A Street of Paris and Its Inhabitant

A Street of Paris and Its Inhabitant

A STREET OF PARIS AND ITS INHABITANT HONORE DE BALZAC Balzac's work was printed entire in three pages of the journal Le Siecle in Paris July 28 1845. M. le Vicomte Spoelberch de Lovenjoul owns Balzac's autograph manuscript of it. These details are given by him and might be reproduced here with his signature. But the publishers wish not to be deprived of the pleasure of paying homage to the Vicomte Spoelberch de Lovenjoul. He has made in the biography of Balzac in editions of his books in the pious collection of his unpublished writings the ideal literary man's monument. H. P. du B. I PHYSIOGNOMY OF THE STREET Paris has curved streets streets that are serpentine. It counts perhaps only the Rue Boudreau in the Chaussee d'Antin and the Rue Duguay-Trouin near the Luxembourg as streets shaped exactly like a T-square. The Rue Duguay-Trouin extends one of its two arms to the Rue d'Assas and the other to the Rue de Fleurus. In 1827 the Rue Duguay-Trouin was paved neither on one side nor on the other; it was lighted neither at its angle nor at its ends. Perhaps it is not even to-day paved or lighted. In truth this street has so few houses or the houses are so modest that one does not see them; the city's forgetfulness of them is explained then by their little importance. Lack of solidity in the soil is a reason for that state of things. The street is situated on a point of the Catacombs so dangerous that a portion of the road disappeared recently leaving an excavation to the astonished eyes of the scarce inhabitants of that corner of Paris. A great clamor arose in the newspapers about it. The government corked up the "Fontis"--such is the name of that territorial bankruptcy--and the gardens that border the street destitute of passers-by were reassured the more easily because the tax list did not weigh on them. The arm of the street that extends to the Rue de Fleurus is entirely occupied at the left by a wall on the top of which shine broken bottles and iron lances fixed in the plaster--a sort of warning to hands of lovers and of thieves. In this wall is a door the famous little garden door so necessary to dramas and to novels which is beginning to disappear from Paris. This door painted in dark green having an invisible lock and on which the tax collector had not yet painted a number; this wall along which grow thistles and grass with beaded blades; this street with furrows made by the wheels of wagons; other walls gray and crowned with foliage are in harmony with the silence that reigns in the Luxembourg in the convent of the Carmelites in the gardens of the Rue de Fleurus. If you went there you would ask yourself "Who can possibly live here?" Who? Wait and see. II SILHOUETTE OF THE INHABITANT One day about three in the afternoon that door was opened. Out of it came a little old man fat provided with an abdomen heavy and projecting which obliges him to make many sacrifices. He has to wear trousers excessively wide not to be troubled in walking. He has renounced long ago the use of boots and trouser straps. He wears shoes. His shoes were hardly polished. The waistcoat incessantly impelled to the upper part of the gastric cavities by that great abdomen and depressed by the weight of two thoracic bumps that would make the happiness of a thin woman offers to the pleasantries of the passers-by a perfect resemblance to a napkin rolled on the knees of a guest absorbed in discussion at dessert. The legs are thin the arm is long one of the hands is gloved only on most solemn occasions and the other hand ignores absolutely the advantage of a second skin. That personage avoids the alms and the pity that his venerable green frock coat invites by wearing the red ribbon at his button-hole. This proves the utility of the Order of the Legion of Honor which has been contested too much in the past ten years the new Knights of the Order say. The battered hat in a constant state of horror in the places where a reddish fuzz endures would not be picked up by a rag picker if the little old man let it fall and left it at a street corner. Too absent-minded to submit to the bother that the wearing of a wig entails that man of science--he is a man of science--shows when he makes a bow a head that viewed from the top has the appearance of the Farnese Hercules's knee. Above each ear tufts of twisted white hair shine in the sun like the angry silken hairs of a boar at bay. The neck is athletic and recommends itself to the notice of caricaturists by an infinity of wrinkles of furrows; by a dewlap faded but armed with darts in the fashion of thistles. The constant state of the beard explains at once why the necktie always crumpled and rolled by the gestures of a disquiet head has its own beard infinitely softer than that of the good old man and formed of threads scratched from its unfortunate tissue. Now if you have divined the torso and the powerful back you will know the sweet tempered face somewhat pale the blue ecstatic eyes and the inquisitive nose of that good old man when you learn that in the morning wearing a silk head kerchief and tightened in a dressing- gown the illustrious professor--he is a professor--resembled an old woman so much that a