Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
II. Pierre Gringoire
UNFORTUNATELY, the admiration and satisfaction so universally excited by his costume died out during his harangue, and when he reached the unlucky concluding words, As soon as his Reverence the Cardinal arrives, we will begin, his voice was drowned in a tempest of hooting.
Begin on the spot! The Mystery, the Mystery at once! shouted the audience, the shrill voice of Joannes de Molendino sounding above all the rest, and piercing the general uproar like the fife in a charivari at Nimes.
Poor Jupiter, quaking, bewildered, pale beneath his rogue, dropped his thunder-blot and took his helmet in his hand; then bowing and trembling: His Eminence, he stammered, the AmbassadorsMadame Marguerite of Flanders he could get no farther. Truth to tell, he was afraid of being hanged by the populance for beginning too late, hanged by the Cardinal for being too soon; on either side he beheld an abyssthat is to say, a gibbet.
An individual standing inside the balustrade in the space left clear round the marble table, and whom up till now no one had noticed, so effectually was his tall and spare figure concealed from view by the thickness of the pillar against which he leanedthis person, thin, sallow, light-haired, young still, though furrowed of brow and cheek, with gleaming eye and smiling mouth, clad in black serge threadbare and shiny with age, now approached the marble table and signed to the wretched victim. But the other was too perturbed to notice.
Meanwhile the unknown personage who had so magically transformed the storm into a calm, had modestly re-entered the penumbra of his pillar, where doubtless he would have remained, unseen, unheard, and motionless as before, had he not been lured out of it by two young women who, seated in the first row of spectators, had witnessed his colloquy with Michel GiborneJupiter.
Hush, my dear Liénarde, said her companion, a pretty, rosy-cheeked girl, courageous in the consciousness of her holiday finery, he doesnt belong to the Universityhes a layman. You mustnt say Maître to him, you must say Messire.
What a pity! returned Gisquette. That day at the Ponceau fountain there were wild men and women who fought with one another and formed themselves into different groups, singing little airs and love-songs.
Yes, truly, asserted the poet with conscious pride. That is to say, there are two of usJehan Marchand, who sawed the planks and put up the wooden structure of the theatre, and I, who wrote the piece. My name is Pierre Gringoire.
Our readers cannot have failed to note that some time had elapsed between the moment at which Jupiter withdrew behind the curtain, and that at which the author thus abruptly revealed himself to the unsophisticated admiration of Gisquette and Liénarde. Strange to say, all this crowd, so tumultuous but a few minutes ago, were now waiting patiently with implicit faith in the players word. A proof of the everlasting truth still demonstrated in our theatres, that the best means of making the public wait patiently is to assure them that the performance is about to begin.
However, the scholar Joannes was not so easily lulled. Holà! he shouted suddenly into the midst of the peaceful expectation which had succeeded the uproar, Jupiter! Madame the Virgin! Ye devils mountebanks! would you mock us? The piece! the piece. Do you begin this moment, or we will
This was enough. Immediately a sound of music from high-and low-pitched instruments was heard underneath the structure, the curtain was raised, four party-coloured and painted figures issued from it, and clambering up the steep ladder on to the upper platform, ranged themselves in a row fronting the audience, whom they greeted with a profound obeisance. The symphony then ceased. The Mystery began.
After receiving ample meed of applause in return for their bows, the four characters proceeded, amid profound silence, to deliver a prologue which we willingly spare the reader. Besides, just as in our own day, the public was far more interested in the costumes the actors wore than the parts they enactedand therein they chose the better part.
All four were attired in party-coloured robes, half yellow, half white, differing from one another only in material; the first being of gold and silver brocade, the second of silk, the third of woollen stuff, the fourth of linen. The first of these figures carried a sword in his right hand, the second two golden keys, the third a pair of scales, the fourth a spade; and for the benefit of such sluggish capacities as might have failed to penetrate the transparency of these attributes, on the hem of the brocade robe was embroidered in enormous black letters, I am Nobility, on the silk one I am Clergy, on the woollen one I am Commerce, on the linen one I am Labour. The sex of the two male allegories was plainly indicated by the comparative shortness of their tunics and their Phrygian caps, whereas the female characters wore robes of ample length and hoods on their heads.
It would also have required real perverseness not to have understood from the poetic imagery of the prologue that Labour was espoused to Commerce, and Clergy to Nobility, and that the two happy couples possessed between them a magnificent golden dolphin (dauphin) which they proposed to adjudge only to the most beautiful damsel. Accordingly, they were roaming the world in search of this Fair One, and, after rejecting successively the Queen of Golconda, the Princess of Trebizonde, the daughter of the Grand Khan of Tartary, etc., etc., Labour and Commerce, Clergy and Nobility, had come to rest themselves awhile on the marble table of the Palais de Justice, and to deliver themselves before an honoured audience of a multitude of sententious phrases, moral maxims, sophisms, flowers of speech, as were freely dispensed in those days by the Faculty of Arts or at the examinations at which the Masters took their degree.
