THE ILLUSTRIOUS GAUDISSART
By Honore De Balzac
Translated By Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Madame la Duchesse de Castries.
THE ILLUSTRIOUS GAUDISSART
The commercial traveller, a personage unknown to antiquity, is one of the
striking figures created by the manners and customs of our present epoch.
May he not, in some conceivable order of things, be destined to mark for
coming philosophers the great transition which welds a period of material
enterprise to the period of intellectual strength? Our century will bind
the realm of isolated power, abounding as it does in creative genius, to
the realm of universal but levelling might; equalizing all products,
spreading them broadcast among the masses, and being itself controlled by
the principle of unity,—the final expression of all societies. Do we
not find the dead level of barbarism succeeding the saturnalia of popular
thought and the last struggles of those civilizations which accumulated
the treasures of the world in one direction?
The commercial traveller! Is he not to the realm of ideas what our
stage-coaches are to men and things? He is their vehicle; he sets them
going, carries them along, rubs them up with one another. He takes from
the luminous centre a handful of light, and scatters it broadcast among
the drowsy populations of the duller regions. This human pyrotechnic is a
scholar without learning, a juggler hoaxed by himself, an unbelieving
priest of mysteries and dogmas, which he expounds all the better for his
want of faith. Curious being! He has seen everything, known everything,
and is up in all the ways of the world. Soaked in the vices of Paris, he
affects to be the fellow-well-met of the provinces. He is the link which
connects the village with the capital; though essentially he is neither
Parisian nor provincial,—he is a traveller. He sees nothing to the
core: men and places he knows by their names; as for things, he looks
merely at their surface, and he has his own little tape-line with which to
measure them. His glance shoots over all things and penetrates none. He
occupies himself with a great deal, yet nothing occupies him.
Jester and jolly fellow, he keeps on good terms with all political
opinions, and is patriotic to the bottom of his soul. A capital mimic, he
knows how to put on, turn and turn about, the smiles of persuasion,
satisfaction, and good-nature, or drop them for the normal expression of
his natural man. He is compelled to be an observer of a certain sort in
the interests of his trade. He must probe men with a glance and guess
their habits, wants, and above all their solvency. To economize time he
must come to quick decisions as to his chances of success,—a
practice that makes him more or less a man of judgment; on the strength of
which he sets up as a judge of theatres, and discourses about those of
Paris and the provinces.
He knows all the good and bad haunts in France, "de actu et visu." He can
pilot you, on occasion, to vice or virtue with equal assurance. Blest with
the eloquence of a hot-water spigot turned on at will, he can check or let
run, without floundering, the collection of phrases which he keeps on tap,
and which produce upon his victims the effect of a moral shower-bath.
Loquacious as a cricket, he smokes, drinks, wears a profusion of trinkets,
overawes the common people, passes for a lord in the villages, and never
permits himself to be "stumped,"—a slang expression all his own. He
knows how to slap his pockets at the right time, and make his money jingle
if he thinks the servants of the second-class houses which he wants to
enter (always eminently suspicious) are likely to take him for a thief.
Activity is not the least surprising quality of this human machine. Not
the hawk swooping upon its prey, not the stag doubling before the huntsman
and the hounds, nor the hounds themselves catching scent of the game, can
be compared with him for the rapidity of his dart when he spies a
"commission," for the agility with which he trips up a rival and gets
ahead of him, for the keenness of his scent as he noses a customer and
discovers the sport where he can get off his wares.
How many great qualities must such a man possess! You will find in all
countries many such diplomats of low degree; consummate negotiators
arguing in the interests of calico, jewels, frippery, wines; and often
displaying more true diplomacy than ambassadors themselves, who, for the
most part, know only the forms of it. No one in France can doubt the
powers of the commercial traveller; that intrepid soul who dares all, and
boldly brings the genius of civilization and the modern inventions of
Paris into a struggle with the plain commonsense of remote villages, and
the ignorant and boorish treadmill of provincial ways. Can we ever forget
the skilful manoeuvres by which he worms himself into the minds of the
populace, bringing a volume of words to bear upon the refractory,
reminding us of the indefatigable worker in marbles whose file eats slowly
into a block of porphyry? Would you seek to know the utmost power of
language, or the strongest pressure that a phrase can bring to bear
against rebellious lucre, against the miserly proprietor squatting in the
recesses of his country lair?—listen to one of these great
ambassadors of Parisian industry as he revolves and works and sucks like
an intelligent piston of the steam-engine called Speculation.
"Monsieur," said a wise political economist, the director-cashier-manager
and secretary-general of a celebrated fire-insurance company, "out of
every five hundred thousand francs of policies to be renewed in the
provinces, not more than fifty thousand are paid up voluntarily. The other
four hundred and fifty thousand are got in by the activity of our agents,
who go about among those who are in arrears and worry them with stories of
horrible incendiaries until they are driven to sign the new policies. Thus
you see that eloquence, the labial flux, is nine tenths of the ways and
means of our business."
To talk, to make people listen to you,—that is seduction in itself.
A nation that has two Chambers, a woman who lends both ears, are soon
lost. Eve and her serpent are the everlasting myth of an hourly fact which
began, and may end, with the world itself.
"A conversation of two hours ought to capture your man," said a retired
Let us walk round the commercial traveller, and look at him well. Don't
forget his overcoat, olive green, nor his cloak with its morocco collar,
nor the striped blue cotton shirt. In this queer figure—so original
that we cannot rub it out—how many divers personalities we come
across! In the first place, what an acrobat, what a circus, what a
battery, all in one, is the man himself, his vocation, and his tongue!
Intrepid mariner, he plunges in, armed with a few phrases, to catch five
or six thousand francs in the frozen seas, in the domain of the red
Indians who inhabit the interior of France. The provincial fish will not
rise to harpoons and torches; it can only be taken with seines and nets
and gentlest persuasions. The traveller's business is to extract the gold
in country caches by a purely intellectual operation, and to extract it
pleasantly and without pain. Can you think without a shudder of the flood
of phrases which, day by day, renewed each dawn, leaps in cascades the
length and breadth of sunny France?
You know the species; let us now take a look at the individual.
There lives in Paris an incomparable commercial traveller, the paragon of
his race, a man who possesses in the highest degree all the qualifications
necessary to the nature of his success. His speech is vitriol and likewise
glue,—glue to catch and entangle his victim and make him sticky and
easy to grip; vitriol to dissolve hard heads, close fists, and closer
calculations. His line was once the hat; but his talents and the
art with which he snared the wariest provincial had brought him such
commercial celebrity that all vendors of the "article Paris"[*] paid court
to him, and humbly begged that he would deign to take their commissions.
[*] "Article Paris" means anything—especially articles of
wearing apparel—which originates or is made in Paris.
The name is supposed to give to the thing a special value in
Thus, when he returned to Paris in the intervals of his triumphant
progress through France, he lived a life of perpetual festivity in the
shape of weddings and suppers. When he was in the provinces, the
correspondents in the smaller towns made much of him; in Paris, the great
houses feted and caressed him. Welcomed, flattered, and fed wherever he
went, it came to pass that to breakfast or to dine alone was a novelty, an
event. He lived the life of a sovereign, or, better still, of a
journalist; in fact, he was the perambulating "feuilleton" of Parisian
His name was Gaudissart; and his renown, his vogue, the flatteries
showered upon him, were such as to win for him the surname of Illustrious.
Wherever the fellow went,—behind a counter or before a bar, into a
salon or to the top of a stage-coach, up to a garret or to dine with a
banker,—every one said, the moment they saw him, "Ah! here comes the
illustrious Gaudissart!"[*] No name was ever so in keeping with the style,
the manners, the countenance, the voice, the language, of any man. All
things smiled upon our traveller, and the traveller smiled back in return.
"Similia similibus,"—he believed in homoeopathy. Puns, horse-laugh,
monkish face, skin of a friar, true Rabelaisian exterior, clothing, body,
mind, and features, all pulled together to put a devil-may-care jollity
into every inch of his person. Free-handed and easy-going, he might be
recognized at once as the favorite of grisettes, the man who jumps lightly
to the top of a stage-coach, gives a hand to the timid lady who fears to
step down, jokes with the postillion about his neckerchief and contrives
to sell him a cap, smiles at the maid and catches her round the waist or
by the heart; gurgles at dinner like a bottle of wine and pretends to draw
the cork by sounding a filip on his distended cheek; plays a tune with his
knife on the champagne glasses without breaking them, and says to the
company, "Let me see you do that"; chaffs the timid traveller,
contradicts the knowing one, lords it over a dinner-table and manages to
get the titbits for himself. A strong fellow, nevertheless, he can throw
aside all this nonsense and mean business when he flings away the stump of
his cigar and says, with a glance at some town, "I'll go and see what
those people have got in their stomachs."
[*] "Se gaudir," to enjoy, to make fun. "Gaudriole," gay
discourse, rather free.—Littre.
