The Three Aldermen
A DEMONSTRATION IN FOUR TABLEAUX.
[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
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?
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
Jean. No, according to the Bourgeois Gentilhomme; but call it what
you please, you ruin yourself. Can Paris compete with Normandy in
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
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.]