Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Beauty of Life in Social Relationships
TFP Viewpoint, Vol. 18 No. 3, June 2011
magazines are often very charming. This is true even when what comes down
to us are only loose undated pages that give us glimpses of the remote
was it written? The article gives us only the most vague elements as to
the answer. It is safe to place them somewhere in the 1860's. In any case
they have the merit of evoking certain values of the social conduct of old.
Values that increasingly disappeared as large cities came into being in
the last century, and of which, not even vestiges have remained among the
general public of today's Babels of concrete, steel and asphalt. They were
precious values that endowed social relationships with human warmth and
that stemmed from the fact that the civilisation of yesteryear was centred
more around the well-being of the soul rather than that of the body. This
changed as materialism increasingly shaped customs and institutions.
we will quote extensively from the aforementioned article to encourage a
reaction against this decay. One that makes so many noble characters
suffer and painfully stifles so many healthy initiatives. After evoking
the picturesque ambience of the Parisian cafés of the second quarter of
the nineteenth century, some of which were centres of a refined social
life while others displayed a rich ideological effervescence, the writer
laments that they were replaced by new cafes of banal, unstylish luxury
and an atmosphere of an establishment whose customers thought only of
eating and drinking and whose proprietors only thought of making money.
a counterpoise to this materialised environment, this article evokes the
picturesque customs of the old cafés and the deeply affable and trusting
relationships that frequently developed among them. What took place
between the Chevalier de Lautrec and the owner of the Café Valois during
the French Revolution faithfully illustrates the sweetness of life that
the café ambience once had.
should be noted that one of the effects of the French Revolution, that
ravished the aristocracy as well as Christian values, was to impoverish
many of those noble families who survived the Reign of Terror. However in
spite of the ravages of one of the most violent revolutions in history,
the values of Christian generosity and nobility of soul did not vanish
entirely. The following words of Monsieur de Belloy describe one such
O good old days! Farewell, O affable visage of the proprietor and smiling
and respectful reception of the waiters! Farewell, O solemn entries of the
Café Valois' dignified customers that people were curious to see. Such
was the case with the Knight Commander Odoard de La Fere's arrival.
, the canon of the Palais-Royal heralded his arrival. He would appear
on the threshold and pause for a moment to sweep the salon with an affable
and self-assured gaze as someone eager to practice a longstanding custom.
His right hand pressing firmly on the white and blue porcelain handle of
his cane, he threw his old faded brown cape over his shoulder with a swing
of his left hand. No one ever snickered at this, since not even the most
elegant mantle with golden fleur-de-lys embroidery was ever thrown back
with a more distinguished gesture. In 1789 the former steward of the
Prince of Conti ran the Café Valois; it was rather devoid of political
colour and local flavour at that time.
the frequenters of the place, standing out by his noble manners, stately
demeanour and wooden leg, was the Chevalier de Lautrec. He was from the
second line of that family, an old brigadier of the king’s army, a
Knight of Malta, of
of his pension overnight, it was never known what the Chevalier de Lautrec
lived on at a time when it was so difficult to live, and so easy to die.
But here we have something that sheds at least a dim light on this mystery.
morning after finishing a very modest breakfast in the Café Valois, as
was his custom, the Chevalier de Lautrec rose from his table, chatted with
all naturalness with the proprietress, who stood behind a counter, bid
good-day to the master of the café with a slight gesture of the eyes, and
walked out majestically saying nothing about the bill.
scene was repeated the next day, and the next, and on every day for weeks,
months and years without the owner of the establishment ever receiving an
explanation from the Chevalier or even thinking to ask him for one.
few days after the first of these singular exits, as the Chevalier
directed his gaze to the good proprietor's son, he said to the father in
an unpresuming tone of voice.
here is a young lad that will learn very little now that the schools are
closed. You should send him to my house everyday between one and
in the afternoon. I shall teach him elementary mathematics and English,
which I speak passably. No doubt this would be useful to him if he is to
replace you some day; and besides, I really don’t have anything to
occupy my time, so these lessons would help to entertain me.”