When buckled down to his work he became the slyest and cleverest of
diplomats. All things to all men, he knew how to accost a banker like a
capitalist, a magistrate like a functionary, a royalist with pious and
monarchical sentiments, a bourgeois as one of themselves. In short,
wherever he was he was just what he ought to be; he left Gaudissart at the
door when he went in, and picked him up when he came out.
Until 1830 the illustrious Gaudissart was faithful to the article Paris.
In his close relation to the caprices of humanity, the varied paths of
commerce had enabled him to observe the windings of the heart of man. He
had learned the secret of persuasive eloquence, the knack of loosening the
tightest purse-strings, the art of rousing desire in the souls of
husbands, wives, children, and servants; and what is more, he knew how to
satisfy it. No one had greater faculty than he for inveigling a merchant
by the charms of a bargain, and disappearing at the instant when desire
had reached its crisis. Full of gratitude to the hat-making trade, he
always declared that it was his efforts in behalf of the exterior of the
human head which had enabled him to understand its interior: he had capped
and crowned so many people, he was always flinging himself at their heads,
etc. His jokes about hats and heads were irrepressible, though perhaps not
Nevertheless, after August and October, 1830, he abandoned the hat trade
and the article Paris, and tore himself from things mechanical and visible
to mount into the higher spheres of Parisian speculation. "He forsook," to
use his own words, "matter for mind; manufactured products for the
infinitely purer elaborations of human intelligence." This requires some
The general upset of 1830 brought to birth, as everybody knows, a number
of old ideas which clever speculators tried to pass off in new bodies.
After 1830 ideas became property. A writer, too wise to publish his
writings, once remarked that "more ideas are stolen than
pocket-handkerchiefs." Perhaps in course of time we may have an Exchange
for thought; in fact, even now ideas, good or bad, have their consols, are
bought up, imported, exported, sold, and quoted like stocks. If ideas are
not on hand ready for sale, speculators try to pass off words in their
stead, and actually live upon them as a bird lives on the seeds of his
millet. Pray do not laugh; a word is worth quite as much as an idea in a
land where the ticket on a sack is of more importance than the contents.
Have we not seen libraries working off the word "picturesque" when
literature would have cut the throat of the word "fantastic"? Fiscal
genius has guessed the proper tax on intellect; it has accurately
estimated the profits of advertising; it has registered a prospectus of
the quantity and exact value of the property, weighing its thought at the
intellectual Stamp Office in the Rue de la Paix.
Having become an article of commerce, intellect and all its products must
naturally obey the laws which bind other manufacturing interests. Thus it
often happens that ideas, conceived in their cups by certain apparently
idle Parisians,—who nevertheless fight many a moral battle over
their champagne and their pheasants,—are handed down at their birth
from the brain to the commercial travellers who are employed to spread
them discreetly, "urbi et orbi," through Paris and the provinces, seasoned
with the fried pork of advertisement and prospectus, by means of which
they catch in their rat-trap the departmental rodent commonly called
subscriber, sometimes stockholder, occasionally corresponding member or
patron, but invariably fool.
"I am a fool!" many a poor country proprietor has said when, caught by the
prospect of being the first to launch a new idea, he finds that he has, in
point of fact, launched his thousand or twelve hundred francs into a gulf.
"Subscribers are fools who never can be brought to understand that to go
ahead in the intellectual world they must start with more money than they
need for the tour of Europe," say the speculators.
Consequently there is endless warfare between the recalcitrant public
which refuses to pay the Parisian imposts and the tax-gatherer who, living
by his receipt of custom, lards the public with new ideas, turns it on the
spit of lively projects, roasts it with prospectuses (basting all the
while with flattery), and finally gobbles it up with some toothsome sauce
in which it is caught and intoxicated like a fly with a black-lead.
Moreover, since 1830 what honors and emoluments have been scattered
throughout France to stimulate the zeal and self-love of the "progressive
and intelligent masses"! Titles, medals, diplomas, a sort of legion of
honor invented for the army of martyrs, have followed each other with
marvellous rapidity. Speculators in the manufactured products of the
intellect have developed a spice, a ginger, all their own. From this have
come premiums, forestalled dividends, and that conscription of noted names
which is levied without the knowledge of the unfortunate writers who bear
them, and who thus find themselves actual co-operators in more enterprises
than there are days in the year; for the law, we may remark, takes no
account of the theft of a patronymic. Worse than all is the rape of ideas
which these caterers for the public mind, like the slave-merchants of
Asia, tear from the paternal brain before they are well matured, and drag
half-clothed before the eyes of their blockhead of a sultan, their
Shahabaham, their terrible public, which, if they don't amuse it, will cut
off their heads by curtailing the ingots and emptying their pockets.
This madness of our epoch reacted upon the illustrious Gaudissart, and
here follows the history of how it happened. A life-insurance company
having been told of his irresistible eloquence offered him an unheard-of
commission, which he graciously accepted. The bargain concluded and the
treaty signed, our traveller was put in training, or we might say weaned,
by the secretary-general of the enterprise, who freed his mind of its
swaddling-clothes, showed him the dark holes of the business, taught him
its dialect, took the mechanism apart bit by bit, dissected for his
instruction the particular public he was expected to gull, crammed him
with phrases, fed him with impromptu replies, provisioned him with
unanswerable arguments, and, so to speak, sharpened the file of the tongue
which was about to operate upon the life of France.
The puppet amply rewarded the pains bestowed upon him. The heads of the
company boasted of the illustrious Gaudissart, showed him such attention
and proclaimed the great talents of this perambulating prospectus so
loudly in the sphere of exalted banking and commercial diplomacy, that the
financial managers of two newspapers (celebrated at that time but since
defunct) were seized with the idea of employing him to get subscribers.
The proprietors of the "Globe," an organ of Saint-Simonism, and the
"Movement," a republican journal, each invited the illustrious Gaudissart
to a conference, and proposed to give him ten francs a head for every
subscriber, provided he brought in a thousand, but only five francs if he
got no more than five hundred. The cause of political journalism not
interfering with the pre-accepted cause of life insurance, the bargain was
struck; although Gaudissart demanded an indemnity from the Saint-Simonians
for the eight days he was forced to spend in studying the doctrines of
their apostle, asserting that a prodigious effort of memory and intellect
was necessary to get to the bottom of that "article" and to reason upon it
suitably. He asked nothing, however, from the republicans. In the first
place, he inclined in republican ideas,—the only ones, according to
guadissardian philosophy, which could bring about a rational equality.
Besides which he had already dipped into the conspiracies of the French
"carbonari"; he had been arrested, and released for want of proof; and
finally, as he called the newspaper proprietors to observe, he had lately
grown a mustache, and needed only a hat of certain shape and a pair of
spurs to represent, with due propriety, the Republic.
For one whole week this commanding genius went every morning to be
Saint-Simonized at the office of the "Globe," and every afternoon he
betook himself to the life-insurance company, where he learned the
intricacies of financial diplomacy. His aptitude and his memory were
prodigious; so that he was able to start on his peregrinations by the 15th
of April, the date at which he usually opened the spring campaign. Two
large commercial houses, alarmed at the decline of business, implored the
ambitious Gaudissart not to desert the article Paris, and seduced him, it
was said, with large offers, to take their commissions once more. The king
of travellers was amenable to the claims of his old friends, enforced as
they were by the enormous premiums offered to him.
"Listen, my little Jenny," he said in a hackney-coach to a pretty florist.
All truly great men delight in allowing themselves to be tyrannized over
by a feeble being, and Gaudissart had found his tyrant in Jenny. He was
bringing her home at eleven o'clock from the Gymnase, whither he had taken
her, in full dress, to a proscenium box on the first tier.
"On my return, Jenny, I shall refurnish your room in superior style. That
big Matilda, who pesters you with comparisons and her real India shawls
imported by the suite of the Russian ambassador, and her silver plate and
her Russian prince,—who to my mind is nothing but a humbug,—won't
have a word to say then. I consecrate to the adornment of your room
all the 'Children' I shall get in the provinces."
"Well, that's a pretty thing to say!" cried the florist. "Monster of a
man! Do you dare to talk to me of your children? Do you suppose I am going
to stand that sort of thing?"
"Oh, what a goose you are, my Jenny! That's only a figure of speech in our
"A fine business, then!"
"Well, but listen; if you talk all the time you'll always be in the
"I mean to be. Upon my word, you take things easy!"
"You don't let me finish. I have taken under my protection a superlative
idea,—a journal, a newspaper, written for children. In our
profession, when travellers have caught, let us suppose, ten subscribers
to the 'Children's Journal,' they say, 'I've got ten Children,' just as I
say when I get ten subscriptions to a newspaper called the 'Movement,'
'I've got ten Movements.' Now don't you see?"
