Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
I. The Great Hall
PRECISELY three hundred and forty-eight years, six months and nineteen days ago1 Paris was awakened by the sound of the pealing of all the bells within the triple enclosing walls of the city, the University, and the town.
Yet the 6th of January, 1482, was not a day of which history has preserved the record. There was nothing of peculiar note in the event which set all the bells and the good people of Paris thus in motion from early dawn. It was neither an assault by Picards or Burgundians, nor a holy image carried in procession, nor a riot of the students in the vineyard of Laas, nor the entry into the city of our most dread Lord the King, nor even a fine stringing up of thieves, male and female, at the Justice of Paris. Neither was it the unexpected arrival, so frequent in the fifteenth century, of some foreign ambassador with his beplumed and gold-laced retinue. Scarce two days had elapsed since the last cavalcade of this description, that of the Flemish envoys charged with the mission to conclude the marriage between the Dauphin and Margaret of Flanders, had made its entry into Paris, to the great annoyance of Monsieur the Cardinal of Bourbon, who, to please the King, had been obliged to extend a gracious reception to this boorish company of Flemish burgomasters, and entertain them in his Hôtel de Bourbon with a most pleasant morality play, drollery, and farce, while a torrent of rain drenched the splendid tapestries at his door.
The 6th of January, which set the whole population of Paris in a stir, as Jehan de Troyes relates, was the date of the double festivalunited since time immemorialof the Three Kings, and the Feast of Fools.
On this day there was invariably a bonfire on the Place de Grève, a may-pole in front of the Chapels de Braque, and a mystery-play at the Palais de Justice, as had been proclaimed with blare of trumpets on the preceding day in all the streets by Monsieur de Provosts men, arrayed in tabards of violet camlet with great white crosses on the breast.
The stream of people accordingly made their way in the morning from all parts of the town, their shops and houses being closed, to one or other of these points named. Each one had chosen his share of the entertainmentssome the bonfire, some the may-pole, others the Mystery. To the credit of the traditional good sense of the Paris cit be it said that the majority of the spectators directed their steps towards the bonfire, which was entirely seasonable, or the Mystery, which was to be performed under roof and cover in the great Hall of the Palais de Justice, and were unanimous in leaving the poor scantily decked may-pole to shiver alone under the January sky in the cemetery of the Chapels de Braque.
The crowd flocked thickest in the approaches to the Palais, as it was known that the Flemish envoys intended to be present at the performance of the Mystery, and the election of the Pope of Fools, which was likewise to take place in the great Hall.
It was no easy matter that day to penetrate into the great Hall, then reputed the largest roofed-in space in the world. (It is true that, at that time, Sauval had not yet measured the great hall of the Castle of Montargis.) To the gazers from the windows, the square in front of the Palais, packed as it was with people, presented the aspect of a lake into which five or six streets, like so many river mouths, were each moment pouring fresh floods of heads. The ever-swelling waves of this multitude broke against the angles of the houses, which projected here and there, like promontories, into the irregular basin of the Place.
In the center of the high Gothic2 façade of the Paladins was the great flight of steps, incessantly occupied by a double stream ascending and descending, which, after being broken by the intermediate landing, spread in broad waves over the two lateral flights.
Down this great staircase the crowd poured continuously into the Place like a cascade into a lake, the shouts, the laughter, the trampling of thousands of feet making a mighty clamor and tumult. From time to time the uproar redoubled, the current which bore the crowd towards the grand stairs was choked, thrown back, and formed into eddies, when some archer thrust back the crowd, or the horse of one of the provosts men kicked out to restore order; an admirable tradition which has been faithfully handed down through the centuries to our present gendarmes of Paris.
Every door and window and roof swarmed with good, placid, honest burgher faces gazing at the Paladins and at the crowd, and asking no better amusement. For there are many people in Paris quite content to be the spectators of spectators; and to us a wall, behind which something is going on, is a sufficiently exciting spectacle.
