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´╗┐Title: Balzac
Author: Lawton, Frederick
Language: English
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                          FREDERICK LAWTON


     In remembrance of many pleasant and instructive
     hours spent in his society, to the sculptor

                   AUGUSTE RODIN,

     whose statue of Balzac, with its fine, synthetic
     portraiture, first tempted the author to write
     this book.

     PASSY, PARIS, 1910.


Excusing himself for not undertaking to write a life of Balzac,
Monsieur Brunetiere, in his study of the novelist published
shortly before his death, refused somewhat disdainfully to admit
that acquaintance with a celebrated man's biography has
necessarily any value. "What do we know of the life of
Shakespeare?" he says, "and of the circumstances in which _Hamlet_
or _Othello_ was produced? If these circumstances were better
known to us, is it to be believed and will it be seriously
asserted that our admiration for one or the other play would be
augmented?" In penning this quirk, the eminent critic would seem
to have wilfully overlooked the fact that a writer's life may have
much or may have little to do with his works. In the case of
Shakespeare it was comparatively little--and yet we should be glad
to learn more of this little. In the case of Balzac it was much.
His novels are literally his life; and his life is quite as full
as his books of all that makes the good novel at once profitable
and agreeable to read. It is not too much to affirm that any one
who is acquainted with what is known to-day of the strangely
chequered career of the author of the _Comedie Humaine_ is in a
better position to understand and appreciate the different parts
which constitute it. Moreover, the steady rise of Balzac's
reputation, during the last fifty years, has been in some degree
owing to the various patient investigators who have gathered
information about him whom Taine pronounced to be, with
Shakespeare and Saint-Simon, the greatest storehouse of documents
we possess concerning human nature.

The following chapters are an attempt to put this information into
sequence and shape, and to insert such notice of the novels as
their relative importance requires. The author wishes here to
thank certain French publishers who have facilitated his task by
placing books for reference at his disposal, Messrs. Calmann-Levy,
Armand Colin, and Hetzel, in particular, and also the Curator of
the _Musee Balzac_, Monsieur de Royaumont who has rendered him
service on several occasions.


                             CHAPTER I


The condition of French society in the early half of the nineteenth
century--the period covered by Balzac's novels--may be compared to
that of a people endeavouring to recover themselves after an
earthquake. Everything had been overthrown, or at least loosened from
its base--religion, laws, customs, traditions, castes. Nothing had
withstood the shock. When the upheaval finally ceased, there were
timid attempts to find out what had been spared and was susceptible of
being raised from the ruins. Gradually the process of selection went
on, portions of the ancient system of things being joined to the
larger modern creation. The two did not work in very well together,
however, and the edifice was far from stable.

During the Consulate and First Empire, the Emperor's will, so sternly
imposed, retarded any movement of natural reconstruction. Outside the
military organization, things were stiff and starched and solemn. High
and low were situated in circumstances that were different and
strange. The new soldier aristocracy reeked of the camp and
battle-field; the washer-woman, become a duchess, was ill at ease in
the Imperial drawing-room; while those who had thriven and amassed
wealth rapidly in trade were equally uncomfortable amidst the vulgar
luxury with which they surrounded themselves. Even the common people,
whether of capital or province, for whose benefit the Revolution had
been made, were silent and afraid. Of the ladies' _salons_--once
numerous and remarkable for their wit, good taste, and conversation--two
or three only subsisted, those of Mesdames de Beaumont, Recamier and de
Stael; and, since the last was regarded by Napoleon with an unfriendly
eye, its guests must have felt constrained.

At reunions, eating rather than talking was fashionable, and the
eating lacked its intimacy and privacy of the past. The lighter side
of life was seen more in restaurants, theatres, and fetes. It was
modish to dine at Frascati's, to drink ices at the Pavillon de
Hanovre, to go and admire the actors Talma, Picard, and Lemercier,
whose stage performance was better than many of the pieces they
interpreted. Fireworks could be enjoyed at the Tivoli Gardens; the
great concerts were the rage for a while, as also the practice for a
hostess to carry off her visitors after dinner for a promenade in the
Bois de Boulogne.

Literature was obstinately classical. After the daring flights of the
previous century, writers contented themselves with marking time.
Chenedolle, whose verse Madame de Stael said to be as lofty as
Lebanon, and whose fame is lilliputian to-day, was, with Ducis, the
representative of their advance-guard. In painting, with Fragonard,
Greuze and Gros, there was a greater stir of genius, yet without
anything corresponding in the sister art.

On the contrary, in the practical aspects of life there was large
activity, though Paris almost alone profited by it. Napoleon's
reconstruction in the provinces was administrative chiefly. A complete
programme was first started on in the capital, which the Emperor
wished to exalt into the premier city of Europe. Gas-lighting,
sewerage, paving and road improvements, quays, and bridges were his
gifts to the city, whose general appearance, however, remained much
the same. The Palais-Royal served still as a principal rendezvous. The
busy streets were the Rues Saint-Denis and Saint-Honore on the right
bank, the Rue Saint-Jacques on the left; and the most important shops
were to be found in the Rue de la Loi, at present the Rue de

The fall of the Empire was less a restoration of the Monarchy than the
definite disaggregation of the ancient aristocracy, which had been
centralized round the court since the days of Richelieu. The Court of
Louis XVIII. was no more like that of Louis XVI. than it was like the
noisy one of Napoleon. Receiving only a few personal friends, the King
allowed his drawing-rooms to remain deserted by the nobles that had
returned from exile; and the two or three who were regular visitors
were compelled to rub elbows with certain parvenus, magistrates,
financiers, generals of the Empire whom it would not have been prudent
to eliminate.

In this initial stage of society-decentralization, the diminished band
of the Boulevard Saint-Germain--descendants of the eighteenth-century
dukes and marquises--tried to close up their ranks and to
differentiate themselves from the plutocracy of the Chaussee d'Antin,
who copied their manners, with an added magnificence of display which
those they imitated could not afford. In the one camp the antique
bronzes, gildings, and carvings of a bygone art were retained with
pious veneration; in the other, pictures, carpets, Jacob chairs and
sofas, mirrors, and time-pieces, and the gold and silver plate were
all in lavish style, indicative of their owner's ampler means. One
feature of the pre-Revolution era was revived in the feminine
_salons_, which regained most, if not the whole, of their pristine
renown. The Hotel de la Rochefoucauld of Madame Ancelot became a
second Hotel de Rambouillet, where the classical Parseval-Grandmaison,
who spent twenty years over his poem _Philippe-Auguste_, held
armistice with the young champion of the Romantic school, Victor Hugo.
The Princess de Vaudemont received her guests in Paris during the
winter, and at Suresnes during the summer; and her friend the Duchess
de Duras' _causeries_ were frequented by such men as Cuvier, Humboldt,
Talleyrand, Mole, de Villele, Chateaubriand, and Villemain. Other
circles existed in the houses of the Dukes Pasquier and de Broglie,
the countess Merlin, and Madame de Mirbel.

With the re-establishment of peace, literary and toilet pre-occupations
began to assert their claims. The _Ourika_ of the Duchess de Duras took
Paris by storm. Her heroine, the young Senegal negress, gave her name to
dresses, hats, and bonnets. Everything was _Ourika_. The prettiest
Parisian woman yearned to be black, and regretted not having been born
in darkest Africa. Anglomania in men's clothes prevailed throughout the
reign of Louis XVIII., yet mixed with other modes. "Behold an up-to-date
dandy," says a writer of the epoch; "all extremes meet in him. You shall
see him Prussian by the stomach, Russian by his waist, English in his
coat-tails and collar, Cossack by the sack that serves him as trousers,
and by his fur. Add to these things Bolivar hats and spurs, and the
moustaches of a counter-skipper, and you have the most singular
harlequin to be met with on the face of the globe."

Among the masses there were changes just as striking. For the moment
militarism had disappeared, to the people's unfeigned content, and the
Garde Nationale, composed of pot-bellied tradesmen, alone recalled the
bright uniforms of the Empire. To make up for the soldier excitements
of the _Petit Caporal_, attractions of all kinds tempted the citizen
to enjoy himself after his day's toil was finished--menagerie,
mountebanks, Franconi circus, Robertson the conjurer in the Jardin des
Capucines. At the other end of the city, in the Boulevard du Temple,
were Belle Madeleine, the seller of Nanterre cakes, famous throughout
Europe, the face contortionist Valsuani, Miette in his egg-dance,
Curtius' waxworks. By each street corner were charlatans of one or
another sort exchanging jests with the passers-by. It was the period
when the Prudhomme type was created, so common in all the skits and
caricatures of the day. One of the greatest pleasures of the citizen
under the Restoration was to mock at the English. Revenge for Waterloo
was found in written and spoken satires. Huge was the success of
Sewrin's and Dumersan's _Anglaises pour rire_, with Brunet and Potier
travestied as _grandes dames_, dancing a jig so vigorously that they
lost their skirts. The same species of _revanche_ was indulged in when
Lady Morgan, the novelist, came to France, seeking material for a
popular book describing French customs. Henri Beyle (Stendhal) hoaxed
her by acting as her cicerone and filling her note-books with absurd
information, which she accepted in good faith and carried off as fact.
On Sundays the most respectable families used to resort to the
_guinguettes_, or _bastringues_, of the suburbs. Belleville had its
celebrated Desnoyers establishment. At the Maine gate Mother Sagnet's
was the meeting-place of budding artists and grisettes. At La
Villette, Mother Radig, a former canteen woman, long enjoyed
popularity among her patrons of both sexes. All these scenes are
depicted in certain of Victor Ducange's novels, written between 1815
and 1830, as also in the pencil sketches of the two artists Pigal and

The political society of the Restoration was characterized by a good
deal of cynicism. Those who were affected by the change of _regime_,
partisans and functionaries of the Empire, hastened in many cases to
trim their sails to the turn of the tide. However, there was a
relative liberty of the press which permitted the honest expression of
party opinion, and polemics were keen. At the Sorbonne, Guizot,
Cousin, and Villemain were the orators of the day. Frayssinous
lectured at Saint-Sulpice, and de Lamennais, attacking young
Liberalism, denounced its tenets in an essay which de Maistre called a
heaving of the earth under a leaden sky.

The country's material prosperity at the time was considerable, and
reacted upon literature of every kind by furnishing a more leisured
public. In 1816 Emile Deschamps preluded to the after-triumphs of the
Romantic School with his play the _Tour de faveur_, the latter being
followed in 1820 by Lebrun's _Marie Stuart_. Alfred de Vigny was
preparing his _Eloa_; Nodier was delighting everybody by his talents
as a philologian, novelist, poet, and chemist. Beranger was continuing
his songs, and paying for his boldness with imprisonment. The King
himself was a protector of letters, arts, and sciences. One of his
first tasks was to reorganize the "Institut Royal," making it into
four Academies. He founded the Geographical and Asiatic Societies,
encouraged the introduction of steam navigation and traction into
France, and patronized men of genius wherever he met with them.

Yet the nation's fidelity to the White Flag was not very deep-rooted.
Grateful though the population had been for the return of peace and
prosperity, a lurking reminiscence of Napoleonic splendours combined
with the bourgeois' Voltairian scepticism to rouse a widespread
hostility to Government and Church, as soon as the spirit of the
latter ventured to manifest again its inveterate intolerance.
Beranger's songs, Paul-Louis Courier's pamphlets, and the articles of
the _Constitutionnel_ fanned the re-awakened sentiments of revolt; and
Charles the Tenth's ministers, less wisely restrained than those of
Louis XVIII., and blind to the significance of the first barricades of
1827, provoked the catastrophe of 1830. This second revolution
inaugurated the reign of a bourgeois king. Louis-Philippe was hardly
more than a delegate of the bourgeois class, who now reaped the full
benefits of the great Revolution and entered into possession of its
spoils. During Jacobin dictature and Napoleonic sway, the bourgeoisie
had played a waiting role. At present they came to the front, proudly
conscious of their merits; and an entire literature was destined to be
devoted to them, an entire art to depict or satirize their manners.
Scribe, Stendhal, Merimee, Henry Monnier, Daumier, and Gavarni were
some of the men whose work illustrated the bourgeois _regime_, either
prior to or contemporaneous with the work of Balzac.

The eighteen years of the July Monarchy, which were those of Balzac's
mature activity, contrasted sharply with those that immediately
preceded. In spite of perceptible social progress, the constant war of
political parties, in which the throne itself was attacked, alarmed
lovers of order, and engendered feelings of pessimism. The power of
journalism waxed great. Fighting with the pen was carried to a point
of skill previously unattained. Grouped round the _Debats_--the
ministerial organ--were Silvestre de Sacy, Saint-Marc Girardin, and
Jules Janin as leaders, and John Lemoinne, Philarete Chasles, Barbey
d'Aurevilly in the rank and file. Elsewhere Emile de Girardin's
_Presse_ strove to oust the _Constitutionnel_ and _Siecle_, opposition
papers, from public favour, and to establish a Conservative Liberalism
that should receive the support of moderate minds. Doctrines many,
political and social, were propounded in these eighteen years of
compromise. Legitimists, Bonapartists, and Republicans were all three
in opposition to the Government, each with a programme to tempt the
petty burgess. Saint-Simonism too was abroad with its utopian ideals,
attracting some of the loftier minds, but less appreciated by the
masses than the teachings of other semi-secret societies having aims
more material.

Corresponding to the character of the _regime_ was the practical
nature of the public works executed--the railway system with its
transformation of trade, the fortification of the capital, the
commencement of popular education, and the renovation of decayed or
incompleted edifices. Unfortunately, the rapidity of the development
and the rush of speculation prevented any co-ordinating method in the
effort, so that the epoch was poor in its architectural achievement
compared with what had been produced in the past. Even other branches
of art were greatest in satire. Daumier's  _Robert Macaire_ sketches
and the _Mayeux_ of Travies had large material supplied them in the
various types of citizen, greedy of pleasure and gold. The _mot_:
"Enrichissez-vous," attributed to Guizot, was the axiom of the time,
accepted as the _nec plus ultra_ by the vast majority of people. It
invaded all circles with its lowering expedience; and he who was to
depict its effects most puissantly did not escape its thrall.

                  *       *       *       *       *

When Balzac began to write, no French novelist had a reputation as
such that might be considered great. Up to the epoch of the
Restoration, the novel had been declared to be an inferior species of
literature, and no author had dreamed of basing his claims to fame on
fiction. Lesage had been and was still appreciated rather on the
ground of his satire; and the Abbe Prevost, his slightly younger
contemporary, received but little credit in his lifetime for the
_Manon Lescaut_ that posterity was to prize. Throughout the eighteenth
century, he was chiefly regarded as a literary hack who had translated
Richardson's _Pamela_ and done things of a similar kind to earn his
livelihood. Rousseau too was esteemed less for his _Nouvelle Heloise_
than for his political disquisitions. No novelist since 1635 had ever
been elected to the French Academy on account of his stories. Jules
Sandeau was the first to break the tradition by his entrance among the
Immortals in 1859, to be followed in 1862 by Octave Feuillet.

Lesage was the writer who introduced into France with his _Gil Blas_
what has been called the personal novel--in other words, that story of
adventures of which the narrator is the hero, the aim of the story
being to illustrate first and foremost the vicissitudes of life in
general and those of a single person in particular. The subsequent
introduction of letters into the personal novel, which allowed more
than one character to assume the narrator's role, brought about a
change which those who initiated it scarcely anticipated. Together
with the larger interest, due to there being several narrators, came a
tendency to introspection and analysis, diminishing the prominence of
the facts and enhancing the effect produced by these facts on the
thoughts and feelings of the characters. It was this development of
the personal novel at the commencement of the nineteenth century,
exhibited in Chateaubriand's _Rene_, Madame de Stael's _Corinne_,
Benjamin Constant's _Adolphe_, George Sand's _Indiana_, and
Sainte-Beuve's _Volupte_, which contributed so much to create and
establish the Romantic School of fiction with its egoistic lyricism.

The historical novel, which more commonly is looked upon as having
been the principal agent in the change, gave, in sooth, only what
modern fiction of every kind could no longer do without, namely, local
colour. The so-styled historical novels of Madame de la Fayette
--_Zayde_ and the _Princesse de Cleves_--in the seventeenth century, and
those of Madame de Tencin and Madame de Fontaines in the eighteenth,
were simply historic themes whereon the authors embroidered the
inventions of their imaginations, without the slightest attention to
accuracy or attempt at differentiating the men and minds of one age
from those of another; nor was it till the days of Walter Scott that
such care for local colour and truth of delineation was manifested by
writers who essayed to put life into the bones of the past.

Even Lesage, so exact in his description of all that is exterior,
lacked this literary truthfulness. His Spain is a land of fancy; his
Spaniards are not Spanish; _Gil Blas_, albeit he comes from
Santillana, is a Frenchman. Marivaux was wiser in placing his _Vie de
Marianne_ and his _Paysan parvenu_ in France. His people, though
modelled on stage pattern, are of his own times and country; and, in
so far as they reveal themselves, have resemblances to the characters
of Richardson.

To the Abbe Barthelemy, Voltaire, and Rousseau the novel was a
convenient medium for the expression of certain ideas rather than a
representation of life. The first strove to popularize a knowledge of
Greek antiquity, the second to combat doctrines that he deemed
fallacious, the third to reform society. However, Rousseau brought
nature into his _Nouvelle Heloise_, and, by his accessories of pathos
and philosophy, prepared the way for a bolder and completer treatment
of life in fiction. Different from these was Restif de la Bretonne,
who applied Rousseau's theories with less worthy aims in his _Paysan
perverti_ and _Monsieur Nicolas, ou Le Coeur humain devoile_. If
mention is made of him here, it is because he was a pioneer in the
path of realism, which Balzac was to explore more thoroughly, and
because the latter undoubtedly caught some of his grosser manner.

The novelists and dramatists whom Balzac made earliest acquaintance
with were probably those whose works were appearing and attracting
notice during his school-days--Pigault-Lebrun, Ducray-Duminil, and
that Guilbert de Pixerecourt who for a third of the nineteenth century
was worshipped as the Corneille of melodrama. These men were favourite
authors of the nascent democracy; and, in an age when reprints of
older writers were much rarer than to-day, would be far more likely to
appeal to a boy's taste than seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
authors. At an after-period only, when he had definitely entered upon
his maturer literary career, was he to take up the latter and use
them, together with Rabelais, La Bruyere, Moliere, and Diderot, as his
best, if not his constant, sources of inspiration. In the stories of
the first of the three above-mentioned modern writers, the reader
usually meets with some child of poor parentage, who, after most
extraordinary and comic experiences, marries the child of a nobleman.
In those of the second, the hero or heroine struggles with powerful
enemies, is aided by powerful friends, and moves in an atmosphere of
blood and mystery until vice is chastized and virtue finally rewarded.
The two writers, however, differ more in their talent than in their
methods, the first having an amount of originality which is almost
entirely wanting to the second. With both, indeed, the main object is
to impress and astonish, and the finer touches of Lesage and Prevost
are seldom visible in either's work. As for Pixerecourt, whose fame
lasted until the Romantic drama of the older Dumas, Alfred de Vigny,
and Victor Hugo eclipsed it, he wrote over a hundred plays, each of
which was performed some five hundred times, while two at least ran
for more than a thousand nights.

If it was natural that Balzac should familiarize himself in his
adolescence with such writers of his own countrymen as every one
discussed and very many praised, it was natural also he should extend
his perusals to the translated works of contemporary novelists on the
further side of the Channel, the more so as the reciprocal literary
influence of the two countries was exceedingly strong at the time,
stronger probably than to-day when attention is solicited on so many
sides. To the novels of Monk Lewis, Maturin, Anne Radcliffe, and other
exponents of the School of Terror, as likewise to the novels of
Godwin, the chief of the School of Theory, he went for instruction in
the profession that he was wishing to adopt. Mrs. Radcliffe's stories
he thought admirable; those of Lewis he cited as hardly being equalled
by Stendhal's _Chartreuse de Parme_; and Maturin--oddly as it strikes
us now--he not only styled the most original modern author that the
United Kingdom could boast of, but assigned him a place, beside
Moliere and Goethe, as one of the greatest geniuses of Europe. And
these eulogiums were not the immature judgements of youth, but the
convictions of his riper age. As will be seen later, the influence
remained with him. In all he wrote there enters some of the material,
native and foreign, out of which Romanticism was made.

To the true masters of English fiction his indebtedness was equally
large, exception made perhaps for Fielding and Smollett; and one
American author should be included in the acknowledgment. Goldsmith,
Sterne, Walter Scott, and Fenimore Cooper were his delight. The first
and last of Richardson's productions he read only when his own talent
was formed. _Pamela_ and _Sir Charles Grandison_ he chanced upon in a
library at Ajaccio; and, after running them through, pronounced them
to be horribly stupid and boring. But _Clarissa Harlowe_, on the
contrary, he highly esteemed. Already in 1821 he had studied it; and,
when composing his _Pierrette_, towards the end of the thirties, he
spoke of it as a magnificent poem, in a passage which brands the
procedure of certain hypocrites, their oratorical precautions, and
their involved conversations, wherein the mind obscures the light it
throws and honeyed speech dilutes the venom of intentions. The phrase,
says Monsieur Le Breton, in his well-reasoned book on Balzac, is that
of a man who was conversant with the patient analysis, the
conscientious and minute realism of this great painter of English
life. In Monsieur Le Breton's opinion, Balzac's long-windedness is, in
a measure, due to Richardson, who reacted upon him by his defects no
less than by his excellencies.

Throughout Balzac's correspondence, as throughout his novels, there
are numerous remarks which are so many confessions of the hints he
received in the course of his English readings. In one passage he
exclaims: "The villager is an admirable nature. When he is stupid, he
is just the animal; but, when he has good points, they are exquisite.
Unfortunately, no one observes him. It needed a lucky hazard for
Goldsmith to create his _Vicar of Wakefield_." Elsewhere he says:
"Generally, in fiction, an author succeeds only by the number of his
characters and the variety of his situations; and there are few
examples of novels having but two or three _dramatis personae_
depending on a single situation. Of such a kind, _Caleb Williams_, the
celebrated Godwin's masterpiece, is in our time the only work known,
and its interest is prodigious."

Sterne, even more than Scott, was Balzac's favourite model. Allusions
to him abound in the _Comedie Humaine_. _Tristram Shandy_ the novelist
appears to have had at his fingers' ends. Not a few of Sterne's traits
were also his own--the satirical humour, in which, however, the humour
was less perfect than the satire, the microscopic eye for all the
exterior details of life especially in people's faces and gestures and
dress; and both had identical notions concerning the analogy between a
man's name and his temperament and fate.

Scott and Cooper being Balzac's elder contemporaries, it happened that
their books were given to the French public in translation by one or
the other of the novelist's earlier publishers, Mame and Gosselin. His
taste for their fiction was no mere passing fancy. It was as
pronounced as ever in 1840, at which date, writing in the _Revue
Parisienne_, he declared that Cooper was the only writer of stories
worthy to be placed by the side of Walter Scott, and that his hero
Leather-stocking was sublime. "I don't know," said he, "if the fiction
of Walter Scott furnishes a creation as grandiose as that of this hero
of the savannas and forests. Cooper's descriptions are the school at
which all literary landscapists should study: all the secrets of art
are there. But Cooper is inferior to Walter Scott in his comic and
minor characters, and in the construction of his plots. One is the
historian of nature, the other of humanity." The article winds up with
further praise of Scott, whom its author evidently regarded as his

The part played by these models in Balzac's literary training was to
afford him a clearer perception of the essential worth of the Romantic
movement. Together with its extravagancies and lyricism, Romantic
literature deliberately put into practice some important principles
which certain forerunners of the eighteenth century had already
unconsciously illustrated or timidly taught. It imposed Diderot's
doctrine that there was beauty in all natural character. And its chief
apostle, Hugo, with the examples of Ariosto, Cervantes, Rabelais and
Shakespeare to back him, proved that what was in nature was or should
be also in art, yet without, for that, seeking to free art from law
and the necessity for choice.

This spectacle of a vaster field to exploit, this possibility of
artistically representing the common, familiar things of the world in
their real significance, seized on the youthful mind of him who was to
create the _Comedie Humaine_. It formed the connecting link between
him and his epoch, and in most directions it limited the horizon of
his life.

                             CHAPTER II


For all his aristocratic name, Honore de Balzac was not of noble
birth. The nobiliary particule he did not add to his signature until
the year 1830. In his birth certificate we read: "To-day, the 2nd of
Prairial, Year VII. (21st of May 1799) of the French Republic, a male
child was presented to me, Pierre-Jacques Duvivier, the undersigned
Registrar, by the citizen Bernard-Francois Balzac, householder,
dwelling in this commune, Rue de l'Armee de l'Italie, Chardonnet
section, Number 25; who declared to me that the said child was called
Honore Balzac, born yesterday at eleven o'clock in the morning at
witness's residence, that the child is his son and that of the
citizen, Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier, his wife, they having been
married in the commune of Paris, eighth arrondissement, Seine
Department, on the 11th of Pluviose, Year V."

The commune referred to in the birth certificate was Tours. There in
the street now rechristened and renumbered and called the Rue
Nationale, a commemorative plate at No. 29 bears the following
inscription: "Honore de Balzac was born in this house on the 1st of
Prairial, Year VII. (20th of May 1799); he died in Paris on the
28th[*] of August 1850."

  [*] The registered date of Balzac's death was the 18th of August. The
      date on the commemorative plate is wrong. See also in a subsequent
      chapter, M. de Lovenjoul's remark on the subject.

This former capital of Touraine, which the novelist says disparagingly
in the _Cure of Tours_ was in his time one of the least literary
places in France, has had, at any rate, an honourable past. It was one
of the sixty-four towns of Gaul that, under Vercingetorix, opposed the
conquest of Caesar; and to it, in 1870, the French Government retired
when the Germans marched on the capital. Its ancient industry in silk
stuffs, established by Louis XI. in the fifteenth century, raised its
population to eighty thousand. By revoking the Edict of Nantes, King
"Sun" chased away three thousand of the wealthy, manufacturing
families, who migrated to Holland; and Tours lost, with a quarter of
its inhabitants, its weaving supremacy, which fell into the hands of
Lyons. Situated on the Loire, in a rich but flat district, its
surroundings are less interesting than its own architectural
possessions, including a cathedral of mingled Gothic and later styles,
a bit of the Norman-English Henry the Second's castle, and its three
bridges. The fine central one, of fifteen arches and a quarter of a
mile long, is a prolongation of the Rue Nationale, and has near it
statues of Rabelais and Descartes.

Balzac's father, who at the time of Honore's birth was fifty-three
years of age, was not a native of Tours. He came from Nougayrie, a
small hamlet close to Canezac in the Tarn Department and province of
Languedoc. He was, therefore, a man of the south. On the registers he
was inscribed as a son of Bernard-Thomas Balssa, _laboureur_, or
peasant farmer; but he subsequently changed his name to Balzac. Recent
investigations have disclosed the fact that--whether by his own
initiative or that of his son--he was the first to employ the "de"
before the family name, prefixing it in the announcements made of the
marriage of his second daughter Laurence.

Although of humble origin, the elder Balzac acquired both education
and position. He embraced the legal profession, and was said by his
son to have acted as secretary to the Grand Council under Louis XV.,
by his daughter Laure to have been advocate to the Council under Louis
XVI. There is no documentary proof that he held either of these
offices; but he figured in the Royal almanacs of 1793 as a lawyer, and
would seem to have served the Republican Government, although his
children subsequently asserted that he had always been an unswerving
Royalist. The family tradition was that he had become suspect to
Robespierre through his efforts to save several unfortunates from the
guillotine, and would himself have perished had not a friend succeeded
in getting him sent on a mission to the frontier to organize the
commissariat department there. Thenceforward attached to the War
Office, he returned to Paris, and in 1797 married Laure Sallambier,
the daughter of one of his hierarchic chiefs, she being thirty-two
years his junior. The next year he went to Tours as administrator of
the General Hospice, and remained there for seventeen years.

The father of the novelist was a man out of the common. A contemporary
of his, Le Poitevin Saint-Alme, relates that he united in himself the
Roman, the Gaul, and the Goth, and possessed the attributes of these
three races--boldness, patience, and health. He avowed himself a
disciple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, considering a return to nature to
be the main condition of happiness. He shunned doctors, advocated
exercise, long walks, woollen garments for every season, and a more
scientific propagation of his species. His daughter--afterwards Madame
Surville--says of him in the short biography she wrote of her brother:
"My father often railed at mankind, whom he accused of unceasingly
contributing to their own misfortune. He could never meet an
ill-formed fellow-creature without fulminating against parents and
governments, who were less careful to improve the human race than that
of animals."

In addition to his notions on hygiene, he interested himself in the
problems of sociology, anticipating Fourier and Saint-Simon, and
writing numerous pamphlets on philanthropic and scientific questions.
Large traces of his influence are found in his son's books. His hobby
was health cultivation. Every man, he said, ought to strive for an
equilibrium of the vital forces. In his own case there was an extra
reason for his aiming at longevity. Being still unmarried at the age
of forty-five, he had sunk most of his fortune in life annuities, one
of which was a tontine; and, after his marriage, he encouraged his
family to hope for his surviving all the competitors of his series,
and thus being able to bequeath them a huge capital. This hope was not
realized. His death occurred in 1829, when he was eighty-three, and
the twelve thousand francs income accruing from his annuities

His memory was extraordinary. At seventy, happening to meet a friend
of his childhood, whom he had not seen since he was fourteen, he
unhesitatingly began speaking to him in the Provencal tongue, which he
had ceased using for half a century. Equally great was his
benevolence. On one occasion, hearing that his friend General de
Pommereul was in monetary difficulties, he called at the General's
house, and, finding only Madame de Pommereul, said to her, as he
placed two heavy bags on the table: "I am told you are short of cash.
These ten thousand crowns will be more useful to you than to me. I
don't know what to do with them. You can give me them back when you
have recovered what has been stolen from you." Having uttered these
few brusk words, he turned and hurried away. Later we shall meet with
a younger General de Pommereul, to whom the novelist dedicated his
_Melmoth Reconciled_, adding, "In remembrance of the constant
friendship that united our fathers and subsists between the sons."

When young, the novelist's father must have been endowed with great
physical strength. He used to relate that, during the time he was a
clerk to a Procureur, he was requested one day to cut up a partridge
at his master's table. With the first dig of the knife, he not only
severed the partridge but the dish also, and drove his weapon into the
wood of the table. Detail worth noticing, this feat procured him the
respect of the Procureur's wife. The portrait sketched of him by his
daughter Laure represents him, between sixty and seventy, as a fine
old man, still vigorous, with courteous manners, speaking little and
rarely of himself (in this very different from Honore), indulgent
towards the young, whose society he was fond of, allowing to all the
same liberty that he claimed for himself, upright and sound in
judgment notwithstanding his eccentricities, of equable humour, and so
mild in character that he made every one around him happy. Delighting
in conversation, now grave, now curious, now prophetic, he was always
eagerly listened to by his elder son, whose indebtedness to him cannot
be doubted.

Balzac's mother, who was married at eighteen, was a Parisian by birth.
Her father was Director of the Paris Hospitals. At the Hotel-Dieu
there is a Sallambier ward which perpetuates his memory. A small,
active woman of nervous temperament, irritable and inclined to worry
about trifles, she yet had abundant practical sense--a quality less
developed in her husband. Her daughter tells us she was beautiful,
that she had remarkable vivacity of mind, much firmness and decision,
and boundless devotion to her family. Her affection, however, was
expressed rather by action than in speech. She had great imagination,
adds Madame Surville; and, says the novelist, "this imagination, which
she has bequeathed me, bandies her ever from north to south and from
south to north." Exceedingly pious, with a bias to mysticism, she
possessed a library of books bearing on such doctrines, which were
read by her son and afterwards utilized by him in his fiction.

Honore was the second child of his parents. The first dying in infancy
through the poorness of Madame Balzac's milk, he was sent to a house
on the outskirts of the town and suckled by a foster-mother. His
sister Laure, a year younger than himself, was submitted to the same
treatment, and the two children remained away from home until they
were four and three years old respectively. From her remembrance of
him, when both were toddling mites, his sister speaks of him as a
charming little boy, whose merry humour, shapely, smiling mouth, large
brown eyes, at once bright and soft, high forehead and rich black hair
caused him to be noticed a great deal in their daily outings.

In 1804 came the first important event of his life, a visit to Paris
to see his maternal grandparents. It was a wonderful change from his
home surroundings in Tours, where a certain severity prevailed. Here
he was spoiled to his heart's content; and his happiness was rendered
complete by Mouche, the big watch-dog, with whom he was on the best of
terms. One evening a magic-lantern exhibition was given in the
grandson's honour. Noticing that Mouche was not among the spectators,
he rose from his seat with an authoritative: "Wait." Then, going out,
he shortly after came back, dragging in his canine friend, to whom he
said: "Sit down there, Mouche, and look; it will cost you nothing.
Granddad will pay for you!" A few months later his grandfather died,
and the widow went to live with the Balzacs at Tours. This death made
a deep impression on the child's mind, and for a while dwelt so
constantly in his memory that, on one occasion, when Laure was being
scolded by her mother for an offence which the culprit aggravated by a
fit of involuntary tittering, he approached his sister and whispered
in her ear, with a view to restoring her gravity: "Think of
grandpapa's death."

Distinguished in these juvenile years more by kindness than
cleverness, he nevertheless manifested a certain inventiveness in
improvizing baby comedies which had more appreciative audiences than
some of his maturer stage productions. On the contrary, his conception
of music and his own musical execution had no admirers beyond himself.
For hours he would scrape the chords of a small, red violin, drawing
from them most excruciating sounds, himself lost in ecstasy, and most
amazed when he was begged to cease his concert, which was somewhat
calculated to give his friend Mouche the colic.

The boy's initial steps in the path of learning were taken under the
care of a nursery governess, Mademoiselle Delahaye, whom he quitted to
attend the principal day-school in the town, known as the Leguay
Institution. When he was eight he entered the College school at
Vendome, a quiet spot in Touraine, with something of the aspect of a
university town. On the registers of the school may be read the
following inscription: "No. 460, Honore Balzac, aged eight years and
five months. Has had small-pox; without infirmities; sanguine
temperament; easily excited and subject to feverishness. Entered the
College on June 22nd 1807; left on the 22nd of August 1813."

An old seventeenth-century foundation of the Oratorians, the school
possessed at this period a renown almost equal to that of Oxford and
Cambridge. In his _Louis Lambert_, Balzac gives us a description of
the place. "The College," he says, "is situated in the middle of the
town and on the little river Loir, which flows hard by the main
school-buildings. It stands in a spacious enclosure carefully walled
in, and comprises all the various establishments necessary in an
institution of this kind--a chapel, a theatre, an infirmary, a bakery,
gardens, watercourses. The College, being the most celebrated centre
of education in France, is recruited from several provinces and even
from our colonies, so that the distance at which families live does
not permit of parents' seeing their children. As a rule, pupils do not
spend the long holidays at home, and remain at the College
continuously until their studies are terminated." As a matter of fact,
Balzac passed his six years there without once returning to Tours,
being entirely cut off from his family, save for such rare visits as
were suffered from its members.

The school life was semi-monastic, with a discipline of iron. "The
leathern ferule played its terrible role with honour" among Minions,
Smalls, Mediums, and Greats. There were, however, certain mitigations
--long walks in the woods, cards, and amateur theatricals during
vacation; gardening and pigeon-fancying; stilt-walking, sliding and
clog-dancing; and, withal, the joys of a chapman's stall set up in the
enclosure itself.

_Louis Lambert_ is a slice of autobiography, attempting also a
portrait of the novelist, psychologically as well as outwardly, while
he was at Vendome. Although the author speaks of himself as distinct
from his hero, they make up one and the same individual. Of himself he
says: "I had a passion for books. My father, being desirous I should
enter the Ecole Polytechnique, paid for me to take private lessons in
mathematics. But my coach, being the librarian of the college, let me
borrow books, without much troubling about what I chose, from the
library, where during playtime he gave me my tuition. Either he was
very little qualified to teach, or he must have been pre-occupied with
some undertaking of his own; for he was only too willing I should read
in the hours he ought to have devoted to me, himself working at
something else. Thus, by virtue of a tacit agreement between us, I did
not complain of learning nothing, and he kept secret my book-borrowing.
This precocious passion led me to neglect my studies and instead to
compose poems, which indeed were of no high promise, if judged by the
following verse: 'O Inca! O roi infortune,' commencing an epopee on
the Incas. The line became only too celebrated among my companions,
and I was derisively nicknamed the poet. Mockery, however, did not
cure me, and I continued my efforts in spite of the apologue of the
Principal, Monsieur Mareschal, who one day related to me the
misfortunes of a linnet that tried to fly before being fully fledged.
He wished, no doubt, to turn me from my inveterate habit. As I
continued to read, I was continually punished, and grew to be the
least active, most idle, most contemplative pupil of the Smalls."

And now for the _alter ego_. "Louis Lambert was slender and thin, not
more than four feet and a half in height, but his weather-beaten face,
his sun-browned hands seemed to indicate a muscular vigour which he
had not in a normal state. So, two months after his entering the
college, when his school life had robbed him of his well-nigh
vegetable colour, we remarked that he became pale and white like a
woman. His head was unusually big; his hair, beautifully black and
naturally curly, lent an ineffable charm to his forehead, the size of
which struck us as extraordinary, though, as may be imagined, we
little recked of phrenology. The beauty of this prophetic forehead
resided chiefly in the extremely pure cut of the two brows, under
which shone his dark eyes--brows that appeared to be carved in
alabaster. Their lines had the somewhat rare luck to be perfectly
parallel in joining each other at the beginning of the features. These
latter were irregular enough, but the irregularity disappeared when
one saw his eyes, whose gaze possessed an astonishing variety of
expression. Sometimes clear and terribly penetrating, sometimes
angelically mild, this gaze grew dull and colourless, so to speak, in
his contemplative moments. His eye then resembled a pane of glass no
longer illuminated by the sun. The same was true of his strength,
which was purely nervous, and also of his voice. Both were equally
mobile and variable. The latter was alternately sweet and harmonious,
and then at times painful, incorrect, and rugged. As for his ordinary
strength, he was incapable of supporting the fatigue of any games
whatever. He seemed obviously feeble and almost infirm; but once,
during his first year at school, one of our bullies having jeered at
this extreme delicacy that rendered him unfit for the rough games
practised in the playground, Lambert with his two hands gripped the
end of one of our tables containing twelve desks in two rows; then,
stiffening himself against the master's chair and holding the table
with his feet placed on the bottom cross-bar, he said: 'Let any ten of
you try to move it.' I was there and witnessed this singular display
of strength. It was impossible to drag the table from him. He appeared
at certain moments to have the gift of summoning unusual powers, or of
concentrating his whole force on a given point."

