"Your source for unusual and rare books."


Novel by Emile Zola.
(The Rougon-Macquart Series.)

Back to the main page of Money (L'Argent).



Ernest Alfred Vizetelly:
Preface to the original translation of "Money":

THE present version of M. Zola’s novel ‘L’Argent’ supplies one of the missing links in the English translations of the Rougon-Macquart series which the author initiated some five and twenty years ago, and brought to a close last summer by the publication of ‘Doctor Pascal.’ Judged by the standard of popularity, ‘L’Argent’ may be said to rank among M. Zola’s notable achievements, for not only has it had an extremely large sale in the original French, but the translations of it into various Continental languages have proved remarkably successful. This is not surprising, as the book deals with a subject of great interest to every civilized community. And with regard to this English version, it may, I think, be safely said that its publication is well timed, for the rottenness of our financial world has become such a crying scandal, and the inefficiency of our company laws has been so fully demonstrated, that the absolute urgency of reform can no longer be denied.
A work, therefore, which exposes the evils of ‘speculation,’ which shows the company promoter on the war-path, and the ‘guinea-pig’ basking at his ease, which demonstrates how the public is fooled and ruined by the brigands of Finance, is evidently a work for the times, even though it deal with the Paris Bourse instead of with the London market. For the ways of the speculator, the promoter, the wrecker, the defaulter, the reptile journalist, and the victim, are much the same all the world over; and it matters little whence the example may be drawn, the warning will apply with as much force in England as in France.
The time for prating of the purity of our public life, and for thanking the Divinity that in financial as in other matters we are not as other men, has gone by. When disasters like that of the Liberator group are possible, when examples of financial unsoundness are matters of everyday occurrence, when the very name of ‘trust company’ opens up visions of incapacity, deceit, and fraud, it is quite certain that things are ripe for stringent inquiry and reform.
Of course the cleansing of the Augean stable of finance in this country will prove a Herculean labour; but although callous Governments and legislators may postpone and shirk it, the task remains before them, ever threatening, ever calling for attention, and each day’s delay in dealing with it only adds to the evil. We are overrun with rotten limited liability companies, flooded with swindling ‘bucket-shops,’ crashes and collapses rain upon us, and the ‘promoter’ and the ‘guinea-pig’ still and ever enjoy impunity. It is becoming more and more impossible to burke the issue. It stares us in the face. Even if the various measures of political and social reform, about which we have heard so much of recent years, should yield all that their partisans declare they will, it is doubtful whether there would be much national improvement. For the rottenness of our social system must still remain the same; the fabric must still repose upon as unsound a basis as it does now if the brigands of Finance remain free to plunder the community and to pave their way to ephemeral wealth and splendour with the bodies of the thrifty and the credulous.
One may well ask why this freedom should be allowed them. The man in the street who wishes to lay odds against the favourite for the Derby is promptly mulcted in pocket or consigned to limbo, but the promoter of the swindling company, and the keeper of the swindling ‘bucket-shop,’ who deliberately defraud other people of their money, are at liberty to ply their nefarious callings with no worse fate before them than a short suspension of their discharge should they choose to close their books with the aid of the Bankruptcy Court. There cannot be two moralities, although a distinguished Frenchman, the late M. Nisard, once tried to demonstrate that there were, and was laughed to scorn for his pains. We know that there is but one true morality—the same for the rich as for the poor, the same for the legislator as for the elector, the same for the defaulter who dabbles in millions as for the welsher who sneaks half-crowns. And it should be borne in mind that the harm done to the community at large by the thousands of bookmakers disseminated throughout the United Kingdom is as nothing beside that which is done by the half thousand financial brigands who infest the one city of London. It may, I think, be safely said that more people were absolutely ruined by the crash of the Liberator group than by all the betting on English racecourses over a period of many years.
There have been, I believe, over 2,200 applicants for relief to the fund which has been raised for the benefit of the sufferers of so-called Philanthropic Finance, and among the number it appears there are nearly 1,400 single women and widows. Some of the victims have committed suicide, others have gone mad. Thousands, moreover, who are too proud to beg, find themselves either starving or in sadly straitened circumstances, with nothing but a pittance left them of their former little comforts. This is a specimen of the work done by the brigand of Finance.
