A Distinguished Provincial at Paris/Part 1/Section 7

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When Lucien's intellect had been stimulated by the evenings spent in d'Arthez's garret, he had made some study of the jokes and articles in the smaller newspapers. He was at least the equal, he felt, of the wittiest contributors; in private he tried some mental gymnastics of the kind, and went out one morning with the triumphant idea of finding some colonel of such light skirmishers of the press and enlisting in their ranks. He dressed in his best and crossed the bridges, thinking as he went that authors, journalists, and men of letters, his future comrades, in short, would show him rather more kindness and disinterestedness than the two species of booksellers who had so dashed his hopes. He should meet with fellow-feeling, and something of the kindly and grateful affection which he found in the cenacle of the Rue des Quatre-Vents. Tormented by emotion, consequent upon the presentiments to which men of imagination cling so fondly, half believing, half battling with their belief in them, he arrived in the Rue Saint-Fiacre off the Boulevard Montmartre. Before a house, occupied by the offices of a small newspaper, he stopped, and at the sight of it his heart began to throb as heavily as the pulses of a youth upon the threshold of some evil haunt.

Nevertheless, upstairs he went, and found the offices in the low entresol between the ground floor and the first story. The first room was divided down the middle by a partition, the lower half of solid wood, the upper lattice work to the ceiling. In this apartment Lucien discovered a one-armed pensioner supporting several reams of paper on his head with his remaining hand, while between his teeth he held the passbook which the Inland Revenue Department requires every newspaper to produce with each issue. This ill-favored individual, owner of a yellow countenance covered with red excrescences, to which he owed his nickname of "Coloquinte," indicated a personage behind the lattice as the Cerberus of the paper. This was an elderly officer with a medal on his chest and a silk skull-cap on his head; his nose was almost hidden by a pair of grizzled moustaches, and his person was hidden as completely in an ample blue overcoat as the body of the turtle in its carapace.

"From what date do you wish your subscription to commence, sir?" inquired the Emperor's officer.

"I did not come about a subscription," returned Lucien. Looking about him, he saw a placard fastened on a door, corresponding to the one by which he had entered, and read the words—EDITOR'S OFFICE, and below, in smaller letters, No admittance except on business.

"A complaint, I expect?" replied the veteran. "Ah! yes; we have been hard on Mariette. What would you have? I don't know the why and wherefore of it yet.—But if you want satisfaction, I am ready for you," he added, glancing at a collection of small arms and foils stacked in a corner, the armory of the modern warrior.

"That was still further from my intention, sir. I have come to speak to the editor."

"Nobody is ever here before four o'clock."

"Look you here, Giroudeau, old chap," remarked a voice, "I make it eleven columns; eleven columns at five francs apiece is fifty-five francs, and I have only been paid forty; so you owe me another fifteen francs, as I have been telling you."

These words proceeded from a little weasel-face, pallid and semi-transparent as the half-boiled white of an egg; two slits of eyes looked out of it, mild blue in tint, but appallingly malignant in expression; and the owner, an insignificant young man, was completely hidden by the veteran's opaque person. It was a blood-curdling voice, a sound between the mewing of a cat and the wheezy chokings of a hyena.

"Yes, yes, my little militiaman," retorted he of the medal, "but you are counting the headings and white lines. I have Finot's instructions to add up the totals of the lines, and to divide them by the proper number for each column; and after I performed that concentrating operation on your copy, there were three columns less."

"He doesn't pay for the blanks, the Jew! He reckons them in though when he sends up the total of his work to his partner, and he gets paid for them too. I will go and see Etienne Lousteau, Vernou——"

"I cannot go beyond my orders, my boy," said the veteran. "What! do you cry out against your foster-mother for a matter of fifteen francs? you that turn out an article as easily as I smoke a cigar. Fifteen francs! why, you will give a bowl of punch to your friends, or win an extra game of billiards, and there's an end of it!"

"Finot's savings will cost him very dear," said the contributor as he took his departure.

"Now, would not anybody think that he was Rousseau and Voltaire rolled in one?" the cashier remarked to himself as he glanced at Lucien.

"I will come in again at four, sir," said Lucien.

While the argument proceeded, Lucien had been looking about him. He saw upon the walls the portraits of Benjamin Constant, General Foy, and the seventeen illustrious orators of the Left, interspersed with caricatures at the expense of the Government; but he looked more particularly at the door of the sanctuary where, no doubt, the paper was elaborated, the witty paper that amused him daily, and enjoyed the privilege of ridiculing kings and the most portentous events, of calling anything and everything in question with a jest. Then he sauntered along the boulevards. It was an entirely novel amusement; and so agreeable did he find it, that, looking at the turret clocks, he saw the hour hands were pointing to four, and only then remembered that he had not breakfasted.