That _Louis Lambert_ is an attempted revelation of Balzac's adolescent
mind we have both Madame Surville's and Champfleury's additional
testimony to prove. Discounting the exaggerations, due either to
literary morbidity of the kind that produced Chateaubriand's _Rene_
and Sainte-Beuve's _Joseph Delorme_, or to the natural vanity of which
the novelist had so large a share, there yet remains a considerable
substratum of truth in this record of twin, boyish existence, which
affords a valuable secondary help towards understanding its author's

The major punishment inflicted at Vendome was imprisonment in the
dormitory. Referring to himself and his double, Balzac says: "We were
freer in prison than anywhere. There we could talk for days together
in the silence of the room, where each pupil had a cubicle six feet
square, whose partitions were provided with bars across the top, and
whose grated iron door was locked every evening and unlocked every
morning under the surveillance of a Father, who assisted at our going
to bed and getting up. The creak of the doors, turned with singular
celerity by the dormitory porters, was one of the peculiarities of the
school. In these alcoves we were sometimes shut up for months on end.
The scholars thus caged fell under the stern eye of the Prefect, who
came regularly, and even irregularly, to see whether we were talking
instead of working at our tasks. But nutshells on the stairs or the
fineness of our hearing nearly always warned us of his arrival, so
that we were able to indulge safely in our favourite studies."

One of the confinements was inflicted on Honore for his faulty Latin
and impertinence. "Caius Gracchus was a noble heart," he translated
with a free paraphrase of _vir nobilis_. "What would Madame de Stael
say, if she happened to learn you had thus misconstrued the sense?"
asked the master. (Madame de Stael was supposed to be Louis Lambert's
patroness.) "She would say you are a stupid," muttered Honore. "Mister
poet, you will go to prison for a week," retorted the master, who had
overheard the comment.

Among the long walks enjoyed by the pupils on Thursdays, when there
were no lessons, was one to the famous castle of Rochambeau. In 1812,
Balzac paid his first and impatiently anticipated visit to this spot.
"When we arrived on the hill," he says, "whence the castle was
visible, perched on its flank, and the winding valley with the
glittering river threading its way through a meadow artistically laid
out by Nature, Louis Lambert said to me: 'Why, I saw this last night
in a dream.' He recognized the clump of trees under which we were, the
arrangement of the foliage, the colour of the water, the turrets of
the castle, in fine, all the details of the place. . . . I relate this
event," he continues, "first because each man can find in his
existence some phenomenon of sleeping or waking analogous to it; and
next, because it is true and gives an idea of Lambert's prodigious
intelligence. In fact, he deduced from the occurrence an entire
system, possessing himself, like Cuvier, in another order of things,
of a fragment of life to reconstruct a whole creation." And Lambert is
made to develop a theory of the astral body and astral locomotion. The
younger self announces also: "I shall be celebrated--an alchemist of

With such notions in his head at this early age, it was not surprising
he should have begun, while in his tender teens, a metaphysical
composition entitled _Treatise of the Will_. After working for six
months on it, a day of misfortune arrived. The pieces of paper on
which it had been written were hidden away from all eyes in a locked
box, which gradually assumed the weird attraction of a Blue Beard's
secret chamber to his mocking class-companions, so that at length
their inquisitiveness drove them to essay capturing the said box by
violence. Amidst the noise caused by the child-author's desperate
defence of his treasure, Father Hagoult suddenly appeared; and, being
apprized of what was inside the box, insisted on its being opened. The
papers were at once confiscated, and were never given back. Their loss
caused the boy a serious shock, which, combining with debility of
longer standing, brought on a malady that necessitated his leaving the
school. The Principal himself advised the removal. In 1813, between
Easter and prize distribution, he wrote to Madame Balzac asking her to
come immediately and fetch her son away. The lad, he explained, was
prostrated by a kind of coma, which alarmed his teachers all the more
as they were at a loss to account for it. To them Honore was simply an
idler. It did not occur to them that his condition was owing to
cerebral fatigue. Thin and sickly-looking at present, he had the air
of a somnambulist, asleep with his eyes open, oblivious of the
questions put to him, and unable to answer when asked: "What are you
thinking of? Where are you?" His return home produced a painful
impression. "So this is how the college authorities remit to us the
nice children we entrust to them," exclaimed his grandmother. And it
must be confessed that the good Fathers, engrossed by the training of
their charges' souls, paid but little attention to the bodies.

In the rooms where the pupils worked, the exhalations by which the air
was constantly vitiated mingled with the smells left by the debris of
lunches and teas and by other accumulated dirt. There were also
cupboards and closets where each pupil used to keep his private booty
--pigeons killed on fete days or dishes pilfered from the refectory.
Swept only once a day, the place was always filthy, and was further
rendered disagreeable by odours coming from the wash-house,
dressing-room, pantries, etc. All this with the mud brought in from
the outside playgrounds made the atmosphere insupportable. Moreover,
the pupils' petty ailments and pains were almost entirely unheeded. In
winter chaps and chilblains were Honore's unceasing lot. His woman's
complexion, and especially the skin of his ears and lips, cracked
under the least cold; his soft white hands reddened and swelled.
Constant colds harassed him; and, until he was inured to the Vendome
regimen, pain was his daily portion.

A lively recollection of what he went through in these school-days
persisted during his maturer years. Writing in 1844 to Monsieur
Fontemoing, one of his few boy-companions that he maintained relations
with, he said: "When David is ready to inaugurate his statue of Jean
Bart in Dieppe, I shall perhaps be there to enjoy the spectacle; and
then we will spend one or two days recalling to mind the cages, wooden
breeches and other Vendomoiseries."

His memory was probably less faithful in 1832, when striving to
reproduce the tenour of the lost _Treatise of the Will_. At thirteen
he could scarcely have had such definite notions of intuition and
other operations of the mind; and there must be a fairly long
antedating of reflection in attributing to Louis Lambert, even with
the latter's two years seniority, thoughts like the following:--

"Often amid calm and silence, when our inner faculties are lulled and
we indulge in sweet repose, and darkness hovers round us, and we fall
into a contemplation of other things, straight an idea darts forth,
flashes through the infinite space created by our brain, and then,
like a will-o'-the-wisp, vanishes never to return--an ephemeral
apparition like that of such children as yield boundless joy and grief
to bereaved parents; a species of still-born flower in the fields of
thought. At times also the idea, instead of forcibly gushing and dying
without consistence, dawns and poises in the fathomless limbo of the
organs that give it birth; it tires us by its long parturition; then
it develops and grows, is fertile, rich, and productive in the visible
grace of youth and with all the qualities of longevity; it sustains
the most inquiring glances, invites them, and never wearies them. Now
and again ideas are generated in swarms, one evolves another; they
interlace and entice, they abound and are dalliant; now and again,
they arise pale and looming, and perish through want of strength or
nourishment--the quickening substance is insufficient. And, last of
all, on certain days they plunge into the abysses, lighting up their
depths; they terrify us, and leave us in a soul despair. Our ideas
have their complete system; they are a kingdom of nature, a sort of
efflorescence of which a madman perhaps might give an iconography.
Yes, all attests the existence of these delightful creations I may
compare to flowers. Indeed, their production is no more surprising
than that of perfumes and colour in the plant."

Still, without being a Pascal, Balzac in the first half of his teens,
was evidently not an ordinary child. There was a ferment of thought,
as he said, reacting on itself and seeking to surprise the secrets of
its own being. Fostered by the moral isolation in which he lived
during these six years, his self-analysis grew unwholesome, there
being little or nothing on the physical side to counterbalance it.
Fortunately, the return to saner surroundings occurred before the evil
was irremediable. Running wild for a few months in the open air, he
recovered his natural vivacity and cheerfulness. Every day he went for
a long ramble through one or another of the landscapes of Touraine,
and on his way home enjoyed the magnificent sunsets lighting up the
steeples of his native town and glinting on the river covered with
craft, both large and small. To check his reveries, Madame Balzac
forced him to amuse his two sisters Laure and Laurence and to fly the
kite of his little brother Henry,[*] who had been born while he was at

  [*] The name is spelt in the English way.

On Sundays and fete days he regularly accompanied his mother to the
Cathedral of saint-Gatien, where he must have been an observant
spectator if not consistently a devout listener. He prayed by fits and
starts; and in the intervals studied closely and with an eye for
effect the appearance of priestly persons and functions, with altar
and stained-glass window in the background, and gathered materials for
his Abbes Birotteau, Bonnet, and others. The period was one of
compensation and adjustment. What he had been striving to assimilate
had now the leisure to arrange itself in his brain, which was no
longer overheated.

As soon as his health was considered sufficiently strong, he began
attending classes at the institution of a Monsieur Chretien, and
supplemented them by private lessons received at home. His conviction
that he would become a famous man was as strong as ever, and his naive
assertion of it was frequent enough to provoke great teasing in the
domestic circle. Far from being irritated, he laughed with those that
laughed at him, his sisters saying: "Hail to the great Balzac!" On the
part of his elders the bantering was intended to damp his exalted
notions, which they regarded as ill-founded, judging him, as his
Vendome professors, by the smallness of his Latin and Greek. His
mother in particular had no faith in his prophecies nor yet in his
occasional utterances of deeper things than his years warranted: "You
certainly don't know what you are talking about," was her habitual
snub. And, when Honore, not daring to argue further, took refuge in
his sly, not to say supercilious, smile, she taxed him with
overweeningness--an accusation that had some truth in it. She might
well be excused for her scepticism, for the youth had also large
ignorance in some of the commoner things of life, and, moreover,
allowed himself to be taken in easily. Laure seems to have traded a
good deal on his credulity for the sake of fun. One day she gave him a
so-called cactus seedling, supposed to have come from the land of
Judaea. Honore preserved it preciously in a pot for a fortnight, only
to discover at length that this plant was a vulgar pumpkin.

At the end of 1814, Monsieur Balzac came to reside in Paris, being
placed at the head of the Commissariat of the First Military Division;
and Honore's education was continued in the capital, for a while at
the establishment of a Monsieur Lepitre, Rue Saint-Louis, and then at
another kept by Messieurs Sganzer and Beuzelin, Rue de Thorigny, both
being situated in the Marais Quarter, near his father's house. So far
as the subjects of the curriculum were concerned, he was still a
mediocre pupil. However, literature began to attract his attention and
efforts, and one composition of his for an examination--the speech of
Brutus's wife after the condemnation of her sons--treasured up by his
sister Laure, is mentioned by her as exhibiting some of the energy and
realistic presentment in which he was ultimately to excel.

When he was seventeen, his father, seeing that there was no chance of
his getting into the Ecole Polytechnique, decided to put him into the
legal profession; and, for the purpose of preliminary training,
induced a solicitor friend, Guillonnet de Merville,[*] to take him
into his office in the place of a clerk--no other than Eugene Scribe,
the future dramatist--who had just quitted law for literature. During
the eighteen months passed here, Balzac went to lectures at the
Sorbonne University, and was coached by private tutors. Among the
College professors he heard were Villemain, Guizot, and Cousin. These
great teachers converted his passion for reading into more serious
habits of study; and, in order to profit more by their lessons, he
often spent his leisure hours in the libraries of the city and sought
out old books of value in the cases of the dealers along the Quays.

  [*] _An Episode under the Terror_ was dedicated to him.

The pocket-money required for such purchases was principally supplied
by his grandmother, who permitted him to win from her at whist or
boston in the evenings he remained at home. A friend of his
grandmother's that lived in a neighbouring flat was likewise very kind
to him. She was an old maiden lady who had been acquainted with
Beaumarchais, and delighted to chat with her protege about the author
of the _Mariage de Figaro_. Though now a young man, Honore was not
tall; five feet two was his exact height. Retaining his childish love
of laughter and fun of every kind, he showed at present greater
facility in learning, with a faculty of memory that was prodigious.
Having to go with his sisters to balls, he took lessons in dancing;
but, happening to meet with an unlucky fall, and resenting the smiles
and giggling his accident called forth among the girls, he renounced
attempts at tripping on the light, fantastic toe, and devoted
subsequent visits to the task of jotting down notes.

A second period of eighteen months in the office of a notary, Maitre
Passez, completed his law apprenticeship. In the first pages of
_Colonel Chabert_ the novelist gives us a sketch of the interior where
he acquired his knowledge of chicane. Our nostrils are familiarized
with its stove-heated atmosphere, our eyes with the yellow-billed
walls, the dirty floor, the greasy furniture, the bundles of papers,
the chimney-piece covered with bottles and glasses and bits of bread
and cheese; and our ears are assailed by the quips and jokes and puns
of the clerks and office-boys who were his companions for a time. He
lingers over his reminiscences, which, though pleasant from their
connection with his lost youth, had none the less to do with men and
things that settled the foundation of his maturer pessimism. An
article of his in 1839, entitled the _Notary_, says:--

"After five years passed in a notary's office, it is hard for a young
man to conserve his candour. He has seen the hideous origins of all
fortunes, the disputes of heirs over corpses not yet cold, the human
heart in conflict with the Code. . . . A lawyer's office is a
confessional where the various passions come to empty out their bag of
bad ideas and to consult about their cases of conscience while seeking
means of execution."

While we have no conclusive evidence on the point, it is yet probable
that, at least for a while, Balzac had, during these years of legal
training, serious thoughts of adopting law as his career. Otherwise he
would scarcely have troubled to gain such an extensive acquaintance
with everything appertaining to its theory and practice--knowledge
which he afterwards utilized in several of his books, notably in
_Cesar Birotteau_ and the _Marriage Contract_. However, in 1819, he
had definitely made up his mind to follow Scribe's example. At this
date his father informed him that an opportunity offered itself for
him to become a junior partner in a solicitor's practice, which might
be ultimately purchased with money advanced him and the dowry that an
advantageous marriage would bring. When the newly-fledged Bachelor of
Laws declared that it was impossible for him to accept the proposal,
and that he had determined to become a man of letters, trusting to his
pen for a living, the elder Balzac's astonishment was unbounded. If
any echoes of his son's recent cogitations and conversations on the
subject had come to the father's ears, they had been deemed so much
empty talk; and the friends who were consulted in the dilemma had
nothing more encouraging to say. One of them pronounced that Honore
was worth nothing better than to make a scrivener of or a clerk in
some Government department. The poor fellow had a good handwriting
--this, indeed, deteriorated later. Through his parents' influence, it
was thought he might ultimately attain a moderate competency. Perhaps
Laure, the favourite sister and early confidante of the novelist, may
have used persuasion at this juncture with her father and mother. At
any rate, as the issue of a great deal of lively discussion, the
parents agreed to let Honore make a two years' experiment as a free
lance in the ranks of the book-writing tribe. By the end of that time,
they no doubt imagined he would be glad enough to re-enact the parable
of the prodigal son and start in some safer trade.

                            CHAPTER III


It happened that Honore's enlistment in the army of _litterateurs_
coincided with considerable changes in his parents' circumstances. His
father had just been retired on a pension and had recently lost money
in two investments. As there were a couple of daughters to be provided
for, the family, for the sake of economy, quitted Paris and went to
live at Villeparisis, six leagues distant from the capital, where a
modest country-house had been bought. Honore, by dint of insistence,
obtained permission to remain in Paris, where he would be freer to
work and could more easily get into relations with publishers; and a
meagrely furnished attic-study was rented for him at No. 9 Rue
Lesdiguieres, a street near the Arsenal, still bearing the same name.
A small monthly allowance was made him, just enough to keep him from
starving; and an old woman, Mother Comin--the Iris-messenger, he
facetiously called her--who had been in the family's service and was
staying on in the city, undertook to pay him occasional visits and to
report should he be in difficulties.

The novelty of his semi-independence caused him at first to look with
cheerful eye on his narrow surroundings. To his sister he wrote in
April 1819:--

"Here are some details about my way of living. I have taken a servant.

"A servant! What can you be thinking of!

"Yes; a servant. His name is as funny as that of Dr. Nacquart's
domestic. The Doctor's is Tranquil; mine is Myself. He is a bad
acquisition! . . . Myself is idle, clumsy, and improvident. When his
master is hungry and thirsty, he has sometimes neither bread nor water
to give him; he does not know how to protect himself against the wind,
which blows through the door and window like Tulou through his flute,
but less agreeably. As soon as I am awake, I ring for Myself, and he
makes my bed. He sets to sweeping, and is not very deft in the


"Yes, Sir.

"Just look at the cobweb where that big fly is buzzing loud enough to
deafen me, and at those bits of fluff under the bed, and at that dust
on the windows blinding me.

"Why, sir, I don't see anything.

"Tut, tut! hold your tongue, impudence!

"And he does, singing while he sweeps and sweeping while he sings,
laughs in talking and talks in laughing. He has arranged my linen in
the cupboard by the chimney, after papering the receptacle white; and,
with a three-penny blue paper and bordering, he has made a screen. The
room he has painted from the book-case to the fireplace. On the whole,
he is a good fellow."

In the introduction to _Facino Cane_, which Balzac wrote some fifteen
years later, there is a return of memory to this sojourn in the
Lesdiguieres garret. "I lived frugally," he says; "I had accepted all
the conditions of monastic life, so needful to the worker. When it was
fine, the utmost I did was to go for a stroll on the Boulevard
Bourdon. One hobby alone enticed me from my studious habits, and even
that was study. I used to observe the manners of the Faubourg, its
inhabitants, and their characters. Dressed as plainly as the workmen,
indifferent to decorum, I aroused no mistrust, and could mix with them
and watch their bargaining and quarrelling with each other as they
went home from their toil. My faculty of observation had become
intuitive; it penetrated the soul without neglecting the body, or
rather it so well grasped exterior details that at once it pierced
beyond. It gave me the power of living the life of the individual in
whom it was exercised, enabling me to put myself in his skin, just at
the dervish of the _Arabian Nights_ entered the body and soul of those
over whom he pronounced certain words."

The would-be man of letters pushed his hobby even to dogging people to
their homes, and to registering in note-book or brain their
conversations--records of joys, sorrows, and interests.

"I could realize their existence," he affirms; "I felt their rags on
my back. I walked with my feet in their worn-out shoes; it was the
dreaming of a man awake. . . . To quit my own habits and become
another by the intoxication of my moral faculties at will, such was my
diversion. To what do I owe this gift? Is it second sight? Is it one
of those possessions of the mind that lead to madness? I have never
sought out the causes of this gift. I have it and use it--that is all
I can say."

Honore's 'prentice attempts at producing a masterpiece oscillated
between the novel and the drama. Two stories, entitled respectively
_Coquecigrue_ (an imaginary animal) and _Stella_, were abandoned
before they were begun. A comic opera had the same fate. The _Two
Philosophers_, a farce in which a couple of sham sages mocked at the
world and quarrelled with each other, while secretly coveting the good
things they affected to despise, appears to have been worked at, but
uselessly. Next a tragedy, tackled with greater resolution, was
composed and entirely finished. Curiously, the subject of it,
_Cromwell_, was the same as that chosen by Victor Hugo, a few years
later, to achieve the overthrow of classicism and the substitution of
Romanticism in its stead.

The drama was written in verse, a form of literary composition foreign
to Balzac's talent. Even during the months he laboured at his task, he
confessed to Laure, 'midst his sallies of joking, that what he was
writing teemed with defective lines. He polished and repolished,
however, hoping to overcome these drawbacks, upheld by his invincible
self-confidence. The piece, as sketched out in his correspondence,
made large alterations in English history. Its interest hinged chiefly
on the dilemma created in Cromwell's mind by his two sons falling into
the hands of a small Royalist force, and by Charles's ordering them to
be given up without conditions to their father, although the King was
a prisoner. Posed in the third act, the dilemma was solved in the
fourth by Cromwell's decision to condemn the King, notwithstanding his
generosity. At the close of the play, the Queen escaped from England,
crying aloud for vengeance, which she intended to seek in all
quarters. France would combat the English, would defeat and crush them
in the end.

"I mean my tragedy to be the breviary of peoples and kings," he
proudly informed his sister. "It is impossible for you not to find the
plan superb. How the interest grows from scene to scene! The incident
of Cromwell's sons is most happily invented. Charles's magnanimity in
restoring to Cromwell his sons is finer than that of Augustus
pardoning Cinna." In blowing his own trumpet Balzac was early an

To stimulate his imagination and reflection, he transferred his daily
walk from the Jardin des Plantes to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. "There
I make," he explained, "studies of grief useful for my _Cromwell_.
Real grief is so hard to depict; it requires so much simplicity." His
garret had still its charm. "The time I spend in it will be sweet to
look back upon," he said. "To live as I like, to work in my own way,
to go to sleep conjuring up the future, which I imagine beautiful, to
have Rousseau's Julie as a sweetheart, La Fontaine and Moliere as
friends, Racine as a master, and Pere Lachaise as a promenade ground!
Ah! if it could only last for ever!" His dreaming led him on to wider
anticipations even than those of literary glory. "If I am to be a
grand fellow (which, it's true, we don't yet know), I may add to my
fame as a great author that of being a great citizen. This is a
tempting ambition also."

At the end of April 1820, he went to Villeparisis with his completed
tragedy. Counting on a triumph, he had requested that some
acquaintances should be invited to the house to hear it read aloud.
Among those present was the gentleman who had advised his turning
clerk in the Civil Service. The reading commenced, and, as it
progressed, the youthful author noticed that his audience first showed
signs of being bored, then of being bewildered, and lastly of being
frankly dissatisfied and hostile. Laure was dumbfounded. The candid
gentleman broke out into uncompromising, scathing condemnation; and
those who were most indulgent were obliged to pronounce that the
famous tragedy was a failure. Honore defended his production with
energy; and, to settle the dispute, his father proposed it should be
submitted to an old professor of the Ecole Polytechnique, whom he
knew, and who should act as umpire. This course was adopted; and the
Professor, after careful examination of the manuscript, opined that
Honore would act wisely in preferring any other career to literature.

The verdict was received with more calmness than might have been
expected. Instead of twisting his own neck, as he had hinted he might,
if unsuccessful, the young author quietly remarked that tragedies were
not his forte and that he intended to devote himself to novels.

As the price of their assent to his continuance in writing, Honore's
parents stipulated that he should quit his garret and come home. The
return was all the more advisable as Laure was about to be married to
a Monsieur Surville, who was a civil engineer, and a gap was thus
created in the home circle, which his presence could prevent from
being so much felt.[*] His health besides had suffered during his
fifteen months of self-imposed privations. In after-life he complained
much to some of his friends--Auguste Fessart and Madame Hanska amongst
others--of his parents' or rather his mother's hardness to him while
he was in the Lesdiguieres Street lodgings, and asserted that, if more
liberality had then been displayed, most of his subsequent misfortunes
would have been avoided. This is by no means certain. His troubles and
burdens would seem to have been caused far more by mistakes of
judgment and improvidence than by any stress of circumstance.

  [*] Laurence, the younger sister, was married in 1821, twelve months
      after her sister. Her husband was Monsieur de Montzaigle. She
      died before the close of the decade.

For the next five years he remained with his father and mother,
excepting the occasional visits paid to Touraine, L'Isle-Adam, or
Bayeux, at which last place his sister Laure was settled for a while.
In a letter to her there he banteringly spoke of his desire to enter
the matrimonial state: "Look me out some widow who is a rich heiress,"
he said; "you know what I require. Praise me up to her--twenty-two
years of age, amiable, polite, with eyes of life and fire, the best
husband Heaven has ever made. I will give you fifty per cent on the
dowry and pin-money." He alluded to his mother's worrying disposition
and susceptibility: "We are oddities, forsooth, in our blessed family.
What a pity I cannot put us into novels." This he was to do later.

Beforehand there was his Romantic cycle to be run through, in more
than forty volumes, if Laure's statement could be believed. What she
meant no doubt was sections of volumes or else tales; and even the
composition of forty tales in five years would be a considerable
performance. True, there were partnerships with Le Poitevin de
l'Egreville,[*] Horace Raisson, Etienne Arago. And the material turned
out was of the coarsest kind, generally second-hand, a hash-up of
stories already published, imitations of Monk Lewis, Maturin, Mrs.
Radcliffe, and French writers of the same school, with a little
shuffling of characters and incidents. The preface to the novel that
opened the series--_The Heiress of Birague_--speaks of an old trunk
bequeathed by an uncle and filled with manuscripts, which the author
had merely to edit. And the apology had more truth in it than he meant
it to convey.

  [*] Son of Le Poitevin Saint-Alme.

Balzac was quite aware of the small merit of this hack-work. To Laure
he confessed: "My novel is finished. I will send it to you on
condition of your not lending it or boasting of it as a masterpiece."
He could appreciate better achievement, and spoke of _Kenilworth_ as
the finest thing in the world. His excuse was that he had no time to
reflect upon what he wrote. He must write every day to gain the
independence that he sought; and had none but this ignoble way, as he
said, of securing it.

Moreover, there was still the dreaded possibility of his having to
embrace another profession than literature. The notary was dead and
the business had been taken over by some one else, so that this danger
no longer threatened him; but the candid friend was inquiring about a
second sinecure. "What a terrible man!" exclaimed Honore.

He indulged in a fit of premature discouragement, seeking for some one
or something to cast a little brightness over what he deemed his dull
existence. "I have none of the flowers of life," he lamented; "and yet
I am in the season when they bloom! What is the good of fortune and
joys when youth is past? Of what use the actor's garments if one does
not play the role? The old man is one who has dined and looks at
others eating. I am young and my plate is empty, and I am hungry,
Laure. Will ever my two only, immense desires--to be celebrated and to
be loved--be satisfied?" They were, but at a cost that was dearly

However great Balzac's potential genius, it was too little developed,
too little exercised at this period for him to produce anything of
real, permanent worth. The fiction in which he was destined to excel,
the only fiction he was peculiarly fitted to write, demanded maturity
of experience that he could hardly acquire before another decade had
passed over his head. Yet the stories he reeled off had a certain
market value. _The Heiress of Birague_ was sold for eight hundred
francs, _Jean-Louis_, or the _Foundling Girl_, for thirteen hundred;
and a higher price still was obtained (whether the money was actually
received is uncertain) for the _Handsome Jew_, afterwards republished
under a fresh title, _The Israelite_.

Contemporary critics declined to acknowledge that, in these books and
their congeners,[*] there were some traces of a master-hand. To-day
the traces are perceptible, because criticism has a better opportunity
of discovering them. Here and there, and especially in _Argow, the
Pirate_, is to be noticed a beginning of the realism that was
afterwards the novelist's excellence. The theme, that of a brigand
purified by love, is, as Monsieur le Breton remarks in his study of
Balzac, a romantic one in the manner of Byron, and has things in
common with Walter Scott's _Heart of Midlothian_, Victor Hugo's
_Bug-Jargal_, and Pixerecourt's _Belveder_. There is an atmosphere of
imagination in it, the action is quick, and the characters are
strongly though distortedly drawn. Moreover, a breath of healthy
sentiment runs through the story, which is not always the case in the
later and more celebrated novels. Balzac must have learnt much and
acquired much that was useful to him during this puddling of his ore
in the furnace of his early efforts; and, if in his maturer age he
retained certain defects of the Romantic school, it was because a
lurking sympathy with them in his nature prevented his shaking himself
free of them, when he reformed his manner.

  [*] Other youthful productions were The Centenarian, The Last Fairy,
      Don Gigadas, The Excommunicated Man, Wann-Chlore, or Jane the
      Pale, The Curate of the Ardennes, and Argow, the Pirate.

The style of his letters at this same period was admirable, sparkling
with wit and with a humour that unfortunately grew rarer, bitterer,
and even coarser often, in his later career. Some of his rapidly
sketched pictures were incidents of home life. This one represents his
mother's fidgety disposition:--

"Louise, give me a glass of water."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Ah, my poor Louise, I'm in a bad way; I am indeed!"

"Nonsense, Ma'am!"

"It's worse than other years."

"Lud! . . . Ma'am!"

"My head is splitting. . . . . Oh, Louise! The shutters are slamming;
it's enough to break all the panes in the drawing-room."

Already, with the faculty of exaggeration which characterised him all
his life, he anticipated gaining within the next twelvemonth no less
than twenty thousand francs; forgetting the small result of his
_Cromwell_, he spoke of having a lot of theatrical pieces in hand,
plus an historical novel, _Odette de Champdivers_, and another dealing
with the fortunes of the R'hoone family. R'hoone was an anagram of his
own name Honore. Lord R'hoone was one of his pseudonyms. And "Lord
R'hoone," he told Laure, "will soon be the rage, the most amiable,
fertile author; and ladies will regard him as the apple of their eye.
Then the little Honore will arrive in a coach with head held up, proud
look, and fob well garnished. At his approach, amidst flattering
murmurs from the admiring crowd, people will say: 'He is Madame
Surville's brother.' Then men, women, and children, and unborn babes
will leap as the hills. . . . And I shall be the ladies' man, in view
of which event I am saving up my money. Since yesterday I have given
up dowagers, and intend to fall back on thirty-year-old widows. Send
all you can find to Lord R'hoone, Paris. This address will suffice. He
is known at the city gates. N.B.--Send them, carriage paid, free of
cracks and soldering. Let them be rich and amiable; as for beauty, it
is not a _sine qua non_. Varnish wears off, but the underneath
earthenware remains."

Through all these displays of fireworks one fact stands out, that
Balzac was in too great a hurry to reap fame and wealth--wealth
especially. It was his hurry that inspired his constant complaint:
"Ah! if only I had enough bread and cheese, I would soon make my mark
and write books to last." This was not altogether true nor just to his
parents. He had his bread and cheese and a home to eat it in, which
authors have not always enjoyed who have gained immortality by their
unaided pen. Although his family were anxious to see him independent,
they did not oblige him to depend upon what he earned. Nothing at the
moment prevented him from striving to produce something of good
quality and spending the time necessary over it. He saw the better,
but followed the worse.

"My ideas," he wrote to Laure, "are changing so much that my execution
will soon change also. . . . In a short time there will be the same
difference between the me of to-day and the me of to-morrow as exists
between the young man of twenty and the man of thirty! I am
reflecting; my ideas are ripening. I recognize that Nature has treated
me favourably in giving me my heart and my head. Believe in me, dear
sister, for I need some one to believe in me. I do not despair of
doing something one day. I see at present that _Cromwell_ had not even
the merit of being an embryon. As for my novels, they are not up to

How could they be when he supplied them, so to speak, machine-made!
"Citizen Pollet" button-holed him in August 1822 and induced him to
sign an agreement binding him to deliver a couple of these stories by
the 1st of October. Six hundred francs were paid cash down, and the
rest in deferred bills. The second of the couple was the _Curate of
the Ardennes_, which Laure helped him to write.

It surprises at first sight to read that the demand for this cheap
fiction was so great in the early decades of the nineteenth century.
The explanation is that, during the last years of the Empire, the
article had scarcely been in the market at all, so that, in the
Restoration period, which was one of peace and leisure, there was
quite a rush for it. On the whole, Balzac did not manage to hit the
public fancy with his work in this line. The further he went with it
the less he liked it, and such bits of better stuff as he introduced
in lieu of the blood and mystery rather lessened than increased the
saleableness of his books. For the printing of the _Last Fairy_ he had
to pay, himself; and he was obliged to own, after five years' catering
for popular taste, he was no nearer emerging from obscurity than he
had been at the commencement. It was discouraging and humiliating; he
had started with such confidence and boasting. Now those who had
spoken against his literary vocation seemed to be justified, and those
who had been most inclined to believe in him were sceptical.

However, there was still one woman who kept her faith in his capacity
for soaring above the common pitch. She it was who, understanding him
better than his own family, became a second mother to him. Attracted
by him, in spite of his weaknesses of conceit, loudness, and
vulgarity, she polished his behaviour, guided his perceptions,
corrected his pretentiousness, influencing him through the sincerity
and strength of her affection.

Twenty-two years his senior, she was the daughter of a German harpist
named Henner, in favour at the Court of Louis XVI., whom Marie-Antoinette
had married to Mademoiselle Quelpee-Laborde, one of her own
ladies-in-waiting. Both King and Queen stood as god-parents to the
Henners' little girl, who, when grown up, was married to a Monsieur de
Berny, of ancient, noble lineage, and bore him nine children. The date
at which Balzac made her acquaintance has been variously stated.
Basing themselves upon his _Love-story at School_, some writers have
supposed he knew her when he was a boy, but there is no evidence to
confirm this hypothesis. The first definite mention of her and her
family occurs in a gossipy letter he wrote to Laure in 1822 from
Villeparisis, where the de Berny family were settled: "I may tell
you," he says, "that Mademoiselle de B. has narrowly escaped being
broken into three pieces in a fall; that Mademoiselle E. is not so
stupid as we imagined; that she has a talent for serious painting and
even for caricature; that she is a musician to the tips of her toes;
that Monsieur C. continues to swear; that Madame de B(erny) has become
a bran, wheat, and fodder merchant, perceiving after forty years'
reflection that money is everything."

At this date, the relationship between him and Madame de Berny was one
of ordinary friendship, yet with indications of warmer feelings on
either side that his parents noticed and disapproved. With a view to
discouraging the intimacy, they induced him to pay visits that took
him from home for some time; but the object they aimed at was not
attained. The intimacy ripened. Madame de Berny was his only
confidante. His few male friends were too old or too young for his
unbosomings. There was the Abbe de Villers whom he stayed with at
Nogent, and there was Theodore Dablin, the retired ironmonger, whom he
used to call his "_cher petit pere_." Besides these two elders, there
was the young de Berny, who was considerably his junior. But to none
of them could he talk unreservedly of his ambitions literary and
political. For a man between twenty and thirty years of age, whose
mind is seething with evolving thought, there is no more sympathetic
and appreciative adviser than a woman some years his senior. Madame de
Berny listened to his expression of Imperialistic opinions tinged with
Liberalism, as she listened to his confession of hopes and
disappointments; and, in turn, talked with persuasive accents of those
pre-Revolution days which she had known as a child. She was able also
to draw the curtain aside and show him something of the history of the
revolution itself and of the Terror, during which she and her parents'
family had been imprisoned. It was his first mingling with the
grandeurs that were his delight. Through her narration, he was able to
enter the old Court society and watch the intrigues of the personages
who had been famous in it. Madame de Berny's mother was still living,
and added her own reminiscences to those of her daughter. Later, by
their agency he was introduced to some of the aristocratic partisans
of the fallen dynasty--the Duke de Fitz-James and the Duchess de
Castries. Under Madame de Berny's education, his Imperialism was
transformed into Legitimism.

How a matron of her age should have allowed the friendship of the
commencement to develop into a liaison is one of those problems of
sexual psychology easier to describe in Balzac's own language than to
explain rationally. We know that she was not happy with her husband,
and can surmise that she entered upon the role she played without
clearly foreseeing its dangers. No doubt, her desire to form this
genius in the rough carried her away from her moorings, which, indeed,
had never been very strong, since she had already once before in her
married life had a lover. Besides there was her temperament, sensual
and sentimental; and with it the tradition of the eighteenth-century
morals, indulgent to illicit amours.

Most likely, the second phase of her relations with Balzac coincided
with his temporary abandonment of authorship for business. It was in
1825 that he resolved to embark on publishing,[*] partly urged by the
mute reproaches of his parents and partly allured by the prospect of
rapidly growing rich. He had likewise some intention of bringing out
his own books, both those previously written and those in preparation.
Of these latter there were a goodly number sketched out in a sort of
note-book or album, which his sister Laure called his _garde-manger_
or pantry. It was full of jottings anent people, places, and things
that he had come across in the preceding lustrum.

  [*] The initiator of this project was not Balzac, although his early
      biographers, Madame Surville included, gave him the credit for it.

The idea of taking up business was mooted to him first by a Monsieur
d'Assonvillez, an acquaintance of Madame de Berny, whom he used to see
and talk with when staying, as he occasionally did, at the small
apartment rented by his father in Paris. Just then Urbain Canel, the
celebrated publisher of Romantic books, was thinking of putting on the
market compact editions of the old French classics, beginning with
Moliere and La Fontaine; and Balzac, either already knowing him or
being introduced to him by a mutual friend, was admitted to join in
the undertaking. The money necessary for the partnership was lent to
him by Monsieur d'Assonvillez, who, as a sharp business man, imposed
conditions on the loan which secured him from loss in case of failure.
The editions were to be library ones, illustrated by the artist
Deveria (who about this time painted Balzac's portrait), and were to
be published in parts. The price was high, twenty francs for each
work; and additional drawbacks were the smallness of the type and the
poorness of the engravings. No success attended the experiment; at the
end of a twelvemonth not a score of copies had been sold. By common
consent the firm, which had been increased to four partners, broke up
their association, and Balzac was left sole proprietor of the concern,
the assets of which consisted of a large quantity of wastepaper, and
the liabilities amounted to a respectable number of thousand francs.

Madame Surville attributes the fiasco to the professional jealousy of
competitors, who discouraged the public from buying; but the cause of
the discomfiture lay rather in the faulty manner in which the partners
carried out their plan. Monsieur d'Assonvillez being still an
interested adviser, Balzac now submitted to him a project for
retrieving his losses by adding a printing to his publishing business.
The stock and goodwill of a printer were to be bought, and a working
type-setter, named Barbier, was to be associated as a second principal
in the affair, on account of his practical experience. The project was
approved, and the elder Balzac was persuaded to come forward with a
capital of about thirty thousand francs, this sum being required to
pay out the retiring printer, Monsieur Laurens, and obtain the new
firm's patent. Madame de Berny had already lent Honore money to help
him in the publishing scheme. At present, she induced her husband to
intervene with the Government so that the printing licence might be
granted without delay.