If we of the nineteenth century could mingle in imagination with these Parisians of the fifteenth century, could push our way with that hustling, elbowing, stamping crowd into the immense Hall of the Paladins, so cramped on the 6th of January, 1482, the scene would not be without interest or charm for us, and we would find ourselves surrounded by things so old that to us they would appear quite new.
With the readers permission we will attempt to evoke in thought the impression he would have experienced in crossing with us the threshold of that great Hall and amid that throng in surcoat, doublet, and kirtle.
At first there is nothing but a dull roar in our ears and a dazzle in our eyes. Overhead, a roof of double Gothic arches, paneled with carved wood, painted azure blue, and diapered with golden fleer de lies; underfoot, a pavement in alternate squares of black and white. A few paces off is an enormous pillar, and anotherseven in all down the length of the hall, supporting in the center line the springing arches of the double groaning. Around the first four pillars are stalls all glittering with glassware and trinkets, and around the last three are oaken benches, worn smooth and shining by the breeches of the litigants and the gowns of the attorneys. Ranged along the lofty walls, between the doors, between the windows, between the pillars, is the interminable series of statues of the rulers of France from Pharaoh downward; the Roils fainéants, with drooping eyes and indolent hanging arms; the valiant warrior kings, with head and hands boldly uplifted in the sight of heaven. The tall, pointed windows glow in a thousand colors; at the wide entrances to the Hall are richly carved doors; and the wholeroof, pillars, walls, cornices, doors, statuesis resplendent from top to bottom in a coating of blue and gold, already somewhat tarnished at the period of which we write, but which had almost entirely disappeared under dust and cob-webs in the year of grace 1549, when Du Broil alluded to it in terms of admiration, but from hearsay only.
Now let the reader picture to himself that immense, oblong Hall under the wan light of a January morning and invaded by a motley, noisy crowd, pouring along the walls and eddying round the pillars, and he will have some idea of the scene as a whole, the peculiarities of which we will presently endeavor to describe more in detail.
Assuredly if Ravaillac had not assassinated Henry IV there would have been no documents relating to his trial to be deposited in the Record office of the Paladins de Justice; no accomplices interested in causing those documents to disappear, and consequently no incendiaries compelled, in default of a better expedient, to set fire to the Record office in order to destroy the documents, and to burn down the Paladins de Justice in order to burn the Record officein short, no conflagration of 1618.
The old Paladins would still be standing with its great Hall, and I could say to the reader Go and see for yourself, and we should both be exempt of the necessity, I of writing, he of reading this description, such as it is. All of which goes to prove the novel truth, that great events have incalculable consequences.
To be sure, it is quite possible that Ravaillac had no accomplices, also that, even if he had, they were in no way accessory to the fire of 1618. There exist two other highly plausible explanations. In the first place, the great fiery star a foot wide and an ell high, which, as every mothers son knows, fell from heaven on to the Paladins on the 7th of March just after midnight; and secondly, Théophiles quatrain, which runs:
Whatever one may think of this triple explanationpolitical, physical, and poeticalof the burning of the Paladins de Justice in 1618, about one fact there is unfortunately no doubt, and that is the fire itself.
Thanks to this disaster, and more still to the successive restorations which destroyed what the fire had spared, very little remains of this first residence of the Kings of France, of this original palace of the Louvre, so old even in the time of Philip the Fair, that in it they sought for traces of the magnificent buildings erected by King Robert and described by Helgaldus.
