The Immortal, by Alphonse Daudet

Chapter iii.

From the Vicomte de Freydet

To Mademoiselle Germaine de Freydet,

Clos Jallanges, near Mousseaux, Loir et Cher.

My dear Sister — I am going to give you a precise account of the way I spend my time in Paris. I shall write every evening, and send you the budget twice a week, as long as I stay here.

Well, I arrived this morning, Monday, and took up my quarters as usual in my quiet little hotel in the Rue Servandoni, where the only sounds of the great city which reach me are the bells of Saint Sulpice, and the continual noise from a neighbouring forge, a sound of the rhythmical beating of iron, which I love because it reminds me of our village. I rushed off at once to my publisher. ‘Well, when do we come out?’

‘Your book? Why, it came out a week ago.’

Come out, indeed, and gone in too — gone into the depths of that grim establishment of Manivet’s, which never ceases to pant and to reek with the labour of giving birth to a new volume. This Monday, as it happened, they were just sending out a great novel by Herscher, called Satyra. The copies struck off — how many hundreds of thousands of them I don’t know — were lying in stacks and heaps right up to the very top of the establishment. You can fancy the preoccupation of the staff, and the lost bewildered look of worthy Manivet himself, when I mentioned my poor little volume of verse, and talked of my chances for the Boisseau prize. I asked for a few copies to leave with the members of the committee of award, and made my escape through streets— literally streets — of Satyra, piled up to the ceiling. When I got into my cab, I looked at my volume and turned over the pages. I was quite pleased with the solemn effect of the title, ‘God in Nature.’ The capitals are perhaps a trifle thin, when you come to look at them, not quite as black and impressive to the eye as they might be. But it does not matter. Your pretty name, ‘Germaine,’ in the dedication will bring us luck. I left a couple of copies at the Astiers’ in the Rue de Beaune. You know they no longer occupy their rooms at the Foreign Office. But Madame Astier has still her ‘Wednesdays.’ So of course I wait till Wednesday to hear what my old master thinks of the book; and off I went to the Institute.

There again I found them as busy as a steam factory. Really the industry of this big city is marvellous, especially to people like us, who spend all the year in the peace of the open country. Found Picheral — you remember Picheral, the polite gentleman in the secretary’s office, who got you such a good place three years ago, when I received my prize — well, I found Picheral and his clerks in the midst of a wild hubbub of voices, shouting out names and addresses from one desk to another, and surrounded on all sides by tickets of every kind, blue, yellow, and green, for the platform, for the outer circle, for the orchestra, Entrance A, Entrance B, &c. They were in the middle of sending out the invitations for the great annual meeting, which is to be honoured this year by the presence of a Royal Highness on his travels, the Grand Duke Leopold. ‘Very sorry, my lord’— Picheral always says ‘my lord,’ having learnt it, no doubt, from Chateaubriand —’ but I must ask you to wait.’ ‘Certainly, M. Picheral, certainly.’

Picheral is an amusing old gentleman, very courtly. He reminds me of Bonicar and our lessons in deportment in the covered gallery at grandmamma’s house at Jallanges. He is as touchy, too, when crossed, as the old dancing master used to be. I wish you had heard him talk to the Comte de Bretigny, the ex-minister, one of the grandees of the Académie, who came in, while I was waiting, to rectify a mistake about the number of his tallies. I must tell you that the tally attesting attendance is worth five shillings, the old crown-piece. There are forty Academicians, which makes two hundred shillings per meeting, to be divided among those present; so, you see, the fewer they are, the more money each gets. Payment is made once a month in crown-pieces, kept in stout paper bags, each with its little reckoning pinned on to it, like a washing bill. Bretigny had not his complete number of tallies; and it was the most amusing sight to see this man of enormous wealth, director of Heaven knows how many companies, come there in his carriage to claim his ten shillings. He only got five, which sum, after a long dispute, Picheral tossed to him with as little respect as to a porter. But the ‘deity’ pocketed them with inexpressible joy; there is nothing like money won by the sweat of your brow. For, my dear Germaine, you must not imagine that there is any idling in the Académie. Every year there are fresh bequests, new prizes instituted; that means more books to read, more reports to engross, to say nothing of the dictionary and the orations. ‘Leave your book at their houses, but do not go in,’ said Picheral, when he heard I was competing for the prize. ‘The extra work, which people are always putting on the members, makes them anything but gracious to a candidate.’

