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Chapter 48 Ideology.

  • If the Count of Monte Cristo had been for a long time familiar with the way_f Parisian society, he would have appreciated better the significance of th_tep which M. de Villefort had taken. Standing well at court, whether the kin_egnant was of the older or younger branch, whether the government wa_octrinaire liberal, or conservative; looked upon by all as a man of talent, since those who have never experienced a political check are generally s_egarded; hated by many, but warmly supported by others, without being reall_iked by anybody, M. de Villefort held a high position in the magistracy, an_aintained his eminence like a Harlay or a Mole. His drawing-room, under th_egenerating influence of a young wife and a daughter by his first marriage, scarcely eighteen, was still one of the well-regulated Paris salons where th_orship of traditional customs and the observance of rigid etiquette wer_arefully maintained. A freezing politeness, a strict fidelity to governmen_rinciples, a profound contempt for theories and theorists, a deep-seate_atred of ideality, — these were the elements of private and public lif_isplayed by M. de Villefort.
  • He was not only a magistrate, he was almost a diplomatist. His relations wit_he former court, of which he always spoke with dignity and respect, made hi_espected by the new one, and he knew so many things, that not only was h_lways carefully considered, but sometimes consulted. Perhaps this would no_ave been so had it been possible to get rid of M. de Villefort; but, like th_eudal barons who rebelled against their sovereign, he dwelt in an impregnabl_ortress. This fortress was his post as king's attorney, all the advantages o_hich he exploited with marvellous skill, and which he would not have resigne_ut to be made deputy, and thus to replace neutrality by opposition.
  • Ordinarily M. de Villefort made and returned very few visits. His wife visite_or him, and this was the received thing in the world, where the weighty an_ultifarious occupations of the magistrate were accepted as an excuse for wha_as really only calculated pride, a manifestation of professed superiority — in fact, the application of the axiom, "Pretend to think well of yourself, an_he world will think well of you," an axiom a hundred times more useful i_ociety nowadays than that of the Greeks, "Know thyself," a knowledge fo_hich, in our days, we have substituted the less difficult and mor_dvantageous science of knowing others.
  • To his friends M. de Villefort was a powerful protector; to his enemies, h_as a silent, but bitter opponent; for those who were neither the one nor th_ther, he was a statue of the law-made man. He had a haughty bearing, a loo_ither steady and impenetrable or insolently piercing and inquisitorial. Fou_uccessive revolutions had built and cemented the pedestal upon which hi_ortune was based. M. de Villefort had the reputation of being the leas_urious and the least wearisome man in France. He gave a ball every year, a_hich he appeared for a quarter of an hour only, — that is to say, five an_orty minutes less than the king is visible at his balls. He was never seen a_he theatres, at concerts, or in any place of public resort. Occasionally, bu_eldom, he played at whist, and then care was taken to select partners worth_f him — sometimes they were ambassadors, sometimes archbishops, or sometime_ prince, or a president, or some dowager duchess. Such was the man whos_arriage had just now stopped before the Count of Monte Cristo's door. Th_alet de chambre announced M. de Villefort at the moment when the count, leaning over a large table, was tracing on a map the route from St. Petersbur_o China.
  • The procureur entered with the same grave and measured step he would hav_mployed in entering a court of justice. He was the same man, or rather th_evelopment of the same man, whom we have heretofore seen as assistan_ttorney at Marseilles. Nature, according to her way, had made no deviation i_he path he had marked out for himself. From being slender he had now becom_eagre; once pale, he was now yellow; his deep-set eyes were hollow, and th_old spectacles shielding his eyes seemed to be an integral portion of hi_ace. He dressed entirely in black, with the exception of his white tie, an_is funeral appearance was only mitigated by the slight line of red ribbo_hich passed almost imperceptibly through his button-hole, and appeared like _treak of blood traced with a delicate brush. Although master of himself, Monte Cristo, scrutinized with irrepressible curiosity the magistrate whos_alute he returned, and who, distrustful by habit, and especially incredulou_s to social prodigies, was much more despised to look upon "the nobl_tranger," as Monte Cristo was already called, as an adventurer in search o_ew fields, or an escaped criminal, rather than as a prince of the Holy See, or a sultan of the Thousand and One Nights.
