Sundays of A Bourgeois by Guy de Maupassant
PREPARATIONS FOR THE EXCURSION
M. Patissot, born in Paris, after having failed in his examinations at
the College Henri IV., like many others, had entered the government
service through the influence of one of his aunts, who kept a tobacco
store where the head of one of the departments bought his provisions.
He advanced very slowly, and would, perhaps, have died a fourth-class
clerk without the aid of a kindly Providence, which sometimes watches
over our destiny. He is today fifty-two years old, and it is only at this
age that he is beginning to explore, as a tourist, all that part of
France which lies between the fortifications and the provinces.
The story of his advance might be useful to many employees, just as the
tale of his excursions may be of value to many Parisians who will take
them as a model for their own outings, and will thus, through his
example, avoid certain mishaps which occurred to him.
In 1854 he only enjoyed a salary of 1,800 francs. Through a peculiar
trait of his character he was unpopular with all his superiors, who let
him languish in the eternal and hopeless expectation of the clerk's
ideal, an increase of salary. Nevertheless he worked; but he did not know
how to make himself appreciated. He had too much self-respect, he
claimed. His self-respect consisted in never bowing to his superiors in a
low and servile manner, as did, according to him, certain of his
colleagues, whom he would not mention. He added that his frankness
embarrassed many people, for, like all the rest, he protested against
injustice and the favoritism shown to persons entirely foreign to the
bureaucracy. But his indignant voice never passed beyond the little cage
where he worked.
First as a government clerk, then as a Frenchman and finally as a man who
believed in order he would adhere to whatever government was established,
having an unbounded reverence for authority, except for that of his
Each time that he got the chance he would place himself where he could
see the emperor pass, in order to have the honor of taking his hat off to
him; and he would go away puffed up with pride at having bowed to the
head of the state.
From his habit of observing the sovereign he did as many others do; he
imitated the way he trimmed his beard or arranged his hair, the cut of
his clothes, his walk, his mannerisms. Indeed, how many men in each
country seemed to be the living images of the head of the government!
Perhaps he vaguely resembled Napoleon III., but his hair was black;
therefore he dyed it, and then the likeness was complete; and when he met
another gentleman in the street also imitating the imperial countenance
he was jealous and looked at him disdainfully. This need of imitation
soon became his hobby, and, having heard an usher at the Tuilleries
imitate the voice of the emperor, he also acquired the same intonations
and studied slowness.
He thus became so much like his model that they might easily have been
mistaken for each other, and certain high dignitaries were heard to
remark that they found it unseemly and even vulgar; the matter was
mentioned to the prime minister, who ordered that the employee should
appear before him. But at the sight of him he began to laugh and repeated
two or three times: "That's funny, really funny!" This was repeated, and
the following day Patissot's immediate superior recommended that his
subordinate receive an increase of salary of three hundred francs. He
received it immediately.
From that time on his promotions came regularly, thanks to his ape-like
faculty of imitation. The presentiment that some high honor might come to
him some day caused his chiefs to speak to him with deference.
When the Republic was proclaimed it was a disaster for him. He felt lost,
done for, and, losing his head, he stopped dyeing his hair, shaved his
face clean and had his hair cut short, thus acquiring a paternal and
benevolent expression which could not compromise him in any way.
Then his chiefs took revenge for the long time during which he had
imposed upon them, and, having all turned Republican through an instinct
of self preservation, they cut down his salary and delayed his promotion.
He, too, changed his opinions. But the Republic not being a palpable and
living person whom one can resemble, and the presidents succeeding each
other with rapidity, he found himself plunged in the greatest
embarrassment, in terrible distress, and, after an unsuccessful imitation
of his last ideal, M. Thiers, he felt a check put on all his attempts at
imitation. He needed a new manifestation of his personality. He searched
for a long time; then, one morning, he arrived at the office wearing a
new hat which had on the side a small red, white and blue rosette. His
colleagues were astounded; they laughed all that day, the next day, all
the week, all the month. But the seriousness of his demeanor at last
disconcerted them, and once more his superiors became anxious. What
mystery could be hidden under this sign? Was it a simple manifestation of
patriotism, or an affirmation of his allegiance to the Republic, or
perhaps the badge of some powerful association? But to wear it so
persistently he must surely have some powerful and hidden protection. It
would be well to be on one's guard, especially as he received all
pleasantries with unruffled calmness. After that he was treated with
respect, and his sham courage saved him; he was appointed head clerk on
the first of January, 1880. His whole life had been spent indoors. He
hated noise and bustle, and because of this love of rest and quiet he had
remained a bachelor. He spent his Sundays reading tales of adventure and
ruling guide lines which he afterward offered to his colleagues. In his
whole existence he had only taken three vacations of a week each, when he
was changing his quarters. But sometimes, on a holiday, he would leave by
an excursion train for Dieppe or Havre in order to elevate his mind by
the inspiring sight of the sea.
He was full of that common sense which borders on stupidity. For a long
time he had been living quietly, with economy, temperate through
prudence, chaste by temperament, when suddenly he was assailed by a
terrible apprehension. One evening in the street he suddenly felt an
attack of dizziness which made him fear a stroke of apoplexy. He hastened
to a physician and for five francs obtained the following prescription:
M. X-, fifty-five years old, bachelor, clerk. Full-blooded,
danger of apoplexy. Cold-water applications, moderate nourishment,
plenty of exercise. MONTELLIER, M.D.
Patissot was greatly distressed, and for a whole month, in his office, he
kept a wet towel wrapped around his head like a turban while the water
continually dripped on his work, which he would have to do over again.
Every once in a while he would read the prescription over, probably in
the hope of finding some hidden meaning, of penetrating into the secret
thought of the physician, and also of discovering some forms of exercise
which, might perhaps make him immune from apoplexy.
Then he consulted his friends, showing them the fateful paper. One
advised boxing. He immediately hunted up an instructor, and, on the first
day, he received a punch in the nose which immediately took away all his
ambition in this direction. Single-stick made him gasp for breath, and he
grew so stiff from fencing that for two days and two nights he could not
get sleep. Then a bright idea struck him. It was to walk, every Sunday,
to some suburb of Paris and even to certain places in the capital which
he did not know.
