in working order,
well got up and popular, for they paid good dividends.
"Nucingen might, of course, count on getting the differences if the
shares went up, but this formed no part of the Baron's schemes; he
left the shares at sea-level on the market to tempt the fishes.
"So he had massed his securities as Napoleon massed his troops, all
with a view to suspending payment in the thick of the approaching
crisis of 1826-27 which revolutionized European markets. If Nucingen
had had his Prince of Wagram, he might have said, like Napoleon from
the heights of Santon, 'Make a careful survey of the situation; on
such and such a day, at such an hour funds will be poured in at such a
spot.' But in whom could he confide? Du Tillet had no suspicion of his
own complicity in Nucingen's plot; and the bold Baron had learned from
his previous experiments in suspensions of payment that he must have
some man whom he could trust to act at need as a lever upon the
creditor. Nucingen had never a nephew, he dared not take a confidant;
yet he must have a devoted and intelligent Claparon, a born
diplomatist with a good manner, a man worthy of him, and fit to take
office under government. Such connections are not made in a day nor
yet in a year. By this time Rastignac had been so thoroughly entangled
by Nucingen, that being, like the Prince de la Paix, equally beloved
by the King and Queen of Spain, he fancied that he (Rastignac) had
secured a very valuable dupe in NUCINGEN! For a long while he had
laughed at a man whose capacities he was unable to estimate; he ended
in a sober, serious, and devout admiration of Nucingen, owning that
Nucingen really had the power which he thought he himself alone
"From Rastignac's introduction to society in Paris, he had been led
to contemn it utterly. From the year 1820 he thought, like the Baron,
that honesty was a question of appearances; he looked upon the world
as a mixture of corruption and rascality of every sort. If he admitted
exceptions, he condemned the mass; he put no belief in any virtue—men
did right or wrong, as circumstances decided. His worldly wisdom was
the work of a moment; he learned his lesson at the summit of Pere
Lachaise one day when he buried a poor, good man there; it was his
Delphine's father, who died deserted by his daughters and their
husbands, a dupe of our society and of the truest affection. Rastignac
then and there resolved to exploit this world, to wear full dress of
virtue, honesty, and fine manners. He was empanoplied in selfishness.
When the young scion of nobility discovered that Nucingen wore the
same armor, he respected him much as some knight mounted upon a barb
and arrayed in damascened steel would have respected an adversary
equally well horsed and equipped at a tournament in the Middle Ages.
But for the time he had grown effeminate amid the delights of Capua.
The friendship of such a woman as the Baronne de Nucingen is of a kind
that sets a man abjuring egoism in all its forms.
"Delphine had been deceived once already; in her first venture of
the affections she came across a piece of Birmingham manufacture, in
the shape of the late lamented de Marsay; and therefore she could not
but feel a limitless affection for a young provincial's articles of
faith. Her tenderness reacted upon Rastignac. So by the time that
Nucingen had put his wife's friend into the harness in which the
exploiter always gets the exploited, he had reached the precise
juncture when he (the Baron) meditated a third suspension of payment.
To Rastignac he confided his position; he pointed out to Rastignac a
means of making 'reparation.' As a consequence of his intimacy, he was
expected to play the part of confederate. The Baron judged it unsafe
to communicate the whole of his plot to his conjugal collaborator.
Rastignac quite believed in impending disaster; and the Baron allowed
him to believe further that he (Rastignac) saved the shop.
"But when there are so many threads in a skein, there are apt to be
knots. Rastignac trembled for Delphine's money. He stipulated that
Delphine must be independent and her estate separated from her
husband's, swearing to himself that he would repay her by trebling her
fortune. As, however, Rastignac said nothing of himself, Nucingen
begged him to take, in the event of success, twenty-five shares of a
thousand francs in the argentiferous lead-mines, and Eugene took them
—not to offend him! Nucingen had put Rastignac up to this the day
before that evening in the Rue Joubert when our friend counseled
Malvina to marry. A cold shiver ran through Rastignac at the sight of
so many happy folk in Paris going to and fro unconscious of the
impending loss; even so a young commander might shiver at the first
sight of an army drawn up before a battle. He saw the d'Aiglemonts,
the d'Aldriggers, and Beaudenord. Poor little Isaure and Godefroid
playing at love, what were they but Acis and Galatea under the rock
which a hulking Polyphemus was about to send down upon them?"
