The Three Aldermen


First Tableau.

[The scene is in the hotel of Alderman Pierre. The window looks out on a

fine park; three persons are seated near a good fire.]

Pierre. Upon my word, a fire is very comfortable when the stomach is

satisfied. It must be agreed that it is a pleasant thing. But, alas! how

many worthy people like the King of Yvetot,

Blow on their fingers for want of wood.

Unhappy creatures, Heaven inspires me with a charitable thought. You see

these fine trees. I will cut them down and distribute the wood among

the poor.

Paul and Jean. What! gratis?

Pierre. Not exactly. There would soon be an end of my good works if I

scattered my property thus. I think that my park is worth twenty

thousand livres; by cutting it down I shall get much more for it.

Paul. A mistake. Your wood as it stands is worth more than that in the

neighboring forests, for it renders services which that cannot give.

When cut down it will, like that, be good for burning only, and will not

be worth a sou more per cord.

Pierre. Oh! Mr. Theorist, you forget that I am a practical man. I

supposed that my reputation as a speculator was well enough established

to put me above any charge of stupidity. Do you think that I shall amuse

myself by selling my wood at the price of other wood?

Paul. You must.

Pierre. Simpleton!--Suppose I prevent the bringing of any wood to


Paul. That will alter the case. But how will you manage it?

Pierre. This is the whole secret. You know that wood pays an entrance

duty of ten sous per cord. To-morrow I will induce the Aldermen to raise

this duty to one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred livres, so high

as to keep out every fagot. Well, do you see? If the good people do not

want to die of cold, they must come to my wood-yard. They will fight for

my wood; I shall sell it for its weight in gold, and this well-regulated

deed of charity will enable me to do others of the same sort.

Paul. This is a fine idea, and it suggests an equally good one to me.

Jean. Well, what is it?

Paul. How do you find this Normandy butter?

Jean. Excellent.

Paul. Well, it seemed passable a moment ago. But do you not think it

is a little strong? I want to make a better article at Paris. I will

have four or five hundred cows, and I will distribute milk, butter and

cheese to the poor people.

Pierre and Jean. What! as a charity?

Paul. Bah, let us always put charity in the foreground. It is such a

fine thing that its counterfeit even is an excellent card. I will give

my butter to the people and they will give me their money. Is that

called selling?

Jean. No, according to the Bourgeois Gentilhomme; but call it what

you please, you ruin yourself. Can Paris compete with Normandy in

raising cows?

Paul. I shall save the cost of transportation.

Jean. Very well; but the Normans are able to beat the Parisians,

even if they do have to pay for transportation.

Paul. Do you call it beating any one to furnish him things at a low


Jean. It is the time-honored word. You will always be beaten.

Paul. Yes; like Don Quixote. The blows will fall on Sancho. Jean, my

friend, you forgot the octroi.

Jean. The octroi! What has that to do with your butter?

Paul. To-morrow I will demand protection, and I will induce the

Council to prohibit the butter of Normandy and Brittany. The people must

do without butter, or buy mine, and that at my price, too.

Jean. Gentlemen, your philanthropy carries me along with it. In time

one learns to howl with the wolves. It shall not be said that I am an

unworthy Alderman. Pierre, this sparkling fire has illumined your soul;

Paul, this butter has given an impulse to your understanding, and I

perceive that this piece of salt pork stimulates my intelligence.

To-morrow I will vote myself, and make others vote, for the exclusion of

hogs, dead or alive; this done, I will build superb stock-yards in the

middle of Paris for the unclean animal forbidden to the Hebrews. I

will become swineherd and pork-seller, and we shall see how the good

people of Lutetia can help getting their food at my shop.

Pierre. Gently, my friends; if you thus run up the price of butter and

salt meat, you diminish the profit which I expected from my wood.

Paul. Nor is my speculation so wonderful, if you ruin me with your

fuel and your hams.

Jean. What shall I gain by making you pay an extra price for my

sausages, if you overcharge me for pastry and fagots?

Pierre. Do you not see that we are getting into a quarrel? Let us

rather unite. Let us make reciprocal concessions. Besides, it is not

well to listen only to miserable self-interest. Humanity is concerned,

and must not the warming of the people be secured?

