The Illustrious Gaudissart, by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter IV

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 him.”

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 coordination 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.”

“Without discussion?”

“Yes, unless there were suicide.”

“That’s quibbling.”

“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 honored guest —”

“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 and progress —”

“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 this wine.”

“Delicious!”

“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 terms.”

“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 coordination 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 who —”

“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 life —”

“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 capital —”

“Thoroughly.”

“— 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?”

“I advance.”

“And?”

“And —”

“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 country.”

“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 wine).

“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 tomorrow, Monsieur,” said Gaudissart, twisting his watch-key. “I shall have the honor to call for you tomorrow. 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 Margaritis.

This done, the illustrious Gaudissart departed in high feather, humming, as he skipped along —

“The King of the South,

He burned his mouth,” etc.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31