I HAD been in the afternoon to fetch my baggage and horse from the inn where I had lodged; after which I returned to supper at the palace, where I found a very handsome chamber, and a down bed, prepared for me. The archbishop ordered me to be called early next morning, and gave me a homily to transcribe, enjoining me to copy it with all possible exactness. This I performed minutely, without having forgot either accent, point, or comma; so that the joy he expressed was mingled with surprise. “Good heavens!” cried he in a transport, when he had surveyed all the sheets of my copy, “was anything so correct ever seen? You transcribe so well that you must certainly understand grammar. Tell me frankly, my friend, have you found nothing that shocked you in writing it over? Some neglect, perhaps in the style, or improper term?” “Oh, sir,” answered I, with an air of modesty, “I am not learned enough to make critical observations; and if I were, I am persuaded that the works of your Grace would escape my censure.” The prelate smiled at my reply; and, though he said nothing, discovered, through all his piety, that he was a fine author.
By this kind of flattery I entirely gained his good graces, became more and more dear to him every day; and at length understood from Don Fernando, who visited him very often, that I was so much beloved I might look upon my fortune as already made. This my master himself confirmed to me, a little time after, on the following occasion. One evening 148 he repeated in his closet, when I was present, with great enthusiasm, an homily which he intended to pronounce the next day in the cathedral, and, not satisfied with asking my opinion of it in general, obliged me to single out the particular passages which I most admired. I had the good luck to mention those that he himself looked upon to be the best, his own favorite bits; by which means I passed, in his judgment, for a man who had a delicate knowledge of the true beauties of a work. “This is,” cried he, “what is called having taste and sentiment; well, friend, I assure you you’ve not got Bœotian ears.” In a word, he was so well satisfied with me, that he pronounced with some vivacity, “Gil Blas, henceforth give yourself no uneasiness about your fortune; I undertake to make it extremely agreeable; I like you; and, as a proof of my affection, make you my confidant.”
I no sooner heard these words than I fell at his Grace’s feet, quite overcome with gratitude; I heartily embraced his bandy legs, and looked upon myself as a man on the highway to wealth and opulence. “Yes, my child,” resumed the archbishop, whose talk had been interrupted by my prostration, “you shall be the repository of my most secret thoughts. Listen with attention to what I am going to say. My chief pleasure consists in preaching; the Lord gives a blessing to my homilies; they touch the hearts of sinners, make them seriously reflect on their conduct, and have recourse to repentance. I have sometimes the satisfaction to see a miser, terrified by the images which I represent to his avarice, open his treasures, and lavish them with a generous hand. I have also torn, as it were, the epicurean from his pleasures, filled hermitages with the sons of ambition, and confirmed in her duty the wife who has been shaken by the allurements of a seducing lover. These conversions, which are frequent, 149 ought of themselves to excite my study; nevertheless, I will confess my weakness; I propose another reward to myself, a reward which the delicacy of my virtue reproaches me with in vain! I mean the esteem that the word shows for fine, polished writing. The honor of being reckoned a perfect orator has charmed my imagination; my performances are thought equally strong and delicate; but I would, of all things, avoid the fault of good authors who write too long, and retire without forfeiting the least tittle of my reputation. Wherefore, my dear Gil Blas,” continued the prelate, “one thing that I exact of your zeal is, whenever you shall perceive my pen to smack of old age, and my genius to flag, don’t fail to advise me of it; for I don’t trust to my own judgment, which may be seduced by self-love. That observation must proceed from a disinterested understanding, and I make choice of yours, which I know is good, resolved to stand by your decision.” . . .
In the very zenith of my favor, we had a hot alarm in the episcopal palace; the archbishop was seized with a fit of apoplexy; he was, however, succored immediately, and such salutary medicines administered, that in a few days his health was re-established; but his understanding had received a rude shock, which I plainly perceived in the very next discourse which he composed. I did not, however, find the difference between this and the rest so sensible as to make me conclude that the orator began to flag; and waited for another homily to fix my resolution. This indeed was quite decisive; sometimes the good old prelate repeated the same thing over and over; sometimes rose too high, or sunk too low; it was a vague discourse, the rhetoric of an old professor, a mere capuchinade.