"That monkey of a Bixiou has something almost like talent," said
"Oh! so I am not maundering now?" asked Bixiou, enjoying his
success as he looked round at his surprised auditors.—"For two months
past," he continued, "Godefroid had given himself up to all the little
pleasures of preparation for the marriage. At such times men are like
birds building nests in spring; they come and go, pick up their bits
of straw, and fly off with them in their beaks to line the nest that
is to hold a brood of young birds by and by. Isaure's bridegroom had
taken a house in the Rue de la Plancher at a thousand crowns, a
comfortable little house neither too large nor too small, which suited
them. Every morning he went round to take a look at the workmen and to
superintend the painters. He had introduced 'comfort' (the only good
thing in England)—heating apparatus to maintain an even temperature
all over the house; fresh, soft colors, carefully chosen furniture,
neither too showy nor too much in fashion; spring-blinds fitted to
every window inside and out; silver plate and new carriages. He had
seen to the stables, coach-house, and harness-room, where Toby Joby
Paddy floundered and fidgeted about like a marmot let loose,
apparently rejoiced to know that there would be women about the place
and a 'lady'! This fervent passion of a man that sets up housekeeping,
choosing clocks, going to visit his betrothed with his pockets full of
patterns of stuffs, consulting her as to the bedroom furniture, going,
coming, and trotting about, for love's sake,—all this, I say, is a
spectacle in the highest degree calculated to rejoice the hearts of
honest people, especially tradespeople. And as nothing pleases folk
better than the marriage of a good-looking young fellow of seven-and-
twenty and a charming girl of nineteen that dances admirably well,
Godefroid in his perplexity over the corbeille asked Mme. de Nucingen
and Rastignac to breakfast with him and advise him on this all-
important point. He hit likewise on the happy idea of asking his
cousin d'Aiglemont and his wife to meet them, as well as Mme. de
Serizy. Women of the world are ready enough to join for once in an
improvised breakfast-party at a bachelor's rooms."
"It is their way of playing truant," put in Blondet.
"Of course they went over the new house," resumed Bixiou. "Married
women relish these little expeditions as ogres relish warm flesh; they
feel young again with the young bliss, unspoiled as yet by fruition.
Breakfast was served in Godefroid's sitting-room, decked out like a
troop horse for a farewell to bachelor life. There were dainty little
dishes such as women love to devour, nibble at, and sip of a morning,
when they are usually alarmingly hungry and horribly afraid to confess
to it. It would seem that a woman compromises herself by admitting
that she is hungry.—'Why have you come alone?' inquired Godefroid
when Rastignac appeared.—'Mme. de Nucingen is out of spirits; I will
tell you all about it,' answered Rastignac, with the air of a man
whose temper has been tried.—'A quarrel?' hazarded Godefroid.—'No.'
—At four o'clock the women took flight for the Bois de Boulogne;
Rastignac stayed in the room and looked out of the window, fixing his
melancholy gaze upon Toby Joby Paddy, who stood, his arms crossed in
Napoleonic fashion, audaciously posted in front of Beaudenord's cab
horse. The child could only control the animal with his shrill little
voice, but the horse was afraid of Joby Toby.
" 'Well,' began Godefroid, 'what is the matter with you, my dear
fellow? You look gloomy and anxious; your gaiety is forced. You are
tormented by incomplete happiness. It is wretched, and that is a fact,
when one cannot marry the woman one loves at the mayor's office and
" 'Have you courage to hear what I have to say? I wonder whether
you will see how much a man must be attached to a friend if he can be
guilty of such a breach of confidence as this for his sake.'