Of course there are reforms urgently needed in the very organisation of the Stock Exchange; and reforms needed with regard to the conditions under which public companies may be launched. Why should men be allowed to ask the public to subscribe millions of money for the purchase of properties which are literally valueless? Why, moreover, should directors be allowed to proceed to ‘allotment,’ when but a tithe of the shares placed on the market have been taken up? And surely the time has come for the proper auditing of accounts under Government supervision. The neglectful auditor and the fraudulent promoter are as much in need of abolition as the ornamental ‘guinea-pig.’ And such abolition, and the enforcement of many reforms, might be secured by a self-supporting Ministry of Commercial Finance. Some institution of the kind will doubtless be founded in time to come; and, meanwhile, if all that is told us of the purity of our public life be true, I fail to see why a series of measures directed against the brigands of Finance should not promptly receive the assent of both Houses of Parliament and become law. Surely no member of the Lords or the Commons would dare to stand up and plead the cause of the negligent director who imperils the safety of other people’s money? Surely not one of our legislators would dare to take the fraudulent promoter and the rogue of the ‘bucket-shop’ under his protecting wing? And, as such measures must of necessity be non-contentious, why do not some of our social reformers initiate them, instead of for ever and ever harping upon ‘Bills’ which are not likely to be included in the Statute-book for another score of years?
I am not against public companies. Let us have them; let us have as many good ones as we can get, but let them be honestly founded and honestly administered. It is through the multiplicity of public companies that we may eventually attain to Collectivism, which so many great thinkers of the age deem to be the future towards which the world is slowly but surely marching. And when that comes, perhaps, as Sigismond Busch, one of M. Zola’s characters, foreshadows in the following pages, we shall have some other means of exchange than money—the metallic money of the present day. Sigismond Busch is a Karl Marxite, a believer in the universal fraternity of humanity, a fraternity which he regretfully admits is still far away from us. Of a very different stamp to him is M. Zola’s hero—if hero he can be called—Saccard, the scheming financier, the sanguine promoter and manager of the Universal Bank, the poet of money, the apostle of gambling, ever intent on gigantic enterprises, believing that the passion for gain should be fostered rather than discouraged, and that in order to set society on a proper basis it is necessary to destroy the financial power of the Jews.
Saccard is one of M. Zola’s favourite creations. After figuring in the ‘Fortune des Rougon,’ he played a prominent part in ‘La Curée;’ and he is further alluded to in ‘Doctor Pascal,’ Clotilde, the heroine of that work, being his daughter. Certainly Saccard, the worshipper of Mammon, the man to whom money is everything in life, is a true type of our fin-de-siècle society. It has often occurred to me that in sketching this daring and unscrupulous financier M. Zola must have bethought himself of Mirès, whose name is so closely linked to the history of Second Empire finance. Mirès, however, was a Jew, whereas Saccard is a Jew-hater, and outwardly, at all events, a zealous Roman Catholic. In this respect he reminds one of Bontoux, of Union Générale notoriety, just as Hamelin the engineer reminds one of Feder, Bontoux’s associate. Indeed, the history of M. Zola’s Universal Bank is much the history of the Union Générale. The latter was solemnly blessed by the Pope, and in a like way M. Zola shows us the Universal receiving the Papal benediction. Moreover, the secret object of the Union Générale was to undermine the financial power of the Jews, and in the novel we find a similar purpose ascribed to Saccard’s Bank. The Union, we know, was eventually crushed by the great Israelite financiers, and this again is the fate which overtakes the institution whose meteor-like career is traced in the pages of ‘L’Argent.’
There is a strong Jewish element in this story, and here and there some very unpleasant things are said of the chosen people. It should be remembered, however, that these remarks are the remarks of M. Zola’s characters and not of M. Zola himself. He had to portray certain Jew-haters, and has simply put into their mouths the words which they are constantly using. This statement is not unnecessary, for M. Zola counts many friends and admirers among writers and readers of the Jewish persuasion, and some of them might conceive the language in which their race is spoken of to be expressive of the author’s personal opinions. But such is not the case. M. Zola is remarkably free from racial and religious prejudices. And, after all, I do not think that any Hebrew reader can take exception to the portrait of Gundermann, the great Jew financier, the King of the Money Market, who in a calm methodical way brings about the ruin of Saccard and Hamelin. Gundermann, moreover, really existed and may be readily identified.