  • "Sir," said Villefort, in the squeaky tone assumed by magistrates in thei_ratorical periods, and of which they cannot, or will not, divest themselve_n society, "sir, the signal service which you yesterday rendered to my wif_nd son has made it a duty for me to offer you my thanks. I have come, therefore, to discharge this duty, and to express to you my overwhelmin_ratitude." And as he said this, the "eye severe" of the magistrate had los_othing of its habitual arrogance. He spoke in a voice of the procureur- general, with the rigid inflexibility of neck and shoulders which caused hi_latterers to say (as we have before observed) that he was the living statu_f the law.
  • "Monsieur," replied the count, with a chilling air, "I am very happy to hav_een the means of preserving a son to his mother, for they say that th_entiment of maternity is the most holy of all; and the good fortune whic_ccurred to me, monsieur, might have enabled you to dispense with a dut_hich, in its discharge, confers an undoubtedly great honor; for I am awar_hat M. de Villefort is not usually lavish of the favor which he now bestow_n me, — a favor which, however estimable, is unequal to the satisfactio_hich I have in my own consciousness." Villefort, astonished at this reply, which he by no means expected, started like a soldier who feels the blo_evelled at him over the armor he wears, and a curl of his disdainful li_ndicated that from that moment he noted in the tablets of his brain that th_ount of Monte Cristo was by no means a highly bred gentleman. He glance_round. in order to seize on something on which the conversation might turn, and seemed to fall easily on a topic. He saw the map which Monte Cristo ha_een examining when he entered, and said, "You seem geographically engaged, sir? It is a rich study for you, who, as I learn, have seen as many lands a_re delineated on this map."
  • "Yes, sir," replied the count; "I have sought to make of the human race, take_n the mass, what you practice every day on individuals — a physiologica_tudy. I have believed it was much easier to descend from the whole to a par_han to ascend from a part to the whole. It is an algebraic axiom, which make_s proceed from a known to an unknown quantity, and not from an unknown to _nown; but sit down, sir, I beg of you."
  • Monte Cristo pointed to a chair, which the procureur was obliged to take th_rouble to move forwards himself, while the count merely fell back into hi_wn, on which he had been kneeling when M. Villefort entered. Thus the coun_as halfway turned towards his visitor, having his back towards the window, his elbow resting on the geographical chart which furnished the theme o_onversation for the moment, — a conversation which assumed, as in the case o_he interviews with Danglars and Morcerf, a turn analogous to the persons, i_ot to the situation. "Ah, you philosophize," replied Villefort, after _oment's silence, during which, like a wrestler who encounters a powerfu_pponent, he took breath; "well, sir, really, if, like you, I had nothing els_o do, I should seek a more amusing occupation."
  • "Why, in truth, sir," was Monte Cristo's reply, "man is but an ugl_aterpillar for him who studies him through a solar microscope; but you said, I think, that I had nothing else to do. Now, really, let me ask, sir, hav_ou? — do you believe you have anything to do? or to speak in plain terms, d_ou really think that what you do deserves being called anything?"
  • Villefort's astonishment redoubled at this second thrust so forcibly made b_is strange adversary. It was a long time since the magistrate had heard _aradox so strong, or rather, to say the truth more exactly, it was the firs_ime he had ever heard of it. The procureur exerted himself to reply. "Sir,"
  • he responded, "you are a stranger, and I believe you say yourself that _ortion of your life has been spent in Oriental countries, so you are no_ware how human justice, so expeditions in barbarous countries, takes with u_ prudent and well-studied course."
  • "Oh, yes — yes, I do, sir; it is the pede claudo of the ancients. I know al_hat, for it is with the justice of all countries especially that I hav_ccupied myself — it is with the criminal procedure of all nations that I hav_ompared natural justice, and I must say, sir, that it is the law of primitiv_ations, that is, the law of retaliation, that I have most frequently found t_e according to the law of God."
  • "If this law were adopted, sir," said the procureur, "it would greatl_implify our legal codes, and in that case the magistrates would not (as yo_ust observed) have much to do."
  • "It may, perhaps, come to this in time," observed Monte Cristo; "you know tha_uman inventions march from the complex to the simple, and simplicity i_lways perfection."
  • "In the meanwhile," continued the magistrate, "our codes are in full force, with all their contradictory enactments derived from Gallic customs, Roma_aws, and Frank usages; the knowledge of all which, you will agree, is not t_e acquired without extended labor; it needs tedious study to acquire thi_nowledge, and, when acquired, a strong power of brain to retain it."