I certainly have not forgotten the way Ripault-Babin and Laniboire received me, when I called on them about my last candidature. Of course, when the candidate is a pretty woman, it is another story. Laniboire becomes jocose, and Ripault-Babin, still gallant in spite of his eighty years, offers the fair canvasser a lozenge, and says in his quavering voice, ‘Touch it with your lips, and I will finish it.’ So they told me in the secretary’s office, where the deities are discussed with a pleasing frankness. ‘You are in for the Boisseau prize. Let me see; you have for awarders two Dukes, three Mouldies, and two Players.’ Such, in the office, is the familiar classification of the Académie Française! ‘Duke’ is the name applied to all members of the nobility and episcopacy; Mouldies’ includes the professors and the learned men generally; while a ‘Player’ denotes a lawyer, dramatic author, journalist, or novelist.

After ascertaining the addresses of my Dukes, Mouldies, and Players, I gave one of my ‘author’s copies’ to the friendly M. Picheral, and, for form’s sake, left another for poor M. Loisillon, the Permanent Secretary, who is said to be all but dead. Then I set to work to distribute the remaining copies all over Paris. The weather was glorious. As I passed through the Bois de Boulogne on my way back from the house of Ripault-Babin (which reminded me of the lozenges), the place was sweet with may and violets. I almost fancied myself at home again on one of those first days of early spring when the air is fresh and the sun hot; and I was inclined to give up everything and come back to you at Jallanges. Dined on the boulevard alone and gloomy, and then spent the rest of my evening at the Comédie Française, where they were playing Desminières’ ’Le Dernier Frontin.’ Desminières is one of the awarders of the Boisseau prize, so I shall tell no one but you how his verses bored me. The heat and gas gave me a headache. The actors played as if Louis XIV. had been listening; and while they spouted alexandrines, suggestive of the unrolling of a mummy’s bands, I was still haunted by the scent of the hawthorn at Jallanges, and repeated to myself the pretty lines of Du Bellay, a fellow-countryman, or a neighbour at least:

More than your marbles hard I love the tender slate,

Than Tiber more the Loire, and France than Rome,

Mine own dear hills than Palatinus’ state,

More than the salt sea breeze the fragrant air of home.

Tuesday. — Walked about the town all the morning, stopping in front of the booksellers’ shops to look for my book in the windows. Satyra, Satyra, Satyra! Satyra and nothing else to be seen everywhere, with a paper slip round it, ‘Just out.’ Here and there, but very seldom, there would be a poor miserable God in Nature tucked away out of sight. When no one was looking I put it on the top of the heap, well in view; but people did not stop. One man did, though, in the Boulevard des Italiens, a negro, a very intelligent-looking fellow. He turned over the pages for five minutes, and then went away without buying the book. I should have liked to present it to him.

