A Prince of Bohemia by Honoré de Balzac

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Page 1

"Do you call it good luck to go back to one's husband?"

"No; only great luck. Come, I am listening."

And Mme. de la Baudraye read as follows:

"Scene--a splendid salon in the Rue de Chartres-du-Roule. One
of the most famous writers of the day discovered sitting on a
settee beside a very illustrious Marquise, with whom he is on
such terms of intimacy, as a man has a right to claim when a
woman singles him out and keeps him at her side as a complacent
_souffre-douleur_ rather than a makeshift."

"Well," says she, "have you found those letters of which you spoke
yesterday? You said that you could not tell me all about _him_ without

"Yes, I have them."

"It is your turn to speak; I am listening like a child when his mother
begins the tale of _Le Grand Serpentin Vert_."

"I count the young man in question in that group of our acquaintances
which we are wont to style our friends. He comes of a good family; he
is a man of infinite parts and ill-luck, full of excellent
dispositions and most charming conversation; young as he is, he is
seen much, and while awaiting better things, he dwells in Bohemia.
Bohemianism, which by rights should be called the doctrine of the
Boulevard des Italiens, finds its recruits among young men between
twenty and thirty, all of them men of genius in their way, little
known, it is true, as yet, but sure of recognition one day, and when
that day comes, of great distinction. They are distinguished as it is
at carnival time, when their exuberant wit, repressed for the rest of
the year, finds a vent in more or less ingenious buffoonery.

"What times we live in! What an irrational central power which allows
such tremendous energies to run to waste! There are diplomatists in
Bohemia quite capable of overturning Russia's designs, if they but
felt the power of France at their backs. There are writers,
administrators, soldiers, and artists in Bohemia; every faculty, every
kind of brain is represented there. Bohemia is a microcosm. If the
Czar would buy Bohemia for a score of millions and set its population
down in Odessa--always supposing that they consented to leave the
asphalt of the boulevards--Odessa would be Paris with the year. In
Bohemia, you find the flower doomed to wither and come to nothing; the
flower of the wonderful young manhood of France, so sought after by
Napoleon and Louis XIV., so neglected for the last thirty years by the
modern Gerontocracy that is blighting everything else--that splendid
young manhood of whom a witness so little prejudiced as Professor
Tissot wrote, 'On all sides the Emperor employed a younger generation
in every way worthy of him; in his councils, in the general
administration, in negotiations bristling with difficulties or full of
danger, in the government of conquered countries; and in all places
Youth responded to his demands upon it. Young men were for Napoleon
the _missi hominici_ of Charlemagne.'

"The word Bohemia tells you everything. Bohemia has nothing and lives
upon what it has. Hope is its religion; faith (in oneself) its creed;
and charity is supposed to be its budget. All these young men are
greater than their misfortune; they are under the feet of Fortune, yet
more than equal to Fate. Always ready to mount and ride an _if_, witty
as a _feuilleton_, blithe as only those can be that are deep in debt
and drink deep to match, and finally--for here I come to my point--hot
lovers and what lovers! Picture to yourself Lovelace, and Henri
Quatre, and the Regent, and Werther, and Saint-Preux, and Rene, and
the Marechal de Richelieu--think of all these in a single man, and you
will have some idea of their way of love. What lovers! Eclectic of all
things in love, they will serve up a passion to a woman's order; their
hearts are like a bill of fare in a restaurant. Perhaps they have
never read Stendhal's _De l'Amour_, but unconsciously they put it in
practice. They have by heart their chapters--Love-Taste, Love-Passion,
Love-Caprice, Love-Crystalized, and more than all, Love-Transient. All
is good in their eyes. They invented the burlesque axiom, 'In the
sight of man, all women are equal.' The actual text is more vigorously
worded, but as in my opinion the spirit is false, I do not stand nice
upon the letter.

"My friend, madame, is named Gabriel Jean Anne Victor Benjamin George
Ferdinand Charles Edward Rusticoli, Comte de la Palferine. The
Rusticolis came to France with Catherine de Medici, having been ousted
about that time from their infinitesimal Tuscan sovereignty. They are
distantly related to the house of Este, and connected by marriage to
the Guises. On the day of Saint-Bartholomew they slew a goodly number
of Protestants, and Charles IX. bestowed the hand of the heiress of
the Comte de la Palferine upon the Rusticoli of that time. The Comte,
however, being a part of the confiscated lands of the Duke of Savoy,
was repurchased by Henri IV. when that great king so far blundered as
to restore the fief; and in exchange, the Rusticoli--who had borne
arms long before the Medici bore them to-wit, _argent_ a cross flory
_azure_ (the cross flower-de-luced by letters patent granted by
Charles IX.), and a count's coronet, with two peasants for supporters
with the motto IN HOC SIGNO VINCIMUS--the Rusticoli, I repeat,
retained their title, and received a couple of offices under the crown
with the government of a province.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 25th Feb 2020, 5:20