/The Old Man./--Obscure birth, in France, shuts every door of access to great employments; nor can you even be received among any distinguished body of men, if you labour under this disadvantage.
/Paul./--You have often told me that it was one source of the greatness of France that her humblest subject might attain the highest honours; and you have cited to me many instances of celebrated men who, born in a mean condition, had conferred honour upon their country. It was your wish, then, by concealing the truth to stimulate my ardour?
/The Old Man./--Never, my son, would I lower it. I told you the truth with regard to the past; but now, every thing has undergone a great change. Every thing in France is now to be obtained by interest alone; every place and employment is now become as it were the patrimony of a small number of families, or is divided among public bodies. The king is a sun, and the nobles and great corporate bodies surround him like so many clouds; it is almost impossible for any of his rays to reach you. Formerly, under less exclusive administrations, such phenomena have been seen. Then talents and merit showed themselves every where, as newly cleared lands are always loaded with abundance. But great kings, who can really form a just estimate of men, and choose them with judgment, are rare. The ordinary race of monarchs allow themselves to be guided by the nobles and people who surround them.
/Paul./--But perhaps I shall find one of these nobles to protect me.
/The Old Man./--To gain the protection of the great you must lend yourself to their ambition, and administer to their pleasures. You would never succeed; for, in addition to your obscure birth, you have too much integrity.
/Paul./--But I will perform such courageous actions, I will be so faithful to my word, so exact in the performance of my duties, so zealous and so constant in my friendships, that I will render myself worthy to be adopted by some one of them. In the ancient histories, you have made me read, I have seen many examples of such adoptions.
/The Old Man./--Oh, my young friend! among the Greeks and Romans, even in their decline, the nobles had some respect for virtue; but out of all the immense number of men, sprung from the mass of the people, in France, who have signalized themselves in every possible manner, I do not recollect a single instance of one being adopted by any great family. If it were not for our kings, virtue, in our country, would be eternally condemned as plebeian. As I said before, the monarch sometimes, when he perceives it, renders to it due honour; but in the present day, the distinctions which should be bestowed on merit are generally to be obtained by money alone.
/Paul./--If I cannot find a nobleman to adopt me, I will seek to please some public body. I will espouse its interests and its opinions: I will make myself beloved by it.