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Title: Z. Marcas
Author: Balzac, Honoré de
Language: English
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By Honore De Balzac

Translated by Clara Bell and Others


  To His Highness Count William of Wurtemberg, as a token of the
  Author’s respectful gratitude.

                                                      DE BALZAC.


I never saw anybody, not even among the most remarkable men of the
day, whose appearance was so striking as this man’s; the study of his
countenance at first gave me a feeling of great melancholy, and at last
produced an almost painful impression.

There was a certain harmony between the man and his name. The Z.
preceding Marcas, which was seen on the addresses of his letters, and
which he never omitted from his signature, as the last letter of the
alphabet, suggested some mysterious fatality.

MARCAS! say this two-syllabled name again and again; do you not feel as
if it had some sinister meaning? Does it not seem to you that its owner
must be doomed to martyrdom? Though foreign, savage, the name has a
right to be handed down to posterity; it is well constructed, easily
pronounced, and has the brevity that beseems a famous name. Is it not
pleasant as well as odd? But does it not sound unfinished?

I will not take it upon myself to assert that names have no influence on
the destiny of men. There is a certain secret and inexplicable concord
or a visible discord between the events of a man’s life and his name
which is truly surprising; often some remote but very real correlation
is revealed. Our globe is round; everything is linked to everything
else. Some day perhaps we shall revert to the occult sciences.

Do you not discern in that letter Z an adverse influence? Does it not
prefigure the wayward and fantastic progress of a storm-tossed life?
What wind blew on that letter, which, whatever language we find it in,
begins scarcely fifty words? Marcas’ name was Zephirin; Saint Zephirin
is highly venerated in Brittany, and Marcas was a Breton.

Study the name once more: Z Marcas! The man’s whole life lies in this
fantastic juxtaposition of seven letters; seven! the most significant of
all the cabalistic numbers. And he died at five-and-thirty, so his life
extended over seven lustres.

Marcas! Does it not hint of some precious object that is broken with a
fall, with or without a crash?

I had finished studying the law in Paris in 1836. I lived at that time
in the Rue Corneille in a house where none but students came to lodge,
one of those large houses where there is a winding staircase quite at
the back lighted below from the street, higher up by borrowed
lights, and at the top by a skylight. There were forty furnished
rooms--furnished as students’ rooms are! What does youth demand more
than was here supplied? A bed, a few chairs, a chest of drawers, a
looking-glass, and a table. As soon as the sky is blue the student opens
his window.

But in this street there are no fair neighbors to flirt with. In front
is the Odeon, long since closed, presenting a wall that is beginning to
go black, its tiny gallery windows and its vast expanse of slate roof.
I was not rich enough to have a good room; I was not even rich enough
to have a room to myself. Juste and I shared a double-bedded room on the
fifth floor.

On our side of the landing there were but two rooms--ours and a smaller
one, occupied by Z. Marcas, our neighbor. For six months Juste and I
remained in perfect ignorance of the fact. The old woman who managed the
house had indeed told us that the room was inhabited, but she had added
that we should not be disturbed, that the occupant was exceedingly
quiet. In fact, for those six months, we never met our fellow-lodger,
and we never heard a sound in his room, in spite of the thinness of the
partition that divided us--one of those walls of lath and plaster which
are common in Paris houses.

Our room, a little over seven feet high, was hung with a vile cheap
paper sprigged with blue. The floor was painted, and knew nothing of
the polish given by the _frotteur’s_ brush. By our beds there was only
a scrap of thin carpet. The chimney opened immediately to the roof, and
smoked so abominably that we were obliged to provide a stove at our own
expense. Our beds were mere painted wooden cribs like those in schools;
on the chimney shelf there were but two brass candlesticks, with or
without tallow candles in them, and our two pipes with some tobacco in a
pouch or strewn abroad, also the little piles of cigar-ash left there by
our visitors or ourselves.

A pair of calico curtains hung from the brass window rods, and on each
side of the window was a small bookcase in cherry-wood, such as every
one knows who has stared into the shop windows of the Quartier Latin,
and in which we kept the few books necessary for our studies.

The ink in the inkstand was always in the state of lava congealed in the
crater of a volcano. May not any inkstand nowadays become a Vesuvius?
The pens, all twisted, served to clean the stems of our pipes; and, in
opposition to all the laws of credit, paper was even scarcer than coin.

How can young men be expected to stay at home in such furnished
lodgings? The students studied in the cafes, the theatre, the Luxembourg
gardens, in _grisettes’_ rooms, even in the law schools--anywhere rather
than in their horrible rooms--horrible for purposes of study, delightful
as soon as they were used for gossiping and smoking in. Put a cloth on
the table, and the impromptu dinner sent in from the best eating-house
in the neighborhood--places for four--two of them in petticoats--show
a lithograph of this “Interior” to the veriest bigot, and she will be
bound to smile.

We thought only of amusing ourselves. The reason for our dissipation lay
in the most serious facts of the politics of the time. Juste and I could
not see any room for us in the two professions our parents wished us to
take up. There are a hundred doctors, a hundred lawyers, for one that is
wanted. The crowd is choking these two paths which are supposed to lead
to fortune, but which are merely two arenas; men kill each other there,
fighting, not indeed with swords or fire-arms, but with intrigue and
calumny, with tremendous toil, campaigns in the sphere of the intellect
as murderous as those in Italy were to the soldiers of the Republic. In
these days, when everything is an intellectual competition, a man must
be able to sit forty-eight hours on end in his chair before a table, as
a General could remain for two days on horseback and in his saddle.

The throng of aspirants has necessitated a division of the Faculty of
Medicine into categories. There is the physician who writes and the
physician who practises, the political physician, and the physician
militant--four different ways of being a physician, four classes already
filled up. As to the fifth class, that of physicians who sell remedies,
there is such a competition that they fight each other with disgusting
advertisements on the walls of Paris.