The printing premises were situated at No. 17, Rue des Marais,
Faubourg Saint-Germain, to-day Rue Visconti, near the Quai Malaquais.
The street, which is a narrow one, subsists nearly the same as it was
a century ago. Older associations, indeed, are attached to it. At No.
19 died Jean Racine in 1699, and Adrienne Lecouvreur in 1730. No. 17
was a new construction when Balzac went to it, having probably been
built on the site where Nicolas Vauquelin des Yveteaux used to receive
the far-famed Ninon in his gardens. On the impost, where formerly
appeared the names Balzac and Barbier, now may be read "A. Herment,
successeur de Garnier." The place is still devoted to like uses.

In the _Lost Illusions_, whose part-sequel _David Sechard_ reproduces
Balzac's life as a printer, there is a description of the ground
floor: "a huge room, lighted on the street-side by an old stained-glass
window and on the inner yard-side by a casement." The passage in
Gothic style led to the office; and on the floor above were the living
rooms, one of which was hung with blue calico, was furnished with
taste, and was adorned with the owner's first novels, bound by
Thouvenin. In this "den," during the two years that he was engaged in
the printing trade, were received the daily visits of her he called
his _Dilecta_.

She could not give him the practical business qualities in which he
was utterly lacking and for which his wonderful intuitions of
commercial possibilities were no compensation; but she could smile at
his enthusiasms and sympathize with his disappointments, which had
their see-saw pretty regularly in the interval from the 1st of June
1826 to the 3rd of February 1828. A very fair trade was done; and, in
fact, some of the books he printed were important: Villemain's
_Miscellanies_, Merimee's _Jacquerie_, Madame Roland's _Memoirs_, not
to speak of his own small _Critical and Anecdotal Dictionary of Paris
Signboards_, published under a pseudonym, or rather anonymously, since
it was signed _Le Batteur de Pave_, the "Man in the Street." But the
senior partner, he who should have financed the concern with all the
more wariness as d'Assonvillez, the principal supplier of capital, had
a mortgage upon the whole estate, allowed himself to be paid for his
printing, more often than not, in bills for which no provision was
forthcoming and in securities that were rotten. One debt of
twenty-eight thousand francs was settled by the transfer of a lot of
old unsaleable literature, which would have been dear at a halfpenny
a volume. And then, when everything was in confusion--debtors
recalcitrant and creditors pressing--what must he do but launch on
another venture, buy the bankrupt stock of a type-founder, and start
manufacturing. A fresh partner, Laurent, was admitted into the firm in
December 1827, with a view to his exploiting the presumably auxiliary
branch; and a prospectus was issued vaunting a process of
type-founding, which Balzac was wrongly credited with having invented.
Within two months after this spurt, and while a fine album was in
preparation, which was to illustrate the firm's improved method,
Barbier withdrew from the partnership. His desertion would have at
once spelt disaster, if Madame de Berny had not boldly stepped into
the vacant place, with a power of attorney conferred on her by her
husband, and pledged her credit for nine thousand francs. During three
months longer, the tottering house continued to hold up; and then,
under the avalanche of writs and claims, it fell. A petition in
bankruptcy was filed in April, and the estate was placed in the hands
of an official receiver.

On reaching this crisis so big with consequences, Balzac had recourse
to his mother, who, though little disposed in the past to humour his
bent, consented now to every sacrifice in order to save his credit.
Her first step was to get her cousin Monsieur Sedillot to occupy
himself with the liquidation, she authorizing him at the same time to
make whatever arrangement he should judge best, and promising to
accept it. She was most anxious to spare her husband, at present
eighty-three years of age, the grief he must feel if informed of the
full extent of the disaster. Alas! notwithstanding her precautions,
the old man did learn the truth; and the shock hastened his end.
Within twelve months after the bankruptcy he met with a slight
accident, which, acting on his enfeebled constitution, was fatal to

Balzac's liabilities, at the moment of the failure, were one hundred
and thirteen thousand francs. The effect of the liquidation was to
reduce the number of creditors, so that his indebtedness was
restricted to members of his own family and to Madame de Berny. The
latter's claims were partly met by her son's taking over the business
with Laurent, the other partner. Being thus reconstituted, the firm
subsequently prospered. To-day it still carries on its affairs under
the control of a Monsieur Charles Tuleu, who succeeded Monsieur de
Berny. Madame Surville would have us believe that, if her parents had
only supported Honore more unreservedly at the commencement, he could
have realized a fortune; but all the facts of her brother's life go to
prove the contrary.

Referring, a decade later, to these dark days, which loaded him with a
burden of debt that he never shook off but increased by his natural
inability to balance receipts and expenditure, he spoke of Madame de
Berny's kindness, and declared that he had repaid the _Dilecta_ in
1836 the last six thousand francs he owed her, together with their
five per cent interest. As on many other occasions, Balzac imagined
something which had not been done, though he apparently believed what
he asserted. The following anecdote re-establishes the facts of the

Monsieur Arthur Rhone, a friend of the de Berny family, who used to
visit the son Alexander in the office of the Rue des Marais, often
admired on the mantelpiece a fine bust of Flora, modelled by Marin.
One day the printer said to him: "Do you know how much that bust cost
me? . . . Fifteen thousand francs. I got it from Balzac, who owed me a
great deal of money. Once when I was at his house in Passy, he
exclaimed: 'Since I can't pay you, take what you like from here to
reimburse yourself.'" This work of art, a Louis XVI. gilt-bronze time
piece, with its two candelabra, once also in Balzac's possession, was
part payment of the balance due to the de Berny family, and was
surrendered only in the forties.

The novelist, whose memory was so short in money matters, had a longer
recollection of his moral obligations. In the letter above referred
to, he confessed: "Without her (Madame de Berny) I should have died.
She often divined that I had not eaten for several days (here he was
probably piling on the agony). She provided for everything with
angelic kindness. Her devotion was absolute." It ended only with the
_Dilecta's_ life.

In the _Shagreen Skin_, which embodies some of Balzac's youthful
experiences, Raphael, the hero, was saved from committing suicide,
after ruining himself, by an accident which forms the thread of the
story. Possibly, during the bankruptcy proceedings, there may have
been a fit of despair which urged the insolvent printer to end his own
troubles in the Seine. If so, it was of short duration. A fortnight
after he had quitted the Rue des Marais, the letter he wrote to
General de Pommereul showed him planning out a fresh future.

"At last has happened," he said in it, "what many persons were able to
foresee, and what I myself feared in beginning and courageously
supporting an establishment the magnitude of which was colossal (!!!).
I have been precipitated, not without the previsions of my conscious
mind, from my modest prosperity. . . . For the last month I have been
engaged on an historical work of the highest interest; and I hope
that, in default of a talent altogether problematic with me, my sketch
of national customs will bring me luck. My first thought was for you;
and I resolved to write and ask you to shelter me for two or three
weeks. A camp-bed, a single mattress, a table, if only it is
quadrupedal and not rickety, a chair and a roof are all that I

The General replied: "Your room awaits you. Come quick." And he went.
It was his definite entrance into literature, and his resumption of
the search for wealth withal.

                             CHAPTER IV

                      FIRST SUCCESSES AND FAME

The historical novel that Balzac had set himself to write was the
_Chouans_, this name being given to the Vendee Royalists who, under
the leadership of the Chevalier de Nougarede, combated the Revolution
and Napoleon. The scene being laid in Brittany, it was natural that,
apart from health reasons, the author should wish to inspire his pen
by a visit to the places he intended to describe.

His hostess at Fougeres has left us a description of her guest: "He
was a little, burly man, clad in ill-fitting garments that increased
his bulk. His hands were magnificent. He wore a most ugly hat; but, as
soon as he took it off, one remarked nothing else besides his
head. . . . Beneath his ample forehead, on which seemed to shine the
reflection of a lamp, there were brown, gold-spangled eyes which
expressed their owner's meaning as clearly as his speech. He had a
big, square nose, and a huge mouth, which was perpetually smiling in
spite of his ugly teeth. He wore a moustache, and his long hair was
brushed back. At the time he came to us he was rather thin, and
appeared to be half-starved. He devoured his food, poor fellow! For
the rest, there was so much confidence, so much benevolence, so much
_naivete_, so much frankness in his demeanour, his gestures, his ways
of speaking and behaving that it was impossible to know him and not
love him. . . . His good humour was so exuberant as to be contagious.
Notwithstanding the misfortunes he had just passed through, he had not
been with us a quarter of an hour before he made the General and me
laugh till tears came into our eyes."

The _Chouans_, which his two or three months' sojourn at Fougeres
enabled him to get on with rapidly, was completed after his return to
Paris, and was published under his own name in 1829. Charles Vimont,
who accepted and brought it out, paid him no more than a thousand
francs. The book, although it was not badly written, and contained
plenty of incident, very fair characterization, of the minor
personages especially, and local colouring imitated from Walter Scott,
made no great impression. For the ordinary reader it differed too
little from the Romanticism with which he was familiar. Moreover, the
action savoured too much of the melodramatic; and the character of
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, and that of the Chouan chief, whom she had
promised to deliver up to the emissaries of Fouche, were too nebulous
to gain general sympathy, even with the heroine's tragic devotion.
There is, however, a fine sketch of Brittany and of its spirit of
revolt; the numerous figures of the background are vigorously
executed, and nearly all the episodes of the drama are skilfully
presented. A perusal of the _Chouans_ makes us regret that there was
hardly any return to this kind of composition in the author's

When embarking on his publishing enterprise, Balzac went to live in an
apartment of the Rue Tournon, No. 2[*] close to the Luxembourg. He
abandoned it for the Rue des Marais in 1826; and, this latter abode
being given up in 1828, he removed on his return from Brittany to No.
4, Rue Cassini, where he remained for some years. A friend of his,
Latouche--soon to become an enemy--helped him to liven up the walls of
his study with the famous blue calico that had adorned his room over
the printing office. Certain busybodies spread the report that he was
furnishing his new apartment extravagantly; and Laure, to whose ear
the tattle had come, ventured to allude to it in a letter reproaching
him with remissness in writing home and to her. The accusation of
extravagance, which later he really merited, was at this moment a
trifle previous, money being scarce and credit also. "Stamps and
omnibus fares are expenses I cannot afford," he assured his sister;
"and I abstain from going out in order to save my clothes."

  [*] Some early biographers state that the novelist went to the Rue
      Tournon after his bankruptcy. This is a mistake.

However, he was now on the point of scoring a literary success. In the
same year as his _Chouans_ appeared his _Physiology of Marriage_, a
book of satire and caricature having a distinct stamp of his maturer
manner. Werdet, for a number of years his publisher and friend,
relates in his _Portrait Intime_ that Balzac, while still in the
Lesdiguieres Street garret, had gone one day to Alphonse Levavasseur
and offered, in return for a royalty and a cash installment of two
hundred francs, to supply him with a book to be entitled: _Manual of
the Business Man, by a former Notary's Clerk_. It was agreed that the
manuscript should be handed in at the end of the month; and the two
hundred francs were paid down. In vain the publisher waited for his
Manual. Ultimately he hunted out his debtor; and the latter had to
confess that the long-promised manuscript had never been written. In
order to calm the creditor's indignation, Balzac read to him some
fragments of another book which he was really engaged upon. After
listening for a while, Levavasseur's countenance grew serene: "I will
pay you two thousand francs for this production when finished,
Monsieur," he said; "and we will cancel the old transaction. Come with
me. I will give you the first thousand francs now. The rest you shall
have as soon as I get the last corrected proofs." "Dear publisher,
your speech is golden," cried Balzac; "I accept." Nevertheless, the
proofs were not delivered until 1829. The book immediately became
popular. "From the day of its appearance," comments Werdet,
"literature counted another master and France another Moliere."

The verdict is exact only if the _Physiology_ is regarded in
conjunction with the novelist's after achievement in the domain of
realistic fiction. Alone it would not rank so high. Flippant, cynical,
immoral--these epithets, which were freely applied to it, all have
their justification when one looks at the work from any other
standpoint than that of its being a very amusing and clever exposition
of sex relations governed by interest and passion. Both facts and
philosophy are confined within an exceedingly narrow horizon, one in
which the writer was most thoroughly at home, which explains why they
bear the imprint of a mind already _blase_.

From a letter Balzac sent to Levavasseur, while finishing the last
pages of the manuscript, it appears that he commenced his task as a
jest and completed it with more serious purpose: "I intended to dash
off a pleasantry," he told him, "and you came one morning and asked me
to do in three months what Brillat-Savarin took ten years to do. I
haven't an idea which is not the _Physiology_. I dream of it, I am
absorbed by it."

The sale of the book was in a measure due to the sort of scandal it
provoked. Ladies especially bought the volume to find out for
themselves how far they had been maligned; and Levavasseur, who was
pleased with his profits, introduced Balzac to Emile de Girardin, then
chief editor of the _Mode_, to which paper he now began to contribute
light articles, not to speak of other journals, which were only too
glad to receive something from his pen. The extent to which the fair
sex read the _Physiology_ and were affected by it is illustrated by a
story that Werdet tells of a hoax perpetrated at Balzac's expense by a
number of his society friends, who had cause to complain of his
uppishness towards them, a treatment based not merely on the belief he
entertained in his literary superiority, but on his pretensions to
aristocratic descent. The story belongs more properly to the middle
thirties, when he had been using the prefix "de" before his name
already for some years, justifying himself on the ground that his
father claimed issue from an old family that had resisted the Auvergne
invasion and had begotten the d'Entragues stock. His father, moreover,
so he said, had discovered documents in the Charter House establishing
a concession of lands made by a de Balzac in the fifth century; and a
copy of the transaction had been registered by the Paris Parliament.

Between 1833 and 1836 one of the most celebrated Paris "sets" was that
of the Opera "lions," seven young aristocratic sparks composing it,
or, to be precise, six, together with the Chevalier d'Entragues de
Balzac, as his friends jokingly dubbed him--he being an elder. It was
the period of his first flush of prosperity, when he drove about in a
hired carriage resplendent with the d'Entragues coat of arms, which
cost him five hundred francs a month; had a majestic coachman in fine
livery and a Tom Thumb groom; sported himself in gorgeous garments and
strutted about in the Opera _foyer_, amidst the real or feigned
admiration of his fellows.

To revenge themselves for their mentor's superciliousness towards
them, the six other _lions_ induced a dancer at the Opera to play the
part of a supposed Duke's daughter smitten with the great man's
writings and person, a role she undertook the more willingly as, being
well acquainted with the former, she was anxious to prove to him that
he was not so perspicacious as he deemed himself. An Opera ball was
chosen for the adventure; and Balzac was duly baited and taken in tow
by the lady, whose mask only half concealed her beauty. Thus began a
flirtation, with subsequent clandestine meetings, allowing the fair
unknown to fool him to the top of her bent. The author wanted to
propose for her hand to the Duke her father; but, cleverly using her
knowledge of his books, the sly jade showed him that he would have no
chance of being accepted. At last she hinted she would like to visit
him in his author's sanctum; and the delighted novelist went to most
lavish expense in fitting up a boudoir to receive her. The visit was
presumably a secret one. Protected by a young man employed at the
Opera, to whom she was engaged, and who accompanied her in the
disguise of a negro, she went to the Rue des Batailles one evening and
graciously listened to the enraptured conversation of her victim till
towards midnight, when her mother, who was in the plot, came to fetch
her. The novelist's fury and humiliation were extreme on his learning
how neatly he had been tricked, and it was some time before he
ventured to reappear in his accustomed haunts. As narrated by Werdet,
the story is a good deal embellished, and some of the details that he
gives were probably invented; but the main outline he vouches to be

Among the editors of journals who sought Balzac's collaboration after
the publication of the _Physiology_ were Buloz of the _Revue de Paris_
and Victor Ratier of the _Silhouette_. To the latter of them, in 1831,
he wrote from La Grenadiere, where he had gone to recruit, a letter
revealing a curiously mixed state of mind in this dawning period of
fame. He would seem to have been under a presentiment of the long
years of struggle and incessant toil he was about to be involved in,
and to have felt a shrinking of his physical nature from them.

"Oh! if you knew what Touraine is like," he exclaimed. "Here one
forgets everything else. I forgive the inhabitants for being stupid.
They are so happy. Now, you know that people who enjoy much are
naturally stupid. Touraine admirably explains the lazzarone. I have
come to regard glory, the Chamber, politics, the future, literature,
as veritable poison-balls to kill wandering, homeless dogs, and I say
to myself: 'Virtue, happiness, life, are summed up in six hundred
francs income on the bank of the Loire. . . .' My house is situated
half-way up the hill, near a delightful river bordered with flowers,
whence I behold landscapes a thousand times more beautiful than all
those with which rascally travellers bore their readers. Touraine
appears to me like a _pate de foie gras_, in which one plunges up to
the chin; and its wine is delicious. Instead of intoxicating, it makes
you piggy and happy. . . . Just fancy, I have been on the most poetic
trip possible in France--from here to the heart of Brittany by water,
passing between the most ravishing scenery in the world. I felt my
thoughts go with the stream, which, near the sea, becomes immense. Oh,
to lead the life of a Mohican, to run about the rocks, to swim in the
sea, to breathe in the fresh air and sun! Oh, I have realized the
savage! Oh, I have excellently understood the corsair, the adventurer
--their lives of opposition; and I reflected: 'Life is courage, good
rifles, the art of steering in the open ocean, and the hatred of man
--of the Englishman, for example.' (Here Balzac is of his time.) Coming
back hither, the ex-corsair has turned dealer in ideas. Just imagine,
now, a man so vagabond beginning on an article entitled, _Treatise of
Fashionable Life_, and making an octavo volume of it, which the _Mode_
is going to print, and some publisher reprint. . . . Egad! At the
present moment literature is a vile trade. It leads to nothing, and I
itch to go a-wandering and risk my existence in some living
drama. . . . Since I have seen the real splendours of this spot, I
have grown very philosophic, and, putting my foot on an ant-hill, I
exclaim, like the immortal Bonaparte: 'That, or men, what is it all in
presence of Saturn or Venus, or the Pole Star?' And methinks that the
ocean, a brig, and an English vessel to engulf, is better than a
writing-desk, a pen, and the Rue Saint-Denis."

About the events of the 1830 Revolution the novelist was apparently
but little concerned. True, the change was one of dynasty only, not of
_regime_, albeit Louis-Philippe posed rather as a plebiscitary
monarch. Balzac's clericalism and royalism, which ultimately became so
crystallized, were at this date in a position of unstable equilibrium.
At one moment his criticisms have an air of condemning the monarchic
principle, at another they point to his being a pillar of the ancient
system of things. On this occasion he was twitted by Madame Zulma
Carraud, his sister's friend, with whom his relations grew more
intimate as his celebrity augmented; and he defended himself by a
confession of faith which forecast his endeavours--less persistent
than his desires--to add the statesman's laurels to those of the
_litterateur_. His doctrine, following the Machiavellian tradition,
was that the genius of government consists in operating the fusion of
men and things--a method which demonstrated Napoleon and Louis XVIII.
alike to be men of talent. Both of them restrained all the various
parties in France--the one by force, the other by ruse, because the
one rode horseback, the other in a carriage. . . . France, he
continued, ought to be a constitutional monarchy, with an hereditary
Royal Family, a House of Lords extraordinarily powerful and
representing property, etc., with all possible guarantees of heredity
and privilege; then she should have a second, elective assembly to
represent every interest of the intermediary mass separating high
social positions from what was called the people. The bulk of the laws
and their spirit should tend to enlighten the people as much as
possible--the people that had nothing--workmen, proletaries, etc.--so
as to bring the greatest number of men to that condition of well-being
which distinguished the intermediary mass; but the people should be
left under the most puissant yoke, in such a way that the individual
units might find light, aid, and protection, and that no idea, no
form, no transaction might render them turbulent. The richer classes
must enjoy the widest liberty practicable, since they had a stake in
the country. To the Government he wished the utmost force possible,
its interests being the same as those of the rich and the bourgeois,
viz. to render the lowest class happy and to aggrandize the middle
class, in which resided the veritable puissance of States. If rich
people and the hereditary fortunes of the Upper Chamber, corrupted by
their manners and customs, engendered certain abuses, these were
inseparable from all society, and must be accepted with the advantages
they yielded.

This conception of the classes and the masses which he afterwards set
forth more fully in his _Country Doctor_ and _Village Cure_, partly
explains why all his best work, besides being impregnated with
fatalism, has such a constant outlook on the past. It was a dogma with
him rather than a philosophy, and was clung to more from taste than
from reasonable conviction. He believed in aristocratic prerogative,
because he believed in himself, and ranked himself as high as, or
rather higher than, the noble. This was at the bottom of his doctrine;
but he was glad all the same to have his claim supported by such
outward signs of the inward grace as were afforded by vague genealogy
and the homage of the great. Duchesses were his predilection when they
were forthcoming; failing them, countesses were esteemed.

The Duchess d'Abrantes--one of his early admirers--to whom he
dedicated his _Forsaken Woman_, was herself a colleague in letters;
and he was able to render her some service through his relations with
publishers. Their correspondence shows them to have been on very
friendly terms. In one of his letters to her, he insisted on his
inability to submit to any yoke, and rebutted her insinuation that he
permitted himself to be led--possibly the Duchess's hint referred to
Madame de Berny. "My character," he said, "is the most singular one I
have ever come across. I study myself as I might another person. I
comprise in my five feet two every incoherence, every contrast
possible; and those who think me vain, prodigal, headstrong,
frivolous, inconsistent, foppish, careless, idle, unstable, giddy,
wavering, talkative, tactless, ill-bred, impolite, crotchety,
humoursome, will be just as right as those who might affirm me to be
thrifty, modest, plucky, tenacious, energetic, hardworking, constant,
taciturn, cute, polite, merry. Nothing astonishes me more than myself.
I am inclined to conclude I am the plaything of circumstances. Does
this kaleidoscope result from the fact that, into the soul of those
who claim to paint all the affections and the human heart, chance
casts each and every of these same affections in order that by the
strength of their imagination they may feel what they depict? And can
it be that observation is only a sort of memory proper to aid this
mobile imagination? I begin to be of this opinion."

Balzac appears to have been introduced to the Duchess d'Abrantes about
the year 1830, when he was engaged in writing his _Shagreen Skin_,
which, out of the numerous pieces of fiction produced within this and
the next twelve months, added most to his notoriety, though inferior
to such stories as the _House of the Tennis-playing Cat_, and even to
the _Sceaux Ball_ in the more proper qualities of the novel.

The _Shagreen Skin_ is the adventure of a young man who, after sowing
his wild oats and losing his last crown at the gaming table, goes to
end his troubles in the river, but is prevented from carrying out his
intention by being fortuitously presented with a piece of shagreen
skin, which has the marvellous property of gratifying its possessor's
every wish, yet, meanwhile, shrinks with each gratification, and in
the same proportion curtails its possessor's life. On this warp of
fairy tale, the author weaves a woof of romance and reality most oddly
blended. The imitations of predecessors are numerous. The style is
turgid, the thought is shallow, the sentiment is exaggerated. But very
little of the sober characterization soon to be manifested in other
books is displayed in this one. The best that can be said is that the
thing has the same cleverness as the _Physiology_, with here and there
indications--and clear ones--of the novelist's later power. He himself
grossly overestimated it, as, indeed, he overestimated not a few of
his poorer productions--maybe because they cost him greater toil than
his masterpieces, which generally, after long, unconscious gestation,
issued rapidly and painless from him.

An amusing expression of this self-praise has come down to us in the
puff he composed on the occasion of a reprint of the _Shagreen Skin_
by Gosselin in 1832. "The _Philosophic Tales_ of Monsieur de Balzac,"
it announced, "have appeared this week. The _Shagreen Skin_ is judged
as the admirable novels of Anne Radcliffe were judged. Such things
escape annalists and commentators. The eager reader lays hold of these
books. They bring sleeplessness into the mansions of the rich and into
the garret of the poet; they animate the village. In winter they give
a livelier reflection to the sparkling log, great privileges to the
story-teller. It is nature, in sooth, who creates story-tellers.
Vainly are you a learned, grave writer, if you have not been born a
story-teller, and you will never obtain the popularity of the
_Mysteries of Udolpho_ and the _Shagreen Skin_, the _Arabian Nights_,
and Monsieur de Balzac. I have somewhere read that God created Adam,
the nomenclator, saying to him: You are the story-teller. And what a
story-teller! What verve and wit! What indefatigable perseverance in
painting everything, daring everything, branding everything! How the
world is dissected by this man! What an annalist! What passion and
what coolness!

"The _Philosophic Tales_ are the red-hot interpretation of a
civilization ruined by debauch and well-being, which Monsieur de
Balzac exposes in the pillory. The _Arabian Nights_ are the complete
history of the luxurious East in its days of happiness and perfumed
dreams. _Candide_ is the epitome of an epoch in which there were
bastilles, a stag-park, and an absolute king. By thus taking at the
first bound a place beside these formidable or graceful tale-tellers,
Monsieur de Balzac proves one thing that remained to be proved; to
wit, that the drama, which was no longer possible to-day on the stage,
was still possible in the story--that our society, so dangerously
sceptical, _blase_, and scornful, could yet be moved by the galvanic
shocks of this poetry of the senses--full of life and colour, in flesh
and blood, drunk with wine and lust--in which Monsieur de Balzac
revels with such delight. Thus, the surprise was great, when, thanks
to this story-teller, we still found among us something resembling
poetry--feasts, intoxication, the light o' love giving her caresses
amidst an orgie, the brimming punch-bowl crowned with blue flames, the
yellow-gloved politician, scented adultery, the girl indulging in
pleasure and love and dreaming aloud, poverty clean and neat,
surrounded with respectability and happy hazard--we have seen all this
in Balzac. The Opera with its lemans, the pink boudoir and its flossy
hangings, the feast and its surfeits; we have even seen Moliere's
doctor reappear, such need has this man of sarcasm and grotesqueness.
The further you advance in the _Shagreen Skin_--vices, lost virtues,
poverties, boredom, deep silence, dry-as-dust science, angular,
witless scepticism, laughable egotism, puerile vanities, venal loves,
Jewish second-hand dealers, etc.--the more astonished and pained you
will be to recognize that the nineteenth century in which you live is
so made up. The _Shagreen Skin_ is _Candide_ with Beranger's notes; it
is poverty, luxury, faith, mockery; it is the heartless breast, the
brainless cranium of the nineteenth century--the century so bedizened
and scented, so revolutionary, so ill-read, so little worth, the
century of brilliant phantasmagorias, of which in fifty years' time
nothing will be seizable except Monsieur de Balzac's _Shagreen Skin_."

On account of its sensationalism, the _Shagreen Skin_ had a success of
curiosity equal, and, if anything, superior to that of the
_Physiology_. The author, however, had to defend himself against the
charge of copying foreign literature--Hoffman's tales in particular.
One of his correspondents, the Duchess de Castries, who subsequently
flattered him and flirted with him, wrote to him incognito, taking
exception to certain statements he had made in each of his two popular
works. Replying to her, he for the first time spoke of his desire to
develop his fiction into a vast series of volumes destined to make
known to posterity the life of his century.

Great schemes were always to be Balzac's day-dreaming, one chasing the
other in his fancy. They filled his thoughts, and in his heart were
his constant aim, far more than to be loved, for all he asserted of
this last desire. If literature was the one means he resorted to in
his efforts to attain them, this was because every other means
deceived his expectation, and not because he deliberately preferred it
to all others. He owned the fact without reservation. In the case of a
man whose literary achievement was so high, such slighting of letters
has its significance, and is curious. Taken in conjunction with other
evidence furnished by his letters, it proves that genius, though
sometimes clearly the pure, simple moving of a spirit that cannot be
resisted, is also--and perhaps as often--a calculating partnership,
and that the work of art is a compromise. Would Balzac have written
better if his motive had been single? It is not certain.

During these early days of his popularity, a seat in the Chamber of
Deputies was his will o' the wisp. Aided by the _Dilecta's_ friends,
he offered himself as a candidate in two constituencies, Angouleme and
Cambrai, after publishing his pamphlet: _An Inquiry into the Policy of
Two Ministries_. With a view to shining in the future Parliament, he
sharpened his witticisms, rounded his periods, polished his style,
exercised himself in opposing short phrases to others of Ciceronian
length, endeavouring the while to put poetry and observation into a
new subject. At least these things were in his mind, as his
communication to Berthoud of the Cambrai _Gazette_ testified. His
intention was to become an orator, he said. Had he been elected, he
might have become the rival of Thiers. They were about the same age.
Then France might have had two "little bourgeois" instead of one,
unless one of the two had knocked the other out. But whether
conquering or conquered, Balzac the politician would have swallowed up
Balzac the novelist, and _Eugenie Grandet_ would never have been
written. Why he failed at the polls is not clear. Probably he did not
possess enough suppleness to please his party. To tell the truth, we
do not learn definitely to which party he belonged. He was quite
capable of constituting one by himself.

These preoccupations hindered him somewhat in carrying out his
engagements with publishers and editors, so that he did not always get
the money he counted on. Yet he worked hard. His habit, at this time,
was to go to bed at six in the evening and sleep till twelve, and
after, to rise and write for nearly twelve hours at a stretch,
imbibing coffee as a stimulant through these spells of composition.
What recreation he took in Paris was at the theatre or at the houses
of his noble acquaintances, where he went to gossip of an afternoon.
It was exhausting to lead such an existence; and even the transient
fillips given by the coffee were paid for in attacks of indigestion
and in abscesses which threw him into fits of discouragement. When
suffering from these, he poured out his soul to his sister or Madame
Carraud, complaining in his epistles that his destiny compelled him to
run after fame and deprived him of his chance to meet with the ideal
woman. Madame de Berny, with all her devotion, did not satisfy him
now. "Despairing of ever being loved and understood by the woman of my
dreams," he tragically cried, "having met with her only in my heart, I
am plunging again into the tempestuous sphere of political passions
and the stormy, withering atmosphere of literary glory." But the "she"
of his dreams, he added, must be wealthy. He could not conceive of
marriage and love in a cottage. It must be admitted that from his
sources of affection as from his sources of ambition there was a gush
which was rather muddy.

Altogether, the year of 1832 was an irritating one for Balzac. A rich
match he had hoped to make fell through. A second attempt of his to
enter the Chamber of Deputies ended in defeat. His books, after their
first season or two of favour, were selling but poorly in France,
although pirated editions were issued and had a large circulation
abroad. Impatiently he meditated plans for doubling and tripling his
revenue. He would emigrate--he would recommence publishing--he would
turn playwright. Amid these three solicitations he moved in a circle
without reaching a conclusion. And fortune, while he was hesitating,
did not come to his door. In default of her visit, not all the
flattering epistles he received from ladies in Russia and Germany
--three and four a day, he asserted--were an adequate compensation. A
journey undertaken for the benefit of his health to Sache, Angouleme,
and Aix forced him to borrow from his mother again, instead of paying
back the capital he owed her. His unfinished manuscripts he had taken
with him, but he found it difficult to get on with them: "I was going
to start work this morning with courage," he wrote to her, "when your
letter came to upset me completely. Do you think it possible for me to
have artistic thoughts when I see all at once the tableau of my
miseries displayed before me as you display them? Do you think I
should toil thus, if I did not feel it?"

The novelist's relations with his mother force the attention of any
one that studies his life. Their two natures were contrary; there were
often conflicts between them. As a child, he seems not to have
comprehended the affection underlying the maternal severity, and to
have entertained a dread of the latter which never entirely left him.
According to his friend Fessart, he used to confess he always
experienced a nervous trembling whenever he heard his mother speak;
and the effect was in some sort the numbing of his faculties when he
was in her presence. Her generous abnegation at the time of his
bankruptcy was a revelation to him; his gratitude for it was sincere;
and from that date onwards, during a number of years, his letters to
her evinced it, yet not consistently; the old distrust recurs, and
also a growing tendency to utilize her as a servant in his concerns.
Having once dipped in her purse, he did not hesitate to hold out his
hand, on each occasion that his needs, real or fancied, prompted him,
being confident of requiting her in the future. His refrain was ever
the same: "Sooner or later, politics, journalism, a marriage, or a big
piece of business luck will make me a Croesus. We must suffer a little
longer." And he finished by exhausting her last penny of capital, and
reduced her to depend on an allowance he gave her, irregularly--an
allowance which, when he died, had to be continued to her from the
purse of another. Madame Balzac was sacrificed to his improvidence and
stupendous egotism; nor can the tenderness of his language--more
frequently than not called forth by some fresh immolation of her
comfort to his interests--disguise this unpleasing side of his
character and action. While he was recouping his strength and spirits,
on the 1832 holiday, she was in Paris negotiating with Pichot of the
_Revue de Paris_, with Gosselin and other publishers, arranging for
proofs, and also for an advance of cash. Even his epistolary good-byes
were odd mixtures of business with sentiment. After casting himself
--through the post--on her bosom and embracing her with effusion, he
terminated by: "Pay everything as you say. On my side, I will gain
money by force, and we will balance the expenses by the receipts."

The book that cost him the greatest efforts during the year of 1832
was his _Louis Lambert_, already mentioned in the second chapter.
Writing about it to his family from Angouleme he explained that he was
attempting in it to vie with Goethe and Byron, with _Faust_ and
_Manfred_. It was to be a conclusive reply to his enemies, and would
make his superiority manifest. Some day or other it would lead science
into new paths. Meantime it would produce a deep impression and
astonish the Swedenborgians. Whether the members of this sect were
astonished, history does not record. Those who were most so were the
novelist's friends, and Madame de Berny among the number. But their
wonder was not a eulogium. First of all, the hero--his _alter ego_--is
a very poor replica of Pascal; and the exalting of Lambert's
intelligence, which was mere self-praise, jarred on them the more, as
they truly loved him. The _Dilecta_, whom he had asked to pass her
frank opinion on it, did not hesitate to tell him some hard truths:
"Goethe and Byron," she said, "have admirably painted the desires of a
superior mind; when reading them, one aggrandizes them by all the
space they have perceived; one admires the scope of their view; one
would fain give them one's soul to help theirs to cover the distance
that separates them from the goal they aspire to reach. But, if an
author comes and tells me he has attained this goal, I no longer see
in him, however great he may be, more than a presumptuous man; his
vanity shocks me, and I diminish him by all the height to which he has
tried to raise himself. . . . I would therefore beg you, dearest, to
cut out of your _Lambert_ everything that might suggest these singular
ideas; for instance: 'The admirable combat of thought arrived at its
greatest force, at its vastest expression' . . . 'The moral world,
whose limits he had thrown back for himself,' cannot be tolerated.
Write, dearest, in such a manner that the whole crowd may perceive you
from everywhere, by the height at which you will have placed yourself;
but do not cry out for people to admire you; for, on all sides, the
largest magnifying-glasses would be directed towards you; and what
becomes of the most delicious object seen by the microscope!"

The lesson was a severe one. Though it did not cure Balzac of his
author's vanity--nothing could cure him of that--it did, for a while
at least, direct his endeavours towards fiction of a more objective

What he was now capable of in characterization treated objectively he
showed in his _Colonel Chabert_ and the _Cure of Tours_, both of which
were published in the same twelvemonth as _Louis Lambert_. These
stories are exceedingly simple in construction. The Cure is a priest
whose joys and ambitions are modest and innocent. Having reached the
age when indulgence in ease and comfort is excusable, he finds himself
suddenly deprived of them through unwittingly offending his landlady.
She, an old maid, as inwardly shrewish as outwardly pious, utilizes
the Abbe Birotteau and another clergyman, who both lodge with her, to
attract the good society folk of Tours to her evening receptions.
After due experience of these gatherings, the Abbe plays truant,
finding it more agreeable to spend his leisure with friends elsewhere.
His absence causes the landlady's guests to grow remiss and finally to
desert her; so, to revenge herself, the slighted dame, proceeding by
petty pin-pricks, makes the Abbe's life a burden to him, and,
ultimately enlisting the brother clergyman in her schemes of
annoyance, works on his jealousy with such cleverness that their
victim's career is blasted and blighted. Dependent on the development
of the characters, the plot is adroitly and naturally elaborated.
Nowhere is there any forcing of the note; and, in alternate flow,
humour and pathos, of a saner sort than in some of the author's
previous work, run and ripple throughout. With deeper pathos the
novelist tells in _Colonel Chabert_ the virtues of a man of obscure
origin, whose nobleness meets with but scanty recognition, since it
conducts him to the almshouse in his old age. So vivid is the sober
realism of this fine story that the public believed the relation to be
plain, unvarnished facts, and were astonished at the writer's daring
to reveal them in all their detail.

Balzac's autumn trip was prolonged as far as Annecy and Geneva. He had
intended going on to Italy in company with the Duke de Fitz-James. The
latter journey, however, was ultimately abandoned, as he did not
succeed in raising the thousand crowns it required. Travelling on the
top of a coach, he had rather a serious accident when going to Aix. He
was climbing up to the front seat just as the horses set off, and,
having missed his footing, fell with all his weight against the iron
step. The strap, which he clutched in his fall, saved him from coming
to the ground; but the impact of his eighty-four kilograms caused the
sharp iron to enter the flesh of his leg pretty deeply. This wound
took some time to heal, and the annoyance it cause him was aggravated
by an additional malady in his stomach which he tried to deal with by
consulting a mysterious quack in Paris, sending him through his
mother, two pieces of flannel that he had been wearing next his skin.
The doctor was to examine No. 1 flannel, and by it to determine the
seat and the cause of the affection, as well as the treatment to be
followed; then he was to examine No. 2, and to give certain
instructions as to its further use. Balzac asked his mother to touch
the flannels only with paper, so as not to interfere with their
effluvia. This belief of his in magnetism of an occult kind was an
inheritance. His mother, it has already been said, was a mystic. Her
books of this doctrine comprised more than a hundred volumes of
Saint-Martin, Swedenborg, Madame Guyon, Jacob Boehm, and others. All
these writers he was familiar with. Throughout his life, the influence
of their teaching and his mother's firm belief remained with him. On
his conduct and practice their effect was harmless; but in his literary
work they were a disturbance, and, wherever they intruded, detracted
from its quality.