For a whole week his mind was occupied with thoughts of the equipment
which you need for these excursions; and on Sunday, the 30th of May, he
began his preparations. After reading all the extraordinary
advertisements which poor, blind and halt beggars distribute on the
street corners, he began to visit the stores with the intention of
looking about him only and of buying later on. First of all, he visited a
so-called American shoe store, where heavy travelling shoes were shown
him. The clerk brought out a kind of ironclad contrivance, studded with
spikes like a harrow, which he claimed to be made from Rocky Mountain
bison skin. He was so carried away with them that he would willingly have
bought two pair, but one was sufficient. He carried them away under his
arm, which soon became numb from the weight. He next invested in a pair
of corduroy trousers, such as carpenters wear, and a pair of oiled canvas
leggings. Then he needed a knapsack for his provisions, a telescope so as
to recognize villages perched on the slope of distant hills, and finally,
a government survey map to enable him to find his way about without
asking the peasants toiling in the fields. Lastly, in order more
comfortably to stand the heat, he decided to purchase a light alpaca
jacket offered by the famous firm of Raminau, according to their
advertisement, for the modest sum of six francs and fifty centimes. He
went to this store and was welcomed by a distinguished-looking young man
with a marvellous head of hair, nails as pink as those of a lady and a
pleasant smile. He showed him the garment. It did not correspond with the
glowing style of the advertisement. Then Patissot hesitatingly asked,
"Well, monsieur, will it wear well?" The young man turned his eyes away
in well-feigned embarrassment, like an honest man who does not wish to
deceive a customer, and, lowering his eyes, he said in a hesitating
manner: "Dear me, monsieur, you understand that for six francs fifty we
cannot turn out an article like this for instance." And he showed him a
much finer jacket than the first one. Patissot examined it and asked the
price. "Twelve francs fifty." It was very tempting, but before deciding,
he once more questioned the big young man, who was observing him
attentively. "And—is that good? Do you guarantee it?" "Oh!
certainly, monsieur, it is quite goad! But, of course, you must not get
it wet! Yes, it's really quite good, but you understand that there are
goods and goods. It's excellent for the price. Twelve francs fifty, just
think. Why, that's nothing at all. Naturally a twenty-five-franc coat is
much better. For twenty-five francs you get a superior quality, as strong
as linen, and which wears even better. If it gets wet a little ironing
will fix it right up. The color never fades, and it does not turn red in
the sunlight. It is the warmest and lightest material out." He unfolded
his wares, holding them up, shaking them, crumpling and stretching them
in order to show the excellent quality of the cloth. He talked on
convincingly, dispelling all hesitation by words and gesture. Patissot
was convinced; he bought the coat. The pleasant salesman, still talking,
tied up the bundle and continued praising the value of the purchase. When
it was paid for he was suddenly silent. He bowed with a superior air,
and, holding the door open, he watched his customer disappear, both arms
filled with bundles and vainly trying to reach his hat to bow.
M. Patissot returned home and carefully studied the map. He wished to try
on his shoes, which were more like skates than shoes, owing to the
spikes. He slipped and fell, promising himself to be more careful in the
future. Then he spread out all his purchases on a chair and looked at
them for a long time. He went to sleep with this thought: "Isn't it
strange that I didn't think before of taking an excursion to the
During the whole week Patissot worked without ambition. He was dreaming
of the outing which he had planned for the following Sunday, and he was
seized by a sudden longing for the country, a desire of growing tender
over nature, this thirst for rustic scenes which overwhelms the Parisians
in spring time.
Only one person gave him any attention; it was a silent old copying clerk
named Boivin, nicknamed Boileau. He himself lived in the country and had
a little garden which he cultivated carefully; his needs were small, and
he was perfectly happy, so they said. Patissot was now able to understand
his tastes and the similarity of their ideals made them immediately fast
friends. Old man Boivin said to him:
"Do I like fishing, monsieur? Why, it's the delight of my life!"
Then Patissot questioned him with deep interest. Boivin named all the
fish who frolicked under this dirty water—and Patissot thought he
could see them. Boivin told about the different hooks, baits, spots and
times suitable for each kind. And Patissot felt himself more like a
fisherman than Boivin himself. They decided that the following Sunday
they would meet for the opening of the season for the edification of
Patissot, who was delighted to have found such an experienced instructor.
The day before the one when he was, for the first time in his life, to
throw a hook into a river, Monsieur Patissot bought, for eighty centimes,
"How to Become a Perfect Fisherman." In this work he learned many useful
things, but he was especially impressed by the style, and he retained the
"In a word, if you wish, without books, without rules, to fish
successfully, to the left or to the right, up or down stream, in the
masterly manner that halts at no difficulty, then fish before, during and
after a storm, when the clouds break and the sky is streaked with
lightning, when the earth shakes with the grumbling thunder; it is then
that, either through hunger or terror, all the fish forget their habits
in a turbulent flight.
"In this confusion follow or neglect all favorable signs, and just go on
fishing; you will march to victory!"
In order to catch fish of all sizes, he bought three well-perfected
poles, made to be used as a cane in the city, which, on the river, could
be transformed into a fishing rod by a simple jerk. He bought some number
fifteen hooks for gudgeon, number twelve for bream, and with his number
seven he expected to fill his basket with carp. He bought no earth worms
because he was sure of finding them everywhere; but he laid in a
provision of sand worms. He had a jar full of them, and in the evening he
watched them with interest. The hideous creatures swarmed in their bath
of bran as they do in putrid meat. Patissot wished to practice baiting
his hook. He took up one with disgust, but he had hardly placed the
curved steel point against it when it split open. Twenty times he
repeated this without success, and he might have continued all night had
he not feared to exhaust his supply of vermin.
He left by the first train. The station was full of people equipped with
fishing lines. Some, like Patissot's, looked like simple bamboo canes;
others, in one piece, pointed their slender ends to the skies. They
looked like a forest of slender sticks, which mingled and clashed like
swords or swayed like masts over an ocean of broad-brimmed straw hats.
When the train started fishing rods could be seen sticking out of all the
windows and doors, giving to the train the appearance of a huge, bristly
caterpillar winding through the fields.
Everybody got off at Courbevoie and rushed for the stage for Bezons. A
crowd of fishermen crowded on top of the coach, holding their rods in
their hands, giving the vehicle the appearance of a porcupine.
All along the road men were travelling in the same direction as though on
a pilgrimage to an unknown Jerusalem. They were carrying those long,
slender sticks resembling those carried by the faithful returning from
Palestine. A tin box on a strap was fastened to their backs. They were in
At Bezons the river appeared. People were lined along bath banks, men in
frock coats, others in duck suits, others in blouses, women, children and
even young girls of marriageable age; all were fishing.
Patissot started for the dam where his friend Boivin was waiting for him.
The latter greeted him rather coolly. He had just made the acquaintance
of a big, fat man of about fifty, who seemed very strong and whose skin
was tanned. All three hired a big boat and lay off almost under the fall
of the dam, where the fish are most plentiful.
Boivin was immediately ready. He baited his line and threw it out, and
then sat motionless, watching the little float with extraordinary
concentration. From time to time he would jerk his line out of the water
and cast it farther out. The fat gentleman threw out his well-baited
hooks, put his line down beside him, filled his pipe, lit it, crossed his
arms, and, without another glance at the cork, he watched the water flow
by. Patissot once more began trying to stick sand worms on his hooks.
