The Red and the Black, by Stendhal

Chapter 23

The Clergy, their Forests, Liberty

The first law for every creature is that of self-preservation, of life. You sow hemlock, and expect to see the corn ripen!

MACHIAVELLI

The grave personage continued; one could see that he knew; he set forth with a gentle and moderate eloquence, which vastly delighted Julien, the following great truths:

(1) England has not a guinea at our service; economy and Hume are the fashion there. Even the Saints will not give us any money, and Mr Brougham will laugh at us.

(2,) Impossible to obtain more than two campaigns from the Monarchs of Europe, without English gold; and two campaigns will not be enough against the middle classes.

(3) Necessity of forming an armed party in France, otherwise the monarchical principle in the rest of Europe will not risk even those two campaigns.

‘The fourth point which I venture to suggest to you as self-evident is this:

The impossibility of forming an armed party in France without the Clergy. I say it to you boldly, because I am going to prove it to you, Gentlemen. We must give the Clergy everything:

‘(i) Because, occupying themselves with their own business night and day, and guided by men of high capacity established out of harm’s way three hundred leagues from your frontiers . . . ’

‘Ah! Rome! Rome!’ exclaimed the master of the house . . .

‘Yes, Sir, Rome!’ the Cardinal answered proudly. ‘Whatever be the more or less ingenious pleasantries which were in fashion when you were young, I will proclaim boldly, in 1830, that the Clergy, guided by Rome, speak and speak alone to the lower orders.

‘Fifty thousand priests repeat the same words on the day indicated by their leaders, and the people, who, after all, furnish the soldiers, will be more stirred by the voice of their priests than by all the cheap poems in the world. . ..’ (This personal allusion gave rise to murmurs.)

‘The Clergy have an intellect superior to yours,’ the Cardinal went on, raising his voice; ‘all the steps that you have taken towards this essential point, having an armed party here in France, have been taken by us.’ Here facts were cited. Who had sent eighty thousand muskets to the Vendee? and so forth.

‘So long as the Clergy are deprived of their forests, they have no tenure. At the first threat of war, the Minister of Finance writes to his agents that there is no more money except for the parish priests. At heart, France is not religious, and loves war. Whoever it be that gives her war, he will be doubly popular, for to make war is to starve the Jesuits, in vulgar parlance; to make war is to deliver those monsters of pride, the French people, from the menace of foreign intervention.’

The Cardinal had a favourable hearing . . . ‘It was essential,’ he said, ‘that M. de Nerval should leave the Ministry, his name caused needless irritation.’

Upon this, they all rose to their feet and began speaking at once. ‘They will be sending me out of the room again,’ thought Julien; but the prudent chairman himself had forgotten Julien’s presence and indeed his existence.

Every eye turned to a man whom Julien recognised. It was M. de Nerval, the First Minister, whom he had seen at the Duc de Retz’s ball.

The disorder was at its height, as the newspapers say, when reporting the sittings of the Chamber. After fully a quarter of an hour, silence began to be restored.

Then M. de Nerval rose and, adopting the tone of an Apostle:

‘I shall not for one moment pretend,’ he said, in an unnatural voice, ‘that I am not attached to office.

‘It has been proved to me, Gentlemen, that my name doubles the strength of the Jacobins by turning against us a number of moderate men. I should willingly resign, therefore; but the ways of the Lord are visible to but a small number; but,’ he went on, looking fixedly at the Cardinal, ‘I have a mission; heaven has said to me: “You shall lay down your head on the scaffold, or you shall reestablish the Monarchy in France, and reduce the Chambers to what Parliament was under Louis XV,” and that, Gentlemen, I will do.’

He ceased, sat down, and a great silence fell.

‘There is a good actor,’ thought Julien. He made the mistake, then as always, of crediting people with too much cleverness.

Animated by the debates of so lively an evening, and above all by the sincerity of the discussion, at that moment M. de Nerval believed in his mission. With his great courage the man did not combine any sense.

Midnight struck during the silence that followed the fine peroration ‘that I will do’. Julien felt that there was something imposing and funereal in the sound of the clock. He was deeply moved.

The discussion soon began again with increasing energy and above all with an incredible simplicity. ‘These men will have me poisoned,’ thought Julien, at certain points. ‘How can they say such things before a plebeian?’

Two o’clock struck while they were still talking. The master of the house had long been asleep; M. de La Mole was obliged to ring to have fresh candles brought in. M. de Nerval, the Minister, had left at a quarter to two, not without having frequently studied Julien’s face in a mirror which hung beside him. His departure had seemed to create an atmosphere of relief.

While the candles were being changed: ‘Heaven knows what that fellow is going to say to the King!’ the man with the waistcoats murmured to his neighbour. ‘He can make us look very foolish and spoil our future.

‘You must admit that he shows a very rare presumption, indeed effrontery, in appearing here. He used to come here before he took office; but a portfolio alters everything, swallows up all a man’s private interests, he ought to have felt that.’

