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Chapter XI. To Scoff, to Reign

There is no limit to Paris. No city has had that domination which sometimes derides those whom it subjugates. To please you, O Athenians! exclaimed Alexander. Paris makes more than the law, it makes the fashion; Paris sets more than the fashion, it sets the routine. Paris may be stupid, if it sees fit; it sometimes allows itself this luxury; then the universe is stupid in company with it; then Paris awakes, rubs its eyes, says: "How stupid I am!" and bursts out laughing in the face of the human race. What a marvel is such a city! it is a strange thing that this grandioseness and this burlesque should be amicable neighbors, that all this majesty should not be thrown into disorder by all this parody, and that the same mouth can to-day blow into the trump of the Judgment Day, and to-morrow into the reed-flute! Paris has a sovereign joviality. Its gayety is of the thunder and its farce holds a sceptre.

Its tempest sometimes proceeds from a grimace. Its explosions, its days, its masterpieces, its prodigies, its epics, go forth to the bounds of the universe, and so also do its cock-and-bull stories. Its laugh is the mouth of a volcano which spatters the whole earth. Its jests are sparks. It imposes its caricatures as well as its ideal on people; the highest monuments of human civilization accept its ironies and lend their eternity to its mischievous pranks. It is superb; it has a prodigious 14th of July, which delivers the globe; it forces all nations to take the oath of tennis; its night of the 4th of August dissolves in three hours a thousand years of feudalism; it makes of its logic the muscle of unanimous will; it multiplies itself under all sorts of forms of the sublime; it fills with its light Washington, Kosciusko, Bolivar, Bozzaris, Riego, Bem, Manin, Lopez, John Brown, Garibaldi; it is everywhere where the future is being lighted up, at Boston in 1779, at the Isle de Leon in 1820, at Pesth in 1848, at Palermo in 1860, it whispers the mighty countersign: Liberty, in the ear of the American abolitionists grouped about the boat at Harper's Ferry, and in the ear of the patriots of Ancona assembled in the shadow, to the Archi before the Gozzi inn on the seashore; it creates Canaris; it creates Quiroga; it creates Pisacane; it irradiates the great on earth; it was while proceeding whither its breath urge them, that Byron perished at Missolonghi, and that Mazet died at Barcelona; it is the tribune under the feet of Mirabeau, and a crater under the feet of Robespierre; its books, its theatre, its art, its science, its literature, its philosophy, are the manuals of the human race; it has Pascal, Regnier, Corneille, Descartes, Jean-Jacques: Voltaire for all moments, Moliere for all centuries; it makes its language to be talked by the universal mouth, and that language becomes the word; it constructs in all minds the idea of progress, the liberating dogmas which it forges are for the generations trusty friends, and it is with the soul of its thinkers and its poets that all heroes of all nations have been made since 1789; this does not prevent vagabondism, and that enormous genius which is called Paris, while transfiguring the world by its light, sketches in charcoal Bouginier's nose on the wall of the temple of Theseus and writes Credeville the thief on the Pyramids.

Paris is always showing its teeth; when it is not scolding it is laughing.

Such is Paris. The smoke of its roofs forms the ideas of the universe. A heap of mud and stone, if you will, but, above all, a moral being. It is more than great, it is immense. Why? Because it is daring.

To dare; that is the price of progress.

All sublime conquests are, more or less, the prizes of daring. In order that the Revolution should take place, it does not suffice that Montesquieu should foresee it, that Diderot should preach it, that Beaumarchais should announce it, that Condorcet should calculate it, that Arouet should prepare it, that Rousseau should premeditate it; it is necessary that Danton should dare it.

The cry: Audacity! is a Fiat lux. It is necessary, for the sake of the forward march of the human race, that there should be proud lessons of courage permanently on the heights. Daring deeds dazzle history and are one of man's great sources of light. The dawn dares when it rises. To attempt, to brave, to persist, to persevere, to be faithful to one's self, to grasp fate bodily, to astound catastrophe by the small amount of fear that it occasions us, now to affront unjust power, again to insult drunken victory, to hold one's position, to stand one's ground; that is the example which nations need, that is the light which electrifies them. The same formidable lightning proceeds from the torch of Prometheus to Cambronne's short pipe.

Victor Hugo

    Volume I - Book First--A Just Man

    Volume I - Book Second.--The Fall

    Volume I - Book Third.--In the Year 1817

    Volume I - Book Fourth.--To Confide is Sometimes to De

    Volume I - Book Fifth.-- The Descent

    Volume I - Book Sixth.--Javert

    Volume I - Book Seventh.--The Champmathieu Affair

    Volume I - Book Eighth.--A Counter-blow

    Volume II - Book First.--Waterloo

    Volume II - Book Second.--The Ship Orion

    Volume II - Book Third.--Accomplishment of the Promise

    Volume II - Book Fourth.--The Gorbeau Hovel

    Volume II - Book Fifth.--For A Black Hunt, A Mute Pack

    Volume II - Book Sixth.--Le Petit-Picpus

    Volume II - Book Seventh.--Parenthesis

    Volume II - Book Eighth.--Cemeteries Take That Which i

    Volume III - Book First.--Paris Studied in its Atom

    Volume III - Book Second.--The Great Bourgeois

    Volume III - Book Third.--The Grandfather and the Gran

    Volume III - Book Fourth.--The Friends of the ABC

    Volume III - Book Fifth.--The Excellence of Misfortune

    Volume III - Book Sixth.--The Conjunction of Two Stars

    Volume III - Book Seventh.--Patron Minette

    Volume III - Book Eighth.--The Wicked Poor Man

    Volume IV - Book First.--A Few Pages of History

    Volume IV - Book Second.--Eponine

    Volume IV - Book Third.--The House in the Rue Plumet

    Volume IV - Book Fourth.--Succor From Below May Turn O

    Volume IV - Book Fifth.--The End of Which Does Not Res

    Volume IV - Book Sixth.--Little Gavroche

    Volume IV - Book Seventh.--Slang

    Volume IV - Book Eighth.--Enchantments and Desolations

    Volume IV - Book Ninth.--Whither are they Going?

    Volume IV - Book Tenth.--The 5th of June, 1832

    Volume IV - Book Eleventh.--The Atom Fraternizes with

    Volume IV - Book Twelfth.--Corinthe

    Volume IV - Book Thirteenth.--Marius Enters the Shadow

    Volume IV - Book Fourteenth.--The Grandeurs of Despair

    Volume IV - Book Fifteenth.--The Rue de L'Homme Arme

    Volume V - Book First.--The War Between Four Walls

    Volume V - Book Second.--The Intestine of the Leviatha

    Volume V - Book Third.--Mud but the Soul

    Volume V - Book Fourth.--Javert Derailed

    Volume V - Book Fifth.--Grandson and Grandfather

    Volume V - Book Sixth.--The Sleepless Night

    Volume V - Book Seventh.--The Last Draught from the Cu

    Volume V - Book Eighth.--Fading Away of the Twilight

    Volume V - Book Ninth.--Supreme Shadow, Supreme Dawn

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