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"Is it any fault of mine if Catholicism puts a million deities in a sack of flour, that Republics will end in a Napoleon, that monarchy dwells between the assassination of Henry IV. and the trial of Louis XVI., and Liberalism produces Lafayettes?"
"Didn't you embrace him in July?"
"Then hold your tongue, you sceptic."
"Sceptics are the most conscientious of men."
"They have no conscience."
"What are you saying? They have two apiece at least!"
"So you want to discount heaven, a thoroughly commercial notion. Ancient religions were but the unchecked development of physical pleasure, but we have developed a soul and expectations; some advance has been made."
"What can you expect, my friends, of a century filled with politics to repletion?" asked Nathan. "What befell The History of the King of Bohemia and his Seven Castles, a most entrancing conception? . . ."
"I say," the would-be critic cried down the whole length of the table. "The phrases might have been drawn at hap-hazard from a hat, 'twas a work written 'down to Charenton.' "
"You are a fool!"
"And you are a rogue!"
"They are going to fight."
"No, they aren't."
"You will find me to-morrow, sir."
"This very moment," Nathan answered.
"Come, come, you pair of fire-eaters!"
"You are another!" said the prime mover in the quarrel.
"Ah, I can't stand upright, perhaps?" asked the pugnacious Nathan, straightening himself up like a stag-beetle about to fly.
He stared stupidly round the table, then, completely exhausted by the effort, sank back into his chair, and mutely hung his head.
"Would it not have been nice," the critic said to his neighbor, "to fight about a book I have neither read nor seen?"
"Emile, look out for your coat; your neighbor is growing pale," said Bixiou.
"Kant? Yet another ball flung out for fools to sport with, sir! Materialism and spiritualism are a fine pair of battledores with which charlatans in long gowns keep a shuttlecock a-going. Suppose that God is everywhere, as Spinoza says, or that all things proceed from God, as says St. Paul . . . the nincompoops, the door shuts or opens, but isn't the movement the same? Does the fowl come from the egg, or the egg from the fowl? . . . Just hand me some duck . . . and there, you have all science."
"Simpleton!" cried the man of science, "your problem is settled by fact!"
"Professors' chairs were not made for philosophy, but philosophy for the professors' chairs. Put on a pair of spectacles and read the budget."
"Where but in Paris will you find such a ready and rapid exchange of thought?" cried Bixiou in a deep, bass voice.
"Bixiou! Act a classical farce for us! Come now."
"Would you like me to depict the nineteenth century?"
"Clap a muffle on your trumpets."
"Shut up, you Turk!"
"Give him some wine, and let that fellow keep quiet."
"Now, then, Bixiou!"
The artist buttoned his black coat to the collar, put on yellow gloves, and began to burlesque the Revue des Deux Mondes by acting a squinting old lady; but the uproar drowned his voice, and no one heard a word of the satire. Still, if he did not catch the spirit of the century, he represented the Revue at any rate, for his own intentions were not very clear to him.
Dessert was served as if by magic. A huge epergne of gilded bronze from Thomire's studio overshadowed the table. Tall statuettes, which a celebrated artist had endued with ideal beauty according to conventional European notions, sustained and carried pyramids of strawberries, pines, fresh dates, golden grapes, clear-skinned peaches, oranges brought from Setubal by steamer, pomegranates, Chinese fruit; in short, all the surprises of luxury, miracles of confectionery, the most tempting dainties, and choicest delicacies. The coloring of this epicurean work of art was enhanced by the splendors of porcelain, by sparkling outlines of gold, by the chasing of the vases. Poussin's landscapes, copied on Sevres ware, were crowned with graceful fringes of moss, green, translucent, and fragile as ocean weeds.
The revenue of a German prince would not have defrayed the cost of this arrogant display. Silver and mother-of-pearl, gold and crystal, were lavished afresh in new forms; but scarcely a vague idea of this almost Oriental fairyland penetrated eyes now heavy with wine, or crossed the delirium of intoxication. The fire and fragrance of the wines acted like potent philters and magical fumes, producing a kind of mirage in the brain, binding feet, and weighing down hands. The clamor increased. Words were no longer distinct, glasses flew in pieces, senseless peals of laughter broke out. Cursy snatched up a horn and struck up a flourish on it. It acted like a signal given by the devil. Yells, hisses, songs, cries, and groans went up from the maddened crew. You might have smiled to see men, light-hearted by nature, grow tragical as Crebillon's dramas, and pensive as a sailor in a coach. Hard-headed men blabbed secrets to the inquisitive, who were long past heeding them. Saturnine faces were wreathed in smiles worthy of a pirouetting dancer. Claude Vignon shuffled about like a bear in a cage. Intimate friends began to fight.
Animal likenesses, so curiously traced by physiologists in human faces, came out in gestures and behavior. A book lay open for a Bichat if he had repaired thither fasting and collected. The master of the house, knowing his condition, did not dare stir, but encouraged his guests' extravangances with a fixed grimacing smile, meant to be hospitable and appropriate. His large face, turning from blue and red to a purple shade terrible to see, partook of the general commotion by movements like the heaving and pitching of a brig.
