Melmoth Reconciled by Honoré de Balzac


My Books
- IRC Hacks

Misc. Articles
- Meaning of Jibble
- M4 Su Doku
- Computer Scrapbooking
- Setting up Java
- Bootable Java
- Cookies in Java
- Dynamic Graphs
- Social Shakespeare

External Links
- Paul Mutton
- Jibble Photo Gallery
- Jibble Forums
- Google Landmarks
- Jibble Shop
- Free Books
- Intershot Ltd

Previous Page | Next Page

Page 1

Yet nature has her freaks in the making of a man's mind; she indulges
herself and makes a few honest folk now and again, and now and then a

Wherefore, that race of corsairs whom we dignify with the title of
bankers, the gentry who take out a license for which they pay a
thousand crowns, as the privateer takes out his letters of marque,
hold these rare products of the incubations of virtue in such esteem
that they confine them in cages in their counting-houses, much as
governments procure and maintain specimens of strange beasts at their
own charges.

If the cashier is possessed of an imagination or of a fervid
temperament; if, as will sometimes happen to the most complete
cashier, he loves his wife, and that wife grows tired of her lot, has
ambitions, or merely some vanity in her composition, the cashier is
undone. Search the chronicles of the counting-house. You will not find
a single instance of a cashier attaining _a position_, as it is called.
They are sent to the hulks; they go to foreign parts; they vegetate on
a second floor in the Rue Saint-Louis among the market gardens of the
Marais. Some day, when the cashiers of Paris come to a sense of their
real value, a cashier will be hardly obtainable for money. Still,
certain it is that there are people who are fit for nothing but to be
cashiers, just as the bent of a certain order of mind inevitably makes
for rascality. But, oh marvel of our civilization! Society rewards
virtue with an income of a hundred louis in old age, a dwelling on a
second floor, bread sufficient, occasional new bandana handkerchiefs,
an elderly wife and her offspring.

So much for virtue. But for the opposite course, a little boldness, a
faculty for keeping on the windward side of the law, as Turenne
outflanked Montecuculi, and Society will sanction the theft of
millions, shower ribbons upon the thief, cram him with honors, and
smother him with consideration.

Government, moreover, works harmoniously with this profoundly
illogical reasoner--Society. Government levies a conscription on the
young intelligence of the kingdom at the age of seventeen or eighteen,
a conscription of precocious brain-work before it is sent up to be
submitted to a process of selection. Nurserymen sort and select seeds
in much the same way. To this process the Government brings
professional appraisers of talent, men who can assay brains as experts
assay gold at the Mint. Five hundred such heads, set afire with hope,
are sent up annually by the most progressive portion of the
population; and of these the Government takes one-third, puts them in
sacks called the Ecoles, and shakes them up together for three years.
Though every one of these young plants represents vast productive
power, they are made, as one may say, into cashiers. They receive
appointments; the rank and file of engineers is made up of them; they
are employed as captains of artillery; there is no (subaltern) grade
to which they may not aspire. Finally, when these men, the pick of the
youth of the nation, fattened on mathematics and stuffed with
knowledge, have attained the age of fifty years, they have their
reward, and receive as the price of their services the third-floor
lodging, the wife and family, and all the comforts that sweeten life
for mediocrity. If from among this race of dupes there should escape
some five or six men of genius who climb the highest heights, is it
not miraculous?

This is an exact statement of the relations between Talent and Probity
on the one hand and Government and Society on the other, in an age
that considers itself to be progressive. Without this prefatory
explanation a recent occurrence in Paris would seem improbable; but
preceded by this summing up of the situation, it will perhaps receive
some thoughtful attention from minds capable of recognizing the real
plague-spots of our civilization, a civilization which since 1815 as
been moved by the spirit of gain rather than by principles of honor.

About five o'clock, on a dull autumn afternoon, the cashier of one of
the largest banks in Paris was still at his desk, working by the light
of a lamp that had been lit for some time. In accordance with the use
and wont of commerce, the counting-house was in the darkest corner of
the low-ceiled and far from spacious mezzanine floor, and at the very
end of a passage lighted only by borrowed lights. The office doors
along this corridor, each with its label, gave the place the look of a
bath-house. At four o'clock the stolid porter had proclaimed,
according to his orders, "The bank is closed." And by this time the
departments were deserted, wives of the partners in the firm were
expecting their lovers; the two bankers dining with their mistresses.
Everything was in order.

Previous Page | Next Page

Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Mon 2nd Oct 2023, 21:39