I was not the only person who took notice of this; the 150 greatest part of the audience, when he pronounced it, as if they had been also hired to examine it, said softly to one another, “This sermon smells strong of apoplexy.” Come, master homily-critic (said I then to myself), prepare to do your office; you see that his Grace begins to fail: it is your duty to give him notice of it, not only as the depositor of his thoughts, but likewise lest some one of his friends should be free enough with him to forestall you.
The only thing that embarrassed me was how to break the ice. Luckily the orator himself extricated me from that difficulty by asking what people said of him, and if they were satisfied with his last discourse. I answered that his homilies were always admired, but, in my opinion, the last had not succeeded so well as the rest in affecting the audience. “How, friend!” replied he with astonishment; “has it met with any Aristarchus?” “No, sir.” said I, “by no means; such works as yours are not to be criticized; everybody is charmed with them. Nevertheless, since you have laid your injunctions upon me to be free and sincere, I will take the liberty to tell you that your last discourse, in my judgment, has not altogether the energy of your other performances. Are not you of the same opinion?”
My master grew pale at these words, and said with a forced smile, “So then, Master Gil Blas, this piece is not to your taste?” “I don’t say so, sir,” cried I, disconcerted. “I think it excellent, although a little inferior to your other works.” “I understand you,” he replied; “you think I flag, don’t you? Come, be plain; you believe it is time for me to think of retiring.” “I should not have been so bold,” said I, “as to speak so freely, if your Grace had not commanded me. I do no more, therefore, than obey you; and I most humbly beg that you will not be offended at my freedom.” 15 “God forbid,” cried he immediately. “God forbid that I should find fault with it. In so doing, I should be very unjust. I don’t at all take it ill that you speak your sentiment; it is your sentiment only that I find bad. I have been most egregiously deceived by your narrow understanding.”
Though I was disconcerted, I endeavored to find some mitigation, in order to set things to rights again; but how is it possible to appease an incensed author, one especially who has been accustomed to hear himself praised?” “Say no more, my child,” said he; “you are yet too raw to make proper distinctions. Know that I never composed a better homily that that which you disapprove; for my genius (thank Heaven) has, as yet, lost nothing of its vigor. Henceforth I will make a better choice of a confidant, and keep one of greater ability than you. Go,” added he, pushing me by the shoulder out of his closet, “go tell my treasurer to give you a hundred ducats, and may Heaven bless you. Good-by, Master Gil Blas, I wish you all manner of prosperity, and a little better taste.”
I WAS perfectly astonished that any person should be so foolish as to place himself under my Uncle Damien’s hands; for he was bigoted in the practise of the ancients, and followed their precepts with scrupulous precision and severity.
A few instances of his mode of practise, in particular cases, will completely exhibit his professional character. In venesection, he made the incision transversely; and to close the 152 orifice, either choked the vein with a silk cord, or cauterized the wound with a red-hot iron. To relieve a patient from the pangs of the gout, he made punctures on the afflicted part with needles put together in the form of a brush, and dissipated all scrofulous swelling by pricking the parts with the sharp points that grow on a thorn-back’s tail. A nasal hemorrhage he stopped by making a transverse incision from one part of the forehead to the other, or rather two incisions, in the shape of St. Andrew’s Cross, all round the hairy part of the head. The most powerful caustics were constantly applied to the hip, loins, and thighs to remove sciaticas; and he banished a headache by placing red-hot irons on each side of the nostrils, temples, cheeks, and under the chin. The element of fire, in short, was his grand specific for the cure of every disorder; and the belly, legs, and thighs of dropsical persons were fried or broiled without mercy. But, as it sometimes happened, whenever a refractory patient obstinately refused to try the effect of these salutary ordeals, he humanely accommodated his practise to the weakness of the patient; and, under pretense of employing a more anodyne remedy than fire, he scalded the flesh with hot water or boiling oil, unless they preferred being singed with ignified sulfur, spirits of wine, gunpowder, melted lead, or liquefied glass.
This able professor, anxious to instruct me in all the mysteries of the healing art, frequently carried me off with him when he had any grand operation to perform; but, instead of affording information to my mind, he tortured every feeling of my heart. I am sure that I should have endured, without complaining, all the pains that can afflict mankind, rather than have undergone the mildest of his remedies. He was, however, principal surgeon to the hospital of Murcia, 153 where I constantly attended him, to learn this art of broiling people into health.