you are really very good, a thousand times good," answered the
innkeeper. "What you propose would be an invaluable favour to us,
especially in these times. But we would not dare encumber you to the point
it would rather be doing me a service, I tell you!” the Chevalier
the fact that his eyes were so full of authority, he said this with no
firmness at all, but the worthy proprietor was indeed perceptive to
appreciate this contrast, and he came close to thrusting his son into the
said the innkeeper, “you are much too generous to us. My son is yours,
as well as my whole house, today, tomorrow and always.” For many years
thereafter the boy studied English and mathematics at the house of the
he had dined with a good appetite the Chevalier, for the first time in 26
years, candidly asked for the check while he paged with all naturality
through the Drapeau Blanc (the Monarchist Daily).
batting an eyelash, the proprietor exchanged a few words with his young
wife. Ten minutes later the Chevalier received a bill in the amount of
16,980 francs for 8,490 dinners at two francs each.
old nobleman glanced at the total, opened his wallet, took out enough
bills for the sum and handed them to the waiter along with the check,
telling him to keep the change, which was exactly 520 francs. He rose up
from the table, doubtless feeling much lighter, though his expression
betrayed nothing of it. He then went over to the counter according to his
old habit and conversed with the young mistress of the establishment for a
few moments before slowly directing his steps towards the door. Then, with
a napkin draped over his arm, the proprietor respectfully stepped aside to
allow him to pass by, the old Chevalier gravely took his hand and warmly
pressed it between his own.
silent scene we have just described did not go unnoticed by the Marquis de
Rivarol, who was coming in just then after having set his watch to the
famous clock of the Palais Royal.
the time of the Restoration, the Chevalier de Lautrec inherited a small
share of the estate of one of his brothers who had died in Coblentz
shortly before. Even though it was an appreciable sum, most of it was
consumed settling hefty bills that were long overdue. But thanks to the
recovery of his pension, he was able to end his days with financial ease
and always faithful to the Café Valois for whose advancement he
contributed to as we shall explain.
We have seen that the proprietor of that hospitable establishment was a creditor like few are found in any epoch. Few cases as beautiful as the one we have related dignified the life of that good man, with no great harm to his finances. This businessman of ancient stock did not treat everyone indiscriminately. He possessed a clear perception and sensibility of heart.
the Chevalier de Lautrec's payment, the proprietor recovered most of what
was owed him, and as to the interest on that debt, which he had never
contemplated charging, he was generously compensated by the lessons from
such a proficient teacher of English, mathematics and, above all, good
sentiments. Furthermore, owing to this noble relationship, the Café
Valois won distinguished and selected patrons. It acquired an even greater
original character, which was a considerable advantage and almost vital
need for such an establishment at that time.
the Marquis de Rivarol was not a man who would miss such a good
opportunity to be indiscreet for charity's sake. Since he had many
relations among the monarchists of that time, as he would also among those
of the future, it became easy for him to serve the interests of his
favourite café by making this and other anecdotes well known.
to him, the owner of the establishment became something of a curiosity and
was sought out to the point of aggravation. This was compounded by the
fact that although the innkeeper's political convictions were as vague as
they were moderate, his qualities were ascribed to his perceived political
fervour, but in reality they lay in innate kindness and paternal tradition.
In any case this was very advantageous to him, for while the Café Lemblin
became the meeting place of the officers of the Empire, now retired or in
the reserves, and of some republicans and liberals not belonging to the
army, the voltigeurs (elite skirmishers) of Louis XV and the young
members of the Guards Corps chose the Café Valois.
(*) Translated from Catolicismo, march 1963
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© June 2011, TFP Viewpoint. Permission is granted to reproduce, in whole or in part, this newsletter as long as due credit is given to TFP Viewpoint.