In all the law courts there are almost as many lawyers as there are
cases. The pleader is thrown back on journalism, on politics, on
literature. In fact, the State, besieged for the smallest appointments
under the law, has ended by requiring that the applicants should
have some little fortune. The pear-shaped head of the grocer’s son is
selected in preference to the square skull of a man of talent who has
not a sou. Work as he will, with all his energy, a young man, starting
from zero, may at the end of ten years find himself below the point
he set out from. In these days, talent must have the good luck which
secures success to the most incapable; nay, more, if it scorns the base
compromises which insure advancement to crawling mediocrity, it will
never get on.

If we thoroughly knew our time, we also knew ourselves, and we preferred
the indolence of dreamers to aimless stir, easy-going pleasure to the
useless toil which would have exhausted our courage and worn out the
edge of our intelligence. We had analyzed social life while smoking,
laughing, and loafing. But, though elaborated by such means as these,
our reflections were none the less judicious and profound.

While we were fully conscious of the slavery to which youth is
condemned, we were amazed at the brutal indifference of the authorities
to everything connected with intellect, thought, and poetry. How often
have Juste and I exchanged glances when reading the papers as we studied
political events, or the debates in the Chamber, and discussed the
proceedings of a Court whose wilful ignorance could find no parallel but
in the platitude of the courtiers, the mediocrity of the men forming
the hedge round the newly-restored throne, all alike devoid of talent or
breadth of view, of distinction or learning, of influence or dignity!

Could there be a higher tribute to the Court of Charles X. than the
present Court, if Court it may be called? What a hatred of the country
may be seen in the naturalization of vulgar foreigners, devoid of
talent, who are enthroned in the Chamber of Peers! What a perversion of
justice! What an insult to the distinguished youth, the ambitions native
to the soil of France! We looked upon these things as upon a spectacle,
and groaned over them, without taking upon ourselves to act.

Juste, whom no one ever sought, and who never sought any one, was, at
five-and-twenty, a great politician, a man with a wonderful aptitude for
apprehending the correlation between remote history and the facts of the
present and of the future. In 1831, he told me exactly what would and
did happen--the murders, the conspiracies, the ascendency of the Jews,
the difficulty of doing anything in France, the scarcity of talent in
the higher circles, and the abundance of intellect in the lowest ranks,
where the finest courage is smothered under cigar ashes.

What was to become of him? His parents wished him to be a doctor. But if
he were a doctor, must he not wait twenty years for a practice? You
know what he did? No? Well, he is a doctor; but he left France, he is in
Asia. At this moment he is perhaps sinking under fatigue in a desert, or
dying of the lashes of a barbarous horde--or perhaps he is some Indian
prince’s prime minister.

Action is my vocation. Leaving a civil college at the age of twenty, the
only way for me to enter the army was by enlisting as a common soldier;
so, weary of the dismal outlook that lay before a lawyer, I acquired the
knowledge needed for a sailor. I imitate Juste, and keep out of France,
where men waste, in the struggle to make way, the energy needed for the
noblest works. Follow my example, friends; I am going where a man steers
his destiny as he pleases.

These great resolutions were formed in the little room in the
lodging-house in the Rue Corneille, in spite of our haunting the Bal
Musard, flirting with girls of the town, and leading a careless and
apparently reckless life. Our plans and arguments long floated in the

Marcas, our neighbor, was in some degree the guide who led us to the
margin of the precipice or the torrent, who made us sound it, and showed
us beforehand what our fate would be if we let ourselves fall into it.
It was he who put us on our guard against the time-bargains a man
makes with poverty under the sanction of hope, by accepting precarious
situations whence he fights the battle, carried along by the devious
tide of Paris--that great harlot who takes you up or leaves you
stranded, smiles or turns her back on you with equal readiness, wears
out the strongest will in vexatious waiting, and makes misfortune wait
on chance.

At our first meeting, Marcas, as it were, dazzled us. On our return from
the schools, a little before the dinner-hour, we were accustomed to go
up to our room and remain there a while, either waiting for the other,
to learn whether there were any change in our plans for the evening. One
day, at four o’clock, Juste met Marcas on the stairs, and I saw him in
the street. It was in the month of November, and Marcas had no cloak;
he wore shoes with heavy soles, corduroy trousers, and a blue
double-breasted coat buttoned to the throat, which gave a military air
to his broad chest, all the more so because he wore a black stock. The
costume was not in itself extraordinary, but it agreed well with the
man’s mien and countenance.

My first impression on seeing him was neither surprise, nor distress,
nor interest, nor pity, but curiosity mingled with all these feelings.
He walked slowly, with a step that betrayed deep melancholy, his head
forward with a stoop, but not bent like that of a conscience-stricken
man. That head, large and powerful, which might contain the treasures
necessary for a man of the highest ambition, looked as if it were loaded
with thought; it was weighted with grief of mind, but there was no touch
of remorse in his expression. As to his face, it may be summed up in
a word. A common superstition has it that every human countenance
resembles some animal. The animal for Marcas was the lion. His hair was
like a mane, his nose was sort and flat; broad and dented at the tip
like a lion’s; his brow, like a lion’s, was strongly marked with a
deep median furrow, dividing two powerful bosses. His high, hairy
cheek-bones, all the more prominent because his cheeks were so thin,
his enormous mouth and hollow jaws, were accentuated by lines of tawny
shadows. This almost terrible countenance seemed illuminated by two
lamps--two eyes, black indeed, but infinitely sweet, calm and deep, full
of thought. If I may say so, those eyes had a humiliated expression.

Marcas was afraid of looking directly at others, not for himself, but
for those on whom his fascinating gaze might rest; he had a power, and
he shunned using it; he would spare those he met, and he feared notice.
This was not from modesty, but from resignation founded on reason, which
had demonstrated the immediate inutility of his gifts, the impossibility
of entering and living in the sphere for which he was fitted. Those eyes
could at times flash lightnings. From those lips a voice of thunder must
surely proceed; it was a mouth like Mirabeau’s.

