Madame de Blinval[P. 35] A SALON
An Elegaic Poet
A Fat Man
A Thin Man
AN ELEGIAC POET, reading.
The next day, footsteps were seen in the forest,
A dog, whining, wandered along the banks of the
And when the damsel all in tears
Returned, her heart full of fears,
To watch from the very old tower of an antique
She heard her sad sobs, the sad Isaure,
But she heard no more, the mandore
Of the handsome minstrel!
Bravo! Charming! Ravishing!
There is in that ending an indefinable
mystery which brings tears to the eyes.
The catastrophe is hidden.
Mandore, minstrel, so romantic!
Yes, sir, but only the reasonably romantic,
the true romantic. What would you have?
We must make some concessions.
Concessions! concessions! That is how
taste declines. I would give all the romantic
verses in the world for this simple quatrain:
So by Pride and by Cythere,
Handsome Bernard is warned
That the Art of Loving would on Saturday
Come to sup with the Art of Pleasing.
There is true poetry. The Art of Loving
supping on Saturday with the Art of Pleasing!
Well and good! But to-day it is the man-
dore, the minstrel. We no longer have fugitive
poetry. If I were a poet, I would write
fugitive poetry, but I, I am not a poet.
However, the elegies...
Fugitive poetry, sir! (Aside to Madame de
Blinval) And then châtel is not French; we
Note, sir. You say the antique châtel, why
not the Gothic?
Gothic is not in the verse.
Ah! That is different.
You see, sir, we must limit ourselves. I am
not one of those who wish to disorganize
French verse, and lead us back to the time of
Rousard and of Brébeuf. I am romantic,
but in moderation. And so in the emotions.
I like the soft, the dreamy, the melancholy,
but never the bloody, never the horrible. Veil
the catastrophes. I know there are people,
fools, with delirious imaginations who--Stop,
ladies, have you read the new novel?
The Last Day...
Enough, sir! I know what you are going
to say. The title alone upsets my nerves.
And mine too. It is a frightful book. I
have it here.
Let us see, let us see.
The Last Day of a...
Indeed, it is an abominable book, a book
which gives one the nightmare, a book that
makes one ill.
I must read it.
We must confess that custom is becoming
more depraved day by day. My God, what
a horrible idea, to develop, to analyze, one
after another, all the physical sufferings, all
the moral tortures of a man condemned to
death, on the day of execution. Is it not
atrocious? Can you believe, ladies, that a
writer has taken this for a theme, and that
there is a public for this writer?
It is indeed supremely impertinent.
And who is this author?
There was no name on the first edition.
It is the same who has written two other
novels; 'pon my honor, I forget the titles.
The first began at the Morgue and ended on
the scaffold. In each chapter, there was an
ogre who ate a child.
You have read that, sir?
Yes, sir, the scene was laid in Iceland.
In Iceland,--it is frightful.
In the other he has odes, ballads, and I
know not what all, he has also monsters who
have corps bleus.
Corbleu! That ought to make a glorious
He has also published a drama--he calls it
A drama--in which is found this beautiful line:
To-morrow, the twenty-fifth of June one thousand six
hundred and fifty-seven.
Ah, what verse!
It could be written in figures, you see,
To-morrow, 25 June, 1657.
That is something peculiar to the poetry
Ah! He does not know how to versify,
That fellow! What is his name?
He has a name as difficult to pronounce as
it is to remember. It has Goth, Visigoth,
and Ostrogoth in it.
He is a nasty man.
An abominable man.
Some one who knows him has told me...
You know some some one who knows him?
Yes, and who told me that he is a sweet
simple man who lives in retirement, and who
passes his days in playing with his little
And his nights in dreaming of works of
darkness. It is singular there is a verse that
I found quite naturally:
And his nights in dreaming of works of
ténèbres (darkness). With a good pause. I
have only the other line to find. Good!
Quidquid tenabat dicere, versus erat.
You say that this author has little children.
Impossible, madame. When he has written
such a work as that! Such an atrocious novel!
But what is the object of the work?
How should I know?
It seems to have for an object the abolition
of capital punishment.
A horror, say I!
Ah! so it is a duel with the executioner.
He wishes the guillotine all sorts of terrible
I can imagine it; full of denunciations.
Not at all. There is hardly two pages of it
about capital punishment. All the rest is
about the sensations.
There is the mistake. The subject merits
reasoning. A drama or a novel proves noth-
ing. And besides, I have read the book, and
it is bad.
Detestable! Is that art? And then too,
this criminal, do I know him ? No. What
has he done? No one knows. Perhaps he is
a very bad rascal. No one has the right to
interest me in some one I do not know.
He certainly has not the right to shock
his reader by physical suffering. When I see
a tragedy, some one kills himself, very good !