In Daigremont, another financier, but a Catholic, we have a combination of Achille Fould and Isaac Pereire. Daigremont’s house is undoubtedly Fould’s, and so is his gallery of paintings. And there are other characters in the story who might in a measure be identified. For instance, readers acquainted with the social history of France during the last half century will doubtless trace a resemblance between the Princess d’Orviedo and a certain foreign Duchess. Then the Viscount de Rohan-Chagot is strangely suggestive of a Rohan-Chabot, whose financial transactions brought him before a court of law during the latter period of the Second Empire. Various personalities are merged in the character of the courtly Marquis de Bohain, that perfect type of the aristocratic rogue; but Rougon is undoubtedly Eugène Rouher tout craché, whatever M. Zola may pretend to the contrary. M. Zola himself will be found in the book, for surely Paul Jordan, the impecunious journalist with ‘an idea for a novel,’ is the author of the Rougon-Macquart series in the far-away days when he lived on the topmost floor of a modest house on the Boulevard de Clichy.
In Huret we are presented with a specimen of the corrupt Deputy, and in this connection it may be pointed out that the venal French legislator by no means dates from the Panama scandals. In fact, there were undoubtedly more corrupt members in the Corps Législatif of the Second Empire than there have ever been in the Parliament of the Third Republic. Only, in those glorious Imperial times, anything approaching a scandal was promptly hushed up, and more than once the Emperor himself personally intervened to shield his peccant supporters. M. Schneider, who presided over the Corps Législatif in its later days, was undoubtedly a very honest man; but it would be impossible to say the same of his predecessors—Walewski, who claimed descent from the great Napoleon, and Morny, who was the little Napoleon’s illegitimate half-brother. It is notorious that Morny made millions of money by trickery and fraud; and that the Emperor himself was well aware of it was proved conclusively by the papers found in his cabinet at the Tuileries after the Revolution of 1870. Roguery being thus freely practised in high places, a considerable number of Deputies undoubtedly opined that there was no occasion for them to remain honest.
‘L’Argent,’ however, is no mere story of swindling and corruption. Whilst proving that money is the root of much evil, it also shows that it is the source of much good. It does not merely depict the world of finance; it gives us glimpses of the charitable rich, the decayed noblesse striving to keep up appearances, the thrifty and the struggling poor. Further, it appears to me to be a less contemplative work than many of M. Zola’s novels. It possesses in no small degree that quality of ‘action’ in which, according to some critics, the great naturaliste’s writings are generally deficient. The plot, too, is a sound one, and from beginning to end the interest never flags.
In preparing the present version for the press I have followed the same course as I pursued with regard to ‘Dr. Pascal.’ Certain passages have been condensed, and others omitted; and in order to reconnect the narrative brief interpolations have here and there been necessary. Nobody can regret these changes more than I do myself, but before reviewers proceed to censure me (as some of them did in the case of ‘Dr. Pascal’), I would ask them to consider the responsibility which rests upon my shoulders. If they desire to have verbatim translations of M. Zola’s works, let them help to establish literary freedom.
And now, by way of conclusion, I have a request to make. After perusing the story of Saccard’s work of ruin, the reader will, perhaps, have a keener perception of all the misery wrought by that Liberator crash to which I have previously alluded. I would point out, however, that whereas Saccard’s bank was essentially a speculative enterprise, the Liberator and its allied companies claimed that they never embarked in any speculative dealings whatever. Their shareholders had no desire to gamble; they only expected to obtain a fair return from the investment of their hard-earned savings. Their position is therefore deserving of all commiseration. Unfortunately, the fund raised for their benefit still falls far short of the amount required; and so I would ask all who read ‘Money,’ and who have money to spare, to send some little of their store to the Rev. J. Stockwell Watts, at the office of the Fund, 16 Farringdon Street, E.O. In complying with this suggestion they will be doing a good action. And I may say that nothing would afford greater pleasure either to M. Zola or myself than to learn that this book had in some degree contributed to alleviate so much undeserved misery and hardship.

E. A. V.
April 1894.

Back to the main page of Money (L'Argent).