Honoré de Balzac >The French novelist Honoré de Balzac () was the (Le Cousin Pons, ), marriage settlements (Le Contrat de mariage. Results 1 – 30 of Cousin Pons: Poor Relations, part two (Penguin Classics) by Honor? de Balzac and a great selection of similar Used, New and Collectible. The Works of Honor de Balzac, Vol. 12 has 0 ratings and 0 reviews. Excerpt from The Works of Honore De Balzac, Vol. Cousin Pons.
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It is your responsibility to check the applicable copyright laws in your country before downloading this work. There was a smug expression about the mouth — he looked like a merchant who has just done a good stroke of business, or a bachelor emerging from a boudoir in the best of humors with himself; and in Paris this is the highest degree of self-satisfaction ever registered by a human countenance.
As soon as the elderly person appeared in the distance, a smile broke out over the faces of the frequenters of the boulevard, who daily, from their chairs, watch the passers-by, and indulge in the agreeable pastime of analyzing them. That smile is peculiar to Parisians; it says so many things — ironical, quizzical, pitying; but nothing save the rarest of human curiosities can summon that look of interest to the faces of Parisians, sated as they are with every possible sight.
A saying recorded of Hyacinthe, an actor celebrated for his repartees, will explain the archaeological value of the old gentleman, and the smile repeated like an echo by all eyes. Somebody once asked Hyacinthe where the hats were made that set the house in a roar as soon as he appeared. In some respects the passer-by adhered so faithfully to the fashions of the yearthat he was not so much a burlesque caricature as a reproduction of the Empire period.
To an observer, accuracy of detail in a revival of this sort is extremely valuable, but accuracy of detail, to be properly appreciated, demands the critical attention of an expert flaneur; while the man in the street who raises a laugh as soon as he comes in sight is bound to be one of those outrageous exhibitions which stare you in the face, as the saying goes, and produce the kind of effect which an actor tries to secure for the success of his entry.
The elderly person, a thin, spare man, wore a nut-brown spencer over a coat of uncertain green, with white metal buttons. A man in a spencer in the year ! The spencer, as its name indicates, was the invention of an English lord, vain, doubtless, of his handsome shape. Some time before the Peace of Amiens, this nobleman solved the problem of covering the bust without destroying the outlines of the figure and encumbering the person with the hideous boxcoat, now finishing its career on the backs of aged hackney cabmen; but, elegant figures being in the minority, the success of the spencer was short-lived in France, English though it was.
At the sight of the spencer, men of forty or fifty mentally invested the wearer with top-boots, pistachio-colored kerseymere small clothes adorned with a knot of ribbon; and beheld themselves in the costumes of their youth. Elderly ladies thought of former conquests; but the younger men were asking each other why the aged Alcibiades had cut off the skirts of his overcoat.
Constant friction with a pair of enormous ears had left their marks which no brush could efface from the underside of the brim; the silk tissue as usual fitted badly over the cardboard foundation, and hung in wrinkles here and there; and some skin-disease apparently had attacked the nap in spite of the hand which rubbed it down of a morning. Beneath the hat, which seemed ready to drop off at any moment, lay an expanse of countenance grotesque and droll, as the faces which the Chinese alone of all people can imagine for their quaint curiosities.
The broad visage was as full of holes as a colander, honeycombed with the shadows of the dints, hollowed out like a Roman mask. It set all the laws of anatomy at defiance. Close inspection failed to detect the substructure. Where you expected to find a bone, you discovered a layer of cartilaginous tissue, and the hollows of an ordinary human face were here filled out with flabby bosses.
A pair of gray eyes, red-rimmed and lashless, looked forlornly out of a countenance which was flattened something after the fashion of a pumpkin, and surmounted by a Don Quixote nose that rose out of it like a monolith above a plain. It was the kind of nose, as Cervantes must surely have explained somewhere, which denotes an inborn enthusiasm for all things great, a tendency which is apt to degenerate into credulity.
In the presence of such misfortune a Frenchman is silent; to him it seems the most cruel of all afflictions — to be unable to please!
The man so ill-favored was dressed after the fashion of shabby gentility, a fashion which the rich not seldom try to copy. He wore low shoes beneath gaiters of the pattern worn by the Imperial Guard, doubtless for the sake of economy, because they kept the socks clean.
Honore De Balzac
The rusty tinge of his black breeches, like the cut and the white or shiny line of the creases, assigned the date of the purchase some three years back. The roomy garments failed to disguise the lean proportions of the wearer, due apparently rather to constitution than to a Pythagorean regimen, for the worthy man was endowed with thick lips and a sensual mouth; and when he smiled, displayed a set of white teeth which would have done credit to a shark.