Happily, he was beginning to be tempted more and more by the artistic
side of things in his daily experience. Of the lesser novels composed
before the end of 1832, several were directly inspired by incidents
brought to his knowledge. The _Red Inn_ was related to him by a former
army surgeon, a friend of the man that was unjustly condemned and
executed. An _Episode under the Terror_ was narrated by the hero
himself. _A Desert Attachment_ was the outcome of a conversation with
Martin, the celebrated tamer of wild beasts. On the other hand,
_Master Cornelius_ was written to correct the false impression of
Louis XI. which he considered Walter Scott had given to his readers in
_Quentin Durward_, this making him very angry. His curiosity
concerning facts and realities of every description led him to seek an
interview with Samson the executioner. Calling one day to see the
Director of Prisons, he found himself in presence of a pale,
melancholy-looking man of noble countenance, whose manners, language,
and apparent education were those of one polished and cultured. It was
Samson. Entering into conversation with this strange personage, the
novelist listened to the particulars of his life. Samson was a
royalist. On the morrow of Louis XVI.'s execution he had suffered the
utmost remorse, and had paid for what was probably the only expiatory
mass said on that day for the repose of the King's soul.

Like other _litterateurs_, Balzac took up many subjects which he did
not go on with. He had this peculiarity besides, that he often
asserted some book to be completed which was either not begun at all
or was in a most unfinished condition. While on the Angouleme and Aix
excursion, he spoke especially of _The Three Cardinals_, _The Battle
of Austerlitz_ (afterwards often alluded to simply as the _Battle_),
and _The Marquis of Carrabas_. Not one of these was ever written. They
were abandoned perhaps on account of other work, or else because the
execution was less easy than the conception. Napoleon, who would have
been a central figure in the _Battle_, is incidentally introduced in
the _Country Doctor_, which was begun in 1832.

Probably, also, to this same date should be assigned the bizarre and
even comical expression of hopes and fears for the future which Balzac
confided to his sister Laure. In order to force himself to take
exercise, he used to correct his proofs either at the printer's or at
her house. Sometimes the weather, to the influence of which he was
very susceptible, sometimes his money-tightness, or his fatigue from
protracted work would cause him to arrive with lack-lustre eyes,
sallow complexion, glum expression and irritable temper. Laure essayed
to console and brighten him.

"Now don't try to comfort me," he answered on one occasion. "I'm a
dead man."

And the dead man began to drawl out his tale of woe, gradually rousing
up as he talked, and, at last, speaking excitedly. But the dolent
accents returned as he opened his proofs and read them.

"I shall never make a name, sis."

"Nonsense! with such books, any one could make a name."

He raised his head; his features relaxed; the sombre tints vanished
from his face.

"You are right, by Jove! . . . these books must live. . . . Besides,
there is Chance. It can protect a Balzac as well as it can a fool.
Indeed, one has only to invent this chance. Let some one of my
millionaire friends (and I have a few), or a banker not knowing what
to do with his money, come and say to me: 'I am aware of your immense
talent and your anxieties; you need such and such a sum to be free;
accept it without scruple; you will pay it back some day or other;
your pen is worth my millions!' That's all I require, my dear sister."

Laure, being accustomed to the appearance of these illusions which
brought back his cheerfulness, never exhibited any surprise at such
soaring notes. Having created the fable, her imaginative brother

"Those people spend such sums on whims. . . . A handsome deed is a
whim, like any other, and gives joy perpetually. It is something to
say: 'I have saved a Balzac.' Humanity has good impulses of the sort;
and there are people who, without being English, are capable of like
eccentricities. 'Either a millionaire or a banker,' he cried, thumping
on his chest, 'one of them I will have.'"

By dint of talking he had come to accredit the thing, and gleefully
strode about the room, lifting and waving his arms.

"Ah! Balzac is free! You shall see, my dear friends, and my dear
enemies, what his progress is."

In fancy, he entered the Academy! From there it was only a step to the
House of Peers. He beheld himself admitted thither. Why shouldn't he
be a member of the Upper Chamber? This and that person had been
created a peer. Then he was appointed a minister. There was nothing
extraordinary about it. Presidents existed. Were not people who had
boxed the compass of ideas the fittest to govern their fellows? A
programme, a policy was evolved and carried out; and, as everything
was going on smoothly, he had time to think of the millionaire friend
or banker who had assisted him. The generous Maecenas should be
rewarded. He understood the novelist, had lent him money on the
security of his talent, had enabled him to obtain his well-deserved
honours. The benefactor should now have his share in the honour, a
share in the immortality.

After a peregrination of this magnitude and dreams to match, he
alighted from his Pegasus, and spoke as an ordinary mortal--he had
enjoyed himself, and his fit of the dumps was exorcised. Putting the
last touch to his proof-correcting, he left the house with his face
wreathed in smiles.

"Good-bye," he said to his sister, at the door; "I am off home to see
if the banker is there, waiting for me. If he isn't, I shall find some
work to do all the same; and work is my real money-lender."

                             CHAPTER V

               LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1831, 1832

One has little doubt in deciding that, of the two spurs which goaded
Balzac's labours, his desire for wealth acted more persistently and
energetically than his desire for glory. In his conversations, in his
correspondence, money was the eternal theme; in his novels it is
almost always the hinge on which the interest, whether of character,
plot, or passion, depends. Money was his obsession, day and night;
and, in his dormant visions, it must have loomed largely.

Henry Monnier, the caricaturist, used to relate that, meeting him once
on the Boulevard, the novelist tapped him on the shoulder and said:

"I have a sublime idea. In a month I shall have gained five hundred
thousand francs."

"The deuce, you will," replied Monnier; "let's hear how."

"Listen, then," returned his interlocutor. "I will rent a shop on the
Boulevard des Italiens. All Paris is bound to pass by. That's so,
isn't it?"

"Yes. Well, what next?"

"Next, I will establish a store for colonial produce; and, over the
window, I will have printed, in letters of gold: 'Honore de Balzac,
Grocer.' This will create a scandal; everybody will want to see me
serving the customers, with the classical counter-skipper's smock on.
I shall gain my five hundred thousand francs; it's certain. Just
follow my argument. Every day these many people pass along the
Boulevard, and will not fail to enter the shop. Suppose that each
person spends only a sou, since half of it will be profit to me I
shall gain so much a day; consequently, so much a week; so much a

And thereupon, the novelist, launched into transcendental
calculations, soaring with his enthusiasm into the clouds.

It was the same Henry Monnier who, meeting him another time on the
Place de la Bourse, and having had to listen to another of such
mirific demonstrations about a scheme from which both were to derive
millions, answered drily:

"Then lend me five francs on strength of the affair."

Noticing this sort of monomania, in an article which he wrote in the
short-lived _Diogenes_, during the month of August 1856, Amedee Roland
said of Balzac:

"His ambition was to vie in luxury with Alexandre Dumas and Lamartine,
who, before the Revolution of 1848, were the most prodigal and
extravagant authors in the five continents. For anything like a chance
of finding his elusive millions, he would have gone to China. Indeed,
on one occasion, he took it into his head he would start, together
with his friend, Laurent Jan, and go to see the great Mogul,
maintaining that the latter would give him tons of gold in exchange
for a ring he possessed, which came, so he asserted, right down from
Mahomet. It was three o'clock in the morning when he knocked at
Laurent Jan's door to inform his sleeping friend of his project; and
the latter had the greatest difficulty in dissuading him from setting
off forthwith in a post-chaise for India, of course, at the expense of
the monarch in question."

In justice, however, to Balzac, it should be stated that not a few of
his suggestions were sensible enough, and contained ideas which, if
properly put into execution, could have yielded profitable results. As
a matter of fact, some were subsequently exploited by people who
listened to them, or heard of them. A scheme of his for making paper
by an improved process, which he tried to realize in 1833, and which
he induced his mother, his sister's husband, and other friends to
support with their capital, anticipated the employment of esparto
grass and wood, which since has been adopted successfully by others
and has yielded large fortunes to them. The scheme was perhaps
premature in Balzac's day, not to speak of his small business
capacity, which was in an inverse ration to his inventiveness.

From one of his conceptions, at least, there issued an important
benefit to the entire literary profession. Already, in the previous
century, Beaumarchais had attempted to establish a society of authors,
whose aim should be to protect the rights of men of letters. His
efforts then met with no response. Balzac revived the proposal, and
coupled with it others tending to improve the material and style of
printing of books. He had to contend with the hostility of certain
publishers and the indifference of many authors. But his endeavours
were ultimately understood and appreciated; and, not long afterwards,
in 1838, the Societe des Gens de Lettres was founded.

In connection with this campaign, which he waged for a while alone,
there was also his elaboration of the arrangement, first accepted by
Charpentier, which consisted in fixing the percentage of the author's
royalty on the octavo, three-franc-fifty volume at one-tenth of the
published price. One of his discussions with Charpentier on the
subject was overheard in the Cafe of the Palais Royal by Jules
Sandeau's cousin, who happened to be playing a game of billiards
there. After the departure of Balzac and the publisher, the cousin
remarked that a paper had been forgotten; and, on reading it through,
with his partner in the game, saw a crowd of figures that were so many
hieroglyphics to them. When the paper was restored to the novelist by
Jules Sandeau, who lived in the same set of flats as Balzac, it
transpired that the figures were the calculation of the sum that the
writer might obtain on the decimal basis, if a hundred thousand copies
of any one of his works were sold.

Two of the novelist's most important books appeared in 1833, his
_Country Doctor_ and _Eugenie Grandet_. The former he disposed of to a
new publisher, Mame, who was to print it, at first, unsigned, his old
publisher Gosselin having pre-emption rights, that had not been
redeemed. Referring to it in a letter to Mame, towards the end of
1832, he said: "I have long been desirous of the popular glory which
consists in selling numerous thousands of a small volume like _Atala_,
_Paul and Virginia_, the _Vicar of Wakefield_, _Manon Lescaut_, etc.
The book should go into all hands, those of the child, the girl, the
old man, and even the devotee. Then once, when the book is known, it
will have a large sale, like the _Meditations_ of Lamartine, for
instance, sixty thousand copies. My book is conceived in this spirit;
it is something which the porter and the grand lady can both read. I
have taken the Gospel and the Catechism, two books that sell well, and
so I have made mine. I have laid the scene in a village, and the whole
of the story will be readable, which is rare with me." How high his
hopes of its quality and saleableness were (the two things were oddly
mixed up in his mind), he imparted to Zulma Carraud. "The _Country
Doctor_ has cost me ten times more labour than _Louis Lambert_," he
informed her. "There is not a sentence or an idea in it that has not
been revised, re-read, corrected again and again. It's terrible. But
when one wishes to attain the simple beauty of the Gospel, surpass the
_Vicar of Wakefield_ and put the _Imitation of Jesus Christ_ into
action, one must spare no effort. Emile de Girardin and our good
Borget (his co-tenant at the time) wager the sale will be four hundred
thousand copies. Emile intends to bring out a franc edition, so that
it may be sold like a Prayer Book."

What with his writing for the _Revue de Paris_, to which he was
contributing _Ferragus_, and the pains he gave himself with the
_Country Doctor_, he was unable to deliver the latter work to Mame at
the date stipulated, and the publisher brought a lawsuit against him,
the first of a series of legal disputes he was destined to wage with
publishing firms and magazine editors during his agitated life.

Notwithstanding the advertisement produced him by the lawsuit, the
_Country Doctor_ fell flat in the market. Most of the newspapers spoke
contemptuously of it. One reason given was its loose construction,
there being no plot, and the two love stories being thrust in towards
the end to explain the doctor's altruism and the vicarious paternity
of the Commandant Genestas.

This officer, who is stationed not far from the village close to the
Grande-Chartreuse, pays a few days' visit to a Doctor Benassis there,
under pretext of consulting him professionally. While on the visit he
is initiated into the transformation that has been wrought by the
doctor in the habits of the people and their homes and surroundings--a
regeneration accomplished quietly and gradually, vanquishing hostility
and lethargy and converting the peasant's distrust into love. The
placing of the Commandant's adopted child under the doctor's care, and
Benassis' death, which occurs shortly after, form rather a lame
conclusion to the love stories, which are mysteriously withheld to
tempt the reader to go on with his perusal. For all its dogmatism in
religion and politics, its long arguments in defence of the author's
favourite opinions, and its defective construction, the novel, if one
can call it a novel, is one of Balzac's best creations. The pictures
of country scenes are presented with close fidelity to nature and also
with real artistic arrangement. There are, moreover, delineations of
rustic character that are truer to life than many of the more
celebrated ones in the rest of the novelist's fiction; and, in the
episode entitled the Napoleon of the people,--the narration of an old
soldier of the First Empire,--there is a topical realism that makes
one regret the never-achieved _Battle_. Add to these excellences the
writer's having put into his work, for the nonce, a sincere aspiration
towards the idea; and, despite flaws, the whole can be pronounced

It was just about the time the _Country Doctor_ was published that he
began to dwell upon the advantages he might secure by connecting the
characters in his novels and forming them into a representative
society. Excited by the perspective this plan offered if all its
possibilities were realized, he hurried to his sister's house in the
Faubourg Poissonniere.

"Salute me," he exclaimed joyfully: "I'm on the point of becoming a

And he commenced to explain his thought, which seemed to him so vast
and pregnant with consequence as to inspire him with awe.

"How fine it will be if I can manage the thing," he continued,
striding up and down the drawing-room, too restless to stay in one
place. "I shan't mind now being treated as a mere teller of tales, and
can go on hewing the stones of my edifice, enjoying, beforehand, the
amazement of my short-sighted critics, when they contemplate the
structure complete."

At length, Honore sat down and more tranquilly discussed the fortunes
of the individuals already born from his brain, or, as yet in process
of birth. He judged them and determined their fate.

"Such a one," he said, "is a rascal, and will never do any good. Such
another is industrious, and a good fellow; he will get rich, and his
character will make him happy. These have been guilty of many
peccadilloes; but they are so intelligent and have such a thorough
knowledge of their fellows that they are sure to raise themselves to
the highest ranks of society."

"Peccadilloes!" replied his sister. "You are indulgent."

"They can't change, my dear. They are fathomers of abysses; but they
will be able to guide others. The wisest persons are not always the
best pilots. It's not my fault. I haven't invented human nature. I
observe it, in past and present; and I try to depict it as it is.
Impostures in this kind persuade no one."

To the members of his family he announced news from his world of
fiction just as if he were speaking of actual events.

"Do you know who Felix de Vandenesse is marrying?" he asked. "A
Mademoiselle de Grandville. The match is an excellent one. The
Grandvilles are rich, in spite of what Mademoiselle de Belleville has
cost the family."

If, now and again, he was begged to save some wild young man or
unhappy woman among his creations, the answer was:

"Don't bother me. Truth above all. Those people have no backbone. What
happens to them is inevitable. So much the worse for them."

This absorption in the domain of fancy was so complete at times as to
cause him to confuse it with the outside world. It is related that
Jules Sandeau, returning once from a journey, spoke to him of his
sister's illness. Balzac listened to him abstractedly for a while, and
then interrupted him: "All that, my friend, is very well," he said to
the astonished Jules, "but let us come back to reality; let us speak
of _Eugenie Grandet_."

It was the second great book of 1833; and, on the whole, exhibits the
novelist at his best. Eulogiums came from friends and enemies alike.
The critics were unanimous, too unanimous, indeed, for the author, who
detected in their chorus of praise a reiterated condemnation of much
of his previous production. At last, it even annoyed him to hear his
name invariably mentioned in connection with this single novel. "Those
who call me the father of Eugenie Grandet seek to belittle me," he
cried. "I grant it is a masterpiece, but a small one. They forbear to
cite the great ones."

His ill-humor was, of course, of later growth. While _Eugenie Grandet_
was being written, between July and November of 1833, Balzac was quite
content to estimate it at its higher value. During the period of its
composition, he had fallen, perhaps for the first time in his life,
sincerely in love with the woman he ultimately married; and it is
appropriate to notice here the synchronism of the event with his
high-water mark in fiction. As he confessed to Zulma Carraud, love was
his life, his essence; he wrote best when under its influence. There
were, be it granted, other contributory causes to make this rapidly
written story what we find it to be. The place, the date, the people,
the incidents were all close to his own life. Saumur and Tours are
neighbouring towns; and 'tis affirmed that the original of the goodman
Grandet, a certain Jean Niveleau, had a daughter, whom he refused to
give in marriage to Honore. Maybe tradition has embroidered a little
on the facts, but there would seem to be much in the narration that
belongs to the writer's personal experience. His sister found fault
with his attributing so many millions to the miser. "But, stupid, the
thing is true," he replied. "Do you want me to improve on truth? If
you only knew what it is to knead ideas, and to give them form and
colour, you wouldn't be so quick to criticize."

As is usual, when the interest is chiefly characterization, Balzac
does not give us a complicated plot. We have in Grandet a self-made
man, who has amassed riches by trade and speculation, and lives with
his wife and daughter in a gloomy old house, with only one servant as
miserly as the master. Eugenie's hand is sought by several suitors,
and in particular by the son of the banker des Grassins and the son of
the notary Cruchot, these two families waging a diplomatic warfare on
behalf of their respective candidates. Into this midst suddenly comes
the fashionable nephew Charles Grandet, whose father has, unknown to
him, just committed suicide to escape bankruptcy. Eugenie falls in
love with her cousin, and he, apparently, with her; but the old man,
unsoftened by his brother's death, using it even as a further means of
speculation, gets rid of the unfortunate lover by gingerly helping him
to go abroad. Years pass, and Eugenie's mother dies, while she herself
withers, under the miser's avaricious tyranny. At length, old Grandet
pays his debt to nature, and Eugenie is left with the millions. Until
now she had waited for the wandering lover's return; but he, engaging
in the slave-trade, has lost all the generous impulses of his youth,
and comes back only to deny his early affection and marry the
ill-favoured daughter of a Marquis. Eugenie takes a noble revenge for
this desertion by paying her dead uncle's debts, which Charles had
repudiated, and she marries the notary's son, who leaves her a widow
soon after.

Everything in the tale is absolutely natural, extraordinary in its
naturalness; and the reactions of its various persons upon each other
are traced with fine perception. There is not much of the outward
expression of love--in this Balzac did not excel--but there is a good
deal of its hidden tragedy. Moreover, the miser's ruling passion is
exhibited in traits that suggest still more than they openly display;
and all the action and circumstance are in the subdued tone proper to
provincial existence. The introductory words prepare the reader's mind
for what follows:--

"In certain country towns there are houses whose aspect inspires a
melancholy equal to that evoked by the gloomiest cloisters, the most
monotonous moorland, or the saddest ruins. . . . Perhaps, in these
houses there are at once the silence of the cloister, the barrenness
of the moorland, and the bones of ruins. Life and movement are so
tranquil in them that a stranger might believe them uninhabited if he
did not suddenly see the pale, cold gaze of a motionless person whose
half-monastic face leans over the casement at the noise of an unknown
step. . . ."

And the shadow persists even in the love-scene.

"Charles said to Eugenie, drawing her to the old bench, where they sat
down under the walnut trees: 'In five days, Eugenie, we must bid each
other adieu, for ever perhaps; but, at least, for a long while. My
stock and ten thousand francs sent me by two of my friends are a very
small beginning. I cannot think of my return for several years. My
dear cousin, don't place my life and yours in the balance. I may
perish. Perhaps you may make a rich marriage.'--'You love me,' she
said.--'Oh yes, dearly,' he replied, with a depth of accent revealing
a corresponding depth of sentiment.--'I will wait, Charles. Heavens!
my father is at his window,' she said, pushing away her cousin, who
was approaching to kiss her. She escaped beneath the archway; Charles
followed her there. On seeing him, she withdrew to the foot of the
staircase and opened the self-closing door; then hardly knowing where
she was going, Eugenie found herself near Nanon's den, in the darkest
part of the passage. There, Charles, who had accompanied her, took her
hand, drew her to his heart, seized her round the waist, and pressed
her to himself. Eugenie no longer protested. She received and gave the
purest, sweetest, but also the entirest of all kisses."

The foregoing and others, equally well drawn, are figures in the
background. Standing out in front of them, and in lurid relief, is the
central figure of the miser, represented with the same mobility of
temperament noticeable in George Eliot's creations--a thing
exceptional in Balzac's work. Grandet, as long as his wife lives is
reclaimable--just reclaimable. Subsequently, he is an automaton
responsive only to the sight and touch of his gold.

The dedication of _Eugenie Grandet_ is to Maria; and Maria, portrayed
under the features and character of the heroine, was, we learn, an
agreeable girl, of middle-class origins, who, in the year of 1833,
attached herself to Balzac and bore him a child.

This liaison was running its ephemeral course just at the time when
accident made him acquainted with his future wife. On the 28th of
February 1832, his publisher Gosselin handed him a letter with a
foreign postmark. His correspondent, a lady, who had read, she said,
and admired his _Scenes of Private Life_, reproached him with losing,
in the _Shagreen Skin_, the delicacy of sentiment contained in these
earlier novels, and begged him to forsake his ironic, sceptical manner
and revert to the higher manifestations of his talent. There was no
signature to this communication; and the writer, who subscribed
herself "The Stranger," begged him to abstain from any attempt to
discover who she was, as there were paramount reasons why she should
remain anonymous. Balzac's curiosity was keenly aroused by so much
mystery, and he tried, but in vain, to get hold of some clue that
might conduct him to the retreat of the _incognita_. After a lapse of
seven months, a second epistle arrived, more romantic in tone than the
first; and containing, among obscure allusions to the lady's
surroundings and personality, the following declaration: "You no doubt
love and are loved; the union of angels must be your lot. Your souls
must have unknown felicities. The Stranger loves you both, and desires
to be your friend. . . . She likewise knows how to love, but that is
all. . . . Ah! you understand me."

A third letter followed this one shortly afterwards, asking the
novelist to acknowledge its receipt in the _Quotidienne_ journal,
which he did, expressing in the advertisement his regret at not being
able to address a direct reply. At last, in the spring of 1833, the
fair correspondent made herself known. She was a Countess Evelina
Hanska, wife of a Polish nobleman living at Wierzchownia in the
Ukraine. She further allowed it to be understood that she was young,
handsome, immensely rich, and not over happy with her husband. This
information sufficed to set Balzac's imagination agog. At once, he
enshrined the dame in the temple of his ideal, poured out his heart to
her, and told her of his struggles and ambitions, meanwhile fashioning
a realm of the future in which he and she were to be the two reigning

Madame Hanska was also a Pole. She belonged to the noble Rzewuska
stock and was born in the castle of Pohrebyszcze between 1804 and
1806. Owing to family reverses, her parents, who had several other
children to provide for, were glad to meet with a husband for her in
the Count Hanski, who was twenty-five years her senior. The marriage
took place between 1818 and 1822, and four children, three boys and a
girl, were its issue; but, the boys all dying in infancy, the young
mother was left with her little daughter Anna to bring up, and with
the desires of a rich, cultured woman, who did not find in her
home-circle the wherewithal to satisfy them.

Of her own charms she had spoken truly. Daffinger's miniature of her,
painted when she was thirty, represents her as abundantly endowed by
nature; and Gigoux' pastel of 1852, which is less faithful and shows
her considerably older, still gives substantially the portrait that
Barbey d'Aurevilly sketched of her after Balzac's death: "She was of
imposing and noble beauty, somewhat massive," says this writer. "But
she knew how to maintain, despite her embonpoint, a very great charm,
which was enhanced by her delightful foreign accent. She had splendid
shoulders, the finest arms in the world, and a complexion of radiant
brilliancy. Her soft black eyes, her full red lips, her framing mass
of curled hair, her finely chiselled forehead, and the sinuous grace
of her gait gave her an air of abandon and dignity together, a haughty
yet sensuous expression which was very captivating."

Fascinated by Balzac's masterly delineation of her sex, and longing to
learn more about the man who had appealed to her so powerfully, she
contrived a journey to Switzerland in 1833, in which her husband and
child accompanied her. Switzerland was a land easier for a noble
Russian subject to obtain permission to visit. Neufchatel was the
place of sojourn chosen, since there was the home of Anna's Swiss
governess, Mademoiselle Henriette Borel, who had played an
intermediary's role in the beginning of the adventure.

As soon as he had news of the party's arrival, Balzac posted off,
concealing from every one the reason for his sudden departure. It had
been agreed that the meeting should be on the chief promenade; and
there, on a bench, with one of the novelist's books on her lap, Madame
Hanska sat with her husband, when he came up and accosted her. One
account states that the Countess having, in her excitement, allowed a
scarf to drop and hide the book, he passed her by more than once, not
daring to speak till she took up the scarf. The same account adds that
the lady, remarking the little, stout man staring at her, prayed he
might not be the one she was expecting. But no written confession of
the Countess's exists to prove that such a thought damped her

Balzac's impression was recorded in a letter to his sister. "I am
happy, very happy," he wrote. "She is twenty-seven, possesses most
beautiful black hair, the smooth and deliciously fine skin of
brunettes, a lovely little hand, is naive and imprudent to the point
of embracing me before every one. I say nothing about her colossal
wealth. What is it in comparison with beauty. I am intoxicated with
love." The one drawback to the meeting was Monsieur Hanski. "Alas!"
adds the writer, "he did not quit us during five days for a single
second. He went from his wife's skirt to my waistcoat. And Neufchatel
is a small town, where a woman, an illustrious foreigner, cannot take
a step without being seen. Constraint doesn't suit me."

Evidently, during the Neufchatel intercourse, some sort of
understanding must have been reached, based on the rather unkind
anticipation of the Count Hanski's death. At that time, the
gentleman's health was precarious. He survived, however until 1841,
meanwhile more or less cognizant of his wife's attachment and offering
no opposition. He even deemed himself honoured by Balzac's friendship.
How rapid the progress of the novelist's passion was for the new idol
may be judged by the letter he despatched to Geneva, two or three
months later, in December, whilst he was correcting the proofs of
_Eugenie Grandet_. "I think I shall be at Geneva on the 13th," he
wrote. "The desire to see you makes me invent things that ordinarily
don't come into my head. I correct more quickly. It's not only courage
you give me to support the difficulties of life; you give me also
talent, at any rate, facility. . . . My Eve, my darling, my kind,
divine Eve! What a grief it is to me not to have been able to tell you
every evening all that I have done, said, and thought."

The visit to Geneva was paid, and lasted six weeks, the novelist
quitting Switzerland only on the 8th of February 1834. From this date
onward, a regular correspondence was kept up between them,
compensating for their seeing each other rarely. The project of
marriage, more tenaciously pursued by Balzac than by his Eve, was yet
no hindrance to his fleeting fancies for other women. These interim
amours have a good deal preoccupied his various biographers, partly
because of the undoubted use he made of them in his novels, and partly
also because of the trouble he gave himself to establish among circles
outside his own immediate entourage the legend of his being a sort of
Sir Galahad, leading a perfectly chaste life and caring only for his
literary labours. Says Theophile Gautier:--

"He used to preach to us a strange literary hygiene. We ought to shut
ourselves up for two or three years, drink water, eat soaked lupines
like Protogenes, go to bed at six o'clock in the evening, and work
till morning . . . and especially to live in the most absolute
chastity. He insisted much on this last recommendation, very rigorous
for a young man of twenty-four or twenty-five years of age. According
to him, real chastity developed the powers of the mind to the highest
degree, and gave to those that practised it unknown faculties. We
timidly objected that the greatest geniuses had indulged in the love
passion, and we quoted illustrious names. Balzac shook his head and
replied: 'They would have done much more but for the women.' The only
concession he would make us, regretfully, was to see the loved one for
half-an-hour a year. Love letters he allowed. They formed a writer's

George Sand speaks much to the same effect in her reminiscences. She
believed in the legend.

"Moderate in every other respect," she says, "he had the purest of
morals, having always dreaded wildness as the enemy of talent; and he
nearly always cherished women solely in his heart and in his head,
even in his youth. He pursued chastity on principle; and his relations
with the fair sex were those merely of curiosity. When he found a
curiosity equal to his own, he exploited this mine with the cynicism
of a father-confessor. But, when he met with health of mind and body,
he was as happy as a child to speak of real love and to rise into the
lofty regions of sentiment."

Unfortunately for the preceding testimony, a flat contradiction is
given to it not only by the recorded facts of the novelist's life, but
by his sister, who knew better than George Sand and Gautier that
Balzac's profession of sublimer sentiments did not exclude a more
mundane feeling and practice. Commenting on George Sand's generous
panegyric of her brother, she adds: "It is an error to speak of his
extreme moderation. He does not deserve this praise. Outside of his
work, which was first and foremost, he loved and tasted all the
pleasures of this world. I think he would have been the most conceited
of all men, if he had not been the most discreet. Confident in
himself, he never committed the least indiscretion in his relations
with others, and kept their secrets, though unable to keep his own."

The Viscount Spoelberch de Lovenjoul is still more explicit in his
short book on Balzac and Madame Hanska, entitled _Roman d'Amour_.
Speaking of the novelist's various liaisons and love escapades, which
were covered up with such solicitude from the eyes of the world, he
remarks that Balzac, while vaunting himself, in argument, of having
remained chaste for a number of years, owned to his sister that the
truth was quite different. The novelist did his utmost, continues
Monsieur de Lovenjoul, to foster the tradition of his hermit-like
conduct; and to all the jealous women with whom he entertained
friendly relations he asserted that his morals were as spotless as
those of a cenobite. Ever and everywhere he abused the credulity of
those who flattered themselves they were his only love.

Madame de Berny was not among the credulous ones, nor yet so resigned
as the simple _bourgeoise_ Maria, who, to quote Balzac's own words,
"fell like a flower from heaven, exacted neither correspondence nor
attentions, and said: 'Love me a year and I will love you all my
life.'" Though forced to accept the transformation of her relations
with her young lover into a purely platonic friendship, she made
occasional protests against being supplanted by younger rivals--the
imperious Madame de Castries among the number. The birth and growth of
his affection for Madame Hanska she appears to have felt and resented
to a greater degree than his previous infidelities to her. Not even
its maintenance, for the time being, on the plane of pure sentiment,
dispelled her jealous thoughts. Being apprized of Balzac's dedication
of a portion of the _Woman of Thirty Years Old_ to his Eve, she
insisted on his expunging the offending name, while the sheets were in
the press. Whether her fretting over his transferred allegiance
hastened her end it is impossible to say with any certainty; yet one
cannot help being struck by the fact that the serious phase of the
malady that killed her almost coincided with the beginning of their

Madame Hanska, although she started with a supposition of his loving
another, became exacting also, in proportion as her admirer's
professions of loyalty conferred the right upon her. Rumours reached
her now and again, and sometimes precise information, of her place
being usurped by another. And, later, as will be again mentioned, a
breach occurred between them which was nearly final. By his various
mistresses, Balzac had four children, including _Maria's_ little
daughter, two of whom survived him.

All this notwithstanding, it would be a mistake to assume that he was
a deliberate woman-hunter, and wasted his energies in licentiousness.
His immense industry and productiveness are enough to prove that such
lapses were more the natural outcome of his having so constant a bevy
of lady worshippers about him, and occurred as opportunity offered
only. On the other hand, it must be admitted that woman's counsels,
woman's encouragements, woman's caresses and help were very necessary
to him; and he drew largely on the capacities, material and moral, of
the Marthas and Maries that crossed his orbit, attracting him or
themselves attracted.

The twelvemonth which was marked by the achievement of his most
perfect novel also brought him into regular business relations with
Werdet, destined to be one of his biographers, who now became his
chief publisher and remained so during several years. Incorrect in
many details which lay outside his own ken, and which he had gleaned
from hearsay or books hastily written, Werdet's own book, a familiar
portrait of Balzac, is nevertheless a valuable document. If the author
was unable to fathom the whole of the genius and character of the man
he described, he yet sincerely appreciated them; and not even the
soreness he could not help feeling when ultimately thrown aside,
destroyed his deep-rooted worship of him whom he regarded as one of
the highest glories of French literature.

Werdet, when he was introduced to the writer of the _Physiology of
Marriage_, had already tried his luck at publishing, but had been
compelled to abandon the master's position and to enter as an employee
into the house of a Madame Bechet, who was engaged in the same line of
business. Having read and liked some of Balzac's earlier works, he
persuaded the firm to entrust him with the task of negotiating a
purchase of the exclusive rights of the novelist's _Studies of Manners
and Morals in the Nineteenth Century_. The negotiation was carried
through in 1832, and a sum of thirty-six thousand francs was paid to
Balzac. This was the writer's real beginning of money-making. Twelve
months after, Werdet resolved to start once more on his own account.
He had only a few thousand francs capital. His idea was to risk them
in buying one of Balzac's books; and then, if successful, gradually to
acquire a publishing monopoly in the great man's productions.
Distrusting his own powers of persuasion, he enlisted the good offices
of Barbier, the late partner of the Rue des Marais printing-house, who
was a _persona grata_ with the novelist. Together, they went to the
Rue Cassini; and Barbier set forth Werdet's desire.

"Very good," replied the great man. "But you are aware, Monsieur, that
those who now publish my works require large capital, since I often
need considerable advances."

Proudly, young Werdet brought out his six notes of five hundred francs
each, and spread them on the table.

"There is all my fortune," he said. "You can have it for any book you
please to write for me."

At the sight of them Balzac burst out laughing.

"How can you imagine, Monsieur, that I--I--de Balzac! who sold my
_Studies of Manners and Morals_ not long ago to Madame Bechet for
thirty-six thousand francs--I, whose collaboration to the _Revue de
Paris_ is ordinarily remunerated by Buloz at five hundred francs per
sheet, should forget myself to the point of handing you a novel from
my pen for a thousand crowns? You cannot have reflected on your offer,
Monsieur; and I should be entitled to look upon your step as
unbecoming in the highest degree, were it not that your frankness in a
measure justifies you."

Barbier tried to plead for his friend, and mentioned that, in
consideration of Werdet's share in the transaction with Madame Bechet,
a second edition of the _Country Doctor_ might be granted him for the
three thousand francs. But Balzac, retorting that whatever service had
been rendered was not to himself but by himself, dismissed his
visitors with the words:

"We have spent an hour, gentlemen, in useless talk. You have made me
lose two hundred francs. For me, time is money. I must work. Good-day."

They left, and Barbier, to comfort his friend, prophesied that, in
spite of this reception, Balzac would enter into _pourparlers_ with
him, and that Werdet had only to wait, and news would be received from
the Rue Cassini shortly. He was not mistaken. Three days elapsed and
then Werdet had the following note sent him:--

"SIR,--You called upon me the other day when my head was preoccupied
with some writing that I wanted to finish, and I consequently did not
very well comprehend what was your drift. To-day, my head is freer. Do
me the pleasure to call on me at four o'clock, and we can talk the
matter over."

Werdet waited nearly a week before he paid the requested visit. In
quite another tone, the novelist discussed the proposed scheme,
promised to use his influence on the young publisher's behalf, and
gave him the _Country Doctor_ for the price offered.

Thenceforward, a familiar guest in the dwelling of the Rue Cassini,
Werdet described it in detail, when composing his _Portrait Intime_.
It was part of a two-storied _pavilion_ (as the French call a
moderate-sized house) standing to the left in a courtyard and garden,
with another similar building on the right. From the ground-floor a
flight of steps led up to a glass-covered gallery joining the two
buildings and serving as an antechamber to each. Its sides were hung
in white and blue-striped glazed calico; and a long, blue-upholstered
divan, a blue and brown carpet, and some fine china vases filled with
flowers, adorned it. From the gallery the visitor proceeded into a
pretty drawing-room, fifteen feet square, lighted on the east by a
small casement that looked over the yard of a neighbouring house.
Opposite the drawing-room door was a black marble mantelpiece.

The _salon_ gave access to the bedroom and the dining-room, the latter
being connected with the kitchen underneath by a narrow staircase. A
secret door in the _salon_ opened into the bathroom with its walls of
white stucco, its bath of white marble, and its red, opaque
window-panes diffusing a rose-coloured tint through the air. Two
easy-chairs in red morocco stood near the bath.

The bedroom, having two windows, one towards the south and the
observatory, the other overlooking a garden of flowers and trees, was
very bright and cheery. The furniture, with its shades of white, pink,
and gold, was rich and handsome. A secret door existed also in this
chamber, hidden behind muslin hangings; it led down the same narrow
staircase already mentioned to the kitchen, and thence out into the
yard. Nanon, Balzac's cook, less discreet than Auguste, the
valet-de-chambre, had tales to tell Werdet about certain lady visitors
who arrived by means of this private staircase into the daintily
arranged bedroom.

The study, of oblong shape, about eighteen feet by twelve, had
likewise two windows affording a view only over the yard of the next
house, which, being lofty, made the room dark, even in the sunniest
weather. Here the furniture was simple, the principal piece being an
exceedingly fine ebony bookcase, with mirrored panels. It contained a
large collection of rare books, all bound in red morocco and set off
with the escutcheon of the d'Entragues family. Among them were nearly
all the authors who had written on mysticism, occult science, and
religion. Opposite the bookcase, between the windows, was a carved
ebony cabinet filled with red morocco box-cases, and on the top of the
cabinet stood a plaster statuette representing Napoleon I. Across the
sword-sheath was stuck a tiny paper with these words written by the
novelist: "What he could not achieve with the sword I will accomplish
with the pen. Honore de Balzac."

On the mantelpiece decorated with a mirror, there was an alarum in
unpolished bronze, together with two vases in brown porcelain. And on
either side of the mirror hung all sorts of woman's trifles; here, a
crumpled glove, there a small satin shoe; and, further, a little rusty
iron key. Questioned as to the significance of this last article, the
owner called it his talisman. There was also a diminutive framed
picture exhibiting beneath the glass a fragment of brown silk, with an
arrow-pierced heart embroidered on it, and the English words: _An
Unknown Friend_. In front of a modest writing-table covered with green
baize was a large Voltaire arm-chair upholstered in red morocco; and
about the room were a few other ebony chairs covered in brown cloth.

Within his sanctum Balzac worked clad in a white Dominican gown with
hood, the summer material being dimity and cashmere; he was shod with
embroidered slippers, and his waist was girt with a rich Venetian-gold
chain, on which were suspended a paper-knife, a pair of scissors, and
a gold penknife, all of them beautifully carved. Whatever the season,
thick window-curtains shut out the rays of light that might have
penetrated into the study, which was illuminated only by two
moderate-sized candelabra of unpolished bronze, each holding a couple
of continually burning candles.

