The Goldsmith of
Paris by H. W.
IN the good old days of France the fair, when no one dared question
the divine right of the sovereign, or the purity of the church,—when
the rights of the feudal seigneurs were unchallenged, and they could
head or hang, mutilate or quarter their vassals at their
pleasure,—when freedom was a word as unmeaning as it is now tinder
his sacred majesty, Napoleon the Third, there came to the capital,
from Touraine, an artizan, named Anseau, who was as cunning in his
trade of goldsmith as Benvenuto Cellini, the half-mad artificer of
Florence. He became a burgess of Paris, and a subject of the king,
whose high protection he purchased by many presents, both of works of
art and good red gold. He inhabited a house built by himself, near the
church of St. Leu, in the Rue St. Denys, where his forge was well
known to half the amateurs of fine jewelry. He was a man of pure
morals and persevering industry; always laboring, always improving,
constantly learning new secrets and new receipts, and seeking
everywhere for new fashions and devices to attract and gratify his
customers. When the night was far advanced, the soldiers of the guard
and the revellers returning from their carousals, always saw a lighted
lamp at the casement of the goldsmith's workshop, where he was
hammering, carving, chiseling and filing,—in a word, laboring at
those marvels of ingenuity and toil which made the delight of the
ladies and the minions of the court. He was a man who lived in the
fear of God, and in a wholesome dread of robbers, nobles, and noise.
He was gentle and moderate of speech, courteous to noble, monk and
burgess, so that he might be said to have no enemy.
Claude Anseau was strongly built. His arms were rounded and
muscular, and his hand had the grip of an iron vice. His broad
shoulders reminded the learned of the giant Atlas; his white teeth
seemed as if they were formed for masticating iron. His countenance,
though placid, was full of resolution, and his glance was so keen that
it might have melted gold, though the limpid lustre of his eyes
tempered their burning ardor. In a word, though a peaceable man, the
goldsmith was not one to be insulted with impunity, and perhaps it was
a knowledge of his physical qualities that secured him from attack in
those stormy days of ruffianly violence.
Yet sometimes, in spite of his accumulating wealth and tranquil
life, the loneliness of the goldsmith made him restless. He was not
insensible to beauty, and often, as he wrought a wedding ring for the
finger of some fair damsel, he thought with what delight he could
forge one for some gentle creature who would love him for himself and
not for the riches that called him lord. Then he would sally forth and
hie to the river-side, and pass long hours in the dreamy reveries of
One day as he was strolling, in this tender frame of mind, along
the left bank of the Seine, he came to the meadow afterwards called
the Pre aux Clercs, which was then in the domain of the Abbey of St.
Germain, and not in that of the University. There, finding himself in
the open fields, he encountered a poor girl, who addressed him with
the simple salutation:—"God save you, my lord!"
The musical intonation of her voice, chiming in with the melodious
images that then filled the goldsmith's busy brain, impressed him so
pleasantly that he turned, and saw that the damsel was holding a cow
by a tether, while it was browsing the rank grass that grew upon the
borders of a ditch.
"My child," said he, "how is it that you are pasturing your cow on
the Sabbath? Know you not that it is forbidden, and that you are in
danger of imprisonment?"
"My lord," replied the girl, casting down her eyes, "I have nothing
to fear, because I belong to the abbey. My lord abbot has given us
license to feed our cow here after sunset."
"Then you love your cow better than the safety of your soul," said
"Of a truth, my lord, the animal furnishes half our subsistence."
"I marvel," said the good goldsmith, "to see you thus poorly clad
and barefoot on the Sabbath. Thou art fair to look upon, and thou must
needs have suitors from the city."
"Nay, my lord," replied the girl, showing a bracelet that clasped
her rounded left arm; "I belong to the abbey." And she cast so sad a
look on the good burgess that his heart sank within him.
"How is this?" he resumed,—and he touched the bracelet, whereon
were engraven the arms of the Abbey of St. Germain.