"That's all right. Are you going into politics? If you do you'll get into
Saint-Pelagie, and I shall have to trot down there after you. Oh! if one
only knew what one puts one's foot into when we love a man, on my word of
honor we would let you alone to take care of yourselves, you men! However,
if you are going away to-morrow we won't talk of disagreeable things,—that
would be silly."
The coach stopped before a pretty house, newly built in the Rue d'Artois,
where Gaudissart and Jenny climbed to the fourth story. This was the abode
of Mademoiselle Jenny Courand, commonly reported to be privately married
to the illustrious Gaudissart, a rumor which that individual did not deny.
To maintain her supremacy, Jenny kept him to the performance of
innumerable small attentions, and threatened continually to turn him off
if he omitted the least of them. She now ordered him to write to her from
every town, and render a minute account of all his proceedings.
"How many 'Children' will it take to furnish my chamber?" she asked,
throwing off her shawl and sitting down by a good fire.
"I get five sous for each subscriber."
"Delightful! And is it with five sous that you expect to make me rich?
Perhaps you are like the Wandering Jew with your pockets full of money."
"But, Jenny, I shall get a thousand 'Children.' Just reflect that children
have never had a newspaper to themselves before. But what a fool I am to
try to explain matters to you,—you can't understand such things."
"Can't I? Then tell me,—tell me, Gaudissart, if I'm such a goose why
do you love me?"
"Just because you are a goose,—a sublime goose! Listen, Jenny. See
here, I am going to undertake the 'Globe,' the 'Movement,' the 'Children,'
the insurance business, and some of my old articles Paris; instead of
earning a miserable eight thousand a year, I'll bring back twenty thousand
at least from each trip."
"Unlace me, Gaudissart, and do it right; don't tighten me."
"Yes, truly," said the traveller, complacently; "I shall become a
shareholder in the newspapers, like Finot, one of my friends, the son of a
hatter, who now has thirty thousand francs income, and is going to make
himself a peer of France. When one thinks of that little Popinot,—ah,
mon Dieu! I forgot to tell you that Monsieur Popinot was named minister of
commerce yesterday. Why shouldn't I be ambitious too? Ha! ha! I could
easily pick up the jargon of those fellows who talk in the chamber, and
bluster with the rest of them. Now, listen to me:—
"Gentlemen," he said, standing behind a chair, "the Press is neither a
tool nor an article of barter: it is, viewed under its political aspects,
an institution. We are bound, in virtue of our position as legislators, to
consider all things politically, and therefore" (here he stopped to get
breath)—"and therefore we must examine the Press and ask ourselves
if it is useful or noxious, if it should be encouraged or put down, taxed
or free. These are serious questions. I feel that I do not waste the time,
always precious, of this Chamber by examining this article—the Press—and
explaining to you its qualities. We are on the verge of an abyss.
Undoubtedly the laws have not the nap which they ought to have—Hein?"
he said, looking at Jenny. "All orators put France on the verge of an
abyss. They either say that or they talk about the chariot of state, or
convulsions, or political horizons. Don't I know their dodges? I'm up to
all the tricks of all the trades. Do you know why? Because I was born with
a caul; my mother has got it, but I'll give it to you. You'll see! I shall
soon be in the government."
"Why shouldn't I be the Baron Gaudissart, peer of France? Haven't they
twice elected Monsieur Popinot as deputy from the fourth arrondissement?
He dines with Louis Phillippe. There's Finot; he is going to be, they say,
a member of the Council. Suppose they send me as ambassador to London? I
tell you I'd nonplus those English! No man ever got the better of
Gaudissart, the illustrious Gaudissart, and nobody ever will. Yes, I say
it! no one ever outwitted me, and no one can—in any walk of life,
politics or impolitics, here or elsewhere. But, for the time being, I must
give myself wholly to the capitalists; to the 'Globe,' the 'Movement,' the
'Children,' and my article Paris."
"You will be brought up with a round turn, you and your newspapers. I'll
bet you won't get further than Poitiers before the police will nab you."
"What will you bet?"
"Done! If I lose that shawl I'll go back to the article Paris and the hat
business. But as for getting the better of Gaudissart—never! never!"
And the illustrious traveller threw himself into position before Jenny,
looked at her proudly, one hand in his waistcoat, his head at
three-quarter profile,—an attitude truly Napoleonic.
"Oh, how funny you are! what have you been eating to-night?"
Gaudissart was thirty-eight years of age, of medium height, stout and fat
like men who roll about continually in stage-coaches, with a face as round
as a pumpkin, ruddy cheeks, and regular features of the type which
sculptors of all lands adopt as a model for statues of Abundance, Law,
Force, Commerce, and the like. His protuberant stomach swelled forth in
the shape of a pear; his legs were small, but active and vigorous. He
caught Jenny up in his arms like a baby and kissed her.
"Hold your tongue, young woman!" he said. "What do you know about
Saint-Simonism, antagonism, Fourierism, criticism, heroic enterprise, or
woman's freedom? I'll tell you what they are,—ten francs for each
subscription, Madame Gaudissart."
"On my word of honor, you are going crazy, Gaudissart."
"More and more crazy about you," he replied, flinging his hat upon
The next morning Gaudissart, having breakfasted gloriously with Jenny,
departed on horseback to work up the chief towns of the district to which
he was assigned by the various enterprises in whose interests he was now
about to exercise his great talents. After spending forty-five days in
beating up the country between Paris and Blois, he remained two weeks at
the latter place to write up his correspondence and make short visits to
the various market towns of the department. The night before he left Blois
for Tours he indited a letter to Mademoiselle Jenny Courand. As the
conciseness and charm of this epistle cannot be equalled by any narration
of ours, and as, moreover, it proves the legitimacy of the tie which
united these two individuals, we produce it here:—
"My dear Jenny,—You will lose your wager. Like Napoleon,
Gaudissart the illustrious has his star, but not his Waterloo. I
triumph everywhere. Life insurance has done well. Between Paris
and Blois I lodged two millions. But as I get to the centre of
France heads become infinitely harder and millions correspondingly
scarce. The article Paris keeps up its own little jog-trot. It is
a ring on the finger. With all my well-known cunning I spit these
shop-keepers like larks. I got off one hundred and sixty-two
Ternaux shawls at Orleans. I am sure I don't know what they will
do with them, unless they return them to the backs of the sheep.
"As to the article journal—the devil! that's a horse of another
color. Holy saints! how one has to warble before you can teach
these bumpkins a new tune. I have only made sixty-two 'Movements':
exactly a hundred less for the whole trip than the shawls in one
town. Those republican rogues! they won't subscribe. They talk,
they talk; they share your opinions, and presently you are all
agreed that every existing thing must be overturned. You feel sure
your man is going to subscribe. Not a bit of it! If he owns three
feet of ground, enough to grow ten cabbages, or a few trees to
slice into toothpicks, the fellow begins to talk of consolidated
property, taxes, revenues, indemnities,—a whole lot of stuff, and
I have wasted my time and breath on patriotism. It's a bad
business! Candidly, the 'Movement' does not move. I have written
to the directors and told them so. I am sorry for it—on account
of my political opinions.
"As for the 'Globe,' that's another breed altogether. Just set to
work and talk new doctrines to people you fancy are fools enough
to believe such lies,—why, they think you want to burn their
houses down! It is vain for me to tell them that I speak for
futurity, for posterity, for self-interest properly understood;
for enterprise where nothing can be lost; that man has preyed upon
man long enough; that woman is a slave; that the great
providential thought should be made to triumph; that a way must be
found to arrive at a rational co-ordination of the social fabric,
—in short, the whole reverberation of my sentences. Well, what do
you think? when I open upon them with such ideas these provincials
lock their cupboards as if I wanted to steal their spoons and beg
me to go away! Are not they fools? geese? The 'Globe' is smashed.
I said to the proprietors, 'You are too advanced, you go ahead too
fast: you ought to get a few results; the provinces like results.'
However, I have made a hundred 'Globes,' and I must say,
considering the thick-headedness of these clodhoppers, it is a
miracle. But to do it I had to make them such a lot of promises
that I am sure I don't know how the globites, globists, globules,
or whatever they call themselves, will ever get out of them. But
they always tell me they can make the world a great deal better
than it is, so I go ahead and prophesy to the value of ten francs
for each subscription. There was one farmer who thought the paper
was agricultural because of its name. I Globed him. Bah! he gave
in at once; he had a projecting forehead; all men with projecting
foreheads are ideologists.
"But the 'Children'; oh! ah! as to the 'Children'! I got two
thousand between Paris and Blois. Jolly business! but there is not
much to say. You just show a little vignette to the mother,
pretending to hide it from the child: naturally the child wants to
see, and pulls mamma's gown and cries for its newspaper, because
'Papa has dot his.' Mamma can't let her brat tear the gown; the
gown costs thirty francs, the subscription six—economy; result,
subscription. It is an excellent thing, meets an actual want; it
holds a place between dolls and sugar-plums, the two eternal
necessities of childhood.