He went at once in the direction of the Rue Saint-Fiacre, climbed the stair, and opened the door.

The veteran officer was absent; but the old pensioner, sitting on a pile of stamped papers, was munching a crust and acting as sentinel resignedly. Coloquinte was as much accustomed to his work in the office as to the fatigue duty of former days, understanding as much or as little about it as the why and wherefore of forced marches made by the Emperor's orders. Lucien was inspired with the bold idea of deceiving that formidable functionary. He settled his hat on his head, and walked into the editor's office as if he were quite at home.

Looking eagerly about him, he beheld a round table covered with a green cloth, and half-a-dozen cherry-wood chairs, newly reseated with straw. The colored brick floor had not been waxed, but it was clean; so clean that the public, evidently, seldom entered the room. There was a mirror above the chimney-piece, and on the ledge below, amid a sprinkling of visiting-cards, stood a shopkeeper's clock, smothered with dust, and a couple of candlesticks with tallow dips thrust into their sockets. A few antique newspapers lay on the table beside an inkstand containing some black lacquer-like substance, and a collection of quill pens twisted into stars. Sundry dirty scraps of paper, covered with almost undecipherable hieroglyphs, proved to be manuscript articles torn across the top by the compositor to check off the sheets as they were set up. He admired a few rather clever caricatures, sketched on bits of brown paper by somebody who evidently had tried to kill time by killing something else to keep his hand in.

Other works of art were pinned in the cheap sea-green wall-paper. These consisted of nine pen-and-ink illustrations for Le Solitaire. The work had attained to such an unheard-of European popularity, that journalists evidently were tired of it.—"The Solitary makes his first appearance in the provinces; sensation among the women.—The Solitary perused at a chateau.—Effect of the Solitary on domestic animals.—The Solitary explained to savage tribes, with the most brilliant results.—The Solitary translated into Chinese and presented by the author to the Emperor at Pekin.—The Mont Sauvage, Rape of Elodie."—(Lucien though this caricature very shocking, but he could not help laughing at it.)—"The Solitary under a canopy conducted in triumphal procession by the newspapers.—The Solitary breaks the press to splinters, and wounds the printers.—Read backwards, the superior beauties of the Solitary produce a sensation at the Academie."—On a newspaper-wrapper Lucien noticed a sketch of a contributor holding out his hat, and beneath it the words, "Finot! my hundred francs," and a name, since grown more notorious than famous.

Between the window and the chimney-piece stood a writing-table, a mahogany armchair, and a waste-paper basket on a strip of hearth-rug; the dust lay thick on all these objects. There were short curtains in the windows. About a score of new books lay on the writing-table, deposited there apparently during the day, together with prints, music, snuff-boxes of the "Charter" pattern, a copy of the ninth edition of Le Solitaire (the great joke of the moment), and some ten unopened letters.

Lucien had taken stock of this strange furniture, and made reflections of the most exhaustive kind upon it, when, the clock striking five, he returned to question the pensioner. Coloquinte had finished his crust, and was waiting with the patience of a commissionaire, for the man of medals, who perhaps was taking an airing on the boulevard.

At this conjuncture the rustle of a dress sounded on the stair, and the light unmistakable footstep of a woman on the threshold. The newcomer was passably pretty. She addressed herself to Lucien.

"Sir," she said, "I know why you cry up Mlle. Virginie's hats so much; and I have come to put down my name for a year's subscription in the first place; but tell me your conditions——"

"I am not connected with the paper, madame."

"Oh!"

"A subscription dating from October?" inquired the pensioner.

"What does the lady want to know?" asked the veteran, reappearing on the scene.

The fair milliner and the retired military man were soon deep in converse; and when Lucien, beginning to lose patience, came back to the first room, he heard the conclusion of the matter.

"Why, I shall be delighted, quite delighted, sir. Mlle. Florentine can come to my shop and choose anything she likes. Ribbons are in my department. So it is all quite settled. You will say no more about Virginie, a botcher that cannot design a new shape, while I have ideas of my own, I have."

Lucien heard a sound as of coins dropping into a cashbox, and the veteran began to make up his books for the day.

"I have been waiting here for an hour, sir," Lucien began, looking not a little annoyed.

"And 'they' have not come yet!" exclaimed Napoleon's veteran, civilly feigning concern. "I am not surprised at that. It is some time since I have seen 'them' here. It is the middle of the month, you see. Those fine fellows only turn up on pay days—the 29th or the 30th."

"And M. Finot?" asked Lucien, having caught the editor's name.

"He is in the Rue Feydeau, that's where he lives. Coloquinte, old chap, just take him everything that has come in to-day when you go with the paper to the printers."

"Where is the newspaper put together?" Lucien said to himself.