Leaving me one morning by the bedside of a man who had been broiled in various ways for the dropsy, the unhappy sufferer entreated me with doleful cries to give him a drop of water, to assuage the raging thirst by which he was devoured. The heart of a surgeon should be inexorable to the cries of his patient, but, unable to resist the affecting entreaty which was made to me upon this occasion, I presented to his lips a large jug half full of water, which he seized with avidity between his hands, and emptied in a moment. No sooner, however, had I afforded him this comfort than he fainted away, and by an almost instantaneous death gained perfect relief from all his complaints.
E. Pray tell me, if you please, good neighbor F, how you can, without being tired, put up with having nobody besides your two old maids? For from morning till night no one comes near your fireside; you have always the same people, and always the same subject of conversation. Indeed, I should imagine that by this time your patience was worn out.
F. I must indeed own to you that I often wish they would change their quarters; though, perhaps, in that case, I should be hard put to it how to breathe, as, in all probability, I should not have so good a fire; for they are extremely pious, so, of consequence, take no less care of their bodies than of 154 their souls, especially when a certain abbot, whom I could name, comes to visit them. Then they spare no cost; their kitchen then may vie with that of a lord, and the smoke I breathe upon is veritable perfume.
F. As far as I perceive, you like nothing but smoke. Well, every one to their own tastes; I like variety. New faces and new adventures are my delight. I am, as I suppose you know, the chimney of a furnished lodging.
E. And as such it is very fortunate for you that you have a taste for variety.
F. I have so great a taste that way, that I should be extremely sorry to see the same lodger for six months together; and I have reason to be thankful that it has never happened to me since the first moment of my existence.
E. Belike, then, you are not the oldest of your neighborhood.
F. No, not by a great deal; but, for all that, I believe I have the most experience.
E. Tell me some of your adventures; I beg you to do it, to oblige a neighbor.
F. With all my heart, if it will not tire you. I will begin from the time I first commenced chimney. He who first sat down by my fire was the younger son of a good family, but of a country where the portion of younger sons consists only in their sword, joined to a happy impudence of bullying every one with their being born gentlemen. This talent my gentleman possessed in an eminent degree. But he had another at the same time which was much more profitable; for he played with constant good luck, and his good luck was the effect of the most assiduous study; every day he was busy in calculating the various chances upon the cards, and at night he put his theory into practise.155
F. He must, at that rate, have been always well supplied with money.
E. No, you are mistaken; for he squandered it as fast as he got it, so that he never had any. Indeed, sometimes he cut a great dash, which is a disease peculiar to his nation; but then it never lasted long. His good fortune exasperated the students, who frequented the same nurseries of education, against him, and they got him into several scrapes, so that at the end of four months I lost him. He was, however, a mighty good lodger, and I regret the loss of him to this day.
F. Who came in his stead?
E. The most singular man, perhaps, that ever yet lived: a husband faithful and affectionate even beyond the grave, who could not be comforted for the loss of his dear rib — in short, a phenix of a husband. The moment he came, he ordered his room to be hung with black, shut up his windows against the rays of the sun, and had no light in his chamber but the dim glimmerings of a lamp. Enclosed in this frightful gloom, his constant employment was to sob and shed tears without ceasing. Very often, as if he had been possessed, he would speak aloud to an urn that stood upon a table covered with black cloth, and which he seemed to adore. He would converse with that precious relic, and speak to it as if it answered his passionate expostulations.
F. It is a chance but some spirit was enclosed in that same urn.
E. A spirit! What a simpleton you are! No, it was the heart of his wife; that was the object of his vows and adoration.
F. This was tenderness of grief to excess. I can scarce believe what you tell me.156
E. Nor should I, if I had not seen it. I remember, some time or other, to have heard one of my lodgers reading a book which mentioned a story of the same sort of fidelity, or madness, in an English philosopher, which I do not believe to this day, notwithstanding what I have told you; for an example of this kind must stand alone.