The installation of these various household necessaries and luxuries
was progressive and was associated closely with the heyday period of
his celebrity. It was during 1833 that the metamorphosis was mainly
effected, for Werdet relates that, in the month of November, he found
Balzac, one afternoon, superintending the laying down of some rich
Aubusson carpets in his house. Money must have been plentiful just
then. Learning accidentally on this occasion that his publisher had no
carpet in his drawing-room, the novelist surprised him the same
evening by sending some men with one that he had bought for him. This
present Werdet suitably acknowledged a short time after; and,
throughout the period of their intimacy, there were a good few
compliments of the kind exchanged, which appear to have cost the man
of business dearer than the man of letters.

To tell the truth, Balzac had a knack of presuming that something he
intended doing was already done. One notorious example was the white
horse he asserted, in presence of a number of guests assembled in
Madame de Girardin's drawing-room, had been given by him to Jules
Sandeau. The animal in question, he said, he had bought from a
well-known dealer; the celebrated trainer Baucher had tested it and
declared it to be the most perfect animal ever ridden. For nearly
half-an-hour the speaker expatiated on the points of this wonderful
steed, and thoroughly convinced his audience of the gift having been
already bestowed. A few evenings later, Jules Sandeau met Balzac at
the same house, and the subject was of course reverted to by their
mutual friends. As the novelist asked him whether he liked the horse,
Jules, not to be outvied, answered with an enumeration of its
qualities. But he never saw the animal for all that.

Another instance equally amusing was furnished at a dinner given in
honour of Balzac by Henri de Latouche, who had not then broken with
him. At dessert, the host sketched the plan of a novel he intended to
write, and Balzac, who had been drinking champagne, warmly applauded;
"The thing," he said, "is capital. Even summarily related, it is
charming. What will it be when the talent, style, and wit of the
author have enhanced it!" Next evening, at Madame de Girardin's, he
reproduced, with his native fire and power of description, the
narration he had heard the night before--reproduced it as his own
--persuaded it was his own. Every one was enthusiastic, and
complimented him. But the matter was bruited abroad. Latouche
recognized in Balzac's proposed new novel the creation he had
himself unfolded; and wrote a sharp protest which, for once, forced
its recipient to distinguish fact from fiction, and what was his
share, what another's, in the output of ideas. Yet he might be
excused for some of his frequent fits of forgetfulness, since he
sowed his own conceptions and discoveries broadcast, and often
encountered them again in the possession of lesser minds who had
utilized them before he could put them into execution.

In the year of 1833, the novelist's correspondence alludes to several
books which, like others previously spoken of, were never published,
and probably never written. Among these are _The Privilege_, _The
History of a Fortunate Idea_, and the _Catholic Priest_. Meanwhile, he
did add considerably to his _Droll Tales_, the first series of which
appeared in the same twelve months as _Eugenie Grandet_. These stories
--in the style of Boccaccio, and of some of Chaucer's writing--broad,
racy, and somewhat licentious, albeit containing nothing radically
obscene, were meant to illustrate the history of the French language
and French manners from olden to modern days. Only part of the project
was realized. They are told with wit and humour that are nowhere
present to the same degree in the rest of the novelist's work, and in
their colouring, as Taine justly remarks, recall Jordaens' painting
with its vivid carnation tints. At this time the author was occupied
with _Bertha Repentant_ and the _Succubus_, which, however, were
published only three years subsequently.

                             CHAPTER VI

               LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1833, 1834

If Balzac's intimates, careful of his future, had besought him to jot
down in a diary the detailed doings of his every-day life, with a
confession of his thoughts, feelings, and opinions, in fine an
unmasking of himself, he would surely have urged the material
impossibility of his fulfilling such a task, over and above the
labours of Hercules to which his ambition and his necessities bound
him. And yet he performed the miracle unsolicited.

From the day when he quitted Neufchatel to the day when he arrived at
Wierzchownia, on his crowning visit in 1848, he never ceased
chronicling, in a virtually uninterrupted series of letters to Madame
Hanska, closely following each other during most of this long period,
a faithful account of his existence--exception made for its love
episodes--which, having fortunately been preserved, constitutes an
almost complete autobiography of his mature years. When the end of the
correspondence shall have been given to the public, three volumes, at
least, will have been taken up with the record--a record which taxed
his time and strength, indeed overtaxed them, causing him to encroach
unduly on his already too short hours of sleep. The motive must have
been a powerful one that could induce him to make so large a
sacrifice. Whether it was love alone, as he protested again and again,
or love mixed with gratified pride, or both joined to the hope of
enjoying the vast fortune that loomed through the mists of the far-off
Ukraine, the phenomenon remains the same. Certainly some great force
was behind the pen that untiringly wrote in every vein and mood these
astonishing _Letters to the Stranger_.

In those up to the year 1834 that were, properly speaking, private,
the tone rises to a pitch of lover-passion that could hardly fail to
alarm, even whilst they flattered the one to whom his devotion was
addressed. Although Balzac's brief sojourns in Madame Hanska's
vicinity had resulted in no breach of the marriage law, there was too
much implied in his assumption of their betrothal to please the
husband, if any of these lover's oaths should fall under his notice.
And this was what just did happen before many months had gone by. In
consequence of some accident which is not explained, the Count had
cognizance of two epistles that reached his wife while both were
staying at Vienna; and, for some time, it seemed as though the
intercourse would be definitely severed. A humble apology was sent to
the Count, the letters being passed off as a joke; and the
interpretation was, fortunately for Balzac, accepted. Madame Hanska
was offended as well as her husband, or, at any rate, she affected to
be. It appears some negligence had been committed by the novelist in
forwarding the incriminating epistles. However, being cleared in her
husband's eyes, she yielded her forgiveness.

Balzac's policy, after this mishap, was to keep on the best terms
possible with Monsieur Hanski, who, to use the Frenchman's English
expression, suffered from chronic blue devils. After leaving his new
friends at Geneva, the novelist procured the Count an autograph letter
from Rossini, this great composer being a favourite at Wierzchownia.
To his new lady-love he sent an effusion of his own in verse, having
small poetic merit, but pretty sentiment.

During the Geneva intercourse, he did his best to familiarize Eve with
all the names and characters of the people he knew, since his
interests were to be hers, or, at any rate, so he flattered himself.
She learnt to distinguish the people who were for him from those who
were against him. Of these latter there were a goodly number, some
made enemies by his own fault, through over-susceptibility or
unconscious arrogance. Both causes were responsible for the quarrel
occurring about this time between him and Emile de Girardin, which was
never entirely healed, in spite of the persevering efforts of Emile's
wife, better known as Madame Delphine Gay. "I have bidden good-bye to
the Gays' molehill," he informed Madame Hanska. It was pretty much the
same with his estrangement from the Duke de Fitz-James, which,
however, was followed by a speedy reconciliation, for the Duke was
offering, a few months later, to support him again in a political
election. The unsatisfactory state of his health, and some family
troubles, decided him to defer his candidature to the end of the
decade, by which date he hoped to have written two works--_The Tragedy
of Philippe II._ and _The History of the Succession of the Marquis of
Carrabas_--which should implant his conception of absolute monarchic
power so strongly in the minds of his fellow-citizens that they would
be glad to send him to Parliament as their representative. Other
political articles and pamphlets of his, he asserted, would enable him
by 1839 to dominate European questions.

Werdet has a great deal to say about his idol's over-weening exaction
of homage, leading him to be himself guilty of acts of rudeness
towards others, thus alienating their sympathies. The publisher
relates one scene that he witnessed at the offices of William Duckett,
proprietor of the _Dictionary of Conversation and Reading_. The office
door was suddenly opened and Balzac stalked in with his hat on his
head. "Is Duckett in?" he curtly asked, addressing in common the chief
editor, his sub, and an attendant. There was a conspiracy of silence.
Evidently, this was not the novelist's first visit, and his style was
known. Again the question was put in the same language and manner, and
again no one replied. Advancing now a step, and speaking to the chief
editor, he repeated his question for a third time. Monglave, who was
an irritable gentleman, being accosted personally, answered briefly:
"Put your question to the sub-editor." There was a wheel-about, and
another peremptory inquiry, to which the sub, imitating his chief,
replied with "Ask the attendant." At present boiling with rage, Balzac
turned to the porter and thundered: "Is Duckett in?" "Monsieur
Balzac," returned the attendant, "these gentlemen have forbidden me to
tell you." Threatening to report the affair to Duckett, the novelist
withdrew, pursued by the mocking laughter of the chief editor and the
sub; but, on second thoughts, he deemed it more prudent to let the
matter drop.

Another example of this peculiar assumption of superiority occurred
not long after at a dinner given by Werdet in honour of a young
author, Jules Bergounioux, whose novels were being much read. Among
the guests were Gustave Planche, Jules Sandeau, and Balzac. During the
meal the conversation, after many assaults of wit and mirth, fell on
the necessity of defending writers against the piracy and mutilation
of their books in foreign countries, more especially in Belgium. All
expressed their opinion energetically, young Bergounioux like the
rest, he happening to class himself with his fellows in the words--_we
men of letters_. At the conclusion of his little speech, Balzac
uttered a guffaw: "You, sir, a man of letters! What pretension! What
presumption! You! compare yourself to us! Really, sir, you forget that
you have the honour to be sitting here with the marshals of modern

This exhibition and others similar were natural to the man. He could
not help them. It was impossible for him not to be continually
proclaiming his own greatness. "Don't tax me with littleness," he said
in one of his letters to Delphine Gay, in which he justified his
breaking with her husband. "I think myself too great to be offended by
any one."

The domestic troubles alluded to above, which were worrying Balzac in
1834, had partly to do with his brother Henry, a sort of ne'er-do-well,
who had been out to the Indies and had returned with an undesirable
wife, and prospects--or rather the lack of them--that made him a
burden to the other members of the family. Madame Balzac, too, was
unwell at Chantilly; and her illnesses always affected Honore, who,
at such moments, reproached himself for not being able to do more on
her behalf. Not that his year's budget was a poor one. The seventy
thousand francs at which he estimated his probable earnings for the
twelvemonth were not on this occasion so very much beyond the truth,
if his author's percentages were included. Werdet--the illustrious
Werdet, who, he said, somewhat resembled the _Illustrious Gaudissart_
--bought an edition of his philosophic novels for fifteen thousand
francs; and, besides two principal books to be mentioned further on,
both of which appeared before the close of the year, there were parts
of _Seraphita_ and _The Cabinet of Antiques_ which the _Revue de
Paris_ was publishing as serials. His notorious quarrel and lawsuit
with this Review was yet to come. But there was storm in the air even
now. _Seraphita_, the subject inspired by Madame Hanska and dedicated
to her, was but little to the taste of Buloz the editor; and he
declared to Balzac, who was making him wait for copy, that it was
hardly worth while taking so long and making so much fuss over a novel
which neither the public nor he, the editor, could understand. Happily
the dear Werdet was at hand to arrange the difficulty. Though in the
same case as Buloz, and failing altogether to comprehend the subject
or its treatment, he took over _Seraphita_ in 1835 and published it.

Next to politics, as a means of gaining name and fame more quickly,
Balzac esteemed play-writing. The esteem was purely commercial. In his
heart of hearts he rather despised this species of composition,
entertaining the notion that it was something to be done quickly, if
at all, and utilizable to please the groundlings. Yet, because he saw
that there was money in it, he turned his hand to it, time after time,
and, for long, had to abandon it as constantly. In 1834 he formed a
partnership with Jules Sandeau and Emmanuel Arago, with the idea of
risking less in case of failure. In addition to the tragedy already
spoken of, he tried two others--_The Courtiers_ and _Don Philip and
Don Charles_, the latter modelled on Schiller's _Don Carlos_. The
_Grande Mademoiselle_ was a comic history of Lauzun; and his
_Prudhomme, Bigamist_, was a farce, in which a dummy placed in a bed
seemed to him capable, with a night's working on it, of bringing down
the house. Vaguely he felt, and vaguely he confessed to his sister,
what he had seen and confessed thirteen years earlier, that the drama
was not his forte. But, anchored in the conviction that he ought
finally to succeed in everything he undertook, he returned to the
attempt with magnificent pluck and perseverance.

His colleague for the nonce, Sandeau, he considered to be a protege of
his; and used him a while as a kind of secretary. In this year
especially he showed much solicitude about him. There was nothing to
excite his jealousy in the author of _Sacs et Parchemins_, who was not
elected to the Academy until nearly the end of the decade in which
Balzac died. On the contrary, his pity was aroused by Sandeau's
precarious position and by the recent separation between Madame
Dudevant and this first of her lovers, who did his best to commit
suicide by swallowing a dose of acetate of morphia. Luckily the dose
was so large that Sandeau's stomach refused to digest it. George Sand
herself Balzac admired but did not care for at this time. He would
talk to her amiably when he met her at the Opera; but, if she invited
him to dinner, he invented an excuse, if possible, for not going.
"Don't speak to me," he would say, "of this writer of the neuter
gender. Nature ought to have given her more breeches and less style."

His opinion, however, did not prevent him, in 1842, from accepting her
help. An article had come out in her _Revue Independante_, without her
knowledge, attacking him violently. She wrote to apologize; and Balzac
called on her, to explain, as he informed Madame Hanska, how injustice
serves the cause of talent. She told him then that she should like to
write a thorough study of him and his books; and he made as though he
would dissuade her, saying that she would only get herself in bad
odour with his critics. Still she persisted, and he accordingly asked
her to compose a preface for an ensuing publication of his whole
works, the preface to be a defence of him against those who were his
enemies. Whether this notice was written before the novelist's death
is uncertain. At any rate, it was not printed until 1875, when it
appeared in her volume _Autour de la Table_.

It was difficult for Balzac to be fair towards those men of letters
among his contemporaries who excelled in his own domain; yet his
judgment, when unwarped, was fine, keen, and, in many instances,
endowed with prophetic sight. For instance, in placing Alfred de
Musset as a poet above Victor Hugo or Lamartine, he daringly
contradicted the opinions of his own day, and anticipated a criticism
which is at present becoming respectable if not fashionable. On the
other hand, his estimate of _Volupte_, Sainte-Beuve's just then
published novel, which he was soon to imitate and recreate in his
_Lily in the Valley_, was manifestly prejudiced. He called it a book
badly written in most of its parts, weak, loosely constructed,
diffuse, in which there were some good things, in short a puritanical
book, the chief character of it, Madame Couaen not being woman enough.
His opinion, which he imparted to Madame Hanska, he apparently took no
trouble to conceal, for Sainte-Beuve was evidently aware of it when he
treated Balzac very sharply in an article of this same year of 1834.
From that date, the celebrated lecturer looked with coldness and
disfavour on the novelist, and even in his final pronouncement of the
_Causeries du Lundi_, shortly after Balzac's death, he meted out but
faint praise.

Something has been said in a previous chapter of the novelist's belief
in certain occult powers of the mind, with which the newly discovered
action of magnetism seemed to him to be connected. At first, his ideas
on the subject were a good deal mixed. When, in 1832, a terrible
epidemic of cholera was spreading its ravages, he wrote to Doctor
Chapelain, suggesting that somnambulism--he would have called it
hypnotism to-day--should be employed to seek out the causes of the
malady, and a test applied to prove whether its virtues were real or
chimerical. In 1834, he had come to pin his faith to the healing
powers of magnetism. "When you or Monsieur Hanski or Anna are ill," he
wrote to Eve, "let me know. Don't laugh at me. At Issoudun, facts
recently demonstrated to me that I possess very large magnetic
potency, and that, either through a somnambulist" (he meant a
hypnotist) "or through myself, I can cure persons dear to me." To all
his friends he reiterated the same advice--magnetic treatment, which
he declared his mother capable of exercising as well as himself.
Madame Balzac's initiation into the science was due to the Prince of
Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingfurst, Bishop of Sardica, who, in his
several visits to Paris between 1821 and 1829, wrought wonderful cures
by the simple imposition of hands. As the lady used to suffer from a
swelling in the bowels whenever she ate raw fruit, the Bishop, hearing
of it, came one day to see her, and applied his method, which cured
her. Balzac, being a witness of the miracle, became an ardent
investigator in this new branch--or rather old branch revived--of
therapeutics. Thenceforward, his predilection for theories of the
occult went hand in hand with his equally strong taste for the
analytic observation of visible phenomena; and not infrequently he
indulged in their simultaneous literary expression. The composing of
_Seraphita_ was carried on at the same time as his _Search for the
Absolute_ and _Pere Goriot_.

Both of these two novels were finished and published in 1834. In the
_Search for the Absolute_, we have Balthazar Claes, a man of wealth
and leisure, living in the ancient town of Douai, and married to a
wife who adores him and who has borne him children. Claes' hobby is
scientific research; his aim, the discovery of the origin of things
which he believes can be given him by his crucible. In his family
mansion, of antique Flemish style, which is admirably described by the
novelist at great length, he pursues his tireless experiments; and,
with less justification than Bernard Palissy, encroaches by degrees on
the capital of his fortune, which melts away in his furnace and
alembics. During the first period of his essays, his wife tries to
have confidence in his final success, herself studies all sorts of
learned treatises, in order to be able to converse with him suitably
and to encourage him in his work; but, at last, unable to delude her
own mind any longer, she weeps with her children over the approaching
destruction of their home, and the grief wears her out and kills her.
Luckily the daughter, Marguerite, is made of sterner stuff than her
mother. And, with her brother, she toils to pay her father's debts and
to keep the home together. At the end, Claes himself dies, still
absorbed in his chimera, and his last words are an endeavour to
formulate the marvellous revelation which his disordered brain
persuades him he has now received.

"'Eureka!' he cried with a shrill voice, and fell back on his bed with
a thud. In passing away, he uttered a frightful groan, and his
convulsed eyes, until the doctors closed them, spoke his regret not to
have been able to bequeath to science the key of a mystery whose veil
had been tardily torn aside under the gaunt fingers of Death."

The _Search for the Absolute_ may be classed with _Eugenie Grandet_ in
the category of the novelist's best creations. Though Claes is, as
much as Grandet, and perhaps more, an abnormal being, his sacrifice of
every duty of life to the pursuit of the irrealizable is common enough
in humanity. By reason of the novelist's intense delineation, his
figure shows out in monstrous proportions; but these are skilfully
relieved by the happier fates of the children. The lengthy
descriptions of the opening chapter he defended against his sister
Laure's strictures, asserting that they had ramifications with the
subject which escaped her. His presentment, too, of Marguerite he said
was not forced, as she thought. Marguerite was a Flemish woman, and
Flemish women followed one idea out and, with phlegm, went
unswervingly towards their goal. The labour the book had cost him he
owned to Madame Hanska. Two members of the Academy of Sciences taught
him chemistry, so that he might be exact in his representation of
Claes' experiments; and he read Berzelius into the bargain. Moreover,
he had revised and modified the proofs of the novel no fewer than a
dozen times.

As Werdet tells, the real work of composition, with Balzac, hardly
commenced until he had a set of galley proofs. What he sent first to
the printer, scribbled with his crow's-quill, was a mere sketch; and
the sketch itself was a sort of Chinese puzzle, largely composed of
scratched-out and interpolated sentences; passages and chapters being
moved about in a curious _chasse-croise_, which the type-setters
deciphered and arranged as they best could. Margins and inter-columnal
spaces they found covered with interpolations; a long trailing line
indicated the way here and the way there to the destination of the
inserted passages. A cobweb was regular in comparison to the task
which the printers had to tackle in the hope of finding beginning,
middle, and end. In the various presses where his books were set up,
the employees would never work longer than an hour on end at his
manuscript. And the indemnity he had to pay for corrections reached
sometimes the figure of forty francs per sixteen pages. Numerous were
the difficulties caused on this score with publishers, editors, and
printers. Balzac justified himself by quoting the examples of
Chateaubriand, Ingres, and Meyerbeer in their various arts. To Buloz,
of the _Revue de Paris_, who expostulated, he impatiently replied: "I
will give up fifty francs per sheet to have my hands free. So say no
more about the matter." It is true that Buloz paid him 250 francs per
sheet for his contributions.

Indeed, the novelist's own method of work was a reversal of the
natural alternation of regular periods of activity and repose. He not
only, as he told all his correspondents with wearisome iteration,
burned the midnight oil, but would keep up these eighteen or twenty
hours' daily labour for weeks altogether, until some novel that he was
engaged on was finished. During these spells of composing he would see
no one, read no letters, but write on and on, eating sparingly,
sipping his coffee, and refreshing his jaded anatomy by taking a bath,
in which he would lie for a whole hour, plunged in meditation. After
his voluntary seclusions, he suddenly reappeared in his usual haunts,
active and feverish as ever, note-book ready to hand, in which he
jotted down his thoughts, discoveries, and observations for future
use. On its pages were primitively outlined the features of most of
the women of his fiction.

One of these prolonged _claustrations_, in October 1834--the day was
Sunday--he interrupted by a call, most unexpected, on Werdet. His face
was sallow and gaunt with vigil. He had been stopped in the
description of a spot, he explained, by the uncertainty of his
recollections, and must go into the city in order to refresh them. So
he invited Werdet to accompany him in playing truant for the day. The
morning was spent in the slums, where he gathered the information
required; and the afternoon they whiled away in listening to a concert
at the _Conservatoire_. Here he was welcomed by the fashionables of
both sexes, notwithstanding his shabby costume, which he had donned in
view of his morning's occupation. On quitting the concert room, he
carried Werdet off to dine with him at Very's, the most expensive and
aristocratic restaurant in Paris. The place was full of guests; and
those who were in proximity to the table where the two newcomers sat
down were astounded to see the following menu ordered and practically
consumed by one man, since Werdet, being on diet, took only a soup and
a little chicken: A hundred oysters; twelve chops; a young duck; a
pair of roast partridges; a sole; hors d'oeuvre; sweets; fruit (more
than a dozen pears being swallowed); choice wines; coffee; liqueurs.
Never since Rabelais' or perhaps Louis XIV.'s time, had such a
Gargantuan appetite been witnessed. Balzac was recouping himself for
his fasting.

When the repast, lengthened out by a flow of humorous conversation,
was at length terminated, the nineteenth-century Johnson asked his
Boswell if he had any available cash, as he himself had none. Werdet
confessing only to forty francs, the novelist borrowed a five-franc
piece from him and thundered out his request for the bill. To the
waiter who presented it he handed the coin, at the same time returning
the bill with a few words scribbled at the foot. "Tell the cashier,"
he cried, "that I am Monsieur Honore de Balzac." And he stalked out
with Werdet, whilst all the diners present stared admiringly after the
great man.

But the evening was not yet finished. In the garden of the Palais-Royal,
then more frequented by society than to-day, they met Jules Sandeau
and Emile Regnault. And, as they were near a gambling-saloon, Balzac,
who had an infallible system for breaking the bank, proposed to Jules
that he should go and try his luck. A twenty-franc piece was wheedled
out of Werdet for the experiment, which proved a fiasco. Next, the
novelist, to convince his companions of the accuracy of his theory,
which he further detailed, went and borrowed forty francs from his
heraldic engraver, and sent Sandeau and Regnault into the saloon
again. Alas! fate was once more unkind. They returned minus their
money. To console themselves, they went to the Funambules Theatre, to
see Debureau act in the _Boeuf Enrage_, and Balzac laughed so loud
that he and his party had to leave the theatre. On the morrow Werdet
was called upon to pay the restaurant-keeper sixty-two francs, and to
reimburse the engraver the forty francs loan, which sums, together
with what he had himself advanced, ran Balzac's debit for the day up
to one hundred and twenty-seven francs.

In _Pere Goriot_, the publication of which came close at the heels of
the _Search for the Absolute_, Balzac traces the gradual
impoverishment of a fond father by his two daughters, married, the one
to a nobleman, the other to a banker, and whose husbands, when they
have received the marriage dowry, give their father-in-law, who is a
plebeian, the cold shoulder, and forbid their wives to see him unless
in secret. Goriot's daughters, losing in their grand surroundings the
little filial affection they ever had, exploit the old man's worship
of them shamelessly. If they visit him in the boarding-house to which
he has retired, after selling his home to endow them more richly, it
is solely to get from him for their pleasures the portion of his
wealth he has retained for his own wants. And he never refuses them,
but sells and sells, until, at last, he is reduced to lodge in the
garret of the boarding-house and eat almost the refuse of the table.
Around this tragic central figure are grouped the commensals of the
Vauquer _pension_, Rastignac, the young law-student, with shallow
purse and aristocratic connections; Bianchon, the future great-gun in
medicine, at present walking the hospitals and attending lectures and
practising dissections; Victorine Taillefer, the rejected daughter of
a guilty millionaire; Mademoiselle Michonneau, the soured spinster,
who ferrets out the identity of her fellow-boarder Vautrin, and
betrays to justice this cynical outlaw installed so quietly, and, to
all appearance, safely, in the _pension_, where Madame Vauquer, the
traipsing widow, lords it serenely, attentive only to her profits.

Of these subsidiary characters, two, Vautrin and Rastignac, furnish a
second interest in the story parallel to that of Goriot and his
daughters, and constituting a foil. Under the influence of Paris
surroundings and experience, Rastignac passes from his naive illusions
to a state of worldly wisdom, which he reaches all the more speedily
as Vautrin is at his elbow, commenting with Mephistophelian shrewdness
on his fellow-men and the society they form. Himself a man of
education, who has sunk from high to low and is branded with the
convict's mark, Vautrin is yet capable of affection of a certain kind;
but, in the mind and heart of the youth he would fain advantage, he is
capable only of inculcating the law of tooth and claw. "A rapid
fortune is the problem that fifty thousand young men are at present
trying to solve who find themselves in your position," he says to
Rastignac. "You are a single one among this number. Judge of the
efforts you have to make and of the desperateness of the struggle. You
must devour each other like spiders in a pot, seeing there are not
fifty thousand good places. Do you know how one gets on here? By the
brilliance of genius or the adroitness of corruption one must enter
the mass of men like a cannon-ball, or slip into it like the plague.
Honesty is of no use." Having a tempter about him of Vautrin's
calibre, strong, undauntable, as humorous as Dickens' Jingle, but
infinitely more unscrupulous and dangerous, Rastignac is gained over,
in spite of his first repulsion. The nursing and burying of Pere
Goriot are his last acts of charity accorded to the claims of his
higher nature, and even these are sullied by his relations with one of
Goriot's daughters. Standing on the cemetery heights, and looking down
towards the Seine and the Vendome column, he flings a defiance to the
society spread beneath him, the society he despises but still wishes
to conquer.

In this novel many social grades are gathered together, and the
reciprocal actions of their representative members are rendered with
effective contrast and a good deal of dramatic quickness. The chief
theme, though so painful, is developed with less strain and monotony
than in some other of the novelist's works by reason of a larger
application, conscious or unconscious, of Shakespeare's practice of
intermingling the humorous with the tragic. Even the comic is not
entirely absent, Madame Vauquer especially supplying interludes. The
novelist himself chuckled as he put into her mouth a mispronunciation
of the word _tilleul_,[*] and explained to Madame Hanska, whose
foreign accent in speaking French suggested it, that he chose the fat
landlady so that Eve should not be jealous.

  [*] English linden, or lime-tree.

Balzac's too great absorption in his writing forced him more than once
in this year to go into the country and recuperate his health. During
the earlier months he spent a short time with the Carrauds at
Frapesle, which was a favourite sojourn of his, and, later on, at
Sache, a pleasant retreat in his native Touraine. His iron
constitution was not able always to resist the demands continually
made upon it; and his abuse of coffee only aggravated the evil. To
Laure he acknowledged, while at Sache, that this beverage refused to
excite his brain for any time longer than a fortnight; and even the
fortnight was paid for by horrible cramps in the stomach, followed by
fits of depression, which he suffered when suddenly deprived of his
beloved drink. In his _Treatise of Modern Stimulants_ he describes its
peculiar operation upon himself. "This coffee," he says, "falls into
your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas
begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army on the
battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive full
gallop, ensign to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a
magnificent, deploying charge; the artillery of logic hurry up with
their train and ammunition; the shafts of wit start up like
sharp-shooters. Similes arise; the paper is covered with ink; for the
struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just
as a battle with powder."

When he tells us how Doctor Minoret, Ursule Mirouet's guardian, used
to regale his friends with a cup of Moka mixed with Bourbon coffee,
and roasted Martinique, which the Doctor insisted on personally
preparing in a silver coffee-pot, it is his own custom that he is
detailing. His Bourbon he bought only in the Rue Mont Blanc (now the
Chaussee d'Antin), the Martinique, in the Rue des Vieilles Audriettes,
the Moka at a grocer's in the Rue de l'Universite. It was half a day's
journey to fetch them.

The _Tigers_ or _Lions_, of the Loge Infernale at the Opera, have
already been spoken of. It was in this year that Balzac, as belonging
to the Club, gave a dinner to its members, the chief guest being
Rossini. Nodier, Sandeau, Bohain, and the witty Lautour-Mezeray were
also present. He doubtless wore on the occasion his coat of broadcloth
blue, made by his tailor-friend Buisson, with its gold buttons
engraved by Gosselin, his jeweller and goldsmith. On his waistcoat of
white English _pique_ twined and glittered the thousand links of the
slender chain of Venice gold. Black trousers, with footstraps, showing
his calves to advantage, patent-leather boots, and his wonderful
stick, which inspired Madame Delphine Gay to write a book, completed
the equipment.

This stick was certainly in existence in 1834, being mentioned in the
correspondence with Madame Hanska during that year. Werdet, however,
connects its origin with the novelist's imprisonment, two years later,
in the Hotel de Bazancourt, popularly known as the Hotel des Haricots,
which was used for confining those citizens who did not comply with
Louis-Philippe's law enrolling them in the National Guard and ordering
them to take their turn in night-patrol of the city. Balzac was
incurably recalcitrant. Nothing would induce him to encase himself in
the uniform and serve; and, whenever the soldiers came for him, he
bribed them to let him alone. Finally, these bribes failed of their
effect, and an arrest-warrant was issued against him. In his ordinary
correspondence two experiences of his being in durance vile at the
Hotel des Haricots are mentioned, one in March 1835, another in August
1836. The latter of these is differently dated in the _Letters to the
Stranger_, the end of April being given, unless, indeed, there were
two confinements close together, which is hardly probable. What is
most likely is, that Werdet has confused two things, the story of the
lock of hair, properly belonging to 1836, and the making of the stick,
which belongs to 1834. Here is his narration:--

The publisher one day received a note requesting him to go at once to
the prison and to take with him some money. He went with two hundred
francs, and found Balzac, in his Dominican's dress, installed in a
small cell on the third story, busily engaged in arranging papers.
Part of the money brought was utilized to order a succulent dinner,
which Werdet stayed and shared in the smoky refectory below. Both
prisoner and visitor were very merry until the door opened and Eugene
Sue, the popular novelist, entered, himself also a victim of the
conscription law. Invited to join in the meal, Sue declined, saying
that his valet and his servant were shortly to bring him his dinner.
This repulse damped Balzac's spirits until the arrival of a third
victim, the Count de Lostange, chief editor of the _Quotidienne_, who
sat down willingly to table. Then Balzac forgot Sue's rudeness, and
the mirth was resumed. Notwithstanding the efforts of the novelist's
influential friends, the Count de Lobau, who was responsible for the
arrest, showed himself inexorable, and a second day was spent in
captivity, which Werdet came again towards evening to enliven. A whole
pile of perfumed epistles sent by feminine sympathizers was lying on
the table, and the publisher had to open them and read them aloud to
his companion. When a third day's confinement was decided on by the
authorities, Werdet arranged to celebrate it by a dinner that should
merit being put on record. He therefore secured the presence of some
intimates of the novelist, among them being Gustave Planche and
Alphonse Karr; and at 5 P.M., eight people were assembled in the cell,
with Auguste, Balzac's valet, to serve them. The restaurant-keeper
Chevet's menu of exquisite dishes was suitably moistened with
excellent champagne sent by a Countess, and, when the feast was in
full progress, Balzac took a scented parcel from among his presents
and asked permission to open it. The authorization being granted, he
undid the parcel, and disclosed a mass of long, fair, silky hair
threaded into a gold ring that was set with an emerald. On the gift
was an inscription in English: _From an unknown friend_. A great
discussion ensued. One irreverent speaker opined that the thing was a
hoax, and that the hair had come from a wig-maker's; but his blasphemy
was shouted down. Another proposed that Balzac should cut off his own
long, flat locks (it was in 1834 that he began to let them grow) and
should send them addressed to the Unknown Fair One. Poste Restante.
But this suggestion, too, was not approved. The locks were proclaimed
to be national property, and to be cut off only by the passing of a
special law. Next, the ring was discussed; and here it was that
Balzac, struck with a brilliant idea, announced his intention of
ordering Gosselin, the goldsmith, to manufacture a marvellous hollow
stick-knob in which a lock of the blond hair should be inserted, and
all over the top of the knob were to be fixed diamonds, sapphires,
emeralds, topazes, rubies, chosen out of the many he had had given him
by his rich lady-enthusiasts. On the morrow, he was released, after
spending, during the few days he had been locked up, five hundred and
seventy francs in refreshment for himself and visitors.

                            CHAPTER VII

               LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1835, 1836

The Rue des Batailles, whither Balzac removed his household goods in
1834, was one of those old landmarks of Paris which have disappeared
in the opening up and beautifying of the city. Commencing at the
fortifications, it penetrated inwards along the waste ground of the
Trocadero, and crossed the Rue Chaillot at a point which has since
become the Place d'Iena. Its direction from there was very nearly the
same as that of the present Avenue d'Iena. No. 12, where Balzac had
his flat, probably occupied the site whereon now stands the mansion of
Prince Roland Bonaparte. From its windows a good view was obtained of
the Seine, the Champ de Mars, the Ecole Militaire, and the Dome of the

As a matter of fact, the house of the Rue des Batailles was for a time
a supplementary dwelling rented by the novelist, so Werdet says, as a
hiding-place from the myrmidons of the law. The flat in the Rue
Cassini was retained, and its furniture also; and an arrangement was
made with the landlord by which a notice-board hung continually on the
door, with the words: "This apartment to let." In reality the tenant
often sojourned there still, and his cook stayed on the premises to
look after them, and serve her master with meals, whenever he wished
to work in his old study without being disturbed. At the Rue des
Batailles he lived under the pseudonym of Widow Brunet, so that
temporarily the sergeant-major of the National Guard was outwitted.

The second flat, when he took it, was composed of five small rooms;
but an army of workmen was summoned; and what with the pulling down of
partitions and their reconstruction on a more commodious plan, the
place was metamorphosed into four luxuriously furnished chambers, the
study being fitted up as a sort of boudoir. One of its walls was a
graceful curve against which rested a large, real Turkish divan in
white cashmere, its drapery being caught and held with lozenge-shaped
bows of black and flame-coloured silk. The opposite wall formed a
straight line broken only by a white marble chimney-piece pinked out
in gold. The entire room was hung in red stuff as a background, and
this was covered with fluted Indian muslin, having a top and bottom
beading of flame-coloured stuff ornamented with elegant black
arabesques. Under the muslin the red assumed a rose tint, which later
was repeated in the window curtains of muslin lined with taffety, and
fringed in black and red. Six silver sconces, each supporting two
candles, projected from the wall above the divan, to light those
sitting or lying there. From the dazzlingly white ceiling was
suspended an unpolished silver-gilt lustre; and the cornice round it
was in gold. The carpets of curious designs were like Eastern shawls;
the furniture was lavishly upholstered. The time-piece and candelabra
were of white marble incrusted with gold; and cashmere covered the
single table, while several flower-stands filled up the corners, with
their roses and other blooms. This study, which Balzac himself has
left us a description of in his novel _The Girl with the Golden Eyes_,
was soon abandoned as a workroom for another more simple and austere,
up under the roof. The latter, however, he likewise began, being
tormented by the desire of change, to adorn almost as fantastically.

Throughout the time that Werdet continued to be Balzac's publisher,
and up to the end of 1836, when their active business relations
ceased, it is difficult to be quite accurate in speaking of their
relations and the things spoken of by both in which they were mutually
concerned. There is frequent discordance in their narration of the
same event, and one is often embarrassed in trying to reconcile them.
On the one hand, it is certain that Balzac was not always exact in his
statements; on the other, Werdet's memory, in the seventies, when he
wrote his _Portrait Intime_ of the novelist, was as certainly now and
again treacherous. An example of such discrepancy is furnished by the
information given concerning _Seraphita_, which Werdet says he bought
from Buloz at the end of 1834, and for which he had to wait till
December 1835. He even makes it a reproach that the novelist, after
being extracted from a dilemma, should have dealt with him so
cavalierly. Now, from documents published by the Viscount de
Lovenjoul, there must be a mistake in Werdet's dates. During the year
of 1835, the _Revue de Paris_ published, after long delay, some
further chapters of _Seraphita_; and not until the end of November in
this same twelvemonth was the treaty signed which rendered Werdet
possessor of the book.

_Seraphita_, or _Seraphitus_--the name is designedly spelt both ways
in different parts of the book--is an attempt on the novelist's part
to represent in fiction the dual sex of the soul. The scene is laid in
the fiords of Norway. There, in a village, we meet with a person of
mysterious nature who is loved simultaneously by a man and a woman,
and who is regarded by each as being of the opposite sex. By whiles
this hermaphrodite seems to respond to the affection of each admirer,
and by whiles to withdraw on to a higher plane of existence whither
their mortality hinders them from following. To the old pastor of the
village, _Seraphita-Seraphitus_ talks with assurance of the essence of
phenomena and the invisible world, but, forsooth, only to initiate the
shades that visit spiritualistic _seances_, and to say what is either
obscure verbiage, or a hash-up of philosophies often digested without
much sustenance derived from them. In the end, this dual personage
vanishes from our mundane atmosphere, translated bodily to heaven; and
leaves his or her lovers to repair their loss--just like a forlorn
widow or widower--by making a match based on rules of conduct laid
down by the departed one.

