Germinal and the Censors
Germinal and the Censors.
By Emile Zola.
Ah! writers, my brothers, what a week I have just passed! I wish no one the misfortune of having a piece in distress at the office of the minister of public instruction. A week of vain agitation amid imbecile goings on! and cab drives through a beating rain in a filthy Paris swamped in mud! and the waits in the ante-chamber, the goings and comings from office to office! and the pity of the attendants, who begin to know you! and the shame of feeling one's self becoming stupid in the midst of all this administrative stupidity!
The heart beats; one would like to hit somebody. One feels lessened, diminished, in the attitude of a brave man who bends his spine, taken with anguish and glancing behind him to see if any one is looking at him. A thorough disgust rise? in my throat, and I want to spit it out upon the ground.
Well, then, the Censure, which our poor Republic has had the shame to garland with the title of Examining Commission, had singled out "Germinal," the drama constructed from my romance by M. William Busnach, as a socialistic work, the representation of which would involve the greatest dangers from the standpoint of order. And right here I insist on the absolutely political character of the quarrel that has been raised with us. Nothing contrary to morals has teen pointed out in the piece. We have been condemned solely because the piece is republican and socialistic. Let no one try to create a misunderstanding.
As for the Censure, it has performed its function, and one can only complain that its function is such a dirty one. Those people are paid to strangle written thought: they strangle it; at least they earn their money. If they exist, the blame rests on those who vote them salaries. A question which I must put aside that I may not be too long, but which perhaps I shall consider some time, with the developments that it permits.
But, as far as we are concerned, the Censure disappears, retires into its muddy cellar to crawl; and here we are in presence of a high functionary, M. Edmond Turquet, undersecretary of fine arts. M. Busnach and myself enter upon the campaign hopefully, for it seems to us impossible for a republican government to prohibit a republican piece. The elections of the fourth of October had caused us a good deal of anxiety, which the second ballotings of the eighteenth hail just happily dissipated.
First visit. M. Turquet receives us with an artist's non'•/iiilani'e, an ingenuous air, and a sympathetic shake of the hand. We find him simply a little fatigued. Moreover, he has read nothing, he has just arrived; and he flames against the Censure more violently than ourselves, and asks us if we have not sufficient influence in the press to get this odious institution abolished. He has asked for the suppression of the censors, but has not been listened to. And every moment he lifts his hands to his head, crying: "My God! what a cruel position is mine! No, no, I prefer not to concern myself in the matter; it will be the misfortune of my life."
Finally, in an outburst of benevolence, he tramples upon administrative customs, and tries to read aloud the report of the Censure; but his emotion is too much for him, and he calls his secretary, who reads the document in our presence. A pretty document, I assure you; Jocrisse in the role of critic, the opinions of a janitor stated in the style of a constable: it is a shame to see our works in such hands. In short, the i.'"od M. Turquet, who seems to be on our side, promises to examine the piece; and we go away, certain that matters are «oiug to be arranged.
Second visit. I had returned quietly to the country, and M. Busnach makes big appearance alone. This time he finds M. Turquet very much agitated, but still fraternal. New outcries against the Censure; but the Censure exists, and M. Turquet does not want to lose his place. He is still indefinite; some passages will have to be expunged, but he does not get so far as to specify these passages; and he requires my presence. Another meeting is arranged; M. Busnach sends me a dispatch, summoning me in all haste.
Third visit. M. Turqnet is pained to see us, and I begin to pity him seriously, for it is evident that all this work that we are making him is tiring him more and more. Yet we try to discuss, to learn from his mouth what the objectionable passages are. But this rile of the executioner upsets him, he hands us the manuscript twenty times over, and cries: "No, no, enough of this; I prefer to prohibit it!" It was becoming touching and trying. At last, after pressing questions, we gather from him that his fears are confined almost exclusively to the scene of the police.