Breakfasted in the corner of an English eating-house, and read the papers. Not a word about me, not even an advertisement. Manivet is so careless, very likely he has not so much as sent the orders, though he declared he had. Besides, there are so many new books. Paris is deluged with them. But for all that it is depressing to think that verses, which ran like fire through one’s fingers, which seemed, in the feverish delight of writing them, beautiful enough to fill the world with brightness, are more lost now that they are gone into circulation, than when they were but a confused murmuring in the brain of their author. It reminds one of a ball-dress. When it is tried on in the sympathetic family circle, it is expected to outshine and eclipse every dress in the room; but under the blaze of the gas it is lost in the crowd. Well, Herscher is a lucky fellow. He is read and understood. I met ladies carrying snugly under their arms the little yellow volume just issued. Alas, for us poor poets! It is all very well for us to rank ourselves above and beyond the crowd. It is for the crowd, after all, that we write. When Robinson Crusoe was on his desert island, cut off from all the world and without so much as the hope of seeing a sail on the horizon, would he have written verses, even if he had been a poetic genius? Thought about this a great deal as I tramped through the Champs Elysées, lost, like my book, in an unregarding stream.

I was coming back to my hotel, pretty glum, as you may imagine, when on the Quai d’Orsay, just in front of the grass-grown ruin of the Cour des Comptes, I knocked against a big fellow, strolling along in a brown study. ‘Hullo, Freydet!’ said he. ‘Hullo, Védrine!’ said I. You’ll remember my friend Védrine who, when he was working at Mousseaux, came with his sweet young wife to spend an afternoon at Clos-Jallanges. He is not a bit altered, except that he is a trifle grey at the temples. He held by the hand the fine boy with the beaming eyes, whom you used to admire. His head was erect, his movements slow and eloquent, his whole carriage that of a superior being. A little way behind was Madame Védrine pushing a perambulator, in which was a laughing little girl, born since their visit to Touraine.

‘That makes three for her, counting me,’ said Védrine, with a wave of his hand towards his wife; and the look of Madame when her eye rests on her husband really does express the tender satisfaction of motherhood; she is like a Flemish Madonna contemplating her Divine Child. Talked a long time, leaning against the parapet of the quay; it did me good to be with these honest folk. That is a man, anyhow, who cares nothing whatever for success, and the public, and the prizes! With his connections (he is cousin to Loisillon and to the Baron d’Huchenard), if he chose — if he just put a little water into his strong wine — he might have orders, and get the Biennial Prize, and be in the Institute in no time. But nothing tempts him, not even fame. ‘Fame,’ he said, ‘I have had a taste of it. I know what it is. When a man’s smoking, he sometimes gets his cigar by the wrong end. Well, that’s fame: just a cigar with the hot end and ash in your mouth.’

‘But, Védrine,’ said I, ‘if you work neither for fame nor for money —— yes, yes; I know you despise it; but, that being so, I say, why do you take so much trouble?’

‘For myself and my personal satisfaction. It’s the desire for creation and self-expression.’

Clearly here is a man who would have gone on with his work in the desert island. He is a true artist, ever in quest of a new type, and in the intervals of his labour endeavours by change of material and change of conditions to satisfy his craving for a fresh revelation. He has made pottery, enamels, mosaics, the fine mosaics so much admired in the guard-room at Mousscaux. When the thing is done, the difficulty overcome, he goes on to something else. At the present moment his great idea is to try painting; and the moment he has finished his warrior, a great bronze figure for the Rosen tomb, he intends, as he says, ‘to put himself to oil.’ His wife always gives her approval, and rides behind him on each of his hobbies. The right wife for an artist taciturn, admiring, saving the grown-up boy from all that might spoil his dream or catch his feet as he goes star-gazing along. She is the sort of woman dear Germaine, to make a man want to be married. If I knew another such, I should certainly bring her to Clos-Jallanges, and I am sure you would love her. But do not be alarmed. There are not many of them; and we shall go on to the end, living just by our two selves, as we do now.

Before we parted we fixed another meeting for Thursday, not at their house at Neuilly, but at the studio on the Quai d’Orsay, where the whole family spend the day together. This studio would seem to be the strangest place. It is in a corner of the old Cour des Comptes. He has got permission to do his work there, in the midst of wild vegetation and mouldering heaps of stone. As I went away I turned to watch them walking along the quay, father, mother, and children, all enveloped in the calm light of the setting sun, which made a halo round them like a Holy Family. Strung together a few lines on the subject in the evening at my hotel; but I am put out by having neighbours, and do not like to spout. I want my large study at Jallanges, with its three windows looking out oh the river and the sloping vineyards.