"Something in Rastignac's voice stung like a lash of a whip.
" 'WHAT?' asked Godefroid de Beaudenord, turning pale.
" 'I was unhappy over your joy; I had not the heart to keep such a
secret to myself when I saw all these preparations, your happiness in
" 'Just say it out in three words!'
" 'Swear to me on your honor that you will be as silent as the
" 'As the grave,' repeated Beaudenord.
" 'That if one of your relatives were concerned in this secret, he
should not know it.'
" '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 fortune.'
" '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
"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
" '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
" 'It is a fact,' said Werbrust; 'I am taking his paper myself at
twenty per cent discount.'
"The news spread swift as fire in a straw rick. The most
contradictory reports got about. But such confidence was felt in the
firm after the two previous suspensions, that every one stuck to
Nucingen's paper. 'Palma must lend us a hand,' said Werbrust.
"Now Palma was the Keller's oracle, and the Kellers were brimful of
Nucingen's paper. A hint from Palma would be enough. Werbrust arranged
with Palma, and he rang the alarm bell. There was a panic next day on
the Bourse. The Kellers, acting on Palma's advice, let go Nucingen's
paper at ten per cent of loss; they set the example on 'Change, for
they were supposed to know very well what they were about. Taillefer
followed up with three hundred thousand francs at a discount of twenty
per cent, and Martin Falleix with two hundred thousand at fifteen.
Gigonnet saw what was going on. He helped to spread the panic, with a
view to buying up Nucingen's paper himself and making a commission of
two or three per cent out of Werbrust.
"In a corner of the Bourse he came upon poor Matifat, who had three
hundred thousand francs in Nucingen's bank. Matifat, ghastly and
haggard, beheld the terrible Gigonnet, the bill-discounter of his old
quarter, coming up to worry him. He shuddered in spite of himself.
" 'Things are looking bad. There is a crisis on hand. Nucingen is
compounding with his creditors. But this does not interest you, Daddy
Matifat; you are out of business.'
" 'Oh, well, you are mistaken, Gigonnet; I am in for three hundred
thousand francs. I meant to speculate in Spanish bonds.'
" 'Then you have saved your money. Spanish bonds would have swept
everything away; whereas I am prepared to offer you something like
fifty per cent for your account with Nucingen.'
" 'You are very keen about it, it seems to me,' said Matifat. 'I
never knew a banker yet that paid less than fifty per cent. Ah, if it
were only a matter of ten per cent of loss—' added the retired man of
" 'Well, will you take fifteen?' asked Gigonnet.
" 'You are very keen about it, it seems to me,' said Matifat.
" '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
" '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
" '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
"While du Tillet, Werbrust, Claparon, Gigonnet, and others that
thought themselves clever were fetching in Nucingen's paper from
abroad with a premium of one per cent—for it was still worth their
while to exchange it for securities in a rising market—there was all
the more talk on the Bourse, because there was nothing now to fear.
They babbled over Nucingen; he was discussed and judged; they even
slandered him. His luxurious life, his enterprises! When a man has so
much on his hands, he overreaches himself, and so forth, and so forth.
"The talk was at its height, when several people were greatly
astonished to receive letters from Geneva, Basel, Milan, Naples,
Genoa, Marseilles, and London, in which their correspondents,
previously advised of the failure, informed them that somebody was
offering one per cent for Nucingen's paper! 'There is something up,'
said the lynxes of the Bourse.
"The Court meanwhile had granted the application for Mme. de
Nucingen's separation as to her estate, and the question became still
more complicated. The newspapers announced the return of M. le Baron
de Nucingen from a journey to Belgium; he had been arranging, it was
said, with a well-known Belgian firm to resume the working of some
coal-pits in the Bois de Bossut. The Baron himself appeared on the
Bourse, and never even took the trouble to contradict the slanders
circulating against him. He scorned to reply through the press; he
simply bought a splendid estate just outside Paris for two millions of
francs. Six weeks afterwards, the Bordeaux shipping intelligence
announced that two vessels with cargoes of bullion to the amount of
seven millions, consigned to the firm of Nucingen, were lying in the
"Then it was plain to Palma, Werbrust, and du Tillet that the trick
had been played. Nobody else was any the wiser. The three scholars
studied the means by which the great bubble had been created, saw that
it had been preparing for eleven months, and pronounced Nucingen the
greatest financier in Europe.