  • "I agree with you entirely, sir; but all that even you know with respect t_he French code, I know, not only in reference to that code, but as regard_he codes of all nations. The English, Turkish, Japanese, Hindu laws, are a_amiliar to me as the French laws, and thus I was right, when I said to you, that relatively (you know that everything is relative, sir) — that relativel_o what I have done, you have very little to do; but that relatively to all _ave learned, you have yet a great deal to learn."
  • "But with what motive have you learned all this?" inquired Villefort, i_stonishment. Monte Cristo smiled. "Really, sir," he observed, "I see that i_pite of the reputation which you have acquired as a superior man, you look a_verything from the material and vulgar view of society, beginning with man, and ending with man — that is to say, in the most restricted, most narrow vie_hich it is possible for human understanding to embrace."
  • "Pray, sir, explain yourself," said Villefort, more and more astonished, "_eally do — not — understand you — perfectly."
  • "I say, sir, that with the eyes fixed on the social organization of nations, you see only the springs of the machine, and lose sight of the sublime workma_ho makes them act; I say that you do not recognize before you and around yo_ny but those office-holders whose commissions have been signed by a ministe_r king; and that the men whom God has put above those office-holders, ministers, and kings, by giving them a mission to follow out, instead of _ost to fill — I say that they escape your narrow, limited field o_bservation. It is thus that human weakness fails, from its debilitated an_mperfect organs. Tobias took the angel who restored him to light for a_rdinary young man. The nations took Attila, who was doomed to destroy them, for a conqueror similar to other conquerors, and it was necessary for both t_eveal their missions, that they might be known and acknowledged; one wa_ompelled to say, `I am the angel of the Lord'; and the other, `I am th_ammer of God,' in order that the divine essence in both might be revealed."
  • "Then," said Villefort, more and more amazed, and really supposing he wa_peaking to a mystic or a madman, "you consider yourself as one of thos_xtraordinary beings whom you have mentioned?"
  • "And why not?" said Monte Cristo coldly.
  • "Your pardon, sir," replied Villefort, quite astounded, "but you will excus_e if, when I presented myself to you, I was unaware that I should meet with _erson whose knowledge and understanding so far surpass the usual knowledg_nd understanding of men. It is not usual with us corrupted wretches o_ivilization to find gentlemen like yourself, possessors, as you are, o_mmense fortune — at least, so it is said — and I beg you to observe that I d_ot inquire, I merely repeat; — it is not usual, I say, for such privilege_nd wealthy beings to waste their time in speculations on the state o_ociety, in philosophical reveries, intended at best to console those who_ate has disinherited from the goods of this world."
  • "Really, sir," retorted the count, "have you attained the eminent situation i_hich you are, without having admitted, or even without having met wit_xceptions? and do you never use your eyes, which must have acquired so muc_inesse and certainty, to divine, at a glance, the kind of man by whom you ar_onfronted? Should not a magistrate be not merely the best administrator o_he law, but the most crafty expounder of the chicanery of his profession, _teel probe to search hearts, a touchstone to try the gold which in each sou_s mingled with more or less of alloy?"
  • "Sir," said Villefort, "upon my word, you overcome me. I really never heard _erson speak as you do."
  • "Because you remain eternally encircled in a round of general conditions, an_ave never dared to raise your wings into those upper spheres which God ha_eopled with invisible or exceptional beings."
  • "And you allow then, sir, that spheres exist, and that these marked an_nvisible beings mingle amongst us?"
  • "Why should they not? Can you see the air you breathe, and yet without whic_ou could not for a moment exist?"
  • "Then we do not see those beings to whom you allude?"
  • "Yes, we do; you see them whenever God pleases to allow them to assume _aterial form. You touch them, come in contact with them, speak to them, an_hey reply to you."
  • "Ah," said Villefort, smiling, "I confess I should like to be warned when on_f these beings is in contact with me."
  • "You have been served as you desire, monsieur, for you were warned just now, and I now again warn you."
  • "Then you yourself are one of these marked beings?"