Here I must say that our famous police, about whom there has been so much talk, simply crossed the stage amid the strikers, and that they fired only from the wings, where their guns went oft of themselves in the hubbub. We hail made all possible extenuations, substituting for the army a squad of policemen, explaining that neither the miners nor the police detested each other, but that both were the victims of fatality. The piece is a work of pity and not of revolution.
Never mind, M. Turquet would have no police. "But they can cross the stage?" No! "Then they shall not appear; only gun-shots shall be heard." No! "Not even gun-shots in the distance?" No! Thanks, at last we know what M. Turquet wants: the scene of the police modified, some passages too distinctly socialistic expunged, and the piece is restored to us. We arrange another meeting, again believing the affair settled.
But here another character enters upon the scene, — M. Goblet, minister of public instruction. In the course of our interviews with M. Turquet, we had asked to see him, and he had sent us word that he was in agreement with his undersecretary and left the matter entirely to him. I return to spend Sunday in the country, where I receive from the ministry a dispatch announcing that the minister expects us on Monday. At first, stupefaction at this jumble; then, satisfaction at the hope that at last we are to see a man who will settle the affair in five minutes.
In a cab, under a diluvian rain, I give M. Basnach such information as I have concerning M. Goblet.
A petty lawyer at Amiens, enjoying a certain reputation in his neighborhood; attorney-general on the Fourth of September; elected deputy in 1873, under the favor of Gambetta; an energetic republican, who has passed from a soft red to a brilliant red in company with events; a traitor to Gambetta's memory and at swords' points with the opportunists, who hate him; and, to finish with a stroke, it is whispered at the ministry that " he receives secret visits from Clemenceau."
"You see," said I, innocently, to M. Basnach, "this is our man."
Fourth visit. First, we fall into the midst of an agitated ministry. Ever since morning the minister has been raging in his private office; we see messengers running to and fro in consternation, and young secretaries passing with disconcerted faces. Again it is the good M. Turquet who has uricliaiued this storm, for he has had the politeness, in one of his forgetful moments, to hand back to us the manuscript annotated by the Censure that we might expunge the objectionable passages. It seems that this was wrong. The minister is in a stew to get this manuscript, which he wanted to read before receiving us.
We enter. From the door I see my man: he is the enemy. A little man, dry, cold, and irritable,— one of those little men who are never resigned to their littleness. The sinister mouth of the lawyer, the hard eyes of the boitri/cois whom ambition has made a republican under the Republic, and who takes his revenge when he can by satisfying the malice and prejudices of his race. Evidently this man does not know Paris; he does not know how to receive a writer or how to talk to him ; all that he knows of our Parisian theatre he has learned from the provincial tours of Madame Sarah Beruhardt. Polite, however; he asked us to sit down.
And, before a single word had been exchanged, I felt his look fastened upon us. At last he held us both in his hands, and saw his opportunity of avenging Amiens. I will not say that he does not like rny literature, for he has not read me; but I am greatly mistaken if there is not some one in his family who abominates me. Anxious, we cast furtive glances behind the draperies to see if officers were not stationed there
to take us away. We were malefactors before a judge; and the frightful silence continued.
Nevertheless M. Bnsnach sacrificed himself by giving back the manuscript to M. Goblet, and what then followed stupefied me. The minister, who had not read the piece, could not speak of it; and yet he did speak of it, on the strength of what had been told him, but senselessly, accusing us, among other things, of winding up with a general massacre, when the scene of the police is the seventh out of twelve: undoubtedly, the good M. Turqnet had confused them. Impossible to come to an understanding; in fact, a frightful mess.
And then, abruptly, M. Goblet starts off on a tirade against the press. Ah! M. Goblet does not like the press; for it he has the hatred of the provincial and the authoritarian. In his most disagreeable tone he says to me: "And this campaign that you have begun against me in the newspapers! It is impossible to govern, if my decisions are to be discussed before they are taken." I looked at him, amazed, and responded: "Monsieur, I have begun nothing at all; I cannot prevent the newspapers from speaking. If I take part in the discussion, I shall sign my name and you will see it."