"Rastignac understood nothing of all this, but he had the four
hundred thousand francs which Nucingen had allowed him to shear from
the Parisian sheep, and he portioned his sisters. D'Aiglemont, at a
hint from his cousin Beaudenord, besought Rastignac to accept ten per
cent upon his million if he would undertake to convert it into shares
in a canal which is still to make, for Nucingen worked things with the
Government to such purpose that the concessionaires find it to their
interest not to finish their scheme. Charles Grandet implored
Delphine's lover to use his interest to secure shares for him in
exchange for his cash. And altogether Rastignac played the part of Law
for ten days; he had the prettiest duchesses in France praying to him
to allot shares to them, and to-day the young man very likely has an
income of forty thousand livres, derived in the first instance from
the argentiferous lead-mines."
"If every one was better off, who can have lost?" asked Finot.
"Hear the conclusion," rejoined Bixiou. "The Marquis d'Aiglemont
and Beaudenord (I put them forward as two examples out of many) kept
their allotted shares, enticed by the so-called dividend that fell due
a few months afterwards. They had another three per cent on their
capital, they sang Nucingen's praises, and took his part at a time
when everybody suspected that he was going bankrupt. Godefroid married
his beloved Isaure and took shares in the mines to the value of a
hundred thousand francs. The Nucingens gave a ball even more splendid
than people expected of them on the occasion of the wedding;
Delphine's present to the bride was a charming set of rubies. Isaure
danced, a happy wife, a girl no longer. The little Baroness was more
than ever a Shepherdess of the Alps. The ball was at its height when
Malvina, the Andalouse of Musset's poem, heard du Tillet's voice drily
advising her to take Desroches. Desroches, warmed to the right degree
by Rastignac and Nucingen, tried to come to an understanding
financially; but at the first hint of shares in the mines for the
bride's portion, he broke off and went back to the Matifat's in the
Rue du Cherche-Midi, only to find the accursed canal shares which
Gigonnet had foisted on Matifat in lieu of cash.
"They had not long to wait for the crash. The firm of Claparon did
business on too large a scale, the capital was locked up, the concern
ceased to serve its purposes, or to pay dividends, though the
speculations were sound. These misfortunes coincided with the events
of 1827. In 1829 it was too well known that Claparon was a man of
straw set up by the two giants; he fell from his pedestal. Shares that
had fetched twelve hundred and fifty francs fell to four hundred,
though intrinsically they were worth six. Nucingen, knowing their
value, bought them up at four.
"Meanwhile the little Baroness d'Aldrigger had sold out of the
mines that paid no dividends, and Godefroid had reinvested the money
belonging to his wife and her mother in Claparon's concern. Debts
compelled them to realize when the shares were at their lowest, so
that of seven hundred thousand francs only two hundred thousand
remained. They made a clearance, and all that was left was prudently
invested in the three per cents at seventy-five. Godefroid, the
sometime gay and careless bachelor who had lived without taking
thought all his life long, found himself saddled with a little goose
of a wife totally unfitted to bear adversity (indeed, before six
months were over, he had witnessed the anserine transformation of his
beloved) to say nothing of a mother-in-law whose mind ran on pretty
dresses while she had not bread to eat. The two families must live
together to live at all. It was only by stirring up all his
considerably chilled interest that Godefroid got a post in the audit
department. His friends?—They were out of town. His relatives?—All
astonishment and promises. 'What! my dear boy! Oh! count upon me! Poor
fellow!' and Beaudenord was clean forgotten fifteen minutes
afterwards. He owed his place to Nucingen and de Vandenesse.