"The newspaper?" repeated the officer, as he received the rest of the stamp money from Coloquinte, "the newspaper?—broum! broum!—(Mind you are round at the printers' by six o'clock to-morrow, old chap, to send off the porters.)—The newspaper, sir, is written in the street, at the writers' houses, in the printing-office between eleven and twelve o'clock at night. In the Emperor's time, sir, these shops for spoiled paper were not known. Oh! he would have cleared them out with four men and a corporal; they would not have come over him with their talk. But that is enough of prattling. If my nephew finds it worth his while, and so long as they write for the son of the Other (broum! broum!)——after all, there is no harm in that. Ah! by the way, subscribers don't seem to me to be advancing in serried columns; I shall leave my post."

"You seem to know all about the newspaper, sir," Lucien began.

"From a business point of view, broum! broum!" coughed the soldier, clearing his throat. "From three to five francs per column, according to ability.—Fifty lines to a column, forty letters to a line; no blanks; there you are! As for the staff, they are queer fish, little youngsters whom I wouldn't take on for the commissariat; and because they make fly tracks on sheets of white paper, they look down, forsooth, on an old Captain of Dragoons of the Guard, that retired with a major's rank after entering every European capital with Napoleon."

The soldier of Napoleon brushed his coat, and made as if he would go out, but Lucien, swept to the door, had courage enough to make a stand.

"I came to be a contributor of the paper," he said. "I am full of respect, I vow and declare, for a captain of the Imperial Guard, those men of bronze——"

"Well said, my little civilian, there are several kinds of contributors; which kind do you wish to be?" replied the trooper, bearing down on Lucien, and descending the stairs. At the foot of the flight he stopped, but it was only to light a cigar at the porter's box.

"If any subscribers come, you see them and take note of them, Mother Chollet.—Simply subscribers, never know anything but subscribers," he added, seeing that Lucien followed him. "Finot is my nephew; he is the only one of my family that has done anything to relieve me in my position. So when anybody comes to pick a quarrel with Finot, he finds old Giroudeau, Captain of the Dragoons of the Guard, that set out as a private in a cavalry regiment in the army of the Sambre-et-Meuse, and was fencing-master for five years to the First Hussars, army of Italy! One, two, and the man that had any complaints to make would be turned off into the dark," he added, making a lunge. "Now writers, my boy, are in different corps; there is the writer who writes and draws his pay; there is the writer who writes and gets nothing (a volunteer we call him); and, lastly, there is the writer who writes nothing, and he is by no means the stupidest, for he makes no mistakes; he gives himself out for a literary man, he is on the paper, he treats us to dinners, he loafs about the theatres, he keeps an actress, he is very well off. What do you mean to be?"

"The man that does good work and gets good pay."

"You are like the recruits. They all want to be marshals of France. Take old Giroudeau's word for it, and turn right about, in double-quick time, and go and pick up nails in the gutter like that good fellow yonder; you can tell by the look of him that he has been in the army.—Isn't it a shame that an old soldier who has walked into the jaws of death hundreds of times should be picking up old iron in the streets of Paris? Ah! God A'mighty! 'twas a shabby trick to desert the Emperor.—Well, my boy, the individual you saw this morning has made his forty francs a month. Are you going to do better? And, according to Finot, he is the cleverest man on the staff."

"When you enlisted in the Sambre-et-Meuse, did they talk about danger?"

"Rather."

"Very well?"

"Very well. Go and see my nephew Finot, a good fellow, as good a fellow as you will find, if you can find him, that is, for he is like a fish, always on the move. In his way of business, there is no writing, you see, it is setting others to write. That sort like gallivanting about with actresses better than scribbling on sheets of paper, it seems. Oh! they are queer customers, they are. Hope I may have the honor of seeing you again."

With that the cashier raised his formidable loaded cane, one of the defenders of Germainicus, and walked off, leaving Lucien in the street, as much bewildered by this picture of the newspaper world as he had formerly been by the practical aspects of literature at Messrs. Vidal and Porchon's establishment.

Ten several times did Lucien repair to the Rue Feydeau in search of Andoche Finot, and ten times he failed to find that gentleman. He went first thing in the morning; Finot had not come in. At noon, Finot had gone out; he was breakfasting at such and such a cafe. At the cafe, in answer to inquiries of the waitress, made after surmounting unspeakable repugnance, Lucien heard that Finot had just left the place. Lucien, at length tired out, began to regard Finot as a mythical and fabulous character; it appeared simpler to waylay Etienne Lousteau at Flicoteaux's. That youthful journalist would, doubtless, explain the mysteries that enveloped the paper for which he wrote.

