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I remembered my good fairy, who is now dead and gone, and the
little bouquet of dry violets which I still preserve in a drawer. When I
returned home I counted their withered stems: there were twenty of them,
and over my lips there passed the gentle warmth of my loved one's twenty
kisses.


And now from violets I must, with a brutality akin to that which M.
Zola himself displays in some of his transitions, pass to very different
things, for some time back a well-known English poet and essayist wrote
of the present work that it was redolent of pork, onions, and cheese.
To one of his sensitive temperament, with a muse strictly nourished on
sugar and water, such gross edibles as pork and cheese and onions were
peculiarly offensive. That humble plant the onion, employed to flavour
wellnigh every savoury dish, can assuredly need no defence; in most
European countries, too, cheese has long been known as the poor man's
friend; whilst as for pork, apart from all other considerations, I can
claim for it a distinct place in English literature. A greater essayist
by far than the critic to whom I am referring, a certain Mr. Charles
Lamb, of the India House, has left us an immortal page on the origin of
roast pig and crackling. And, when everything is considered, I should
much like to know why novels should be confined to the aspirations of
the soul, and why they should not also treat of the requirements of
our physical nature? From the days of antiquity we have all known what
befell the members when, guided by the brain, they were foolish enough
to revolt against the stomach. The latter plays a considerable part not
only in each individual organism, but also in the life of the world.
Over and over again--I could adduce a score of historical examples--it
has thwarted the mightiest designs of the human mind. We mortals are
much addicted to talking of our minds and our souls and treating our
bodies as mere dross. But I hold--it is a personal opinion--that in the
vast majority of cases the former are largely governed by the last. I
conceive, therefore, that a novel which takes our daily sustenance as
one of its themes has the best of all _raisons d'etre_. A foreign writer
of far more consequence and ability than myself--Signor Edmondo de
Amicis--has proclaimed the present book to be "one of the most original
and happiest inventions of French genius," and I am strongly inclined to
share his opinion.

It should be observed that the work does not merely treat of the
provisioning of a great city. That provisioning is its _scenario_; but
it also embraces a powerful allegory, the prose song of "the eternal
battle between the lean of this world and the fat--a battle in which, as
the author shows, the latter always come off successful. It is, too, in
its way an allegory of the triumph of the fat bourgeois, who lives well
and beds softly, over the gaunt and Ishmael artist--an allegory which
M. Zola has more than once introduced into his pages, another notable
instance thereof being found in 'Germinal,' with the fat, well-fed
Gregoires on the one hand, and the starving Maheus on the other."

From this quotation from Mr. Sherard's pages it will be gathered that M.
Zola had a distinct social aim in writing this book. Wellnigh the
whole social question may, indeed, be summed up in the words "food and
comfort"; and in a series of novels like "Les Rougon-Macquart," dealing
firstly with different conditions and grades of society, and, secondly,
with the influence which the Second Empire exercised on France, the
present volume necessarily had its place marked out from the very first.

Mr. Sherard has told us of all the labour which M. Zola expended on
the preparation of the work, of his multitudinous visits to the Paris
markets, his patient investigation of their organism, and his keen
artistic interest in their manifold phases of life. And bred as I was
in Paris, a partaker as I have been of her exultations and her woes they
have always had for me a strong attraction. My memory goes back to the
earlier years of their existence, and I can well remember many of the
old surroundings which have now disappeared. I can recollect the last
vestiges of the antique _piliers_, built by Francis I, facing the Rue de
la Tonnellerie. Paul Niquet's, with its "bowel-twisting brandy" and
its crew of drunken ragpickers, was certainly before my time; but I can
readily recall Baratte's and Bordier's and all the folly and prodigality
which raged there; I knew, too, several of the noted thieves' haunts
which took the place of Niquet's, and which one was careful never to
enter without due precaution. And then, when the German armies were
beleaguering Paris, and two millions of people were shut off from the
world, I often strolled to the Halles to view their strangely altered
aspect. The fish pavilion, of which M. Zola has so much to say, was bare
and deserted. The railway drays, laden with the comestible treasures of
the ocean, no longer thundered through the covered ways. At the most one
found an auction going on in one or another corner, and a few Seine eels
or gudgeons fetching wellnigh their weight in gold. Then, in the butter
and cheese pavilions, one could only procure some nauseous melted fat,
while in the meat department horse and mule and donkey took the place
of beef and veal and mutton. Mule and donkey were very scarce, and
commanded high prices, but both were of better flavour than horse; mule,
indeed, being quite a delicacy. I also well remember a stall at which
dog was sold, and, hunger knowing no law, I once purchased, cooked,
and ate a couple of canine cutlets which cost me two francs apiece. The
flesh was pinky and very tender, yet I would not willingly make such a
repast again. However, peace and plenty at last came round once more,
the Halles regained their old-time aspect, and in the years which
followed I more than once saw the dawn rise slowly over the mounds of
cabbages, carrots, leeks, and pumpkins, even as M. Zola describes in the
following pages. He has, I think, depicted with remarkable accuracy and
artistic skill the many varying effects of colour that are produced
as the climbing sun casts its early beams on the giant larder and its
masses of food--effects of colour which, to quote a famous saying of the
first Napoleon, show that "the markets of Paris are the Louvre of the
people" in more senses than one.