And now we come to Wednesday, the great day and the great event! I will tell you the story in full. I confess that I had been looking forward to my call on the Astiers with much trepidation, which increased to-day as I went up the broad moist steps of the staircase in the Rue de Beaune. What was I going to hear said about my book? Would my old master have had time to glance at it? His opinion means for me so very much. He inspires me still with the same awe as when I was in his class, and in his presence I shall always feel myself a schoolboy. His unerring and impartial judgment must be that of the awarders of the prize. So you may guess the tortures of impatience which I underwent in the master’s large study, which he gives up to his wife for her reception.

It’s sadly different from the room at the Foreign Office. The table at which he writes is pushed away into a recess behind a great screen covered in old tapestry, which also hides part of the bookshelves. Opposite, in the place of honour, is a portrait of Madame Astier in her young days, wonderfully like her son, and also like old Réhu, whose acquaintance I have just had the honour of making. The portrait has a somewhat depressing air of elegance, cold and polished, like the large uncarpeted room itself, with its sombre curtains and its outlook on a still more sombre courtyard. But in comes Madame Astier, and her friendly greeting brightens all the surroundings. What is there in the air of Paris which preserves the beauty of a woman’s face beyond the natural term, like a pastel under its glass? The delicate blonde with her keen eyes looked to me three years younger than when I saw her last. She began by asking after you, and how you were, dearest, showing great interest in our domestic life. Then suddenly she said: ‘But your book, let us talk about your book. How splendid! You kept me reading all night.’ And she showered upon me well-chosen words of praise, quoted two or three lines with great appropriateness, and assured me that my old master was delighted; he had begged her to tell me so, in case he should not be able to tear himself from his documents.

Red as you know I always am, I must have turned as scarlet as after a hunt dinner. But my joy soon passed away when I heard what the poor woman was led on into confiding to me about their embarrassments. They have lost money; then came Astier’s dismissal; now the master works night and day at his historical books, which take so long to construct and cost so much to produce, and then are not bought by the public. Then they have to help old Réhu, the grandfather, who has nothing but his fees for attendance at the Académie; and at his age, ninety-eight, you may imagine the care and indulgence necessary. Paul is a good son, hardworking, and on the road to success, but of course the initial expenses of his profession are tremendous. So Madame Astier conceals their narrow means from him as well as from her husband. Poor dear man! I heard his heavy even step overhead while his wife was stammering out, with trembling lips and hesitating, reluctant words, a request that if I could ——

Ah, the adorable woman! I could have kissed the hem of her dress!

Now, my dear sister, you will understand the telegram you must have received a little while ago, and who the £400 were for that I asked for by return of post. I suppose you sent to Gobineau at once. The only reason I did not telegraph direct to him is that, as we ‘go shares’ in everything, our freaks of liberality ought, like the rest, to be common to both. But it is terrible, is it not, to think of the misery concealed under these brilliant and showy Parisian exteriors?

Five minutes after she had made these distressing disclosures people arrived and the room was full; Madame Astier was conversing with a complete self-possession and an appearance of happiness in voice and manner which made my flesh creep. Madame Loisillon was there, the wife of the Permanent Secretary. She would be much better employed in looking after her invalid than in boring society with the charms of their delightful suite, the most comfortable in the Institute, ‘with three rooms more than it had in Villemain’s time.’ She must have told us this ten times, in the pompous voice of an auctioneer, and in the hearing of a friend living uncomfortably in rooms lately used for a table d’hôte!

