Three hundred and forty-eight years, six months, and nineteen days ago today, the Parisians awoke to the sound of all the bells in the triple circuit of the city, the university, and the town ringing a full peal.
The sixth of January, 1482, is not, however, a day of which history has preserved the memory. There was nothing notable in the event which thus set the bells and the bourgeois of Paris in a ferment from early morning. It was neither an assault by the Picards nor the Burgundians, nor a hunt led along in procession, nor a revolt of scholars in the town of Laas, nor an entry of “our much dread lord, monsieur the king,” nor even a pretty hanging of male and female thieves by the courts of Paris. Neither was it the arrival, so frequent in the fifteenth century, of some plumed and bedizened embassy. It was barely two days since the last cavalcade of that nature, that of the Flemish ambassadors charged with concluding the marriage between the dauphin and Marguerite of Flanders, had made its entry into Paris, to the great annoyance of M. le Cardinal de Bourbon, who, for the sake of pleasing the king, had been obliged to assume an amiable mien towards this whole rustic rabble of Flemish burgomasters, and to regale them at his Hôtel de Bourbon, with a very “pretty morality, allegorical satire, and farce,” while a driving rain drenched the magnificent tapestries at his door.
What put the “whole population of Paris in commotion,” as Jehan de Troyes expresses it, on the sixth of January, was the double solemnity, united from time immemorial, of the Epiphany and the Feast of Fools.
On that day, there was to be a bonfire on the Place de Grève, a maypole at the Chapelle de Braque, and a mystery at the Palais de Justice. It had been cried, to the sound of the trumpet, the preceding evening at all the cross roads, by the provost’s men, clad in handsome, short, sleeveless coats of violet camelot, with large white crosses upon their breasts.
So the crowd of citizens, male and female, having closed their houses and shops, thronged from every direction, at early morn, towards some one of the three spots designated.
Each had made his choice; one, the bonfire; another, the maypole; another, the mystery play. It must be stated, in honor of the good sense of the loungers of Paris, that the greater part of this crowd directed their steps towards the bonfire, which was quite in season, or towards the mystery play, which was to be presented in the grand hall of the Palais de Justice (the courts of law), which was well roofed and walled; and that the curious left the poor, scantily flowered maypole to shiver all alone beneath the sky of January, in the cemetery of the Chapel of Braque.
The populace thronged the avenues of the law courts in particular, because they knew that the Flemish ambassadors, who had arrived two days previously, intended to be present at the representation of the mystery, and at the election of the Pope of the Fools, which was also to take place in the grand hall.
It was no easy matter on that day, to force one’s way into that grand hall, although it was then reputed to be the largest covered enclosure in the world (it is true that Sauval had not yet measured the grand hall of the Château of Montargis). The palace place, encumbered with people, offered to the curious gazers at the windows the aspect of a sea; into which five or six streets, like so many mouths of rivers, discharged every moment fresh floods of heads. The waves of this crowd, augmented incessantly, dashed against the angles of the houses which projected here and there, like so many promontories, into the irregular basin of the place. In the centre of the lofty Gothic façade of the palace, the grand staircase, incessantly ascended and descended by a double current, which, after parting on the intermediate landing-place, flowed in broad waves along its lateral slopes — the grand staircase, I say, trickled incessantly into the place, like a cascade into a lake. The cries, the laughter, the trampling of those thousands of feet, produced a great noise and a great clamor. From time to time, this noise and clamor redoubled; the current which drove the crowd towards the grand staircase flowed backwards, became troubled, formed whirlpools. This was produced by the buffet of an archer, or the horse of one of the provost’s sergeants, which kicked to restore order; an admirable tradition which the provostship has bequeathed to the constablery, the constablery to the maréchaussée, the maréchaussée to our gendarmeri of Paris.
* The word Gothic, in the sense in which it is generally employed, is wholly unsuitable, but wholly consecrated. Hence we accept it and we adopt it, like all the rest of the world, to characterize the architecture of the second half of the Middle Ages, where the ogive is the principle which succeeds the architecture of the first period, of which the semi-circle is the father.
Thousands of good, calm, bourgeois faces thronged the windows, the doors, the dormer windows, the roofs, gazing at the palace, gazing at the populace, and asking nothing more; for many Parisians content themselves with the spectacle of the spectators, and a wall behind which something is going on becomes at once, for us, a very curious thing indeed.
If it could be granted to us, the men of 1830, to mingle in thought with those Parisians of the fifteenth century, and to enter with them, jostled, elbowed, pulled about, into that immense hall of the palace, which was so cramped on that sixth of January, 1482, the spectacle would not be devoid of either interest or charm, and we should have about us only things that were so old that they would seem new.
With the reader’s consent, we will endeavor to retrace in thought, the impression which he would have experienced in company with us on crossing the threshold of that grand hall, in the midst of that tumultuous crowd in surcoats, short, sleeveless jackets, and doublets.
And, first of all, there is a buzzing in the ears, a dazzlement in the eyes. Above our heads is a double ogive vault, panelled with wood carving, painted azure, and sown with golden fleurs-delis; beneath our feet a pavement of black and white marble, alternating. A few paces distant, an enormous pillar, then another, then another; seven pillars in all, down the length of the hall, sustaining the spring of the arches of the double vault, in the centre of its width. Around four of the pillars, stalls of merchants, all sparkling with glass and tinsel; around the last three, benches of oak, worn and polished by the trunk hose of the litigants, and the robes of the attorneys. Around the hall, along the lofty wall, between the doors, between the windows, between the pillars, the interminable row of all the kings of France, from Pharamond down: the lazy kings, with pendent arms and downcast eyes; the valiant and combative kings, with heads and arms raised boldly heavenward. Then in the long, pointed windows, glass of a thousand hues; at the wide entrances to the hall, rich doors, finely sculptured; and all, the vaults, pillars, walls, jambs, panelling, doors, statues, covered from top to bottom with a splendid blue and gold illumination, which, a trifle tarnished at the epoch when we behold it, had almost entirely disappeared beneath dust and spiders in the year of grace, 1549, when du Breul still admired it from tradition.
Let the reader picture to himself now, this immense, oblong hall, illuminated by the pallid light of a January day, invaded by a motley and noisy throng which drifts along the walls, and eddies round the seven pillars, and he will have a confused idea of the whole effect of the picture, whose curious details we shall make an effort to indicate with more precision.
It is certain, that if Ravaillac had not assassinated Henri IV., there would have been no documents in the trial of Ravaillac deposited in the clerk’s office of the Palais de Justice, no accomplices interested in causing the said documents to disappear; hence, no incendiaries obliged, for lack of better means, to burn the clerk’s office in order to burn the documents, and to burn the Palais de Justice in order to burn the clerk’s office; consequently, in short, no conflagration in 1618. The old Palais would be standing still, with its ancient grand hall; I should be able to say to the reader, “Go and look at it,” and we should thus both escape the necessity — I of making, and he of reading, a description of it, such as it is. Which demonstrates a new truth: that great events have incalculable results.
It is true that it may be quite possible, in the first place, that Ravaillac had no accomplices; and in the second, that if he had any, they were in no way connected with the fire of 1618. Two other very plausible explanations exist: First, the great flaming star, a foot broad, and a cubit high, which fell from heaven, as every one knows, upon the law courts, after midnight on the seventh of March; second, Théophile’s quatrain —
“Sure, ’twas but a sorry game
When at Paris, Dame Justice,
Through having eaten too much spice,
Set the palace all aflame.”
Whatever may be thought of this triple explanation, political, physical, and poetical, of the burning of the law courts in 1618, the unfortunate fact of the fire is certain. Very little today remains, thanks to this catastrophe — thanks, above all, to the successive restorations which have completed what it spared — very little remains of that first dwelling of the kings of France — of that elder palace of the Louvre, already so old in the time of Philip the Handsome, that they sought there for the traces of the magnificent buildings erected by King Robert and described by Helgaldus. Nearly everything has disappeared. What has become of the chamber of the chancellery, where Saint Louis consummated his marriage? the garden where he administered justice, “clad in a coat of camelot, a surcoat of linsey-woolsey, without sleeves, and a sur-mantle of black sandal, as he lay upon the carpet with Joinville?” Where is the chamber of the Emperor Sigismond? and that of Charles IV.? that of Jean the Landless? Where is the staircase, from which Charles VI. promulgated his edict of pardon? the slab where Marcel cut the throats of Robert de Clermont and the Marshal of Champagne, in the presence of the dauphin? the wicket where the bulls of Pope Benedict were torn, and whence those who had brought them departed decked out, in derision, in copes and mitres, and making an apology through all Paris? and the grand hall, with its gilding, its azure, its statues, its pointed arches, its pillars, its immense vault, all fretted with carvings? and the gilded chamber? and the stone lion, which stood at the door, with lowered head and tail between his legs, like the lions on the throne of Solomon, in the humiliated attitude which befits force in the presence of justice? and the beautiful doors? and the stained glass? and the chased ironwork, which drove Biscornette to despair? and the delicate woodwork of Hancy? What has time, what have men done with these marvels? What have they given us in return for all this Gallic history, for all this Gothic art? The heavy flattened arches of M. de Brosse, that awkward architect of the Saint–Gervais portal. So much for art; and, as for history, we have the gossiping reminiscences of the great pillar, still ringing with the tattle of the Patru.
It is not much. Let us return to the veritable grand hall of the veritable old palace. The two extremities of this gigantic parallelogram were occupied, the one by the famous marble table, so long, so broad, and so thick that, as the ancient land rolls — in a style that would have given Gargantua an appetite — say, “such a slice of marble as was never beheld in the world”; the other by the chapel where Louis XI. had himself sculptured on his knees before the Virgin, and whither he caused to be brought, without heeding the two gaps thus made in the row of royal statues, the statues of Charlemagne and of Saint Louis, two saints whom he supposed to be great in favor in heaven, as kings of France. This chapel, quite new, having been built only six years, was entirely in that charming taste of delicate architecture, of marvellous sculpture, of fine and deep chasing, which marks with us the end of the Gothic era, and which is perpetuated to about the middle of the sixteenth century in the fairylike fancies of the Renaissance. The little open-work rose window, pierced above the portal, was, in particular, a masterpiece of lightness and grace; one would have pronounced it a star of lace.
In the middle of the hall, opposite the great door, a platform of gold brocade, placed against the wall, a special entrance to which had been effected through a window in the corridor of the gold chamber, had been erected for the Flemish emissaries and the other great personages invited to the presentation of the mystery play.