_Seraphita_ was Balzac's pocket Catholicism. He had another
Catholicism, entirely orthodox, for the use of the public at large.
Esoterically understood, his novel teaches a doctrine of mysticism,
intuitionalism, and materialism combined. Plotinus, the Manicheans,
and Swendenborg are borrowed from without reserve. Ordinary reason is
despised. He believes himself for the nonce inspired, like the Pope
when launching bulls. "The pleasure," he writes, "of swimming in a
lake of pure water, amidst rocks, woods, and flowers, alone and fanned
by the warm zephyr, would give the ignorant but a weak image of the
happiness I felt when my soul was flooded with the rays of I know not
what light, when I listened to the terrible and confused voices of
inspiration, when from a secret source the images streamed into my
palpitating brain." On the contrary, he holds--and this does not
square well with the preceding--that the soul is an ethereal fluid
similar to electricity; that the brain is the matrass or bottle into
which the animal transports, according to the strength of the
apparatus, as much as the various organisms can absorb of this fluid,
which issues thence transformed into will; that our sentiments are
movements of the fluid, which proceeds from us by jerks when we are
angry, and which weighs on our nerves when we are in expectation; that
the current of this king of liquids, according to the pressure of
thought and feeling, spreads in waves or diminishes and thins, then
collects again, to gush forth in flashes. He believes also that our
ideas are complete, organized beings (the theosophic notion) which
live in the invisible world and influence our destinies; that,
concentrated in a powerful brain, they can master the brains of other
people, and traverse immense distances in the twinkling of an eye. In
short, he anticipates not a little of the science of the present day,
yet mixing up the true and false in his guesses by the very exuberance
of his fancy. At the close, he gives us his vision of the universe:
"They heard the divers parts of the Infinite forming a living melody;
and, at each pause, when the accord made itself felt like a huge
respiration, the worlds, drawn by this unanimous movement, inclined
themselves towards the immense being who, from his impenetrable
centre, sent everything forth and brought it back to himself. The
light engendered melody, the melody engendered light; the colours were
light and melody, the movement was number endowed with speech; in
fine, all was at once sonorous, diaphanous, mobile; so that, all
things interpenetrating each other, distance was without obstacles,
and might be traversed by the angels throughout the depths of the
infinite. There was the fete. Myriads of angels all hastened in like
flight, without confusion, all similar, yet all dissimilar, simple as
the field-rose, vast as worlds. They were neither seen to come nor go.
On a sudden, they studded the infinite with their presence, just as
the stars shine in the indiscernible ether."

The fundamental error of _Seraphita_ is its hybridity, not to speak of
its pretentious psychology. It is neither flesh nor fowl; and,
exception made for some fine passages, more at the beginning than in
the rest of the book, it jars and irks, and amazes, but does not
captivate or persuade.

It had a great success when it came out in book form. People were
inquisitive to know the end of the story, which the _Revue de Paris_
had not given; and their eagerness had been further whetted by a
cleverly graduated series of puffs put into the newspapers. In the
first day of sale, the whole edition was cleared out of Werdet's
warehouse, a thing that had never happened before with any of the same
author's works. Balzac, who had been duly informed of the good news,
hastened to the office, and led the publisher off proudly to dine with
him at Very's, and to finish up the evening at the Porte-Saint-Martin
Theatre, with ices afterwards at Tortoni's. The whole affair was
carried out in grand style. The novelist had on his war-paint, and was
accompanied by a lady, young, pretty, whose name is not revealed to
us. Werdet's _vis-a-vis_ was Madame Louise Lemercier, a benevolent
blue-stocking of that day, who was a Providence to needy men of
letters. When dinner was over, Balzac's elegant equipage, with its
mighty coachman and its diminutive groom, yclept Millet-seed, who
unfortunately died soon after in the hospital, conveyed them to the
play, in which Frederick Lemaitre and Serres held chief roles. Balzac
was the hero of the evening. His jewelled stick, and his pretty
companion monopolized the attention of the spectators, who somewhat
neglected the amusement offered by the _Auberge des Adrets_ on the
stage. At the conclusion of the piece, the four passed out of the
theatre through a double line of people eager to pay the homage that
notoriety can always command.

In the year 1835 the novelist's restlessness and inability to remain
long in one spot were evinced in a very marked manner. Only by
repeated changes of scene was he able to carry on his work at all.
After wearing himself out in a fruitless attempt to complete
_Seraphita_ in April, he fled to Madame Carraud's at Frapesle. In
October he was at La Boulonniere, where he put the last touches to
_Pea-Blossom_, better known as the _Marriage Contract_, which came out
before the end of December. His fits of depression alternated with
spurts of cheerfulness nearly every week, according as he had some
loss or gain to register; here, a fire at the printer's, where some of
his _Contes Drolatiques_ were burned; there, the sale of an article to
the _Conservateur_ for three thousand francs. In September the
barometer rose, and he exclaimed joyfully in a letter to Laure:

"The Reviews are at my feet and pay me more for my sheets. He! He!

"The reading public have changed their opinion about the _Country
Doctor_, so that Werdet is certain of selling his editions directly.
Ha! Ha!

"In short, I can meet my liabilities in November and December. Ho!

This tone changed in October. To his sister now he lamented:

"I am drinking the cup to the dregs. In vain I work fourteen hours a
day. I cannot suffice."

He had held practically the same language to Werdet in May,[*] when he
announced to him his intention of starting for Austria, where Madame
Hanska was staying. His brain, he said, was empty; his imagination
dried up; cup after cup of coffee produced no effect, nor yet baths
--these last being the supreme remedy.

  [*] In Werdet's account this journey is placed between September and
      November; but the _Letters to the Stranger_ prove that the date
      he gives is incorrect.

Werdet did his best to thwart the trip; but Balzac would not be
gainsaid. He affirmed he should return with rejuvenated faculties,
after seeing his _carissima_; and ultimately he persuaded his
publisher to advance him two thousand francs for his travelling
expenses. Profuse in his gratitude, he wrote from his hotel in Vienna
--the Hotel de la Poire, situated in the Langstrasse--that, in the
society of the cherished one, he had regained his imagination and
verve. Werdet, he continued, was his Archibald Constable (_vide_
Walter Scott); their fortunes were thenceforward indissoluble; and the
day was approaching when they would meet in their carriages in the
Bois de Boulogne and turn their detractors green with envy. This
flattery was the jam enveloping the information that he had drawn on
his publisher for another fifteen hundred francs; there was also a
promise made that he would come back with his pockets full of
manuscripts. Instead of the manuscripts, he brought back some Viennese
curiosities. He had done no work while with Madame Hanska, but he had
seen Munich, and had enjoyed himself immensely, being idolized by the
aristocracy of the Austrian capital. "And what an aristocracy!" he
remarked to Werdet; "quite different from ours, my dear fellow; quite
another world. There the nobility are a real nobility. They are all
old families, not an adulterated nobility like in France."

The Vienna visit, which cost him, in total, some five thousand francs
--a foolish expense in his involved circumstances--was the cause of
his silver plate having to be pawned while he was away, in order that
certain payments of interest that he owed might be made at the end of
the month. Since he was always plunging into fresh extravagance of one
kind or another, his liabilities had a fatal tendency to grow; and at
present even more than before, since he was puffed up by the lionizing
he had enjoyed abroad. It was hardly to be expected that a man should
study economy who saw himself already appointed to the Secretaryship
for Foreign Affairs. "This is the only department which would suit
me," he said to Werdet. "I have now my free entry to the house of the
Count d'Appony, Ambassador of Austria, and to that of Rothschild,
Consul of the same Power. What glory for you, Master Werdet, to have
been my publisher. I will make your fortune then."

His display and luxury manifested themselves in greater sumptuousness
of furniture, more servants in livery, a box at the Opera for himself,
and another at the _Italiens_. And the two secretaries must not be
forgotten--one was not sufficient--the Count de Belloy and the Count
de Grammont. Sandeau was not grand enough for the post. The reason
given by Balzac to Madame Hanska was Jules' idleness, nonchalance, and
sentimentality. As a matter of fact, Sandeau did not care to play
always second fiddle, and to write tragedies or comedies for which
Balzac wished to get all the credit. Moreover, he was not a
Legitimist. The novelist had tried to convert him to his own doctrine
of autocratic government and had signally failed. These sprigs of
nobility he felt himself more in sympathy with.

About this time his epistles to "The Stranger" were full of himself
and his Herculean labours, and Madame Hanska hinted pretty plainly
that the quantity of the latter did not necessarily imply their
quality. Such expression of opinion notwithstanding, he boasted of
conceiving, composing, and printing the _Atheist's Mass_, a short
novel, it is true, in one night only. His portrait by Louis Boulanger,
which was painted during the year of 1835, had been ordered rather
with a view to advertizing him at the ensuing Salon, although he
asserted it was because he wanted to correct a false impression given
of him by Danton's caricature in the earlier months of the year. The
likeness produced by Boulanger he esteemed a good one, rendering his
Coligny, Peter the Great persistence, which, together with an intrepid
faith in the future, he said was the basis of his character. The
future hovered as a perpetual mirage in all his introspections,
sometimes with tints of dawn, at other times half-threatening. "I am
the Wandering Jew of thought," was his cry to Eve from the Hotel des
Haricots, "always up and walking without repose, without the joys of
the heart, without anything besides what is yielded me by a
remembrance at once rich and poor, without anything that I can snatch
from the future. I hold out my hand to it. It casts me not a mite, but
a smile which means to say: to-morrow."

When he embarked on the hazardous venture of starting a newspaper of
his own, the motive was chiefly a desire to exercise a larger
political influence. Yet he had additional incentives. The Reviews to
which he had contributed in the past had yielded him almost as much
annoyance as profit; and, since the two most important ones, the
_Revue des Deux Mondes_ and the _Revue de Paris_, both under the same
editorship, were closed against him, he believed he needed an organ in
which to defend himself from the rising virulence of hostile
criticism. A press campaign in his favour could be better and more
cheaply waged in a paper under his entire control. His plan was not to
create a journal, but to revive one. In 1835 the _Chronique de Paris_,
formerly called the _Globe_, was on its last legs, albeit it had been
ably edited by William Duckett; and the proprietor, Bethune the
publisher, was only too glad to listen to Balzac's overtures. By dint
of puffing the new enterprise, a company was formed with a nominal
capital of a hundred thousand francs; Duckett was paid out in bills
drawn on the receipts to accrue, since the novelist had no ready money
of his own; and a start was made under the new management. The staff
was a strong one. Jules Sandeau was dramatic critic; Emile Regnault
supplied the light literature; Gustave Planche was art critic;
Alphonse Karr wrote satirical articles; Theophile Gautier, Charles de
Bernard, and Raymond Brucker contributed fiction; and Balzac, together
with his functions of chief editor, gave the leading article.

In its reorganized form, the Review came out Sundays and Thursdays and
once a week Saturdays. The collaborators met at Werdet's house to
discuss and compare notes. Generally, they brought with them more
conversation than copy, and Balzac would begin to scold.

"How can I make up to-morrow's issue," he asked, "if each of you
arrives empty-handed?"

"Oh! being a great man and a genius," was the reply, "you have merely
to say: 'Let there be a Chronicle,' and there will be a Chronicle."

"But you know that I reserve to myself nothing except the article on
foreign policy."

"Yes, we all know," answered Karr, punning on the French word
_etrangere_, "that your policy is strange."

(Not finishing the word _etrangere_, he said only _etrange_.)

"_Ere_," shouted Balzac, adding the termination.

"_Ere_," Alphonse yelled back. "You reserve to yourself a policy which
is foreign to all governments present and past and future. And, as you
scold me, Mr. Editor, is your own article ready?"

"No, but it is here"--tapping his forehead--"I have only to write it.
In an hour it will be done."

"With the corrections?" queried Karr slily.

"Yes, with the corrections."

"Ah! well, prove that to us; and we'll all go on dry bread and water
until a statue is raised to you. I am hungry."

Although Balzac's colleagues had a real respect and admiration for his
talent, they chaffed him unmercifully for his vanity. One Saturday,
Alphonse Karr, as a joke, crowned him with flowers; and Balzac, in all
good faith, complacently accepted the honour. Around him, the laughter
broke out fast and furious; and, at length, he joined in with volleys
that shook the room, while his face waxed purple beneath his
explosions. In his _Guepes_, Alphonse Karr subsequently recalled this
improvized coronation of the novelist.

Edited and composed in such desultory fashion, the _Chronicle's_
prosperity was short-lived, in spite of the lustre it temporarily
acquired from Balzac's name, and the publication in it of some of his
fiction. Before long its financial position was so bad that the chief
editor, as a forlorn hope, tried to induce a young Russian nobleman,
who was an eager reader of his books, to enter the concern with a
large amount of fresh capital. To bait him, a magnificent dinner was
given in the Rue Cassini flat, amidst a display of all its tenant's
gold and silver plate, liberated from the pawnbroker's for the
occasion by a timely advance of two thousand francs from Werdet. The
feast was an entire success, and an appointment was fixed for the next
day at the Russian's hotel. Alas! when the envoy went, he received,
sandwiched in the guest's thanks for the royal entertainment of the
preceding evening, an announcement of the said guest's immediate
departure for Russia and the intimation that, as the nobleman was not
returning to Paris for some time, it would be impossible for him to
accept the offer of a sleeping-partnership in the Review. Three months
later the _Chronicle_ was resold to Bethune for a small sum; and the
publisher disposed of it to a third person, who, however, did not
succeed in keeping it alive. Balzac's loss by his experiment was about
twenty thousand francs.

And this loss was not the only disagreeable part of the business.
There were the bills signed to Duckett. They being protested in 1837,
Duckett sued the novelist and obtained judgment against him. At this
moment, Balzac, tracked by his creditors, had taken temporary refuge
with some friends, the Count Visconti and his English wife, who lived
in the Champs Elysees. Here he remained incognito. One day a man,
wearing the uniform of a transport company, called at the mansion and
informed the servant that he had brought six thousand francs for
Monsieur de Balzac. Suiting the action to his words, he dumped down on
to the floor a heavy bag that chinked as it struck the hall tiles.
"Monsieur de Balzac does not live here," was the servant's reply.
"Then is the master of the house in?" asked the man. "No, but the
mistress is." "Then tell her I have six thousand francs for Monsieur
de Balzac." The servant vanished and soon the lady of the mansion
appeared and offered to sign the receipt herself. To this the man
demurred. He must either see Monsieur de Balzac or must take the money
away again. There was a hurried confabulation between hostess and
guest, the upshot of which was that Balzac, falling into the snare,
came to the man, thinking that some generous friend had sent him the
money; and he was immediately served with an arrest-warrant for debt.
"I am caught," he cried; "but I will pillory Duckett for this. He
shall go down to posterity with infamy attached to his name." To get
the novelist out of the mess, Madame Visconti paid the debt for which
the warrant had been made out; and thus spared him, for the nonce, a
sojourn in the debtors' prison at Clichy.

Balzac's lawsuit with the _Revue de Paris_, the details of which are
given in the Viscount de Lovenjoul's _Last Chapter of the History of
Balzac's Works_, was brought about by the novelist's quarrel, in 1835,
with Buloz, the editor, because the latter, while the _Lily in the
Valley_ was being printed, communicated proofs of it to the _Revue
Francaise_ of Saint Petersburg. Balzac at once severed his connection
with the _Revue de Paris_, and took away his novel, on the ground that
the editor was not justified in selling it abroad without his--the
author's--permission, and especially was not justified in
communicating premature proofs, which, owing to his practice of
modifying the text while correcting it, could in no way represent his
finished work. After an attempt made by mutual friends to settle the
matter amicably, Buloz entered an action against Balzac to compel him
to continue the publication of the _Lily in the Valley_ in the _Revue
de Paris_. Three parts had been given. It was the end which the Review
demanded, and ten thousand francs damages for the delay. The case was
heard in May 1836, after months of bitter controversy, in which both
sides had their ardent supporters. The most was made by the
plaintiff's barrister of Balzac's previous disputes with other
editors, who had had to complain of his tardiness in completing
articles or stories. A letter was also put in, signed by Alexandre
Dumas, Eugene Sue, Frederic Soulie, and others, stating that it was
usual for authors to allow the communication of their productions to
the _Revue Francaise_ of Saint Petersburg, with a view to combating
Belgian and German piracies. And Jules Janin, who during the Thirties
was a zealous opponent of Balzac, cast his weight of evidence in
favour of the Review. The _Seraphita_ episode was dragged in, too,
with testimony to show that, even after Werdet had bought the right to
publish the novel in book form, Balzac again negotiated for its
continuation as a serial in the Review, and had, moreover, supplied
some other chapters, yet without coming to the end. In fact, the suit
was a complicated one to decide. Ultimately, the Court gave its
verdict against Balzac on the chief point at issue. He lost the
conclusion of the _Lily in the Valley_, and recovered only a small sum
of money that had been advanced to the novelist for copy not supplied,
and besides had to pay all the expenses of his action.

What galled Balzac particularly during the speeches of the plaintiff's
barrister, was to hear the style of his novel pulled to pieces in
language of mingled sarcasm and clever criticism that delighted the
audience and the papers. After the termination of the affair, he
thoroughly overhauled the parts of the book which had been so severely
handled, made large alterations, and, since fun had also been poked at
his pretensions to noble ancestry, he prefixed a curious introduction
to the edition that Werdet was about to publish. In the course of it
he declared: "If some persons, deceived by caricatures, false
portraits, penny-a-liners, and lies, credit me with a colossal
fortune, palaces, and above all, with frequent favours from women
. . . I here declare to them that I am a poor artist, absorbed in art,
working at a long history of society, which will be either good or
bad, but at which I work by necessity, without shame, just as Rossini
has made operas or Du Ryer translations and volumes; that I live very
much alone, that I have a few firm friends; that my name is on my
birth-certificate, etc., just as that of Monsieur de Fitz-James is on
his; that, if it is of old Gaulish stock, this is not my fault; but
that de Balzac is my patronymic, an advantage which many aristocratic
families have not who called themselves Odet before they were called
Chatillon, Duplessis, and who are, none the less, great families."

To the foregoing he joined a long account of his birth and his
presumed title to ancient lineage, and inserted into the bargain a
panegyric of Werdet as a man of activity, intelligence, and probity,
with whom his relations would be unbroken, since by this same
declaration he constituted him henceforward his sole publisher. That
was in July 1836. Scarcely six months after, when Werdet was
threatened with a bankruptcy which was likely to involve him--a
repetition in minor degree of Scott's entanglement with Constable--he
veered completely round, called Werdet a rotten plank, an empty head,
an obstinate mule, and other names more expressive than polite,
affirmed that he had always considered him a bit of a fool, and
dropped all further connection with him. Werdet, it is true, was no
business genius, but he was really attached to Balzac, and had yielded
to the great man's importunities as long as his purse would support
the strain.

The _Lily in the Valley_ was published by Werdet in the week after the
lawsuit was finished, and was well received by the public. Its
success, however, was more considerable abroad than in France. The
author complained of the smallness of the numbers sold in France
compared with those of foreign editions; but Werdet's figures indicate
a very fair sale, and are larger than those given by Balzac, who in
this instance at least was not so accurate as his publisher.

The novel deals with the struggle in the heart of a Madame de
Mortsauf, torn between her affection for Felix de Vandenesse and her
determination to remain outwardly faithful in conduct towards her
husband. With his invariable enthusiasm for subjects that pleased him
in his own work, Balzac believed and affirmed that this secret combat
waged in a valley of the Indre was as important as the most famous
military battle ever fought. Possibly the amount of early personal
biography in the book--yet a good deal romanced--led him to this
conviction. Possibly, too, the richness with which he adorned its
style helped to foster the opinion he held, which critics have not
ratified. Not even Lamartine, his eulogist, found much to say in
favour of the story. To the first part alone he gave his approval,
likening it to the Song of Solomon. The rest he thought vulgar, and
hinted that the heroine degenerates into a sort of hermaphrodite
character. Brunetiere's estimate, given in a parenthesis, is not much
more favourable. And Taine, when dipping into the book for examples of
Balzac's style, neutralizes his praise of one portion by his
depreciation of another.

Apart from the question of the novel's style, which is turgid because
the lyric note intrudes, the most legitimate objection to the book is
the sentimentalism which pervades it throughout, and palls on the
reader before he reaches the conclusion. Like Richardson in his
_Pamela_, but far to a greater extent than Richardson, Balzac has
placed the struggle on the physical plane. Madame de Mortsauf permits
de Vandenesse to make love to her, to caress her, and she accords him
everything with the single exception of that which would confer on her
husband the right to divorce her. The interest of the book therefore
is largely a material one. The moral issue is thrown into the
background. And de Vandenesse, moreover, is not a person that inspires
us with respect or even pity. He consoles himself with Lady Dudley,
while swearing high allegiance to his Henriette.

In sooth, the swain's position resembled the novelist's own. Honore
was also inditing oaths of fidelity to his "dear star," his
"earth-angel" in far-away Russia, while worshipping at shrines more
accessible. Lady Dudley may well have been, for all his denial, the
Countess Visconti, of whom Madame Hanska was jealous and on good
grounds, or else the Duchess de Castries, to whom he said that, in
writing the book, he had caught himself shedding tears. His
reminiscences of Madame de Berny aided him in composing the figure of
the heroine, whose death-bed scene was soon to become sober reality.
Madame de Berny died in July, having had a last pleasure in perusing
the story that immortalized her affection for the novelist. Balzac had
been intending to pay her a farewell visit; but he was then in the
midst of embarrassments of all kinds, and the journey was postponed
until it was too late.

At this moment, the affair of the _Chronique_ was being liquidated;
and then Madame Bechet, his late publisher, was dunning him for some
arrears of copy that he owed her. His brother Henry, too, going from
bad to worse, was in a position that necessitated Madame de Balzac's
giving up the remnants of her capital; and, to crown all, a son of
Laurence, the dead sister, quitting an unhappy home, was living as a
vagabond on the streets of Paris, whence he had to be rescued. Since,
to these worries and griefs, there was added certain disquieting news
from Eve, whose aunt, from reading some of his books, supposed him to
be a gambler and debauchee and was trying to turn her niece against
him, it was not astonishing that he should have been completely
unnerved. While at Sache, where he had come to stay with some friends,
the de Margonnes, in order to terminate the work he was obliged to do
for Madame Bechet, he had an attack of apoplexy; and, on recovering
from it, was glad to seize an opportunity offered him of a journey to
Italy to escape for a while from the scene of his toiling and moiling
and to have a radical change. His good genius on this occasion was the
Count Visconti, who, having some legal business of a litigious nature
to settle at Turin and not being able to attend to it personally,
asked him to go instead. On this trip he was accompanied by Madame
Marbouty, a woman of letters, better known under her pseudonym, Claire
Brunne, whose acquaintance he had made some years back at Angouleme.
Madame Marbouty's exterior had much in common with that of George
Sand, and the resemblance between the two women gave rise to the
report that it was the authoress of _Indiana_ who accompanied Balzac
to Italy at this date.

The journey back to Paris was effected through Switzerland, which
enabled him to see Geneva again, though under less agreeable auspices
than those of 1833. His prospects on returning to France were no
better than when he left. Indeed, they were worse, for Werdet's bad
circumstances forced him to pledge himself in several quarters in
order to raise some ready money for his immediate wants; and, being
pledged, he was bound to produce at high pressure. His _Old Maid_,
which he sold to the _Presse_ for eight thousand francs, was written
in three nights, _Facino Cane_, in one night, and the _Secret of the
Ruggieri_, in one night also. Rossini, happening to meet him during
this spell of drudgery, condoled with him and remarked that he himself
had gone through the mill.

"But when I did it," he added, "I was dead after a fortnight, and it
took me another fifteen days to revive."

"Well!" replied Balzac, "I have only the coffin in view as a rest; yet
work is a fine shroud."

Casting round for a means to free himself from a position that had
grown intolerable, he was induced to lend himself to a scheme
suggested by Chateaubriand's example. Chateaubriand, having fallen
into financial straits, sold his pen to a syndicate, in return for an
annual stipend. Balzac did something of the same kind. Victor Bohain,
who played an intermediary role in the affair, discovered
Chateaubriand's capitalist; and a company was formed which paid the
novelist fifty thousand francs down to relieve his most pressing
needs; and further engaged to allow him fifteen hundred francs a month
for the first year, three thousand francs a month for the second year,
and, afterwards, four thousand francs a month up to the fifteenth
year, when the agreement was to come to an end. In return for these
sums, Balzac promised to furnish a fixed number of volumes per year,
half profits in which were to be his, after all publishing expenses
were paid. The arrangement was signed on the 19th of November 1836;
and this date, in so far as the general quality of his writing is
concerned, marks a beginning of decadence. Thenceforward his fiction,
published mostly in political dailies first of all--the _Presse_, the
_Constitutionnel_, the _Siecle_, the _Debats_, the _Messager_--had to
be composed hurriedly and without the corrections which were the _sine
qua non_ of Balzac's excellence; and consequently it contained many
imperfections inherent in such kinds of literary work. There was irony
in the situation. Hitherto, he had despised the daily press and the
journalists that supplied it with matter, chiefly, it must be
confessed, because of the slatings he had received through these
organs of information; and he had revenged himself for the attacks by
pillorying the journalistic profession in his novels. Lousteau, Finot,
Blondet, and other members of the press appear in his pages as
unprincipled men, only too willing to sell themselves to the highest
bidder. Of course, such retaliation carried with it injustice; and men
of high principle, like Jules Janin, resented this prejudiced
condemnation of a class for no better reason than its having black
sheep, which existed in every circle, trade and profession. Now, Janin
had an easy task in convicting of inconsistency an accuser who, since
it suited his purpose, was fain to belong to the press brotherhood.
The real derogation, however, was not in Balzac's turning
_feuilletoniste_, but in his slipping into the manner and his adopting
the artifices that he blamed so unsparingly in Eugene Sue and
Alexandre Dumas. Not to speak of his falling off in accurate
observation, he inserted more and more padding in his fiction; the
aridly didactic encroached upon the artist's creation; and, to make
the arid portions go down with his readers, he spiced them with
exciting episodes and all the stage tricks common in the serial story.
To tell the truth, he had never quite shaken off his juvenile manner
of the _Heiress of Birague_, which reasserted itself so much the more
easily as his essentially vulgar temperament was ready to crop out on
the slightest encouragement afforded to it. During his best period he
had a mentor at his elbow in Charles Lemesle, who always read what he
wrote before it went to the printer; and Balzac, though vain, was too
intelligent not to avail himself of this friend's pruning. Under the
new _regime_ the revising was impossible, and, as a result, that
difficult perfection which he had so perseveringly sought was destined
to be attained but rarely in the rest of his achievement.

                            CHAPTER VIII

               LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1837, 1838

By the agreement which farmed out Balzac's future production, Werdet
was implicitly sacrificed. The final breach did not occur until the
middle of 1837, but no fresh book was given him after the November of
1836. There was one unpublished manuscript that he then had in his
possession--the first part of _Lost Illusions_, and this appeared in
the following spring. The novelist was intending at the time to bring
out a new edition of the _Country Doctor_, of which Werdet held the
rights. His idea was to present it for the Montyon prize of the
Academy, and, if successful, to devote the money to raising a statue
at Chinon in memory of Rabelais. Lemesle was one Sunday at Werdet's
place, engaged in revising the book, when Balzac arrived in an excited
state of mind, and sprang on the astonished publisher the demand that
their respective positions should be legally specified in writing, and
a clean sweep made which should leave him perfectly free. Previously
their business relations had been carried on by verbal understandings,
which, as a matter of fact, did not bind the novelist overmuch, since
he never sold either a first or a subsequent edition of any of his
novels for more than a comparatively short period--usually a year--at
the end of which he recovered his entire liberty, whether the edition
were exhausted or not. Werdet acquiesced, though grievously offended
and disappointed; but asked that certain accounts outstanding from the
year before should be settled on the same occasion. The promise was
given, and everything was put straight, except the reimbursement of
the money Werdet had advanced. Instead of acquitting this debt, the
ingenious author endeavoured to squeeze a little more cash out of his
long-suffering publisher. For once, Werdet lost his temper, and sent
the great man off with a flea in his ear. It would almost look as if
Balzac had provoked the quarrel, since, on the very evening after the
tiff, he returned to Werdet's and offered to redeem all existing
copyrights that the publisher held for the price of sixty-three
thousand francs. His proposal was accepted, and Bethune, who was
acting on behalf of the novelist's syndicate, paid over the amount.

The transaction was the best possible for Werdet, who was too poor to
continue playing Maecenas to his Horace. Against such incurable
improvidence, and such little regard for strict equity in money
dealings, nothing but the impersonality of a syndicate could stand.
Nevertheless, one cannot help regretting that the intercourse of the
two men should have ceased. Having so great a personal regard for his
hero, and having besides his share of the observant faculty, Werdet,
could have supplied us with biographical details of the last twelve
years of the novelist's life much more interesting than those of
Gozlan, Gautier, and Lemer. His naive narrations, which are well
composed and have humour, carry with them a conviction of their
sincerity, whatever the errors of chronology.

Werdet's prosperity finished with Balzac as it had commenced with him.
He was ultimately compelled to file his petition in bankruptcy, and,
abandoning business on his own account, to take up travelling for
other firms. His creditors were not tender towards the novelist, and
used to the utmost the lien they had upon the few unterminated
engagements that involved him in the liquidation. A letter addressed
by Balzac to the Marquis de Belloy, his former secretary, testifies to
the annoyance the creditors caused him:--

"MY DEAR CARDINAL" (he wrote, calling the Marquis by a nickname),
--"Your old Mar" (a familiar appellation applied to Balzac by his
friends) "would like to know if you are at Poissy, as it is
possible he may come and request you to hide him. There is a
warrant out against him on Werdet's account, and his counsellors
recommend him to take flight, seeing that the conflict between him
and the officers of the Commercial Tribunal is begun. If you are
still at Poissy, a room, concealment, bread and water, together
with salad, and a pound of mutton, a bottle of ink, and a bed,
such are the needs of him who is condemned to the hardest of hard
literary labour, and who is yours.


The last occasion on which Werdet forgathered with his favourite
author was at his house in the Rue de Seine, where, in February 1837,
he gave a dinner. Some young members of the fair sex were present; and
Balzac, whether to produce a greater impression upon these or because
he had been making some society calls, arrived nearly an hour late.
Nothing very special occurred during the evening, but the _soiree_ had
its conclusion disturbed by a thunderbolt. On rising to depart, Balzac
sought his wonderful stick--an inseparable companion--which was
nowhere to be found. Every nook was explored without result. The great
man yielded to a veritable fit of despair. A suspicion crossed his
mind: "Enough of this trick, gentlemen," he cried to the male guests.
"For Heaven's sake, restore me my stick. I implore you!" and he tore
at his long hair in vexation. But the guests assured him they were as
ignorant as himself of the stick's whereabouts. Werdet then said he
would take a cab and inquire at all the places the novelist had
visited in the course of the afternoon. Two hours later he came back,
announcing that his jaunt had been useless. At this news, Balzac
fainted outright. The loss of his talisman was overwhelming. When he
was brought round again, Werdet suggested what ought to have been
suggested in the first instance, namely, that they should proceed to
the livery stables and see whether the stick had been left in the
carriage which the novelist had used while on his peregrinations. The
proposal was jumped at. He went thither, accompanied by Werdet, and
had the ineffable joy of discovering the missing bauble quietly
reposing in a corner of the vehicle.

During the year of 1836, he had had the unique experience of
corresponding for some months continuously with an unknown lady, who
called herself Louise, and to whom, in remembrance of their epistolary
intercourse, he dedicated his short tale _Facino Cane_. Whether he
really had the opportunity of learning who she was--as he asserted
--and refrained from availing himself of it through deference to her
wishes, is doubtful. Some, if not all, of the letters he received from
"Louise" were written in English; and at least one water-colour
painting was sent him which had been executed by the lady's own hand.
From the tone of his own epistles, which grew warmer onwards till the
end, one may conjecture that the dame was a second Madame Hanska,
smitten with the novelist's person through reading his works; and
Balzac, whose heart was made of inflammable stuff and whose brain was
always castle-building, indulged for a time the hope of meeting with
another ideal princess to espouse. Like the Orientals, he was quite
capable of nourishing sentiments of devotion towards as many beautiful
and fortuned women as showed themselves amenable. The sudden cessation
of Louise's letters, towards the end of 1836, freed him from the risk
of Eve's learning of these divided attentions; and it may be presumed
that the latter divinity was kept in ignorance of his worshipping

_Facino Cane_ was a blind old violinist who encountered Balzac, if
there is any truth in the story, one evening at a restaurant where he
was playing for the members of a wedding-party. Something in the old
man's dignified aspect moved the novelist deeply, and, accosting him,
Balzac drew forth gradually the narration of his life. Facino was, in
reality, a Venetian nobleman, at present reduced to dire poverty and
obliged to dwell in the Hospice of the Quinze-Vingts.[*] In his youth
he had been imprisoned within the Doge's Palace, and, while there, had
accidentally come upon the secret treasures it contained. After his
escape from confinement, his dream had been to meet with some one who
would help him to gain possession of this wealth, without taking
advantage of his blindness. And now he confided his plan to Balzac
with undiminished faith in the possibility of its accomplishment. The
pathos of the old man's situation is created with sober touches. Among
the novelist's minor tales, this is one of the simplest and best.

  [*] Hospital founded by Saint Louis for three hundred noblemen whose
      sight had been destroyed by the Saracens.

In his reminiscences, Theophile Gautier mentions, apropos of _Facino
Cane_, that Balzac himself was persuaded he knew the exact spot, near
the Pointe-a-Pitre, where Toussaint Louverture, the black dictator of
Santo Domingo, had his booty buried by negroes of that island, whom he
then shot. To Sandeau and Gautier the novelist explained, with such
eloquence and precision, his scheme for obtaining the interred wealth
that they were wrought up to the point of declaring themselves ready
to set out, armed with pick-axe and spade, and to put into action
Edgar Allen Poe's yarn of the _Gold Bug_. When money was the theme,
Balzac's tongue was infinitely persuasive.

One is tempted to wonder whether his returning to Italy in the spring
of 1837, and his visit to Venice, after Florence and Milan, were not
an indirect consequence of his _Facino Cane_ story. It is certain that
he regarded the ancient land of the Caesars as a possible El Dorado;
and, curiously enough, he came back this time, if not with Sindbad's
diamonds, yet with some prospect of becoming a Silver King. Throughout
the remainder of the twelvemonth, a plan, connected with this
prospect, was simmering in his head, a plan which, we shall see, was
less chimerical than most of those that he concocted.

While he was at Milan, the Italian sculptor Puttinati modelled his
bust, which pleased him so much that he gave him a order for a group
representing _Seraphita_ showing the path heavenward to Wilfrid and
Minna. At Venice, he began _Massimilla Doni_, one of his philosophic
novels, in which the love episode is interwoven with mysticism and
music, and Rossini's _Mose_ is analysed with skill. His best
production of the year was _Cesar Birotteau_. The subject he had borne
in his mind for a long while, but had feared to start on it on account
of the difficulty of treating it imaginatively. At last, tempted by an
offer of twenty thousand francs if he would complete it by a fixed
date, he sat down to the task and wrote the novel in three weeks.

The _Grandeur_ (or _Rise_) _and Fall of Cesar Birotteau_, to give the
book its fuller title, has neither plot nor progress of love-passion.
Its value--which is great--is almost entirely dependent on a number of
little things that make up an imposing whole. The subject is a
commonplace one. Birotteau, who is a dealer in perfumes, and has
invented a Sultana cosmetic and a Carminative Water, has reached a
position of influence and substance. Urged by his wife's desire to
shine in society, he allows himself to be inveigled into an
expenditure that compromises his fortune and reduces him to
insolvency. Although retaining the esteem of his fellow-citizens, who
are convinced of his integrity, Cesar is stricken to the heart, less
by the loss of his money than by his failure to meet his engagements.
In vain, his wife and daughter hire themselves out in order to aid in
remedying the disaster for which they are largely responsible. In
vain, friends rally round him, until, little by little, the debts are
paid, the perfumer is rehabilitated, and is honoured even by the King.
On the very evening when, in the society of his family and friends and
his daughter's betrothed, he regains the feeling of independence and
freedom, death overtakes him. Joy succeeding to the strain is too much
for him.

In the background of the novel is a tableau of the Restoration epoch
which is admirable; and the intricacies of finance and law, which form
so considerable a part of the story, are handled with an ease and
fancy that no other writer of fiction has quite equalled. We have a
romance of ledgers and day-books, in a business atmosphere that
amazingly well reveals the bent and moral worth of the various
characters. Cesarine, Villerault, Popinot have traits which one smiles
to recognize. And Birotteau's development both of qualities and
foibles is free from caricature, yet pleases much.

As was the case with _Eugenie Grandet_, Balzac does not seem to have
cared for this masterpiece. The rapidity with which he composed it,
and the fatigue he had undergone, caused him to regard it with some
irritation. He did not realize that it was all elaborated in his brain
before he put in on paper. Probably also he spoke of it under the
disappointment he experienced from his continued failures in
play-writing. Twice, during the twelvemonth, he tackled pieces which
he described to Madame Hanska. One of them, the _Premiere Demoiselle_,
refashioned as the _School for Husbands and Wives_, treated the
unsavoury theme of an adulterous husband who keeps his mistress in his
own house; and the other, _Joseph Prudhomme_, much better in
conception, dealt with the not uncommon incident of a girl's making a
respectable marriage after a first betrayal, and her bringing up in
secret the child born out of wedlock. Certain situations arising from
the plot were both original and affecting. But in neither undertaking
did he manage to go on to the end. Heine, whom he consulted in his
difficulties, advised him to abandon further efforts in writing for
the stage. "You had better remain in your galleys," he said. "Those
who are used to Brest cannot accustom themselves to Toulon."

The advice was not palatable to a man of his temperament. He wanted
all domains to open before him; and poured out his soul in
lamentations, even while exhausting himself in fresh attempts. Now
that Madame de Berny was dead, his Eve was the chief recipient of
these jeremiads. "Are you not tired of hearing me vary my song in all
moods?" he asked her. "Does not this unceasing egotism of a man
struggling in a narrow circle bore you? Tell me, for, by your letter,
you appear to me inclined to throw me over as a sorry pauper that
knows only his _paternoster_, and always says the same thing."

