The Illustrious Gaudissart, by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter II

For one whole week this commanding genius went every morning to be Saint–Simonized at the office of the “Globe,” and every afternoon he betook himself to the life-insurance company, where he learned the intricacies of financial diplomacy. His aptitude and his memory were prodigious; so that he was able to start on his peregrinations by the 15th of April, the date at which he usually opened the spring campaign. Two large commercial houses, alarmed at the decline of business, implored the ambitious Gaudissart not to desert the article Paris, and seduced him, it was said, with large offers, to take their commissions once more. The king of travellers was amenable to the claims of his old friends, enforced as they were by the enormous premiums offered to him.

* * * * *

“Listen, my little Jenny,” he said in a hackney-coach to a pretty florist.

All truly great men delight in allowing themselves to be tyrannized over by a feeble being, and Gaudissart had found his tyrant in Jenny. He was bringing her home at eleven o’clock from the Gymnase, whither he had taken her, in full dress, to a proscenium box on the first tier.

“On my return, Jenny, I shall refurnish your room in superior style. That big Matilda, who pesters you with comparisons and her real India shawls imported by the suite of the Russian ambassador, and her silver plate and her Russian prince — who to my mind is nothing but a humbug — won’t have a word to say then. I consecrate to the adornment of your room all the ‘Children’ I shall get in the provinces.”

“Well, that’s a pretty thing to say!” cried the florist. “Monster of a man! Do you dare to talk to me of your children? Do you suppose I am going to stand that sort of thing?”

“Oh, what a goose you are, my Jenny! That’s only a figure of speech in our business.”

“A fine business, then!”

“Well, but listen; if you talk all the time you’ll always be in the right.”

“I mean to be. Upon my word, you take things easy!”

“You don’t let me finish. I have taken under my protection a superlative idea — a journal, a newspaper, written for children. In our profession, when travellers have caught, let us suppose, ten subscribers to the ‘Children’s Journal,’ they say, ‘I’ve got ten Children,’ just as I say when I get ten subscriptions to a newspaper called the ‘Movement,’ ‘I’ve got ten Movements.’ Now don’t you see?”

“That’s all right. Are you going into politics? If you do you’ll get into Saint–Pelagie, and I shall have to trot down there after you. Oh! if one only knew what one puts one’s foot into when we love a man, on my word of honor we would let you alone to take care of yourselves, you men! However, if you are going away tomorrow we won’t talk of disagreeable things — that would be silly.”

The coach stopped before a pretty house, newly built in the Rue d’Artois, where Gaudissart and Jenny climbed to the fourth story. This was the abode of Mademoiselle Jenny Courand, commonly reported to be privately married to the illustrious Gaudissart, a rumor which that individual did not deny. To maintain her supremacy, Jenny kept him to the performance of innumerable small attentions, and threatened continually to turn him off if he omitted the least of them. She now ordered him to write to her from every town, and render a minute account of all his proceedings.

“How many ‘Children’ will it take to furnish my chamber?” she asked, throwing off her shawl and sitting down by a good fire.

“I get five sous for each subscriber.”

“Delightful! And is it with five sous that you expect to make me rich? Perhaps you are like the Wandering Jew with your pockets full of money.”

“But, Jenny, I shall get a thousand ‘Children.’ Just reflect that children have never had a newspaper to themselves before. But what a fool I am to try to explain matters to you — you can’t understand such things.”

“Can’t I? Then tell me — tell me, Gaudissart, if I’m such a goose why do you love me?”

“Just because you are a goose — a sublime goose! Listen, Jenny. See here, I am going to undertake the ‘Globe,’ the ‘Movement,’ the ‘Children,’ the insurance business, and some of my old articles Paris; instead of earning a miserable eight thousand a year, I’ll bring back twenty thousand at least from each trip.”

“Unlace me, Gaudissart, and do it right; don’t tighten me.”