young man who came from the depths of Saxony of Weimar or of Prussia expressly to see him said to him "Forgive me Madame!" and withdrew. This silhouette of one of the most learned and most venerated members of the Institute betrays so well enthusiasm for study and absent- mindedness caused by application to the quest of truth that you must recognize in it the celebrated Professor Jean Nepomucene Apollodore Marmus de Saint-Leu one of the most admirable men of genius of our time. III MADAME ADOLPHE When the old man--the professor counted then sixty-two summers--had walked three steps he turned his head at this question hurled in an acute tone by a voice that he recognized: "Have you a handkerchief?" A woman stood on the step of the garden door and was watching her master with solicitude. She seemed to be fifty years of age and her dress indicated that she was one of those servants who are invested with full authority in household affairs. She was darning stockings. The man of science came back and said naively: "Yes Madame Adolphe I have my handkerchief." "Have you your spectacles?" she asked. The man of science felt the side pocket of his waistcoat. "I have them" he replied. "Show them to me" she said. "Often you have only the case." The professor took the case out of his pocket and showed the spectacles with a triumphant air. "You would do well to keep them on your nose" she said. M. de Saint-Leu put on his spectacles after rubbing the glasses with his handkerchief. Naturally he thrust the handkerchief under his left arm while he set his spectacles on his nose. Then he walked a few steps towards the Rue de Fleurus and relaxed his hold on the handkerchief which fell. "I was sure of it" said Madame Adolphe to herself. She picked up the handkerchief and cried: "Monsieur! Monsieur!" "Well!" exclaimed the professor made indignant by her watchfulness. "I beg your pardon" he said receiving the handkerchief. "Have you any money?" asked Madame Adolphe with maternal solicitude. "I need none" he replied naively explaining thus the lives of all men of science. "It depends" Madame Adolphe said. "If you go by way of the Pont des Arts you need one sou." "You are right" replied the man of science as if he were retracing instructions for a voyage to the North Pole. "I will go through the Luxembourg the Rue de Seine the Pont des Arts the Louvre the Rue du Coq the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs the Rue des Fosses- Montmartre. It is the shortest route to the Faubourg Poissonniere." "It is three o'clock" Madame Adolphe said. "Your sister-in-law dines at six. You have three hours before you--Yes--you'll be there but you'll be late." She searched her apron pocket for two sous which she handed to the professor. "Very well then" she said to him. "Do not eat too much. You are not a glutton but you think of other things. You are frugal but you eat when you are absent-minded as if you had no bread at home. Take care not to make Madame Vernet your sister-in-law wait. If you make her wait you will never be permitted again to go there alone and it will be shameful for you." Madame Adolphe returned to the threshold of the little door and from there watched her master. She had to cry to him "To the right! To the right!" for he was turning toward the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. "And yet he is a man of science people say" she muttered to herself. "How did he ever manage to get married? I'll ask Madame when I dress her hair." IV INCONVENIENCE OF QUAYS WHERE ARE BOOK STALLS At four o'clock Professor Marmus was at the end of the Rue de Seine under the arcades of the Institute. Those who know him will admit that he had done nobly since he had taken only one hour to go through the Luxembourg and down the Rue de Seine. There a lamentable voice the voice of a child plucked from the good man the two sous that Madame Adolphe had given to him. When he reached the Pont des Arts he remembered that he had to pay toll and turned back suddenly to beg for a sou from the child. The little rascal had gone to break the coin in order to give only one sou to his mother. She was walking up and down the Rue Mazarine with her baby at her breast. It became necessary for the professor to turn his back on the veteran soldier who guards against the possibility of a Parisian passing over the bridge without paying the toll. Two roads were open to him: the Pont Neuf and the Pont Royal. Curiosity makes one lose more time in Paris than anywhere else. How may one walk without looking at those little oblong boxes wide as the stones of the parapet that all along the quays stimulate book lovers with posters saying "Four Sous--Six Sous--Ten Sous--Twelve Sous--Thirty Sous?" These catacombs of glory have devoured many hours that belonged to the poets to the philosophers and to the men of science of Paris. Great is the number of ten-sous pieces spent in the four-sous stalls! The professor saw a pamphlet by Vicq-d'Azyr a complete Charles Bonnet in the edition of Fauche Borel and an essay on Malus. "And such then is the sum of our achievements" he said to himself. "Malus! A genius arrested in his course when he had almost captured the empire of light! But we have had Fresnel. Fresnel has done excellent things!