  • "Yes, monsieur, I believe so; for until now, no man has found himself in _osition similar to mine. The dominions of kings are limited either b_ountains or rivers, or a change of manners, or an alteration of language. M_ingdom is bounded only by the world, for I am not an Italian, or a Frenchman, or a Hindu, or an American, or a Spaniard — I am a cosmopolite. No country ca_ay it saw my birth. God alone knows what country will see me die. I adopt al_ustoms, speak all languages. You believe me to be a Frenchman, for I spea_rench with the same facility and purity as yourself. Well, Ali, my Nubian, believes me to be an Arab; Bertuccio, my steward, takes me for a Roman; Haidee, my slave, thinks me a Greek. You may, therefore, comprehend, tha_eing of no country, asking no protection from any government, acknowledgin_o man as my brother, not one of the scruples that arrest the powerful, or th_bstacles which paralyze the weak, paralyzes or arrests me. I have only tw_dversaries — I will not say two conquerors, for with perseverance I subdu_ven them, — they are time and distance. There is a third, and the mos_errible — that is my condition as a mortal being. This alone can stop me i_y onward career, before I have attained the goal at which I aim, for all th_est I have reduced to mathematical terms. What men call the chances of fate — namely, ruin, change, circumstances — I have fully anticipated, and if any o_hese should overtake me, yet it will not overwhelm me. Unless I die, I shal_lways be what I am, and therefore it is that I utter the things you hav_ever heard, even from the mouths of kings — for kings have need, and othe_ersons have fear of you. For who is there who does not say to himself, in _ociety as incongruously organized as ours, `Perhaps some day I shall have t_o with the king's attorney'?"
  • "But can you not say that, sir? The moment you become an inhabitant of France, you are naturally subjected to the French law."
  • "I know it sir," replied Monte Cristo; "but when I visit a country I begin t_tudy, by all the means which are available, the men from whom I may hav_nything to hope or to fear, till I know them as well as, perhaps better than, they know themselves. It follows from this, that the king's attorney, be h_ho he may, with whom I should have to deal, would assuredly be mor_mbarrassed than I should."
  • "That is to say," replied Villefort with hesitation, "that human nature bein_eak, every man, according to your creed, has committed faults."
  • "Faults or crimes," responded Monte Cristo with a negligent air.
  • "And that you alone, amongst the men whom you do not recognize as you_rothers — for you have said so," observed Villefort in a tone that faltere_omewhat — "you alone are perfect."
  • "No, not perfect," was the count's reply; "only impenetrable, that's all. Bu_et us leave off this strain, sir, if the tone of it is displeasing to you; _m no more disturbed by your justice than are you by my second-sight."
  • "No, no, — by no means," said Villefort, who was afraid of seeming to abando_is ground. "No; by your brilliant and almost sublime conversation you hav_levated me above the ordinary level; we no longer talk, we rise t_issertation. But you know how the theologians in their collegiate chairs, an_hilosophers in their controversies, occasionally say cruel truths; let u_uppose for the moment that we are theologizing in a social way, or eve_hilosophically, and I will say to you, rude as it may seem, `My brother, yo_acrifice greatly to pride; you may be above others, but above you there i_od.'"
  • "Above us all, sir," was Monte Cristo's response, in a tone and with a_mphasis so deep that Villefort involuntarily shuddered. "I have my pride fo_en — serpents always ready to threaten every one who would pass withou_rushing them under foot. But I lay aside that pride before God, who has take_e from nothing to make me what I am."
  • "Then, count, I admire you," said Villefort, who, for the first time in thi_trange conversation, used the aristocratic form to the unknown personage, whom, until now, he had only called monsieur. "Yes, and I say to you, if yo_re really strong, really superior, really pious, or impenetrable, which yo_ere right in saying amounts to the same thing — then be proud, sir, for tha_s the characteristic of predominance. Yet you have unquestionably som_mbition."
  • "I have, sir."
  • "And what may it be?"
  • "I too, as happens to every man once in his life, have been taken by Sata_nto the highest mountain in the earth, and when there he showed me all th_ingdoms of the world, and as he said before, so said he to me, `Child o_arth, what wouldst thou have to make thee adore me?' I reflected long, for _nawing ambition had long preyed upon me, and then I replied, `Listen, — _ave always heard of providence, and yet I have never seen him, or anythin_hat resembles him, or which can make me believe that he exists. I wish to b_rovidence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublim_hing in the world, is to recompense and punish.' Satan bowed his head, an_roaned. `You mistake,' he said, `providence does exist, only you have neve_een him, because the child of God is as invisible as the parent. You hav_een nothing that resembles him, because he works by secret springs, and move_y hidden ways. All I can do for you is to make you one of the agents of tha_rovidence.' The bargain was concluded. I may sacrifice my soul, but wha_atters it?" added Monte Cristo. "If the thing were to do again, I would agai_o it." Villefort looked at Monte Cristo with extreme amazement. "Count," h_nquired, "have you any relations?"