F. But how long did your lodger continue in this fit?
E. Full three months. True it is, his eyes, the fountains of his tears, began to dry up, and refused to furnish him with fresh supplies of continued grief, and by degrees his devotions to the urn seemed to smack of form and ceremony. Happily for him, his friends found him out, and of consequence relieved him. I believe he yielded to the violence they made use of with only a seeming reluctance. However, away they took him, and I was freed of this mournful guest.
F. And, I suupose, did not much lament the loss of him.
E. Not in the least, I assure you. The room was afterward let to a woman, at which I rejoiced mightily, as I had hitherto been acquainted only with men. A kind of Quaker’s dress and the stamp of forty years marked upon her face, gave her a matronly air, which struck me at first sight; and by what I had heard of pietists, I immediately judged her to be one.
F. Now, perhaps you were mistaken.
E. I was very soon convinced of my error, for the woman was a woman of good sense and comfort. She loved pleasure, yet regarded her reputation, and came from the country, a great way off, to Madrid, that she might be sheltered from the malice of slander; and, a very short time after, the gentleman on whose account she had undertaken the journey followed her. Bless me! how surprised I was at the first visit she received from her lover! She flew with transport into 157 his arms; her demureness was changed into a wanton sprightliness; and the glow upon her cheeks effaced the traces of her age.
F. A pretty lady for a pietist, truly!
E. As she loved her man with all the violence of passion, she made use of every method to preserve her conquest. She was very well aware that, at her age, it is permissible for women to embellish the charms of nature by art, and accordingly she used everything she could for that purpose.
F. And what arts, pray, did she use for that purpose?
E. I will tell you. Besides black and white, with which she painted her complexion to what height of color she pleased, she called in every other thing to her assistance — dress, baths, and perfumes. She was at her toilet always till her gallant came, and repaired to it again immediately when he was gone away. She was perpetually at her glass, practising the different airs, either sprightly or languishing, which she imagined might do execution. As for the artillery of endearments and caresses, that she was perfect mistress of.
F. With all that, methinks, it was hardly possible she could fail of making herself beloved.
E. But then she had other charms infinitely more powerful over the heart of a young lover. She was liberal and rich, and one must have a heart of flint not to love a generous mistress. But the appointed days of man are numbered. When these two lovers were at the height of mutual felicity, the gallant fell sick, and died a few days afterward, in spite of all the assistance that could be administered by the most able physicians.
F. The lady, no doubt, took on dreadfully?
E. Yes, she wept, resumed her former demure air, and 158 went back to her own part of the country, to edify her neighbors by her example. My room was not long empty. It was taken by another woman, who was, by profession, a go-between, a match-maker.
F. A rare kind of occupation, truly.
E. It is an occupation that is very common. Negotiators of this sort require a deal of address, and this good lady did not want for that. She carried the proposals, procured interviews, and very often brought the matter to a final conclusion. How many of these contracts have been ratified in my apartment! She would make a younger brother, not worth a shilling, pass for a gentleman of fortune, and set off a demi-rep for a pattern of illustrious virtue.
F. What an admirable woman!
E. All this she could do with the greatest ease, and could take in the most cautious and wary; so that by her dexterity she had got a pretty fortune. But at last she began to have scruples, and remorse carried her so far, that she retired into a convent, there to repent of her former scandalous life. Thus a fit of religion deprived me of this experienced brokeress.
F. Well, but happily for you, the natural indifference of your temper prevented your regretting the loss of her.
E. That is true. After her I had a great many people of common character in life; men and women, for example, who were concerned in lawsuits, a very troublesome sort of lodgers; or people who came from the country to see what o’clock it was in Madrid, and returned home, for the most part, as wise as they were before. But it begins to grow late; so, neighbor, I wish you a good-night. Another time when we meet I will give you an account of some other original characters whom I have had at my fireside159
F. Adieu, good neighbor. I will not fail to put you in mind of your promise.
DON CLEOFAS looked around him, and much wondered he should meet with nobody in an apartment which seemed so very odd and surprising. He examined it with great attention, and saw a copper lamp hanging from the ceiling, books and papers in confusion on the table, spheres and compasses on the one side, vials and quadrants on the other; all of which made him conclude that under this roof lived an astrologer, who usually retired hither to make his observations. He reflected on the dangers he had by good fortune escaped, and was considering what course was the most proper for him to take, when he was interrupted by a deep sigh that broke forth very near him. He at first took it for a nocturnal illusion, or fantom, proceeding from his disturbed imagination, and without interruption continued his reflections.