To him, as to ambitious men in every century, reflection came now and
again, whispering what folly it was to spend life in the sole pursuit
of glory. Just now the whisperings must have been more insistent, for
he had thoughts of going to live in some sylvan retreat on the banks
of the Cher or the Loire, right away from Paris. A visit to Sache,
after an illness, afforded him the excuse for searching; and, as he
still proposed to write--for his pleasure,--it was congruent he should
meditate a sort of Heloise and Abelard idyll--two lovers drawn to the
cloister, and telling in epistles to each other the history of their

  [*] This novel was never written, or at least completed. The
      _Sister Marie des Anges_, so often spoken of in the
      novelist's correspondence, may have been the one here
      alluded to.

As a preliminary step towards carrying his determination into
execution, he dismissed his servants, with the exception of Auguste,
finally got rid of his lease in the Rue Cassini, whence he had removed
his furniture in the preceding year; and then, feeling still a
sneaking kindness for the city in which he had triumphed, he
compromised by retreating to Sevres, there to study the ways and means
of dwelling secure from pestering military summonses addressed to
Monsieur de Balzac, _alias_ Madame Widow Brunet, Man of Letters,
Chasseur in the First Legion, and also, if not secure from, at least
not so accessible to the calls of dunning creditors. The flat in the
Rue de Chaillot, however, was retained till the year 1839; and, from
time to time, he made short stays in it. But, in case any of his
friends wished to see him during these sojourns, they needed to know
the pass-words, which were not infrequently changed. On arriving at
the outside door, the visitor must announce, for instance, that the
seasons of plums had arrived. Then, if he could further announce that
he was bringing lace from Belgium, he would be permitted to enter.
But, before it was lawful for him to cross the threshold of the
novelist's sanctum, he must be prepared to state that Madame Bertrand
was in good health.

At Sevres, Balzac soon hit upon a site that pleased his fancy. It was
a plot of land on a steep slope, about forty perches in area.[*] This
he bought by using his credit, and forthwith busied himself with
builder's estimates, since he intended to have his hermitage
inhabitable some time in the following spring.

  [*] More land was subsequently bought.

Meanwhile his project of retiring--to a distance of twenty minutes
--from Paris society did not hinder him from occasionally putting in an
appearance at one or another of the aristocratic houses where he had
his entries, among them that of Madame de Castries, whom he continued
to see, although she confined her worship to his talent, and merely
patronized the man. Either from sheer mischievousness, or to revenge
herself for some real or fancied slight--perhaps, indeed, to mock at
his talk of refinement--she perpetrated upon him the practical joke of
getting her Irish governess, a Miss Patrickson, to send him notes in
English, signed Lady Neville, in one of which an appointment was made
to meet him at the Opera. He went to the rendezvous; but no one was
there waiting for him. This drew from him a sharp letter of reproach;
and Miss Patrickson, who was, in her private life, a humble admirer of
the great man, and had on one or two occasions translated some of his
fiction, was so smitten with remorse for her trick that she revealed
to him the name of the one who had invented it.

Les Jardies, where Balzac had decided to take up his residence, was
built on the further side of the hill of Saint Cloud, facing the
south, and with Ville d'Avray to the west. In front, there was the
rising ground of the forest of Versailles; to the east, the outlook
was down on Sevres and, beyond it, on Paris, with the city's smoky
atmosphere fringing the uplands of Meudon and Bellevue. In the
direction of these last places, a glimpse was obtainable of the plains
of Montrouge and the road leading away to Tours. In summer weather
especially, the landscape here presented charming contrasts, being a
wealth of woodland and verdure in a miniature Switzerland.

The architecture of the would-be hermit's house was rather primitive.
Three rooms, one over another, composed the main building. The ground
floor served as drawing-room; above it was the anchoret's bedroom; and
the top story was used as a study. Sixty feet away, rose a second
building containing kitchens, stables, and servants' rooms. The whole
stood in its own grounds, fenced in with walls, half of which, being
situated on the steepest portion of the declivity, persisted in
tumbling. One curious feature of the house was its outside staircase.
Wags pretended that the owner had forgotten it in his plans, and been
obliged to add it as an after-thought. The truth was that an inside
staircase would have compelled him to build with less simplicity.
"Since the staircase wants to be master in my dwelling, I will turn it
out of doors," he said. And this was done, the said staircase being a
sort of broad ladder.

Had the novelist stayed long enough in this rural retreat, he would
have beautified the interior in accordance with his fanciful tastes.
Friends who were invited out there were astonished to see scrawled in
chalk on the walls:

"Here, a covering of Paros marble; here, a ceiling painted by Eugene
Delacroix; here, a mosaic flooring formed of rare wood from the isles;
here, a chimney-piece in cipolin marble."

Jokingly, Leon Gozlan one day himself inscribed on a convenient space:

"Here, a picture by Raphael, of priceless value, such as was never yet

Of course, in the early days of his rusticating, he was enthusiastic
about his Italian-looking brick cottage, with its covered platform or
gallery running round the first floor and supported on slender
pillars, Its value, he was sure, would double when he had created the
garden of Eden round about it, planted with poplars, birches, vines,
evergreens, magnolias and sweet peas. His humour-barometer went up to
"set fair." For the moment, no pessimism clouded his sky. Here he
would abide, here he would work or muse until the long-expected and at
last approaching fortune should deign to enter beneath his roof; and
then--well then, he believed he should have had enough of ambition's
spoils, and should be content under the shadow of his vine, and watch
from afar--just twenty minutes or half-an-hour at most--the march of
events without seeking to mingle in them.

The original cost of the homestead was about forty thousand francs.
Other expenses were incurred before the whole of the building and
installation was completed, which made the total cost very
considerably larger; and, as hardly any of the amount had been paid
cash down, Balzac's liabilities, which were heavy enough without this
extra charge, very soon introduced a disturbing element into his
Arcadian existence. Within the twelvemonth, a distraint was levied
upon him for non-payment of moneys that were owing. Lemer, one of his
biographers, narrates that, paying a visit to Les Jardies at this
date, for the purpose of soliciting the novelist's collaboration in an
international album, he not only received a promise of help but an
invitation for himself and a companion to remain and dine off a leg of
mutton. As the two visitors declined, Balzac said: "Ah! you think,
perhaps, I am an ordinary host who invites his guests gratis. On the
contrary, I intend to make you pay for your meal. Aha! You shall aid
me afterwards to flit. To-morrow, the bailiffs are coming to seize my
furniture; and I don't mean them to find anything to carry away. So,
to-night, I am going to put everything in my gardener's cottage. The
gardener will transport all the bigger articles of furniture; but, for
the books, manuscripts, and valuables, I shall be glad to have the
co-operation of men of letters like you."

And the owner of Les Jardies was inconsolable when his visitors again
expressed their inability to comply with his request.

Himself a guest once more of the Carrauds at Frapesle in February
1838, he took advantage of his proximity to Nohant to go and see
George Sand; and spent two or three days with her. On his arrival, he
surprised her clad in her dressing-gown, and smoking a cigar after
dinner, beside the fire, in a huge, solitary room. Beneath the gown,
she had on some red trousers, which allowed her smart stockings and
yellow slippers to be seen. Since he used to meet her in the house of
the Rue Cassini, she had grown stout, and now had a double chin; but
her hair was still unbleached, and her bistre complexion preserved its
tinge as of old. Working hard, she went to bed at six in the morning,
and got up at noon. During the time he was at Nohant, Balzac adopted
her habits. They talked from five in the evening all through the night
and till five o'clock in the morning; and he learnt to know her more
truly in these hours of familiar converse than in the four years of
her liaison with Jules Sandeau. He summed her up as a tomboy, an
artist, a mind great, generous, devoted and chaste (this last term
would need explanation); her characteristic traits were those of a
man, not a woman. She had, so he opined, neither force of conception,
nor gift of constructing plots, nor faculty of reaching the true, nor
the art of the pathetic. The French language she used she did not
thoroughly know, but she had style. Of her glory she made little
account, and despised the public. Her fate was to be duped--and duped
she had been by Bocage, by de Lamennais, by Liszt, by Madame d'Agoult.
Together they discussed the future revolution in manners and morals,
and the influence their books might have in bringing it about. She
suggested to him some subjects that he might develop, and taught him
--up to then opposed to the weed--how to smoke latakia tobacco in a
hookah pipe. Imagining the hookah to be something Russian, he asked
Madame Hanska, to whom he related all this, to purchase him one,
telling her that he would have his wonderful stick-knob, with its
jewels, adapted to it, since he no longer bore the stick about with
him as a fetish.

From Frapesle he returned with the plan matured which he had been
preparing since his excursion to Italy. When at Genoa, in the previous
year, a merchant had talked to him of the existence of huge hills of
refuse metal left in the island of Sardinia by the Romans, who had
worked silver mines there. Aware how defective the Roman methods of
extraction were, Balzac thought there might be profit in treating this
slag by some process that would cause it to yield whatever precious
metal it contained; and he requested the merchant to procure him some
specimens of the slag, and to forward them to Paris for examination,
promising, if the tests were satisfactory, to include the Genoese in
the company which he was sure of being able to float for the
exploitation of the concern. Although the merchant did not forward the
specimens, Balzac consulted some specialists in Paris, Monsieur
Carraud amongst others, who all concurred in pronouncing the
enterprise feasible. Finally, the novelist decided to proceed to the
spot and investigate the matter personally. If success awaited him, he
would gain enough to pay off all his debts; and these he estimated to
be about two hundred thousand francs--a Falstaffian exaggeration, of
course, but the real figures were large. At present, he had no ready
money at all; and had to borrow from his mother, a cousin, and other
friends, in order to get his travelling expenses.

Experience proved that he was correct in his theory. The slag yielded
ten per cent of lead by a first treatment, and the lead ten per cent
of pure silver. Unfortunately, the Genoese merchant had availed
himself of Balzac's hint, and had sold the scheme to a Marseilles
firm, who were already applying for the monopoly to the rulers of the
island, when, in the spring if 1838,[*] he started on his journey
thither; and, before he could do anything, they had obtained the
concession. Once more, he had imprudently thrown out an idea, and lost
his claim on it.

  [*] Madame Surville wrongly places the date of the journey in 1833.

On his way south he saw much that was new and novel to him. Passing
through Corsica, he went over the house where the Emperor Napoleon was
born; and, according to his habit of seeking information, he ferreted
out several things that contradicted received history. The _Petit
Caporal's_ father he discovered to have been a fairly rich landowner,
not a sheriff's officer, as tradition said. Moreover, when the Emperor
arrived at Ajaccio from Egypt, instead of being acclaimed and having a
triumphal reception from his countrymen, he was outlawed, a price put
upon his head, and he escaped only through the devotion of a peasant
who hid him in the mountains.

Corsica he considered one of the finest places in the world, with
mountains like those of Switzerland, and needing only the latter
country's lakes. Completely undeveloped, and practically unexplored,
it was inhabited by people that cultivated the _dolce far niente_ to
the utmost. Its population of eight thousand vegetated rather than
lived, ignorant of everything beyond the simplest necessities of
existence. The women disliked strangers, and the men did nothing but
walk about all day, clad in their threadbare velvet coats, smoking to
beguile the hours.

His account of Sardinia is equally curious. It was a wilderness, he
says, with savannas of palm-trees, inhabited by savages. On horseback,
he traversed a virgin forest, obliged to bend over his horse's neck to
avoid the huge branches of holm-oaks and cork-trees, and laurels and
heather that were thirty feet high. In one canton he found people
naked, except for a waist-cloth, and living on coarse bread made from
acorns mixed with clay. Their mud hovels had no chimney, the fire
being lighted on the ground in the middle. There was no agriculture in
the island, and the only work done by the men was tending their flocks
of goats and other animals.

A tour through Genoa, Florence, and Milan made up the rest of this
interesting trip, which lasted from March till June. Disappointed in
the object for which he left home, it furnished him with leisure to
gather fresh subjects for his pen, and even to begin one--the _Diaries
of Two Young Wives_. What he wished to describe in this book was
stated in the following remarks to Madame Hanska: "I have never seen a
novel in which happy love, satisfied love, is depicted. Rousseau puts
too much rhetoric in his attempt, and Richardson too much preaching.
The poets have too many flourishes; the novelists are too much the
slaves of facts. Petrarch is too exclusively occupied with his images
of speech and his _concetti_; he sees the poetry more than the woman.
Pope has given perhaps too many regrets to Heloise; he wanted her to
be better than nature; and the better is an enemy to the good. In
fine, God, who created love with humanity, has alone understood it;
for none of his creatures has described, so as to please me, the
elegies, fantasies, and poems of this divine passion of which each
speaks and which so few have really known."

Did Balzac himself ever know it? By his own confession, never in his
youth. In the years of his adolescence there is no sign of such a
feeling having agitated his breast, where ambition reigned to the
exclusion of everything else. If, then, he thought of marriage, its
prosaic, advantageous side only appears to have entered into count;
and the liaison, which stood him in lieu of it, stirred, beyond sense,
nothing but sentiments of common gratitude. In riper age, his
attachment to Madame Hanska was a bizarre medley of flattered vanity,
artistic appreciation of beauty, and cold calculation. His epistles
reek with each and all of these; and his eternal complaints of
financial embarrassment not infrequently read like the expressions of
a pauper's whining.

That they ultimately wearied out the recipient of them is evident from
the remonstrances he drew upon himself. Eve blamed his lightness of
character, the facility with which he let himself be tempted, his
tendency to waste in travelling the funds he would have done more
wisely to employ in reducing his obligations or avoiding them. At such
moments he defended himself sharply, his tone savouring less of the
boudoir than the forum. Any and every excuse was pressed into service;
everything and everybody were responsible but himself. Even his mother
he accused of causing his indebtedness--his mother who had ruined
herself for him, and from whose remaining pittance he took in this
self-same year the wherewithal to go to Sardinia, although earning
many thousands of francs annually. The truth is that Balzac exploited
all the women that loved him, himself incapable of loving any one of
them with that entire devotion which, if roused, is unique in a man's
life; and, as he was ignorant of it, so he has never described it
adequately, faithfully. In one or two instances, he obtains a glimpse
of it--as Moses obtained a vision of the promised land--from afar;
when he tries to get nearer, he presents us with mere sensualism.

What Madame Hanska probably enjoyed most in his letters were the
_obiter dicta_ which he was never tired of pronouncing on his
contemporaries. Scribe, whose _Camaraderie_ he had been to see, he
summed up as a man who was conversant in his trade but had no
veritable art, who possessed talent but not the higher dramatic
genius, and who, moreover, was altogether lacking in style. Victor
Hugo's _Ruy Blas_ was to him an infamy in verse, and the rest of this
author's pieces miserable melodramas. Theophile Gautier's poetry was
decadent, his style sparkling with great wit; yet the man was wanting
in force of ideas. When, however, he added that Gautier would do
nothing that would last because he was engaged in journalism, he spoke
with all his hatred of a profession that refused him the honour he
deemed his due. Eugene Sue, also, he looked upon with jaundiced eyes,
as being a rival whose material success amazed him--a rival, indeed,
whom no less a critic than Sainte-Beuve erroneously declared to be his
equal. Sue, he informed Madame Hanska, was a man of narrow bourgeois
mind, perceiving merely certain insignificant details of the vulgar
evils of French contemporary society. To Balzac, besides, it was
blasphemy in Sue that he spoke slightingly of the century which to
this Legitimist was the grandest epoch in French history, slightingly
of Louis XIV., who, in the said Legitimist's opinion, was France's
premier king.

The latter half of 1838 was spent at Les Jardies, where the novelist
was busy either with his pen or in improving the interior and exterior
of the property. A scheme for cultivating a pine-apple orchard in his
grounds kept him from fretting over the sorry termination of his
Sardinian dream. He intended to set five thousand plants, and sell the
fruit at five francs a piece, instead of twenty which was the ordinary
price. After deducting the expenses of the undertaking, he reckoned he
could gain twenty thousand francs a year out of his pine-apples. If
they had been willing to grow in the open air, he would undoubtedly
have gone from theory into practice. But, as this difficulty presented
itself in the initial stage, he threw up incontinently his
market-gardening; and, since he was in urgent want of cash, he bethought
himself that, lying by him, he had a collection of Napoleon's sayings,
which he had been making for the past seven years, cutting them out of
books that dealt with the Emperor's life. The number was just then
five hundred. For a sum of five thousand francs he disposed of the
fruits of his industry to a retired hosier named Gandy, who published
them subsequently under the title _Maxims and Thoughts of Napoleon_,
the preface being also supplied by the novelist.

Besides _Gambara_, a second study of the musical art, containing a
lyrically expressed analysis of _Robert le Diable_, Balzac produced in
1837 and 1838 two longer works, the _Employees_ or the _Superior
Woman_ and the _Firm of Nucingen_. The former, with its criticism of
the bureaucratic system, depicted a state of things which has survived
several changes of _regime_ in France, in spite of much in it that
contradicts common sense. Rabourdin, the head clerk in a government
department, seeks to simplify the useless machinery that clogs rather
than advances the administration of the country. Having a practical
mind, he believes that a hundred functionaries at twelve thousand
francs a year would do the same work better than a thousand employees
at twelve hundred francs, and cost no more. As in other of the
novelist's books that preached reform, there are parts in this one
where the main thread of the story disappears like a river in a
canyon; and readers of the _Presse_, in which it came out as a serial,
railed at the author, called his contribution stupid, and threatened
to cease subscribing if it were not withdrawn. Yet, perused in volume
form, it reveals comedy in abundance. The portraits are limned with
master hand; and Celestine Rabourdin, the wife of the head clerk, has,
together with her grace and taste, the gift of amusing by the skill
with which she bamboozles the dissolute des Lupeaulx.

The _Firm of Nucingen_ is a scathing satire of the world of
stock-jobbing, where the money of the small investor is robbed with
impunity under cover of legality. Balzac's Jewish banker, who thrives
on others' ruin is a type that exists to-day, as then, without any
adequate effort made by law to suppress him. Less happy in indicating
a remedy than in branding an evil, the novelist naively held that
France had only to adopt his doctrine of absolute rule for the
suppression to become a fact. An unprejudiced reading of history
should have informed him that _regimes_ have always so far existed for
the benefit of their creators, and that, although constitutional
monarchies and republics have not yet found out a system capable of
defending the interests of all individual citizens, and perhaps never
will, absolute monarchy has shown to satiety its inability to defend
the interests of more than a few.

In perusing such a book as the foregoing, one is led to ask why it was
so inoperative on the life of the country. One reason perhaps is that
Balzac wrote from his head rather than from his heart. Whatever may
be, in other respects, the superiority of the Realistic over the
Romantic school of fiction, it is inferior in this, viz., that its
emotiveness tends to the negation, not to the affirmation, of action.
One cannot but recollect to the novelist's disadvantage, as applying
to this reference, the following statement he made to Madame Hanska
for another purpose: "I have never in my life confused the thoughts of
my heart with those of my head, and, excepting a few lines written
only for you to read (for instance, Madame de Chaulieu's jealous
letter), I have never expressed in my books anything of my heart. It
would have been the most infamous sacrilege." Unconsciously insincere,
like the majority of people in their justificative confessions, Balzac
often allowed his heart to intrude where it had no business to be
present. Nevertheless in his realist pictures he exercised himself
with all the cold delight of the anatomist, and with none of the warm
emotion that might have become communicative. This Brunetiere
implicitly admits when he says that most of Balzac's novels are, so to
speak, inquiries,--collections of documents.

The year 1838 closed questioningly for the hermit at Les Jardies. The
yoke of his treaty with the publishing syndicate was hardly twelve
moons old; and, however, it galled his neck to the extent of his
cogitating how he might pay off the earnest money he had received, and
be his own man again. And how was he to do it unless by increasing his
earnings? All his actual revenue was swallowed up by his debts and
habits of living. Ah! if only he could become a successful dramatic
author! Alone, he did not for the moment feel equal to trying. But
there was the possibility of collaboration. His late secretary, the
Marquis de Belloy, had recently seemed disposed to come and help him
again. But de Belloy desired some acknowledgment in coin; and Balzac,
on the contrary, judged that the honour of collaborating with a
novelist of his celebrity ought to be sufficient wage.

"My dear de Belloy," (he wrote back)--"Not a halfpenny; much work,
your six hours a day, in three shifts, that's what awaits you at
Sevres, if you are in the mind to come and realize things which are
not vague plans but definite arrangements, and the relative result of
which will depend on the brilliant wit that you have had the fatal
imprudence to cast to the winds. I am at the grindstone, and forswear
any one that will not tackle it. I have put my neck in the big collar
because the other one was irksome. Your devoted
Mar _ tyr
"  _ ine
"  _ ried man
"  _ about"

he concluded, punning on his nickname. Like his fellow mortals, he was
often most merry when he was most sad.

                             CHAPTER IX

               LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1839, 1840

Sometimes, notwithstanding his affected indifference, Balzac was
provoked by the pleasantries, the fleerings and floutings of satirists
and caricaturists, who, finding so many weak points in his armour--so
much that was ridiculous in his exaggerations, might be excused for
choosing him as a quarry for their wit, if not for the wit's
grossness. In 1839, the _Gazette des Ecoles_ inserted in one of its
numbers a lithograph exhibiting the novelist in the debtors' prison at
Clichy, clad in his monk's gown, and sitting at a table on which there
were bottles of wine and a champagne glass. In his left hand he
grasped a pipe that he was smoking, and his right arm was round a
young woman's waist. Beneath the lithograph was the inscription: "The
Reverend Father Dom Seraphitus, Mysticus Goriot, of the Regular Order
of Clichy Friars, taken in by all those he has himself taken in,
receives amidst his forced solitude the consolations of Sancta
Seraphita (_Scenes of the Hidden Life_, sequel to those of _Private

The last sentence being open to the interpretation that the subject of
the caricature was a dishonest man, a complaint was lodged with the
Procureur-General against the proprietor of the paper, and was
supported by the newly-constituted Men of Letters Society.

This Society, of which Balzac may be considered almost the founder,
came into existence during his journey to Italy in the preceding year.
On his return, he at once became a member; and, for a while, took a
prominent part in all its deliberations, being elected on the
committee, as also Victor Hugo, with whom thenceforward his relations
were, at least outwardly, most cordial. In the first lawsuit engaged
by the Society against the _Memorial de Rouen_ for the purpose of
defending the principle of literary property, he pleaded with all the
force of his talent, and composed a _Literary Code_ and some _Notes on
Literary Ownership_ containing not a few excellent suggestions. His,
too, was the initiative for the drawing up of a petition to the King,
with a view to the establishment of literary prizes to be bestowed on
well-deserving authors every ten years. The King, or rather his
advisers, rewarded this zeal but ill. At one of the committee meetings
Balzac was prevented from attending by a three days' confinement in a
dirty lock-up at Sevres, the cause being the old one which had partly
driven him from Paris--his unwillingness to go, as he humorously put
it, into the vineyards of his village, and, dressed in uniform, to see
that truants from Paris were not eating the grapes.

His rural retreat, indeed, was scarcely the safe asylum he had fondly
hoped it would be. Allusion has already been made to one defect--that
of the walls which, unlike those of Jericho, did not wait for the
trumpeters' blast before they fell down. They had an incurable
preference for tumbling down of themselves. Constructed on a subsoil
of sandy nature, their foundations yielded at every spell of rain. In
vain, architect after architect was applied to, and one mode or
another was recommended of relaying and buttressing. At the next
downpour, the servant would disturb his master with the news: "The
walls have toppled over again, sir, into the neighbours' gardens." And
the neighbours' gardens were planted with all kinds of edible
vegetables, which were crushed and pounded out of shape and
succulence, so that the owner of Les Jardies had claims for damage
continually sent in, until, in sheer despair, pledging his credit more
deeply, he purchased the land beyond, content, at length, that his
walls should be able to carry on their freaks in his own demesne,
without let or hindrance or objection from any one. It is said that
the land on which Les Jardies stood was so much on the incline that
Frederick Lemaitre, who once ventured over there, was compelled to
take a couple of stones and place them at each step under his feet in
order to approach the house. This was, no doubt, one of the actor's
jokes. It is probable that, in selecting the site, Balzac had in his
thought the facility the place would afford for reconnoitering when
any one came to his doors. The domestics were directed to keep a sharp
look-out; and, as soon as a figure was seen approaching that appeared
to be a creditor or of the State functionary tribe, the blinds of the
abode were lowered, the dog Turk was dungeoned, and every trace of
there being inhabitants vanished. After ringing uselessly, the
unwelcome visitor generally retreated under the impression that the
place was deserted. Then, when the last echo of his steps had died
away in the distance, the blinds were drawn up again, Turk, barking
with joy, was released from his captivity, and, like the castle of the
Sleeping Beauty, Les Jardies re-awoke to its normal activity. How ever
the tiers of planted beds perched one above the other--a modern
example of the hanging gardens of Babylon--were made to resist the
solicitations of the walls was a puzzle to Balzac's familiars. As for
trees, only one, a walnut, managed, by dint of perpetual acrobatism,
to conserve a stable equilibrium.

Most of the fiction published by Balzac in 1839--_A Provincial Great
Man in Paris_, the _Secrets of the Princess de Cadignan_, and the
_Village Cure_--was written with great verve, and may be classed in
the list of his important work. The second of the three just
mentioned, which is the shortest, gives us the story of a woman who,
after losing her fourteenth lover, succeeds in getting a fifteenth,
d'Arthez, to believe her virtuous and a sort of saint maligned by
envy. There is cleverness and to spare in the way the wiles of this
sly jade are related, and falsehood shown as a fine art in the service
of passional love. Balzac was thoroughly at home in treating such a
theme. Both d'Arthez and the Princess are prominent characters in
certain others of his books. The former appears in the _Provincial
Great Man in Paris_, which the author calls an audacious and
frightfully exact painting of the inner morals of the French capital.

It formed a sequel to a previously published short novel, the _Two
Poets_, and made part of a still larger series united under the title
_Lost Illusions_, the entire work being completed in the Forties with
_Splendour and Wretchedness of Courtezans_, this last portion having
also more than one section. The first two volumes of the _Lost
Illusions_ narrate the early experiences of Lucien de Rubempre, a
young poet of Angouleme, whose family, with some claims to gentility,
has fallen into narrow circumstances, the widowed mother being obliged
to earn money as a midwife, and the daughter as a laundry-woman. The
latter's marriage with David Sechard, a printer, alters the situation
of the family for the better; and Lucien is enabled to occupy himself
in the printing-house, while pursuing his poetical efforts. Though his
literary talent, for the time being, has no value in cash, it procures
him the friendship of Madame de Bargeton, a grand dame of Angouleme;
or, more properly speaking, it is the pretext and justification; for
Lucien really owes the lady's favour to his Apollo-like beauty.
Subsequently the poet, desirous of shining in Paris, quits his native
place with a sum of money scraped together by his sister and
brother-in-law, and goes to the capital, accompanied by Madame de
Bargeton. His liaison there with the lady is but of short duration.
In compensation, however, he becomes acquainted with a new literary
world, into which he enters with his meagre stock of poems, plus a
novel; and, after a number of adventures, turns journalist, a
metamorphosis that supplies the author with an opportunity to rage
furiously against all those of that ilk. The rest of the first part of
the _Lost Illusions_ is taken up with the amours of Lucien and an
actress named Coralie, who gives the poet her heart and person, yet he
sharing the second with the rich Camuzot. Coralie really loves Lucien,
even though playing afresh the role of Manon to his des Grieux; but
Lucien, less constant in affection, and finding how difficult it is to
secure wealth and position, abases his pen to vile uses, and would
gladly abandon his mistress for a profitable marriage. At length a
duel, in which he is dangerously wounded, lays him on a sick-bed, and
Coralie, who has sacrificed her situation on the stage to her love for
him, and is herself ill, rises to nurse him back to health, and dies
under the strain.

The further history of Lucien de Rubempre belongs to the _Splendour
and Wretchedness of Courtezans_. Both the beginning and the middle and
the end exhibit the strong and the weak points of the novelist. The
defects were dwelt upon in the _Revue de Paris_, soon after the book's
first part came out, in probably the longest critical article devoted
to any single one of Balzac's writings. By the irony of events, Jules
Janin, who was the author of it, praised, some dozen years later,
where now he cursed. There was exaggeration in his panegyric,
pronounced in 1850 under the impulse dictating generosity to the
memory of a dead foe; and there was exaggeration also in his polemic
indited under the smart of Balzac's gibes against the press. However,
the closing words of the article, save for the tone, can hardly be
gainsaid: "Never," asserted Janin, "has Monsieur de Balzac's talent
been more diffuse, never has his invention been more languishing,
never has his style been more incorrect, even if we include the days
when the illustrious novelist had nothing to fear from serious
criticism, days when he was too unknown to be noticed by the small
newspapers, days when Monsieur Honore de Balzac was as yet only
Monsieur Horace de Saint-Aubin."[*]

  [*] A _nom de guerre_ of Balzac in his apprenticeship days.

The preceding remarks might be applied in substance to the _Village
Cure_, which is one of the most incoherent of the novelist's
productions. "I have no time to finish the book; just the part that
concerns the Cure will be wanting," he explained to a correspondent. A
good deal else was lacking when it was published, the whole resembling
a patchwork of odds and ends of the crudest and least harmonious
design. Its central figure is Veronique, the wife of a Limoges banker
named Grasselin, and greatly her senior, to whom she has been married
by her parents before she has had the time to know anything of love
and its behests. Led by her goodness of heart to patronize a youth in
her husband's employ, she falls in love with him, as he with her, and,
through weakness, becomes his mistress. A murder, of which the young
Tascheron is accused, and, as the issue proves, quite justly,
interrupts this culpable idyll; and the assassin is condemned and
executed, without revealing the secret of his liaison, and without
Madame Grasselin's interfering to save him, otherwise than vaguely,
through the Cure of the district. None the less, she is aware that the
act has been committed indirectly through the young man's love for
her. Smitten with remorse, after the execution, she quits Limoges,
and, removing into the country, endeavours there by a life of charity
and devotion to religion to redeem her lapse from her wifely duty.
Then, finally, she dies in presence of the Archbishop, of Bianchon the
great doctor, and of the Procureur-General and other witnesses, whom
she has sent for to listen to her confession of moral complicity, the
death scene being narrated with much theatrical emphasis. On to this
melodramatic subject, wilfully rendered obscure, and really
incomprehensible, the novelist did his best to tack various
illustrations of Catholic repentance. He intended the book to be the
glorification of Catholicism, the refutation of Protestantism, the
embodiment of virtues private and social in people who bowed
themselves to his ideal of faith; the story he used simply as a thread
to connect these things together. Consequently, the action is
intermittent, being checked by irrelevant episodes, and by long
tirades on agriculture, sociology, and on other theories set forth by
the writer with much zeal but also with much acrimony. Catholicism is
asserted to be the only Church which has shown humanity its way of
safety; Tascheron's sister, who returns from America, is made to
relate that in a certain place where Catholic influence prevailed, the
Protestants were very soon chased away. To this religion of such
charming mansuetude whenever it has the upper hand, a Protestant
engineer named Gerard is converted by puerile arguments which in any
other domain than the theological would seem to be the divagations of
a lunatic; and the Cure Bonnet proclaims the necessity of passive
obedience by the masses to the Church's rule in matters civil as well
as ecclesiastic. To add spice to this farrago of absurdity, Balzac
spits out his hatred of the English, albeit he is compelled to
acknowledge their common sense. As he confessed to the Marquis de
Custine, it was his delight to abuse England, and its inhabitants,
whether men or women.

From what we know of his relations with Madame Visconti, we may,
however, suppose that his prejudice against the _perfide Albion_ was
not very deep-rooted. Indeed in his sentiments, as in his conduct,
consistency was conspicuous by its absence. We find this would-be
Legitimist, absolutist, ultra-orthodox worshipper of every old-time
privilege and doctrine, yet continually saying and doing things that
savour more of the democratic than the aristocratic. Towards the
disintegration of monarchic attachments, his fiction contributed at
least as much as that of George Sand; and even his comic resistance to
the compulsory service required of him in the National Guard showed
how little he was inclined to accept for himself those doctrines of
authority which he would fain impose on others.

Such incongruity between his theory and practice may have struck the
members of the Academie Francaise, who manifested their disapproval of
his candidature so unmistakably in 1839 that he withdrew in favour of
Victor Hugo. This forced concession perhaps tinged the portrait he
sketched of Hugo for Madame Hanska about the same time. "Victor Hugo,"
he said, "is an exceedingly witty man; he has as much wit as poetry in
him. His conversation is most delightful, with some resemblance to
that of Humboldt, but superior and allowing more dialogue. He is full
of bourgeois ideas. He execrates Racine, and treats him as a sorry
sort of man. On this point he is quite mad. His wife he has thrown
over for J----; and gives for such conduct reasons of signal meanness
(she bore him too many children; notice that J---- has borne him
none). In fine, there is more good than bad in him. Although the good
traits are an outcome of pride, and although in everything he is a
deeply calculating man, he is amiable on the whole, and, besides, is a
great poet. Much of his force, value, and quality he has lost by the
life he leads, having overdone his devotion to Venus."

Calling Hugo a great poet meant little in Balzac's mouth. Of poetry he
made but small account, probably because he succeeded so ill in it
himself. When poets appear in his stories, they are rarely estimable
characters. For Lucien de Rubempre he has only little sympathy. The
three specimens of Lucien's verse given in the novel he procured from
his acquaintances. The sonnet to Marguerite was composed by Madame de
Girardin; the one to Camellia, by Lassailly, and that to Tulipe, by
Theophile Gautier.

A movement of disinterested generosity displayed by him in the same
year was his fight, in conjunction with the artist Gavarni, on behalf
of Sebastien Benoit Peytel. Peytel was a notary living at Belley, who,
on the 20th of August 1839, was condemned to death by the Ain Assizes
on a charge of murdering his wife and man-servant. Balzac had known
him some time before in Paris, when both were on the staff of the
theatrical journal _Le Voleur_. The Court of Cassation was appealed to
in vain and the sentence was carried out at Bourg on the 28th of
October. As long as there seemed the slightest chance of preventing
the execution, Balzac continued his efforts to save the notary, though
blamed by his family and friends for his interference, which they set
down as quixotic. Presumably Peytel had committed the crime in a fit
of jealous passion, to punish his wife's adultery. A curious drawing
by Balzac exists in the first volume of his general correspondence, in
which Gavarni is represented mocking the headsman; and, accompanying
the design, is an autograph letter to Dutacq, managing director of the
_Siecle_, referring to an article on the question published by the
novelist in that paper.

The time and money he gave to this lost cause were all the more
meritorious as his own concerns demanded greater attention than ever.
A new departure had occurred in journalism. The appearance of certain
cheaper newspapers necessitated a change in the _roman feuilleton_;
and the _Presse_ and _Siecle_, which had inaugurated the reform, and
to both of which Balzac contributed fiction, laid down the principle
that they would print only short tales complete in three or four
numbers. This was hard on the novelist. For him to compress a story
within artificial limits determined by an editor was a task even more
difficult than to write a play.

It must have been the desire to escape from such servitude which
induced him to launch into another adventure with a journal of his
own. The _Revue Parisienne_, which he founded in July 1840, was not a
newspaper but a magazine, intended to supply the public, at a
reasonable price, with tales, novels, poetry, and articles of
criticism both literary and political, and to give the same public for
their money more than three times as much matter as they would get in
other reviews. The success of Alphonse Karr's monthly _Guepes_, which
was reported to be selling extraordinarily, encouraged him to believe
that his own fame, wider spread in 1839 than in 1836, and greater,
would suffice to assure a similar result. Author and editor combined,
he made the three numbers of his review, which were all he was able to
bring out, at any rate the equal of the older established monthlies.
In the three appeared his _Z. Marcas_, and _A Prince of Bohemia_, the
former a resuscitation of the _Louis Lambert_ species of hero
transformed into a politician. The _Russian Letters_, likewise
political, furnish a very exact and comprehensive sketch of the
general state of mind in Europe at the commencement of the Forties.
One article of criticism praised to the skies Stendhal's _Chartreuse
de Parme_ published in the previous year. A letter he had addressed to
Stendhal in April 1839 was more moderate in its tone, though
eulogistic with its well-turned compliment: "I make a fresco, and you
have made Italian statues." He blamed the writer in his letter for
situating the plot of the _Chartreuse_ in Parma. "Neither state or
town," he told him, "should have been named. It should have been left
to the imagination to discover the Prince of Modena and his minister.
Hoffman never failed to obey this law without exception in the rules
of the novel. If everything be left undefined as regards reality, then
everything becomes real." In short, notwithstanding parts that were
too long drawn out, he found the whole a fine piece of work; and, if a
modern Machiavelli were to write a novel, it would be, he said, the
_Chartreuse de Parme_.

Between the judicious language employed in the letter and the article
of the _Revue Parisienne_, the difference was so enormous that Beyle
himself remarked: "This astonishing notice, such as never one writer
had from another, I read, let me own it, amid bursts of laughter.
Whenever I came to fresh flights of eulogy--and I met with them in
every paragraph--I could not help thinking how my friends would look
when they saw them." "The reason for this augmented enthusiasm must be
sought," says Sainte-Beuve, "in the fact that Stendhal lent or gave
Balzac a sum of five thousand francs in the interval, and thus
received back a service of _amour propre_ for the service rendered in
cash. Since the proof of this gift or loan was found in Beyle's
papers, at his death, Sainte-Beuve's explanation seems well grounded;
and yet, for Balzac's credit, one could have wished his praise more

The cessation of the _Revue Parisienne_ forced its founder again to
enter the ranks of paid contributors to the daily press, and to comply
with its exigencies. Yet not entirely. His qualities and his defects
alike led him frequently to break from restraint and to follow his own
bent, maugre the complaints of readers, maugre editors' entreaties;
and, even in the final phase of his production, there were some
masterpieces supporting comparison with those of his best period.