After about five minutes of this occupation he called to Boivin;
"Monsieur Boivin, would you be so kind as to help me put these creatures
on my hook? Try as I will, I can't seem to succeed." Boivin raised his
head: "Please don't disturb me, Monsieur Patissot; we are not here for
pleasure!" However, he baited the line, which Patissot then threw out,
carefully imitating all the motions of his friend.
The boat was tossing wildly, shaken by the waves, and spun round like a
top by the current, although anchored at both ends. Patissot, absorbed in
the sport, felt a vague kind of uneasiness; he was uncomfortably heavy
and somewhat dizzy.
They caught nothing. Little Boivin, very nervous, was gesticulating and
shaking his head in despair. Patissot was as sad as though some disaster
had overtaken him. The fat gentleman alone, still motionless, was quietly
smoking without paying any attention to his line. At last Patissot,
disgusted, turned toward him and said in a mournful voice:
"They are not biting, are they?"
He quietly replied:
"Of course not!"
Patissot surprised, looked at him.
"Do you ever catch many?"
The fat man, still smoking like a factory chimney, let out the following
words, which completely upset his neighbor:
"It would bother me a lot if they did bite. I don't come here to fish; I
come because I'm very comfortable here; I get shaken up as though I were
at sea. If I take a line along, it's only to do as others do."
Monsieur Patissot, on the other hand, did not feel at all well. His
discomfort, at first vague, kept increasing, and finally took on a
definite form. He felt, indeed, as though he were being tossed by the
sea, and he was suffering from seasickness. After the first attack had
calmed down, he proposed leaving, but Boivin grew so furious that they
almost came to blows. The fat man, moved by pity, rowed the boat back,
and, as soon as Patissot had recovered from his seasickness, they
bethought themselves of luncheon.
Two restaurants presented themselves. One of them, very small, looked
like a beer garden, and was patronized by the poorer fishermen. The other
one, which bore the imposing name of "Linden Cottage," looked like a
middle-class residence and was frequented by the aristocracy of the rod.
The two owners, born enemies, watched each other with hatred across a
large field, which separated them, and where the white house of the dam
keeper and of the inspector of the life-saving department stood out
against the green grass. Moreover, these two officials disagreed, one of
them upholding the beer garden and the other one defending the Elms, and
the internal feuds which arose in these three houses reproduced the whole
history of mankind.
Boivin, who knew the beer garden, wished to go there, exclaiming: "The
food is very good, and it isn't expensive; you'll see. Anyhow, Monsieur
Patissot, you needn't expect to get me tipsy the way you did last Sunday.
My wife was furious, you know; and she has sworn never to forgive you!"
The fat gentleman declared that he would only eat at the Elms, because it
was an excellent place and the cooking was as good as in the best
restaurants in Paris.
"Do as you wish," declared Boivin; "I am going where I am accustomed to
go." He left. Patissot, displeased at his friend's actions, followed the
They ate together, exchanged ideas, discussed opinions and found that
they were made for each other.
After the meal everyone started to fish again, but the two new friends
left together. Following along the banks, they stopped near the railroad
bridge and, still talking, they threw their lines in the water. The fish
still refused to bite, but Patissot was now making the best of it.
A family was approaching. The father, whose whiskers stamped him as a
judge, was holding an extraordinarily long rod; three boys of different
sizes were carrying poles of different lengths, according to age; and the
mother, who was very stout, gracefully manoeuvred a charming rod with a
ribbon tied to the handle. The father bowed and asked:
"Is this spot good, gentlemen?" Patissot was going to speak, when his
friend answered: "Fine!" The whole family smiled and settled down beside
the fishermen. The Patissot was seized with a wild desire to catch a
fish, just one, any kind, any size, in order to win the consideration of
these people; so he began to handle his rod as he had seen Boivin do in
the morning. He would let the cork follow the current to the end of the
line, jerk the hooks out of the water, make them describe a large circle
in the air and throw them out again a little higher up. He had even, as
he thought, caught the knack of doing this movement gracefully. He had
just jerked his line out rapidly when he felt it caught in something
behind him. He tugged, and a scream burst from behind him. He perceived,
caught on one of his hooks, and describing in the air a curve like a
meteor, a magnificent hat which he placed right in the middle of the
He turned around, bewildered, dropping his pole, which followed the hat
down the stream, while the fat gentleman, his new friend, lay on his back
and roared with laughter. The lady, hatless and astounded, choked with
anger; her husband was outraged and demanded the price of the hat, and
Patissot paid about three times its value.
Then the family departed in a very dignified manner.
Patissot took another rod, and, until nightfall, he gave baths to sand
worms. His neighbor was sleeping peacefully on the grass. Toward seven in
the evening he awoke.
"Let's go away from here!" he said.
Then Patissot withdrew his line, gave a cry and sat down hard from
astonishment. At the end of the string was a tiny little fish. When they
looked at him more closely they found that he had been hooked through the
stomach; the hook had caught him as it was being drawn out of the water.
Patissot was filled with a boundless, triumphant joy; he wished to have
the fish fried for himself alone.
During the dinner the friends grew still more intimate. He learned that
the fat gentleman lived at Argenteuil and had been sailing boats for
thirty years without losing interest in the sport. He accepted to take
luncheon with him the following Sunday and to take a sail in his friend's
clipper, Plongeon. He became so interested in the conversation that he
forgot all about his catch. He did not remember it until after the
coffee, and he demanded that it be brought him. It was alone in the
middle of a platter, and looked like a yellow, twisted match, But he ate
it with pride and relish, and at night, on the omnibus, he told his
neighbors that he had caught fourteen pounds of fish during the day.
Monsieur Patissot had promised his friend, the boating man, that he would
spend the following Sunday with him. An unforeseen occurrence changed his
plan. One evening, on the boulevard, he met one of his cousins whom he
saw but very seldom. He was a pleasant journalist, well received in all
classes of society, who offered to show Patissot many interesting things.
"What are you going to do next Sunday?"
"I'm going boating at Argenteuil."
"Come on! Boating is an awful bore; there is no variety to it. Listen
—I'll take you along with me. I'll introduce you to two
celebrities. We will visit the homes of two artists."
"But I have been ordered to go to the country!"
"That's just where we'll go. On the way we'll call on Meissonier, at his
place in Poissy; then we'll walk over to Medan, where Zola lives. I have
been commissioned to obtain his next novel for our newspaper."
Patissot, wild with joy, accepted the invitation. He even bought a new
frock coat, as his own was too much worn to make a good appearance. He
was terribly afraid of saying something foolish either to the artist or
to the man of letters, as do people who speak of an art which they have
He mentioned his fears to his cousin, who laughed and answered: "Pshaw!
Just pay them compliments, nothing but compliments, always compliments;
in that way, if you say anything foolish it will be overlooked. Do you
know Meissonier's paintings?"
"I should say I do."
"Have you read the Rougon-Macquart series?"
"From first to last."
