The Red and the Black, by Stendhal

Chapter 22

The Discussion

The republic — for every person today willing to sacrifice all to the common good, there are thousands and millions who know only their own pleasures and their vanity. One is esteemed in Paris for one’s carriage, not for one’s virtue.

NAPOLEON, Memorial

The footman burst in, announcing: ‘Monsieur le Duc de ——.’

‘Hold your tongue, you fool,’ said the Duke as he entered the room. He said this so well, and with such majesty that Julien could not help thinking that knowing how to lose his temper with a footman was the whole extent of this great personage’s knowledge. Julien raised his eyes and at once lowered them again. He had so clearly divined the importance of this new arrival that he trembled lest his glance should be thought an indiscretion.

This Duke was a man of fifty, dressed like a dandy, and treading as though on springs. He had a narrow head with a large nose, and a curved face which he kept thrusting forward. It would have been hard for anyone to appear at once so noble and so insignificant. His coming was a signal for the opening of the discussion.

Julien was sharply interrupted in his physiognomical studies by the voice of M. de La Mole. ‘Let me present to you M. l’abbe Sorel,’ said the Marquis. ‘He is endowed with an astonishing memory; it was only an hour ago that I spoke to him of the mission with which he might perhaps be honoured, and, in order to furnish us with a proof of his memory, he has learned by heart the first page of the Quotidienne.’

‘Ah! The foreign news, from poor N— — ’ said the master of the house. He picked up the paper eagerly and, looking at Julien with a whimsical air, in the effort to appear important: ‘Begin, Sir,’ he said to him.

The silence was profound, every eye was fixed on Julien; he repeated his lesson so well that after twenty lines: ‘That will do,’ said the Duke. The little man with the boar’s eyes sat down. He was the chairman for, as soon as he had taken his place, he indicated a card table to Julien, and made a sign to him to bring it up to his side. Julien established himself there with writing materials. He counted twelve people seated round the green cloth.

‘M. Sorel,’ said the Duke, ‘retire to the next room. We shall send for you.’

The master of the house assumed an uneasy expression. ‘The shutters are not closed,’ he murmured to his neighbour. ‘It is no use your looking out of the window,’ he foolishly exclaimed to Julien. ‘Here I am thrust into a conspiracy at the very least,’ was the latter’s thought. ‘Fortunately, it is not one of the kind that end on the Place de Greve. Even if there were danger, I owe that and more to the Marquis. I should be fortunate, were it granted me to atone for all the misery which my follies may one day cause him!’

Without ceasing to think of his follies and of his misery, he studied his surroundings in such a way that he could never forget them. Only then did he remember that he had not heard the Marquis tell his footman the name of the street, and the Marquis had sent for a cab, a thing he never did.

Julien was left for a long time to his reflections. He was in a parlour hung in green velvet with broad stripes of gold. There was on the side-table a large ivory crucifix, and on the mantelpiece the book Du Pape, by M. de Maistre, with gilt edges, and magnificently bound. Julien opened it so as not to appear to be eavesdropping. Every now and then there was a sound of raised voices from the next room. At length the door opened, his name was called.

‘Remember, Gentlemen,’ said the chairman, ‘that from this moment we are addressing the Duc de ——. This gentleman,’ he said, pointing to Julien, ‘is a young Levite, devoted to our sacred cause, who will have no difficulty in repeating, thanks to his astonishing memory, our most trivial words.

‘Monsieur has the floor,’ he said, indicating the personage with the fatherly air, who was wearing three or four waistcoats. Julien felt that it would have been more natural to call him the gentleman with the waistcoats. He supplied himself with paper and wrote copiously.

(Here the author would have liked to insert a page of dots. ‘That will not look pretty,’ says the publisher, ‘and for so frivolous a work not to look pretty means death.’

‘Politics,’ the author resumes, ‘are a stone attached to the neck of literature, which, in less than six months, drowns it. Politics in the middle of imaginative interests are like a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert. The noise is deafening without being emphatic. It is not in harmony with the sound of any of the instruments. This mention of politics is going to give deadly offence to half my readers, and to bore the other half, who have already found far more interesting and emphatic politics in their morning paper.’

‘If your characters do not talk politics,’ the publisher retorts, ‘they are no longer Frenchmen of 1830, and your book ceases to hold a mirror, as you claim. . . . ’)

Julien’s report amounted to twenty-six pages; the following is a quite colourless extract; for I have been obliged, as usual, to suppress the absurdities, the frequency of which would have appeared tedious or highly improbable. (Compare the Gazette des Tribunaux. )

The man with the waistcoats and the fatherly air (he was a Bishop, perhaps), smiled often, and then his eyes, between their tremulous lids, assumed a strange brilliance and an expression less undecided than was his wont. This personage, who was invited to speak first, before the Duke (‘but what Duke?’ Julien asked himself), apparently to express opinions and to perform the functions of Attorney General, appeared to Julien to fall into the uncertainty and absence of definite conclusions with which those officers are often reproached. In the course of the discussion the Duke went so far as to rebuke him for this.