It was upon the marble table that the mystery was to be enacted, as usual. It had been arranged for the purpose, early in the morning; its rich slabs of marble, all scratched by the heels of law clerks, supported a cage of carpenter’s work of considerable height, the upper surface of which, within view of the whole hall, was to serve as the theatre, and whose interior, masked by tapestries, was to take the place of dressing-rooms for the personages of the piece. A ladder, naively placed on the outside, was to serve as means of communication between the dressing-room and the stage, and lend its rude rungs to entrances as well as to exits. There was no personage, however unexpected, no sudden change, no theatrical effect, which was not obliged to mount that ladder. Innocent and venerable infancy of art and contrivances!
Four of the bailiff of the palace’s sergeants, perfunctory guardians of all the pleasures of the people, on days of festival as well as on days of execution, stood at the four corners of the marble table.
The piece was only to begin with the twelfth stroke of the great palace clock sounding midday. It was very late, no doubt, for a theatrical representation, but they had been obliged to fix the hour to suit the convenience of the ambassadors.
Now, this whole multitude had been waiting since morning. A goodly number of curious, good people had been shivering since daybreak before the grand staircase of the palace; some even affirmed that they had passed the night across the threshold of the great door, in order to make sure that they should be the first to pass in. The crowd grew more dense every moment, and, like water, which rises above its normal level, began to mount along the walls, to swell around the pillars, to spread out on the entablatures, on the cornices, on the window-sills, on all the salient points of the architecture, on all the reliefs of the sculpture. Hence, discomfort, impatience, weariness, the liberty of a day of cynicism and folly, the quarrels which break forth for all sorts of causes — a pointed elbow, an iron-shod shoe, the fatigue of long waiting — had already, long before the hour appointed for the arrival of the ambassadors, imparted a harsh and bitter accent to the clamor of these people who were shut in, fitted into each other, pressed, trampled upon, stifled. Nothing was to be heard but imprecations on the Flemish, the provost of the merchants, the Cardinal de Bourbon, the bailiff of the courts, Madame Marguerite of Austria, the sergeants with their rods, the cold, the heat, the bad weather, the Bishop of Paris, the Pope of the Fools, the pillars, the statues, that closed door, that open window; all to the vast amusement of a band of scholars and lackeys scattered through the mass, who mingled with all this discontent their teasing remarks, and their malicious suggestions, and pricked the general bad temper with a pin, so to speak.
Among the rest there was a group of those merry imps, who, after smashing the glass in a window, had seated themselves hardily on the entablature, and from that point despatched their gaze and their railleries both within and without, upon the throng in the hall, and the throng upon the Place. It was easy to see, from their parodied gestures, their ringing laughter, the bantering appeals which they exchanged with their comrades, from one end of the hall to the other, that these young clerks did not share the weariness and fatigue of the rest of the spectators, and that they understood very well the art of extracting, for their own private diversion from that which they had under their eyes, a spectacle which made them await the other with patience.
“Upon my soul, so it’s you, ‘Joannes Frollo de Molendino!’” cried one of them, to a sort of little, light-haired imp, with a well-favored and malign countenance, clinging to the acanthus leaves of a capital; “you are well named John of the Mill, for your two arms and your two legs have the air of four wings fluttering on the breeze. How long have you been here?”
“By the mercy of the devil,” retorted Joannes Frollo, “these four hours and more; and I hope that they will be reckoned to my credit in purgatory. I heard the eight singers of the King of Sicily intone the first verse of seven o’clock mass in the Sainte–Chapelle.”
“Fine singers!” replied the other, “with voices even more pointed than their caps! Before founding a mass for Monsieur Saint John, the king should have inquired whether Monsieur Saint John likes Latin droned out in a Provençal accent.”
“He did it for the sake of employing those accursed singers of the King of Sicily!” cried an old woman sharply from among the crowd beneath the window. “I just put it to you! A thousand livres parisi for a mass! and out of the tax on sea fish in the markets of Paris, to boot!”
“Peace, old crone,” said a tall, grave person, stopping up his nose on the side towards the fishwife; “a mass had to be founded. Would you wish the king to fall ill again?”
“Bravely spoken, Sire Gilles Lecornu, master furrier of king’s robes!” cried the little student, clinging to the capital.
A shout of laughter from all the students greeted the unlucky name of the poor furrier of the king’s robes.
“Lecornu! Gilles Lecornu!” said some.
“Cornutus et hirsutus, horned and hairy,” another went on.
“He! of course,” continued the small imp on the capital, “What are they laughing at? An honorable man is Gilles Lecornu, brother of Master Jehan Lecornu, provost of the king’s house, son of Master Mahiet Lecornu, first porter of the Bois de Vincennes — all bourgeois of Paris, all married, from father to son.”
The gayety redoubled. The big furrier, without uttering a word in reply, tried to escape all the eyes riveted upon him from all sides; but he perspired and panted in vain; like a wedge entering the wood, his efforts served only to bury still more deeply in the shoulders of his neighbors, his large, apoplectic face, purple with spite and rage.
At length one of these, as fat, short, and venerable as himself, came to his rescue.
“Abomination! scholars addressing a bourgeois in that fashion in my day would have been flogged with a fagot, which would have afterwards been used to burn them.”
The whole band burst into laughter.
“Holà hé! who is scolding so? Who is that screech owl of evil fortune?”
“Hold, I know him” said one of them; “’tis Master Andry Musnier.”
“Because he is one of the four sworn booksellers of the university!” said the other.
“Everything goes by fours in that shop,” cried a third; “the four nations, the four faculties, the four feasts, the four procurators, the four electors, the four booksellers.”
“Well,” began Jean Frollo once more,” we must play the devil with them.”*
* Faire le diable a quatre.
“Musnier, we’ll burn your books.”
“Musnier, we’ll beat your lackeys.”
“Musnier, we’ll kiss your wife.”
“That fine, big Mademoiselle Oudarde.”
“Who is as fresh and as gay as though she were a widow.”
“Devil take you!” growled Master Andry Musnier.
“Master Andry,” pursued Jean Jehan, still clinging to his capital, “hold your tongue, or I’ll drop on your head!”
Master Andry raised his eyes, seemed to measure in an instant the height of the pillar, the weight of the scamp, mentally multiplied that weight by the square of the velocity and remained silent.
Jehan, master of the field of battle, pursued triumphantly:
“That’s what I’ll do, even if I am the brother of an archdeacon!”
“Fine gentry are our people of the university, not to have caused our privileges to be respected on such a day as this! However, there is a maypole and a bonfire in the town; a mystery, Pope of the Fools, and Flemish ambassadors in the city; and, at the university, nothing!”
“Nevertheless, the Place Maubert is sufficiently large!” interposed one of the clerks established on the window-sill.
“Down with the rector, the electors, and the procurators!” cried Joannes.
“We must have a bonfire this evening in the Champ–Gaillard,” went on the other, “made of Master Andry’s books.”
“And the desks of the scribes!” added his neighbor.
“And the beadles’ wands!”
“And the spittoons of the deans!”
“And the cupboards of the procurators!”
“And the hutches of the electors!”
“And the stools of the rector!”
“Down with them!” put in little Jehan, as counterpoint; “down with Master Andry, the beadles and the scribes; the theologians, the doctors and the decretists; the procurators, the electors and the rector!”
“The end of the world has come!,’ muttered Master Andry, stopping up his ears.
“By the way, there’s the rector! see, he is passing through the Place,” cried one of those in the window.
Each rivalled his neighbor in his haste to turn towards the Place.
“Is it really our venerable rector, Master Thibaut?” demanded Jehan Frollo du Moulin, who, as he was clinging to one of the inner pillars, could not see what was going on outside.
“Yes, yes,” replied all the others, “it is really he, Master Thibaut, the rector.”
It was, in fact, the rector and all the dignitaries of the university, who were marching in procession in front of the embassy, and at that moment traversing the Place. The students crowded into the window, saluted them as they passed with sarcasms and ironical applause. The rector, who was walking at the head of his company, had to support the first broadside; it was severe.
“Good day, monsieur le recteur! Holà hé! good day there!”
“How does he manage to be here, the old gambler? Has he abandoned his dice?”
“How he trots along on his mule! her ears are not so long as his!”
“Holà hé! good day, monsieur le recteur Thibaut! Tybalde aleator! Old fool! old gambler!”
“God preserve you! Did you throw double six often last night?”
“Oh! what a decrepit face, livid and haggard and drawn with the love of gambling and of dice!”
“Where are you bound for in that fashion, Thibaut, Tybalde ad dados, with your back turned to the university, and trotting towards the town?”
“He is on his way, no doubt, to seek a lodging in the Rue Thibautodé?”* cried Jehan du M. Moulin.
* Thibaut au des — Thibaut of the dice.
The entire band repeated this quip in a voice of thunder, clapping their hands furiously.
“You are going to seek a lodging in the Rue Thibautodé, are you not, monsieur le recteur, gamester on the side of the devil?”
Then came the turns of the other dignitaries.
“Down with the beadles! down with the mace-bearers!”
“Tell me, Robin Pouissepain, who is that yonder?”
“He is Gilbert de Suilly, Gilbertus de Soliaco, the chancellor of the College of Autun.”
“Hold on, here’s my shoe; you are better placed than I, fling it in his face.”
“Saturnalitias mittimus ecce nuces.”
“Down with the six theologians, with their white surplices!”
“Are those the theologians? I thought they were the white geese given by Sainte–Geneviève to the city, for the fief of Roogny.”
“Down with the doctors!”
“Down with the cardinal disputations, and quibblers!”
“My cap to you, Chancellor of Sainte–Geneviève! You have done me a wrong. ’Tis true; he gave my place in the nation of Normandy to little Ascanio Falzapada, who comes from the province of Bourges, since he is an Italian.”
“That is an injustice,” said all the scholars. “Down with the Chancellor of Sainte–Geneviève!”
“Ho hé! Master Joachim de Ladehors! Ho hé! Louis Dahuille! Ho he Lambert Hoctement!”
“May the devil stifle the procurator of the German nation!”
“And the chaplains of the Sainte–Chapelle, with their gray amices; cum tunices grisis!”
“Seu de pellibus grisis fourratis!”
“Holà hé! Masters of Arts! All the beautiful black copes! all the fine red copes!”
“They make a fine tail for the rector.”
“One would say that he was a Doge of Venice on his way to his bridal with the sea.”
“Say, Jehan! here are the canons of Sainte–Geneviève!”
“To the deuce with the whole set of canons!”
“Abbé Claude Choart! Doctor Claude Choart! Are you in search of Marie la Giffarde?”
“She is in the Rue de Glatigny.”
“She is making the bed of the king of the debauchees.” She is paying her four deniers quatuor denarios.”
* An old French coin, equal to the two hundred and fortieth part of a pound.
“Aut unum bombum.”
“Would you like to have her pay you in the face?”
“Comrades! Master Simon Sanguin, the Elector of Picardy, with his wife on the crupper!”
“Post equitem seclet atra eura — behind the horseman sits black care.”