"That's enough. Mention a painting from time to time, speak of a novel
here and there and add:
"'Superb! Extraordinary! Delightful technique! Wonderfully powerful!' In
that way you can always get along. I know that those two are very blase
about everything, but admiration always pleases an artist."
Sunday morning they left for Poissy.
Just a few steps from the station, at the end of the church square, they
found Meissonier's property. After passing through a low door, painted
red, which led into a beautiful alley of vines, the journalist stopped
and, turning toward his companion, asked:
"What is your idea of Meissonier?"
Patissot hesitated. At last he decided: "A little man, well groomed,
clean shaven, a soldierly appearance." The other smiled: "All right, come
along." A quaint building in the form of a chalet appeared to the left;
and to the right side, almost opposite, was the main house. It was a
strange-looking building, where there was a mixture of everything, a
mingling of Gothic fortress, manor, villa, hut, residence, cathedral,
mosque, pyramid, a, weird combination of Eastern and Western
architecture. The style was complicated enough to set a classical
architect crazy, and yet there was something whimsical and pretty about
it. It had been invented and built under the direction of the artist.
They went in; a collection of trunks encumbered a little parlor. A little
man appeared, dressed in a jumper. The striking thing about him was his
beard. He bowed to the journalist, and said: "My dear sir, I hope that
you will excuse me; I only returned yesterday, and everything is all
upset here. Please be seated." The other refused, excusing himself: "My
dear master, I only dropped in to pay my respects while passing by."
Patissot, very much embarrassed, was bowing at every word of his
friend's, as though moving automatically, and he murmured, stammering:
"What a su—su—superb property!" The artist, flattered,
smiled, and suggested visiting it.
He led them first to a little pavilion of feudal aspect, where his former
studio was. Then they crossed a parlor, a dining-room, a vestibule full
of beautiful works of art, of beautiful Beauvais, Gobelin and Flanders
tapestries. But the strange external luxury of ornamentation became,
inside, a revel of immense stairways. A magnificent grand stairway, a
secret stairway in one tower, a servants' stairway in another, stairways
everywhere! Patissot, by chance, opened a door and stepped back
astonished. It was a veritable temple, this place of which respectable
people only mention the name in English, an original and charming
sanctuary in exquisite taste, fitted up like a pagoda, and the decoration
of which must certainly have caused a great effort.
They next visited the park, which was complex, varied, with winding paths
and full of old trees. But the journalist insisted on leaving; and, with
many thanks, he took leave of the master: As they left they met a
gardener; Patissot asked him: "Has Monsieur Meissonier owned this place
for a long time?" The man answered: "Oh, monsieur! that needs explaining.
I guess he bought the grounds in 1846. But, as for the house! he has
already torn down and rebuilt that five or six times. It must have cost
him at least two millions!" As Patissot left he was seized with an
immense respect for this man, not on account of his success, glory or
talent, but for putting so much money into a whim, because the bourgeois
deprive themselves of all pleasure in order to hoard money.
After crossing Poissy, they struck out on foot along the road to Medan.
The road first followed the Seine, which is dotted with charming islands
at this place. Then they went up a hill and crossed the pretty village of
Villaines, went down a little; and finally reached the neighborhood
inhabited by the author of the Rougon-Macquart series.
A pretty old church with two towers appeared on the left. They walked
along a short distance, and a passing farmer directed them to the
Before entering, they examined the house. A large building, square and
new, very high, seemed, as in the fable of the mountain and the mouse, to
have given birth to a tiny little white house, which nestled near it.
This little house was the original dwelling, and had been built by the
former owner. The tower had been erected by Zola.
They rang the bell. An enormous dog, a cross between a Saint Bernard and
a Newfoundland, began to howl so terribly that Patissot felt a vague
desire to retrace his steps. But a servant ran forward, calmed
"Bertrand," opened the door, and took the journalist's card in order to
carry it to his master.
"I hope that he will receive us!" murmured Patissot. "It would be too bad
if we had come all this distance not to see him."
His companion smiled and answered: "Never fear, I have a plan for getting
But the servant, who had returned, simply asked them to follow him.
They entered the new building, and Patissot, who was quite enthusiastic,
was panting as he climbed a stairway of ancient style which led to the
At the same time he was trying to picture to himself this man whose
glorious name echoes at present in all corners of the earth, amid the
exasperated hatred of some, the real or feigned indignation of society,
the envious scorn of several of his colleagues, the respect of a mass of
readers, and the frenzied admiration of a great number. He expected to
see a kind of bearded giant, of awe-inspiring aspect, with a thundering
voice and an appearance little prepossessing at first.
The door opened on a room of uncommonly large dimensions, broad and high,
lighted by an enormous window looking out over the valley. Old tapestries
covered the walls; on the left, a monumental fireplace, flanked by two
stone men, could have burned a century-old oak in one day. An immense
table littered with books, papers and magazines stood in the middle of
this apartment so vast and grand that it first engrossed the eye, and the
attention was only afterward drawn to the man, stretched out when they
entered on an Oriental divan where twenty persons could have slept. He
took a few steps toward them, bowed, motioned to two seats, and turned
back to his divan, where he sat with one leg drawn under him. A book lay
open beside him, and in his right hand he held an ivory paper-cutter, the
end of which he observed from time to time with one eye, closing the
other with the persistency of a near-sighted person.
While the journalist explained the purpose of the visit, and the writer
listened to him without yet answering, at times staring at him fixedly,
Patissot, more and more embarrassed, was observing this celebrity.
Hardly forty, he was of medium height, fairly stout, and with a
good-natured look. His head (very similar to those found in many Italian
paintings of the sixteenth century), without being beautiful in the
plastic sense of the word, gave an impression of great strength of
character, power and intelligence. Short hair stood up straight on the
high, well-developed forehead. A straight nose stopped short, as if cut
off suddenly above the upper lip which was covered with a black mustache;
over the whole chin was a closely-cropped beard. The dark, often ironical
look was piercing, one felt that behind it there was a mind always
actively at work observing people, interpreting words, analyzing
gestures, uncovering the heart. This strong, round head was appropriate
to his name, quick and short, with the bounding resonance of the two
When the journalist had fully explained his proposition, the writer
answered him that he did not wish to make any definite arrangement, that
he would, however, think the matter over, that his plans were not yet
sufficiently defined. Then he stopped. It was a dismissal, and the two
men, a little confused, arose. A desire seized Patissot; he wished this
well-known person to say something to him, anything, some word which he
could repeat to his colleagues; and, growing bold, he stammered: "Oh,
monsieur! If you knew how I appreciate your works!" The other bowed, but
answered nothing. Patissot became very bold and continued: "It is a great
honor for me to speak to you to-day." The writer once more bowed, but
with a stiff and impatient look. Patissot noticed it, and, completely
losing his head, he added as he retreated: "What a su—su
Then, in the heart of the man of letters, the landowner awoke, and,
smiling, he opened the window to show them the immense stretch of view.