"I have had a quarrel here at the table d'hote about the
newspapers and my opinions. I was unsuspiciously eating my dinner
next to a man with a gray hat who was reading the 'Debats.' I said
to myself, 'Now for my rostrum eloquence. He is tied to the
dynasty; I'll cook him; this triumph will be capital practice for
my ministerial talents.' So I went to work and praised his
'Debats.' Hein! if I didn't lead him along! Thread by thread, I
began to net my man. I launched my four-horse phrases, and the
F-sharp arguments, and all the rest of the cursed stuff. Everybody
listened; and I saw a man who had July as plain as day on his
mustache, just ready to nibble at a 'Movement.' Well, I don't know
how it was, but I unluckily let fall the word 'blockhead.'
Thunder! you should have seen my gray hat, my dynastic hat
(shocking bad hat, anyhow), who got the bit in his teeth and was
furiously angry. I put on my grand air—you know—and said to him:
'Ah, ca! Monsieur, you are remarkably aggressive; if you are not
content, I am ready to give you satisfaction; I fought in July.'
'Though the father of a family,' he replied, 'I am ready—'
'Father of a family!' I exclaimed; 'my dear sir, have you any
children?' 'Yes.' 'Twelve years old?' 'Just about.' 'Well, then,
the "Children's Journal" is the very thing for you; six francs a
year, one number a month, double columns, edited by great literary
lights, well got up, good paper, engravings from charming sketches
by our best artists, actual colored drawings of the Indies—will
not fade.' I fired my broadside 'feelings of a father, etc.,
etc.,'—in short, a subscription instead of a quarrel. 'There's
nobody but Gaudissart who can get out of things like that,' said
that little cricket Lamard to the big Bulot at the cafe, when he
told him the story.
"I leave to-morrow for Amboise. I shall do up Amboise in two days,
and I will write next from Tours, where I shall measure swords
with the inhabitants of that colorless region; colorless, I mean,
from the intellectual and speculative point of view. But, on the
word of a Gaudissart, they shall be toppled over, toppled down
—floored, I say.
"Adieu, my kitten. Love me always; be faithful; fidelity through
thick and thin is one of the attributes of the Free Woman. Who is
kissing you on the eyelids?
"Thy Felix Forever."
Five days later Gaudissart started from the Hotel des Faisans, at which he
had put up in Tours, and went to Vouvray, a rich and populous district
where the public mind seemed to him susceptible of cultivation. Mounted
upon his horse, he trotted along the embankment thinking no more of his
phrases than an actor thinks of his part which he has played for a hundred
times. It was thus that the illustrious Gaudissart went his cheerful way,
admiring the landscape, and little dreaming that in the happy valleys of
Vouvray his commercial infallibility was about to perish.
Here a few remarks upon the public mind of Touraine are essential to our
story. The subtle, satirical, epigrammatic tale-telling spirit stamped on
every page of Rabelais is the faithful expression of the Tourangian mind,—a
mind polished and refined as it should be in a land where the kings of
France long held their court; ardent, artistic, poetic, voluptuous, yet
whose first impulses subside quickly. The softness of the atmosphere, the
beauty of the climate, a certain ease of life and joviality of manners,
smother before long the sentiment of art, narrow the widest heart, and
enervate the strongest will. Transplant the Tourangian, and his fine
qualities develop and lead to great results, as we may see in many spheres
of action: look at Rabelais and Semblancay, Plantin the printer and
Descartes, Boucicault, the Napoleon of his day, and Pinaigrier, who
painted most of the colored glass in our cathedrals; also Verville and
Courier. But the Tourangian, distinguished though he may be in other
regions, sits in his own home like an Indian on his mat or a Turk on his
divan. He employs his wit in laughing at his neighbor and in making merry
all his days; and when at last he reaches the end of his life, he is still
a happy man. Touraine is like the Abbaye of Theleme, so vaunted in the
history of Gargantua. There we may find the complying sisterhoods of that
famous tale, and there the good cheer celebrated by Rabelais reigns in
As to the do-nothingness of that blessed land it is sublime and well
expressed in a certain popular legend: "Tourangian, are you hungry, do you
want some soup?" "Yes." "Bring your porringer." "Then I am not hungry." Is
it to the joys of the vineyard and the harmonious loveliness of this
garden land of France, is it to the peace and tranquillity of a region
where the step of an invader has never trodden, that we owe the soft
compliance of these unconstrained and easy manners? To such questions no
answer. Enter this Turkey of sunny France, and you will stay there,—lazy,
idle, happy. You may be as ambitious as Napoleon, as poetic as Lord Byron,
and yet a power unknown, invisible, will compel you to bury your poetry
within your soul and turn your projects into dreams.
The illustrious Gaudissart was fated to encounter here in Vouvray one of
those indigenous jesters whose jests are not intolerable solely because
they have reached the perfection of the mocking art. Right or wrong, the
Tourangians are fond of inheriting from their parents. Consequently the
doctrines of Saint-Simon were especially hated and villified among them.
In Touraine hatred and villification take the form of superb disdain and
witty maliciousness worthy of the land of good stories and practical
jokes,—a spirit which, alas! is yielding, day by day, to that other
spirit which Lord Byron has characterized as "English cant."
For his sins, after getting down at the Soleil d'Or, an inn kept by a
former grenadier of the imperial guard named Mitouflet, married to a rich
widow, the illustrious traveller, after a brief consultation with the
landlord, betook himself to the knave of Vouvray, the jovial merry-maker,
the comic man of the neighborhood, compelled by fame and nature to supply
the town with merriment. This country Figaro was once a dyer, and now
possessed about seven or eight thousand francs a year, a pretty house on
the slope of the hill, a plump little wife, and robust health. For ten
years he had had nothing to do but take care of his wife and his garden,
marry his daughter, play whist in the evenings, keep the run of all the
gossip in the neighborhood, meddle with the elections, squabble with the
large proprietors, and order good dinners; or else trot along the
embankment to find out what was going on in Tours, torment the cure, and
finally, by way of dramatic entertainment, assist at the sale of lands in
the neighborhood of his vineyards. In short, he led the true Tourangian
life,—the life of a little country-townsman. He was, moreover, an
important member of the bourgeoisie,—a leader among the small
proprietors, all of them envious, jealous, delighted to catch up and
retail gossip and calumnies against the aristocracy; dragging things down
to their own level; and at war with all kinds of superiority, which they
deposited with the fine composure of ignorance. Monsieur Vernier—such
was the name of this great little man—was just finishing his
breakfast, with his wife and daughter on either side of him, when
Gaudissart entered the room through a window that looked out on the Loire
and the Cher, and lighted one of the gayest dining-rooms of that gay land.
"Is this Monsieur Vernier himself?" said the traveller, bending his
vertebral column with such grace that it seemed to be elastic.
"Yes, Monsieur," said the mischievous ex-dyer, with a scrutinizing look
which took in the style of man he had to deal with.
"I come, Monsieur," resumed Gaudissart, "to solicit the aid of your
knowledge and insight to guide my efforts in this district, where
Mitouflet tells me you have the greatest influence. Monsieur, I am sent
into the provinces on an enterprise of the utmost importance, undertaken
by bankers who—"
"Who mean to win our tricks," said Vernier, long used to the ways of
commercial travellers and to their periodical visits.
"Precisely," replied Gaudissart, with native impudence. "But with your
fine tact, Monsieur, you must be aware that we can't win tricks from
people unless it is their interest to play at cards. I beg you not to
confound me with the vulgar herd of travellers who succeed by humbug or
importunity. I am no longer a commercial traveller. I was one, and I glory
in it; but to-day my mission is of higher importance, and should place me,
in the minds of superior people, among those who devote themselves to the
enlightenment of their country. The most distinguished bankers in Paris
take part in this affair; not fictitiously, as in some shameful
speculations which I call rat-traps. No, no, nothing of the kind! I should
never condescend—never!—to hawk about such catch-fools.
No, Monsieur; the most respectable houses in Paris are concerned in this
enterprise; and their interests guarantee—"
Hereupon Gaudissart drew forth his whole string of phrases, and Monsieur
Vernier let him go the length of his tether, listening with apparent
interest which completely deceived him. But after the word "guarantee"
Vernier paid no further attention to our traveller's rhetoric, and turned
over in his mind how to play him some malicious trick and deliver a land,
justly considered half-savage by speculators unable to get a bite of it,
from the inroads of these Parisian caterpillars.