"My lord, I am the daughter of a serf. Thus, whoever should unite
himself to me in marriage would become a serf himself, were he a
burgess of Paris, and would belong, body and goods, to the abbey. For
this reason I am shunned by every one. But it is not this that saddens
me—it is the dread of being married to a serf by command of my lord
abbot, to perpetuate a race of slaves. Were I the fairest in the land,
lovers would avoid me like the plague."
"And how old are you, my dear?" asked the goldsmith.
"I know not, my lord," replied the girl; "but my lord abbot has it
This great misery touched the heart of the good man, who for a long
time had himself eaten the bread of misfortune. He conformed his pace
to that of the girl, and they moved in this way towards the river in
perfect silence. The burgess looked on her fair brow, her regal form,
her dusty but delicately-formed feet, and the sweet countenance which
seemed the true portrait of St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris.
"You have a fine cow," said the goldsmith.
"Would you like a little milk?" replied she. "These early days of
May are so warm, and you are so far from the city."
In fact, the shy was cloudless and burned like a forge. This simple
offer, made without the hope of a return, the only gift in the power
of the poor girl, touched the heart of the goldsmith, and he wished
that he cold see her on a throne and all Paris at her feet.
"No, ma mie," replied he; "I am not thirsty—but I would that I
could free you."
"It cannot be; and I shall die the property of the abbey. For a
long time we have lived here, from father to son, from mother to
daughter. Like my poor ancestors, I shall pass my days upon this land,
for the abbot does not loose his prey."
"What!" cried the goldsmith, "has no gallant been tempted by your
bright eyes to buy your liberty, as I bought mine of the king?"
"Truly, it would cost too much. Therefore those I pleased at first
sight went at they came."
"And you never thought of fleeing to another country with a lover,
on a fleet courser?"
"O, yes. But, my lord, if I were taken I should lose my life, and
my lover, if he were a lord, his land. I am not worth such sacrifice.
Then the arms of the abbey are longer than my feet are swift. Besides,
I live here, in obedience to Heaven that has placed me here."
"And what does your father, maiden?"
"He is a vine-dresser, in the gardens of the abbey."
"And your mother?"
"She is a laundress."
"And what is your name?"
"I have no name, my lord. My father was baptized Etienne, my dear
mother is la Etienne, and I am Tiennette, at your service."
"Tiennette," said the goldsmith, "never has maiden pleased me as
thou dost. Hence, as I saw thee at the moment when I was firmly
resolved to take a helpmate, I think I see a special providence in our
meeting, and if I am not unpleasing in thine eyes, I pray thee to
accept me a lover."
The girl cast down her eyes. These words were uttered in such a
sort, with tone so grave and manner so penetrating, that Tiennette
"No, my lord," replied she, "I should bring you a thousand troubles
and an evil fortune. For a poor serf, it is enough that I have heard
your generous proffer."
"Ah!" cried Claude, "you know not with whom you have to deal." He
crossed himself, clasped his hands, and said:—"I here vow to Saint
Eloi, under whose protection is my noble craft, to make two inches of
enamelled silver, adorned with the utmost labor I can bestow. One
shall be for the statue of my lady the virgin, and the other for my
patron saint, if I succeed, to the end that I may give thanks for the
emancipation of Tiennette, here present, and for whom I pray their
high assistance. Moreover, I vow, by my eternal salvation, to
prosecute this enterprise with courage, to expend therein all that I
possess, and to abandon it only with my life. Heaven hath heard me,
and thou, fair one," he added, turning to the girl.
"Ah, my lord! My cow is running across the field," cried she
weeping, at the knees of the good man. "I will love you all my
life—but recall your vow."
"Let us seek the cow," said the goldsmith, raising her, without
daring to imprint a kiss upon her lips.
"Yes," said she, "for I shall be beaten."
The goldsmith ran after the cow, which recked little of their
loves. But she was seized by the horns, and held in the grasp of
Claude as in an iron vice. For a trifle he would have hurled her into
"Farewell, dearest. If you go into the city, come to my house, near
St. Leu. I am called Master Anseau, and am the goldsmith of our
seigneur, the king of France, at the sign of St. Eloi. Promise me to
be in this field the next Sabbath, and I will not fail to come, though
it were raining halberts."