An endless horizon broadened out on all sides, giving a view of Triel,
Pisse-Fontaine, Chanteloup, all the heights of Hautrie, and the Seine as
far as the eye could see. The two visitors, delighted, congratulated him,
and the house was opened to them. They saw everything, down to the dainty
kitchen, whose walls and even ceilings were covered with porcelain tiles
ornamented with blue designs, which excited the wonder of the farmers.
"How did you happen to buy this place?" asked the journalist.
The novelist explained that, while looking for a cottage to hire for the
summer, he had found the little house, which was for sale for several
thousand francs, a song, almost nothing. He immediately bought it.
"But everything that you have added must have cost you a good deal!"
The writer smiled, and answered: "Yes, quite a little."
The two men left. The journalist, taking Patissot by the arm, was
philosophizing in a low voice:
"Every general has his Waterloo," he said; "every Balzac has his Jardies,
and every artist living in the country feels like a landed proprietor."
They took the train at the station of Villaines, and, on the way home,
Patissot loudly mentioned the names of the famous painter and of the
great novelist as though they were his friends. He even allowed people to
think that he had taken luncheon with one and dinner with the other.
BEFORE THE CELEBRATION
The celebration is approaching and preliminary quivers are already
running through the streets, just as the ripples disturb the water
preparatory to a storm. The shops, draped with flags, display a variety
of gay-colored bunting materials, and the dry-goods people deceive one
about the three colors as grocers do about the weight of candles. Little
by little, hearts warm up to the matter; people speak about it in the
street after dinner; ideas are exchanged:
"What a celebration it will be, my friend; what a celebration!"
"Have you heard the news? All the rulers are coming incognito, as
bourgeois, in order to see it."
"I hear that the Emperor of Russia has arrived; he expects to go about
everywhere with the Prince of Wales."
"It certainly will be a fine celebration!"
It is going to a celebration; what Monsieur Patissot, Parisian bourgeois,
calls a celebration; one of these nameless tumults which, for fifteen
hours, roll from one end of the city to the other, every ugly specimen
togged out in its finest, a mob of perspiring bodies, where side by side
are tossed about the stout gossip bedecked in red, white and blue
ribbons, grown fat behind her counter and panting from lack of breath,
the rickety clerk with his wife and brat in tow, the laborer carrying his
youngster astride his neck, the bewildered provincial with his foolish,
dazed expression, the groom, barely shaved and still spreading the
perfume of the stable. And the foreigners dressed like monkeys, English
women like giraffes, the water-carrier, cleaned up for the occasion, and
the innumerable phalanx of little bourgeois, inoffensive little people,
amused at everything. All this crowding and pressing, the sweat and dust,
and the turmoil, all these eddies of human flesh, trampling of corns
beneath the feet of your neighbors, this city all topsy-turvy, these vile
odors, these frantic efforts toward nothing, the breath of millions of
people, all redolent of garlic, give to Monsieur Patissot all the joy
which it is possible for his heart to hold.
After reading the proclamation of the mayor on the walls of his district
he had made his preparations.
This bit of prose said:
I wish to call your attention particularly to the part of
individuals in this celebration. Decorate your homes, illuminate
your windows. Get together, open up a subscription in order to give
to your houses and to your street a more brilliant and more artistic
appearance than the neighboring houses and streets.
Then Monsieur Patissot tried to imagine how he could give to his home an
One serious obstacle stood in the way. His only window looked out on a
courtyard, a narrow, dark shaft, where only the rats could have seen his
three Japanese lanterns.
He needed a public opening. He found it. On the first floor of his house
lived a rich man, a nobleman and a royalist, whose coachman, also a
reactionary, occupied a garret-room on the sixth floor, facing the
street. Monsieur Patissot supposed that by paying (every conscience can
be bought) he could obtain the use of the room for the day. He proposed
five francs to this citizen of the whip for the use of his room from noon
till midnight. The offer was immediately accepted.
Then he began to busy himself with the decorations. Three flags, four
lanterns, was that enough to give to this box an artistic
appearance—to express all the noble feelings of his soul? No;
assuredly not! But, notwithstanding diligent search and nightly
meditation, Monsieur Patissot could think of nothing else. He consulted
his neighbors, who were surprised at the question; he questioned his
colleagues—every one had bought lanterns and flags, some adding,
for the occasion, red, white and blue bunting.
Then he began to rack his brains for some original idea. He frequented
the cafes, questioning the patrons; they lacked imagination. Then one
morning he went out on top of an omnibus. A respectable-looking gentleman
was smoking a cigar beside him, a little farther away a laborer was
smoking his pipe upside down, near the driver two rough fellows were
joking, and clerks of every description were going to business for three
Before the stores stacks of flags were resplendent under the rising sun.
Patissot turned to his neighbor.
"It is going to be a fine celebration," he said. The gentleman looked at
him sideways and answered in a haughty manner:
"That makes no difference to me!"
"You are not going to take part in it?" asked the surprised clerk. The
other shook his head disdainfully and declared:
"They make me tired with their celebrations! Whose celebration is it? The
government's? I do not recognize this government, monsieur!"
But Patissot, as government employee, took on his superior manner, and
answered in a stern voice:
"Monsieur, the Republic is the government."
His neighbor was not in the least disturbed, and, pushing his hands down
in his pockets, he exclaimed:
"Well, and what then? It makes no difference to me. Whether it's for the
Republic or something else, I don't care! What I want, monsieur, is to
know my government. I saw Charles X. and adhered to him, monsieur; I saw
Louis-Philippe and adhered to him, monsieur; I saw Napoleon and adhered
to him; but I have never seen the Republic."
Patissot, still serious, answered:
"The Republic, monsieur, is represented by its president!"
The other grumbled:
"Well, them, show him to me!"
Patissot shrugged his shoulders.
"Every one can see him; he's not shut up in a closet!"
Suddenly the fat man grew angry.
"Excuse me, monsieur, he cannot be seen. I have personally tried more
than a hundred times, monsieur. I have posted myself near the Elysee; he
did not come out. A passer-by informed me that he was playing billiards
in the cafe opposite; I went to the cafe opposite; he was not there. I
had been promised that he would go to Melun for the convention; I went to
Melun, I did not see him. At last I became weary. I did not even see
Monsieur Gambetta, and I do not know a single deputy."
He was, growing excited:
"A government, monsieur, is made to be seen; that's what it's there for,
and for nothing else. One must be able to know that on such and such a
day at such an hour the government will pass through such and such a
street. Then one goes there and is satisfied."
Patissot, now calm, was enjoying his arguments.
"It is true," he said, "that it is agreeable to know the people by whom
one is governed."
