A PRINCE OF BOHEMIA
A PRINCE OF BOHEMIA
HONORE DE BALZAC
"My dear friend" said Mme. de la Baudraye drawing a pile of
manuscript from beneath her sofa cushion "will you pardon me in our
present straits for making a short story of something which you told
me a few weeks ago?"
"Anything is fair in these times. Have you not seen writers serving up
their own hearts to the public or very often their mistress' hearts
when invention fails? We are coming to this dear; we shall go in
quest of adventures not so much for the pleasure of them as for the
sake of having the story to tell afterwards."
"After all you and the Marquise de Rochefide have paid the rent and
I do not think from the way things are going here that I ever pay
"Who knows? Perhaps the same good luck that befell Mme. de Rochefide
may come to you."
"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.
"From the time of the Valois till the reign of Richelieu as it may be
called the Rusticoli played a most illustrious part; under Louis XIV.
their glory waned somewhat under Louis XV. it went out altogether. My
friend's grandfather wasted all that was left to the once brilliant
house with Mlle. Laguerre whom he first discovered and brought into
fashion before Bouret's time. Charles Edward's own father was an
officer without any fortune in 1789. The Revolution came to his
assistance; he had the sense to drop his title and became plain
Rusticoli. Among other deeds M. Rusticoli married a wife during the
war in Italy a Capponi a goddaughter of the Countess of Albany
(hence La Palferine's final names). Rusticoli was one of the best
colonels in the army. The Emperor made him a commander of the Legion
of Honor and a count. His spine was slightly curved and his son was
wont to say of him laughingly that he was /un comte refait
"General Count Rusticoli for he became a brigadier-general at
Ratisbon and a general of the division on the field of Wagram died at
Vienna almost immediately after his promotion or his name and ability
would sooner or later have brought him the marshal's baton. Under the
Restoration he would certainly have repaired the fortunes of a great
and noble family so brilliant even as far back as 1100 centuries
before they took the French title--for the Rusticoli had given a pope
to the church and twice revolutionized the kingdom of Naples--so
illustrious again under the Valois; so dexterous in the days of the
Fronde that obstinate Frondeurs though they were they still existed
through the reign of Louis XIV. Mazarin favored them; there was the
Tuscan strain in them still and he recognized it.
"Today when Charles Edward de la Palferine's name is mentioned not
three persons in a hundred know the history of his house. But the
Bourbons have actually left a Foix-Grailly to live by his easel.
"Ah if you but knew how brilliantly Charles Edward accepts his
obscure position! how he scoffs at the bourgeois of 1830! What Attic
salt in his wit! He would be the king of Bohemia if Bohemia would
endure a king. His /verve/ is inexhaustible. To him we owe a map of
the country and the names of the seven castles which Nodier could not
"The one thing wanting in one of the cleverest skits of our time"
said the Marquise.
"You can form your own opinion of La Palferine from a few
characteristic touches" continued Nathan. "He once came upon a friend
of his a fellow-Bohemian involved in a dispute on the boulevard with
a bourgeois who chose to consider himself affronted. To the modern
powers that be Bohemia is insolent in the extreme. There was talk of
calling one another out.
" 'One moment' interposed La Palferine as much Lauzun for the
occasion as Lauzun himself could have been. 'One moment. Monsieur was
born I suppose?'
" 'What sir?'
" 'Yes are you born? What is your name?'
" 'Godin eh!' exclaimed La Palferine's friend.
" 'One moment my dear fellow' interrupted La Palferine. 'There are
the Trigaudins. Are you one of them?'
" 'No? Then you are one of the new dukes of Gaeta I suppose of