“Courage, Master Simon!”
“Good day, Mister Elector!”
“Good night, Madame Electress!”
“How happy they are to see all that!” sighed Joannes de Molendino, still perched in the foliage of his capital.
Meanwhile, the sworn bookseller of the university, Master Andry Musnier, was inclining his ear to the furrier of the king’s robes, Master Gilles Lecornu.
“I tell you, sir, that the end of the world has come. No one has ever beheld such outbreaks among the students! It is the accursed inventions of this century that are ruining everything — artilleries, bombards, and, above all, printing, that other German pest. No more manuscripts, no more books! printing will kill bookselling. It is the end of the world that is drawing nigh.”
“I see that plainly, from the progress of velvet stuffs,” said the fur-merchant.
At this moment, midday sounded.
“Ha!” exclaimed the entire crowd, in one voice.
The scholars held their peace. Then a great hurly-burly ensued; a vast movement of feet, hands, and heads; a general outbreak of coughs and handkerchiefs; each one arranged himself, assumed his post, raised himself up, and grouped himself. Then came a great silence; all necks remained outstretched, all mouths remained open, all glances were directed towards the marble table. Nothing made its appearance there. The bailiff’s four sergeants were still there, stiff, motionless, as painted statues. All eyes turned to the estrade reserved for the Flemish envoys. The door remained closed, the platform empty. This crowd had been waiting since daybreak for three things: noonday, the embassy from Flanders, the mystery play. Noonday alone had arrived on time.
On this occasion, it was too much.
They waited one, two, three, five minutes, a quarter of an hour; nothing came. The dais remained empty, the theatre dumb. In the meantime, wrath had succeeded to impatience. Irritated words circulated in a low tone, still, it is true. “The mystery! the mystery!” they murmured, in hollow voices. Heads began to ferment. A tempest, which was only rumbling in the distance as yet, was floating on the surface of this crowd. It was Jehan du Moulin who struck the first spark from it.
“The mystery, and to the devil with the Flemings!” he exclaimed at the full force of his lungs, twining like a serpent around his pillar.
The crowd clapped their hands.
“The mystery!” it repeated, “and may all the devils take Flanders!”
“We must have the mystery instantly,” resumed the student; “or else, my advice is that we should hang the bailiff of the courts, by way of a morality and a comedy.”
“Well said,” cried the people, “and let us begin the hanging with his sergeants.”
A grand acclamation followed. The four poor fellows began to turn pale, and to exchange glances. The crowd hurled itself towards them, and they already beheld the frail wooden railing, which separated them from it, giving way and bending before the pressure of the throng.
It was a critical moment.
“To the sack, to the sack!” rose the cry on all sides.
At that moment, the tapestry of the dressing-room, which we have described above, was raised, and afforded passage to a personage, the mere sight of whom suddenly stopped the crowd, and changed its wrath into curiosity as by enchantment.
The personage, but little reassured, and trembling in every limb, advanced to the edge of the marble table with a vast amount of bows, which, in proportion as he drew nearer, more and more resembled genuflections.
In the meanwhile, tranquillity had gradually been restored. A1l that remained was that slight murmur which always rises above the silence of a crowd.
“Messieurs the bourgeois,” said he, “and mesdemoiselles the bourgeoises, we shall have the honor of declaiming and representing, before his eminence, monsieur the cardinal, a very beautiful morality which has for its title, ‘The Good Judgment of Madame the Virgin Mary.’ I am to play Jupiter. His eminence is, at this moment, escorting the very honorable embassy of the Duke of Austria; which is detained, at present, listening to the harangue of monsieur the rector of the university, at the gate Baudets. As soon as his illustrious eminence, the cardinal, arrives, we will begin.”
It is certain, that nothing less than the intervention of Jupiter was required to save the four unfortunate sergeants of the bailiff of the courts. If we had the happiness of having invented this very veracious tale, and of being, in consequence, responsible for it before our Lady Criticism, it is not against us that the classic precept, Nec deus intersit, could be invoked. Moreover, the costume of Seigneur Jupiter, was very handsome, and contributed not a little towards calming the crowd, by attracting all its attention. Jupiter was clad in a coat of mail, covered with black velvet, with gilt nails; and had it not been for the rouge, and the huge red beard, each of which covered one-half of his face — had it not been for the roll of gilded cardboard, spangled, and all bristling with strips of tinsel, which he held in his hand, and in which the eyes of the initiated easily recognized thunderbolts — had not his feet been flesh-colored, and banded with ribbons in Greek fashion, he might have borne comparison, so far as the severity of his mien was concerned, with a Breton archer from the guard of Monsieur de Berry.
Nevertheless, as he harangued them, the satisfaction and admiration unanimously excited by his costume were dissipated by his words; and when he reached that untoward conclusion: “As soon as his illustrious eminence, the cardinal, arrives, we will begin,” his voice was drowned in a thunder of hooting.
“Begin instantly! The mystery! the mystery immediately!” shrieked the people. And above all the voices, that of Johannes de Molendino was audible, piercing the uproar like the fife’s derisive serenade: “Commence instantly!” yelped the scholar.
“Down with Jupiter and the Cardinal de Bourbon!” vociferated Robin Poussepain and the other clerks perched in the window.
“The morality this very instant!” repeated the crowd; “this very instant! the sack and the rope for the comedians, and the cardinal!”
Poor Jupiter, haggard, frightened, pale beneath his rouge, dropped his thunderbolt, took his cap in his hand; then he bowed and trembled and stammered: “His eminence — the ambassadors — Madame Marguerite of Flanders —.” He did not know what to say. In truth, he was afraid of being hung.
Hung by the populace for waiting, hung by the cardinal for not having waited, he saw between the two dilemmas only an abyss; that is to say, a gallows.
Luckily, some one came to rescue him from his embarrassment, and assume the responsibility.
An individual who was standing beyond the railing, in the free space around the marble table, and whom no one had yet caught sight of, since his long, thin body was completely sheltered from every visual ray by the diameter of the pillar against which he was leaning; this individual, we say, tall, gaunt, pallid, blond, still young, although already wrinkled about the brow and cheeks, with brilliant eyes and a smiling mouth, clad in garments of black serge, worn and shining with age, approached the marble table, and made a sign to the poor sufferer. But the other was so confused that he did not see him. The new comer advanced another step.
“Jupiter,” said he, “my dear Jupiter!”
The other did not hear.
At last, the tall blond, driven out of patience, shrieked almost in his face —
“Who calls me?” said Jupiter, as though awakened with a start.
“I,” replied the person clad in black.
“Ah!” said Jupiter.
“Begin at once,” went on the other. “Satisfy the populace; I undertake to appease the bailiff, who will appease monsieur the cardinal.”
Jupiter breathed once more.
“Messeigneurs the bourgeois,” he cried, at the top of his lungs to the crowd, which continued to hoot him, “we are going to begin at once.”
“Evoe Jupiter! Plaudite cives! All hail, Jupiter! Applaud, citizens!” shouted the scholars.
“Noel! Noel! good, good,” shouted the people.
The hand clapping was deafening, and Jupiter had already withdrawn under his tapestry, while the hall still trembled with acclamations.
In the meanwhile, the personage who had so magically turned the tempest into dead calm, as our old and dear Corneille puts it, had modestly retreated to the half-shadow of his pillar, and would, no doubt, have remained invisible there, motionless, and mute as before, had he not been plucked by the sleeve by two young women, who, standing in the front row of the spectators, had noticed his colloquy with Michel Giborne–Jupiter.
“Master,” said one of them, making him a sign to approach. “Hold your tongue, my dear Liénarde,” said her neighbor, pretty, fresh, and very brave, in consequence of being dressed up in her best attire. “He is not a clerk, he is a layman; you must not say master to him, but messire.”
“Messire,” said Liénarde.
The stranger approached the railing.
“What would you have of me, damsels?” he asked, with alacrity.
“Oh! nothing,” replied Liénarde, in great confusion; “it is my neighbor, Gisquette la Gencienne, who wishes to speak with you.”
“Not so,” replied Gisquette, blushing; “it was Liénarde who called you master; I only told her to say messire.”
The two young girls dropped their eyes. The man, who asked nothing better than to enter into conversation, looked at them with a smile.
“So you have nothing to say to me, damsels?”
“Oh! nothing at all,” replied Gisquette.
“Nothing,” said Liénarde.
The tall, light-haired young man retreated a step; but the two curious maidens had no mind to let slip their prize.
“Messire,” said Gisquette, with the impetuosity of an open sluice, or of a woman who has made up her mind, “do you know that soldier who is to play the part of Madame the Virgin in the mystery?”
“You mean the part of Jupiter?” replied the stranger.
“Hé! yes,” said Liénarde, “isn’t she stupid? So you know Jupiter?”
“Michel Giborne?” replied the unknown; “yes, madam.”
“He has a fine beard!” said Liénarde.
“Will what they are about to say here be fine?” inquired Gisquette, timidly.
“Very fine, mademoiselle,” replied the unknown, without the slightest hesitation.
“What is it to be?” said Liénarde.
“‘The Good Judgment of Madame the Virgin,’— a morality, if you please, damsel.”
“Ah! that makes a difference,” responded Liénarde.
A brief silence ensued — broken by the stranger.
“It is a perfectly new morality, and one which has never yet been played.”
“Then it is not the same one,” said Gisquette, “that was given two years ago, on the day of the entrance of monsieur the legate, and where three handsome maids played the parts —”
“Of sirens,” said Liénarde.
“And all naked,” added the young man.
Liénarde lowered her eyes modestly. Gisquette glanced at her and did the same. He continued, with a smile —
“It was a very pleasant thing to see. To-day it is a morality made expressly for Madame the Demoiselle of Flanders.”
“Will they sing shepherd songs?” inquired Gisquette.
“Fie!” said the stranger, “in a morality? you must not confound styles. If it were a farce, well and good.”
“That is a pity,” resumed Gisquette. “That day, at the Ponceau Fountain, there were wild men and women, who fought and assumed many aspects, as they sang little motets and bergerettes.”
“That which is suitable for a legate,” returned the stranger, with a good deal of dryness, “is not suitable for a princess.”
“And beside them,” resumed Liénarde, “played many brass instruments, making great melodies.”
“And for the refreshment of the passers-by,” continued Gisquette, “the fountain spouted through three mouths, wine, milk, and hippocrass, of which every one drank who wished.”
“And a little below the Ponceau, at the Trinity,” pursued Liénarde, “there was a passion performed, and without any speaking.”
“How well I remember that!” exclaimed Gisquette; “God on the cross, and the two thieves on the right and the left.” Here the young gossips, growing warm at the memory of the entrance of monsieur the legate, both began to talk at once.
“And, further on, at the Painters’ Gate, there were other personages, very richly clad.”