“I have seen such a grand fellow in the street,” said I to Juste on
coming in.

“It must be our neighbor,” replied Juste, who described, in fact, the
man I had just met. “A man who lives like a wood-louse would be sure to
look like that,” he added.

“What dejection and what dignity!”

“One is the consequence of the other.”

“What ruined hopes! What schemes and failures!”

“Seven leagues of ruins! Obelisks--palaces--towers!--The ruins of
Palmyra in the desert!” said Juste, laughing.

So we called him the Ruins of Palmyra.

As we went out to dine at the wretched eating-house in the Rue de la
Harpe to which we subscribed, we asked the name of Number 37, and then
heard the weird name Z. Marcas. Like boys, as we were, we repeated
it more than a hundred times with all sorts of comments, absurd or
melancholy, and the name lent itself to a jest. Juste would fire off the
Z like a rocket rising, _z-z-z-z-zed_; and after pronouncing the first
syllable of the name with great importance, depicted a fall by the dull
brevity of the second.

“Now, how and where does the man live?”

From this query, to the innocent espionage of curiosity there was no
pause but that required for carrying out our plan. Instead of loitering
about the streets, we both came in, each armed with a novel. We read
with our ears open. And in the perfect silence of our attic rooms, we
heard the even, dull sound of a sleeping man breathing.

“He is asleep,” said I to Juste, noticing this fact.

“At seven o’clock!” replied the Doctor.

This was the name by which I called Juste, and he called me the Keeper
of the Seals.

“A man must be wretched indeed to sleep as much as our neighbor!” cried
I, jumping on to the chest of drawers with a knife in my hand, to which
a corkscrew was attached.

I made a round hole at the top of the partition, about as big as a
five-sou piece. I had forgotten that there would be no light in the
room, and on putting my eye to the hole, I saw only darkness. At about
one in the morning, when we had finished our books and were about to
undress, we heard a noise in our neighbor’s room. He got up, struck a
match, and lighted his dip. I got on to the drawers again, and I then
saw Marcas seated at his table and copying law-papers.

His room was about half the size of ours; the bed stood in a recess by
the door, for the passage ended there, and its breadth was added to
his garret; but the ground on which the house was built was evidently
irregular, for the party-wall formed an obtuse angle, and the room was
not square. There was no fireplace, only a small earthenware stove,
white blotched with green, of which the pipe went up through the roof.
The window, in the skew side of the room, had shabby red curtains. The
furniture consisted of an armchair, a table, a chair, and a wretched
bed-table. A cupboard in the wall held his clothes. The wall-paper was
horrible; evidently only a servant had ever been lodged there before

“What is to be seen?” asked the Doctor as I got down.

“Look for yourself,” said I.

At nine next morning, Marcas was in bed. He had breakfasted off a
saveloy; we saw on a plate, with some crumbs of bread, the remains of
that too familiar delicacy. He was asleep; he did not wake till eleven.
He then set to work again on the copy he had begun the night before,
which was lying on the table.

On going downstairs we asked the price of that room, and were told
fifteen francs a month.

In the course of a few days, we were fully informed as to the mode of
life of Z. Marcas. He did copying, at so much a sheet no doubt, for a
law-writer who lived in the courtyard of the Sainte-Chapelle. He worked
half the night; after sleeping from six till ten, he began again and
wrote till three. Then he went out to take the copy home before dinner,
which he ate at Mizerai’s in the Rue Michel-le-Comte, at a cost of nine
sous, and came in to bed at six o’clock. It became known to us that
Marcas did not utter fifteen sentences in a month; he never talked to
anybody, nor said a word to himself in his dreadful garret.

“The Ruins of Palmyra are terribly silent!” said Juste.

This taciturnity in a man whose appearance was so imposing was strangely
significant. Sometimes when we met him, we exchanged glances full of
meaning on both sides, but they never led to any advances. Insensibly
this man became the object of our secret admiration, though we knew no
reason for it. Did it lie in his secretly simple habits, his monastic
regularity, his hermit-like frugality, his idiotically mechanical labor,
allowing his mind to remain neuter or to work on his own lines, seeming
to us to hint at an expectation of some stroke of good luck, or at some
foregone conclusion as to his life?

After wandering for a long time among the Ruins of Palmyra, we forgot
them--we were young! Then came the Carnival, the Paris Carnival,
which, henceforth, will eclipse the old Carnival of Venice, unless some
ill-advised Prefect of Police is antagonistic.

Gambling ought to be allowed during the Carnival; but the stupid
moralists who have had gambling suppressed are inert financiers, and
this indispensable evil will be re-established among us when it is
proved that France leaves millions at the German tables.

This splendid Carnival brought us to utter penury, as it does every
student. We got rid of every object of luxury; we sold our second coats,
our second boots, our second waistcoats--everything of which we had a
duplicate, except our friend. We ate bread and cold sausages; we looked
where we walked; we had set to work in earnest. We owed two months’
rent, and were sure of having a bill from the porter for sixty or eighty
items each, and amounting to forty or fifty francs. We made no noise,
and did not laugh as we crossed the little hall at the bottom of the
stairs; we commonly took it at a flying leap from the lowest step into
the street. On the day when we first found ourselves bereft of tobacco
for our pipes, it struck us that for some days we had been eating bread
without any kind of butter.

Great was our distress.

“No tobacco!” said the Doctor.

“No cloak!” said the Keeper of the Seals.

“Ah, you rascals, you would dress as the postillion de Longjumeau, you
would appear as Debardeurs, sup in the morning, and breakfast at night
at Very’s--sometimes even at the _Rocher de Cancale_.--Dry bread for
you, my boys! Why,” said I, in a big bass voice, “you deserve to sleep
under the bed, you are not worthy to lie in it--”

“Yes, yes; but, Keeper of the Seals, there is no more tobacco!” said

“It is high time to write home, to our aunts, our mothers, and our
sisters, to tell them we have no underlinen left, that the wear and
tear of Paris would ruin garments of wire. Then we will solve an elegant
chemical problem by transmuting linen into silver.”

