Paris in the Twentieth Century

Ah!' said Michel, tempted, 'you have modern poems?'
'Of course. For instance, Martillac's 'Electric Harmonies,' which won a prize last year from the Academic of Sciences, and Monsieur de Pulfasse's 'Meditations on Oxygen;' and we have the 'Poetic Parallelogram,' and even the 'Decarbonated Odes. . .'
Michel couldn't bear hearing another word and found himself outside again, stupefied and overcome. Not even this tiny amount of art had escaped the pernicious influence of the age! Science, Chemistry, Mechanics had invaded the realm of poetry! 'And such things are read,' he murmured as he hurried through the streets, ' perhaps even bought! And signed by the authors and placed on the shelves marked 'Literature.' But not one copy of Balzac, not one work by Victor Hugo! Where can I find such things-where, if not the Library...

As for the orchestra,' Quinsonnas continued, 'it has fallen very low since his instrument no longer suffices to feed the instrumentalist! Talk about a trade that's not practical. Ah, if we could use the power wasted on the pedals of a piano for pumping water out of coal mines! If the air escaping from ophicleides could also be used to turn the Catacomb Company's windmills! If the trombone's alternating action could be applied to a mechanical sawmill - oh, then the executants would be rich and many!

Dictionaries, manuals, grammars, study guides and topic notes, classical authors and the entire book trade in de Viris, Quintus-Curtius, Sallust, and Livy peacefully crumbled to dust on the shelves of the old Hachette publishing house; but introductions to mathematics, textbooks on civil engineering, mechanics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, courses in commerce, finance, industrial arts- whatever concerned the market tendencies of the day - sold by the millions of copies.

Literature is dead, my boy' the uncle replied. 'Look at these empty rooms, and these books buried in their dust; no one reads anymore; I am the guardian of a cemetery here, and exhumation is forbidden.' . . . 'My boy, never speak of literature, never speak of art! Accept the situation as it is! You are Monsieur Boutardins ward before being your Uncle Huguenin's nephew!

Music is no longer tasted it is swallowed.

So all that fame had lasted less than a hundred years! Les Orientales, Les Meditations, La Comedie Humaine - forgotten, lost, unknown! Yet here were huge crates of books which giant steam cranes were unloading in the courtyards, and buyers were crowding around the purchase desk. But one of them was asking for 'Stress Theory' in twenty volumes, another for an 'Abstract of Electric Problems', this one for 'A Practical Treatise for the Lubrication of Driveshafts', and that one for the latest 'Monograph on Cancer of the Brain'. 'How strange!' mused Michel. 'All of science and industry here, just as at school, nothing for art!' I must sound like a madman asking for literary works here - am I insane?

The young man left his uncle's office, eyes filled with tears; yet he braced himself against dispair. 'I have no more than a single day of freedom,' he mused, 'at least I shall spend it as I please; I have a little money, and it I shall spend on books beginning with the great poets and illustrious authors of the last century. Each evening they will console me for the vexations of each day.

Work, my boy! forget me for a few years; I'd only give you bad advice; don't mention our meeting to your uncle- it might do you harm; don't think about an old man who would be dead long since, were it not for his dear habit of coming here every day and finding his old friends on these shelves.