As for the THIRTEEN, they were all men of the stamp of Trelawney, Lord Byron's friend, who was, they say, the original of his "Corsair." They were all fatalists, men of nerve and poesy, weary of leading flat and empty lives, driven toward Asiatic enjoyments by forces all the more excessive because, long dormant, they awoke furious. One of them, after re-reading "Venice Preserved," and admiring the sublime union of Pierre and Jaffier, began to reflect on the virtues shown by men who are outlawed by society, on the honesty of galley-slaves, the faithfulness of thieves among each other, the privileges of exorbitant power which such men know how to win by concentrating all ideas into a single will. He saw that Man is greater than men. He concluded that society ought to belong wholly to those distinguished beings who, to natural intelligence, acquired wisdom, and fortune, add a fanaticism hot enough to fuse into one casting these different forces. That done, their occult power, vast in action and in intensity, against which the social order would be helpless, would cast down all obstacles, blast all other wills, and give to each the devilish power of all. This world apart within the world, hostile to the world, admitting none of the world's ideas, not recognizing any law, not submitting to any conscience but that of necessity, obedient to a devotion only, acting with every faculty for a single associate when one of their number asked for the assistance of all,--this life of filibusters in lemon kid gloves and cabriolets; this intimate union of superior beings, cold and sarcastic, smiling and cursing in the midst of a false and puerile society; this certainty of forcing all things to serve an end, of plotting a vengeance that could not fail of living in thirteen hearts; this happiness of nurturing a secret hatred in the face of men, and of being always in arms against this; this ability to withdraw to the sanctuary of self with one idea more than even the most remarkable of men could have,--this religion of pleasure and egotism cast so strong a spell over Thirteen men that they revived the society of Jesuits to the profit of the devil.
It was horrible and stupendous; but the compact was made, and it lasted precisely because it appeared to be so impossible.
There was, therefore, in Paris a brotherhood of THIRTEEN, who belonged to each other absolutely, but ignored themselves as absolutely before the world. At night they met, like conspirators, hiding no thought, disposing each and all of a common fortune, like that of the Old Man of the Mountain; having their feet in all salons, their hands in all money-boxes, and making all things serve their purpose or their fancy without scruple. No chief commanded them; no one member could arrogate to himself that power. The most eager passion, the most exacting circumstance, alone had the right to pass first. They were Thirteen unknown kings,--but true kings, more than ordinary kings and judges and executioners,--men who, having made themselves wings to roam through society from depth to height, disdained to be anything in the social sphere because they could be all. If the present writer ever learns the reasons of their abdication of this power, he will take occasion to tell them.[*]
[*] See Theophile Gautier's account of the society of the "Cheval Rouge." Memoir of Balzac. Roberts Brothers, Boston.
Now, with this brief explanation, he may be allowed to begin the tale of certain episodes in the history of the THIRTEEN, which have more particularly attracted him by the Parisian flavor of their details and the whimsicality of their contrasts.
FERRAGUS, CHIEF OF THE DEVORANTS