The reader will bear in mind that the period dealt with by the author
in this work is that of 1857-60, when the new Halles Centrales were
yet young, and indeed not altogether complete. Still, although many old
landmarks have long since been swept away, the picture of life in all
essential particulars remained the same. Prior to 1860 the limits of
Paris were the so-called _boulevards exterieurs_, from which a girdle of
suburbs, such as Montmartre, Belleville, Passy, and Montrouge, extended
to the fortifications; and the population of the city was then only
1,400,000 souls. Some of the figures which will be found scattered
through M. Zola's work must therefore be taken as applying entirely to
the past.

Nowadays the amount of business transacted at the Halles has very
largely increased, in spite of the multiplication of district markets.
Paris seems to have an insatiable appetite, though, on the other hand,
its cuisine is fast becoming all simplicity. To my thinking, few more
remarkable changes have come over the Parisians of recent years than
this change of diet. One by one great restaurants, formerly renowned for
particular dishes and special wines, have been compelled through lack
of custom to close their doors; and this has not been caused so much by
inability to defray the cost of high feeding as by inability to indulge
in it with impunity in a physical sense. In fact, Paris has become a
city of impaired digestions, which nowadays seek the simplicity without
the heaviness of the old English cuisine; and, should things continue
in their present course, I fancy that Parisians anxious for high feeding
will ultimately have to cross over to our side of the Channel.

These remarks, I trust, will not be considered out of place in an
introduction to a work which to no small extent treats of the appetite
of Paris. The reader will find that the characters portrayed by M. Zola
are all types of humble life, but I fail to see that their circumstances
should render them any the less interesting. A faithful portrait of a
shopkeeper, a workman, or a workgirl is artistically of far more value
than all the imaginary sketches of impossible dukes and good and wicked
baronets in which so many English novels abound. Several of M.
Zola's personages seem to me extremely lifelike--Gavard, indeed, is a
_chef-d'oeuvre_ of portraiture: I have known many men like him; and no
one who lived in Paris under the Empire can deny the accuracy with
which the author has delineated his hero Florent, the dreamy and hapless
revolutionary caught in the toils of others. In those days, too, there
was many such a plot as M. Zola describes, instigated by agents like
Logre and Lebigre, and allowed to mature till the eve of an election or
some other important event which rendered its exposure desirable for the
purpose of influencing public opinion. In fact, in all that relates to
the so-called "conspiracy of the markets," M. Zola, whilst changing time
and place to suit the requirements of his story, has simply followed
historical lines. As for the Quenus, who play such prominent parts
in the narrative, the husband is a weakling with no soul above his
stewpans, whilst his wife, the beautiful Lisa, in reality wears the
breeches and rules the roast. The manner in which she cures Quenu of his
political proclivities, though savouring of persuasiveness rather than
violence, is worthy of the immortal Mrs. Caudle: Douglas Jerrold might
have signed a certain lecture which she administers to her astounded
helpmate. Of Pauline, the Quenus' daughter, we see but little in the
story, but she becomes the heroine of another of M. Zola's novels, "La
Joie de Vivre," and instead of inheriting the egotism of her parents,
develops a passionate love and devotion for others.



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