“Yes, truly,” said the traveller, complacently; “I shall become a shareholder in the newspapers, like Finot, one of my friends, the son of a hatter, who now has thirty thousand francs income, and is going to make himself a peer of France. When one thinks of that little Popinot — ah, mon Dieu! I forgot to tell you that Monsieur Popinot was named minister of commerce yesterday. Why shouldn’t I be ambitious too? Ha! ha! I could easily pick up the jargon of those fellows who talk in the chamber, and bluster with the rest of them. Now, listen to me:—

“Gentlemen,” he said, standing behind a chair, “the Press is neither a tool nor an article of barter: it is, viewed under its political aspects, an institution. We are bound, in virtue of our position as legislators, to consider all things politically, and therefore” (here he stopped to get breath)—“and therefore we must examine the Press and ask ourselves if it is useful or noxious, if it should be encouraged or put down, taxed or free. These are serious questions. I feel that I do not waste the time, always precious, of this Chamber by examining this article — the Press — and explaining to you its qualities. We are on the verge of an abyss. Undoubtedly the laws have not the nap which they ought to have — Hein?” he said, looking at Jenny. “All orators put France on the verge of an abyss. They either say that or they talk about the chariot of state, or convulsions, or political horizons. Don’t I know their dodges? I’m up to all the tricks of all the trades. Do you know why? Because I was born with a caul; my mother has got it, but I’ll give it to you. You’ll see! I shall soon be in the government.”


“Why shouldn’t I be the Baron Gaudissart, peer of France? Haven’t they twice elected Monsieur Popinot as deputy from the fourth arrondissement? He dines with Louis Phillippe. There’s Finot; he is going to be, they say, a member of the Council. Suppose they send me as ambassador to London? I tell you I’d nonplus those English! No man ever got the better of Gaudissart, the illustrious Gaudissart, and nobody ever will. Yes, I say it! no one ever outwitted me, and no one can — in any walk of life, politics or impolitics, here or elsewhere. But, for the time being, I must give myself wholly to the capitalists; to the ‘Globe,’ the ‘Movement,’ the ‘Children,’ and my article Paris.”

“You will be brought up with a round turn, you and your newspapers. I’ll bet you won’t get further than Poitiers before the police will nab you.”

“What will you bet?”

“A shawl.”

“Done! If I lose that shawl I’ll go back to the article Paris and the hat business. But as for getting the better of Gaudissart — never! never!”

And the illustrious traveller threw himself into position before Jenny, looked at her proudly, one hand in his waistcoat, his head at three-quarter profile — an attitude truly Napoleonic.

“Oh, how funny you are! what have you been eating to-night?”

Gaudissart was thirty-eight years of age, of medium height, stout and fat like men who roll about continually in stage-coaches, with a face as round as a pumpkin, ruddy cheeks, and regular features of the type which sculptors of all lands adopt as a model for statues of Abundance, Law, Force, Commerce, and the like. His protuberant stomach swelled forth in the shape of a pear; his legs were small, but active and vigorous. He caught Jenny up in his arms like a baby and kissed her.

“Hold your tongue, young woman!” he said. “What do you know about Saint–Simonism, antagonism, Fourierism, criticism, heroic enterprise, or woman’s freedom? I’ll tell you what they are — ten francs for each subscription, Madame Gaudissart.”

“On my word of honor, you are going crazy, Gaudissart.”

“More and more crazy about you,” he replied, flinging his hat upon the sofa.

The next morning Gaudissart, having breakfasted gloriously with Jenny, departed on horseback to work up the chief towns of the district to which he was assigned by the various enterprises in whose interests he was now about to exercise his great talents. After spending forty-five days in beating up the country between Paris and Blois, he remained two weeks at the latter place to write up his correspondence and make short visits to the various market towns of the department. The night before he left Blois for Tours he indited a letter to Mademoiselle Jenny Courand. As the conciseness and charm of this epistle cannot be equalled by any narration of ours, and as, moreover, it proves the legitimacy of the tie which united these two individuals, we produce it here:—

“My dear Jenny — You will lose your wager. Like Napoleon, Gaudissart the illustrious has his star, but not his Waterloo. I triumph everywhere. Life insurance has done well. Between Paris and Blois I lodged two millions. But as I get to the centre of France heads become infinitely harder and millions correspondingly scarce. The article Paris keeps up its own little jog-trot. It is a ring on the finger. With all my well-known cunning I spit these shop-keepers like larks. I got off one hundred and sixty-two Ternaux shawls at Orleans. I am sure I don’t know what they will do with them, unless they return them to the backs of the sheep.

“As to the article journal — the devil! that’s a horse of another color. Holy saints! how one has to warble before you can teach these bumpkins a new tune. I have only made sixty-two ‘Movements’: exactly a hundred less for the whole trip than the shawls in one town. Those republican rogues! they won’t subscribe. They talk, they talk; they share your opinions, and presently you are all agreed that every existing thing must be overturned. You feel sure your man is going to subscribe. Not a bit of it! If he owns three feet of ground, enough to grow ten cabbages, or a few trees to slice into toothpicks, the fellow begins to talk of consolidated property, taxes, revenues, indemnities — a whole lot of stuff, and I have wasted my time and breath on patriotism. It’s a bad business! Candidly, the ‘Movement’ does not move. I have written to the directors and told them so. I am sorry for it — on account of my political opinions.