“And at the fountain of Saint–Innocent, that huntsman, who was chasing a hind with great clamor of dogs and hunting-horns.”
“And, at the Paris slaughter-houses, stages, representing the fortress of Dieppe!”
“And when the legate passed, you remember, Gisquette? they made the assault, and the English all had their throats cut.”
“And against the gate of the Châtelet, there were very fine personages!”
“And on the Port au Change, which was all draped above!”
“And when the legate passed, they let fly on the bridge more than two hundred sorts of birds; wasn’t it beautiful, Liénarde?”
“It will be better today,” finally resumed their interlocutor, who seemed to listen to them with impatience.
“Do you promise us that this mystery will be fine?” said Gisquette.
“Without doubt,” he replied; then he added, with a certain emphasis — “I am the author of it, damsels.”
“Truly?” said the young girls, quite taken aback.
“Truly!” replied the poet, bridling a little; “that is, to say, there are two of us; Jehan Marchand, who has sawed the planks and erected the framework of the theatre and the woodwork; and I, who have made the piece. My name is Pierre Gringoire.”
The author of the “Cid” could not have said “Pierre Corneille” with more pride.
Our readers have been able to observe, that a certain amount of time must have already elapsed from the moment when Jupiter had retired beneath the tapestry to the instant when the author of the new morality had thus abruptly revealed himself to the innocent admiration of Gisquette and Liénarde. Remarkable fact: that whole crowd, so tumultuous but a few moments before, now waited amiably on the word of the comedian; which proves the eternal truth, still experienced every day in our theatres, that the best means of making the public wait patiently is to assure them that one is about to begin instantly.
However, scholar Johannes had not fallen asleep.
“Holà hé!” he shouted suddenly, in the midst of the peaceable waiting which had followed the tumult. “Jupiter, Madame the Virgin, buffoons of the devil! are you jeering at us? The piece! the piece! commence or we will commence again!”
This was all that was needed.
The music of high and low instruments immediately became audible from the interior of the stage; the tapestry was raised; four personages, in motley attire and painted faces, emerged from it, climbed the steep ladder of the theatre, and, arrived upon the upper platform, arranged themselves in a line before the public, whom they saluted with profound reverences; then the symphony ceased.
The mystery was about to begin.
The four personages, after having reaped a rich reward of applause for their reverences, began, in the midst of profound silence, a prologue, which we gladly spare the reader. Moreover, as happens in our own day, the public was more occupied with the costumes that the actors wore than with the roles that they were enacting; and, in truth, they were right. All four were dressed in parti-colored robes of yellow and white, which were distinguished from each other only by the nature of the stuff; the first was of gold and silver brocade; the second, of silk; the third, of wool; the fourth, of linen. The first of these personages carried in his right hand a sword; the second, two golden keys; the third, a pair of scales; the fourth, a spade: and, in order to aid sluggish minds which would not have seen clearly through the transparency of these attributes, there was to be read, in large, black letters, on the hem of the robe of brocade, MY NAME IS NOBILITY; on the hem of the silken robe, MY NAME IS CLERGY; on the hem of the woolen robe, MY NAME IS MERCHANDISE; on the hem of the linen robe, MY NAME IS LABOR. The sex of the two male characters was briefly indicated to every judicious spectator, by their shorter robes, and by the cap which they wore on their heads; while the two female characters, less briefly clad, were covered with hoods.
Much ill-will would also have been required, not to comprehend, through the medium of the poetry of the prologue, that Labor was wedded to Merchandise, and Clergy to Nobility, and that the two happy couples possessed in common a magnificent golden dolphin, which they desired to adjudge to the fairest only. So they were roaming about the world seeking and searching for this beauty, and, after having successively rejected the Queen of Golconda, the Princess of Trebizonde, the daughter of the Grand Khan of Tartary, etc., Labor and Clergy, Nobility and Merchandise, had come to rest upon the marble table of the Palais de Justice, and to utter, in the presence of the honest audience, as many sentences and maxims as could then be dispensed at the Faculty of Arts, at examinations, sophisms, determinances, figures, and acts, where the masters took their degrees.
All this was, in fact, very fine.
Nevertheless, in that throng, upon which the four allegories vied with each other in pouring out floods of metaphors, there was no ear more attentive, no heart that palpitated more, not an eye was more haggard, no neck more outstretched, than the eye, the ear, the neck, and the heart of the author, of the poet, of that brave Pierre Gringoire, who had not been able to resist, a moment before, the joy of telling his name to two pretty girls. He had retreated a few paces from them, behind his pillar, and there he listened, looked, enjoyed. The amiable applause which had greeted the beginning of his prologue was still echoing in his bosom, and he was completely absorbed in that species of ecstatic contemplation with which an author beholds his ideas fall, one by one, from the mouth of the actor into the vast silence of the audience. Worthy Pierre Gringoire!
It pains us to say it, but this first ecstasy was speedily disturbed. Hardly had Gringoire raised this intoxicating cup of joy and triumph to his lips, when a drop of bitterness was mingled with it.
A tattered mendicant, who could not collect any coins, lost as he was in the midst of the crowd, and who had not probably found sufficient indemnity in the pockets of his neighbors, had hit upon the idea of perching himself upon some conspicuous point, in order to attract looks and alms. He had, accordingly, hoisted himself, during the first verses of the prologue, with the aid of the pillars of the reserve gallery, to the cornice which ran round the balustrade at its lower edge; and there he had seated himself, soliciting the attention and the pity of the multitude, with his rags and a hideous sore which covered his right arm. However, he uttered not a word.
The silence which he preserved allowed the prologue to proceed without hindrance, and no perceptible disorder would have ensued, if ill-luck had not willed that the scholar Joannes should catch sight, from the heights of his pillar, of the mendicant and his grimaces. A wild fit of laughter took possession of the young scamp, who, without caring that he was interrupting the spectacle, and disturbing the universal composure, shouted boldly —
“Look! see that sickly creature asking alms!”
Any one who has thrown a stone into a frog pond, or fired a shot into a covey of birds, can form an idea of the effect produced by these incongruous words, in the midst of the general attention. It made Gringoire shudder as though it had been an electric shock. The prologue stopped short, and all heads turned tumultuously towards the beggar, who, far from being disconcerted by this, saw, in this incident, a good opportunity for reaping his harvest, and who began to whine in a doleful way, half closing his eyes the while — “Charity, please!”
“Well — upon my soul,” resumed Joannes, “it’s Clopin Trouillefou! Holà he, my friend, did your sore bother you on the leg, that you have transferred it to your arm?” So saying, with the dexterity of a monkey, he flung a bit of silver into the gray felt hat which the beggar held in his ailing arm. The mendicant received both the alms and the sarcasm without wincing, and continued, in lamentable tones —
This episode considerably distracted the attention of the audience; and a goodly number of spectators, among them Robin Poussepain, and all the clerks at their head, gayly applauded this eccentric duet, which the scholar, with his shrill voice, and the mendicant had just improvised in the middle of the prologue.
Gringoire was highly displeased. On recovering from his first stupefaction, he bestirred himself to shout, to the four personages on the stage, “Go on! What the devil! — go on!” — without even deigning to cast a glance of disdain upon the two interrupters.
At that moment, he felt some one pluck at the hem of his surtout; he turned round, and not without ill-humor, and found considerable difficulty in smiling; but he was obliged to do so, nevertheless. It was the pretty arm of Gisquette la Gencienne, which, passed through the railing, was soliciting his attention in this manner.
“Monsieur,” said the young girl, “are they going to continue?”
“Of course,” replied Gringoire, a good deal shocked by the question.
“In that case, messire,” she resumed, “would you have the courtesy to explain to me —”
“What they are about to say?” interrupted Gringoire. “Well, listen.”
“No,” said Gisquette, “but what they have said so far.”
Gringoire started, like a man whose wound has been probed to the quick.
“A plague on the stupid and dull-witted little girl!” he muttered, between his teeth.
From that moment forth, Gisquette was nothing to him.
In the meantime, the actors had obeyed his injunction, and the public, seeing that they were beginning to speak again, began once more to listen, not without having lost many beauties in the sort of soldered joint which was formed between the two portions of the piece thus abruptly cut short. Gringoire commented on it bitterly to himself. Nevertheless, tranquillity was gradually restored, the scholar held his peace, the mendicant counted over some coins in his hat, and the piece resumed the upper hand.
It was, in fact, a very fine work, and one which, as it seems to us, might be put to use today, by the aid of a little rearrangement. The exposition, rather long and rather empty, that is to say, according to the rules, was simple; and Gringoire, in the candid sanctuary of his own conscience, admired its clearness. As the reader may surmise, the four allegorical personages were somewhat weary with having traversed the three sections of the world, without having found suitable opportunity for getting rid of their golden dolphin. Thereupon a eulogy of the marvellous fish, with a thousand delicate allusions to the young betrothed of Marguerite of Flanders, then sadly cloistered in at Amboise, and without a suspicion that Labor and Clergy, Nobility and Merchandise had just made the circuit of the world in his behalf. The said dauphin was then young, was handsome, was stout, and, above all (magnificent origin of all royal virtues), he was the son of the Lion of France. I declare that this bold metaphor is admirable, and that the natural history of the theatre, on a day of allegory and royal marriage songs, is not in the least startled by a dolphin who is the son of a lion. It is precisely these rare and Pindaric mixtures which prove the poet’s enthusiasm. Nevertheless, in order to play the part of critic also, the poet might have developed this beautiful idea in something less than two hundred lines. It is true that the mystery was to last from noon until four o’clock, in accordance with the orders of monsieur the provost, and that it was necessary to say something. Besides, the people listened patiently.
All at once, in the very middle of a quarrel between Mademoiselle Merchandise and Madame Nobility, at the moment when Monsieur Labor was giving utterance to this wonderful line —
In forest ne’er was seen a more triumphant beast;
the door of the reserved gallery which had hitherto remained so inopportunely closed, opened still more inopportunely; and the ringing voice of the usher announced abruptly, “His eminence, Monseigneur the Cardinal de Bourbon.”
Poor Gringoire! the din of all the great double petards of the Saint–Jean, the discharge of twenty arquebuses on supports, the detonation of that famous serpentine of the Tower of Billy, which, during the siege of Paris, on Sunday, the twenty-sixth of September, 1465, killed seven Burgundians at one blow, the explosion of all the powder stored at the gate of the Temple, would have rent his ears less rudely at that solemn and dramatic moment, than these few words, which fell from the lips of the usher, “His eminence, Monseigneur the Cardinal de Bourbon.”
