A Prince of Bohemia

A Prince of Bohemia

A PRINCE OF BOHEMIA HONORE DE BALZAC "My dear friend" said Mme. de la Baudraye drawing a pile of manuscript from beneath her sofa cushion "will you pardon me in our present straits for making a short story of something which you told me a few weeks ago?" "Anything is fair in these times. Have you not seen writers serving up their own hearts to the public or very often their mistress' hearts when invention fails? We are coming to this dear; we shall go in quest of adventures not so much for the pleasure of them as for the sake of having the story to tell afterwards." "After all you and the Marquise de Rochefide have paid the rent and I do not think from the way things are going here that I ever pay yours." "Who knows? Perhaps the same good luck that befell Mme. de Rochefide may come to you." "Do you call it good luck to go back to one's husband?" "No; only great luck. Come I am listening." And Mme. de la Baudraye read as follows: "Scene--a splendid salon in the Rue de Chartres-du-Roule. One of the most famous writers of the day discovered sitting on a settee beside a very illustrious Marquise with whom he is on such terms of intimacy as a man has a right to claim when a woman singles him out and keeps him at her side as a complacent /souffre- douleur/ rather than a makeshift." "Well" says she "have you found those letters of which you spoke yesterday? You said that you could not tell me all about /him/ without them?" "Yes I have them." "It is your turn to speak; I am listening like a child when his mother begins the tale of /Le Grand Serpentin Vert/." "I count the young man in question in that group of our acquaintances which we are wont to style our friends. He comes of a good family; he is a man of infinite parts and ill-luck full of excellent dispositions and most charming conversation; young as he is he is seen much and while awaiting better things he dwells in Bohemia. Bohemianism which by rights should be called the doctrine of the Boulevard des Italiens finds its recruits among young men between twenty and thirty all of them men of genius in their way little known it is true as yet but sure of recognition one day and when that day comes of great distinction. They are distinguished as it is at carnival time when their exuberant wit repressed for the rest of the year finds a vent in more or less ingenious buffoonery. "What times we live in! What an irrational central power which allows such tremendous energies to run to waste! There are diplomatists in Bohemia quite capable of overturning Russia's designs if they but felt the power of France at their backs. There are writers administrators soldiers and artists in Bohemia; every faculty every kind of brain is represented there. Bohemia is a microcosm. If the Czar would buy Bohemia for a score of millions and set its population down in Odessa--always supposing that they consented to leave the asphalt of the boulevards--Odessa would be Paris with the year. In Bohemia you find the flower doomed to wither and come to nothing; the flower of the wonderful young manhood of France so sought after by Napoleon and Louis XIV. so neglected for the last thirty years by the modern Gerontocracy that is blighting everything else--that splendid young manhood of whom a witness so little prejudiced as Professor Tissot wrote 'On all sides the Emperor employed a younger generation in every way worthy of him; in his councils in the general administration in negotiations bristling with difficulties or full of danger in the government of conquered countries; and in all places Youth responded to his demands upon it. Young men were for Napoleon the /missi hominici/ of Charlemagne.' "The word Bohemia tells you everything. Bohemia has nothing and lives upon what it has. Hope is its religion; faith (in oneself) its creed; and charity is supposed to be its budget. All these young men are greater than their misfortune; they are under the feet of Fortune yet more than equal to Fate. Always ready to mount and ride an /if/ witty as a /feuilleton/ blithe as only those can be that are deep in debt and drink deep to match and finally--for here I come to my point--hot lovers and what lovers! Picture to yourself Lovelace and Henri Quatre and the Regent and Werther and Saint-Preux and Rene and the Marechal de Richelieu--think of all these in a single man and you will have some idea of their way of love. What lovers! Eclectic of all things in love they will serve up a passion to a woman's order; their hearts are like a bill of fare in a restaurant. Perhaps they have never read Stendhal's /De l'Amour/ but unconsciously