No fear of such bad taste in Madame Ancelin, a name often to be seen in the Society papers. A good fat round lady, with regular features and high complexion, piping out epigrams, which she picks up and carries round: a friendly creature, it must be allowed. She too had sat up all night reading me. I begin to think it is the regular phrase. She begged me to come to her house whenever I liked. It is one of the three recognised meeting-places of the Académie. Picheral would say that Madame Ancelin, mad on the theatre, welcomes more especially the ‘Players,’ Madame Astier the ‘Mouldies,’ while the Duchess Padovani monopolises the ‘Dukes,’ the aristocracy of the Institute. But really these three haunts of fame and intrigue communicate one with another, for on Wednesday in the Rue de Beaune I saw a whole procession of deities of every description. There was Danjou the writer of plays, Rousse, Boissier, Dumas, de Brétigny, Baron Huchenard of the Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and the Prince d’Athis of the Sciences Morales et Politiques. There is a fourth circle in process of formation, collected round Madame Eviza, a Jewess with full cheeks and long narrow eyes, who flirts with the whole Institute and sports its colours; she has green embroideries on the waistcoat of her spring costume, and a little bonnet trimmed with wings à la Mercury. She carries her flirtations a little too far. I heard her say to Danjou, whom she was asking to come and see her, ‘The attractions of Madame Ancelin’s house are for the palate, those of mine for the heart.’

‘I require both lodging and board,’ was the cold reply of Danjou. Danjou, I believe, covers the heart of a cynic under his hard impenetrable mask and his black stiff thatch, like a shepherd of Latium. Madame Eviza is a fine talker, and is mistress of considerable information; I heard her quoting to the old Baron Huchenard whole sentences from his ‘Cave Man,’ and discussing Shelley with a boyish magazine writer, neat and solemn, with a pointed chin resting on the top of a high collar.

When I was young it was the fashion to begin with verse-writing, whatever was to follow, whether prose, business, or the bar. Nowadays people begin with literary criticism, generally a study on Shelley. Madame Astier introduced me to this young gentleman, whose views carry weight in the literary world; but my moustaches and the colour of my skin, as brown as that of a sapper-and-miner, probably failed to please him. We spoke only a few words, while I watched the performance of the candidates and their wives or relatives, who had come to show themselves and to see how the ground lay. Ripault-Babin is very old, and Loisillon cannot last much longer; and around these seats, which must soon be vacant, rages a war of angry looks and poisoned words.

Dalzon the novelist, your favourite, was there; he has a kindly, open, intellectual face, as you would expect from his books. But you would have been sorry to see him cringing and sniggering before a nobody like Brétigny, who has never done anything, but occupies in the Academic the seat reserved for the man of the world, as in the country we keep a place for the poor man in our Twelfth Night festivities. And not only did he court Brétigny, but every Academician who came in. There he was, listening to old Rehu’s stories, laughing at Danjou’s smallest jokes with the ‘counterfeited glee’ with which at Louis-le-Grand we rewarded what Védrine used to call ‘usher’s wit.’ All this to bring his twelve votes of last year up to the required majority.