It is not that Pierre Gringoire either feared or disdained monsieur the cardinal. He had neither the weakness nor the audacity for that. A true eclectic, as it would be expressed nowadays, Gringoire was one of those firm and lofty, moderate and calm spirits, which always know how to bear themselves amid all circumstances (stare in dimidio rerum), and who are full of reason and of liberal philosophy, while still setting store by cardinals. A rare, precious, and never interrupted race of philosophers to whom wisdom, like another Ariadne, seems to have given a clew of thread which they have been walking along unwinding since the beginning of the world, through the labyrinth of human affairs. One finds them in all ages, ever the same; that is to say, always according to all times. And, without reckoning our Pierre Gringoire, who may represent them in the fifteenth century if we succeed in bestowing upon him the distinction which he deserves, it certainly was their spirit which animated Father du Breul, when he wrote, in the sixteenth, these naively sublime words, worthy of all centuries: “I am a Parisian by nation, and a Parrhisian in language, for parrhisia in Greek signifies liberty of speech; of which I have made use even towards messeigneurs the cardinals, uncle and brother to Monsieur the Prince de Conty, always with respect to their greatness, and without offending any one of their suite, which is much to say.”
There was then neither hatred for the cardinal, nor disdain for his presence, in the disagreeable impression produced upon Pierre Gringoire. Quite the contrary; our poet had too much good sense and too threadbare a coat, not to attach particular importance to having the numerous allusions in his prologue, and, in particular, the glorification of the dauphin, son of the Lion of France, fall upon the most eminent ear. But it is not interest which predominates in the noble nature of poets. I suppose that the entity of the poet may be represented by the number ten; it is certain that a chemist on analyzing and pharmacopolizing it, as Rabelais says, would find it composed of one part interest to nine parts of self-esteem.
Now, at the moment when the door had opened to admit the cardinal, the nine parts of self-esteem in Gringoire, swollen and expanded by the breath of popular admiration, were in a state of prodigious augmentation, beneath which disappeared, as though stifled, that imperceptible molecule of which we have just remarked upon in the constitution of poets; a precious ingredient, by the way, a ballast of reality and humanity, without which they would not touch the earth. Gringoire enjoyed seeing, feeling, fingering, so to speak an entire assembly (of knaves, it is true, but what matters that?) stupefied, petrified, and as though asphyxiated in the presence of the incommensurable tirades which welled up every instant from all parts of his bridal song. I affirm that he shared the general beatitude, and that, quite the reverse of La Fontaine, who, at the presentation of his comedy of the “Florentine,” asked, “Who is the ill-bred lout who made that rhapsody?” Gringoire would gladly have inquired of his neighbor, “Whose masterpiece is this?”
The reader can now judge of the effect produced upon him by the abrupt and unseasonable arrival of the cardinal.
That which he had to fear was only too fully realized. The entrance of his eminence upset the audience. All heads turned towards the gallery. It was no longer possible to hear one’s self. “The cardinal! The cardinal!” repeated all mouths. The unhappy prologue stopped short for the second time.
The cardinal halted for a moment on the threshold of the estrade. While he was sending a rather indifferent glance around the audience, the tumult redoubled. Each person wished to get a better view of him. Each man vied with the other in thrusting his head over his neighbor’s shoulder.
He was, in fact, an exalted personage, the sight of whom was well worth any other comedy. Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon, Archbishop and Comte of Lyon, Primate of the Gauls, was allied both to Louis XI., through his brother, Pierre, Seigneur de Beaujeu, who had married the king’s eldest daughter, and to Charles the Bold through his mother, Agnes of Burgundy. Now, the dominating trait, the peculiar and distinctive trait of the character of the Primate of the Gauls, was the spirit of the courtier, and devotion to the powers that be. The reader can form an idea of the numberless embarrassments which this double relationship had caused him, and of all the temporal reefs among which his spiritual bark had been forced to tack, in order not to suffer shipwreck on either Louis or Charles, that Scylla and that Charybdis which had devoured the Duc de Nemours and the Constable de Saint–Pol. Thanks to Heaven’s mercy, he had made the voyage successfully, and had reached home without hindrance. But although he was in port, and precisely because he was in port, he never recalled without disquiet the varied haps of his political career, so long uneasy and laborious. Thus, he was in the habit of saying that the year 1476 had been “white and black” for him — meaning thereby, that in the course of that year he had lost his mother, the Duchesse de la Bourbonnais, and his cousin, the Duke of Burgundy, and that one grief had consoled him for the other.
Nevertheless, he was a fine man; he led a joyous cardinal’s life, liked to enliven himself with the royal vintage of Challuau, did not hate Richarde la Garmoise and Thomasse la Saillarde, bestowed alms on pretty girls rather than on old women — and for all these reasons was very agreeable to the populace of Paris. He never went about otherwise than surrounded by a small court of bishops and abbés of high lineage, gallant, jovial, and given to carousing on occasion; and more than once the good and devout women of Saint Germain d’ Auxerre, when passing at night beneath the brightly illuminated windows of Bourbon, had been scandalized to hear the same voices which had intoned vespers for them during the day carolling, to the clinking of glasses, the bacchic proverb of Benedict XII., that pope who had added a third crown to the Tiara — Bibamus papaliter.
It was this justly acquired popularity, no doubt, which preserved him on his entrance from any bad reception at the hands of the mob, which had been so displeased but a moment before, and very little disposed to respect a cardinal on the very day when it was to elect a pope. But the Parisians cherish little rancor; and then, having forced the beginning of the play by their authority, the good bourgeois had got the upper hand of the cardinal, and this triumph was sufficient for them. Moreover, the Cardinal de Bourbon was a handsome man — he wore a fine scarlet robe, which he carried off very well — that is to say, he had all the women on his side, and, consequently, the best half of the audience. Assuredly, it would be injustice and bad taste to hoot a cardinal for having come late to the spectacle, when he is a handsome man, and when he wears his scarlet robe well.
He entered, then, bowed to those present with the hereditary smile of the great for the people, and directed his course slowly towards his scarlet velvet arm-chair, with the air of thinking of something quite different. His cortege — what we should nowadays call his staff — of bishops and abbés invaded the estrade in his train, not without causing redoubled tumult and curiosity among the audience. Each man vied with his neighbor in pointing them out and naming them, in seeing who should recognize at least one of them: this one, the Bishop of Marseilles (Alaudet, if my memory serves me right); — this one, the primicier of Saint–Denis; — this one, Robert de Lespinasse, Abbé of Saint–Germain des Prés, that libertine brother of a mistress of Louis XI.; all with many errors and absurdities. As for the scholars, they swore. This was their day, their feast of fools, their saturnalia, the annual orgy of the corporation of Law clerks and of the school. There was no turpitude which was not sacred on that day. And then there were gay gossips in the crowd — Simone Quatrelivres, Agnes la Gadine, and Rabine Piédebou. Was it not the least that one could do to swear at one’s ease and revile the name of God a little, on so fine a day, in such good company as dignitaries of the church and loose women? So they did not abstain; and, in the midst of the uproar, there was a frightful concert of blasphemies and enormities of all the unbridled tongues, the tongues of clerks and students restrained during the rest of the year, by the fear of the hot iron of Saint Louis. Poor Saint Louis! how they set him at defiance in his own court of law! Each one of them selected from the new-comers on the platform, a black, gray, white, or violet cassock as his target. Joannes Frollo de Molendin, in his quality of brother to an archdeacon, boldly attacked the scarlet; he sang in deafening tones, with his impudent eyes fastened on the cardinal, “Cappa repleta mero!”
All these details which we here lay bare for the edification of the reader, were so covered by the general uproar, that they were lost in it before reaching the reserved platforms; moreover, they would have moved the cardinal but little, so much a part of the customs were the liberties of that day. Moreover, he had another cause for solicitude, and his mien as wholly preoccupied with it, which entered the estrade the same time as himself; this was the embassy from Flanders.
Not that he was a profound politician, nor was he borrowing trouble about the possible consequences of the marriage of his cousin Marguerite de Bourgoyne to his cousin Charles, Dauphin de Vienne; nor as to how long the good understanding which had been patched up between the Duke of Austria and the King of France would last; nor how the King of England would take this disdain of his daughter. All that troubled him but little; and he gave a warm reception every evening to the wine of the royal vintage of Chaillot, without a suspicion that several flasks of that same wine (somewhat revised and corrected, it is true, by Doctor Coictier), cordially offered to Edward IV. by Louis XI., would, some fine morning, rid Louis XI. of Edward IV. “The much honored embassy of Monsieur the Duke of Austria,” brought the cardinal none of these cares, but it troubled him in another direction. It was, in fact, somewhat hard, and we have already hinted at it on the second page of this book — for him, Charles de Bourbon, to be obliged to feast and receive cordially no one knows what bourgeois; — for him, a cardinal, to receive aldermen; — for him, a Frenchman, and a jolly companion, to receive Flemish beer-drinkers — and that in public! This was, certainly, one of the most irksome grimaces that he had ever executed for the good pleasure of the king.
So he turned toward the door, and with the best grace in the world (so well had he trained himself to it), when the usher announced, in a sonorous voice, “Messieurs the Envoys of Monsieur the Duke of Austria.” It is useless to add that the whole hall did the same.
Then arrived, two by two, with a gravity which made a contrast in the midst of the frisky ecclesiastical escort of Charles de Bourbon, the eight and forty ambassadors of Maximilian of Austria, having at their head the reverend Father in God, Jehan, Abbot of Saint–Bertin, Chancellor of the Golden Fleece, and Jacques de Goy, Sieur Dauby, Grand Bailiff of Ghent. A deep silence settled over the assembly, accompanied by stifled laughter at the preposterous names and all the bourgeois designations which each of these personages transmitted with imperturbable gravity to the usher, who then tossed names and titles pell-mell and mutilated to the crowd below. There were Master Loys Roelof, alderman of the city of Louvain; Messire Clays d’Etuelde, alderman of Brussels; Messire Paul de Baeust, Sieur de Voirmizelle, President of Flanders; Master Jehan Coleghens, burgomaster of the city of Antwerp; Master George de la Moere, first alderman of the kuere of the city of Ghent; Master Gheldolf van der Hage, first alderman of the parchous of the said town; and the Sieur de Bierbecque, and Jehan Pinnock, and Jehan Dymaerzelle, etc., etc., etc.; bailiffs, aldermen, burgomasters; burgomasters, aldermen, bailiffs — all stiff, affectedly grave, formal, dressed out in velvet and damask, hooded with caps of black velvet, with great tufts of Cyprus gold thread; good Flemish heads, after all, severe and worthy faces, of the family which Rembrandt makes to stand out so strong and grave from the black background of his “Night Patrol “; personages all of whom bore, written on their brows, that Maximilian of Austria had done well in “trusting implicitly,” as the manifest ran, “in their sense, valor, experience, loyalty, and good wisdom.”