they put it in practice. They have by heart their chapters--Love-Taste Love-Passion Love-Caprice Love-Crystalized and more than all Love-Transient. All is good in their eyes. They invented the burlesque axiom 'In the sight of man all women are equal.' The actual text is more vigorously worded but as in my opinion the spirit is false I do not stand nice upon the letter. "My friend madame is named Gabriel Jean Anne Victor Benjamin George Ferdinand Charles Edward Rusticoli Comte de la Palferine. The Rusticolis came to France with Catherine de Medici having been ousted about that time from their infinitesimal Tuscan sovereignty. They are distantly related to the house of Este and connected by marriage to the Guises. On the day of Saint-Bartholomew they slew a goodly number of Protestants and Charles IX. bestowed the hand of the heiress of the Comte de la Palferine upon the Rusticoli of that time. The Comte however being a part of the confiscated lands of the Duke of Savoy was repurchased by Henri IV. when that great king so far blundered as to restore the fief; and in exchange the Rusticoli--who had borne arms long before the Medici bore them to-wit /argent/ a cross flory /azure/ (the cross flower-de-luced by letters patent granted by Charles IX.) and a count's coronet with two peasants for supporters with the motto IN HOC SIGNO VINCIMUS--the Rusticoli I repeat retained their title and received a couple of offices under the crown with the government of a province. "From the time of the Valois till the reign of Richelieu as it may be called the Rusticoli played a most illustrious part; under Louis XIV. their glory waned somewhat under Louis XV. it went out altogether. My friend's grandfather wasted all that was left to the once brilliant house with Mlle. Laguerre whom he first discovered and brought into fashion before Bouret's time. Charles Edward's own father was an officer without any fortune in 1789. The Revolution came to his assistance; he had the sense to drop his title and became plain Rusticoli. Among other deeds M. Rusticoli married a wife during the war in Italy a Capponi a goddaughter of the Countess of Albany (hence La Palferine's final names). Rusticoli was one of the best colonels in the army. The Emperor made him a commander of the Legion of Honor and a count. His spine was slightly curved and his son was wont to say of him laughingly that he was /un comte refait (contrefait)/. "General Count Rusticoli for he became a brigadier-general at Ratisbon and a general of the division on the field of Wagram died at Vienna almost immediately after his promotion or his name and ability would sooner or later have brought him the marshal's baton. Under the Restoration he would certainly have repaired the fortunes of a great and noble family so brilliant even as far back as 1100 centuries before they took the French title--for the Rusticoli had given a pope to the church and twice revolutionized the kingdom of Naples--so illustrious again under the Valois; so dexterous in the days of the Fronde that obstinate Frondeurs though they were they still existed through the reign of Louis XIV. Mazarin favored them; there was the Tuscan strain in them still and he recognized it. "Today when Charles Edward de la Palferine's name is mentioned not three persons in a hundred know the history of his house. But the Bourbons have actually left a Foix-Grailly to live by his easel. "Ah if you but knew how brilliantly Charles Edward accepts his obscure position! how he scoffs at the bourgeois of 1830! What Attic salt in his wit! He would be the king of Bohemia if Bohemia would endure a king. His /verve/ is inexhaustible. To him we owe a map of the country and the names of the seven castles which Nodier could not discover." "The one thing wanting in one of the cleverest skits of our time" said the Marquise. "You can form your own opinion of La Palferine from a few characteristic touches" continued Nathan. "He once came upon a friend of his a fellow-Bohemian involved in a dispute on the boulevard with a bourgeois who chose to consider himself affronted. To the modern powers that be Bohemia is insolent in the extreme. There was talk of calling one another out. " 'One moment' interposed La Palferine as much Lauzun for the occasion as Lauzun himself could have been. 'One moment. Monsieur was born I suppose?' " 'What sir?' " 'Yes are you born? What is your name?' " 'Godin.' " 'Godin eh!' exclaimed La Palferine's friend. " 'One moment my dear fellow' interrupted La Palferine. 'There are the Trigaudins. Are you one of them?' "Astonishment. " 'No? Then you are one of the new dukes of Gaeta I suppose of ...