From a novel by Balzac

   In one of the last months of the year 1907, at one of those receptions of the Marquise d'Espard thronged with the elite of Parisian aristocracy (the most elegant in Europe, according to M. de Talleyrand, that Roger Bacon of the social organism, who was both a bishop and Prince of Benevento), de Marsay and Rastignac, Comte Félix de Vandenesse, the Ducs de Rhétoré and de Grandlieu formed a circle around Mme the Princesse de Cadignan, yet without arousing the jealousy of the Marquise. Is it not in fact one of the greatnesses of the mistress of the house - that Carmelite of worldly success - that she must sacrifice her coquetry, her pride, her very love, to the necessity of creating a salon in which her rivals will at times be the most striking ornament? Is she not in that respect equivalent to a saint? Does she not deserve her share, so dearly acquired, in the social paradise? The Marquise - a young woman from Blamont-Chauvry, related to the Naverreins, the Lenoncourts, and the Chaulieus - held out to each new arrival the hand that Desplein, the greatest scholar of our time, without excepting Claude Bernard, and who had been the student of Lavater, declared that it was the most profoundly mapped he had ever been given to examine. All of a sudden the door opened to the illustrious novelist Daniel d'Arthez. A physicist of the moral world who possessed the genius of both Lavoisier and Bichat, - the creator of organic chemistry - would alone be capable of isolating the elements that compose the special sonority of the footsteps of superior men. Hearing those of d'Arthez resound you would have trembled. Only a sublime genius or a great criminal could have walked thus. But is genius not a kind of crime against the routine of the past that our time punishes more severely than crime itself, since scholars die in hospitals bleaker than any prison?
   "Picture it to yourself," cried the great man before he had even given his coat to Paddy, the famous groom of the house of Beaudenord (see The Secrets of the Princesse de Cadignan), who was standing in front of him with that immobility which was the speciality of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. "Just picture it," he repeated with that enthusiasm of thinkers that seems ridiculous amidst the profound dissimilation of high society.
   "What is it? What should we picture to ourselves," de Marsay asked ironically, giving Félix de Vandenesse that ambiguous look, a veritable privilege of those who had lived for a long time in intimacy with MADAME.
   "Alvays goot!" the Baron de Nucingen gushed with the frightful coarseness of the self-made man. (The famous banker had special reasons to bear a grudge against d'Arthez who had not given him enough support, when Esther's former lover had sought in vain to have his wife, née Goriot, admitted to Diane de Maufrigneuse's receptions.)
   "Kvik, kvik, my happiness vill be complete if you find me vorthy of knowing egzakly vat it is I should himagine?"
   "Nothing," d'Arthez replied pertinently, "I am speaking to the Marquise." And turning towards the beautiful Nègrepelisse with that terrifying sang-froid that can triumph over the greatest obstacles - and for lofty souls are there any comparable to those of the heart? he said:
   "Madame, the secret of making diamonds has just been discovered."
   "But I thought they always made them," the Marquise replied naively. Mme de Cadignan had a sublime look on her face at this. Only Raphaël might have been capable of painting it. And indeed, if he had succeeded, he would have given us a counterpoint to his famous Fornarina, the most striking of his canvases, the only one that places him above Andrea del Sarto in the esteem of connoisseurs.
   To understand the drama that is about to unfold, and to which the scene we have just related may serve as a prologue, a few words of explanation are necessary. At the end of the year 1905, a fearful tension reigned in the relationships between France and Germany. Either because Wilhelm II was actually planning to declare war on France, or because he merely wanted to give that impression in order to break our alliance with England, the German ambassador received the order to announce to the French government that he was going to present his letters of recall. The kings of finance speculated then on a drop in the market, coming on news of an imminent mobilization. Considerable sums were lost in the stock exchange. For one whole day they sold government bonds that the banker Nucingen, secretly alerted by his friend the minister de Marsay of the resignation of the chancellor Delcassé, which people in Paris did not hear about until around four o'clock, bought back at a ludicrous price and has kept ever since (see Splendours and Miseries of Courtesans). France was saved from a disastrous war then only by the intervention, of which for a long time historians have been unaware, of the Maréchal de Montcornet, the most powerful man of his century after Napoleon (see The Beauvisage Family). Even Napoleon was unable to execute his plan of landing in England, the master idea of his reign. Napoleon, Montcornet, is there not a kind of mysterious resemblance between these two names? I should be careful not to say that they are linked to each other by some occult bond. Perhaps our era, after having doubted all great things without trying to understand them, will be forced to return to the pre-established harmony of Leibniz. What's more, the man who was then at the head of the most colossal diamond business in England was named Werner, Julius Werner. Werner! does this name not seem to you strangely to evoke the Middle Ages? Just hearing it, do you not already see Dr. Faust, bending over his crucibles, with or without Marguerite? Does it not imply the idea of the philosopher's stone? Werner! Julius! Werner! Change two letters and you have Werther. Werther is by Goethe. In fact, few people understood the answer Lemoine made to the policemen come to arrest him. "What? Would Europe abandon me!" the false inventor had exclaimed with profound terror. The remark bandied about that evening in the salons of the government minister Rastignac passed unnoticed.
   "Has that man gone mad? exclaimed the Comte de Granville in astonishment. The former clerk of the attorney Bordin was supposed to take the stand in this case in the name of the public prosecutor's department, having recently recovered, through the marriage of his second daughter to the banker du Tillet, the favourable consideration from the new government that his alliance with the Vandenesses had made him lose, etc.

Dans un roman de Balzac first appeared in Le Figaro, 22 Feb 1908. The version published in Pastiches et mélanges was partially rewritten (but not "totally changed" as he claimed in his dedication to André Beaunier). I have adapted the published translation by Charlotte Mandell, The Lemoine Affair, Melville House 2008, which is a translation of the Pastiches et mélanges version.


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