The gentleman continued more gently:
"Do you know how I would manage the celebration? Well, monsieur, I would
have a procession of gilded cars, like the chariots used at the crowning
of kings; in them I would parade all the members of the government, from
the president to the deputies, throughout Paris all day long. In that
manner, at least, every one would know by sight the personnel of the
But one of the toughs near the coachman turned around, exclaiming:
"And the fatted ox, where would you put him?"
A laugh ran round the two benches. Patissot understood the objection, and
"It might not perhaps be very dignified."
The gentleman thought the matter over and admitted it.
"Then," he said, "I would place them in view some place, so that every
one could see them without going out of his way; on the Triumphal Arch at
the Place de l'Etoile, for instance; and I would have the whole
population pass before them. That would be very imposing."
Once more the tough turned round and said:
"You'd have to take telescopes to see their faces."
The gentleman did not answer; he continued:
"It's just like the presentation of the flags! There ought, to be some
pretext, a mimic war ought to be organized, and the banners would be
awarded to the troops as a reward. I had an idea about which I wrote to
the minister; but he has not deigned to answer me. As the taking of the
Bastille has been chosen for the date of the national celebration, a
reproduction of this event might be made; there would be a pasteboard
Bastille, fixed up by a scene-painter and concealing within its walls the
whole Column of July. Then, monsieur, the troop would attack. That would
be a magnificent spectacle as well as a lesson, to see the army itself
overthrow the ramparts of tyranny. Then this Bastille would be set fire
to and from the midst of the flames would appear the Column with the
genius of Liberty, symbol of a new order and of the freedom of the
This time every one was listening to him and finding his idea excellent.
An old gentleman exclaimed:
"That is a great idea, monsieur, which does you honor. It is to be
regretted that the government did not adopt it."
A young man declared that actors ought to recite the "Iambes" of Barbier
through the streets in order to teach the people art and liberty
These propositions excited general enthusiasm. Each one wished to have
his word; all were wrought up. From a passing hand-organ a few strains of
the Marseillaise were heard; the laborer started the song, and everybody
joined in, roaring the chorus. The exalted nature of the song and its
wild rhythm fired the driver, who lashed his horses to a gallop. Monsieur
Patissot was bawling at the top of his lungs, and the passengers inside,
frightened, were wondering what hurricane had struck them.
At last they stopped, and Monsieur Patissot, judging his neighbor to be a
man of initiative, consulted him about the preparations which he expected
"Lanterns and flags are all right,"' said Patissot; "but I prefer
The other thought for a long time, but found nothing. Then, in despair,
the clerk bought three flags and four lanterns.
AN EXPERIMENT IN LOVE
Many poets think that nature is incomplete without women, and hence,
doubtless, come all the flowery comparisons which, in their songs, make
our natural companion in turn a rose, a violet, a tulip, or something of
that order. The need of tenderness which seizes us at dusk, when the
evening mist begins to roll in from the hills, and when all the perfumes
of the earth intoxicate us, is but imperfectly satisfied by lyric
invocations. Monsieur Patissot, like all others, was seized with a wild
desire for tenderness, for sweet kisses exchanged along a path where
sunshine steals in at times, for the pressure of a pair of small hands,
for a supple waist bending under his embrace.
He began to look at love as an unbounded pleasure, and, in his hours of
reverie, he thanked the Great Unknown for having put so much charm into
the caresses of human beings. But he needed a companion, and he did not
know where to find one. On the advice of a friend, he went to the
Folies-Bergere. There he saw a complete assortment. He was greatly
perplexed to choose between them, for the desires of his heart were
chiefly composed of poetic impulses, and poetry did not seem to be the
strong point of these young ladies with penciled eyebrows who smiled at
him in such a disturbing manner, showing the enamel of their false teeth.
At last his choice fell on a young beginner who seemed poor and timid and
whose sad look seemed to announce a nature easily influenced-by poetry.
He made an appointment with her for the following day at nine o'clock at
the Saint-Lazare station. She did not come, but she was kind enough to
send a friend in her stead.
She was a tall, red-haired girl, patriotically dressed in three colors,
and covered by an immense tunnel hat, of which her head occupied the
centre. Monsieur Patissot, a little disappointed, nevertheless accepted
this substitute. They left for Maisons-Laffite, where regattas and a
grand Venetian festival had been announced.
As soon as they were in the car, which was already occupied by two
gentlemen who wore the red ribbon and three ladies who must at least have
been duchesses, they were so dignified, the big red-haired girl, who
answered the name of Octavie, announced to Patissot, in a screeching
voice, that she was a fine girl fond of a good time and loving the
country because there she could pick flowers and eat fried fish. She
laughed with a shrillness which almost shattered the windows, familiarly
calling her companion "My big darling."
Shame overwhelmed Patissot, who as a government employee, had to observe
a certain amount of decorum. But Octavie stopped talking, glancing at her
neighbors, seized with the overpowering desire which haunts all women of
a certain class to make the acquaintance of respectable women. After
about five minutes she thought she had found an opening, and, drawing
from her pocket a Gil-Blas, she politely offered it to one of the amazed
ladies, who declined, shaking her head. Then the big, red-haired girl
began saying things with a double meaning, speaking of women who are
stuck up without being any better than the others; sometimes she would
let out a vulgar word which acted like a bomb exploding amid the icy
dignity of the passengers.
At last they arrived. Patissot immediately wished to gain the shady nooks
of the park, hoping that the melancholy of the forest would quiet the
ruffled temper of his companion. But an entirely different effect
resulted. As soon as she was amid the leaves and grass she began to sing
at the top of her lungs snatches from operas which had stuck in her
frivolous mind, warbling and trilling, passing from "Robert le Diable" to
the "Muette," lingering especially on a sentimental love-song, whose last
verses she sang in a voice as piercing as a gimlet.
Then suddenly she grew hungry. Patissot, who was still awaiting the
hoped-for tenderness, tried in vain to retain her. Then she grew angry,
"I am not here for a dull time, am I?"
He had to take her to the Petit-Havre restaurant, which was near the
place where the regatta was to be held.
She ordered an endless luncheon, a succession of dishes substantial
enough to feed a regiment. Then, unable to wait, she called for relishes.
A box of sardines was brought; she started in on it as though she
intended to swallow the box itself. But when she had eaten two or three
of the little oily fish she declared that she was no longer hungry and
that she wished to see the preparations for the race.
Patissot, in despair and in his turn seized with hunger, absolutely
refused to move. She started off alone, promising to return in time for
the dessert. He began to eat in lonely silence, not knowing how to lead
this rebellious nature to the realization of his dreams.
As she did not return he set out in search of her. She had found some
friends, a troop of boatmen, in scanty garb, sunburned to the tips of
their ears, and gesticulating, who were loudly arranging the details of
the race in front of the house of Fourmaise, the builder.
Two respectable-looking gentlemen, probably the judges, were listening
attentively. As soon as she saw Patissot, Octavie, who was leaning on the
tanned arm of a strapping fellow who probably had more muscle than
brains, whispered a few words in his ears. He answered:
"That's an agreement."