At the head of an enchanting valley, called the Valley Coquette because of
its windings and the curves which return upon each other at every step,
and seem more and more lovely as we advance, whether we ascend or descend
them, there lived, in a little house surrounded by vineyards, a
half-insane man named Margaritis. He was of Italian origin, married, but
childless; and his wife took care of him with a courage fully appreciated
by the neighborhood. Madame Margaritis was undoubtedly in real danger from
a man who, among other fancies, persisted in carrying about with him two
long-bladed knives with which he sometimes threatened her. Who has not
seen the wonderful self-devotion shown by provincials who consecrate their
lives to the care of sufferers, possibly because of the disgrace heaped
upon a bourgeoise if she allows her husband or children to be taken to a
public hospital? Moreover, who does not know the repugnance which these
people feel to the payment of the two or three thousand francs required at
Charenton or in the private lunatic asylums? If any one had spoken to
Madame Margaritis of Doctors Dubuisson, Esquirol, Blanche, and others, she
would have preferred, with noble indignation, to keep her thousands and
take care of the "good-man" at home.
As the incomprehensible whims of this lunatic are connected with the
current of our story, we are compelled to exhibit the most striking of
them. Margaritis went out as soon as it rained, and walked about
bare-headed in his vineyard. At home he made incessant inquiries for
newspapers; to satisfy him his wife and the maid-servant used to give him
an old journal called the "Indre-et-Loire," and for seven years he had
never yet perceived that he was reading the same number over and over
again. Perhaps a doctor would have observed with interest the connection
that evidently existed between the recurring and spasmodic demands for the
newspaper and the atmospheric variations of the weather.
Usually when his wife had company, which happened nearly every evening,
for the neighbors, pitying her situation, would frequently come to play at
boston in her salon, Margaritis remained silent in a corner and never
stirred. But the moment ten o'clock began to strike on a clock which he
kept shut up in a large oblong closet, he rose at the stroke with the
mechanical precision of the figures which are made to move by springs in
the German toys. He would then advance slowly towards the players, give
them a glance like the automatic gaze of the Greeks and Turks exhibited on
the Boulevard du Temple, and say sternly, "Go away!" There were days when
he had lucid intervals and could give his wife excellent advice as to the
sale of their wines; but at such times he became extremely annoying, and
would ransack her closets and steal her delicacies, which he devoured in
secret. Occasionally, when the usual visitors made their appearance he
would treat them with civility; but as a general thing his remarks and
replies were incoherent. For instance, a lady once asked him, "How do you
feel to-day, Monsieur Margaritis?" "I have grown a beard," he replied,
"have you?" "Are you better?" asked another. "Jerusalem! Jerusalem!" was
the answer. But the greater part of the time he gazed stolidly at his
guests without uttering a word; and then his wife would say, "The good-man
does not hear anything to-day."
On two or three occasions in the course of five years, and usually about
the time of the equinox, this remark had driven him to frenzy; he
flourished his knives and shouted, "That joke dishonors me!"
As for his daily life, he ate, drank, and walked about like other men in
sound health; and so it happened that he was treated with about the same
respect and attention that we give to a heavy piece of furniture. Among
his many absurdities was one of which no man had as yet discovered the
object, although by long practice the wiseheads of the community had
learned to unravel the meaning of most of his vagaries. He insisted on
keeping a sack of flour and two puncheons of wine in the cellar of his
house, and he would allow no one to lay hands on them. But then the month
of June came round he grew uneasy with the restless anxiety of a madman
about the sale of the sack and the puncheons. Madame Margaritis could
nearly always persuade him that the wine had been sold at an enormous
price, which she paid over to him, and which he hid so cautiously that
neither his wife nor the servant who watched him had ever been able to
discover its hiding-place.
The evening before Gaudissart reached Vouvray Madame Margaritis had had
more difficulty than usual in deceiving her husband, whose mind happened
to be uncommonly lucid.
"I really don't know how I shall get through to-morrow," she had said to
Madame Vernier. "Would you believe it, the good-man insists on watching
his two casks of wine. He has worried me so this whole day, that I had to
show him two full puncheons. Our neighbor, Pierre Champlain, fortunately
had two which he had not sold. I asked him to kindly let me have them
rolled into our cellar; and oh, dear! now that the good-man has seen them
he insists on bottling them off himself!"
Madame Vernier had related the poor woman's trouble to her husband just
before the entrance of Gaudissart, and at the first words of the famous
traveller Vernier determined that he should be made to grapple with
"Monsieur," said the ex-dyer, as soon as the illustrious Gaudissart had
fired his first broadside, "I will not hide from you the great
difficulties which my native place offers to your enterprise. This part of
the country goes along, as it were, in the rough,—'suo modo.' It is
a country where new ideas don't take hold. We live as our fathers lived,
we amuse ourselves with four meals a day, and we cultivate our vineyards
and sell our wines to the best advantage. Our business principle is to
sell things for more than they cost us; we shall stick in that rut, and
neither God nor the devil can get us out of it. I will, however, give you
some advice, and good advice is an egg in the hand. There is in this town
a retired banker in whose wisdom I have—I, particularly—the
greatest confidence. If you can obtain his support, I will add mine. If
your proposals have real merit, if we are convinced of the advantage of
your enterprise, the approval of Monsieur Margaritis (which carries with
it mine) will open to you at least twenty rich houses in Vouvray who will
be glad to try your specifics."
When Madame Vernier heard the name of the lunatic she raised her head and
looked at her husband.
"Ah, precisely; my wife intends to call on Madame Margaritis with one of
our neighbors. Wait a moment, and you can accompany these ladies—You
can pick up Madame Fontanieu on your way," said the wily dyer, winking at
To pick out the greatest gossip, the sharpest tongue, the most inveterate
cackler of the neighborhood! It meant that Madame Vernier was to take a
witness to the scene between the traveller and the lunatic which should
keep the town in laughter for a month. Monsieur and Madame Vernier played
their part so well that Gaudissart had no suspicions, and straightway fell
into the trap. He gallantly offered his arm to Madame Vernier, and
believed that he made, as they went along, the conquest of both ladies,
for those benefit he sparkled with wit and humor and undetected puns.
The house of the pretended banker stood at the entrance to the Valley
Coquette. The place, called La Fuye, had nothing remarkable about it. On
the ground floor was a large wainscoted salon, on either side of which
opened the bedroom of the good-man and that of his wife. The salon was
entered from an ante-chamber, which served as the dining-room and
communicated with the kitchen. This lower door, which was wholly without
the external charm usually seen even in the humblest dwellings in
Touraine, was covered by a mansard story, reached by a stairway built on
the outside of the house against the gable end and protected by a
shed-roof. A little garden, full of marigolds, syringas, and elder-bushes,
separated the house from the fields; and all around the courtyard were
detached buildings which were used in the vintage season for the various
processes of making wine.
Margaritis was seated in an arm-chair covered with yellow Utrecht velvet,
near the window of the salon, and he did not stir as the two ladies
entered with Gaudissart. His thoughts were running on the casks of wine.
He was a spare man, and his bald head, garnished with a few spare locks at
the back of it, was pear-shaped in conformation. His sunken eyes,
overtopped by heavy black brows and surrounded by discolored circles, his
nose, thin and sharp like the blade of a knife, the strongly marked
jawbone, the hollow cheeks, and the oblong tendency of all these lines,
together with his unnaturally long and flat chin, contributed to give a
peculiar expression to his countenance,—something between that of a
retired professor of rhetoric and a rag-picker.
"Monsieur Margaritis," cried Madame Vernier, addressing him, "come, stir
about! Here is a gentleman whom my husband sends to you, and you must
listen to him with great attention. Put away your mathematics and talk to
On hearing these words the lunatic rose, looked at Gaudissart, made him a
sign to sit down, and said, "Let us converse, Monsieur."
The two women went into Madame Margaritis' bedroom, leaving the door open
so as to hear the conversation, and interpose if it became necessary. They
were hardly installed before Monsieur Vernier crept softly up through the
field and, opening a window, got into the bedroom without noise.
"Monsieur has doubtless been in business—?" began Gaudissart.
"Public business," answered Margaritis, interrupting him. "I pacificated
Calabria under the reign of King Murat."
"Bless me! if he hasn't gone to Calabria!" whispered Monsieur Vernier.
"In that case," said Gaudissart, "we shall quickly understand each other."
"I am listening," said Margaritis, striking the attitude taken by a man
when he poses to a portrait-painter.
"Monsieur," said Gaudissart, who chanced to be turning his watch-key with
a rotatory and periodical click which caught the attention of the lunatic
and contributed no doubt to keep him quiet. "Monsieur, if you were not a
man of superior intelligence" (the fool bowed), "I should content myself
with merely laying before you the material advantages of this enterprise,
whose psychological aspects it would be a waste of time to explain to you.
Listen! Of all kinds of social wealth, is not time the most precious? To
economize time is, consequently, to become wealthy. Now, is there anything
that consumes so much time as those anxieties which I call 'pot-boiling'?—a
vulgar expression, but it puts the whole question in a nutshell. For
instance, what can eat up more time than the inability to give proper
security to persons from whom you seek to borrow money when, poor at the
moment, you are nevertheless rich in hope?"
