A Paris Salon, by Linda Leith

"And as they entered the salon resplendent with gold decorations and lights, with a deprecating wave of the hand he pointed out all the guests before being welcomed by the most remarkable young men in Paris. One had just revealed a new talent, and with his first painting rivalled the glories of the imperial past. The next had, the day before, launched a major new book full of a sort of literary disdain, that was opening up new pathways for the modern school. Farther on, a sculptor whose rugged face gave some indication of his lively genius was chatting with one of those cool satirists who at times are unwilling to recognize excellence anywhere, and at others discern it wherever they go. Here, the wittiest of our cartoonists, with crafty eye and a sharp tongue, was on the lookout for witticisms to transcribe into pencil sketches. There, that daring young writer, who could distil the quintessence of poitical thought better than anyone, and condense the wit of a prolific author without any effort, was conversing with a poet whose writings would put all modern works of art in the shade, had his talent been as potent as his bile. both were endeavouring not to tell the truth nor yet to tell lies, while addressing sweetly flattering remarks to one another. A famous musician was sardonically sympathizing in a minor key with a young politician who had recently fallen off the podium without hurting himself in the slightest. Young authors without style stood next to young authors without ideas, prose writers full of poetry near prosaic poets."

Honoré de Balzac, La Peau de chagrin, translated as The Wild Ass's Skin. The able translation is by Helen Constantine, and the novel is edited with an excellent introduction and notes by Patrick Coleman (London: Oxford University Press, 2012, 36-37)

 

 

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