"I will, my lord. And, in the meanwhile, my prayers shall ascend to
heaven for your welfare."
There she remained standing, like a saint carved in stone, stirring
not, until she could no longer see the burgess, who retired with slow
steps, turning every now and then to look upon her. And even when he
was long lost to sight, she remained there until nightfall, lost in
reverie, and not certain whether what had happened was a dream or
bright reality. It was late when she returned home, where she was
beaten for her tardiness,—but she did not feel the blows.
The good burgess, on his part, lost his appetite, closed his shop,
and wandered about, thinking only of the maiden of St. Germain, seeing
her image everywhere. On the morrow, he took his way towards the
abbey, in great apprehension, but still determined to speak to my lord
abbot. But as he bethought him that it would be most prudent to put
himself under the protection of some powerful courtier, he retraced
his steps, and sought out the royal chamberlain, whose favor he had
gained by various courtesies, and especially by the gift of a rare
chain to the lady whom he loved. The chamberlain readily promised his
assistance, had his horse saddled and a hackney made ready for the
goldsmith, with whom he came presently to the abbey, and demanded to
see the abbot, who was then Monseigneur Hugo de Senecterre, and was
ninety-three years old. Being come into the hall, with the goldsmith,
who was trembling in expectation of his doom, the chamberlain prayed
the Abbot Hugo to grant him a favor in advance, which could be easily
done, and would do him pleasure. Whereat, the wily abbot shook his
head, and replied that it was expressly forbidden by the canons to
plight one's faith in this manner.
"The matter is this, then, my dear father," said the chamberlain.
"The goldsmith of the court, here, has conceived a great love for a
girl belonging to the abbey, and I charge you, as you would have me
grant the favors you may seek hereafter, to liberate this girl."
"Who is she?" asked the abbot of the burgess.
"She is named Tiennette," replied the goldsmith, timidly.
"Oh! ho!" said the good old Hugo, smiling. "Then the bait has
brought us a good fish. This in a grave case, and I cannot decide it
"I know, father, what these words are worth," said the chamberlain,
"Beau sire," replied the abbot, "do you know what the girl is
The abbot sent for Tiennette, telling his clerk to dress her in her
best clothes, and make her as brave as possible.
"Your love is in danger," said the chamberlain to the goldsmith,
drawing him one side. "Abandon this fancy; you will find everywhere,
even at court, young and pretty women who will willingly accept your
hand, and the king will help you to acquire an estate and title—you
have gold enough."
The goldsmith shook his head. "I have made my choice, and embarked
on my adventure," said he.
"Then you must purchase the manumission of this girl. I know the
monks. With them, money can accomplish everything."
"My lord," said the goldsmith to the abbot, turning towards him,
"you have it in charge and trust to represent here on earth the bounty
of Providence, which is always kind to us, and has infinite treasures
of mercy for our miseries. Now I will enshrine you, for the rest of my
days, each night and morning in my prayers, if you will aid me to
obtain this girl in marriage. And I will fashion you a box to enclose
the holy Eucharist, so cunningly wrought, and so enriched with gold
and precious stones, and figures of winged angels, that another such
shall never be in Christendom,—it shall remain unique, shall rejoice
your eyes, and so glorify your altar that the people of the city,
foreign lords—all, shall hasten to see it, so wondrous shall it be."
"My son," replied the abbot, "you have lost your senses. If you are
resolved to have this girl in wedlock, your property and person will
escheat to the chapter of the abbey."
"Yes, my lord, I am devoted to this poor girl, and more touched by
her misery and truly Christian heart, than by her personal
perfections. But I am," said he, with tears in his eyes, "yet more
astonished at your hardness, and I say it, though I know my fate is in
your hands. Yes, my lord, I know the law. Thus, if my goods must fall
into your possession, if I become a serf, if I lose my home and my
citizenship, I shall yet keep the skill developed by my culture and my
studies, and which lies here," he added, touching his forehead, "in a
place where God alone, besides myself, is master. And your whole abbey
cannot purchase the creation of my brain. You will have my body and my
wife, but nothing can give you my genius, not even tortures, for I am
stronger than iron is hard, and more patient than suffering is great."