She returned to the clerk full of joy, her eyes sparkling, almost
"Let's go for a row," said she.
Pleased to see her so charming, he gave in to this new whim and procured
a boat. But she obstinately refused to go to the races, notwithstanding
"I had rather be alone with you, darling."
His heart thrilled. At last!
He took off his coat and began to row madly.
An old dilapidated mill, whose worm-eaten wheels hung over the water,
stood with its two arches across a little arm of the river. Slowly they
passed beneath it, and, when they were on the other side, they noticed
before them a delightful little stretch of river, shaded by great trees
which formed an arch over their heads. The little stream flowed along,
winding first to the right and then to the left, continually revealing
new scenes, broad fields on one side and on the other side a hill covered
with cottages. They passed before a bathing establishment almost entirely
hidden by the foliage, a charming country spot where gentlemen in clean
gloves and beribboned ladies displayed all the ridiculous awkwardness of
elegant people in the country. She cried joyously:
"Later on we will take a dip there."
Farther on, in a kind of bay, she wished to stop, coaxing:
"Come here, honey, right close to me."
She put her arm around his neck and, leaning her head on his shoulder,
"How nice it is! How delightful it is on the water!"
Patissot was reveling in happiness. He was thinking of those foolish
boatmen who, without ever feeling the penetrating charm of the river
banks and the delicate grace of the reeds, row along out of breath,
perspiring and tired out, from the tavern where they take luncheon to the
tavern where they take dinner.
He was so comfortable that he fell asleep. When he awoke, he was alone.
He called, but no one answered. Anxious, he climbed up on the side of the
river, fearing that some accident might have happened.
Then, in the distance, coming in his direction, he saw a long, slender
gig which four oarsmen as black as negroes were driving through the water
like an arrow. It came nearer, skimming over the water; a woman was
holding the tiller. Heavens! It looked—it was she! In order to
regulate the rhythm of the stroke, she was singing in her shrill voice a
boating song, which she interrupted for a minute as she got in front of
Patissot. Then, throwing him a kiss, she cried:
"You big goose!"
A DINNER AND SOME OPINIONS
On the occasion of the national celebration Monsieur Antoine Perdrix,
chief of Monsieur Patissot's department, was made a knight of the Legion
of Honor. He had been in service for thirty years under preceding
governments, and for ten years under the present one. His employees,
although grumbling a little at being thus rewarded in the person of their
chief, thought it wise, nevertheless, to offer him a cross studded with
paste diamonds. The new knight, in turn, not wishing to be outdone,
invited them all to dinner for the following Sunday, at his place at
The house, decorated with Moorish ornaments, looked like a cafe concert,
but its location gave it value, as the railroad cut through the whole
garden, passing within a hundred and fifty feet of the porch. On the
regulation plot of grass stood a basin of Roman cement, containing
goldfish and a stream of water the size of that which comes from a
syringe, which occasionally made microscopic rainbows at which the guests
The feeding of this irrigator was the constant preoccupation of Monsieur
Perdrix, who would sometimes get up at five o'clock in the morning in
order to fill the tank. Then, in his shirt sleeves, his big stomach
almost bursting from his trousers, he would pump wildly, so that on
returning from the office he could have the satisfaction of letting the
fountain play and of imagining that it was cooling off the garden.
On the night of the official dinner all the guests, one after the other,
went into ecstasies over the surroundings, and each time they heard a
train in the distance, Monsieur Perdrix would announce to them its
destination: Saint-Germain, Le Havre, Cherbourg, or Dieppe, and they
would playfully wave to the passengers leaning from the windows.
The whole office force was there. First came Monsieur Capitaine, the
assistant chief; Monsieur Patissot, chief clerk; then Messieurs de
Sombreterre and Vallin, elegant young employees who only came to the
office when they had to; lastly Monsieur Rade, known throughout the
ministry for the absurd doctrines which he upheld, and the copying clerk,
Monsieur Rade passed for a character. Some called him a dreamer or an
idealist, others a revolutionary; every one agreed that he was very
clumsy. Old, thin and small, with bright eyes and long, white hair, he
had all his life professed a profound contempt for administrative work. A
book rummager and a great reader, with a nature continually in revolt
against everything, a seeker of truth and a despiser of popular
prejudices, he had a clear and paradoxical manner of expressing his
opinions which closed the mouths of self-satisfied fools and of those
that were discontented without knowing why. People said: "That old fool
of a Rade," or else: "That harebrained Rade"; and the slowness, of his
promotion seemed to indicate the reason, according to commonplace minds.
His freedom of speech often made—his colleagues tremble; they asked
themselves with terror how he had been able to keep his place as long as
he had. As soon as they had seated themselves, Monsieur Perdrix thanked
his "collaborators" in a neat little speech, promising them his
protection, the more valuable as his power grew, and he ended with a
stirring peroration in which he thanked and glorified a government so
liberal and just that it knows how to seek out the worthy from among the
Monsieur Capitaine, the assistant chief, answered in the name of the
office, congratulated, greeted, exalted, sang the praises of all; frantic
applause greeted these two bits of eloquence. After that they settled
down seriously to the business of eating.
Everything went well up to the dessert; lack of conversation went
unnoticed. But after the coffee a discussion arose, and Monsieur Rade let
himself loose and soon began to overstep the bounds of discretion.
They naturally discussed love, and a breath of chivalry intoxicated this
room full of bureaucrats; they praised and exalted the superior beauty of
woman, the delicacy of hex soul, her aptitude for exquisite things, the
correctness of her judgment, and the refinement of her sentiments.
Monsieur Rade began to protest, energetically refusing to credit the
so-called "fair" sex with all the qualities they ascribed to it; then,
amidst the general indignation, he quoted some authors:
"Schopenhauer, gentlemen, Schopenhauer, the great philosopher, revered by
all Germany, says: 'Man's intelligence must have been terribly deadened
by love in order to call this sex with the small waist, narrow shoulders,
large hips and crooked legs, the fair sex. All its beauty lies in the
instinct of love. Instead of calling it the fair, it would have been
better to call it the unaesthetic sex. Women have neither the
appreciation nor the knowledge of music, any more than they have of
poetry or of the plastic arts; with them it is merely an apelike
imitation, pure pretence, affectation cultivated from their desire to
"The man who said that is an idiot," exclaimed Monsieur de Sombreterre.
Monsieur Rade smilingly continued:
"And how about Rousseau, gentlemen? Here is his opinion: 'Women, as a
rule, love no art, are skilled in none, and have no talent.'"
Monsieur de Sombreterre disdainfully shrugged his shoulders:
"Then Rousseau is as much of a fool as the other, that's all."