As soon as the Minister was gone, Bonaparte’s General had shut his eyes. He now spoke of his health, his wounds, looked at his watch, and left.

‘I would bet,’ said the man with the waistcoats, ‘that the General is running after the Minister; he is going to make his excuses for being found here, and pretend that he is our leader.’

When the servants, who were half asleep, had finished changing the candles:

‘Let us now begin to deliberate, Gentlemen,’ said the chairman, ‘and no longer attempt to persuade one another. Let us consider the tenor of the note that in forty-eight hours will be before the eyes of our friends abroad. There has been reference to Ministers. We can say, now that M. de Nerval has left us, what do we care for Ministers? We shall control them.’

The Cardinal showed his approval by a delicate smile.

‘Nothing easier, it seems to me, than to sum up our position,’ said the young Bishop of Agde with the concentrated and restrained fire of the most exalted fanaticism. Hitherto he had remained silent; his eye, which Julien had watched, at first mild and calm, had grown fiery after the first hour’s discussion. Now his heart overflowed like lava from Vesuvius.

‘From 1806 to 1814, England made only one mistake,’ he said, ‘which was her not dealing directly and personally with Napoleon. As soon as that man had created Dukes and Chamberlains, as soon as he had restored the Throne, the mission that God had entrusted to him was at an end; he was ripe only for destruction. The Holy Scriptures teach us in more than one passage the way to make an end of tyrants.’ (Here followed several Latin quotations.)

‘Today, Gentlemen, it is not a man that we must destroy; it is Paris. The whole of France copies Paris. What is the use of arming your five hundred men in each Department? A hazardous enterprise and one that will never end. What is the use of involving France in a matter which is peculiar to Paris? Paris alone, with her newspapers and her drawing-rooms, has done the harm; let the modern Babylon perish.

‘Between the Altar and Paris, there must be a fight to the finish. This catastrophe is indeed to the earthly advantage of the Throne. Why did not Paris dare to breathe under Bonaparte? Ask the artillery of Saint–Roch.’

* * *

It was not until three o’clock in the morning that Julien left the house with M. de La Mole.

The Marquis was depressed and tired. For the first time, in speaking to Julien, he used a tone of supplication. He asked him to promise never to disclose the excesses of zeal, such was his expression, which he had chanced to witness. ‘Do not mention it to our friend abroad, unless he deliberately insists on knowing the nature of our young hotheads. What does it matter to them if the State be overthrown? They will be Cardinals, and will take refuge in Rome. We, in our country seats, shall be massacred by the peasants.’

The secret note which the Marquis drafted from the long report of six and twenty pages, written by Julien, was not ready until a quarter to five.

‘I am dead tired,’ said the Marquis, ‘and so much can be seen from this note, which is lacking in precision towards the end; I am more dissatisfied with it than with anything I ever did in my life. Now, my friend,’ he went on, ‘go and lie down for a few hours, and for fear of your being abducted, I am going to lock you into your room.’

Next day, the Marquis took Julien to a lonely mansion, at some distance from Paris. They found there a curious company who, Julien decided, were priests. He was given a passport which bore a false name, but did at last indicate the true goal of his journey, of which he had always feigned ignorance. He started off by himself in a calash.

The Marquis had no misgivings as to his memory, Julien had repeated the text of the secret note to him several times; but he was greatly afraid of his being intercepted.

‘Remember, whatever you do, to look like a fop who is travelling to kill time,’ was his friendly warning, as Julien was leaving the room. ‘There may perhaps have been several false brethren in our assembly last night.’

The journey was rapid and very tedious. Julien was barely out of the Marquis’s sight before he had forgotten both the secret note and his mission, and was thinking of nothing but Mathilde’s scorn.

In a village, some leagues beyond Metz, the postmaster came to inform him that there were no fresh horses. It was ten o’clock at night; Julien, greatly annoyed, ordered supper. He strolled up and down outside the door and passed unperceived into the stable-yard. He saw no horses there.

‘The man had a singular expression all the same,’ he said to himself; ‘his coarse eye was scrutinising me.’

We can see that he was beginning not to believe literally everything that he was told. He thought of making his escape after supper, and in the meanwhile, in order to learn something of the lie of the land, left his room to go and warm himself by the kitchen fire. What was his joy upon finding there Signor Geronimo, the famous singer!

Comfortably ensconced in an armchair which he had made them push up close to the fire, the Neapolitan was groaning aloud and talking more, by himself, than the score of German peasants who were gathered round him open-mouthed.

‘These people are ruining me,’ he cried to Julien, ‘I have promised to sing tomorrow at Mayence. Seven Sovereign Princes have assembled there to hear me. But let us take the air,’ he added, in a significant tone.