There was one exception, however. It was a subtle, intelligent, crafty-looking face, a sort of combined monkey and diplomat phiz, before whom the cardinal made three steps and a profound bow, and whose name, nevertheless, was only, “Guillaume Rym, counsellor and pensioner of the City of Ghent.”
Few persons were then aware who Guillaume Rym was. A rare genius who in a time of revolution would have made a brilliant appearance on the surface of events, but who in the fifteenth century was reduced to cavernous intrigues, and to “living in mines,” as the Duc de Saint–Simon expresses it. Nevertheless, he was appreciated by the “miner” of Europe; he plotted familiarly with Louis XI., and often lent a hand to the king’s secret jobs. All which things were quite unknown to that throng, who were amazed at the cardinal’s politeness to that frail figure of a Flemish bailiff.
While the pensioner of Ghent and his eminence were exchanging very low bows and a few words in voices still lower, a man of lofty stature, with a large face and broad shoulders, presented himself, in order to enter abreast with Guillaume Rym; one would have pronounced him a bull-dog by the side of a fox. His felt doublet and leather jerkin made a spot on the velvet and silk which surrounded him. Presuming that he was some groom who had stolen in, the usher stopped him.
“Hold, my friend, you cannot pass!”
The man in the leather jerkin shouldered him aside.
“What does this knave want with me?” said he, in stentorian tones, which rendered the entire hall attentive to this strange colloquy. “Don’t you see that I am one of them?”
“Your name?” demanded the usher.
“Hosier at the sign of the ‘Three Little Chains,’ of Ghent.”
The usher recoiled. One might bring one’s self to announce aldermen and burgomasters, but a hosier was too much. The cardinal was on thorns. All the people were staring and listening. For two days his eminence had been exerting his utmost efforts to lick these Flemish bears into shape, and to render them a little more presentable to the public, and this freak was startling. But Guillaume Rym, with his polished smile, approached the usher.
“Announce Master Jacques Coppenole, clerk of the aldermen of the city of Ghent,” he whispered, very low.
“Usher,” interposed the cardinal, aloud, “announce Master Jacques Coppenole, clerk of the aldermen of the illustrious city of Ghent.”
This was a mistake. Guillaume Rym alone might have conjured away the difficulty, but Coppenole had heard the cardinal.
“No, cross of God?” he exclaimed, in his voice of thunder, “Jacques Coppenole, hosier. Do you hear, usher? Nothing more, nothing less. Cross of God! hosier; that’s fine enough. Monsieur the Archduke has more than once sought his gant* in my hose.”
* Got the first idea of a timing.
Laughter and applause burst forth. A jest is always understood in Paris, and, consequently, always applauded.
Let us add that Coppenole was of the people, and that the auditors which surrounded him were also of the people. Thus the communication between him and them had been prompt, electric, and, so to speak, on a level. The haughty air of the Flemish hosier, by humiliating the courtiers, had touched in all these plebeian souls that latent sentiment of dignity still vague and indistinct in the fifteenth century.
This hosier was an equal, who had just held his own before monsieur the cardinal. A very sweet reflection to poor fellows habituated to respect and obedience towards the underlings of the sergeants of the bailiff of Sainte–Geneviève, the cardinal’s train-bearer.
Coppenole proudly saluted his eminence, who returned the salute of the all-powerful bourgeois feared by Louis XI. Then, while Guillaume Rym, a “sage and malicious man,” as Philippe de Comines puts it, watched them both with a smile of raillery and superiority, each sought his place, the cardinal quite abashed and troubled, Coppenole tranquil and haughty, and thinking, no doubt, that his title of hosier was as good as any other, after all, and that Marie of Burgundy, mother to that Marguerite whom Coppenole was today bestowing in marriage, would have been less afraid of the cardinal than of the hosier; for it is not a cardinal who would have stirred up a revolt among the men of Ghent against the favorites of the daughter of Charles the Bold; it is not a cardinal who could have fortified the populace with a word against her tears and prayers, when the Maid of Flanders came to supplicate her people in their behalf, even at the very foot of the scaffold; while the hosier had only to raise his leather elbow, in order to cause to fall your two heads, most illustrious seigneurs, Guy d’Hymbercourt and Chancellor Guillaume Hugonet.
Nevertheless, all was over for the poor cardinal, and he was obliged to quaff to the dregs the bitter cup of being in such bad company.
The reader has, probably, not forgotten the impudent beggar who had been clinging fast to the fringes of the cardinal’s gallery ever since the beginning of the prologue. The arrival of the illustrious guests had by no means caused him to relax his hold, and, while the prelates and ambassadors were packing themselves into the stalls — like genuine Flemish herrings — he settled himself at his ease, and boldly crossed his legs on the architrave. The insolence of this proceeding was extraordinary, yet no one noticed it at first, the attention of all being directed elsewhere. He, on his side, perceived nothing that was going on in the hall; he wagged his head with the unconcern of a Neapolitan, repeating from time to time, amid the clamor, as from a mechanical habit, “Charity, please!” And, assuredly, he was, out of all those present, the only one who had not deigned to turn his head at the altercation between Coppenole and the usher. Now, chance ordained that the master hosier of Ghent, with whom the people were already in lively sympathy, and upon whom all eyes were riveted — should come and seat himself in the front row of the gallery, directly above the mendicant; and people were not a little amazed to see the Flemish ambassador, on concluding his inspection of the knave thus placed beneath his eyes, bestow a friendly tap on that ragged shoulder. The beggar turned round; there was surprise, recognition, a lighting up of the two countenances, and so forth; then, without paying the slightest heed in the world to the spectators, the hosier and the wretched being began to converse in a low tone, holding each other’s hands, in the meantime, while the rags of Clopin Trouillefou, spread out upon the cloth of gold of the dais, produced the effect of a caterpillar on an orange.
The novelty of this singular scene excited such a murmur of mirth and gayety in the hall, that the cardinal was not slow to perceive it; he half bent forward, and, as from the point where he was placed he could catch only an imperfect view of Trouillerfou’s ignominious doublet, he very naturally imagined that the mendicant was asking alms, and, disgusted with his audacity, he exclaimed: “Bailiff of the Courts, toss me that knave into the river!”
“Cross of God! monseigneur the cardinal,” said Coppenole, without quitting Clopin’s hand, “he’s a friend of mine.”
“Good! good!” shouted the populace. From that moment, Master Coppenole enjoyed in Paris as in Ghent, “great favor with the people; for men of that sort do enjoy it,” says Philippe de Comines, “when they are thus disorderly.” The cardinal bit his lips. He bent towards his neighbor, the Abbé of Saint Geneviéve, and said to him in a low tone — “Fine ambassadors monsieur the archduke sends here, to announce to us Madame Marguerite!”
“Your eminence,” replied the abbé, “wastes your politeness on these Flemish swine. Margaritas ante porcos, pearls before swine.”
“Say rather,” retorted the cardinal, with a smile, “Porcos ante Margaritam, swine before the pearl.”
The whole little court in cassocks went into ecstacies over this play upon words. The cardinal felt a little relieved; he was quits with Coppenole, he also had had his jest applauded.
Now, will those of our readers who possess the power of generalizing an image or an idea, as the expression runs in the style of today, permit us to ask them if they have formed a very clear conception of the spectacle presented at this moment, upon which we have arrested their attention, by the vast parallelogram of the grand hall of the palace.
In the middle of the hall, backed against the western wall, a large and magnificent gallery draped with cloth of gold, into which enter in procession, through a small, arched door, grave personages, announced successively by the shrill voice of an usher. On the front benches were already a number of venerable figures, muffled in ermine, velvet, and scarlet. Around the dais — which remains silent and dignified — below, opposite, everywhere, a great crowd and a great murmur. Thousands of glances directed by the people on each face upon the dais, a thousand whispers over each name. Certainly, the spectacle is curious, and well deserves the attention of the spectators. But yonder, quite at the end, what is that sort of trestle work with four motley puppets upon it, and more below? Who is that man beside the trestle, with a black doublet and a pale face? Alas! my dear reader, it is Pierre Gringoire and his prologue.
We have all forgotten him completely.
This is precisely what he feared.
From the moment of the cardinal’s entrance, Gringoire had never ceased to tremble for the safety of his prologue. At first he had enjoined the actors, who had stopped in suspense, to continue, and to raise their voices; then, perceiving that no one was listening, he had stopped them; and, during the entire quarter of an hour that the interruption lasted, he had not ceased to stamp, to flounce about, to appeal to Gisquette and Liénarde, and to urge his neighbors to the continuance of the prologue; all in vain. No one quitted the cardinal, the embassy, and the gallery — sole centre of this vast circle of visual rays. We must also believe, and we say it with regret, that the prologue had begun slightly to weary the audience at the moment when his eminence had arrived, and created a diversion in so terrible a fashion. After all, on the gallery as well as on the marble table, the spectacle was the same: the conflict of Labor and Clergy, of Nobility and Merchandise. And many people preferred to see them alive, breathing, moving, elbowing each other in flesh and blood, in this Flemish embassy, in this Episcopal court, under the cardinal’s robe, under Coppenole’s jerkin, than painted, decked out, talking in verse, and, so to speak, stuffed beneath the yellow amid white tunics in which Gringoire had so ridiculously clothed them.
Nevertheless, when our poet beheld quiet reestablished to some extent, he devised a stratagem which might have redeemed all.
“Monsieur,” he said, turning towards one of his neighbors, a fine, big man, with a patient face, “suppose we begin again.”
“What?” said his neighbor.
“Hé! the Mystery,” said Gringoire.
“As you like,” returned his neighbor.
This semi-approbation sufficed for Gringoire, and, conducting his own affairs, he began to shout, confounding himself with the crowd as much as possible: “Begin the mystery again! begin again!”
“The devil!” said Joannes de Molendino, “what are they jabbering down yonder, at the end of the hall?” (for Gringoire was making noise enough for four.) “Say, comrades, isn’t that mystery finished? They want to begin it all over again. That’s not fair!”
“No, no!” shouted all the scholars. “Down with the mystery! Down with it!”
But Gringoire had multiplied himself, and only shouted the more vigorously: “Begin again! begin again!”
These clamors attracted the attention of the cardinal.
“Monsieur Bailiff of the Courts,” said he to a tall, black man, placed a few paces from him, “are those knaves in a holy-water vessel, that they make such a hellish noise?”
The bailiff of the courts was a sort of amphibious magistrate, a sort of bat of the judicial order, related to both the rat and the bird, the judge and the soldier.
He approached his eminence, and not without a good deal of fear of the latter’s displeasure, he awkwardly explained to him the seeming disrespect of the audience: that noonday had arrived before his eminence, and that the comedians had been forced to begin without waiting for his eminence.
The cardinal burst into a laugh.
“On my faith, the rector of the university ought to have done the same. What say you, Master Guillaume Rym?”