A silk watch-guard, plaited to resemble the keepsakes made of hair, meandered down the shirt front and secured his watch from the improbable theft. The greenish coat, though older by some three years than the breeches, was remarkably neat; the black velvet collar and shining metal buttons, recently renewed, told of carefulness which descended even to trifles. If you had seen him that afternoon, you would have wondered how that grotesque face came to be lighted up with a smile; usually, surely, it must have worn the dispirited, passive look of the obscure toiler condemned to labor without ceasing for the barest necessaries of life.
In Paris only among great cities will you see such spectacles as this; for of her boulevards Paris makes a stage where a never-ending drama is played gratuitously by the French nation in the interests of Art. Yet this elderly person had once taken the medal and the traveling scholarship; he had composed the first cantata crowned by the Institut at the time of the re-establishment of the Academie de Rome; he was M. Sylvain Pons, in fact — M. Sylvain Pons, whose name appears on the covers of well-known sentimental songs trilled by our mothers, to say nothing of a couple of operas, played in andand divers unpublished scores.
He was entirely dependent upon his earnings. Running about to give private lessons at his age! How many a mystery lies in that unromantic situation! But the last man to wear the spencer carried something about him besides his Empire Associations; a warning and a lesson was written large over that triple waistcoat.
Wherever he went, he exhibited, without fee or charge, one of the many victims of the fatal system of competition which still prevails in France in spite of a century of trial without result; for Poisson de Marigny, brother of the Pompadour and Director of Fine Arts, somewhere about invented this method of applying pressure to the brain. That was a hundred years ago.
Try if you can count upon your fingers the men of genius among the prizemen of those hundred years. In the first place, no deliberate effort of schoolmaster or administrator can replace the miracles of chance which produce great men: In the second — the ancient Egyptians we are told invented incubator-stoves for hatching eggs; what would be thought of Egyptians who should neglect to fill the beaks of the callow fledglings?
Yet this is precisely what France is doing. The Government sent Sylvain Pons to Rome to make a great musician of himself; and in Rome Sylvain Pons acquired a taste for the antique and works of art. He had seen Venice, Milan, Florence, Bologna, and Naples leisurely, as he wished to see them, as a dreamer of dreams, and a philosopher; careless of the future, for an artist looks to his talent for support as the fille de joie counts upon her beauty.
Honoré de Balzac
Doubtless the sense of beauty honro he had kept pure and living in xe inmost soul couisn the spring from which the delicate, graceful, and ingenious music flowed and won him reputation between and Every l founded upon the fashion or the fancy of the hour, or upon the short-lived follies of Paris, produces its Pons.
No place in the world is so inexorable in great things; no city of the globe so disdainfully indulgent in small. Inthe year in which the single drama of this honod life began, Sylvain Pons was of no more value than an antediluvian semiquaver; dealers in music had never heard of his name, though he was still composing, on scanty pay, for his own orchestra or for neighboring theatres.
The gift of admiration, of comprehension, the single faculty by which the ordinary man becomes the brother of the poet, is rare in the city of Paris, that inn whither all ideas, like travelers, come to stay for awhile; so rare is it, that Pons surely deserves our respectful esteem. His personal failure may seem anomalous, but he frankly admitted that he was weak in harmony. He had neglected the study of counterpoint; there was a time when he might have begun his studies afresh and held his own among modern composers, when he might have been, not certainly a Rossini, but a Herold.
But he was alarmed by the intricacies of modern orchestration; and at length, in the cojsin of collecting, he found such ever-renewed compensation for his failure, that if he had been made to choose between his curiosities and the fame of Rossini — will it be believed?
Pons was of the opinion of Chenavard, the print-collector, who laid it down as an axiom — that you only balazc enjoy the pleasure of looking at your Ruysdael, Hobbema, Holbein, Coysin, Murillo, Greuze, Sebastian del Piombo, Giorgione, Albrecht Durer, or what not, when you have paid less than sixty francs for your picture. Pons never gave more than a hundred francs for any purchase.
Coisin he laid out as much as fifty francs, he was careful to assure himself beforehand that the object was worth three thousand. The most beautiful thing in the world, if it cost three hundred francs, did not exist for Pons.
This system, carried out for forty years, in Rome or Paris alike, had borne its fruits. Since Pons returned from Italy, he had regularly spent about two thousand francs a year upon a collection of masterpieces of every sort and description, a collection hidden away from all eyes but his couson and now his catalogue had reached the incredible number of Wandering about Paris between andhe had picked up many a treasure for ten francs, which would fetch a thousand or twelve hundred to-day.
Some forty-five thousand canvases change hands annually in Paris picture sales, and these Pons had sifted through year by year. Pons had Sevres porcelain, pate tendre, bought of Auvergnats, those satellites of the Black Band who sacked chateaux and carried off the marvels of Pompadour France in their tumbril carts; he had, in fact, collected the drifted wreck of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; he recognized the balzwc of the French school, and discerned the merit of the Lepautres and Lavallee—Poussins and the rest of the great obscure creators of the Genre Louis Quinze and the Genre Louis Seize.