Since the day, a hundred times blessed, when Lucien made the acquaintance of Daniel d'Arthez, he had taken another seat at Flicoteaux's. The two friends dined side by side, talking in lowered voices of the higher literature, of suggested subjects, and ways of presenting, opening up, and developing them. At the present time Daniel d'Arthez was correcting the manuscript of The Archer of Charles IX. He reconstructed whole chapters, and wrote the fine passages found therein, as well as the magnificent preface, which is, perhaps, the best thing in the book, and throws so much light on the work of the young school of literature. One day it so happened that Daniel had been waiting for Lucien, who now sat with his friend's hand in his own, when he saw Etienne Lousteau turn the door-handle. Lucien instantly dropped Daniel's hand, and told the waiter that he would dine at his old place by the counter. D'Arthez gave Lucien a glance of divine kindness, in which reproach was wrapped in forgiveness. The glance cut the poet to the quick; he took Daniel's hand and grasped it anew.

"It is an important question of business for me; I will tell you about it afterwards," said he.

Lucien was in his old place by the time that Lousteau reached the table; as the first comer, he greeted his acquaintance; they soon struck up a conversation, which grew so lively that Lucien went off in search of the manuscript of the Marguerites, while Lousteau finished his dinner. He had obtained leave to lay his sonnets before the journalist, and mistook the civility of the latter for willingness to find him a publisher, or a place on the paper. When Lucien came hurrying back again, he saw d'Arthez resting an elbow on the table in a corner of the restaurant, and knew that his friend was watching him with melancholy eyes, but he would not see d'Arthez just then; he felt the sharp pangs of poverty, the goadings of ambition, and followed Lousteau.

In the late afternoon the journalist and the neophyte went to the Luxembourg, and sat down under the trees in that part of the gardens which lies between the broad Avenue de l'Observatoire and the Rue de l'Ouest. The Rue de l'Ouest at that time was a long morass, bounded by planks and market-gardens; the houses were all at the end nearest the Rue de Vaugirard; and the walk through the gardens was so little frequented, that at the hour when Paris dines, two lovers might fall out and exchange the earnest of reconciliation without fear of intruders. The only possible spoil-sport was the pensioner on duty at the little iron gate on the Rue de l'Ouest, if that gray-headed veteran should take it into his head to lengthen his monotonous beat. There, on a bench beneath the lime-trees, Etienne Lousteau sat and listened to sample-sonnets from the Marguerites.

Etienne Lousteau, after a two-years' apprenticeship, was on the staff of a newspaper; he had his foot in the stirrup; he reckoned some of the celebrities of the day among his friends; altogether, he was an imposing personage in Lucien's eyes. Wherefore, while Lucien untied the string about the Marguerites, he judged it necessary to make some sort of preface.

"The sonnet, monsieur," said he, "is one of the most difficult forms of poetry. It has fallen almost entirely into disuse. No Frenchman can hope to rival Petrarch; for the language in which the Italian wrote, being so infinitely more pliant than French, lends itself to play of thought which our positivism (pardon the use of the expression) rejects. So it seemed to me that a volume of sonnets would be something quite new. Victor Hugo has appropriated the old, Canalis writes lighter verse, Beranger has monopolized songs, Casimir Delavigne has taken tragedy, and Lamartine the poetry of meditation."

"Are you a 'Classic' or a 'Romantic'?" inquired Lousteau.

Lucien's astonishment betrayed such complete ignorance of the state of affairs in the republic of letters, that Lousteau thought it necessary to enlighten him.

"You have come up in the middle of a pitched battle, my dear fellow; you must make your decision at once. Literature is divided, in the first place, into several zones, but our great men are ranged in two hostile camps. The Royalists are 'Romantics,' the Liberals are 'Classics.' The divergence of taste in matters literary and divergence of political opinion coincide; and the result is a war with weapons of every sort, double-edged witticisms, subtle calumnies and nicknames a outrance, between the rising and the waning glory, and ink is shed in torrents. The odd part of it is that the Royalist-Romantics are all for liberty in literature, and for repealing laws and conventions; while the Liberal-Classics are for maintaining the unities, the Alexandrine, and the classical theme. So opinions in politics on either side are directly at variance with literary taste. If you are eclectic, you will have no one for you. Which side do you take?"

"Which is the winning side?"

"The Liberal newspapers have far more subscribers than the Royalist and Ministerial journals; still, though Canalis is for Church and King, and patronized by the Court and the clergy, he reaches other readers.—Pshaw! sonnets date back to an epoch before Boileau's time," said Etienne, seeing Lucien's dismay at the prospect of choosing between two banners. "Be a Romantic. The Romantics are young men, and the Classics are pedants; the Romantics will gain the day."

The word "pedant" was the latest epithet taken up by Romantic journalism to heap confusion on the Classical faction.