Nearly all has gone. What has become of the Chancery Chamber in which St. Louis consummated his marriage? what of the garden where he administered justice, clad in a jerkin of camlet, a surcoat of coarse woollen stuff without sleeves, and over all a mantle of black sandal, and reclining on a carpet with Joinville? Where is the chamber of the Emperor Sigismund? where that of Charles IV? that of John Lackland? Where is the flight of steps from which Charles VI proclaimed his Edict of Pardon? the flag-stone whereon, in the presence of the Dauphin, Marcel strangled Robert de Clermont and the Marshal de Champagne? the wicket where the bulls of the anti-Pope Benedict were torn up, and through which the bearers of them marched out, mitred and coped in mock state, to publicly make the amende honorable through the streets of Paris? and the great Hall with its blue and gold, its Gothic windows, its statues, its pillars, its immense vaulted roof so profusely carvedand the gilded chamberand the stone lion kneeling at the door with head abased and tail between its legs, like the lions of Solomons throne, in that attitude of humility which beseems Strength in the presence of Justice? and the beautiful doors, and the gorgeous-hued windows, and the wrought iron-work which discouraged Biscornetteand the delicate cabinet-work of Du Hancy? How has time, how has man, served these marvels? What have they given us in exchange for all this, for this great page of Gallic history, for all this Gothic art? The uncouth, surbased arches of M. de Brosse, the clumsy architect of the great door of Saint-Gervaisso much for art; and as regards history, we have the gossipy memoirs of the Great Pillar, which still resounds with the old wives tales of such men as Patru.
The two extremities of this huge parallelogram were occupied, the one by the famous marble table, so long, so broad, and so thick that, say the old territorial records in a style that would whet the appetite of a Gargantua, Never was such a slab of marble seen in the world; the other by the chapel in which Louis XI caused his statue to be sculptured kneeling in front of the Virgin, and to which he had transferredindifferent to the fact that thereby two niches were empty in the line of royal statuesthose of Charlemagne and Saint-Louis: two saints who, as Kings of France, he supposed to be high in favour in heaven. This chapel, which was still quite new, having been built scarcely six years, was carried out entirely in that charming style of delicate architecture, with its marvellous stone-work, its bold and exquisite tracery, which marks in France the end of the Gothic period, and lasts on into the middle of the sixteenth century in the ethereal fantasies of the Renaissance. The little fretted stone rose-window above the door was in particular a masterpiece of grace and lightnessa star of lace.
In the center of the Hall, opposite the great entrance, they had erected for the convenience of the Flemish envoys and other great personages invited to witness the performance of the Mystery, a raised platform covered with gold brocade and fixed against the wall, to which a special entrance had been contrived by utilizing a window into the passage from the Gilded Chamber.
According to custom, the performance was to take place upon the marble table, which had been prepared for that purpose since the morning. On the magnificent slab, all scored by the heels of the law-clerks, stood a high wooden erection, the upper floor of which, visible from every part of the Hall, was to serve as the stage, while its interior, hung round with draperies, furnished a dressing-room for the actors. A ladder, frankly placed in full view of the audience, formed the connecting link between stage and dressing-room, and served the double office of entrance and exit. There was no character however unexpected, no change of scene, no stage effect, but was obliged to clamber up this ladder. Dear and guileless infancy of art and of stage machinery!
The piece was not to commence till the last stroke of noon of the great clock of the Paladins. To be sure, this was very late for a theatrical performance; but they had been obliged to suit the convenience of the ambassadors.
Now, all this multitude had been waiting since the early morning; indeed, a considerable number of these worthy spectators had stood shivering and chattering their teeth with cold since break of day before the grand staircase of the Paladins; some even declared that they had spent the night in front of the great entrance to make sure of being the first to get in. The crowd became denser every moment, and like water that overflows its boundaries, began to mount the walls, to surge round the pillars, to rise up and cover the cornices, the window-sills, every projection and every coign of vantage in architecture or sculpture. The all-prevailing impatience, discomfort, and weariness, the license of a holiday approvedly dedicated to folly, the quarrels incessantly arising out of a sharp elbow or an iron-shod heel, the fatigue of long waitingall conduced to give a tone of bitterness and acerbity to the clamor of this closely packed, squeezed, hustled, stifled throng long before the hour at which the ambassadors were expected. Nothing was to be heard but grumbling and imprecations against the Flemings, the Cardinal de Bourbon, the Chief Magistrate, Madame Marguerite of Austria, the beadles, the cold, the heat, the bad weather, the Bishop of Paris, the Fools Pope, the pillars, the statues, this closed door, yonder open windowto the huge diversion of the bands of scholars and lackeys distributed through the crowd, who mingled their gibes and pranks with this seething mass of dissatisfaction, aggravating the general ill-humour by perpetual pin-pricks.