Old Jean Réhu looked in at his granddaughter’s for a few minutes, wonderfully fresh and erect, well buttoned up in a long frock coat. He has a little shrivelled face, looking as if it had been in the fire, and a short cottony beard, like moss on an old stone. His eyes are bright and his memory marvellous, but he is deaf, and this depresses him and drives him into long soliloquies about his interesting personal recollections, To-day he told us about the household of the Empress Joséphine at Malmaison; his ‘compatriote,’ he calls her, both being Creoles from Martinique. He described her, in her muslins and cashmere shawls, smelling of musk so strongly as to take one’s breath away, and surrounded with flowers from the colonies. Even in war time these flowers, by the gallantry of the enemy, were allowed to pass the lines of their fleet. He also talked of David’s studio, as it was under the Consulate, and did us the painter, rating and scolding his pupils with his mouth all awry and the remains of his dinner in his cheek. After each extract from the long roll of his experience, the patriarch shakes his head solemnly, gazes into space, and says in his firm tones, ‘That’s a thing that I have seen.’ It is his signature, as it were, put at the bottom of the picture to prove it genuine. I ought to say that, with the exception of Dalzon, who pretended to be drinking in his words, I was the only person in the room who attended to the old man’s tales. They seemed to me much more worth hearing than the stories of a certain Lavaux, a journalist, or librarian, or something — a dreadful retailer of gossip, whatever else he may be. The moment he came in there was a general cry, ‘Ah, here’s Lavaux!’ and a circle was formed round him at once, all laughing and enjoying themselves. Even the frowning ‘deities’ revel in his anecdotes. He has a smooth-shaven, quasi-clerical face and goggle eyes. He prefaces all his tales and witticisms with such remarks as ‘I was saying to De Broglie,’ or ‘Dumas told me the other day,’ or ‘I have it from the Duchess herself,’ backing himself up with the biggest names and drawing his instances from all quarters. He is a pet of the ladies, whom he posts up in all the intrigues of the Académie and the Foreign Office, the world of letters and the world of fashion. He is very intimate with Danjou, and a constant companion of the Prince d’Athis, with whom he came in. Dalion and the young critic of Shelley he patronises; and indeed he exercises a power and authority quite inexplicable to me.

In the medley of stories which he produced from his inexhaustible chops — most of them were riddles to a simple rustic like myself — one only struck me as amusing. It was the mishap which occurred to a young Count Adriani, of the Papal Guard. He was going through Paris, in attendance upon a reverend personage, to take a cardinal’s hat and cap to some one or other, and the story is that he left the insignia at the house of some fair lady whom he met with as he left the train, and of whom he knew neither the name nor the address, being, poor young man! a stranger in Paris. So he had to write off to the Papal Court for new specimens of the ecclesiastical headgear to replace the first, which the lady must find entirely superfluous. The best part of the story is that the little Count Adriani is the Nuncio’s own nephew, and that at the Duchess’s last party — she is called ‘the Duchess’ in Academic circles just as she is at Mousseaux — he told his adventure quite naively in his broken French. Lavaux imitates it wonderfully.

In the midst of the laughter and the exclamations, ‘Charming! Ah, what a man Lavaux is!’ etc., I asked Madame Ancelin, who was sitting near me, who Lavaux was, and what he did. The good lady was amazed. ‘Lavaux? You don’t know him? He is the Duchess’s zebra.’ Thereupon she departed in pursuit of Danjou, and left me much the wiser! Really Parisian society is a most extraordinary thing; its vocabulary alters every season. Zebra — a zebra — what can it possibly mean? But I began to see that I was staying much too long, and that my old master was not going to appear; it was time I went. I made my way through the chairs to say good-bye to my hostess, and as I passed saw Mademoiselle Moser whimpering before Brétigny’s white waistcoat. Poor Moser became a candidate ten years ago, and now has lost all hopes. So he goes nowhere himself, but sends his daughter, a lady of a certain age, not at all pretty, who plays the part of Antigone, climbs up to the top floors, makes herself general messenger and drudge to the Academicians and their wives, corrects proofs, nurses the rheumatic, and spends her forlorn maidenhood in running after the Academic chair which her father will never get. Dressed quietly in black, with an unbecoming bonnet, she stood in the doorway; and near her was Dalzon, very much excited, between two members of the Académie who looked judicial. He was protesting violently and with a choking voice. ‘It’s not true, it’s a shame, I never wrote it!’ Here was a mystery; and Madame Astier, who might have enlightened me, was herself engaged in close confabulation with Lavaux and the Prince d’Athis. You must have seen the Prince d’Athis driving about Mousseaux with the Duchess. ‘Sammy,’ as he is called, is a long, thin, bald man, with stooping shoulders, a crinkled face as white as wax, and a black beard reaching half down his chest, as if his hair, falling from his head, had lodged upon his chin. He never speaks, and when he looks at you seems shocked at your daring to breathe the same air as he. He is high in the service, has a close, mysterious, English air which reminds you that he is Lord Palmerston’s great-nephew, and is in high repute at the Institute and on the Quai d’Orsay. He is said to be the only French diplomatist whom Bismarck never dared to look in the face. It is supposed that he will very shortly have one of the great Embassies. Then what will become of the Duchess? To leave Paris and follow him would be a serious thing for a leader of society. And then abroad the world might refuse to accept their equivocal relations, which here are looked upon almost as marriage, in consideration of the propriety of their conduct and their respect for appearances, and considering also the sad state of the Duke, half paralysed and twenty-years older than his wife, who is also his niece.