After several phrases of morality and indulgent philosophy, the man with the waistcoats said:

‘Noble England, guided by a great man, the immortal Pitt, spent forty thousand million francs in destroying the Revolution. If this assembly will permit me to express somewhat boldly a melancholy reflection, England does not sufficiently understand that with a man like Bonaparte, especially when one had had to oppose to him only a collection of good intentions, there was nothing decisive save personal measures . . . ’

‘Ah! Praise of assassination again!’ said the master of the house with an uneasy air.

‘Spare us your sentimental homilies,’ exclaimed the chairman angrily; his boar’s eye gleamed with a savage light. ‘Continue,’ he said to the man with the waistcoats. The chairman’s cheeks and brow turned purple.

‘Noble England,’ the speaker went on, ‘is crushed today, for every Englishman, before paying for his daily bread, is obliged to pay the interest on the forty thousand million francs which were employed against the Jacobins. She has no longer a Pitt . . . ’

‘She has the Duke of Wellington,’ said a military personage who assumed an air of great importance.

‘Silence, please, Gentlemen,’ cried the chairman; ‘if we continue to disagree, there will have been no use in our sending for M. Sorel.’

‘We know that Monsieur is full of ideas,’ said the Duke with an air of vexation and a glance at the interrupter, one of Napoleon’s Generals. Julien saw that this was an allusion to something personal and highly offensive. Everyone smiled; the turncoat General seemed beside himself with rage.

‘There is no longer a Pitt,’ the speaker went on, with the discouraged air of a man who despairs of making his hearers listen to reason. ‘Were there a fresh Pitt in England, one does not hoodwink a nation twice by the same means . . . ’

‘That is why a conquering General, a Bonaparte is impossible now in France,’ cried the military interrupter.

On this occasion, neither the chairman nor the Duke dared show annoyance, though Julien thought he could read in their eyes that they were tempted to do so. They lowered their eyes, and the Duke contented himself with a sigh loud enough to be audible to them all.

But the speaker had lost his temper.

‘You are in a hurry for me to conclude,’ he said with heat, entirely discarding that smiling politeness and measured speech which Julien had assumed to be the natural expression of his character: ‘you are in a hurry for me to conclude; you give me no credit for the efforts that I am making not to offend the ears of anyone present, however long they may be. Very well, Gentlemen, I shall be brief.

‘And I shall say to you in the plainest of words: England has not a halfpenny left for the service of the good cause. Were Pitt to return in person, with all his genius he would not succeed in hoodwinking the small landowners of England, for they know that the brief campaign of Waterloo cost them, by itself, one thousand million francs. Since you wish for plain speaking,’ the speaker added, growing more and more animated, ‘I shall say to you: Help yourselves, for England has not a guinea for your assistance, and if England does not pay, Austria, Russia, Prussia, which have only courage and no money, cannot support more than one campaign or two against France.

‘You may hope that the young soldiers collected by Jacobinism will be defeated in the first campaign, in the second perhaps; but in the third (though I pass for a revolutionary in your prejudiced eyes), in the third you will have the soldiers of 1794, who were no longer the recruited peasants of 1792.’

Here the interruption broke out in three or four places at once.

‘Sir,’ said the chairman to Julien, ‘go and make a fair copy in the next room of the first part of the report which you have taken down.’ Julien left the room with considerable regret. The speaker had referred to probabilities which formed the subject of his habitual meditations.

‘They are afraid of my laughing at them,’ he thought. When he was recalled, M. de La Mole was saying, with an earnestness, which, to Julien, who knew him, seemed highly amusing:

‘Yes, Gentlemen, it is above all of this unhappy race that one can say: “Shall it be a god, a table or a bowl?”

‘“It shall be a god!” cries the poet. It is to you, Gentlemen, that this saying, so noble and so profound, seems to apply. Act for yourselves, and our noble France will reappear more or less as our ancestors made her and as our own eyes beheld her before the death of Louis XVI.

‘England, her noble Lords at least, curses as heartily as we ignoble Jacobinism: without English gold, Austria, Russia, Prussia cannot fight more than two or three battles. Will that suffice to bring about a glorious occupation, like that which M. de Richelieu squandered so stupidly in 1817? I do not think so.’