--Oh they will recognize some day that light is only a mode of substance." The professor held the notice on Malus. He turned its pages. He had known Malus. He recalled to himself and recited the names of all the Maluses. Then he returned to Malus to his dear Malus for they had entered the Institute together at the return to Paris of the expedition to Egypt. Ah! It was then the Institute of France and not a mass of disunited Academies. "The Emperor had preserved" said Marmus to himself "the saintly idea of the Convention. I remember" he muttered aloud "what he said to me when I was presented to him as a member of the Institute. Napoleon the First said 'Marmus I am the Emperor of the French but you are the King of the infinitely little and you will organize them as I have organized the Empire.' Ah he was a very great man and a man of wit! The French appreciated this too late." The professor replaced Malus and the essay on him in the ten-sous stall without remarking how often hope had been lit and extinguished alternately in the gray eyes of an old woman seated on a stool in an angle of the quay. "He was there" Marmus said pointing to the Tuileries on the opposite bank of the river. "I saw him reviewing his sublime troops! I saw him thin ardent as the sands of Egypt; but as soon as he became Emperor he grew fat and good-natured for all fat men are excellent--this is why Sinard is thin he is a gall-making machine. But would Napoleon have supported my theory?" V FIRST COURSE It was the hour at which they went to the dinner table in the house of Marmus's sister-in-law. The professor walked slowly toward the Chamber of Deputies asking himself if his theory might have had Napoleon's support. He could no longer judge Napoleon save from that point of view. Did Napoleon's genius coincide with that of Marmus in regard to the assimilation of things engendered by an attraction perpetual and continuous? VI SECOND COURSE "No Baron Sinard was a worshipper of power. He would have gone to the Emperor and told him that my theory was the inspiration of an atheist. And Napoleon who has done a great deal of religious sermonizing for political reasons would have persecuted me. He had no love for ideas. He was a courtier of facts! Moreover in Napoleon's time it would not have been possible for me to communicate freely with Germany. Would they have lent me their aid--Wytheimler Grosthuys Scheele Stamback Wagner? "To make men of science agree--men of science agree!--the Emperor should have made peace; in time of peace perhaps he would have taken an interest in my quarrel with Sinard! Sinard my friend my pupil become my antagonist my enemy! He a man of genius-- "Yes he is a man of genius. I do justice to him in the face of all the world." At this moment the professor could talk aloud without trouble to himself or to the passers-by. He was near the Chamber of Deputies the session was closed all Paris was at dinner--except the man of science. Marmus was haranguing the statues which it must be conceded are similar to all audiences. In France there is not an audience that is not prohibited from giving marks of approval or disapproval. Otherwise there is not an audience that would not turn orator. At the Iena bridge Marmus had a pain in the stomach. He heard the hoarse voice of a cab driver. Marmus thought that he was ill and let himself be ushered into the cab. He made himself comfortable in it. When the driver asked "Where?" Marmus replied quietly: "Home." "Where is your home Monsieur?" asked the driver. "Number three" Marmus replied. "What street?" asked the driver. "Ah you are right my friend. But this is extraordinary" he said taking the driver into his confidence. "I have been so busy comparing the hyoides and the caracoides--yes that's it. I will catch Sinard in the act. At the next session of the Institute he will have to yield to evidence." The driver wrapped his ragged cloak around him. Resignedly he was saying to himself "I have seen many odd folks but this one--" He heard the word "Institute." "The Institute Monsieur?" he asked. "Yes my friend the Institute" replied Marmus. "Well he wears the red ribbon" said the driver to himself. "Perhaps he has something to do with the Institute." The professor infinitely more comfortable in his cab than on the sidewalk devoted himself entirely to solving the problem that went against his theory and would not surrender--the rascal! The cab stops at the Institute; the janitor sees the Academician and bows to him respectfully. The cab driver his suspicions dispelled talks with the janitor of the Institute while the illustrious professor goes--at eight in the evening--to the Academie des Sciences. The cab driver tells the janitor where he found his fare. "At the Iena bridge" repeats the janitor. "M. Marmus was coming back from Passy. He had dined doubtless with M. Planchette one of his friends of the Academy." "He couldn't tell me his address" says the cab driver. "He lives in the Rue Duguay-Trouin Number three" says the janitor. "What a neighborhood!" exclaims the driver. "My friend" asks of the janitor the professor who had found the door shut "is there no meeting of the Academy to-day?" "To-day!" exclaims the janitor. "At this hour!" "What is the time?" asks the man of science. ...