Having said this, the goldsmith, enraged at the calmness of the
abbot, who seemed resolved to secure the good man's doubloons to the
abbey, dealt such a blow with his fist on an oaken chair, it flew in
pieces as if struck by a sledge-hammer.
"See, my lord, what a serf you will have, and how of an artificer
of divine things you will make a draught-horse."
"My son," replied the abbot, calmly, "you have wrongfully broken
mine oaken chair and lightly judged my heart. This girl belongs to the
abbey, and not to me. I am the faithful administrator of the rights
and usages of this glorious monastery. Although I may, indeed,
liberate this girl and her heirs, I owe an account to God and to the
abbey. Now, since there has been here an altar, serfs and monks, id
est, from time immemorial, never has there been an instance of a
burgess becoming the property of the abbey by marriage with a serf.
Hence, need there is of exercising this right, that it may not be
lost, effete and obsolete, and fall into desuetude, the which would
occasion troubles manifold. And this is of greater advantage for the
state and for the abbey than your boxes, however beautiful they may
be, seeing that we have a fund which will enable us to purchase jewels
and bravery, and that no money can establish customs and laws. I
appeal to my lord, the king's chamberlain, who is witness of the pains
infinite our sovereign taketh each day to do battle for the
establishment of his ordinances."
"This is to shut my mouth," said the chamberlain.
The goldsmith, who was no great clerk, remained silent and pensive.
Hereupon came Tiennette, clad in glorious apparel, wearing a robe of
white wool, with her hair tastefully dressed, and, withal, so royally
beautiful, that the goldsmith was petrified with ecstasy, and the
chamberlain confessed that he had never seen so perfect a creature.
Then, thinking that there was too great danger to the goldsmith in
this spectacle, he carried him off to the city, and begged him to
think no more of the affair, since the abbey would never yield so
beautiful a prize.
In fact, the chapter signified to the poor lover that, if he
married this girl, he must resolve to abandon his property and house
to the abbey, and to acknowledge himself a serf; and that then, by
special grace, the abbey would allow him to remain in his house, on
condition of his furnishing an inventory of his goods, of his paying a
tribute every year, and coming annually, for a fortnight, to lodge in
a burg appertaining to the domain, in order to make act of serfdom.
The goldsmith, to whom every one spoke of the obstinacy of the monks,
saw plainly that the abbey would adhere inflexibly to this sentence,
and was driven to the verge of despair. At one time he thought of
setting fire to the four corners of the monastery,—at another, he
proposed to inveigle the abbot into some place where he might torment
him till he signed the manumission papers of Tiennette,—in fine, he
projected a thousand schemes, which all evaporated into air. But,
after many lamentations, he thought he would carry off the girl to
some secure place, whence nothing could draw him, and made his
preparations in consequence, thinking that, once out of the kingdom,
his friends or the sovereign could manage the monks and bring them to
reason. The good man reckoned without his host, for, on going to the
meadow, he missed Tiennette, and learned that she was kept in the
abbey so rigorously, that, to gain possession of her, he would have to
besiege the monastery. Then master Anseau rent the air with complaints
and lamentations, and, throughout Paris, the citizens and housewives
spoke of nothing but this adventure, the noise of which was such, that
the king, meeting the old abbot at court, asked him why, in this
juncture, he did not yield to the great love of his goldsmith, and
practise a little Christian charity.
"Because, my lord," replied the priest, "all rights are linked
together, like the part of a suit of armor, and if one fail, the whole
falls to pieces. If this girl were taken from us, against our will,
and the usage were not observed, soon your subjects would deprive you
of your crown, and great seditions would arise in all parts, to the
end of abolishing the tithes and taxes which press so heavily upon the
The king was silenced. Every one was anxious to learn the end of
this adventure. So great was the curiosity, that several lords wagered
that the goldsmith would abandon his suit, while the ladies took the
opposite side. The goldsmith having complained with tears to the queen
that the monks had deprived him of the sight of his beloved, she
thought it detestable and oppressive. Whereupon, pursuant to her
command, the goldsmith was allowed to go daily to the parlor of the
abbey, where he saw Tiennette; but always in the company of an aged
monk, and attired in true magnificence, like a lady. It was with great
difficulty that he persuaded her to accept the sacrifice he was
compelled to make of his liberty, but she finally consented.