"Money,—yes, that's right," said Margaritis.
"Well, Monsieur, I am sent into the departments by a company of bankers
and capitalists, who have apprehended the enormous waste which rising men
of talent are thus making of time, and, consequently, of intelligence and
productive ability. We have seized the idea of capitalizing for such men
their future prospects, and cashing their talents by discounting—what?
time; securing the value of it to their survivors. I may say that
it is no longer a question of economizing time, but of giving it a price,
a quotation; of representing in a pecuniary sense those products developed
by time which presumably you possess in the region of your intellect; of
representing also the moral qualities with which you are endowed, and
which are, Monsieur, living forces,—as living as a cataract, as a
steam-engine of three, ten, twenty, fifty horse-power. Ha! this is
progress! the movement onward to a better state of things; a movement born
of the spirit of our epoch; a movement essentially progressive, as I shall
prove to you when we come to consider the principles involved in the
logical co-ordination of the social fabric. I will now explain my meaning
by literal examples, leaving aside all purely abstract reasoning, which I
call the mathematics of thought. Instead of being, as you are, a
proprietor living upon your income, let us suppose that you are painter, a
musician, an artist, or a poet—"
"I am a painter," said the lunatic.
"Well, so be it. I see you take my metaphor. You are a painter; you have a
glorious future, a rich future before you. But I go still farther—"
At these words the madman looked anxiously at Gaudissart, thinking he
meant to go away; but was reassured when he saw that he kept his seat.
"You may even be nothing at all," said Gaudissart, going on with his
phrases, "but you are conscious of yourself; you feel yourself—"
"I feel myself," said the lunatic.
"—you feel yourself a great man; you say to yourself, 'I will be a
minister of state.' Well, then, you—painter, artist, man of letters,
statesman of the future—you reckon upon your talents, you estimate
their value, you rate them, let us say, at a hundred thousand crowns—"
"Do you give me a hundred thousand crowns?"
"Yes, Monsieur, as you will see. Either your heirs and assigns will
receive them if you die, for the company contemplates that event, or you
will receive them in the long run through your works of art, your
writings, or your fortunate speculations during your lifetime. But, as I
have already had the honor to tell you, when you have once fixed upon the
value of your intellectual capital,—for it is intellectual capital,—seize
that idea firmly,—intellectual—"
"I understand," said the fool.
"You sign a policy of insurance with a company which recognizes in you a
value of a hundred thousand crowns; in you, poet—"
"I am a painter," said the lunatic.
"Yes," resumed Gaudissart,—"painter, poet, musician, statesman—and
binds itself to pay them over to your family, your heirs, if, by reason of
your death, the hopes foundered on your intellectual capital should be
overthrown for you personally. The payment of the premium is all that is
required to protect—"
"The money-box," said the lunatic, sharply interrupting him.
"Ah! naturally; yes. I see that Monsieur understands business."
"Yes," said the madman. "I established the Territorial Bank in the Rue des
Fosses-Montmartre at Paris in 1798."
"For," resumed Gaudissart, going back to his premium, "in order to meet
the payments on the intellectual capital which each man recognizes and
esteems in himself, it is of course necessary that each should pay a
certain premium, three per cent; an annual due of three per cent. Thus, by
the payment of this trifling sum, a mere nothing, you protect your family
from disastrous results at your death—"
"But I live," said the fool.
"Ah! yes; you mean if you should live long? That is the usual objection,—a
vulgar prejudice. I fully agree that if we had not foreseen and demolished
it we might feel we were unworthy of being—what? What are we, after
all? Book-keepers in the great Bureau of Intellect. Monsieur, I don't
apply these remarks to you, but I meet on all sides men who make it a
business to teach new ideas and disclose chains of reasoning to people who
turn pale at the first word. On my word of honor, it is pitiable! But
that's the way of the world, and I don't pretend to reform it. Your
objection, Monsieur, is really sheer nonsense."
"Why?" asked the lunatic.
"Why?—this is why: because, if you live and possess the qualities
which are estimated in your policy against the chances of death,—now,
attend to this—"
"I am attending."
"Well, then, you have succeeded in life; and you have succeeded because of
the said insurance. You doubled your chances of success by getting rid of
the anxieties you were dragging about with you in the shape of wife and
children who might otherwise be left destitute at your death. If you
attain this certainty, you have touched the value of your intellectual
capital, on which the cost of insurance is but a trifle,—a mere
trifle, a bagatelle."
"That's a fine idea!"
"Ah! is it not, Monsieur?" cried Gaudissart. "I call this enterprise the
exchequer of beneficence; a mutual insurance against poverty; or, if you
like it better, the discounting, the cashing, of talent. For talent,
Monsieur, is a bill of exchange which Nature gives to the man of genius,
and which often has a long time to run before it falls due."
"That is usury!" cried Margaritis.
"The devil! he's keen, the old fellow! I've made a mistake," thought
Gaudissart, "I must catch him with other chaff. I'll try humbug No. 1. Not
at all," he said aloud, "for you who—"
"Will you take a glass of wine?" asked Margaritis.
"With pleasure," replied Gaudissart.
"Wife, give us a bottle of the wine that is in the puncheons. You are here
at the very head of Vouvray," he continued, with a gesture of the hand,
"the vineyard of Margaritis."
The maid-servant brought glasses and a bottle of wine of the vintage of
1819. The good-man filled a glass with circumspection and offered it to
Gaudissart, who drank it up.
"Ah, you are joking, Monsieur!" exclaimed the commercial traveller.
"Surely this is Madeira, true Madeira?"
"So you think," said the fool. "The trouble with our Vouvray wine is that
it is neither a common wine, nor a wine that can be drunk with the
entremets. It is too generous, too strong. It is often sold in Paris
adulterated with brandy and called Madeira. The wine-merchants buy it up,
when our vintage has not been good enough for the Dutch and Belgian
markets, to mix it with wines grown in the neighborhood of Paris, and call
it Bordeaux. But what you are drinking just now, my good Monsieur, is a
wine for kings, the pure Head of Vouvray,—that's it's name. I have
two puncheons, only two puncheons of it left. People who like fine wines,
high-class wines, who furnish their table with qualities that can't be
bought in the regular trade,—and there are many persons in Paris who
have that vanity,—well, such people send direct to us for this wine.
Do you know any one who—?"
"Let us go on with what we were saying," interposed Gaudissart.
"We are going on," said the fool. "My wine is capital; you are capital,
capitalist, intellectual capital, capital wine,—all the same
etymology, don't you see? hein? Capital, 'caput,' head, Head of Vouvray,
that's my wine,—it's all one thing."
"So that you have realized your intellectual capital through your wines?
Ah, I see!" said Gaudissart.
"I have realized," said the lunatic. "Would you like to buy my puncheons?
you shall have them on good terms."
"No, I was merely speaking," said the illustrious Gaudissart, "of the
results of insurance and the employment of intellectual capital. I will
resume my argument."
The lunatic calmed down, and fell once more into position.
"I remarked, Monsieur, that if you die the capital will be paid to your
family without discussion."
"Yes, unless there were suicide."
"No, Monsieur; you are aware that suicide is one of those acts which are
easy to prove—"
"In France," said the fool; "but—"
"But in other countries?" said Gaudissart. "Well, Monsieur, to cut short
discussion on this point, I will say, once for all, that death in foreign
countries or on the field of battle is outside of our—"
"Then what are you insuring? Nothing at all!" cried Margaritis. "My bank,
my Territorial Bank, rested upon—"
"Nothing at all?" exclaimed Gaudissart, interrupting the good-man.
"Nothing at all? What do you call sickness, and afflictions, and poverty,
and passions? Don't go off on exceptional points."
"No, no! no points," said the lunatic.
"Now, what's the result of all this?" cried Gaudissart. "To you, a banker,
I can sum up the profits in a few words. Listen. A man lives; he has a
future; he appears well; he lives, let us say, by his art; he wants money;
he tries to get it,—he fails. Civilization withholds cash from this
man whose thought could master civilization, and ought to master it, and
will master it some day with a brush, a chisel, with words, ideas,
theories, systems. Civilization is atrocious! It denies bread to the men
who give it luxury. It starves them on sneers and curses, the beggarly
rascal! My words may be strong, but I shall not retract them. Well, this
great but neglected man comes to us; we recognize his greatness; we salute
him with respect; we listen to him. He says to us: 'Gentlemen, my life and
talents are worth so much; on my productions I will pay you such or such
percentage.' Very good; what do we do? Instantly, without reserve or
hesitation, we admit him to the great festivals of civilization as an
"You need wine for that," interposed the madman.