Monsieur Rade, still smiling, went on:
"And this is what Lord Byron said, who, nevertheless, loved women: 'They
should be well fed and well dressed, but not allowed to mingle with
society. They should also be taught religion, but they should ignore
poetry and politics, only being allowed to read religious works or
Monsieur Rade continued:
"You see, gentlemen, all of them study painting and music. But not a
single one of them has ever painted a remarkable picture or composed a
great opera! Why, gentlemen? Because they are the 'sexes sequior', the
secondary sex in every sense of the word, made to be kept apart, in the
Monsieur Patissot was growing angry, and exclaimed:
"And how about Madame Sand, monsieur?"
"She is the one exception, monsieur, the one exception. I will quote to
you another passage from another great philosopher, this one an
Englishman, Herbert Spencer. Here is what he says: 'Each sex is capable,
under the influence of abnormal stimulation, of manifesting faculties
ordinarily reserved for the other one. Thus, for instance, in extreme
cases a special excitement may cause the breasts of men to give milk;
children deprived of their mothers have often thus been saved in time of
famine. Nevertheless, we do not place this faculty of giving milk among
the male attributes. It is the same with female intelligence, which, in
certain cases, will give superior products, but which is not to be
considered in an estimate of the feminine nature as a social factor.'"
All Monsieur Patissot's chivalric instincts were wounded and he declared:
"You are not a Frenchman, monsieur. French gallantry is a form of
Monsieur Rade retorted:
"I have very little patriotism, monsieur, as little as I can get along
A coolness settled over the company, but he continued quietly:
"Do you admit with me that war is a barbarous thing; that this custom of
killing off people constitutes a condition of savagery; that it is
odious, when life is the only real good, to see governments, whose duty
is to protect the lives of their subjects, persistently looking for means
of destruction? Am I not right? Well, if war is a terrible thing, what
about patriotism, which is the idea at the base of it? When a murderer
kills he has a fixed idea; it is to steal. When a good man sticks his
bayonet through another good man, father of a family, or, perhaps, a
great artist, what idea is he following out?"
Everybody was shocked.
"When one has such thoughts, one should not express them in public."
M. Patissot continued:
"There are, however, monsieur, principles which all good people
M. Rade asked: "Which ones?"
Then very solemnly, M. Patissot pronounced: "Morality, monsieur."
M. Rade was beaming; he exclaimed:
"Just let me give you one example, gentlemen, one little example. What is
your opinion of the gentlemen with the silk caps who thrive along the
boulevard's on the delightful traffic which you know, and who make a
living out of it?"
A look of disgust ran round the table:
"Well, gentlemen! only a century ago, when an elegant gentleman, very
ticklish about his honor, had for—friend—a beautiful and rich
lady, it was considered perfectly proper to live at her expense and even
to squander her whole fortune. This game was considered delightful. This
only goes to show that the principles of morality are by no means
M. Perdrix, visibly embarrassed, stopped him:
"M. Rade, you are sapping the very foundations of society. One must
always have principles. Thus, in politics, here is M. de Sombreterre, who
is a Legitimist; M. Vallin, an Orleanist; M. Patissot and myself,
Republicans; we all have very different principles, and yet we agree very
well because we have them."
But M. Rade exclaimed:
"I also have principles, gentlemen, very distinct ones."
M. Patissot raised his head and coldly asked:
"It would please me greatly to know them, monsieur."
M. Rade did not need to be coaxed.
"Here they are, monsieur:
"First principle—Government by one person is a monstrosity.
"Second principle—Restricted suffrage is an injustice.
"Third principle—Universal suffrage is idiotic.
"To deliver up millions of men, superior minds, scientists, even
geniuses, to the caprice and will of a being who, in an instant of
gaiety, madness, intoxication or love, would not hesitate to sacrifice
everything for his exalted fancy, would spend the wealth of the country
amassed by others with difficulty, would have thousands of men
slaughtered on the battle-fields, all this appears to me—a simple
logician—a monstrous aberration.
"But, admitting that a country must govern itself, to exclude, on some
always debatable pretext, a part of the citizens from the administration
of affairs is such an injustice that it seems to me unworthy of a further
"There remains universal suffrage. I suppose that you will agree with me
that geniuses are a rarity. Let us be liberal and say that there are at
present five in France. Now, let us add, perhaps, two hundred men with a
decided talent, one thousand others possessing various talents, and ten
thousand superior intellects. This is a staff of eleven thousand two
hundred and five minds. After that you have the army of mediocrities
followed by the multitude of fools. As the mediocrities and the fools
always form the immense majority, it is impossible for them to elect an
"In order to be fair I admit that logically universal suffrage seems to
me the only admissible principle, but it is impracticable. Here are the
"To make all the living forces of the country cooperate in the
government, to represent all the interests, to take into account all the
rights, is an ideal dream, but hardly practicable, because the only force
which can be measured is that very one which should be neglected, the
stupid strength of numbers, According to your method, unintelligent
numbers equal genius, knowledge, learning, wealth and industry. When you
are able to give to a member of the Institute ten thousand votes to a
ragman's one, one hundred votes for a great land-owner as against his
farmer's ten, then you will have approached an equilibrium of forces and
obtained a national representation which will really represent the
strength of the nation. But I challenge you to do it.
"Here are my conclusions:
"Formerly, when a man was a failure at every other profession he turned
photographer; now he has himself elected a deputy. A government thus
composed will always be sadly lacking, incapable of evil as well as of
good. On the other hand, a despot, if he be stupid, can do a lot of harm,
and, if he be intelligent (a thing which is very scarce), he may do good.
"I cannot decide between these two forms of government; I declare myself
to be an anarchist, that is to say, a partisan of that power which is the
most unassuming, the least felt, the most liberal, in the broadest sense
of the word, and revolutionary at the same time; by that I mean the
everlasting enemy of this same power, which can in no way be anything but
defective. That's all!"
Cries of indignation rose about the table, and all, whether Legitimist,
Orleanist or Republican through force of circumstances, grew red with
anger. M. Patissot especially was choking with rage, and, turning toward
M. Rade, he cried:
"Then, monsieur, you believe in nothing?"
The other answered quietly:
"You're absolutely correct, monsieur."
The anger felt by all the guests prevented M. Rade from continuing, and
M. Perdrix, as chief, closed the discussion.
"Enough, gentlemen! We each have our opinion, and we have no intention of
All agreed with the wise words. But M. Rade, never satisfied, wished to
have the last word.
"I have, however, one moral," said he. "It is simple and always
applicable. One sentence embraces the whole thought; here it is: 'Never
do unto another that which you would not have him do unto you.' I defy
you to pick any flaw in it, while I will undertake to demolish your most
sacred principles with three arguments."
This time there was no answer. But as they were going home at night, by
couples, each one was saying to his companion: "Really, M. Rade goes much
too far. His mind must surely be unbalanced. He ought to be appointed
assistant chief at the Charenton Asylum."