That makes no difference to me. But a novel
makes your hair stand on end, gives you
goose-flesh and bad dreams. I was laid up
in bed for two days after having read it.
Added to that it is a cold and stiff book.
Yes--and as you said a while ago, sir, it is
not of the genuine æsthetic sort. I am inter-
ested in the abstract. I see no personality in
it equal to my own, and the style is neither
simple nor clear. That is how you put it, is it
Undoubtedly, undoubtedly. Personalities
are not necessary.
The condemned man is not interesting.
How is he interesting? He has committed
crime and has no remorse, I would have
done differently. I would have related the
story of my condemned. Born of honest
parents. A good education. Love. Jealousy.
A crime which is not a crime. And then,
remorse! remorse! plenty of remorse! But
the human laws are implacable; he must die.
And then I would have treated the
question of capital punishment. All in good season.
Pardon me. The book, according to you,
proves nothing. A special case does not
Well! so much the better; why not have
chosen for a hero, for instance---Malesherbes,
the virtuous Malesherbes? his last day, his
prayers? Oh I then, we would have had a fine
and noble spectacle! I would have cried, I
would have shuddered, I would have wanted
to mount the scaffold with him.
Nor I. He was a revolutionary, at the
bottom, your M. de Malesherbes.
Malesherbes' scaffold proves nothing against
capital punishment in general.
Capital punishment! Why should we bother
about that. What has it done to you? This
author must certainly be very ill-bred to come
and give us the nightmare on this subject with
Ah! Yes, he must have a very bad heart!
He forces us to look into prisons, into
the galleys, into Bicêtre. It is very disagree-
able. We know very well that they are
filthy places; but what does it matter to
Those who have made the laws are not children.
Ah! meanwhile, in presenting things truth-
That is precisely what he lacks; truth.
What can a poet know of such things? He
must be at least a public prosecutor. Stop,
I have read, in a review which a journal had
on this book, that the condemned said noth-
ing when they read his sentence; very good,
but I have seen a condemned man, who, at
a loud cry--you see.
Wait; gentlemen, the guillotine, the Grève,
are in bad taste;--and that proves that this
is a book that corrupts the taste, and renders
you incapable of pure fresh emotions. These
are the supporters of wholesome literature. I
would like to be a member of the Academie
Française...But here is Ergaste, who is
one already. What do you think of The
Last Day of a Condemned?
Upon my word, sir, I have not, and will
not, read it. I dined to-day with Madame
[p. 47] de Sénange, and the Marquise de Morival
spoke of it to the Duc de Melcourt. They
say there are personalities against the magistry,
and, above all, against President d'Alimont.
The Abbè de Horicour has been insulted. It
seems that there is a chapter against religion,
and a chapter against monarchy. If I were
the royal prosecutor!...
Ah! yes, indeed, royal prosecutor! How
about the charter, and the liberty of the press?
Meanwhile a poet tries to suppress capital
punishment and you agree that it is odious.
Ah! ah! under the old régime, who would
have been allowed to publish a work against
torture!... But, since the fall of the
Bastile, we can write anything. Books do
Frightful!--We were all calm, thinking
of nothing. It is true that in France we
occasionally cut off a head here and there;
but only two or three, at the most, in a week.
And all is done without noise and without
scandal. No one says anything. No one
thinks of it. Not at all, until this book
appears .... This book which gives you a
Think of the feelings of a juryman after
having read it!
It would trouble his conscience.
Ah! books! books! Who said that of a
It is certain that books are very often a
poison ruinous to social order.
Without taking in consideration speech,
which the romantiques would also like to
Consider, sir, there are romantiques and
Bad taste, bad taste.
You are right. Very bad taste.
There is no answering that.
There are things said in it that are not mentioned
even in the rue Mouffetard.
Ah! The abominable book!
Hi! don't throw it into the fire. It is
Talk of to-day. All is depraved; taste
and manners. Does it remind you of our
days, Madame de Blinval?
No, sir, not at all.
We were the gayest, easy going, set of
people. Always beautiful fêtes, and pretty
verses. It was charming. Was there ever any-
thing so gallant as the madrigal which M. de la
Harpe composed in honor of the grand ball which
Madame la Maréchale de Mailly gave
in seventeen hundred and...the year of
the execution of Damlens?
Happy days! Now manners are horrible,
and books are likewise. It is Boileau's beauti-
And the fall of the sas follows the decadence of
Do they sup in this house?
Yes, by and by.
Meanwhile they wish to abolish capital
punishment, and in order to do so write novels
that are cruel, immoral and in bad taste, such as
The Last Day of a Condemned.
Stop, my dear fellow, let us speak no more
of this atrocious book; and, since I have met
you, tell me, what are you going to do about
the man whose petition We rejected three
Ah! Have a little patience! I must go.
I must have air. On my return. If that is too
late, however, I will write to my deputy ...
Supper is served.