“But we must live till we get the answer.”

“Well, I will go and bring out a loan among such of our friends as may
still have some capital to invest.”

“And how much will you find?”

“Say ten francs!” replied I with pride.

It was midnight. Marcas had heard everything. He knocked at our door.

“Messieurs,” said he, “here is some tobacco; you can repay me on the
first opportunity.”

We were struck, not by the offer, which we accepted, but by the rich,
deep, full voice in which it was made; a tone only comparable to the
lowest string of Paganini’s violin. Marcas vanished without waiting for
our thanks.

Juste and I looked at each other without a word. To be rescued by a man
evidently poorer than ourselves! Juste sat down to write to every member
of his family, and I went off to effect a loan. I brought in twenty
francs lent me by a fellow-provincial. In that evil but happy day
gambling was still tolerated, and in its lodes, as hard as the rocky ore
of Brazil, young men, by risking a small sum, had a chance of winning a
few gold pieces. My friend, too, had some Turkish tobacco brought home
from Constantinople by a sailor, and he gave me quite as much as we had
taken from Z. Marcas. I conveyed the splendid cargo into port, and
we went in triumph to repay our neighbor with a tawny wig of Turkish
tobacco for his dark _Caporal_.

“You are determined not to be my debtors,” said he. “You are giving me
gold for copper.--You are boys--good boys----”

The sentences, spoken in varying tones, were variously emphasized. The
words were nothing, but the expression!--That made us friends of ten
years’ standing at once.

Marcas, on hearing us coming, had covered up his papers; we understood
that it would be taking a liberty to allude to his means of subsistence,
and felt ashamed of having watched him. His cupboard stood open; in it
there were two shirts, a white necktie and a razor. The razor made
me shudder. A looking-glass, worth five francs perhaps, hung near the

The man’s few and simple movements had a sort of savage grandeur. The
Doctor and I looked at each other, wondering what we could say in reply.
Juste, seeing that I was speechless, asked Marcas jestingly:

“You cultivate literature, monsieur?”

“Far from it!” replied Marcas. “I should not be so wealthy.”

“I fancied,” said I, “that poetry alone, in these days, was amply
sufficient to provide a man with lodgings as bad as ours.”

My remark made Marcas smile, and the smile gave a charm to his yellow

“Ambition is not a less severe taskmaster to those who fail,” said he.
“You, who are beginning life, walk in the beaten paths. Never dream of
rising superior, you will be ruined!”

“You advise us to stay just as we are?” said the Doctor, smiling.

There is something so infectious and childlike in the pleasantries of
youth, that Marcas smiled again in reply.

“What incidents can have given you this detestable philosophy?” asked I.

“I forgot once more that chance is the result of an immense equation of
which we know not all the factors. When we start from zero to work up
to the unit, the chances are incalculable. To ambitious men Paris is
an immense roulette table, and every young man fancies he can hit on a
successful progression of numbers.”

He offered us the tobacco I had brought that we might smoke with him;
the Doctor went to fetch our pipes; Marcas filled his, and then he came
to sit in our room, bringing the tobacco with him, since there were but
two chairs in his. Juste, as brisk as a squirrel, ran out, and returned
with a boy carrying three bottles of Bordeaux, some Brie cheese, and a

“Hah!” said I to myself, “fifteen francs,” and I was right to a sou.

Juste gravely laid five francs on the chimney-shelf.

There are immeasurable differences between the gregarious man and the
man who lives closest to nature. Toussaint Louverture, after he was
caught, died without speaking a word. Napoleon, transplanted to a rock,
talked like a magpie--he wanted to account for himself. Z. Marcas erred
in the same way, but for our benefit only. Silence in all its majesty is
to be found only in the savage. There is never a criminal who, though he
might let his secrets fall with his head into the basket of sawdust does
not feel the purely social impulse to tell them to somebody.

Nay, I am wrong. We have seen one Iroquois of the Faubourg Saint-Marceau
who raised the Parisian to the level of the natural savage--a
republican, a conspirator, a Frenchman, an old man, who outdid all we
have heard of Negro determination, and all that Cooper tells us of
the tenacity and coolness of the Redskins under defeat. Morey, the
Guatimozin of the “Mountain,” preserved an attitude unparalleled in the
annals of European justice.

This is what Marcas told us during the small hours, sandwiching his
discourse with slices of bread spread with cheese and washed down with
wine. All the tobacco was burned out. Now and then the hackney coaches
clattering across the Place de l’Odeon, or the omnibuses toiling past,
sent up their dull rumbling, as if to remind us that Paris was still
close to us.

His family lived at Vitre; his father and mother had fifteen hundred
francs a year in the funds. He had received an education gratis in a
Seminary, but had refused to enter the priesthood. He felt in himself
the fires of immense ambition, and had come to Paris on foot at the age
of twenty, the possessor of two hundred francs. He had studied the
law, working in an attorney’s office, where he had risen to be superior
clerk. He had taken his doctor’s degree in law, had mastered the old and
modern codes, and could hold his own with the most famous pleaders. He
had studied the law of nations, and was familiar with European treaties
and international practice. He had studied men and things in five
capitals--London, Berlin, Vienna, Petersburg, and Constantinople.

No man was better informed than he as to the rules of the Chamber. For
five years he had been reporter of the debates for a daily paper. He
spoke extempore and admirably, and could go on for a long time in that
deep, appealing voice which had struck us to the soul. Indeed, he proved
by the narrative of his life that he was a great orator, a concise
orator, serious and yet full of piercing eloquence; he resembled Berryer
in his fervor and in the impetus which commands the sympathy of the
masses, and was like Thiers in refinement and skill; but he would
have been less diffuse, less in difficulties for a conclusion. He had
intended to rise rapidly to power without burdening himself first with
the doctrines necessary to begin with, for a man in opposition, but an
incubus later to the statesman.