Meanwhile, in all that crowd over which the four allegorical figures were pouring out floods of metaphor, no ear was more attentive, no heart more palpitating, no eye more eager, no neck more outstretched than the eye, the ear, the heart, the neck of the poet-author, our good Pierre Gringoire, who but a little while before had been unable to resist the joy of revealing his name to a couple of pretty girls. He had retired again behind his pillar, a few paces from them, where he stood gazing, listening, relishing. The favourable applause which had greeted the opening of his prologue was still thrilling through his vitals; and he was completely carried away by that kind of contemplative ecstasy with which the dramatic author follows his ideas as they drop one by one from the lips of the actor amid the silence of a vast audience. Happy Pierre Gringoire!
Sad to say, however, this first ecstasy was but of short duration. Scarcely had Gringoire raised this intoxicating cup of triumph and delight to his lips than a drop of bitterness came to mingle with it.
A beggar, a shocking tatterdemalion, too tightly squeezed in among the crowd to be able to collect his usual harvest, or, in all probability, had not found sufficient to indemnify himself in the pockets of his immediate neighbours, had conceived the bright idea of perching himself in some conspicuous spot from whence he might attract the gaze and the alms of the benevolent.
To this end, during the opening lines of the prologue, he had managed to hoist himself up by the pillars of the reserved platform on to the cornice which projected around the foot of its balustrade, where he seated himself, soliciting the attention and the pity of the throng by his rags and a hideous sore covering his right arm. He did not, however, utter a word.
The silence he preserved allowed of the prologue proceeding without let or hindrance, nor would any noticeable disturbance have occurred if, as luck would have it, the scholar Jehan had not, from his own high perch, espied the beggar and his antics. A wild fit of laughter seized the graceless young rascal, and, unconcerned at interrupting the performance and distracting the attention of the audience, he cried delightedly:
Any one who has ever thrown a stone into a frog-pond, or fired into a covey of birds, will have some idea of the effect of these incongruous words breaking in upon the all-pervading quiet. Gringoire started as if he had received an electric shock. The prologue broke off short, and all heads turned suddenly towards the beggar, who, far from being disconcerted, only saw in this incident an excellent opportunity for gathering a harvest, and at once began whining in a piteous voice with half-closed eyes: Charity, I pray you!
Why, upon my soul! cried Jehan, if it isnt Clopin Trouillefou! Holà! friend, so thy sore was troublesome on thy leg that thou hast removed it to thine arm? and so saying, with the dexterity of a monkey he tossed a small silver piece into the greasy old beaver which the beggar held out with his diseased arm. The man received both alms and sarcasm without wincing, and resumed his doleful petition: Charity, I pray you!
This episode had distracted the audience not a little, and a good many of the spectators, Robin Poussepain and the rest of the students at the head, delightedly applauded this absurd duet improvised in the middle of the prologue between the scholar with his shrill, piping voice, and the beggar with his imperturbable whine.
Gringoire was seriously put out. Recovering from his first stupefaction, he pulled himself together hurriedly and shouted to the four actors on the stage: Go on! que diable! go on! without deigning even a glance of reprobation at the two brawlers.
At that moment he felt a pluck at the edge of his surcoat, and turning round, not in the best of humours, he forced an unwilling smile to his lips, for it was the pretty hand of Gisquette la Gencienne thrust through the balustrade and thus soliciting his attention.
Gringoire started violently like a man touched in an open wound. A pestilence on the witless little dunce! he muttered between his teeth; and from that moment Gisquette was utterly lost in his estimation.
Meanwhile the actors had obeyed his injunction, and the public, seeing that they were beginning to speak, resettled itself to listen; not, however, without having lost many a beautiful phrase in the soldering of the two parts of the piece which had so abruptly been cut asunder. Gringoire reflected bitterly on this fact. However, tranquillity had gradually been restored, Jehan was silent, the beggar was counting the small change in his hat, and the play had once more got the upper hand.
Sooth to say, it was a very fine work which, it seems to us, might well be turned to account even now with a few modifications. The exposition, perhaps somewhat lengthy and dry, but strictly according to prescribed rules, was simple, and Gringoire, in the inner sanctuary of his judgment, frankly admired its perspicuity.
As one might very well suppose, the four allegorical personages were somewhat fatigued after having travelled over three parts of the globe without finding an opportunity of disposing suitably of their golden dolphin. Thereupon, a long eulogy on the marvellous fish, with a thousand delicate allusions to the young betrothed of Marguerite of Flanderswho at that moment was languishing in dismal seclusion at Amboise, entirely unaware that Labour and Clergy, Nobility and Commerce, had just made the tour of the world on his behalf. The said dolphin, then, was handsome, was young, was brave; above all (splendid origin of all the royal virtues) he was the son of the Lion of France. Now I maintain that this bold metaphor is admirable, and the natural history of the stage has no occasion on a day of allegory and royal epithalamium to take exception at a dolphin who is son to a lion. These rare and Pindaric combinations merely prove the poets enthusiasm. Nevertheless, in justice to fair criticism be it said, the poet might have developed this beautiful idea in less than two hundred lines. On the other hand, by the arrangements of Monsieur the Provost, the Mystery was to last from noon till four oclock, and they were obliged to say something. Besides, the people listened very patiently.
Suddenly, in the very middle of a quarrel between Dame Commerce and my Lady Nobility, and just as Labour was pronouncing this wonderful line:
Beast more triumphant neer in woods Ive seen,
the door of the reserved platform which up till then had remained inopportunely closed, now opened still more inopportunely, and the stentorian voice of the usher announced His Eminence Monseigneur the Cardinal de Bourbon!