"Now, did you murder them?" Emile asked him.
"Capital punishment is going to be abolished, they say, in favor of the Revolution of July," answered Taillefer, raising his eyebrows with drunken sagacity.
"Don't they rise up before you in dreams at times?" Raphael persisted.
"There's a statute of limitations," said the murderer-Croesus.
"And on his tombstone," Emile began, with a sardonic laugh, "the stonemason will carve 'Passer-by, accord a tear, in memory of one that's here!' Oh," he continued, "I would cheerfully pay a hundred sous to any mathematician who would prove the existence of hell to me by an algebraical equation."
He flung up a coin and cried:
"Heads for the existence of God!"
"Don't look!" Raphael cried, pouncing upon it. "Who knows? Suspense is so pleasant."
"Unluckily," Emile said, with burlesque melancholy, "I can see no halting-place between the unbeliever's arithmetic and the papal Pater noster. Pshaw! let us drink. Trinq was, I believe, the oracular answer of the dive bouteille and the final conclusion of Pantagruel."
"We owe our arts and monuments to the Pater noster, and our knowledge, too, perhaps; and a still greater benefit--modern government--whereby a vast and teeming society is wondrously represented by some five hundred intellects. It neutralizes opposing forces and gives free play to CIVILIZATION, that Titan queen who has succeeded the ancient terrible figure of the KING, that sham Providence, reared by man between himself and heaven. In the face of such achievements, atheism seems like a barren skeleton. What do you say?"
"I am thinking of the seas of blood shed by Catholicism." Emile replied, quite unimpressed. "It has drained our hearts and veins dry to make a mimic deluge. No matter! Every man who thinks must range himself beneath the banner of Christ, for He alone has consummated the triumph of spirit over matter; He alone has revealed to us, like a poet, an intermediate world that separates us from the Deity."
"Believest thou?" asked Raphael with an unaccountable drunken smile. "Very good; we must not commit ourselves; so we will drink the celebrated toast, Diis ignotis!"
And they drained the chalice filled up with science, carbonic acid gas, perfumes, poetry, and incredulity.
"If the gentlemen will go to the drawing-room, coffee is ready for them," said the major-domo.
There was scarcely one of those present whose mind was not floundering by this time in the delights of chaos, where every spark of intelligence is quenched, and the body, set free from its tyranny, gives itself up to the frenetic joys of liberty. Some who had arrived at the apogee of intoxication were dejected, as they painfully tried to arrest a single thought which might assure them of their own existence; others, deep in the heavy morasses of indigestion, denied the possibility of movement. The noisy and the silent were oddly assorted.
For all that, when new joys were announced to them by the stentorian tones of the servant, who spoke on his master's behalf, they all rose, leaning upon, dragging or carrying one another. But on the threshold of the room the entire crew paused for a moment, motionless, as if fascinated. The intemperate pleasures of the banquet seemed to fade away at this titillating spectacle, prepared by their amphitryon to appeal to the most sensual of their instincts.
Beneath the shining wax-lights in a golden chandelier, round about a table inlaid with gilded metal, a group of women, whose eyes shone like diamonds, suddenly met the stupefied stare of the revelers. Their toilettes were splendid, but less magnificent than their beauty, which eclipsed the other marvels of this palace. A light shone from their eyes, bewitching as those of sirens, more brilliant and ardent than the blaze that streamed down upon the snowy marble, the delicately carved surfaces of bronze, and lit up the satin sheen of the tapestry. The contrasts of their attitudes and the slight movements of their heads, each differing in character and nature of attraction, set the heart afire. It was like a thicket, where blossoms mingled with rubies, sapphires, and coral; a combination of gossamer scarves that flickered like beacon-lights; of black ribbons about snowy throats; of gorgeous turbans and demurely enticing apparel. It was a seraglio that appealed to every eye, and fulfilled every fancy. Each form posed to admiration was scarcely concealed by the folds of cashmere, and half hidden, half revealed by transparent gauze and diaphanous silk. The little slender feet were eloquent, though the fresh red lips uttered no sound.
Demure and fragile-looking girls, pictures of maidenly innocence, with a semblance of conventional unction about their heads, were there like apparitions that a breath might dissipate. Aristocratic beauties with haughty glances, languid, flexible, slender, and complaisant, bent their heads as though there were royal protectors still in the market. An English-woman seemed like a spirit of melancholy--some coy, pale, shadowy form among Ossian's mists, or a type of remorse flying from crime. The Parisienne was not wanting in all her beauty that consists in an indescribable charm; armed with her irresistible weakness, vain of her costume and her wit, pliant and hard, a heartless, passionless siren that yet can create factitious treasures of passion and counterfeit emotion.
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The Magic Skin -by- Honore de BalzacBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.