Marcas had learned everything that a real statesman should know; indeed,
his amazement was considerable when he had occasion to discern the utter
ignorance of men who have risen to the administration of public affairs
in France. Though in him it was vocation that had led to study, nature
had been generous and bestowed all that cannot be acquired--keen
perceptions, self-command, a nimble wit, rapid judgment, decisiveness,
and, what is the genius of these men, fertility in resource.

By the time when Marcas thought himself duly equipped, France was torn
by intestine divisions arising from the triumph of the House of Orleans
over the elder branch of the Bourbons.

The field of political warfare is evidently changed. Civil war
henceforth cannot last for long, and will not be fought out in the
provinces. In France such struggles will be of brief duration and at
the seat of government; and the battle will be the close of the moral
contest which will have been brought to an issue by superior minds. This
state of things will continue so long as France has her present singular
form of government, which has no analogy with that of any other country;
for there is no more resemblance between the English and the French
constitutions than between the two lands.

Thus Marcas’ place was in the political press. Being poor and unable to
secure his election, he hoped to make a sudden appearance. He resolved
on making the greatest possible sacrifice for a man of superior
intellect, to work as a subordinate to some rich and ambitious deputy.
Like a second Bonaparte, he sought his Barras; the new Colbert hoped to
find a Mazarin. He did immense services, and he did them then and there;
he assumed no importance, he made no boast, he did not complain of
ingratitude. He did them in the hope that his patron would put him in a
position to be elected deputy; Marcas wished for nothing but a loan
that might enable him to purchase a house in Paris, the qualification
required by law. Richard III. asked for nothing but his horse.

In three years Marcas had made his man--one of the fifty supposed great
statesmen who are the battledores with which two cunning players toss
the ministerial portfolios exactly as the man behind the puppet-show
hits Punch against the constable in his street theatre, and counts on
always getting paid. This man existed only by Marcas, but he had just
brains enough to appreciate the value of his “ghost” and to know that
Marcas, if he ever came to the front, would remain there, would be
indispensable, while he himself would be translated to the polar zone of
Luxembourg. So he determined to put insurmountable obstacles in the way
of his Mentor’s advancement, and hid his purpose under the semblance
of the utmost sincerity. Like all mean men, he could dissimulate to
perfection, and he soon made progress in the ways of ingratitude, for he
felt that he must kill Marcas, not to be killed by him. These two men,
apparently so united, hated each other as soon as one had deceived the

The politician was made one of a ministry; Marcas remained in the
opposition to hinder his man from being attacked; nay, by skilful
tactics he won him the applause of the opposition. To excuse himself for
not rewarding his subaltern, the chief pointed out the impossibility of
finding a place suddenly for a man on the other side, without a great
deal of manoeuvring. Marcas had hoped confidently for a place to enable
him to marry, and thus acquire the qualification he so ardently desired.
He was two-and-thirty, and the Chamber ere long must be dissolved.
Having detected his man in this flagrant act of bad faith, he overthrew
him, or at any rate contributed largely to his overthrow, and covered
him with mud.

A fallen minister, if he is to rise again to power, must show that he is
to be feared; this man, intoxicated by Royal glibness, had fancied that
his position would be permanent; he acknowledged his delinquencies;
besides confessing them, he did Marcas a small money service, for Marcas
had got into debt. He subsidized the newspaper on which Marcas worked,
and made him the manager of it.

Though he despised the man, Marcas, who, practically, was being
subsidized too, consented to take the part of the fallen minister.
Without unmasking at once all the batteries of his superior intellect,
Marcas came a little further than before; he showed half his shrewdness.
The Ministry lasted only a hundred and eighty days; it was swallowed
up. Marcas had put himself into communication with certain deputies, had
moulded them like dough, leaving each impressed with a high opinion of
his talent; his puppet again became a member of the Ministry, and then
the paper was ministerial. The Ministry united the paper with another,
solely to squeeze out Marcas, who in this fusion had to make way for a
rich and insolent rival, whose name was well known, and who already had
his foot in the stirrup.

Marcas relapsed into utter destitution; his haughty patron well knew the
depths into which he had cast him.

Where was he to go? The ministerial papers, privily warned, would have
nothing to say to him. The opposition papers did not care to admit him
to their offices. Marcas could side neither with the Republicans nor
with the Legitimists, two parties whose triumph would mean the overthrow
of everything that now is.

“Ambitious men like a fast hold on things,” said he with a smile.

He lived by writing a few articles on commercial affairs, and
contributed to one of those encyclopedias brought out by speculation and
not by learning. Finally a paper was founded, which was destined to
live but two years, but which secured his services. From that moment he
renewed his connection with the minister’s enemies; he joined the party
who were working for the fall of the Government; and as soon as his
pickaxe had free play, it fell.

This paper had now for six months ceased to exist; he had failed to find
employment of any kind; he was spoken of as a dangerous man, calumny
attacked him; he had unmasked a huge financial and mercantile job by a
few articles and a pamphlet. He was known to be a mouthpiece of a banker
who was said to have paid him largely, and from whom he was supposed to
expect some patronage in return for his championship. Marcas, disgusted
by men and things, worn out by five years of fighting, regarded as a
free lance rather than as a great leader, crushed by the necessity of
earning his daily bread, which hindered him from gaining ground, in
despair at the influence exerted by money over mind, and given over to
dire poverty, buried himself in a garret, to make thirty sous a day, the
sum strictly answering to his needs. Meditation had leveled a desert all
round him. He read the papers to be informed of what was going on. Pozzo
di Borgo had once lived like this for some time.

Marcas, no doubt, was planning a serious attack, accustoming himself
to dissimulation, and punishing himself for his blunders by Pythagorean
muteness. But he did not tell us the reasons for his conduct.