The Prince, was no doubt discussing these grave matters with Lavaux and Madame Astier when I drew near. A man just arrived in any society, no matter where, soon finds how much he is ‘out of it,’ He understands neither the phrases current nor the thoughts, and is a nuisance. I was just leaving when that kind Madame Astier called me back, saying, ‘Will you not go up and see him? He will be so glad.’ So I went up a narrow staircase in the wall to see my old master. I heard his loud voice from the end of the passage, ‘Is that you, Fage?’

‘No, sir,’ said I.

‘Why, it’s Freydet! Take care; keep your head down.’

It was in fact impossible to stand upright under the sloping roof. What a different place from the Foreign Office, where I last saw him, in a lofty gallery lined with portfolios.

‘A kennel, is it not?’ said the worthy man with a smile; ‘but if you knew what treasures I have here,’— and he waved his hand towards a large set of pigeonholes containing at least 10,000 important MS. documents, collected by him during the last few years. ‘There is history in those drawers,’ he went on, growing more animated and playing with his magnifying glass; ‘history new and authentic, let them say what they will.’ But in spite of his words he seemed to me gloomy and uncomfortable. He has been treated very badly. First came that cruel dismissal; and now, as he has continued to publish historical works based on new documents, people say that he has plundered from the Bourbon papers. This calumny was started in the Institute, and is traced to Baron Huchenard, who calls his collection of MSS. ‘the first in France,’ and hates to be outdone by that of Astier. He tries to revenge himself by treacherous criticisms, launched, like an assegai, from the bush. ‘Even my letters of Charles V.,’ said Astier, ‘even those they want now to prove false. And on what ground if you please? For a mere trifling error, “Maître Rabelais” instead of “Frère Rabelais.” As if an emperor’s pen never made a slip! It’s dishonest, that’s what it is!’ And, seeing that I shared his indignation, my good old master grasped me by both hands and said, ‘But there! enough of these slanders. Madame Astier told you, I suppose, about your book? There is still a little too much for my taste; but I am pleased with it on the whole.’ What there is ‘too much’ of in my poetry is what he calls ‘the weed’ of the fancy. At school he was always at it, plucking it out, and rooting it up. Now, dear Germaine, attend. I give you the last part of our conversation, word for word.

I. Do you think, sir, that I have any chance of the Boisseau prize?

M. A. After such a book as that, my dear boy, it is not a prize you deserve, but a seat. Loisillon is hard hit; Ripault cannot last much longer. Don’t move; leave it to me; henceforward I look upon you as a candidate.

I don’t know what I said in reply. I was so confused that I feel still as if I were dreaming. Me, me, in the Académie Française! Take good care of yourself, dearest, and get your naughty legs well again; for you must come to Paris on the great occasion, and see your brother, with his sword at his side and his green coat embroidered with palms, take his place among all the greatest men of France! Why, it makes me dizzy now! So I send you a kiss, and am off to bed.

Your affectionate brother,


You may imagine that among all these doings I have quite forgotten the seeds, matting, shrubs, and all the rest of my purchases. But I will see about them soon, as I shall stay here some time. Astier-Réhu advised me to say nothing, but to go about in Academic society. To show myself and be seen is the great point.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53