Our modern craftsmen now draw without acknowledgment from them, pore incessantly over the treasures of the Cabinet des Estampes, borrow adroitly, and honlr out their pastiches for new inventions.
Pons had obtained many a piece by exchange, and therein lies the ineffable joy of the collector. The joy of buying bric-a-brac is a secondary delight; in the give-and-take of ,e lies the joy of joys.
Pons had begun by collecting snuff-boxes and miniatures; his name was unknown in bric-a-bracology, for he seldom showed himself in salesrooms or in the shops of well-known dealers; Pons dd not aware that his treasures had any commercial value.
Sauvageot indeed resembled each other in more ways than one.
Sauvageot, like Pons, was a musician; he was likewise a comparatively poor man, and he had collected his bric-a-brac in much the same way, with the same love of art, the same hatred of rich capitalists with well-known names who collect for the sake of running up prices as cleverly as possible. Have you a hobby? You have transferred pleasure to the plane of ideas. And yet, you need not envy the worthy Pons; such envy, like all kindred sentiments, would be founded upon a misapprehension.
With a nature so sensitive, with a soul that lived by tireless admiration of the magnificent achievements of art, of the high rivalry between human toil and the work of Nature — Pons was a slave to that one of the Seven Deadly Sins with which God surely will deal least hardly; Pons was a glutton.
A narrow income, combined with a passion for bric-a-brac, condemned him to a regimen so abhorrent to a discriminating palate, that, bachelor as he was, he had cut the knot of the problem by dining out every day. Now, in the time of the Empire, celebrities were more sought after than at present, perhaps because there were so few lee them, perhaps because they made little or no political pretension.
In those days, besides, you could set up for a poet, a musician, or a painter, with so little expense. Pons, being regarded as the probable rival of Nicolo, Paer, and Berton, used to receive so many invitations, that he was forced to keep a list of engagements, much as barristers note down the cases for which they are retained.
And Pons behaved like an artist. In those days, all the handsome men in France were away at the wars exchanging sabre-cuts with the handsome men of balzacc Coalition. It was between the years and that Pons contracted the unlucky habit of dining out; he grew accustomed to see his hosts taking pains over the dinner, procuring the first and best of everything, bringing out their choicest vintages, seeing carefully to the dessert, the coffee, the liqueurs, giving him of their best, in short; the best, moreover, of those times of the Empire when Paris was glutted with kings and queens and princes, and many a private house emulated royal splendours.
People used to play at Royalty then as they play nowadays at parliament, creating a whole host of societies with presidents, vice-presidents, secretaries and what not — agricultural societies, industrial societies, societies for the promotion of sericulture, viticulture, the growth of flax, and so forth.
Some have even gone so far as to look about them for social evils in order to start a society to cure them. But to return to Pons. Voluptuousness, lurking in every secret recess of the heart, lays down the law therein. Honor and resolution are battered in breach. The tyranny of the palate has never been described; as a necessity of life it escapes the criticism of literature; yet no one imagines how many have been ruined by the table.
He felt that he was capable of sinking to even lower depths for the sake of good living, if there were no other way of enjoying the first and best of everything, of guzzling vulgar but expressive word nice little dishes carefully prepared.
Pons lived like a bird, pilfering his meal, flying away when he had taken his fill, singing a few notes by way of return; he took a certain pleasure in the thought that he lived at the expense of society, which asked of him — what but the trifling toll of grimaces?
This not intolerable phase lasted for another ten years. All through those years he contrived to dine without expense by making himself necessary in the houses which he frequented. He took the first step in the downward path by undertaking a host of small commissions; many and many a time Pons ran on errands instead of the porter or the servant; many a purchase he made for his entertainers.
Le Cousin Pons – Wikipedia
He became a kind of harmless, well-meaning spy, sent by one family into another; but he gained no credit with those for whom he trudged about, and so often sacrificed self-respect.
Very soon the cold which old age spreads about itself began to set in; the communicable cold which sensibly lowers the social temperature, especially if the old man is ugly and poor.
Old and ugly and poor — is not this to be thrice old? Invitations very seldom came for Pons now. So far from seeking the society of the parasite, every family accepted him much as they accepted the taxes; they valued nothing that Pons could do for them; real services from Pons counted for nought. The family circles in which the worthy artist revolved had no respect for art or letters; they went down on their knees to practical results; they valued nothing but the fortune or social position acquired since the year He had suffered acutely among them, but, like all timid creatures, he kept silence as to his pain; and so by degrees schooled himself to hide his feelings, and learned to take sanctuary in his inmost self.