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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
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.
March, 1831.
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. le 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 Hotel de Bourbon, with a very "pretty morality, allegorical
satire, and farce," while a driving rain drenched the magnificent tapestries at his
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 Greve, 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
Each had made his choice; one, the bonfire; another, the maypole; another, the mystery
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 Chateau 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 facade 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
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 marechaussee, the marechaussee 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
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, Theophile'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
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
The heavy flattened arches of M. de Brosse, that awkward architect of the Saint-Gervais
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
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 Provencal 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.
"Hola he! 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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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 le recteur!
Hola he! 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!"
"Hola he! good day, monsieur le 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 Thibautode?" cried Jehan
du M. Moulin.
The entire band repeated this quip in a voice of thunder, clapping their hands
"You are going to seek a lodging in the Rue Thibautode, are you not, monsieur le
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
"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-Genevieve 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- Genevieve!
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- Genevieve!"
"Ho he!
Master Joachim de Ladehors! Ho he!
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
"Seu de pellibus grisis fourratis!" "Hola he!
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-
"To the deuce with the whole set of canons!"
"Abbe 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 deniers quatuor
"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
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.
"Silence! silence!"
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.
All that remained was that slight murmur which always rises above the silence of a
"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
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,--
"Michel Giborne!" "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
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 Lienarde," 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 Lienarde. The stranger approached the railing.
"What would you have of me, damsels?" he asked, with alacrity.
"Oh! nothing," replied Lienarde, in great confusion; "it is my neighbor, Gisquette la
Gencienne, who wishes to speak with you."
"Not so," replied Gisquette, blushing; "it was Lienarde 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,
"Oh! nothing at all," replied Gisquette. "Nothing," said Lienarde.
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.
"He! yes," said Lienarde, "isn't she stupid?
So you know Jupiter?"
"Michel Giborne?" replied the unknown; "yes, madam."
"He has a fine beard!" said Lienarde. "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 Lienarde. "'The Good Judgment of Madame the Virgin,'-
-a morality, if you please, damsel."
"Ah! that makes a difference," responded Lienarde.
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 Lienarde. "And all naked," added the young man.
Lienarde 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
"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 Lienarde, "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 Lienarde, "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
"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
"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 Chatelet,
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, Lienarde?"
"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
"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
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
"Hola he!" 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 reverences;
then the symphony ceased.
The mystery was about to begin.
The four personages, after having reaped a rich reward of applause for their
reverences, 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,
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
"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!
Hola 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,-- "Charity, please!"
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
"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
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 petards 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
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
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
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
"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
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