"—as an honored guest. He signs the insurance policy; he takes our
bits of paper,—scraps, rags, miserable rags!—which,
nevertheless, have more power in the world than his unaided genius. Then,
if he wants money, every one will lend it to him on those rags. At the
Bourse, among bankers, wherever he goes, even at the usurers, he will find
money because he can give security. Well, Monsieur, is not that a great
gulf to bridge over in our social system? But that is only one aspect of
our work. We insure debtors by another scheme of policies and premiums. We
offer annuities at rates graduated according to ages, on a sliding-scale
infinitely more advantageous than what are called tontines, which are
based on tables of mortality that are notoriously false. Our company deals
with large masses of men; consequently the annuitants are secure from
those distressing fears which sadden old age,—too sad already!—fears
which pursue those who receive annuities from private sources. You see,
Monsieur, that we have estimated life under all its aspects."
"Sucked it at both ends," said the lunatic. "Take another glass of wine.
You've earned it. You must line your inside with velvet if you are going
to pump at it like that every day. Monsieur, the wine of Vouvray, if well
kept, is downright velvet."
"Now, what do you think of it all?" said Gaudissart, emptying his glass.
"It is very fine, very new, very useful; but I like the discounts I get at
my Territorial Bank, Rue des Fosses-Montmartre."
"You are quite right, Monsieur," answered Gaudissart; "but that sort of
thing is taken and retaken, made and remade, every day. You have also
hypothecating banks which lend upon landed property and redeem it on a
large scale. But that is a narrow idea compared to our system of
consolidating hopes,—consolidating hopes! coagulating, so to speak,
the aspirations born in every soul, and insuring the realization of our
dreams. It needed our epoch, Monsieur, the epoch of transition—transition
"Yes, progress," muttered the lunatic, with his glass at his lips. "I like
progress. That is what I've told them many times—"
"The 'Times'!" cried Gaudissart, who did not catch the whole sentence.
"The 'Times' is a bad newspaper. If you read that, I am sorry for you."
"The newspaper!" cried Margaritis. "Of course! Wife! wife! where is the
newspaper?" he cried, going towards the next room.
"If you are interested in newspapers," said Gaudissart, changing his
attack, "we are sure to understand each other."
"Yes; but before we say anything about that, tell me what you think of
"Then let us finish the bottle." The lunatic poured out a thimbleful for
himself and filled Gaudissart's glass. "Well, Monsieur, I have two
puncheons left of the same wine; if you find it good we can come to
"Exactly," said Gaudissart. "The fathers of the Saint-Simonian faith have
authorized me to send them all the commodities I—But allow me to
tell you about their noble newspaper. You, who have understood the whole
question of insurance so thoroughly, and who are willing to assist my work
in this district—"
"Yes," said Margaritis, "if—"
"If I take your wine; I understand perfectly. Your wine is very good,
Monsieur; it puts the stomach in a glow."
"They make champagne out of it; there is a man from Paris who comes here
and makes it in Tours."
"I have no doubt of it, Monsieur. The 'Globe,' of which we were speaking—"
"Yes, I've gone over it," said Margaritis.
"I was sure of it!" exclaimed Gaudissart. "Monsieur, you have a fine
frontal development; a pate—excuse the word—which our
gentlemen call 'horse-head.' There's a horse element in the head of every
great man. Genius will make itself known; but sometimes it happens that
great men, in spite of their gifts, remain obscure. Such was very nearly
the case with Saint-Simon; also with Monsieur Vico,—a strong man
just beginning to shoot up; I am proud of Vico. Now, here we enter upon
the new theory and formula of humanity. Attention, if you please."
"Attention!" said the fool, falling into position.
"Man's spoliation of man—by which I mean bodies of men living upon
the labor of other men—ought to have ceased with the coming of
Christ, I say Christ, who was sent to proclaim the equality of man
in the sight of God. But what is the fact? Equality up to our day has been
an 'ignus fatuus,' a chimera. Saint-Simon has arisen as the complement of
Christ; as the modern exponent of the doctrine of equality, or rather of
its practice, for theory has served its time—"
"Is he liberated?" asked the lunatic.
"Like liberalism, it has had its day. There is a nobler future before us:
a new faith, free labor, free growth, free production, individual
progress, a social co-ordination in which each man shall receive the full
worth of his individual labor, in which no man shall be preyed upon by
other men who, without capacity of their own, compel all to work
for the profit of one. From this comes the doctrine of—"
"How about servants?" demanded the lunatic.
"They will remain servants if they have no capacity beyond it."
"Then what's the good of your doctrine?"
"To judge of this doctrine, Monsieur, you must consider it from a higher
point of view: you must take a general survey of humanity. Here we come to
the theories of Ballance: do you know his Palingenesis?"
"I am fond of them," said the fool, who thought he said "ices."
"Good!" returned Gaudissart. "Well, then, if the palingenistic aspects of
the successive transformations of the spiritualized globe have struck,
stirred, roused you, then, my dear sir, the 'Globe' newspaper,—noble
name which proclaims its mission,—the 'Globe' is an organ, a guide,
who will explain to you with the coming of each day the conditions under
which this vast political and moral change will be effected. The gentlemen
"Do they drink wine?"
"Yes, Monsieur; their houses are kept up in the highest style; I may say,
in prophetic style. Superb salons, large receptions, the apex of social
"Well," remarked the lunatic, "the workmen who pull things down want wine
as much as those who put things up."
"True," said the illustrious Gaudissart, "and all the more, Monsieur, when
they pull down with one hand and build up with the other, like the
apostles of the 'Globe.'"
"They want good wine; Head of Vouvray, two puncheons, three hundred
bottles, only one hundred francs,—a trifle."
"How much is that a bottle?" said Gaudissart, calculating. "Let me see;
there's the freight and the duty,—it will come to about seven sous.
Why, it wouldn't be a bad thing: they give more for worse wines—(Good!
I've got him!" thought Gaudissart, "he wants to sell me wine which I want;
I'll master him)—Well, Monsieur," he continued, "those who argue
usually come to an agreement. Let us be frank with each other. You have
great influence in this district—"
"I should think so!" said the madman; "I am the Head of Vouvray!"
"Well, I see that you thoroughly comprehend the insurance of intellectual
"—and that you have measured the full importance of the 'Globe'—"
"Twice; on foot."
Gaudissart was listening to himself and not to the replies of his hearer.
"Therefore, in view of your circumstances and of your age, I quite
understand that you have no need of insurance for yourself; but, Monsieur,
you might induce others to insure, either because of their inherent
qualities which need development, or for the protection of their families
against a precarious future. Now, if you will subscribe to the 'Globe,'
and give me your personal assistance in this district on behalf of
insurance, especially life-annuity,—for the provinces are much
attached to annuities—Well, if you will do this, then we can come to
an understanding about the wine. Will you take the 'Globe'?"
"I stand on the globe."
"Will you advance its interests in this district?"
"And I—but you do subscribe, don't you, to the 'Globe'?"
"The globe, good thing, for life," said the lunatic.
"For life, Monsieur?—ah, I see! yes, you are right: it is full of
life, vigor, intellect, science,—absolutely crammed with science,—well
printed, clear type, well set up; what I call 'good nap.' None of your
botched stuff, cotton and wool, trumpery; flimsy rubbish that rips if you
look at it. It is deep; it states questions on which you can meditate at
your leisure; it is the very thing to make time pass agreeably in the
"That suits me," said the lunatic.
"It only costs a trifle,—eighty francs."
"That won't suit me," said the lunatic.
"Monsieur!" cried Gaudissart, "of course you have got grandchildren?
There's the 'Children's Journal'; that only costs seven francs a year."
"Very good; take my wine, and I will subscribe to the children. That suits
me very well: a fine idea! intellectual product, child. That's man living
upon man, hein?"
"You've hit it, Monsieur," said Gaudissart.
"I've hit it!"
"You consent to push me in the district?"
"In the district."
"I have your approbation?"
"You have it."
"Well, then, Monsieur, I take your wine at a hundred francs—"
"No, no! hundred and ten—"
"Monsieur! A hundred and ten for the company, but a hundred to me. I
enable you to make a sale; you owe me a commission."
"Charge 'em a hundred and twenty,"—"cent vingt" ("sans vin," without
"Capital pun that!"
"No, puncheons. About that wine—"
"Better and better! why, you are a wit."
"Yes, I'm that," said the fool. "Come out and see my vineyards."
"Willingly, the wine is getting into my head," said the illustrious
Gaudissart, following Monsieur Margaritis, who marched him from row to row
and hillock to hillock among the vines. The three ladies and Monsieur
Vernier, left to themselves, went off into fits of laughter as they
watched the traveller and the lunatic discussing, gesticulating, stopping
short, resuming their walk, and talking vehemently.
"I wish the good-man hadn't carried him off," said Vernier.
Finally the pair returned, walking with the eager step of men who were in
haste to finish up a matter of business.
"He has got the better of the Parisian, damn him!" cried Vernier.