But being interrupted a second time in the same manner, he then took it for something real; and, though he saw no soul in the room, could not help crying out, “Who the devil is it that sighs here?” ‘It is I, Sir Student,” answered a voice which had something very extraordinary in it. “I have been six months enclosed in one of these glass vials. In this house lives a skilful astrologer and magician, who, by the power of his art, has confined me to this close prison.” “You are a spirit then?” said Cleofas, somewhat confused at this uncommon adventure. “I am a demon,” replied the 160 voice,” and you are come very opportunely to free me from a slavery where I languish in idleness; though I am the most active and indefatigable devil in hell.”
Cleofas was somewhat affrighted at these words; but, being naturally courageous, he collected himself, and, in a resolute tone, thus addressed himself to the spirit, “Sir Demon, pray inform me by what character you are distinguished among your brethren. Are you a devil of quality, or an ordinary one?” “I am,” replied the voice, “a very considerable devil, and am more esteemed in this and in the other world than any other.” “Perhaps,” replied Cleofas, “you may be the demon which we call Lucifer?” “No,” replied the spirit; “he is the mountebank’s devil.” “Are you, then, Uriel?” returned the student. “Fie!” hastily interrupted the voice, “he is the patron of traders, tailors, butchers, bakers, and other third-rate thieves.”
“It may be you are Beelzebub?” said the youth. “You are wrong,” answered the spirit; “he is the demon of valets and butlers, or waiting-men.” “This surprises me,” said the student; “I took Beelzebub for one of the greatest of your number.” “He is one of the least,” replied the demon. “You have no true notion of our hell.”
“You must, then,” replied Don Cleofas, “be either Leviathan, Belphegor, or Ashtaroth?” “Oh! as for those three,” said the voice, “they aer devils of the first rank; they are the court-spirits; they enter into the councils of princes, animate their ministers, form leagues, stir up insurrections in states, and light the torches of war. These are not such boobies as the first you mentioned to me.” “Ah! tell me, I entreat you,” said the student, “what post has Flagel?” “He is the soul of the law and the life of the bar,” replied the devil. “It is he who makes out the attorneys’ and bailiffs’ 161 writs; he inspires the pleaders, possesses the council, and attends the judges.
“But my business lies another way: I make ridiculous matches, and marry old graybeards to raw girls under age, masters to their maids, girls of low fortune to lovers that have none. It is I that have introduced into the world luxury, debauchery, games of chance, and chemistry. I am the inventor of carousals, dancing, music, plays, and all the new French fashions. In a word I am the celebrated Asmodeus, surnamed the Devil on Crutches.”
“Ah!” cried Don Cleofas, “are you the famous Asmodeus, so gloriously celebrated by Agrippa and the Clavicula Salamonis? Really, you have not told me all your amusements; you have forgotten the best of them. I know that you sometimes divert yourself with assuaging the pains of unfortunate lovers. By the same token, it was by your assistance that a young gentleman, a friend of mine, crept into the good graces of the lady of a doctor of the university of Alcala.” “It is true,” said the spirit; “I reserved that till the last. I am the demon of luxury, or, to express it more genteelly, the god Cupid. For the poets have bestowed that fine name on me, and, indeed, painted me in very advantageous colors. They describe me with gilded wings, a fillet bound over my eyes, a bow in my hand, a quiver of arrows on my shoulders, and a charming beautiful face. What sort of face it is you shall immediately see, if you please to set me at liberty.”
“Sir Asmodeus,” replied Don Cleofas, “you know that I have long been your sincere devotee; of the truth of which the dangers I just now run are sufficient evidences. I should be very ambitious of an opportunity of serving you; but the vessel in which you are hidden is undoubtedly enchanted, 162 and all my endeavors to unstop or break it will be vain. Therefore I cannot very well tell which way to deliver you out of prison. I am not much used to these sort of deliverances; and, betwixt you and me, if such a subtle devil as you are cannot make your way out, how can a wretched mortal like me effect it?” “It is in your power to do it,” answered the demon. “The vial in which I am enclosed is merely a plain glass bottle, which is very easy to break. You need only to throw it on the ground, and I shall immediately appear in human shape.” “If so,” said the student, “it is easier than I imagined. Tell me, then, in which vial you are, for I see so many like one another, that I cannot distinguish them.” “It is the fourth from the window,” replied the spirit. “Though the cork be sealed with a magical seal, yet the bottle will easily break.”
