The Cardinal

Alas, poor Gringoire! The noise of the double petards let off on Saint-John’s Day, a salvo of twenty arquebuses, the thunder of the famous culverin of the Tour de Billy, which on September 29, 1465, during the siege of Paris, killed seven Burgundians at a blow, the explosion of the whole stock of gunpowder stored at the Temple Gate would have assailed his ears less rudely at this solemn and dramatic moment than those few words from the lips of the usher: “His Eminence the Cardinal de Bourbon!”

Not that Pierre Gringoire either feared the Cardinal or despised him; he was neither so weak nor so presumptuous. A true eclectic, as nowadays he would be called, Gringoire was of those firm and elevated spirits, moderate and calm, who ever maintain an even balance—Stare in dimidio rerum— and who are full of sense and liberal philosophy, to whom Wisdom, like another Ariadne, seems to have given a ball of thread which they have gone on unwinding since the beginning of all things through the labyrinthine paths of human affairs. One comes upon them in all ages and ever the same; that is to say, ever conforming to the times. And without counting our Pierre Gringoire, who would represent them in the fifteenth century if we could succeed in conferring on him the distinction he merits, it was certainly their spirit which inspired Father de Bruel in the sixteenth century, when he wrote the following sublimely naïve words, worthy of all ages: “I am Parisian by nation, and parrhisian by speech, since parrhisia in Greek signifies freedom of speech, which freedom I have used even towards Messeigneurs the Cardinals, uncle and brother to Monseigneur the Prince de Conty: albeit with due respect for their high degree and without offending any one of their train, which is saying much.”

There was therefore neither dislike of the Cardinal nor contemptuous indifference to his presence in the unpleasing impression made on Gringoire. Quite the contrary; for our poet had too much common sense and too threadbare a doublet not to attach particular value to the fact that many an allusion in his prologue, and more especially the glorification of the dolphin, son of the Lion of France, would fall upon the ear of an Eminentissime. But self-interest is not the predominating quality in the noble nature of the poet. Supposing the entity of the poet to be expressed by the number ten, it is certain that a chemist in analyzing and “pharmacopoeizing” it, as Rabelais terms it, would find it to be composed of one part self-interest to nine parts of self-esteem.

Now, at the moment when the door opened for the Cardinal’s entry, Gringoire’s nine parts of self-esteem, swollen and inflated by the breath of popular admiration, were in a state of prodigious enlargement, obliterating that almost imperceptible molecule of self-interest which we just now pointed out as a component part of the poet’s constitution—a priceless ingredient, be it said, the ballast of common sense and humanity, without which they would forever wander in the clouds. Gringoire was revelling in the delights of seeing, of, so to speak, touching, an entire assemblage (common folk, it is true, but what of that?) stunned, petrified, suffocated almost by the inexhaustible flow of words which poured down upon them from every point of his epithalamium. I affirm that he shared in the general beatitude, and that, unlike La Fontaine, who, at the performance of his comedy Florentin, inquired, “What bungler wrote this balderdash?” Gringoire would gladly have asked his neighbours, “Who is the author of this master-piece?” Judge, therefore, of the effect produced on him by the abrupt and ill-timed arrival of the Cardinal.

And his worst fears were but too fully realized. The entry of his Eminence set the whole audience in commotion. Every head was turned towards the gallery. You could not hear yourself speak. “The Cardinal! The Cardinal!” resounded from every mouth. For the second time the unfortunate prologue came to an abrupt stop.

The Cardinal halted for a moment on the threshold of the platform, and while he cast a glance of indifference over the crowd the uproar increased. Each one wanted a good view, and strained to raise his head above his neighbour’s.

And in truth he was a very exalted personage, the sight of whom was worth any amount of Mysteries. Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon, Archbishop and Count of Lyons, Primate of all Gaul, was related to Louis XI through his brother, Pierre, Lord of Beaujeu, who had married the King’s eldest daughter, and to Charles the Bold through his mother, Agnes of Burgundy. The dominant trait, the prevailing and most striking

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