"And to-day these so estimable and unfortunate people are living on
a third floor (not counting the entresol) in the Rue du Mont Thabor.
Malvina, the Adolphus' pearl of a granddaughter, has not a farthing.
She gives music-lessons, not to be a burden upon her brother-in-law.
You may see a tall, dark, thin, withered woman, like a mummy escaped
from Passalacqua's about afoot through the streets of Paris. In 1830
Beaudenord lost his situation just as his wife presented him with a
fourth child. A family of eight and two servants (Wirth and his wife)
and an income of eight thousand livres. And at this moment the mines
are paying so well, that an original share of a thousand francs brings
in a dividend of cent per cent.
"Rastignac and Mme. de Nucingen bought the shares sold by the
Baroness and Godefroid. The Revolution made a peer of France of
Nucingen and a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor. He has not
stopped payment since 1830, but still I hear that he has something
like seventeen millions. He put faith in the Ordinances of July, sold
out of all his investments, and boldly put his money into the funds
when the three per cents stood at forty-five. He persuaded the
Tuileries that this was done out of devotion, and about the same time
he and du Tillet between them swallowed down three millions belonging
to that great scamp Philippe Bridau.
"Quite lately our Baron was walking along the Rue de Rivoli on his
way to the Bois when he met the Baroness d'Aldrigger under the
colonnade. The little old lady wore a tiny green bonnet with a
rose-colored lining, a flowered gown, and a mantilla; altogether, she
was more than ever the Shepherdess of the Alps. She could no more be
made to understand the causes of her poverty than the sources of her
wealth. As she went along, leaning upon poor Malvina, that model of
heroic devotion, she seemed to be the young girl and Malvina the old
mother. Wirth followed them, carrying an umbrella.
" 'Dere are beoples whose vordune I vound it imbossible to make,'
said the Baron, addressing his companion (M. Cointet, a cabinet
minister). 'Now dot de baroxysm off brincibles haf bassed off, chust
reinshtate dot boor Peautenord.'
"So Beaudenord went back to his desk, thanks to Nucingen's good
offices; and the d'Aldriggers extol Nucingen as a hero of friendship,
for he always sends the little Shepherdess of the Alps and her
daughters invitations to his balls. No creature whatsoever can be made
to understand that the Baron yonder three times did his best to
plunder the public without breaking the letter of the law, and
enriched people in spite of himself. No one has a word to say against
him. If anybody should suggest that a big capitalist often is another
word for a cut-throat, it would be a most egregious calumny. If stocks
rise and fall, if property improves and depreciates, the fluctuations
of the market are caused by a common movement, a something in the air,
a tide in the affairs of men subject like other tides to lunar
influences. The great Arago is much to blame for giving us no
scientific theory to account for this important phenomenon. The only
outcome of all this is an axiom which I have never seen anywhere in
"And that is?"
"The debtor is more than a match for the creditor."
"Oh!" said Blondet. "For my own part, all that we have been saying
seems to me to be a paraphrase of the epigram in which Montesquieu
summed up l'Espirit des Lois."
"What?" said Finot.
"Laws are like spiders' webs; the big flies get through, while the
little ones are caught."
"Then, what are you for?" asked Finot.
"For absolute government, the only kind of government under which
enterprises against the spirit of the law can be put down. Yes.
Arbitrary rule is the salvation of a country when it comes to the
support of justice, for the right of mercy is strictly one-sided. The
king can pardon a fraudulent bankrupt; he cannot do anything for the
victims. The letter of the law is fatal to modern society."
"Just get that into the electors' heads!" said Bixiou.
"Some one has undertaken to do it."
"Time. As the Bishop of Leon said, 'Liberty is ancient, but
kingship is eternal; any nation in its right mind returns to
monarchical government in one form or another.' "
"I say, there was somebody next door," said Finot, hearing us rise
"There always is somebody next door," retorted Bixiou. "But he must
have been drunk."
PARIS, November 1837.