“I understand, Sir Asmodeus,” returned Don Cleofas. “There is now only one small difficulty which deters me. When I have done you this service, will you not make me pay for the broken pots?” “No accident shall befall you,” answered the demon; “but, on the contrary, you will be pleased with my acquaintance. I will teach you whatever you are desirous to know, inform you of all things which happen in the world, and discover to you all the faults of mankind; I will be your tutelar demon. You shall find me much more intelligent than Socrates; and I will make you far surpass that philosopher in wisdom. In a word, I will bestow myself on you, with my good and ill qualities; the latter of which shall not be less advantageous to you than the former.
“These are fine promises,” replied the student, “but you infernal gentlemen are accused of not being very religious observers of what you promise to men.” “It is a groundless 163 charge,” replied Asmodeus. “Some of my brethren, indeed, make no scruple of breaking their word; but I — not to mention the service you are going to do me, which I can never sufficiently repay — am a slave to mine; and I swear, by all that renders our oaths inviolable, that I will not deceive you. Depend upon my assurances. I promise you, withal, that you shall revenge yourself on Doña Thomasa, that perfidious lady who hid four ruffians to surprise and force you to marry her — a circumstance that should please you.”
The young student, charmed above all with this last promise, to hasten its accomplishment immediately took the vial, and, without concerning himself what might be the event of it, threw it hard against the ground. It broke into a thousand pieces, and overflowed the floor with a blackish liquor, which by little and little evaporated, and converted itself into a thick smoke; which, dissipating all at once, the amazed student beheld the figure of a man in a cloak, about two feet and a half high, resting on two crutches. This diminutive lame monster had goat’s legs, a long visage, sharp chin, a yellow and black complexion, and a very flat nose; his eyes, which seemed very little, resembled two lighted coals; his mouth was extremely wide, above which were two wretched red whiskers, edged with a pair of unparalleled lips.
This charming Cupid’s head was wrapped up in a sort of turban of red crape, set off with a plume of cocks’ and peacocks’ feathers. About his neck he wore a yellow linen collar, on which were drawn several models of necklaces and earrings. He was dressed in a short white satin coat, and girt about with a girdle of virgin-parchment, marked with talismanical characters. On this coat were painted several pairs of women’s stays, very advantageously fitted for the 164 discovery of their breasts, scarfs, party-colored aprons, new-fashioned head-dresses of various sorts, each more extravagant than the other.
But all these were nothing compared with his cloak, the ground of which was also white satin. On it, with Indian ink, were drawn an infinite number of figures, with so much freedom, and such masterly strokes, that it was natural enough to think the devil had a hand in it. On one side appeared a Spanish lady, covered with her veil, teasing a stranger as they were walking; and on the other a French one, practising new airs in her glass, in order to try them at a young patched and painted abbot, who appeared at her chamber door. Here a number of Italian cavaliers were singing and playing on the guitar under their mistresses’ balconies; and there a company of Germans, all in confusion and unbuttoned, more intoxicated with wine and begrimed with snuff than any conceited French fops, surrounding a table overflowed with the disgusting remains of their debauch. In one place was a great Mohammedan lord coming out of the bath, surrounded by all the women of his seraglio, officiously crowding to tender him their service; in another, an English gentleman very gallantly presenting a pipe and a pot of beer to his mistress.
There gamesters were also wonderfully well represented; some of them animated by a sprightly joy, heaping up pieces of gold and silver in their hats; and others, broken and reduced to play upon honor, casting up their sacrilegious eyes to heaven, and gnawing their cards with despair. To conclude, there were as many curious things to be seen on it as on the admirable buckler of the son of Peleus, which exhausted all Vulcan’s art; with this difference betwixt the performance of the two cripples: that the figures on the buckler 165 had no relation to the exploits of Achilles, but, on the contrary, those on the cloak were so many lively images of whatever was done in the world by the suggestion of Asmodeus.