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A few years ago, while visiting or, rather, rummaging about Notre-Dame, the author of this book found, in an obscure nook of one of the towers, the following word, engraved by hand upon the wall:—
These Greek capitals, black with age, and quite deeply graven in the stone, with I know not what signs peculiar to Gothic caligraphy imprinted upon their forms and upon their attitudes, as though with the purpose of revealing that it had been a hand of the Middle Ages which had inscribed them there, and especially the fatal and melancholy meaning contained in them, struck the author deeply.
He questioned himself; he sought to divine who could have been that soul in torment which had not been willing to quit this world without leaving this stigma of crime or unhappiness upon the brow of the ancient church.
Afterwards, the wall was whitewashed or scraped down, I know not which, and the inscription disappeared. For it is thus that people have been in the habit of proceeding with the marvellous churches of the Middle Ages for the last two hundred years. Mutilations come to them from every quarter, from within as well as from without. The priest whitewashes them, the archdeacon scrapes them down; then the populace arrives and demolishes them.
Thus, with the exception of the fragile memory which the author of this book here consecrates to it, there remains to-day nothing whatever of the mysterious word engraved within the gloomy tower of Notre-Dame,— nothing of the destiny which it so sadly summed up. The man who wrote that word upon the wall disappeared from the midst of the generations of man many centuries ago; the word, in its turn, has been effaced from the wall of the church; the church will, perhaps, itself soon disappear from the face of the earth.
It is upon this word that this book is founded.
Three hundred and forty-eight years, six months, and nineteen days ago to-day, 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. lé 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.
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-de-lis; 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 to-day 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."
“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 lé 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 lé 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.
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 lé 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 deniersquatuor denarios.”
“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 be 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 to-day,” 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 révérences; then the symphony ceased.
The mystery was about to begin.
The four personages, after having reaped a rich reward of applause for their révérences, 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 to-day, 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 pétards 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.