“As for the ‘Globe,’ that’s another breed altogether. Just set to work and talk new doctrines to people you fancy are fools enough to believe such lies — why, they think you want to burn their houses down! It is vain for me to tell them that I speak for futurity, for posterity, for self-interest properly understood; for enterprise where nothing can be lost; that man has preyed upon man long enough; that woman is a slave; that the great providential thought should be made to triumph; that a way must be found to arrive at a rational coordination of the social fabric, — in short, the whole reverberation of my sentences. Well, what do you think? when I open upon them with such ideas these provincials lock their cupboards as if I wanted to steal their spoons and beg me to go away! Are not they fools? geese? The ‘Globe’ is smashed. I said to the proprietors, ‘You are too advanced, you go ahead too fast: you ought to get a few results; the provinces like results.’ However, I have made a hundred ‘Globes,’ and I must say, considering the thick-headedness of these clodhoppers, it is a miracle. But to do it I had to make them such a lot of promises that I am sure I don’t know how the globites, globists, globules, or whatever they call themselves, will ever get out of them. But they always tell me they can make the world a great deal better than it is, so I go ahead and prophesy to the value of ten francs for each subscription. There was one farmer who thought the paper was agricultural because of its name. I Globed him. Bah! he gave in at once; he had a projecting forehead; all men with projecting foreheads are ideologists.

“But the ‘Children’; oh! ah! as to the ‘Children’! I got two thousand between Paris and Blois. Jolly business! but there is not much to say. You just show a little vignette to the mother, pretending to hide it from the child: naturally the child wants to see, and pulls mamma’s gown and cries for its newspaper, because ‘Papa has dot his.’ Mamma can’t let her brat tear the gown; the gown costs thirty francs, the subscription six — economy; result, subscription. It is an excellent thing, meets an actual want; it holds a place between dolls and sugar-plums, the two eternal necessities of childhood.

“I have had a quarrel here at the table d’hote about the newspapers and my opinions. I was unsuspiciously eating my dinner next to a man with a gray hat who was reading the ‘Debats.’ I said to myself, ‘Now for my rostrum eloquence. He is tied to the dynasty; I’ll cook him; this triumph will be capital practice for my ministerial talents.’ So I went to work and praised his ‘Debats.’ Hein! if I didn’t lead him along! Thread by thread, I began to net my man. I launched my four-horse phrases, and the F-sharp arguments, and all the rest of the cursed stuff. Everybody listened; and I saw a man who had July as plain as day on his mustache, just ready to nibble at a ‘Movement.’ Well, I don’t know how it was, but I unluckily let fall the word ‘blockhead.’ Thunder! you should have seen my gray hat, my dynastic hat (shocking bad hat, anyhow), who got the bit in his teeth and was furiously angry. I put on my grand air — you know — and said to him: ‘Ah, ca! Monsieur, you are remarkably aggressive; if you are not content, I am ready to give you satisfaction; I fought in July.’ ‘Though the father of a family,’ he replied, ‘I am ready —’ ‘Father of a family!’ I exclaimed; ‘my dear sir, have you any children?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Twelve years old?’ ‘Just about.’ ‘Well, then, the “Children’s Journal” is the very thing for you; six francs a year, one number a month, double columns, edited by great literary lights, well got up, good paper, engravings from charming sketches by our best artists, actual colored drawings of the Indies — will not fade.’ I fired my broadside ‘feelings of a father, etc., etc.,’— in short, a subscription instead of a quarrel. ‘There’s nobody but Gaudissart who can get out of things like that,’ said that little cricket Lamard to the big Bulot at the cafe, when he told him the story.

“I leave tomorrow for Amboise. I shall do up Amboise in two days, and I will write next from Tours, where I shall measure swords with the inhabitants of that colorless region; colorless, I mean, from the intellectual and speculative point of view. But, on the word of a Gaudissart, they shall be toppled over, toppled down — floored, I say.

“Adieu, my kitten. Love me always; be faithful; fidelity through thick and thin is one of the attributes of the Free Woman. Who is kissing you on the eyelids?

“Thy Felix Forever.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51