It is impossible to give you an idea of the scenes of the highest comedy
that lay behind this algebraic statement of his career; his useless
patience dogging the footsteps of fortune, which presently took wings,
his long tramps over the thorny brakes of Paris, his breathless chases
as a petitioner, his attempts to win over fools; the schemes laid only
to fail through the influence of some frivolous woman; the meetings with
men of business who expected their capital to bring them places and a
peerage, as well as large interest. Then the hopes rising in a towering
wave only to break in foam on the shoal; the wonders wrought in
reconciling adverse interests which, after working together for a week,
fell asunder; the annoyance, a thousand times repeated, of seeing a
dunce decorated with the Legion of Honor, and preferred, though as
ignorant as a shop-boy, to a man of talent. Then, what Marcas called the
stratagems of stupidity--you strike a man, and he seems convinced, he
nods his head--everything is settled; next day, this india-rubber ball,
flattened for a moment, has recovered itself in the course of the night;
it is as full of wind as ever; you must begin all over again; and you go
on till you understand that you are not dealing with a man, but with a
lump of gum that loses shape in the sunshine.

These thousand annoyances, this vast waste of human energy on barren
spots, the difficulty of achieving any good, the incredible facility of
doing mischief; two strong games played out, twice won, and then twice
lost; the hatred of a statesman--a blockhead with a painted face and a
wig, but in whom the world believed--all these things, great and small,
had not crushed, but for the moment had dashed Marcas. In the days when
money had come into his hands, his fingers had not clutched it; he
had allowed himself the exquisite pleasure of sending it all to his
family--to his sisters, his brothers, his old father. Like Napoleon in
his fall, he asked for no more than thirty sous a day, and any man of
energy can earn thirty sous for a day’s work in Paris.

When Marcas had finished the story of his life, intermingled with
reflections, maxims, and observations, revealing him as a great
politician, a few questions and answers on both sides as to the progress
of affairs in France and in Europe were enough to prove to us that he
was a real statesman; for a man may be quickly and easily judged when
he can be brought on to the ground of immediate difficulties: there is a
certain Shibboleth for men of superior talents, and we were of the tribe
of modern Levites without belonging as yet to the Temple. As I have
said, our frivolity covered certain purposes which Juste has carried
out, and which I am about to execute.

When we had done talking, we all three went out, cold as it was, to walk
in the Luxembourg gardens till the dinner hour. In the course of that
walk our conversation, grave throughout, turned on the painful aspects
of the political situation. Each of us contributed his remarks, his
comment, or his jest, a pleasantry or a proverb. This was no longer
exclusively a discussion of life on the colossal scale just described
by Marcas, the soldier of political warfare. Nor was it the distressful
monologue of the wrecked navigator, stranded in a garret in the Hotel
Corneille; it was a dialogue in which two well-informed young men,
having gauged the times they lived in, were endeavoring, under the
guidance of a man of talent, to gain some light on their own future

“Why,” asked Juste, “did you not wait patiently for an opportunity,
and imitate the only man who has been able to keep the lead since the
Revolution of July by holding his head above water?”

“Have I not said that we never know where the roots of chance lie?
Carrell was in identically the same position as the orator you speak of.
That gloomy young man, of a bitter spirit, had a whole government in
his head; the man of whom you speak had no idea beyond mounting on the
crupper of every event. Of the two, Carrel was the better man. Well,
one becomes a minister, Carrel remained a journalist; the incomplete but
craftier man is living; Carrel is dead.

“I may point out that your man has for fifteen years been making his
way, and is but making it still. He may yet be caught and crushed
between two cars full of intrigues on the highroad to power. He has no
house; he has not the favor of the palace like Metternich; nor, like
Villele, the protection of a compact majority.

“I do not believe that the present state of things will last ten years
longer. Hence, supposing I should have such poor good luck, I am already
too late to avoid being swept away by the commotion I foresee. I should
need to be established in a superior position.”

“What commotion?” asked Juste.

“AUGUST, 1830,” said Marcas in solemn tones, holding out his hand
towards Paris; “AUGUST, the offspring of Youth which bound the sheaves,
and of Intellect which had ripened the harvest, forgot to provide for
Youth and Intellect.

“Youth will explode like the boiler of a steam-engine. Youth has
no outlet in France; it is gathering an avalanche of underrated
capabilities, of legitimate and restless ambitions; young men are not
marrying now; families cannot tell what to do with their children. What
will the thunderclap be that will shake down these masses? I know
not, but they will crash down into the midst of things, and overthrow
everything. These are laws of hydrostatics which act on the human race;
the Roman Empire had failed to understand them, and the Barbaric hordes
came down.

“The Barbaric hordes now are the intelligent class. The laws of
overpressure are at this moment acting slowly and silently in our midst.
The Government is the great criminal; it does not appreciate the two
powers to which it owes everything; it has allowed its hands to be tied
by the absurdities of the Contract; it is bound, ready to be the victim.

“Louis XIV., Napoleon, England, all were or are eager for intelligent
youth. In France the young are condemned by the new legislation, by
the blundering principles of elective rights, by the unsoundness of the
ministerial constitution.

“Look at the elective Chamber; you will find no deputies of thirty; the
youth of Richelieu and of Mazarin, of Turenne and of Colbert, of Pitt
and of Saint-Just, of Napoleon and of Prince Metternich, would find no
admission there; Burke, Sheridan, or Fox could not win seats. Even if
political majority had been fixed at one-and-twenty, and eligibility had
been relieved of every disabling qualification, the Departments would
have returned the very same members, men devoid of political talent,
unable to speak without murdering French grammar, and among whom, in ten
years, scarcely one statesman has been found.

“The causes of an impending event may be seen, but the event itself
cannot be foretold. At this moment the youth of France is being driven
into Republicanism, because it believes that the Republic would bring it
emancipation. It will always remember the young representatives of the
people and the young army leaders! The imprudence of the Government is
only comparable to its avarice.”