“Monseigneur,” replied Guillaume Rym, “let us be content with having escaped half of the comedy. There is at least that much gained.”
“Can these rascals continue their farce?” asked the bailiff.
“Continue, continue,” said the cardinal, “it’s all the same to me. I’ll read my breviary in the meantime.”
The bailiff advanced to the edge of the estrade, and cried, after having invoked silence by a wave of the hand —
“Bourgeois, rustics, and citizens, in order to satisfy those who wish the play to begin again, and those who wish it to end, his eminence orders that it be continued.”
Both parties were forced to resign themselves. But the public and the author long cherished a grudge against the cardinal.
So the personages on the stage took up their parts, and Gringoire hoped that the rest of his work, at least, would be listened to. This hope was speedily dispelled like his other illusions; silence had indeed, been restored in the audience, after a fashion; but Gringoire had not observed that at the moment when the cardinal gave the order to continue, the gallery was far from full, and that after the Flemish envoys there had arrived new personages forming part of the cortege, whose names and ranks, shouted out in the midst of his dialogue by the intermittent cry of the usher, produced considerable ravages in it. Let the reader imagine the effect in the midst of a theatrical piece, of the yelping of an usher, flinging in between two rhymes, and often in the middle of a line, parentheses like the following —
“Master Jacques Charmolue, procurator to the king in the Ecclesiastical Courts!”
“Jehan de Harlay, equerry guardian of the office of chevalier of the night watch of the city of Paris!”
“Messire Galiot de Genoilhac, chevalier, seigneur de Brussac, master of the king’s artillery!”
“Master Dreux–Raguier, surveyor of the woods and forests of the king our sovereign, in the land of France, Champagne and Brie!”
“Messire Louis de Graville, chevalier, councillor, and chamberlain of the king, admiral of France, keeper of the Forest of Vincennes!”
“Master Denis le Mercier, guardian of the house of the blind at Paris!” etc., etc., etc.
This was becoming unbearable.
This strange accompaniment, which rendered it difficult to follow the piece, made Gringoire all the more indignant because he could not conceal from himself the fact that the interest was continually increasing, and that all his work required was a chance of being heard.
It was, in fact, difficult to imagine a more ingenious and more dramatic composition. The four personages of the prologue were bewailing themselves in their mortal embarrassment, when Venus in person, (vera incessa patuit dea) presented herself to them, clad in a fine robe bearing the heraldic device of the ship of the city of Paris. She had come herself to claim the dolphin promised to the most beautiful. Jupiter, whose thunder could be heard rumbling in the dressing-room, supported her claim, and Venus was on the point of carrying it off — that is to say, without allegory, of marrying monsieur the dauphin, when a young child clad in white damask, and holding in her hand a daisy (a transparent personification of Mademoiselle Marguerite of Flanders) came to contest it with Venus.
Theatrical effect and change.
After a dispute, Venus, Marguerite, and the assistants agreed to submit to the good judgment of time holy Virgin. There was another good part, that of the king of Mesopotamia; but through so many interruptions, it was difficult to make out what end he served. All these persons had ascended by the ladder to the stage.
But all was over; none of these beauties had been felt nor understood. On the entrance of the cardinal, one would have said that an invisible magic thread had suddenly drawn all glances from the marble table to the gallery, from the southern to the western extremity of the hall. Nothing could disenchant the audience; all eyes remained fixed there, and the new-comers and their accursed names, and their faces, and their costumes, afforded a continual diversion. This was very distressing. With the exception of Gisquette and Liénarde, who turned round from time to time when Gringoire plucked them by the sleeve; with the exception of the big, patient neighbor, no one listened, no one looked at the poor, deserted morality full face. Gringoire saw only profiles.
With what bitterness did he behold his whole erection of glory and of poetry crumble away bit by bit! And to think that these people had been upon the point of instituting a revolt against the bailiff through impatience to hear his work! now that they had it they did not care for it. This same representation which had been begun amid so unanimous an acclamation! Eternal flood and ebb of popular favor! To think that they had been on the point of hanging the bailiff’s sergeant! What would he not have given to be still at that hour of honey!
But the usher’s brutal monologue came to an end; every one had arrived, and Gringoire breathed freely once more; the actors continued bravely. But Master Coppenole, the hosier, must needs rise of a sudden, and Gringoire was forced to listen to him deliver, amid universal attention, the following abominable harangue.
“Messieurs the bourgeois and squires of Paris, I don’t know, cross of God! what we are doing here. I certainly do see yonder in the corner on that stage, some people who appear to be fighting. I don’t know whether that is what you call a “mystery,” but it is not amusing; they quarrel with their tongues and nothing more. I have been waiting for the first blow this quarter of an hour; nothing comes; they are cowards who only scratch each other with insults. You ought to send for the fighters of London or Rotterdam; and, I can tell you! you would have had blows of the fist that could be heard in the Place; but these men excite our pity. They ought at least, to give us a moorish dance, or some other mummer! That is not what was told me; I was promised a feast of fools, with the election of a pope. We have our pope of fools at Ghent also; we’re not behindhand in that, cross of God! But this is the way we manage it; we collect a crowd like this one here, then each person in turn passes his head through a hole, and makes a grimace at the rest; time one who makes the ugliest, is elected pope by general acclamation; that’s the way it is. It is very diverting. Would you like to make your pope after the fashion of my country? At all events, it will be less wearisome than to listen to chatterers. If they wish to come and make their grimaces through the hole, they can join the game. What say you, Messieurs les bourgeois? You have here enough grotesque specimens of both sexes, to allow of laughing in Flemish fashion, and there are enough of us ugly in countenance to hope for a fine grinning match.”
Gringoire would have liked to retort; stupefaction, rage, indignation, deprived him of words. Moreover, the suggestion of the popular hosier was received with such enthusiasm by these bourgeois who were flattered at being called “squires,” that all resistance was useless. There was nothing to be done but to allow one’s self to drift with the torrent. Gringoire hid his face between his two hands, not being so fortunate as to have a mantle with which to veil his head, like Agamemnon of Timantis.
In the twinkling of an eye, all was ready to execute Coppenole’s idea. Bourgeois, scholars and law clerks all set to work. The little chapel situated opposite the marble table was selected for the scene of the grinning match. A pane broken in the pretty rose window above the door, left free a circle of stone through which it was agreed that the competitors should thrust their heads. In order to reach it, it was only necessary to mount upon a couple of hogsheads, which had been produced from I know not where, and perched one upon the other, after a fashion. It was settled that each candidate, man or woman (for it was possible to choose a female pope), should, for the sake of leaving the impression of his grimace fresh and complete, cover his face and remain concealed in the chapel until the moment of his appearance. In less than an instant, the chapel was crowded with competitors, upon whom the door was then closed.
Coppenole, from his post, ordered all, directed all, arranged all. During the uproar, the cardinal, no less abashed than Gringoire, had retired with all his suite, under the pretext of business and vespers, without the crowd which his arrival had so deeply stirred being in the least moved by his departure. Guillaume Rym was the only one who noticed his eminence’s discomfiture. The attention of the populace, like the sun, pursued its revolution; having set out from one end of the hall, and halted for a space in the middle, it had now reached the other end. The marble table, the brocaded gallery had each had their day; it was now the turn of the chapel of Louis XI. Henceforth, the field was open to all folly. There was no one there now, but the Flemings and the rabble.
The grimaces began. The first face which appeared at the aperture, with eyelids turned up to the reds, a mouth open like a maw, and a brow wrinkled like our hussar boots of the Empire, evoked such an inextinguishable peal of laughter that Homer would have taken all these louts for gods. Nevertheless, the grand hall was anything but Olympus, and Gringoire’s poor Jupiter knew it better than any one else. A second and third grimace followed, then another and another; and the laughter and transports of delight went on increasing. There was in this spectacle, a peculiar power of intoxication and fascination, of which it would be difficult to convey to the reader of our day and our salons any idea.
Let the reader picture to himself a series of visages presenting successively all geometrical forms, from the triangle to the trapezium, from the cone to the polyhedron; all human expressions, from wrath to lewdness; all ages, from the wrinkles of the new-born babe to the wrinkles of the aged and dying; all religious phantasmagories, from Faun to Beelzebub; all animal profiles, from the maw to the beak, from the jowl to the muzzle. Let the reader imagine all these grotesque figures of the Pont Neuf, those nightmares petrified beneath the hand of Germain Pilon, assuming life and breath, and coming in turn to stare you in the face with burning eyes; all the masks of the Carnival of Venice passing in succession before your glass — in a word, a human kaleidoscope.
The orgy grew more and more Flemish. Teniers could have given but a very imperfect idea of it. Let the reader picture to himself in bacchanal form, Salvator Rosa’s battle. There were no longer either scholars or ambassadors or bourgeois or men or women; there was no longer any Clopin Trouillefou, nor Gilles Lecornu, nor Marie Quatrelivres, nor Robin Poussepain. All was universal license. The grand hall was no longer anything but a vast furnace of effrontry and joviality, where every mouth was a cry, every individual a posture; everything shouted and howled. The strange visages which came, in turn, to gnash their teeth in the rose window, were like so many brands cast into the brazier; and from the whole of this effervescing crowd, there escaped, as from a furnace, a sharp, piercing, stinging noise, hissing like the wings of a gnat.
“Ho hé! curse it!”
“Just look at that face!”
“It’s not good for anything.”
“Guillemette Maugerepuis, just look at that bull’s muzzle; it only lacks the horns. It can’t be your husband.”
“Belly of the pope! what sort of a grimace is that?”
“Hola hé! that’s cheating. One must show only one’s face.”
“That damned Perrette Callebotte! she’s capable of that!”
“There’s a fellow whose ears won’t go through!” Etc., etc.
But we must do justice to our friend Jehan. In the midst of this witches’ sabbath, he was still to be seen on the top of his pillar, like the cabin-boy on the topmast. He floundered about with incredible fury. His mouth was wide open, and from it there escaped a cry which no one heard, not that it was covered by the general clamor, great as that was but because it attained, no doubt, the limit of perceptible sharp sounds, the thousand vibrations of Sauveur, or the eight thousand of Biot.
As for Gringoire, the first moment of depression having passed, he had regained his composure. He had hardened himself against adversity. ——“Continue!” he had said for the third time, to his comedians, speaking machines; then as he was marching with great strides in front of the marble table, a fancy seized him to go and appear in his turn at the aperture of the chapel, were it only for the pleasure of making a grimace at that ungrateful populace. —“But no, that would not be worthy of us; no, vengeance! let us combat until the end,” he repeated to himself; “the power of poetry over people is great; I will bring them back. We shall see which will carry the day, grimaces or polite literature.”
Alas! he had been left the sole spectator of his piece. It was far worse than it had been a little while before. He no longer beheld anything but backs.