When the city was made acquainted with the submission of the
goldsmith, who, for the love of his lady, abandoned his fortune and
his liberty, every one was anxious to see him. The ladies of the court
encumbered themselves with jewels they did not need, to make a pretext
for talking with him. But if some of them approached Tiennette in
beauty, none possessed her heart. At last, at the approach of the hour
of servitude and love, Anseau melted all his gold into a royal crown,
which he inlaid with all his pearls and diamonds; then coming secretly
to the queen, he gave it into her hands, saying:
"My lady, I know not in whose hands to trust my faith and fortune
but yours. To-morrow everything found in my house will become the
property of those accursed monks, who have no pity on me. Deign, then,
to take care of this. It is a poor return for the pleasure I enjoyed
by your means, of seeing her I love, since no treasure is worth one of
her glances. I know not what will become of me—but if, one day, my
children become free, I have a faith in your generosity as a woman and
"Well said, good man," replied the queen. "The abbey may one day
have need of my assistance, and then I will remember this."
There was an immense crowd in the abbey church at the espousals of
Tiennette, to whom the queen presented a wedding dress, and whom the
king authorized to wear earrings and jewels. When the handsome couple
came from the abbey to the lodgings of Anseau, who had become a serf,
near St. Leu, there were torches at the windows to sec them pass, and
in the street two lines of people, as at a royal progress. The poor
husband had wrought a silver bracelet, which he wore upon his left
arm, in token of his belonging to the abbey of St. Germain. Then,
notwithstanding his servitude, they cried, "Noel, Noel!" as to a new
king. And the good man saluted courteously, happy as a lover, and
pleased with the homage each one paid to the grace and modesty of
Tiennette. Then the good goldsmith found green branches, and a crown
of bluettes on his doorposts, and the principal persons of the quarter
were all there, who, to do him honor, saluted him with music, and
cried out, "You will always be a noble man, in spite of the abbey!"
Tiennette was delighted with her handsome lodgings, and the crowd
of customers who came and went, delighted with her charms. The
honey-moon passed, there came one day, in great pomp, old abbot Hugo,
their lord and master, who entered the house, which belonged no more
to the goldsmith, but to the chapter, and, being there, said to the
newly married pair:
"My children, you are free, and quit of all claims on the part of
the abbey. And I must tell you that, from the first, I was greatly
moved with the love which linked you to each other. Thus, the rights
of the abbey having been recognized, I determined to complete your
joy, after having proved your loyalty. And this manumission shall cost
Having said this, he touched them lightly on the cheeks, and they
kneeled at his feet and wept for joy. The goldsmith apprised the
people who had collected in the street of the bounty and blessing of
the good abbot Hugo. Then, in great honor, Anseau held the bridle of
his mare, as far as the gate of Bussy. On the way, having taken a sack
of money with him, he threw the pieces to the poor and suffering,
"Largesse! largesse to God! God save and guard the abbey! Long live
the good Lord Hugo!"
The abbot, of course, was severely reproached by his chapter, who
had opened their jaws to devour the rich booty. Thus, a year
afterwards, the good man Hugo falling sick, his prior told him that it
was a punishment of Heaven, because he had neglected their sacred
"If I judge this man aright," replied the abbot, "he will remember
what he owes us."
In fact, this day happening to be the anniversary of the marriage,
a monk came to announce that the goldsmith begged his benefactor to
receive him. When he appeared in the hall where the abbot was, he
displayed two marvellous caskets, which, from that time, no workman
has surpassed in any place of the Christian world, and which were
called "the vow of perseverance in love." These two treasures are, as
every one knows, placed on the high altar of the church; and are
judged to be of inestimable workmanship, since the goldsmith had
expended all he had on them.
Nevertheless, this gift, instead of emptying his treasury, filled
it to overflowing, because it so increased his fame and profits that
he was able to purchase broad lands and letters of nobility, and
founded the house of Anseau, which has since been in high honor in