That day left its echoes in our lives. Marcas confirmed us in our
resolution to leave France, where young men of talent and energy
are crushed under the weight of successful commonplace, envious, and
insatiable middle age.

We dined together in the Rue de la Harpe. We thenceforth felt for Marcas
the most respectful affection; he gave us the most practical aid in the
sphere of the mind. That man knew everything; he had studied everything.
For us he cast his eye over the whole civilized world, seeking the
country where openings would be at once the most abundant and the most
favorable to the success of our plans. He indicated what should be the
goal of our studies; he bid us make haste, explaining to us that time
was precious, that emigration would presently begin, and that its
effect would be to deprive France of the cream of its powers and of its
youthful talent; that their intelligence, necessarily sharpened, would
select the best places, and that the great thing was to be first in the

Thenceforward, we often sat late at work under the lamp. Our generous
instructor wrote some notes for our guidance--two pages for Juste and
three for me--full of invaluable advice--the sort of information which
experience alone can supply, such landmarks as only genius can place. In
those papers, smelling of tobacco, and covered with writing so vile
as to be almost hieroglyphic, there are suggestions for a fortune, and
forecasts of unerring acumen. There are hints as to certain parts of
America and Asia which have been fully justified, both before and since
Juste and I could set out.

Marcas, like us, was in the most abject poverty. He earned, indeed, his
daily bread, but he had neither linen, clothes, nor shoes. He did not
make himself out any better than he was; his dreams had been of luxury
as well as of power. He did not admit that this was the real Marcas; he
abandoned this person, indeed, to the caprices of life. What he lived by
was the breath of ambition; he dreamed of revenge while blaming himself
for yielding to so shallow a feeling. The true statesman ought, above
all things, to be superior to vulgar passions; like the man of science.
It was in these days of dire necessity that Marcas seemed to us so
great--nay, so terrible; there was something awful in the gaze which saw
another world than that which strikes the eye of ordinary men. To us he
was a subject of contemplation and astonishment; for the young--which of
us has not known it?--the young have a keen craving to admire; they love
to attach themselves, and are naturally inclined to submit to the men
they feel to be superior, as they are to devote themselves to a great

Our surprise was chiefly roused by his indifference in matters of
sentiment; women had no place in his life. When we spoke of this matter,
a perennial theme of conversation among Frenchmen, he simply remarked:

“Gowns cost too much.”

He saw the look that passed between Juste and me, and went on:

“Yes, far too much. The woman you buy--and she is the least
expensive--takes a great deal of money. The woman who gives herself
takes all your time! Woman extinguishes every energy, every ambition.
Napoleon reduced her to what she should be. From that point of view, he
really was great. He did not indulge such ruinous fancies of Louis XIV.
and Louis XV.; at the same time he could love in secret.”

We discovered that, like Pitt, who made England is wife, Marcas bore
France in his heart; he idolized his country; he had not a thought that
was not for his native land. His fury at feeling that he had in his
hands the remedy for the evils which so deeply saddened him, and could
not apply it, ate into his soul, and this rage was increased by the
inferiority of France at that time, as compared with Russia and England.
France a third-rate power! This cry came up again and again in his
conversation. The intestinal disorders of his country had entered into
his soul. All the contests between the Court and the Chamber, showing,
as they did, incessant change and constant vacillation, which must
injure the prosperity of the country, he scoffed at as backstairs

“This is peace at the cost of the future,” said he.

One evening Juste and I were at work, sitting in perfect silence. Marcas
had just risen to toil at his copying, for he had refused our assistance
in spite of our most earnest entreaties. We had offered to take it in
turns to copy a batch of manuscript, so that he should do but a third
of his distasteful task; he had been quite angry, and we had ceased to

We heard the sound of gentlemanly boots in the passage, and raised our
heads, looking at each other. There was a tap at Marcas’ door--he never
took the key out of the lock--and we heard the hero answer:

“Come in.” Then--“What, you here, monsieur?”

“I, myself,” replied the retired minister.

It was the Diocletian of this unknown martyr.

For some time he and our neighbor conversed in an undertone. Suddenly
Marcas, whose voice had been heard but rarely, as is natural in a
dialogue in which the applicant begins by setting forth the situation,
broke out loudly in reply to some offer we had not overheard.

“You would laugh at me for a fool,” cried he, “if I took you at your
word. Jesuits are a thing of the past, but Jesuitism is eternal. Your
Machiavelism and your generosity are equally hollow and untrustworthy.
You can make your own calculations, but who can calculate on you? Your
Court is made up of owls who fear the light, of old men who quake in the
presence of the young, or who simply disregard them. The Government is
formed on the same pattern as the Court. You have hunted up the remains
of the Empire, as the Restoration enlisted the Voltigeurs of Louis XIV.

“Hitherto the evasions of cowardice have been taken for the manoeuvring
of ability; but dangers will come, and the younger generation will rise
as they did in 1790. They did grand things then.--Just now you change
ministries as a sick man turns in his bed; these oscillations betray the
weakness of the Government. You work on an underhand system of policy
which will be turned against you, for France will be tired of your
shuffling. France will not tell you that she is tired of you; a man
never knows whence his ruin comes; it is the historian’s task to find
out; but you will undoubtedly perish as the reward of not having the
youth of France to lend you its strength and energy; for having hated
really capable men; for not having lovingly chosen them from this noble
generation; for having in all cases preferred mediocrity.

“You have come to ask my support, but you are an atom in that decrepit
heap which is made hideous by self-interest, which trembles and squirms,
and, because it is so mean, tries to make France mean too. My strong
nature, my ideas, would work like poison in you; twice you have tricked
me, twice have I overthrown you. If we unite a third time, it must be
a very serious matter. I should kill myself if I allowed myself to be
duped; for I should be to blame, not you.”