Then he falls upon M. Edouard Lockroy. "My excellent friend, M. Lockroy, has written to me saying that he feels sure that we will restore the piece to you. I should like to see him in my place!" I greatly desired to answer that that might happen sooner than he wished: I wondered at the auger of this man floundering about in our Paris without knowing it. In fact, at the request of M. Busnach, his friend, M. Lockroy has written a letter, my profound gratitude for which I ought here to signify; and this letter was what it should have been, the letter of a child of Paris, of a literary man of great wit and talent, of a man, in short, who knows our dear city, who does not fear the effect upon it of theatrical battles, for he knows that it lives principally upon passion and that the finest days of our literature have been days of struggle. But make that intelligible, if you can, to a determined man who would like to see our theatres as calm as that of Amiens!
"Monsieur," I say to him, "I am not a party man, as you know; I am an artist. All opinions have the floor in 'Germinal.'" And he answers: "I do not like this eclecticism."
He turned over the leaves of the manuscript, wishing to know the climax. Then, after reading, he declares: "That might have been said differently, but it is not what they described to me."
From that moment we were lost. I had still one more feeble ray of hope, for the good M. Turquet came in, having been sent for by the minister, and it was agreed that he should read the piece again in order to give us a final answer. He shuts himself up in his private office, forbids any one to enter, and asks us for two hours with mournful gestures.
Fifth visit. Two hours later we return. M. Turquet had fled, leaving word that the manuscript had been returned to M. Goblet, and that the latter would give us a reply the next day.
Sixth visit. The rain again pouring in torrents. We are exactly on time, and they seem stupefied and embarrassed at seeing us. M. Goblet is not in, M. Turquet is not in; they finally explain to us that the minister decided to write us a letter, entirely with his own hand, like the emperor, to inform us that he regretted his inability to authorize the representation of our piece. They did not condescend to receive us; they sent us word that they were not in, as if we were beggars. We are only writers; it is safe to treat us with contempt. And we put on our hats, and went out into the rain again.
Now, what? Shall we laugh, or get angry? Evidently there is but one man to complain of in all this, — M. Goblet. He has gone through the farce of getting the approval of the Cabinet, which was easy, by bringing false quotations. But he certainly did not tell the Cabinet that we had taken out the police and offered to soften down all the passages that seemed to him disturbing in their tendency. And besides, it is inadmissible that the entire Cabinet could be capable of suppressing a work in this fashion. M. Goblet alone is responsible, and, when Goblet is turned out, "Germinal" will be played.
Would a single one of the deputies of Paris be against us? If I were to collect signatures for the abolition of the Censure, would not every one of them sign? Would the republican majority of the Chamber prohibit our piece, if I could ask it to pronounce upon it? Therefore, I am entirely tranquil. It is absurd to suppose that, when the question of the Censure comes up in the discussion of the next appropriation bill, it will not be abolished with one stroke by refusing it the twenty thousand francs which it costs and which alone maintain it; for when the money stops, the dirty work will stop; it lives only by the toleration of the Chamber; I even believe it to be illegal now. We have fallen upon a country lawyer, that is all. We will wait until we have a man of brains for minister of public instruction.
What a murder to entrust these ministries, where the heart of Paris beats, to politicians who do not know us and who hate us! Let M. Goblet be given prefects to manage, well and good! But artists, writers!
And, to conclude, there is one thing that M. Goblet does not suspect,—that he has become famous. The country lawyer, the attorney-general, the frottgt of Gambetta, the minister, will pass away; but the man who prohibited "Germinal" will remain. M. Goblet will never be anything else than that man. It is fatal; every minister who prohibits a piece is consigned to eternal ridicule. Some day the piece gets played whether or no, people look at each other, and all Paris says: "Was it necessary to have been so stupid?" "Germinal" will kill M. Goblet.