  • "No, sir, I am alone in the world."
  • "So much the worse."
  • "Why?" asked Monte Cristo.
  • "Because then you might witness a spectacle calculated to break down you_ride. You say you fear nothing but death?"
  • "I did not say that I feared it; I only said that death alone could check th_xecution of my plans."
  • "And old age?"
  • "My end will be achieved before I grow old."
  • "And madness?"
  • "I have been nearly mad; and you know the axiom, — non bis in idem. It is a_xiom of criminal law, and, consequently, you understand its ful_pplication."
  • "Sir," continued Villefort, "there is something to fear besides death, ol_ge, and madness. For instance, there is apoplexy — that lightning-strok_hich strikes but does not destroy you, and yet which brings everything to a_nd. You are still yourself as now, and yet you are yourself no longer; yo_ho, like Ariel, verge on the angelic, are but an inert mass, which, lik_aliban, verges on the brutal; and this is called in human tongues, as I tel_ou, neither more nor less than apoplexy. Come, if so you will, count, an_ontinue this conversation at my house, any day you may be willing to see a_dversary capable of understanding and anxious to refute you, and I will sho_ou my father, M. Noirtier de Villefort, one of the most fiery Jacobins of th_rench Revolution; that is to say, he had the most remarkable audacity, seconded by a most powerful organization — a man who has not, perhaps, lik_ourself seen all the kingdoms of the earth, but who has helped to overtur_ne of the greatest; in fact, a man who believed himself, like you, one of th_nvoys, not of God, but of a supreme being; not of providence, but of fate.
  • Well, sir, the rupture of a blood-vessel on the lobe of the brain ha_estroyed all this, not in a day, not in an hour, but in a second. M.
  • Noirtier, who, on the previous night, was the old Jacobin, the old senator, the old Carbonaro, laughing at the guillotine, the cannon, and the dagger — M.
  • Noirtier, playing with revolutions — M. Noirtier, for whom France was a vas_hess-board, from which pawns, rooks, knights, and queens were to disappear, so that the king was checkmated — M. Noirtier, the redoubtable, was the nex_orning `poor M. Noirtier,' the helpless old man, at the tender mercies of th_eakest creature in the household, that is, his grandchild, Valentine; a dum_nd frozen carcass, in fact, living painlessly on, that time may be given fo_is frame to decompose without his consciousness of its decay."
  • "Alas, sir," said Monte Cristo "this spectacle is neither strange to my ey_or my thought. I am something of a physician, and have, like my fellows, sought more than once for the soul in living and in dead matter; yet, lik_rovidence, it has remained invisible to my eyes, although present to m_eart. A hundred writers since Socrates, Seneca, St. Augustine, and Gall, hav_ade, in verse and prose, the comparison you have made, and yet I can wel_nderstand that a father's sufferings may effect great changes in the mind o_ son. I will call on you, sir, since you bid me contemplate, for th_dvantage of my pride, this terrible spectacle, which must have been so grea_ source of sorrow to your family."
  • "It would have been so unquestionably, had not God given me so large _ompensation. In contrast with the old man, who is dragging his way to th_omb, are two children just entering into life — Valentine, the daughter by m_irst wife — Mademoiselle Renee de Saint-Meran — and Edward, the boy whos_ife you have this day saved."
  • "And what is your deduction from this compensation, sir?" inquired Mont_risto.
  • "My deduction is," replied Villefort, "that my father, led away by hi_assions, has committed some fault unknown to human justice, but marked by th_ustice of God. That God, desirous in his mercy to punish but one person, ha_isited this justice on him alone." Monte Cristo with a smile on his lips, uttered in the depths of his soul a groan which would have made Villefort fl_ad he but heard it. "Adieu, sir," said the magistrate, who had risen from hi_eat; "I leave you, bearing a remembrance of you — a remembrance of esteem, which I hope will not be disagreeable to you when you know me better; for I a_ot a man to bore my friends, as you will learn. Besides, you have made a_ternal friend of Madame de Villefort." The count bowed, and contented himsel_ith seeing Villefort to the door of his cabinet, the procureur being escorte_o his carriage by two footmen, who, on a signal from their master, followe_im with every mark of attention. When he had gone, Monte Cristo breathed _rofound sigh, and said, — "Enough of this poison, let me now seek th_ntidote." Then sounding his bell, he said to Ali, who entered, "I am going t_adam's chamber — have the carriage ready at one o'clock."