When he had gone a hundred yards along the road, and was well out of earshot:

‘Do you know what is happening?’ he said to Julien; ‘this postmaster is a rogue. As I was strolling about, I gave a franc to a little ragamuffin who told me everything. There are more than a dozen horses in a stable at the other end of the village. They mean to delay some courier.’

‘Indeed?’ said Julien, with an innocent air.

It was not enough to have discovered the fraud, they must get on: this was what Geronimo and his friend could not manage to do. ‘We must wait for the daylight,’ the singer said finally, ‘they are suspicious of us. Tomorrow morning we shall order a good breakfast; while they are preparing it we go out for a stroll, we escape, hire fresh horses, and reach the next post.’

‘And your luggage?’ said Julien, who thought that perhaps Geronimo himself might have been sent to intercept him. It was time to sup and retire to bed. Julien was still in his first sleep, when he was awakened with a start by the sound of two people talking in his room, apparently quite unconcerned.

He recognised the postmaster, armed with a dark lantern. Its light was concentrated upon the carriage-trunk, which Julien had had carried up to his room. With the postmaster was another man who was calmly going through the open trunk. Julien could make out only the sleeves of his coat, which were black and close-fitting.

‘It is a cassock,’ he said to himself, and quietly seized the pocket pistols which he had placed under his pillow.

‘You need not be afraid of his waking, Monsieur le Cure,’ said the postmaster. ‘The wine we gave them was some of what you prepared yourself.’

‘I can find no trace of papers,’ replied the cure. ‘Plenty of linen, oils, pomades and fripperies; he is a young man of the world, occupied with his own pleasures. The envoy will surely be the other, who pretends to speak with an Italian accent.’

The men came up to Julien to search the pockets of his travelling coat. He was strongly tempted to kill them as robbers. This could involve no dangerous consequences. He longed to do it . . . ‘I should be a mere fool,’ he said to himself, ‘I should be endangering my mission.’ After searching his coat, ‘this is no diplomat,’ said the priest: he moved away, and wisely.

‘If he touches me in my bed, it will be the worse for him!’ Julien was saying to himself; ‘he may quite well come and stab me, and that I will not allow.’

The cure turned his head, Julien half-opened his eyes; what was his astonishment! It was the abbe Castanede! And indeed, although the two men had tried to lower their voices, he had felt, from the first, that he recognised the sound of one of them. He was seized with a passionate desire to rid the world of one of its vilest scoundrels . . .

‘But my mission!’ he reminded himself.

The priest and his acolyte left the room. A quarter of an hour later, Julien pretended to awake. He called for help and roused the whole house.

‘I have been poisoned,’ he cried, ‘I am in horrible agony!’ He wanted a pretext for going to Geronimo’s rescue. He found him half asphyxiated by the laudanum that had been in his wine.

Julien, fearing some pleasantry of this kind, had supped upon chocolate which he had brought with him from Paris. He could not succeed in arousing Geronimo sufficiently to make him agree to leave the place.

‘Though you offered me the whole Kingdom of Naples,’ said the singer, ‘I would not forgo the pleasure of sleep at this moment.’

‘But the seven Sovereign Princes!’

‘They can wait.’

Julien set off alone and arrived without further incident at the abode of the eminent personage. He spent a whole morning in vainly soliciting an audience. Fortunately, about four o’clock, the Duke decided to take the air. Julien saw him leave the house on foot, and had no hesitation in going up to him and begging for alms. When within a few feet of the eminent personage, he drew out the Marquis de La Mole’s watch, and flourished it ostentatiously. ‘Follow me at distance,’ said the other, without looking at him.

After walking for a quarter of a league, the Duke turned abruptly in to a little Kaffeehaus. It was in a bedroom of this humblest form of inn that Julien had the honour of reciting his four pages to the Duke. When he had finished: ‘Begin again, and go more slowly,’ he was told.

The Prince took down notes. ‘Go on foot to the next post. Leave your luggage and your calash here. Make your way to Strasbourg as best you can, and on the twenty-second of the month’— it was now the tenth —‘be in this coffee-house here at half-past twelve. Do not leave here for half an hour. Silence!’

Such were the only words that Julien heard said. They sufficed to fill him with the deepest admiration. ‘It is thus,’ he thought, ‘that one handles affairs; what would this great statesman say if he had heard those hotheaded chatterboxes three days ago?’

Julien took two days to reach Strasbourg, he felt that there was nothing for him to do there. He made a wide circuit. ‘If that devil, the abbe Castanede has recognised me, he is not the man to be easily shaken off . . . And what a joy to him to make a fool of me, and to spoil my mission!’

The abbe Castanede, Chief of Police to the Congregation along the whole of the Northern frontier, had mercifully not recognised him. And the Jesuits of Strasbourg, albeit most zealous, never thought of keeping an eye on Julien, who, with his Cross and his blue greatcoat, had the air of a young soldier greatly concerned with his personal appearance.

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