And so it was. To the huge delight of the lunatic our illustrious
Gaudissart sat down at a card-table and wrote an order for the delivery of
the two casks of wine. Margaritis, having carefully read it over, counted
out seven francs for his subscription to the "Children's Journal" and gave
them to the traveller.
"Adieu until to-morrow, Monsieur," said Gaudissart, twisting his
watch-key. "I shall have the honor to call for you to-morrow. Meantime,
send the wine at once to Paris to the address I have given you, and the
price will be remitted immediately."
Gaudissart, however, was a Norman, and he had no idea of making any
agreement which was not reciprocal. He therefore required his promised
supporter to sign a bond (which the lunatic carefully read over) to
deliver two puncheons of the wine called "Head of Vouvray," vineyard of
This done, the illustrious Gaudissart departed in high feather, humming,
as he skipped along,—
"The King of the South,
He burned his mouth," etc.
The illustrious Gaudissart returned to the Soleil d'Or, where he naturally
conversed with the landlord while waiting for dinner. Mitouflet was an old
soldier, guilelessly crafty, like the peasantry of the Loire; he never
laughed at a jest, but took it with the gravity of a man accustomed to the
roar of cannon and to make his own jokes under arms.
"You have some very strong-minded people here," said Gaudissart, leaning
against the door-post and lighting his cigar at Mitouflet's pipe.
"How do you mean?" asked Mitouflet.
"I mean people who are rough-shod on political and financial ideas."
"Whom have you seen? if I may ask without indiscretion," said the landlord
innocently, expectorating after the adroit and periodical fashion of
"A fine, energetic fellow named Margaritis."
Mitouflet cast two glances in succession at his guest which were
expressive of chilling irony.
"May be; the good-man knows a deal. He knows too much for other folks, who
can't always understand him."
"I can believe it, for he thoroughly comprehends the abstruse principles
"Yes," said the innkeeper, "and for my part, I am sorry he is a lunatic."
"A lunatic! What do you mean?"
"Well, crazy,—cracked, as people are when they are insane," answered
Mitouflet. "But he is not dangerous; his wife takes care of him. Have you
been arguing with him?" added the pitiless landlord; "that must have been
"Funny!" cried Gaudissart. "Funny! Then your Monsieur Vernier has been
making fun of me!"
"Did he send you there?"
"Wife! wife! come here and listen. If Monsieur Vernier didn't take it into
his head to send this gentleman to talk to Margaritis!"
"What in the world did you say to each other, my dear, good Monsieur?"
said the wife. "Why, he's crazy!"
"He sold me two casks of wine."
"Did you buy them?"
"But that is his delusion; he thinks he sells his wine, and he hasn't
"Ha!" snorted the traveller, "then I'll go straight to Monsieur Vernier
and thank him."
And Gaudissart departed, boiling over with rage, to shake the ex-dyer,
whom he found in his salon, laughing with a company of friends to whom he
had already recounted the tale.
"Monsieur," said the prince of travellers, darting a savage glance at his
enemy, "you are a scoundrel and a blackguard; and under pain of being
thought a turn-key,—a species of being far below a galley-slave,—you
will give me satisfaction for the insult you dared to offer me in sending
me to a man whom you knew to be a lunatic! Do you hear me, Monsieur
Such was the harangue which Gaudissart prepared as he went along, as a
tragedian makes ready for his entrance on the scene.
"What!" cried Vernier, delighted at the presence of an audience, "do you
think we have no right to make fun of a man who comes here, bag and
baggage, and demands that we hand over our property because, forsooth, he
is pleased to call us great men, painters, artists, poets,—mixing us
up gratuitously with a set of fools who have neither house nor home, nor
sous nor sense? Why should we put up with a rascal who comes here and
wants us to feather his nest by subscribing to a newspaper which preaches
a new religion whose first doctrine is, if you please, that we are not to
inherit from our fathers and mothers? On my sacred word of honor, Pere
Margaritis said things a great deal more sensible. And now, what are you
complaining about? You and Margaritis seemed to understand each other. The
gentlemen here present can testify that if you had talked to the whole
canton you couldn't have been as well understood."
"That's all very well for you to say; but I have been insulted, Monsieur,
and I demand satisfaction!"
"Very good, Monsieur! consider yourself insulted, if you like. I shall not
give you satisfaction, because there is neither rhyme nor reason nor
satisfaction to be found in the whole business. What an absurd fool he is,
to be sure!"
At these words Gaudissart flew at the dyer to give him a slap on the face,
but the listening crowd rushed between them, so that the illustrious
traveller only contrived to knock off the wig of his enemy, which fell on
the head of Mademoiselle Clara Vernier.
"If you are not satisfied, Monsieur," he said, "I shall be at the Soleil
d'Or until to-morrow morning, and you will find me ready to show you what
it means to give satisfaction. I fought in July, Monsieur."
"And you shall fight in Vouvray," answered the dyer; "and what is more,
you shall stay here longer than you imagine."
Gaudissart marched off, turning over in his mind this prophetic remark,
which seemed to him full of sinister portent. For the first time in his
life the prince of travellers did not dine jovially. The whole town of
Vouvray was put in a ferment about the "affair" between Monsieur Vernier
and the apostle of Saint-Simonism. Never before had the tragic event of a
duel been so much as heard of in that benign and happy valley.
"Monsieur Mitouflet, I am to fight to-morrow with Monsieur Vernier," said
Gaudissart to his landlord. "I know no one here: will you be my second?"
"Willingly," said the host.
Gaudissart had scarcely finished his dinner before Madame Fontanieu and
the assistant-mayor of Vouvray came to the Soleil d'Or and took Mitouflet
aside. They told him it would be a painful and injurious thing to the
whole canton if a violent death were the result of this affair; they
represented the pitiable distress of Madame Vernier, and conjured him to
find some way to arrange matters and save the credit of the district.
"I take it all upon myself," said the sagacious landlord.
In the evening he went up to the traveller's room carrying pens, ink, and
"What have you got there?" asked Gaudissart.
"If you are going to fight to-morrow," answered Mitouflet, "you had better
make some settlement of your affairs; and perhaps you have letters to
write,—we all have beings who are dear to us. Writing doesn't kill,
you know. Are you a good swordsman? Would you like to get your hand in? I
have some foils."
Mitouflet returned with foils and masks.
"Now, then, let us see what you can do."
The pair put themselves on guard. Mitouflet, with his former prowess as
grenadier of the guard, made sixty-two passes at Gaudissart, pushed him
about right and left, and finally pinned him up against the wall.
"The deuce! you are strong," said Gaudissart, out of breath.
"Monsieur Vernier is stronger than I am."
"The devil! Damn it, I shall fight with pistols."
"I advise you to do so; because, if you take large holster pistols and
load them up to their muzzles, you can't risk anything. They are sure
to fire wide of the mark, and both parties can retire from the field with
honor. Let me manage all that. Hein! 'sapristi,' two brave men would be
arrant fools to kill each other for a joke."
"Are you sure the pistols will carry wide enough? I should be sorry
to kill the man, after all," said Gaudissart.
"Sleep in peace," answered Mitouflet, departing.
The next morning the two adversaries, more or less pale, met beside the
bridge of La Cise. The brave Vernier came near shooting a cow which was
peaceably feeding by the roadside.
"Ah, you fired in the air!" cried Gaudissart.
At these words the enemies embraced.
"Monsieur," said the traveller, "your joke was rather rough, but it was a
good one for all that. I am sorry I apostrophized you: I was excited. I
regard you as a man of honor."
"Monsieur, we take twenty subscriptions to the 'Children's Journal,'"
replied the dyer, still pale.
"That being so," said Gaudissart, "why shouldn't we all breakfast
together? Men who fight are always the ones to come to a good
"Monsieur Mitouflet," said Gaudissart on his return to the inn, "of course
you have got a sheriff's officer here?"
"I want to send a summons to my good friend Margaritis to deliver the two
casks of wine."
"But he has not got them," said Vernier.
"No matter for that; the affair can be arranged by the payment of an
indemnity. I won't have it said that Vouvray outwitted the illustrious
Madame Margaritis, alarmed at the prospect of a suit in which the
plaintiff would certainly win his case, brought thirty francs to the
placable traveller, who thereupon considered himself quits with the
happiest region of sunny France,—a region which is also, we must
add, the most recalcitrant to new and progressive ideas.
On returning from his trip through the southern departments, the
illustrious Gaudissart occupied the coupe of a diligence, where he met a
young man to whom, as they journeyed between Angouleme and Paris, he
deigned to explain the enigmas of life, taking him, apparently, for an
As they passed Vouvray the young man exclaimed, "What a fine site!"
"Yes, Monsieur," said Gaudissart, "but not habitable on account of the
people. You get into duels every day. Why, it is not three months since I
fought one just there," pointing to the bridge of La Cise, "with a damned
dyer; but I made an end of him,—he bit the dust!"