Then we heard the humblest entreaties, the most fervent adjuration,
not to deprive the country of such superior talents. The man spoke of
patriotism, and Marcas uttered a significant “_Ouh! ouh!_” He laughed at
his would-be patron. Then the statesman was more explicit; he bowed to
the superiority of his erewhile counselor; he pledged himself to enable
Marcas to remain in office, to be elected deputy; then he offered him a
high appointment, promising him that he, the speaker, would thenceforth
be the subordinate of a man whose subaltern he was only worthy to be.
He was in the newly-formed ministry, and he would not return to power
unless Marcas had a post in proportion to his merit; he had already made
it a condition, Marcas had been regarded as indispensable.

Marcas refused.

“I have never before been in a position to keep my promises; here is an
opportunity of proving myself faithful to my word, and you fail me.”

To this Marcas made no reply. The boots were again audible in the
passage on the way to the stairs.

“Marcas! Marcas!” we both cried, rushing into his room. “Why refuse? He
really meant it. His offers are very handsome; at any rate, go to see
the ministers.”

In a twinkling, we had given Marcas a hundred reasons. The minister’s
voice was sincere; without seeing him, we had felt sure that he was

“I have no clothes,” replied Marcas.

“Rely on us,” said Juste, with a glance at me.

Marcas had the courage to trust us; a light flashed in his eye, he
pushed his fingers through his hair, lifting it from his forehead with
a gesture that showed some confidence in his luck and when he had thus
unveiled his face, so to speak, we saw in him a man absolutely unknown
to us--Marcas sublime, Marcas in his power! His mind was in its
element--the bird restored to the free air, the fish to the water, the
horse galloping across the plain.

It was transient. His brow clouded again, he had, it would seem, a
vision of his fate. Halting doubt had followed close on the heels of
white-winged hope.

We left him to himself.

“Now, then,” said I to the Doctor, “we have given our word; how are we
to keep it?”

“We will sleep upon it,” said Juste, “and to-morrow morning we will talk
it over.”

Next morning we went for a walk in the Luxembourg.

We had had time to think over the incident of the past night, and were
both equally surprised at the lack of address shown by Marcas in the
minor difficulties of life--he, a man who never saw any difficulties in
the solution of the hardest problems of abstract or practical politics.
But these elevated characters can all be tripped up on a grain of sand,
and will, like the grandest enterprise, miss fire for want of a thousand
francs. It is the old story of Napoleon, who, for lack of a pair of
boots, did not set out for India.

“Well, what have you hit upon?” asked Juste.

“I have thought of a way to get him a complete outfit.”


“From Humann.”


“Humann, my boy, never goes to his customers--his customers go to him;
so that he does not know whether I am rich or poor. He only knows that I
dress well and look decent in the clothes he makes for me. I shall tell
him that an uncle of mine has dropped in from the country, and that his
indifference in matters of dress is quite a discredit to me in the upper
circles where I am trying to find a wife.--It will not be Humann if he
sends in his bill before three months.”

The Doctor thought this a capital idea for a vaudeville, but poor enough
in real life, and doubted my success. But I give you my word of honor,
Humann dressed Marcas, and, being an artist, turned him out as a
political personage ought to be dressed.

Juste lent Marcas two hundred francs in gold, the product of two watches
bought on credit, and pawned at the Mont-de-Piete. For my part, I had
said nothing of the six shirts and all necessary linen, which cost me
no more than the pleasure of asking for them from a forewoman in a shop
whom I had treated to Musard’s during the carnival.

Marcas accepted everything, thanking us no more than he ought. He only
inquired as to the means by which we had got possession of such riches,
and we made him laugh for the last time. We looked on our Marcas as
shipowners, when they have exhausted their credit and every resource
at their command it fit out a vessel, must look on it as it puts out to

Here Charles was silent; he seemed crushed by his memories.

“Well,” cried the audience, “and what happened?”

“I will tell you in a few words--for this is not romance--it is

We saw no more of Marcas. The administration lasted for three months; it
fell at the end of the session. Then Marcas came back to us, worked to
death. He had sounded the crater of power; he came away from it with the
beginnings of brain fever. The disease made rapid progress; we nursed
him. Juste at once called in the chief physician of the hospital where
he was working as house-surgeon. I was then living alone in our room,
and I was the most attentive attendant; but care and science alike were
in vain. By the month of January, 1838, Marcas himself felt that he had
but a few days to live.

The man whose soul and brain he had been for six months never even sent
to inquire after him. Marcas expressed the greatest contempt for the
Government; he seemed to doubt what the fate of France might be, and
it was this doubt that had made him ill. He had, he thought, detected
treason in the heart of power, not tangible, seizable treason, the
result of facts, but the treason of a system, the subordination of
national interests to selfish ends. His belief in the degradation of the
country was enough to aggravate his complaint.

I myself was witness to the proposals made to him by one of the leaders
of the antagonistic party which he had fought against. His hatred of
the men he had tried to serve was so virulent, that he would gladly have
joined the coalition that was about to be formed among certain ambitious
spirits who, at least, had one idea in common--that of shaking off the
yoke of the Court. But Marcas could only reply to the envoy in the words
of the Hotel de Ville:

“It is too late!”

Marcas did not leave money enough to pay for his funeral. Juste and I
had great difficulty in saving him from the ignominy of a pauper’s bier,
and we alone followed the coffin of Z. Marcas, which was dropped into
the common grave of the cemetery of Mont-Parnasse.

We looked sadly at each other as we listened to this tale, the last we
heard from the lips of Charles Rabourdin the day before he embarked at
le Havre on a brig that was to convey him to the islands of Malay. We
all knew more than one Marcas, more than one victim of his devotion to a
party, repaid by betrayal or neglect.

LES JARDIES, May 1840.


The following personage appears in other stories of the Human Comedy.

     Marcas, Zephirin
       A Prince of Bohemia

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