I am mistaken. The big, patient man, whom he had already consulted in a critical moment, had remained with his face turned towards the stage. As for Gisquette and Liénarde, they had deserted him long ago.
Gringoire was touched to the heart by the fidelity of his only spectator. He approached him and addressed him, shaking his arm slightly; for the good man was leaning on the balustrade and dozing a little.
“Monsieur,” said Gringoire, “I thank you!”
“Monsieur,” replied the big man with a yawn, “for what?”
“I see what wearies you,” resumed the poet; “’tis all this noise which prevents your hearing comfortably. But be at ease! your name shall descend to posterity! Your name, if you please?”
“Renauld Chateau, guardian of the seals of the Châtelet of Paris, at your service.”
“Monsieur, you are the only representive of the muses here,” said Gringoire.
“You are too kind, sir,” said the guardian of the seals at the Châtelet.
“You are the only one,” resumed Gringoire, “who has listened to the piece decorously. What do you think of it?”
“He! he!” replied the fat magistrate, half aroused, “it’s tolerably jolly, that’s a fact.”
Gringoire was forced to content himself with this eulogy; for a thunder of applause, mingled with a prodigious acclamation, cut their conversation short. The Pope of the Fools had been elected.
“Noel! Noel! Noel!”* shouted the people on all sides. That was, in fact, a marvellous grimace which was beaming at that moment through the aperture in the rose window. After all the pentagonal, hexagonal, and whimsical faces, which had succeeded each other at that hole without realizing the ideal of the grotesque which their imaginations, excited by the orgy, had constructed, nothing less was needed to win their suffrages than the sublime grimace which had just dazzled the assembly. Master Coppenole himself applauded, and Clopin Trouillefou, who had been among the competitors (and God knows what intensity of ugliness his visage could attain), confessed himself conquered: We will do the same. We shall not try to give the reader an idea of that tetrahedral nose, that horseshoe mouth; that little left eye obstructed with a red, bushy, bristling eyebrow, while the right eye disappeared entirely beneath an enormous wart; of those teeth in disarray, broken here and there, like the embattled parapet of a fortress; of that callous lip, upon which one of these teeth encroached, like the tusk of an elephant; of that forked chin; and above all, of the expression spread over the whole; of that mixture of malice, amazement, and sadness. Let the reader dream of this whole, if he can.
* The ancient French hurrah.
The acclamation was unanimous; people rushed towards the chapel. They made the lucky Pope of the Fools come forth in triumph. But it was then that surprise and admiration attained their highest pitch; the grimace was his face.
Or rather, his whole person was a grimace. A huge head, bristling with red hair; between his shoulders an enormous hump, a counterpart perceptible in front; a system of thighs and legs so strangely astray that they could touch each other only at the knees, and, viewed from the front, resembled the crescents of two scythes joined by the handles; large feet, monstrous hands; and, with all this deformity, an indescribable and redoubtable air of vigor, agility, and courage — strange exception to the eternal rule which wills that force as well as beauty shall be the result of harmony. Such was the pope whom the fools had just chosen for themselves.
One would have pronounced him a giant who had been broken and badly put together again.
When this species of cyclops appeared on the threshold of the chapel, motionless, squat, and almost as broad as he was tall; squared on the base, as a great man says; with his doublet half red, half violet, sown with silver bells, and, above all, in the perfection of his ugliness, the populace recognized him on the instant, and shouted with one voice —
“’Tis Quasimodo, the bellringer! ’tis Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre–Dame! Quasimodo, the one-eyed! Quasimodo, the bandy-legged! Noel! Noel!”
It will be seen that the poor fellow had a choice of surnames.
“Let the women with child beware!” shouted the scholars.
“Or those who wish to be,” resumed Joannes.
The women did, in fact, hide their faces.
“Oh! the horrible monkey!” said one of them.
“As wicked as he is ugly,” retorted another.
“He’s the devil,” added a third.
“I have the misfortune to live near Notre–Dame; I hear him prowling round the eaves by night.”
“With the cats.”
“He’s always on our roofs.”
“He throws spells down our chimneys.”
“The other evening, he came and made a grimace at me through my attic window. I thought that it was a man. Such a fright as I had!”
“I’m sure that he goes to the witches’ sabbath. Once he left a broom on my leads.”
“Oh! what a displeasing hunchback’s face!”
“Oh! what an ill-favored soul!”
The men, on the contrary, were delighted and applauded. Quasimodo, the object of the tumult, still stood on the threshold of the chapel, sombre and grave, and allowed them to admire him.
One scholar (Robin Poussepain, I think), came and laughed in his face, and too close. Quasimodo contented himself with taking him by the girdle, and hurling him ten paces off amid the crowd; all without uttering a word.
Master Coppenole, in amazement, approached him.
“Cross of God! Holy Father! you possess the handsomest ugliness that I have ever beheld in my life. You would deserve to be pope at Rome, as well as at Paris.”
So saying, he placed his hand gayly on his shoulder. Quasimodo did not stir. Coppenole went on —
“You are a rogue with whom I have a fancy for carousing, were it to cost me a new dozen of twelve livres of Tours. How does it strike you?”
Quasimodo made no reply.
“Cross of God!” said the hosier, “are you deaf?”
He was, in truth, deaf.
Nevertheless, he began to grow impatient with Coppenole’s behavior, and suddenly turned towards him with so formidable a gnashing of teeth, that the Flemish giant recoiled, like a bull-dog before a cat.
Then there was created around that strange personage, a circle of terror and respect, whose radius was at least fifteen geometrical feet. An old woman explained to Coppenole that Quasimodo was deaf.
“Deaf!” said the hosier, with his great Flemish laugh. “Cross of God! He’s a perfect pope!”
“He! I recognize him,” exclaimed Jehan, who had, at last, descended from his capital, in order to see Quasimodo at closer quarters, “he’s the bellringer of my brother, the archdeacon. Good-day, Quasimodo!”
“What a devil of a man!” said Robin Poussepain still all bruised with his fall. “He shows himself; he’s a hunchback. He walks; he’s bandy-legged. He looks at you; he’s one-eyed. You speak to him; he’s deaf. And what does this Polyphemus do with his tongue?”
“He speaks when he chooses,” said the old woman; “he became deaf through ringing the bells. He is not dumb.”
“That he lacks,” remarks Jehan.
“And he has one eye too many,” added Robin Poussepain.
“Not at all,” said Jehan wisely. “A one-eyed man is far less complete than a blind man. He knows what he lacks.”
In the meantime, all the beggars, all the lackeys, all the cutpurses, joined with the scholars, had gone in procession to seek, in the cupboard of the law clerks’ company, the cardboard tiara, and the derisive robe of the Pope of the Fools. Quasimodo allowed them to array him in them without wincing, and with a sort of proud docility. Then they made him seat himself on a motley litter. Twelve officers of the fraternity of fools raised him on their shoulders; and a sort of bitter and disdainful joy lighted up the morose face of the cyclops, when he beheld beneath his deformed feet all those heads of handsome, straight, well-made men. Then the ragged and howling procession set out on its march, according to custom, around the inner galleries of the Courts, before making the circuit of the streets and squares.
We are delighted to be able to inform the reader, that during the whole of this scene, Gringoire and his piece had stood firm. His actors, spurred on by him, had not ceased to spout his comedy, and he had not ceased to listen to it. He had made up his mind about the tumult, and was determined to proceed to the end, not giving up the hope of a return of attention on the part of the public. This gleam of hope acquired fresh life, when he saw Quasimodo, Coppenole, and the deafening escort of the pope of the procession of fools quit the hall amid great uproar. The throng rushed eagerly after them. “Good,” he said to himself, “there go all the mischief-makers.” Unfortunately, all the mischief-makers constituted the entire audience. In the twinkling of an eye, the grand hall was empty.
To tell the truth, a few spectators still remained, some scattered, others in groups around the pillars, women, old men, or children, who had had enough of the uproar and tumult. Some scholars were still perched astride of the window-sills, engaged in gazing into the Place.
“Well,” thought Gringoire, “here are still as many as are required to hear the end of my mystery. They are few in number, but it is a choice audience, a lettered audience.”
An instant later, a symphony which had been intended to produce the greatest effect on the arrival of the Virgin, was lacking. Gringoire perceived that his music had been carried off by the procession of the Pope of the Fools. “Skip it,” said he, stoically.
He approached a group of bourgeois, who seemed to him to be discussing his piece. This is the fragment of conversation which he caught —
“You know, Master Cheneteau, the Hôtel de Navarre, which belonged to Monsieur de Nemours?”
“Yes, opposite the Chapelle de Braque.”
“Well, the treasury has just let it to Guillaume Alixandre, historian, for six hivres, eight sols, parisian, a year.”
“How rents are going up!”
“Come,” said Gringoire to himself, with a sigh, “the others are listening.”
“Comrades,” suddenly shouted one of the young scamps from the window, “La Esmeralda! La Esmeralda in the Place!”
This word produced a magical effect. Every one who was left in the hall flew to the windows, climbing the walls in order to see, and repeating, “La Esmeralda! La Esmeralda?” At the same time, a great sound of applause was heard from without.
“What’s the meaning of this, of the Esmeralda?” said Gringoire, wringing his hands in despair. “Ah, good heavens! it seems to be the turn of the windows now.”
He returned towards the marble table, and saw that the representation had been interrupted. It was precisely at the instant when Jupiter should have appeared with his thunder. But Jupiter was standing motionless at the foot of the stage.
“Michel Giborne!” cried the irritated poet, “what are you doing there? Is that your part? Come up!”
“Alas!” said Jupiter, “a scholar has just seized the ladder.”
Gringoire looked. It was but too true. All communication between his plot and its solution was intercepted.
“The rascal,” he murmured. “And why did he take that ladder?”
“In order to go and see the Esmeralda,” replied Jupiter piteously. “He said, ‘Come, here’s a ladder that’s of no use!’ and he took it.”
This was the last blow. Gringoire received it with resignation.
“May the devil fly away with you!” he said to the comedian, “and if I get my pay, you shall receive yours.”
Then he beat a retreat, with drooping head, but the last in the field, like a general who has fought well.
And as he descended the winding stairs of the courts: “A fine rabble of asses and dolts these Parisians!” he muttered between his teeth; “they come to hear a mystery and don’t listen to it at all! They are engrossed by every one, by Chopin Trouillefou, by the cardinal, by Coppenole, by Quasimodo, by the devil! but by Madame the Virgin Mary, not at all. If I had known, I’d have given you Virgin Mary; you ninnies! And I! to come to see faces and behold only backs! to be a poet, and to reap the success of an apothecary! It is true that Homerus begged through the Greek towns, and that Naso died in exile among the Muscovites. But may the devil flay me if I understand what they mean with their Esmeralda! What is that word, in the first place? —’tis Egyptian!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09