At this point an interruption occurred, but it was silenced by a general murmur. It arose once more from the former Imperial General, who desired the Blue Riband, and was anxious to appear among the compilers of the secret note.

‘I do not think so,’ M. de La Mole resumed after the disturbance. He dwelt upon the word ‘I’ with an insolence which charmed Julien. ‘That is well played,’ he said to himself as he made his pen fly almost as fast as the Marquis’s utterance. With a well-placed word, M. de La Mole annihilated the twenty campaigns of the turncoat.

‘It is not to foreigners alone,’ the Marquis continued in the most measured tone, ‘that we can remain indebted for a fresh military occupation. That youthful band who contribute incendiary articles to the Globe will provide you with three or four thousand young captains, among whom may be found a Kleber, a Hoche, a Jourdan, a Pichegru, but less well-intentioned.’

‘We did wrong in not crowning him with glory,’ said the chairman, ‘we ought to have made him immortal.’

‘There must, in short, be two parties in France,’ went on M. de La Mole, ‘but two parties, not in name only, two parties clearly defined, sharply divided. Let us be certain whom we have to crush. On one side the journalists, the electors, public opinion; in a word, youth and all those who admire it. While it is dazed by the sound of its own idle words, we, we have the certain advantage of handling the budget.’

Here came a fresh interruption.

‘You, Sir,’ M. de La Mole said to the interrupter with a supercilious ease that was quite admirable, ‘you do not handle, since the word appears to shock you, you devour forty thousand francs borne on the state budget and eighty thousand which you receive from the Civil List.

‘Very well, Sir, since you force me to it, I take you boldly as an example. Like your noble ancestors who followed Saint Louis to the Crusade, you ought, for those hundred and twenty thousand francs, to let us see at least a regiment, a company, shall I say a half-company, were it composed only of fifty men ready to fight, and devoted to the good cause, alive or dead. You have only footmen who, in the event of a revolt, would frighten nobody but yourself.

The Throne, the Altar, the Nobility may perish any day, Gentlemen, so long as you have not created in each Department a force of five hundred devoted men; devoted, I mean, not only with all the gallantry of France but with the constancy of Spain.

‘One half of this troop will have to be composed of our sons, our nephews, in short of true gentlemen. Each of them will have by his side, not a glib little cockney ready to hoist the striped cockade if another 1815 should arrive, but an honest peasant, simple and open like Cathelineau; our gentleman will have trained him, it should be his foster-brother, if possible. Let each of us sacrifice the fifth part of his income to form this little devoted troop of five hundred men to a Department. Then you may count upon a foreign occupation. Never will the foreign soldier cross our borders as far as Dijon even, unless he is certain of finding five hundred friendly soldiers in each Department.

‘The foreign Kings will listen to you only when you can inform them that there are twenty thousand gentlemen ready to take up arms to open to them the gates of France. This service is arduous, you will say. Gentlemen, it is the price of our heads. Between the liberty of the press and our existence as gentlemen, there is war to the knife. Become manufacturers, peasants, or take up your guns. Be timid if you like, but do not be stupid. Open your eyes.

Form your battalions, I say to you, in the words of the Jacobin song; then there will appear some noble Gustavus–Adolphus, who, moved by the imminent peril to the monarchical principle will come flying three hundred leagues beyond his borders, and do for you what Gustavus did for the Protestant princes. Do you propose to go on talking without acting? In fifty years there will be nothing in Europe but Presidents of Republics, not one King left. And with those four letters K-I-N-G, go the priests and the gentlemen. I can see nothing but candidates paying court to draggletailed majorities.

‘It is no use your saying that France has not at this moment a trustworthy General, known and loved by all, that the army is organised only in the interests of Throne and Altar, that all the old soldiers have been discharged from it, whereas each of the Prussian and Austrian regiments includes fifty non-commissioned officers who have been under fire.

‘Two hundred thousand young men of the middle class are in love with the idea of war. . . . ’

‘Enough unpleasant truths,’ came in a tone of importance from a grave personage, apparently high on the ladder of ecclesiastical preferment, for M. de La Mole smiled pleasantly instead of showing annoyance, which was highly significant to Julien.

‘Enough unpleasant truths; Gentlemen, to sum up: the man with whom it was a question of amputating his gangrened leg would be ill-advised to say to his surgeon: this diseased leg is quite sound. Pardon me the simile, Gentlemen, the noble Duke of —— is our surgeon.’†

† The Duke of Wellington. C. K. S. M.]

‘There is the great secret out at last,’ thought Julien; ‘it is to the —— that I shall be posting tonight.’

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30