Paul. That it is true, and people must have butter to spread on their


Jean. Certainly. And they must have a bit of pork for their soup.

All Together. Forward, charity! Long live philanthropy! To-morrow,

to-morrow, we will take the octroi by assault.

Pierre. Ah, I forgot. One word more which is important. My friends, in

this selfish age people are suspicious, and the purest intentions are

often misconstrued. Paul, you plead for wood; Jean, defend butter;

and I will devote myself to domestic swine. It is best to head off

invidious suspicions. Paul and Jean (leaving). Upon my word, what a

clever fellow!


The Common Council.

Paul. My dear colleagues, every day great quantities of wood come into

Paris, and draw out of it large sums of money. If this goes on, we shall

all be ruined in three years, and what will become of the poor people?

[Bravo.] Let us prohibit foreign wood. I am not speaking for myself, for

you could not make a tooth-pick out of all the wood I own. I am,

therefore, perfectly disinterested. [Good, good.] But here is Pierre,

who has a park, and he will keep our fellow-citizens from freezing. They

will no longer be in a state of dependence on the charcoal dealers of

the Yonne. Have you ever thought of the risk we run of dying of cold, if

the proprietors of these foreign forests should take it into their heads

not to bring any more wood to Paris? Let us, therefore, prohibit wood.

By this means we shall stop the drain of specie, we shall start the

wood-chopping business, and open to our workmen a new source of labor

and wages. [Applause.]

Jean. I second the motion of the Honorable member--a proposition so

philanthropic and so disinterested, as he remarked. It is time that we

should stop this intolerable freedom of entry, which has brought a

ruinous competition upon our market, so that there is not a province

tolerably well situated for producing some one article which does not

inundate us with it, sell it to us at a low price, and depress Parisian

labor. It is the business of the State to equalize the conditions of

production by wisely graduated duties; to allow the entrance from

without of whatever is dearer there than at Paris, and thus relieve us

from an unequal contest. How, for instance, can they expect us to make

milk and butter in Paris as against Brittany and Normandy? Think,

gentlemen; the Bretons have land cheaper, feed more convenient, and

labor more abundant. Does not common sense say that the conditions must

be equalized by a protecting duty? I ask that the duty on milk and

butter be raised to a thousand per cent., and more, if necessary. The

breakfasts of the people will cost a little more, but wages will rise!

We shall see the building of stables and dairies, a good trade in

churns, and the foundation of new industries laid. I, myself, have not

the least interest in this plan. I am not a cowherd, nor do I desire to

become one. I am moved by the single desire to be useful to the laboring

classes. [Expressions of approbation.]

Pierre. I am happy to see in this assembly statesmen so pure,

enlightened, and devoted to the interests of the people. [Cheers.] I

admire their self-denial, and cannot do better than follow such noble

examples. I support their motion, and I also make one to exclude Poitou

hogs. It is not that I want to become a swineherd or pork dealer, in

which case my conscience would forbid my making this motion; but is it

not shameful, gentlemen, that we should be paying tribute to these poor

Poitevin peasants who have the audacity to come into our own market,

take possession of a business that we could have carried on ourselves,

and, after having inundated us with sausages and hams, take from us,

perhaps, nothing in return? Anyhow, who says that the balance of trade

is not in their favor, and that we are not compelled to pay them a

tribute in money? Is it not plain that if this Poitevin industry were

planted in Paris, it would open new fields to Parisian labor? Moreover,

gentlemen, is it not very likely, as Mr. Lestiboudois said, that we buy

these Poitevin salted meats, not with our income, but our capital? Where

will this land us? Let us not allow greedy, avaricious and perfidious

rivals to come here and sell things cheaply, thus making it impossible

for us to produce them ourselves. Aldermen, Paris has given us its

confidence, and we must show ourselves worthy of it. The people are

without labor, and we must create it, and if salted meat costs them a

little more, we shall, at least, have the consciousness that we have

sacrificed our interests to those of the masses, as every good Alderman

ought to do. [Thunders of applause.]

A Voice. I hear much said of the poor people; but, under the pretext

of giving them labor, you begin by taking away from them that which is

worth more than labor itself--wood, butter, and soup.

Pierre, Paul and Jean. Vote, vote. Away with your theorists and

generalizers! Let us vote. [The three motions are carried.]