There was one group in particular of these joyous young demons who, after knocking out the glass of a window, had boldly seated themselves in the frame, from whence they could cast their gaze and their banter by turns at the crowd inside the Hall and that outside in the Place. By their aping gestures, their yells of laughter, by their loud interchange of opprobrious epithets with comrades at the other side of the Hall, it was very evident that these budding literati by no means shared the boredom and fatigue of the rest of the gathering, and that they knew very well how to extract out of the scene actually before them sufficient entertainment of their own to enable them to wait patiently for the other.
Why, by my soul, tis Joannes Follow de Molendino! cried one of them to a little fair-haired imp with a handsome mischievous face, who had swarmed up the pillar and was clinging to the foliage of its capital; well are you named Jehan of the Mill, for your two arms and legs are just like the sails of a wind-mill. How long have you been here?
By the grace of the devil, returned Joannes Follow, over four hours, and I sincerely trust they may be deducted from my time in purgatory. I heard the eight chanters of the King of Sicily start High Mass at seven in the Sainte-Chapelle.
Fine chanters forsooth! exclaimed the other, their voices are sharper than the peaks of their caps! The King had done better, before founding a Mass in honour of M. Saint-John, to inquire if M. Saint-John was fond of hearing Latin droned with a Provençal accent.
And was it just for the sake of employing these rascally chanters of the King of Sicily that he did that? cried an old woman bitterly in the crowd beneath the window. I ask youa thousand livres parisis4 for a Mass, and that too to be charged on the license for selling salt-water fish in the fish-market of Paris.
Why, of course, continued the little wretch on the capital. But what is there to laugh about? A worthy man is Gilles Lecornu, brother to Master Jehan Lecornu, provost of the Royal Palais, son of Master Mahiet Lecornu, head keeper of the Forest of Vincennes, all good citizens of Paris, married every one of them from father to son!
The mirth redoubled. The portly furrier answered never a word, but did his best to escape the attention directed to him from all sides; but he puffed and panted in vain. Like a wedge being driven into wood, his struggles only served to fix his broad apoplectic face, purple with anger and vexation, more firmly between the shoulders of his neighbours.
Maître Andry looked up, appeared to calculate for a moment the height of the pillar and the weight of the little rascal, mentally multiplied that weight by the square of the velocityand held his peace. Whereupon Jehan, left master of the field, added triumphantly, And Id do it too, though I am the brother of an archdeacon.
A fine set of gentlemen those of ours at the University, not even on a day like this do they see that we get our rights. Theres a may-pole and a bonfire in the town, a Fools Pope and Flemish ambassadors in the city, but at the University, nothing!
Down! bellowed little Jehan in a roaring bass; down with Maître Andry, the beadles and the scribes; down with the theologians, the physicians, and the priests; down with the procurators, the electors, and the Rector!!
Here goes my cap at thy head, Chancellor of Sainte-Geneviève; I owe thee a grudge. He gave my place in the Nation of Normandy to little Ascaino Falzaspada, who as an Italian, belongs of right to the Province of Bourges.
I tell you, monsieur, tis the end of the world. Never has there been such unbridled license among the scholars. It all comes of these accursed inventionsthey ruin everythingthe artillery, the culverine, the blunderbuss, and above all, printing, that second pestilence brought us from Germany. No more manuscriptsno more books! Printing gives the death-blow to bookselling. It is the beginning of the end.
The scholars held their peace. There ensued a general stir and upheaval, a great shuffling of feet and movement of heads, much coughing and blowing of noses; everyone resettled himself, rose on tip-toe, placed himself in the most favourable position obtainable. Then deep silence, every neck outstretched, every mouth agape, every eye fixed on the marble table. Nothing appeared; only the four sergeants were still at their posts, stiff and motionless as four painted statues. Next, all eyes turned towards the platform reserved for the Flemish envoys. The door remained closed and the platform empty. Since daybreak the multitude had been waiting for three thingsthe hour of noon, the Flemish ambassadors, and the Mystery-Play. Noon alone had kept the appointment. It was too bad. They waited one, two, three, five minutesa quarter of an hournothing happened. Then anger followed on the heels of impatience; indignant words flew hither and thither, though in suppressed tones as yet. The Mystery, the Mystery! they murmured sullenly. The temper of the crowd began to rise rapidly. The warning growls of the gathering storm rumbled overhead. It was Jehan Du Moulin who struck out the first flash.
A great roar of applause followed. The four poor devils grew pale and glanced apprehensively at one another. The multitude surged towards them, and they already saw the frail wooden balustrade that formed the only barrier between them and the crowd bulge and give way under the pressure from without.
At that instant the curtain of the dressing-room we have described was raised to give passage to a personage, the mere sight of whom suddenly arrested the crowd, and, as if by magic, transformed its anger into curiosity.
But slightly reassured and trembling in every limb, the person in question advanced to the edge of the marble table with a profusion of bows, which, the nearer he approached, assumed more and more the character of genuflections.
Messieurs the bourgeois, he began, and Mesdemoiselles the bourgeoises, we shall have the honour of declaiming and performing before his Eminence Monsieur the Cardinal a very fine Morality entitled The Good Judgment of Our Lady the Virgin Mary. I play Jupiter. His Eminence accompanies at this moment the most honourable Embassy of the Duke of Austria, just now engaged in listening to the harangue of Monsieur the Rector of the University at the Porte Baudets. As soon as the Most Reverend the Cardinal arrives we will commence.
Certainly nothing less than the direct intervention of Jupiter could have saved the four unhappy sergeants of the provost of the Palais from destruction. Were we so fortunate as to have invented this most veracious history and were therefore liable to be called to task for it by Our Lady of Criticism, not against us could the classical rule be cited, Nec deus intersit.
For the rest, the costume of Seigneur Jupiter was very fine, and had contributed not a little towards soothing the crowd by occupying its whole attention. Jupiter was arrayed in a brigandine or shirt of mail of black velvet thickly studded with gilt nails, on his head was a helmet embellished with silver-gilt buttons, and but for the rouge and the great beard which covered respectively the upper and lower half of his face, but for the roll of gilded pasteboard in his hand studded with iron spikes and bristling with jagged strips of tinsel, which experienced eyes at once recognised as the dread thunder-bolt, and were it not for his flesh-coloured feet, sandalled and beribboned à la Grecque, you would have been very apt to mistake him for one of M. de Berrys company of Breton archers.
Note 1. Notre Dame de Paris was begun July 30, 1830. [back]
Note 2. The term Gothic used in its customary sense is quite incorrect, but is hallowed by tradition. We accept it, therefore, and use it like the rest of the world, to characterize the architecture of the latter half of the Middle Ages, of which the pointed arch forms the central idea, and which succeeds the architecture of the first period, of which the round arch is the Derailing feature.AUTHORS NOTE. [back]
The application of these lines depends, unfortunately, on an untranslatable play on the word ´pice, which means both spice and lawyers fees. [back]
Note 4. Old French money was reckoned according to two standards, that of Paris (parisis) and Tours (tournois); the livre parisis, the old franc, having twenty-five sols or sous, and the livre tournois twenty sols.TRANSLATORS NOTE. [back]