At the end of the Thirties, he was again, like Bruce's spider,
renewing his efforts to climb on to the stage. He had three pieces in
hand, _La Gina_, _Richard the Sponge-Heart_, and his _School for
Husbands and Wives_, already mentioned. The last he had now managed to
carry through to its conclusion; and, in February 1839 there seemed to
be some prospect of his getting it played. Pereme, an influential
acquaintance of his in the theatrical world, had persuaded the
Renaissance theatre to accept it on approval, but was less fortunate
with regard to the fifteen thousand francs which Balzac had asked for
on account. The roles were discussed and partially distributed. Henry
Monnier and Frederick Lemaitre were to be chief actors on the men's
side, Mesdames Theodore and Albert on the women's. On the 25th of the
month, the author presented himself with his manuscript before the
reading committee; and, to his intense annoyance and dismay, was
compelled to put it back into his pocket. Either the committee feared
the expense which the representation would have entailed, or else the
elder Dumas, who was one of their most successful suppliers of dramas,
and had recently fallen out with them, must have made up the quarrel
just before Balzac's comedy was read. Whatever the reason was, the
rejection of the piece grievously affected the novelist, who, besides
losing a great deal of valuable time, had spent money to no purpose in
having his comedy printed.

It must be acknowledged that, in dramatic composition, whatever Balzac
had so far done by himself was done grudgingly, and, when possible,
shifted on to other shoulders. Gozlan relates that Lassailly, who went
to Les Jardies and lived there for some little time as a paid
secretary, would be rung up at night, when his employer usually
worked--rung up not once nor twice, but several times, to hear himself
asked whether, in his waking or his dreaming, he had hatched any good
plan; and poor Lassailly would have sorrowfully to avow that his brain
had conceived nothing of any importance in the way of drama.

How Harel, the managing director of the Porte-Saint-Martin, was
brought to give in the same twelve-month to the rejected of the
Renaissance a firm promise that anything he liked to do for that
theatre should be acted is an impenetrable mystery. But then Harel
himself was an oddity, and he may have felt bowels of compassion for a
_confrere_ so original. The story goes that once he tried to borrow
thirty thousand francs from King Louis-Philippe. "Ah! Monsieur Harel,"
replied the monarch, smiling, "I was thinking of applying to you for a
similar sum."

The subject that, after much cogitation, Balzac chose for Harel's
stage was _Vautrin_--the Vautrin of _Pere Goriot_ and the _Lost
Illusions_--back at his old trade of acting Providence to a presumably
fatherless and friendless young man, whose fortunes he sought to
advance by means similar to those that had brought Lucien de Rubempre
(we are anticipating a little) to so miserable an end. In the
concluding act of the play, the young man discovers that he has a
family, and a father who is a noble; and he marries the girl he loves.
But Vautrin is arrested, and, although he has been the instrument of
his protege's happiness, he is led off to prison once more. The theme,
as treated, was a somewhat hackneyed one, and was further spoiled by
ill-managed contrasts of the serious and comic, of which in any form
the French stage was not tolerant. Objection has been made on the same
score to the _School for Husbands and Wives_ at the Theatre Francais,
where it had been offered after its rejection by the Renaissance.

Balzac himself had no great opinion of his dramatic arrangement of
_Vautrin_. He had done wrong, he said, to put a romantic character on
the stage. After the play was finished, he re-wrote nearly the whole
of it; and, from what Theophile Gautier relates about the way in which
it was primitively composed, we can well believe that the revision was
necessary. When the treaty with Harel was signed, Balzac installed
himself in the small apartment which he rented at his tailor's, No.
104 Rue de Richelieu, and sent for Gautier. "I am going to read to
Harel to-morrow," he announced, "a grand five-act drama." "Ah!"
replied Gautier; "so I suppose you want us to hear it and to give you
our opinion." "The play is not yet written," answered Balzac coolly.
"You shall do one act; Ourliac, a second; Laurent Jan, a third; de
Belloy, a fourth; and I, the fifth. There are not so many lines in one
act. With all of us working together, we shall be able to complete it
by to-morrow." Objections were timidly put forward as to the
hotch-potch that was likely to result from so improvized a method of
work; but the hasty playwright overruled them all. It need hardly be
said that the five acts were not ready on the morrow, nor for some time
after. In fact, Laurent Jan was the only collaborator who gave any
considerable help. To him, in acknowledgment, Balzac dedicated the
piece, which was performed on the 14th of March 1840.

Knowing what a number of enemies he had among the Parisian journalists
and critics, whom he had satirized with increased causticity in his
latest fiction, the author endeavoured to pack the theatre with his
friends, but there was a large leakage in the sale of tickets; and, on
the eventful evening, the seats were occupied by a majority of persons
hostile to him. He must have had an inkling of this; for, when sending
a ticket to Lamartine, he said to him: "You will see a memorable
failure. I have done wrong, I believe, to appeal to the public.
_Morituri te salutant Caesar_." The first portion of the performance
was received, on the whole, favourably, though there was no
enthusiasm; but, when Frederick Lemaitre, who was entrusted with the
role of Vautrin, came on to the stage, in the fourth act, dressed as a
Mexican general, and wearing his forelock of hair in a way that
appeared to imitate a like peculiarity in the King, there was an
outcry among the audience; and Louis-Philippe's son, who was present,
was informed by complaisant courtiers that the travesty was intended
as an insult to his father. The next day, Harel was advertized that
the authorities forbade any other presentation of the piece; and, on
the 16th, the Press, following the Government's lead, were practically
unanimous in anathematizing the unhappy dramatist, the _Debats_ being
particularly acrimonious, and asserting that _Vautrin_ was a
thoroughly immoral play.

Balzac's friends, Victor Hugo included, did what they could to get the
interdiction raised; but the Minister was inflexible. All that he
would consent to was an indemnity of five thousand francs offered
through Cave, the Under-Secretary for Fine Arts. This, Balzac
indignantly refused. One might have expected such continued ill-luck
to prostrate its victim, at least momentarily. Gozlan went out to Les
Jardies for the purpose of cheering the hermit up. He found him calm
and collected. "You see that strip of land bordering the garden over
there?" the latter said, looking out of the window. "Yes." "I am about
to establish there a dairy, with an installation of the best kind, the
cows of which will bring me in three thousand francs a year." Gozlan
stared. "And you see the other strip down yonder farther than the
wall?" "Yes." "Well, I intend to plant that with rare vegetables of
the sort that used to be supplied to the King's table. That will bring
me in another three thousand francs a year." Gozlan waited for what
would come next. "And you see the plot right facing the southern sun?"
"Yes." "Ah! there I shall plant a vineyard, which will furnish
exquisite grapes that I can sell for wine-making in quantities
sufficient to bring me in twelve thousand francs a year. This means a
revenue of eighteen thousand francs annually. And then, the walnut-tree
you see there--I can utilize it to the tune of two thousand francs a
year." "How?" "Ah! that is my secret. So we get a total of twenty
thousand francs a year, which I shall gain by the refusal of my

This was brave talk on the part of the obstacle-breaker, as he loved
to call himself. 'Twas also the bravest temper he could assume in face
of the outside world. To Madame Hanska he revealed more the cankering
disappointment, just as he had a twelvemonth previously, after the
mishap of the _School for Husbands and Wives_. He had fresh thoughts
of leaving France, which being, for the nonce, a bear-garden, he said,
he detested, and of going away to America, perhaps to Brazil, where he
should soon grow rich. He even told her she might next hear from him
at Havre or Marseilles, just as he was on the point of embarking for
the other side of the Atlantic. He had been reading Fenimore Cooper
again; and the descriptions given by this painter of Nature always
aroused his roaming instincts. He envied especially Cooper's power and
skill in reproducing the details of a landscape. Once, in a
pastry-cook's shop that he had entered with Gozlan to devour a plate of
macaroni, he brandished a book of Cooper's, which he had been carrying
under his arm, while he recounted his fruitless efforts to get experts
in botany to tell him how to describe the differences between certain
grasses that he wanted to distinguish appropriately in his fiction. An
English girl who had served him in the shop listened open-mouthed to
the great man, whose name had been uttered by Gozlan; and, when the
moment came for settling, marked her appreciation of what she had
heard and seen by charging him nothing for the macaroni. Balzac, not
to be outdone in generosity, made her a gift of his copy of Cooper,
expressing his regret that he had not one of his own novels with him
that he might have offered her instead.

No account of this macaroni feast figures in his almost daily letters
at this time despatched to Madame Hanska. To her, if he mentioned his
diet, its meagreness was emphasized rather. Being in one of his
chronic hard-up crises, he excused himself for the intervals that had
occurred between some of his previous epistles on the ground of having
no ready money for the postage--the rates for Russia, it is true, were
high; and he spoke of buying a bit of dry bread on the boulevards, or
of intending to beg from Rothschild; then flourished his big debt at
the end, quoting fantastic sums, variable as the barometer, which
would oblige him sooner or later, notwithstanding his constant
devotion to the Countess, whom he loved more than he loved God, to
barter himself away to some agreeable young woman who should be
willing to bestow her person upon him, plus a couple of hundred
thousand francs. Once or twice there was really a question of his
making a match through the good offices of his mother, of whom he none
the less said fretfully that she did not think much about him. But, on
each occasion, the negotiations fell through--why we do not learn.
Such information, maybe, he reserved for the various dames in Paris
whose houses he still frequented. Madame de Girardin had managed to
get him back; and some sort of relations had been re-established
between him and her husband, mostly business, since Monsieur de
Girardin continued to be editor of the _Presse_.

One day, Gozlan met him in the Champs Elysees, just as he had left
Delphine's _salon_. He looked chilly and anxious. The chill he
attributed to the unheated drawing-room that he had quitted; but it
was due mostly to his condition of mind, then much exercised by
something of prime importance to him, the finding of a name for a
story which he had written but could not christen, in spite of
protracted meditation. It was a man's name he wanted--a name unusual,
striking, suggestive of the extraordinary nature of the person he had
created. "Why not try the names you see in the street?" said Gozlan
incautiously. "The very thing," answered Balzac, whose face grew
radiant. "Come along with me. We will seek together." Realizing too
late into what an adventure he had allowed himself to be entangled,
Gozlan tried in vain to escape. Protests were of no use. Balzac
dragged him off; and, with noses in the air and absorbed gaze, the two
men promenaded along the Rue Saint-Honore and a number of other
streets, knocking up against the people they met and provoking a good
deal of profane language from these latter, who regarded them as a
couple of imbeciles. At length, Gozlan, like Columbus' sailors, having
more than enough of the tramp, refused to play follow-my-leader any
longer; and only after a long palaver was he dragged up one last
narrow street dubbed variously the Rue du Bouloi, du Coq Heron, and de
la Jussienne throughout its course. Here, suddenly, Balzac stopped
dead, and pointed to the word _Marcas_, inscribed over a door. "That's
what I've been looking for," he cried. "It exactly suits my man. The
person that owns the name ought to be some one out of the common,--an
artist, a worker in gold, or something of the kind." Inquiry proved
that the real Marcas was a modest tailor. However, his name was
selected, and the initial Z was tacked on to it for the book, Z being
by the novelist's interpretation a letter of mystic import.

Another rather longer tale than this, belonging to the year 1840, was
_Pierrette_, which the author dedicated to Madame Hanska's daughter
Anna, characterizing it as a pearl "sweated through suffering," and
telling her that there was nothing in it improper--he used the English
word. The story is a painful one, and is scarcely suitable for a young
girl's perusal, the heroine, a simple Breton maid, being the victim of
an avaricious Provins family, the Rogrons, who under cover of the law,
inflict on her such terrible ill-treatment that she ultimately dies
from it. _Pierrette_ first appeared as a serial in the _Siecle_. In
the final edition of the novelist's works it is classed under the
_Celibates_; and, apropos of this heading, may be mentioned the fact
that Balzac reproved celibacy as a state injurious to society, and
held the opinion, dear to the hearts of certain Parliamentarians of
to-day, that the unmarried should be taxed for the benefit of those
having large families.

Of course, the agricultural projects entertained for a moment after
the interdiction of _Vautrin_ soon faded from Balzac's mind, which was
still harping on the necessity of his conquering the suffrages of the
public in his character of dramatist. He now set himself to write a
play called _Mercadet_ or the _Faiseur_,[*] the latter word implying
by its meaning the tragi-comedy of a penniless financier--the
novelist's own experience was there to guide him--who invents a
thousand and one stratagems for keeping his creditors at bay, and for
creating the illusion of a wealth which he had not; who deceives
himself as well as others; who is neither entirely a rogue nor
entirely honest; but who, after all, reaches relative tranquillity and
competency more through accident than purpose. The piece was not
performed in its author's life-time; but friends were acquainted with
it already in 1840, when Gautier and the rest of the inner circle were
summoned to Les Jardies to hear the hermit read it, differing
considerably then from the arrangement that was ultimately played.
Balzac read it well, with all the inflections peculiar to each
character and suitable to every change of circumstance. He had in him,
says Gautier, the stuff of a great actor, possessing a full, sonorous,
metallic voice of rich, powerful timbre, and kept his audience under
the spell from the beginning to the end of the recitation. If Vedel
and Desmousseaux, the administrators of the Comedie Francais heard him
interpret his own pieces, they might be excused for having, as he
asserted they had, a high opinion of his dramatic talent.

  [*] English, _Jobber_.

The greatest honour done to Les Jardies during the hermit's residence
there was a visit of Victor Hugo, who came to talk over the affairs of
the Men of Letters Society. During lunch, the conversation naturally
turned on literature, and the host waxed bitter against the stupidity
of kings that neglected letters, and against Louis-Philippe in
particular, who had recently put a stop to the evening gatherings
--chimney-gatherings they were called--held by the Duke of Orleans for
the purpose of honouring the arts. In the afternoon the guests were
shown round the domain, and expected to admire its beauties. Hugo was
extremely sober in his praises until they came to the famous
walnut-tree. Encouraged by the notice accorded to his favourite, the
master of Les Jardies repeated to Hugo what he had already affirmed to
Gozlan, to wit, that the tree was worth fifteen hundred francs to him
(to Gozlan he had said two thousand). "In walnuts, I suppose?"
retorted the chief guest quizzingly. "No," replied Balzac, chuckling,
"not in walnuts." And he proceeded to explain that, by an old custom,
the inhabitants of the neighbourhood had been accustomed to make the
shadow of the walnut-tree a "temple of all the gods," and that he had
only to exploit the offerings, in the same way as a guano island is
exploited to-day, for the fifteen hundred francs to be added to his

A few months later, in December, Les Jardies, with its walnut-tree and
other advantages, was abandoned in hasty flight; and the hermit took
refuge in the Passy quarter of Paris. On the house and property a
distraint had been levied for moneys due which had not been paid. In
total, his desire to abide under his own vine and under his own
fig-tree had cost him a sum that he estimated between one hundred
thousand and one hundred and twenty thousand francs. Deduction made for
his Falstaffian speech, the amount was probably about eighty thousand.
This might have been gradually saved and the interest meantime given
regularly, if he had been willing to live well within his income. With
his system of spending not only what he earned but hoped to earn each
year, perpetual insolvency was inevitable.

At Les Jardies he had small creditors as well as great, fear of whom
haunted him to the extent of curtailing his walks abroad. Leon Gozlan
relates that, going over to Ville d'Avray early one morning, he found
Balzac taking a constitutional round the asphalt of his house. "Come
and have a stroll in the woods," said the visitor. "I am afraid,"
answered Balzac. "Of what or whom?" "Of the keeper." Not understanding
why the novelist, who would not explain, should be in dread of this
humble functionary, and imagining that much study and labour had made
his friend a little mad, Gozlan took no denial, and, button-holing
Balzac, lugged him off into the leafy avenues. And there, sure enough,
after a while, they saw the bugbear, who, as soon as he perceived the
two pedestrians, bore down on them with plodding but vigorous step.
The shorter of the two turned pale, but tried to put on an air of
dignified indifference. Soon the official ran in under their lee,
passed alongside with slackened pace, and clarioned into the
novelist's ear: "Monsieur de Balzac, this is beginning to get
musical." The owner of Les Jardies quailed in his shoes. He owed the
man thirty francs.

                             CHAPTER X

               LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1841, 1842

The abode that Balzac chose, on coming back to live within the city
walls, was not far from the Rue de Chaillot which had been his address
before he removed to Sevres. It was situated in what is now called the
Rue Raynouard, but then bore the name of the Rue Basse. In reality,
the street is low only at one end, to which it descends from some high
land that forms the Passy and Trocadero quarter, and, for some
distance, overhangs the Seine. The whole of the street is narrow and
winding, and still has an old-time provincial aspect, though the
modern building has begun to make its appearance in it, replacing the
ancient mansions surrounded by gardens with ever-encroaching blocks of

Balzac's new house was at Number 19 (at present Number 47). It stood
--and the house still stands--in a back garden, on a lower level than
the road, from which it was masked by houses fronting the causeway.
Any one approaching it from the side of the Rue Basse would enter the
common vestibule of one of these houses, go down some stone steps, and
would then find himself in a courtyard, opposite a fairly good-sized,
apparently one-storied cottage, with the tree adorned garden to the
right of him. Once inside the cottage, however, he would notice that
it was built on the extreme upper edge of a precipitous slope, and
that on the farther side the structure had lower stories, with an
issue through them into a lane at the rear leading to the Seine banks
and the lower portion of the Rue Basse. Whoever, therefore, inhabited
the cottage could quit it fore or aft, an advantage which must have
weighed with the incoming tenant, tracked as he was by creditors, and
hiding himself here under the name of Madame de Brugnol.

The insistence of these claimants on his purse was such that, acting
on the advice of his solicitor, Gavault, in the course of the year
1841, he executed a fictitious sale of Les Jardies for the sum of
seventeen thousand five hundred francs, his hope being to preserve his
hermitage for the days of wealth and ease to come. Meanwhile, he took
his mother to live with him. After giving him and her other son,
Henry, all she possessed, and the latter being now in the colonies,
where he ultimately died in poverty, she was dependent on what Honore
could pay her each month. The living-together arrangement was not very
successful. Madame Balzac's nervous, fretful temperament had not been
improved by age and trouble; and her elder son found it hard to bear
with her complainings, excusable and even justifiable though they
might be. It is not pleasant to read the passages in his letters to
Madame Hanska, in which he reiterates the old charge of his
misfortunes being all due to his mother. In some of them he goes so
far as to say that she was a monster and a monstrosity, that she was
hastening the death of his sister Laure--Laure outlived them both
--after hastening those of his sister Laurence and his grandmother, that
she hated him before he was born, that she had a dreadful countenance,
that the doctor affirmed her to be not mad but malicious, that his
father had stated in 1822 he--Honore--would never have a worse enemy
than his mother. Had his mother been all this and more, it would have
been ungenerous and unfilial to blacken her reputation to a stranger.
And, being false, it was odious. Madame Balzac's partiality towards
the second son--heavily enough punished--did not prevent her from
loving the elder, though their characters (hers and his) were not made
to comprehend each other; and her lack of enthusiasm in the days of
his literary apprenticeship was natural enough in a parent who
understood only too well the impractical, improvident mind he
possessed, and feared its consequences. The fact was that Balzac ill
supported remonstrances from his own family, and especially from his
mother, and, when irritated by them, forgot every benefit he had
received from her.

This peculiarity of temperament rendered his feelings toward many of
his friends exceedingly variable. One day he was lauding them to the
skies, another depreciating them to a cipher. Even his sister, Laure,
in spite of her loyalty to him, did not escape attacks from his fickle
humour. Like her mother, she never thoroughly penetrated the nature of
this wayward, excitable, compass-boxing brother of hers, whose gaze
was so much in the clouds and whose feet so often in the mire. But she
defended him to others; and, as far as her purse and her husband's
could possibly afford, she gave him money when he was hard up--and
when he was not!--money which he was never in a hurry to pay back. Yet
her, too, he maligned to "The Stranger," because she now and again
ventured on expostulations.

Madame Balzac made two stays in the Passy cottage, neither of them
very long. After leaving the first time, she asked her son to pay her
a somewhat larger sum per month, which would allow her to live
decently elsewhere. Considering that he had borrowed from her a couple
of thousand pounds--over fifty thousand francs--and that the sum he
had paid her irregularly was not five per cent interest on the money,
this request was not unreasonable. Yet he refused to accede to it on
the ground of being in financial straits; and offered her a home with
him once more, but in language that spoke of strained relations
between them, as well as of a personal discouragement that was real.

"The life I lead," he wrote, "suits no one; it wearies relatives and
friends alike. All leave my melancholy home. . . . It is impossible
for me to work amidst the petty tiffs aroused by surroundings of
discord; and my activity has waned during the past year. . . . You
were in a tolerable situation. I had a trustworthy person who spared
you all household worries. You were not obliged to trouble about
domestic matters; you were in peace and silence. You insisted on
interfering with me when you should have forgotten I existed, and
should have let me have my entire liberty, without which I can do
nothing. This is not your fault; it is in the nature of women. To-day,
everything is changed. If you like to come back, you will have a
little of the weight that will fall on me and that hitherto affected
you only because you wished it."

The conclusion of the letter, in which he assured her of his love,
could not counterbalance the harshness of its contents. Madame Balzac,
be it granted, was cantankerous; but how many sons who have never
sponged on their mothers have supported them cheerfully, gladly, for
long years out of meagre resources, and have borne with a smile the
natural peevishness of old age, not to say its egoisms!

At this period, Balzac's acquaintance with the grand dames of Paris
was considerably diminished. Madame de Castries he seems to have
broken with altogether. Madame Visconti, who lived a good deal at
Versailles, he saw but seldom. In lieu of these, he regularly visited
George Sand, who was at present settled in a small flat of the Rue
Pigalle in Paris, and was there enjoying the society of Chopin. With a
connoisseur's envy, the novelist describes to Eve the interior, the
elegantly furnished dining-room in carved oak, the _cafe-au-lait_
upholstered drawing-room, with its superb Chinese vases of fragrant
flowers, its cabinet of curiosities, its Delacroix pictures, its
rosewood piano, and the portrait of the authoress by Calamatta. What
struck him as much as anything was the bedroom in brown, with the bed
on the floor in Turkish fashion. He was careful to assure his
correspondent that, Chopin being the _maitre de ceans_, she had no
need to be jealous. But jealous she was, though not of George Sand. As
Paris was a resort for rich Russians, Madame Hanska's cousins among
the number, she had frequent reports of Balzac's doings, distorted by
society gossip, the true and the untrue being fantastically mixed; and
it was no small task to disabuse her mind and persuade her that his
conduct was blameless. Indeed, at bottom she remained sceptical.

In 1841, three books were published which merit attention on the part
of a student of his works. The first, _A Shady Affair_, has the right
to be styled an historical novel. Dealing with the Napoleonic epoch,
its interest gathers chiefly round the person of the brave peasant
Michu, whose devotion to the Legitimist house of Cinq-Cygne brings
him, an innocent victim, to the scaffold. The character of Laurence de
Cinq-Cygne, a girl of the Flora MacDonald type, and the characters
also of the two cousins de Simeuse, who both loved her and conspired
with her, and whose pardon she gained only to lose these faithful
knights dying on a field of battle, are drawn with great power and
naturalness. And the plot, in which, together with other police spies,
the same Corentin reappears that was the evil genius of the _Chouans_,
is more rapid and less cumbered than in the earlier work. When the
_Shady Affair_ came out in the _Commerce_ journal, Balzac was accused
of having identified a certain Monsieur Clement de Ris with his Malin
de Gondreville, who plays an evil role in the story--that of an
unscrupulous, political turncoat, Revolutionary to begin with, Senator
under the Empire, and Peer under the Restoration. The novelist
defended himself against the imputation; but the resemblances between
the fictitious and the real personage were, all the same, too close to
be quite accidental.

Something, however, more important than the question of likeness or
portraiture in the book, is that it gives us Balzac's conception of
what the historical novel should be. His contemporary Dumas, and his
predecessor Walter Scott--the latter in a less degree than Dumas--did
not weave a romance on to a warp of history, but romanced the history
itself. What he tried to do was to keep the historical action exact
and accurate, and to throw its romantic elements into relief without
dislocating them. His opinion was that history might so be written as
to be a sort of novel, which, perhaps, will account for his answer to
Lamartine, who, in 1847, asked him if he could explain how it was that
the _History of the Girondins_ had obtained a greater success than the
most popular novels of the same date. "Gad!" he replied, "the reason
is that you wrote this fine book as a novelist, not as an historian."
The _Shady Affair_ recreates for us the Napoleonic atmosphere, silent
and heavy, yet electrically charged with grudge, hatred, and ambition,
all ready to burst out at one or another point. Underhand plotting was
the order of the day; there was a language of the eye rather than of
the tongue, since no one was sure that in his own family there might
not be eavesdroppers listening to betray him.

_Ursule Mirouet_ is a very different kind of story. We have here the
old Doctor Minoret, who after making a fortune in Paris, returns to
spend the last few years of his life in Nemours, his native town.
Having lost wife and child by death, he brings back with him a baby
niece, who is an orphan, and to whom he devotes himself with tender
care. In Nemours there are other less estimable branches of the
Minoret stock, cousins of the Doctor's, whose hopes of inheriting his
fortune are damped by the presence of little Ursule. Chief of these
relatives is the burly postmaster, Minoret Levrault, whose son Desire
is destined to the law and is sent by his parents to study in Paris.
Although a disciple of Voltaire, and scouting all religious practice
for himself, the Doctor is friendly with the Cure, and allows his
niece to be brought up to Church. At the time the story opens an
unexpected event astonishes the town. The Doctor has become converted,
and goes to Mass. The cause of the change is a wonderful experience of
clairvoyance he meets with in the capital, whither he has been
summoned by a colleague with whom he had quarrelled years before over
the new-fangled doctrines of Mesmerism. What necessary connection
there is between clairvoyance and Catholicism, or indeed any
particular form of religion, the novelist does not attempt to prove.
It suffices for the sceptical old Doctor to be told by a hypnotized
woman in Paris what Ursule is doing at Nemours, and the conversion is
wrought. Soon after, Doctor Minoret dies, bequeathing his fortune in
just and appropriated shares to his various relatives, Ursule
included. She is at the time a fine young woman, beloved by a young
gentleman of the place. The rest of the novel tells how the big
postmaster contrives to destroy the part of the will favourable to
Ursule and to steal certain moneys that belong to her; how Minoret's
ghost appears in dreams and signs to confound the guilty man and his
guilty wife, who are at last induced to confess their ill deeds, the
repentance being hastened by the death of their son Desire; and, in
fine, how Ursule marries Monsieur de Portenduere and is happy.

In its general construction, the book holds well together, and the
characters in the main are depicted without exaggeration, while the
traits of individuality are ingeniously marked. The Doctor and Ursule
are less firmly and informingly delineated. As usual, when Balzac
shows us the figure of a virtuous girl in an ordinary domestic circle,
he represents her with passive rather than active qualities. She has
no strong likes or dislikes, no particular mental bias, and possesses
but small attractiveness. In fact, the novelist seems at a loss to
imagine. In the case of Ursule, we see that she cultivates flowers,
but we do not feel that she is fond of them. As for the Doctor, he
would have or might have been less a puppet, had the author himself
judged with wiser reserve the mysterious forces that exist in the
world of sub-consciousness.

His belief in these forces being alloyed with much superstition, he
was always consulting fortune-tellers, even those that divined by
cards. One of them, a certain Balthazar, who was subsequently
convicted and imprisoned for dishonesty, told him that his past life
had been one series of struggles and victories, a reading too
agreeable to be doubted; and that he would soon have tranquillity, a
prophecy which unhappily was not fulfilled. Concerning the prospects
of a union with Madame Hanska, the cartomancer was mute, though he
described the lady in language sufficiently clever for his client to
acknowledge the likeness. His clairvoyance was exceedingly limited;
otherwise he would have warned his client of the approaching death of
Count Hanski, this event taking place towards the close of the year.

Occupied with her own affairs, which were complicated by her husband's
illness, and perhaps also resenting the falling off in the number of
her distant worshipper's epistles, caused by an indisposition in the
spring and a visit to Brittany to recuperate, she wrote only once or
twice during 1841; and, as chance would have it, these letters were
lost, so that, for nearly twelve months, he had no news from her.
Pathetically he announced that his sister was planning to marry him to
a Mademoiselle Bonnard, god-daughter to King Louis-Philippe; but still
no answer came. On the 1st of November, as he related to his Eve
afterwards, he lost one of the two shirt-studs which Madame de Berny
had given him, and which he wore alternately with another pair
presented to him by Madame Hanska. Beginning on the morrow, he put on
thenceforth only the pair that Eve had given him; and this trifling
occurrence affected him so much that all his familiars noticed it. He
looked upon the loss as a sign from Heaven. Poor Madame de Berny! Now
that the stud from her had disappeared, he had no further tenderness
for her memory. Instead of recalling her kindness to him, he preferred
to speak, in connection with what he styled his horrible youth, of the
years which she--the _Dilecta_--had tarnished. Too opportune to be
sincere, this condemnation of his first liaison cannot but be regarded
as an incense of flattery offered to the coy goddess of his later

The third of the three principal books of 1841 was the _Diaries of Two
Young Wives_, written, like the _Country Doctor_ and the _Village
Cure_, in a decidedly didactic tone. We have two girl friends, Renee
de Maucombe and Louise de Chaulieu, reared in a convent school, who
marry, each with an ideal of wedlock that differs. The former, a
doctor in stays, as her school companion calls her, seeks in marriage
a calm domestic happiness, the duties and joy of motherhood, and has a
husband worthy but commonplace, to whom she gives herself at first
without much positive attachment on her side. The latter makes of love
a passion, and marries a Spanish exile, plain-looking but virile, whom
she bends to her will. The two wives exchange their impressions during
their early years of matrimony, and we see the happiness of the one
develop while that of the other diminishes. The Spaniard dies and
Louise de Chaulieu takes a second husband, a poor poet, whom she
adores as much as her Spaniard had adored her. Carrying him off to
Ville-d'Avray, she creates there a snug Paradise, where she fondles
him as if he were a toy, until at length her feverish jealousy brings
on her own illness and death.

The novel in its earlier phases was being worked at together with the
_Sister Marie des Anges_, which was promised to Werdet but never
completed, and seems to have had some connection with it. Possibly, in
his primitive plan, the author intended to set in contrast the spouse
and the nun: and certainly, in the original draft, there was only one

In 1842, at the Odeon Theatre, was performed a dramatic piece from the
novelist's pen, which by some critics has been considered his best
play. There are even critics who hold that Balzac was a born
dramatist, as he was a born novelist, basing their opinion on his
possession of qualities common to dramatist and novelist. His force of
characterization, his handling of plot, his sense of passion were all
sufficient to procure him success on the stage, which explains why
pieces adapted from his novels by other playwrights invariably caught
the public fancy. But, in order to develop character, plot, and
passion in his fiction, he employed interminable detail and slow
action; and his effects were obtained rather by constant pressure
throughout than by sudden impact. The brevity and condensation
required by the drama were foreign to his genius; he could not help
trying to put too much into his stage pieces, and the unity of subject
was compromised.

The _School of Great Men_,[*] as he preferred to call his play at the
Odeon, carries the spectator back to the Spain of Philippe II.
Fontanares, a clever man of science but poor, and without influence,
has discovered the means of navigating by steam. His valet Quinola, a
genius in his way, resolves to aid his master, who, being in love, has
all the greater claim on his pity; and he contrives to present the
King with a petition in favour of Fontanares, and to obtain a ship for
an experiment to be made. But now professional jealousies combine with
love rivalries to thwart the inventor; and when, at last, the ship is
made to move by its own machinery, the honour of the success is
attributed to another. To avenge his wrongs, and the loss of his
betrothed, who is given to his rival and dies, he blows up the steamer
in presence of an assembled multitude, and quits his native land with
a courtezan who has conceived a liking for him and will provide him
with money to recommence his enterprise elsewhere.

  [*] More usually called: _The Resources of Quinola_.

Before the first performance, Balzac was just as sanguine about the
result as he had been with _Vautrin_. It followed several pieces,
Felix Pyat's _Cedric the Norwegian_, Dumas' _Lorenzino_, and Scribe's
_Chaine_, which had been coldly received. What if his _Quinola_ should
be the great attraction of the season! And his mind was filled visions
of overflowing houses and showers of gold. Alas! if the
representations went beyond the single one of _Vautrin_, they did not
exceed twenty; and his share of profits was insignificant. The play is
not dull to read, with its flavour of Moliere's comedies, and the
keenness of Balzac's observation. But its colour and poesy do not
compensate for the diffuseness of the plot and the undramatic

Instead of acknowledging the defects of his composition, the unlucky
dramatist was wroth with his public. For a while he caressed the
thought of going to St. Petersburg, taking out letters of
naturalization, and opening a theatre in the Russian capital with a
view to establishing the pre-eminence of French literature--embodied
in his own writings. It must be owned that he was beginning to imagine
himself persecuted. Victor Hugo, he said, had changed towards him and
was creating a conspiracy of silence round about him, so that no one
should speak any more of his works. And he liked better being attacked
than ignored. Later, he asserted that Hugo, after accepting the
dedication of the _Lost Illusions_ to himself, had induced Edouard
Thierry to write an abusive article against him. "He is a great
writer," said the novelist in telling this, "but he is a mean

By the death of Count Hanski, the one insuperable obstacle to his
union with Eve had been removed; and now, in his letters to her, there
was a sudden outburst of love protestations. He wanted the widow to
marry him at once, or, at the outside limit, as soon as propriety
would permit. Madame Hanska replied that there was her daughter Anna,
only just in her teens, who would require her mother's entire attention
and care for some years to come; and there were, besides, matters
concerning the inheritance, which would hardly be settled within any
shorter period. Balzac was dismayed. He could not understand the
delay, the prudence, the hesitation. Not to speak of his affection,
his pride was offended. He overwhelmed his Eve with reproaches. Women,
he informed her, loved fools, as a rule, because fools were ever ready
to sit at their feet. Recurring in subsequent letters to a quieter
manner, he strove to shake her resolution by hints at his exhausted
strength, his difficulty of composition,--this was nothing new--his
lessened alertness of thought and his weaker invention. Cleverly he
juxtaposed with these a description of his study, in the little Passy
house, hung with red velvet, on which black silk cords stood out in
agreeable contrast; on one wall was Eve's portrait, and opposite it
was a painting of the Wierzchownia mansion. Here he toiled
unceasingly, creating, always creating. God only created during six
days, he added, while he--the inference was left to be drawn. Feeling
how requisite it was he should put himself right, in every respect,
with the lady of his choice, he made a fresh confession of his
religious faith. His Catholicism, he told her, was outwardly of the
Bossuet and Bonald type, but was esoterically mystical, Saint-Johnian,
which form alone preserved the real Christian tradition. Somewhat
encouraged by vague inquiries from Madame Hanska as to the income
required by a household for living in Paris, he entered into
particulars with gusto; and, stating that he had eighty thousand
francs worth of furniture, he discussed the best manner of arranging
an existence with eight hundred thousand francs capital. With three
hundred thousand francs, a country residence and small estate might be
bought and the means of inhabiting there provided. Another hundred
thousand would buy a house in Paris to spend each winter; and the
residue of four hundred thousand, if invested in French Rentes, would
purchase an additional income of fifteen thousand francs for town
expenses. These latter he subdivided into three thousand francs for
carriage hire; five thousand for cooking; two thousand five hundred
for dress and amusement; and two thousand five hundred for general
charges; the remaining two thousand would go in sundries. Madame de
Berny, he said, spent only eight hundred francs on her wardrobe, and
kept her household with nine hundred francs. Once launched into
detail, he went far. The Countess learnt that he had still the same
carpets, covering seven rooms, that he had bought for fifteen hundred
francs in the Rue Cassini. They had worn well and were economical. The
red velvet in his study had cost him two francs fifty a yard; but then
he would take it away to another house, instead of giving it to the
landlord. Living was slightly dearer in Passy, he concluded. A mutton
chop cost seven sous there, instead of the five charged in the city.
These last details were thrown in by a habit he had grown into of
defending himself against the strictures passed by Madame Hanska on
his expenditure.

They were frequent--such strictures--because Balzac was always
repeating to her that he was penniless; and she, comparing this talk
with other statements about his gaining large sums yearly, argued that
the penury must be his own fault. True, there was the debt. But the
debt grew instead of diminishing. So, apparently, he was not starving
himself to pay it back. The fact was that Balzac did not tell the
truth either about his assets or his liabilities. He neither earned as
much as he affirmed, nor owed as much. According to some of his early
biographers, his average income was not more than twelve thousand
francs a year. But these figures cannot include lump sums he received
at irregular intervals, nor yet all the royalties due to him on
continued sales of his books. Taking one year with another, he
probably made, throughout the greater portion of his literary career,
between twenty and twenty-five thousand francs annually. What must
have increased his embarrassments, in the later Thirties and early
Forties, was his hobby for buying pictures and articles of vertu;
this, with his knack of dropping money in speculations and imprudent
ventures, rendered it impossible for him to live within his means.

It is curious to notice how his impecuniosity reduced him to regard
every goal of his ambition as having merely a cash value. Speaking of
his election to the Academie Francaise, which he reckoned to be near,
he explained to Eve that it would mean six thousand francs a year to
him, since he would be a member of the Dictionary committee; and then
there was the Perpetual Secretaryship, which, falling to him
naturally, would raise his emoluments to more than double that amount.
Emboldened by these calculations--a trifle previous--he confided to
Eve his desire to start on a trip to Naples, Rome, Constantinople, and
Alexandria, unless she should veto the proposal. In that case, his
desire would be hers. Four thousand francs was what the journey would
cost. Would she authorize him to spend so much? At present she was the
arbitress of his actions. As the trip was abandoned, we are obliged to
suppose that Eve was not favourable to it.

Mention has already been made of the novelist's initiative in the
beginnings of the Men of Letters Society, and of his scheme for a
petition to the King. In its details, what he wished to see adopted
was on the same lines as those followed now by the Nobel Prize
distribution--at any rate as regards literature. His idea was to
secure a small independence for prize-takers in tragedy, comedy,
opera, fiction, Christian philosophy, linguistic or archaeological
research, and epic poetry, by awarding them a capital of a hundred
thousand francs, and even two hundred thousand to poets, and to open
thus an easier way to position and fame. Finding that his programme
was not acceptable to the more influential members of the Society, he
resigned his seat on the committee, and ceased his active connection
with the Society itself, continuing, however, to interest himself in
is prosperity.

Later, his bust by David was placed in the Society's Committee Room,
where it may be seen at present presiding silently over the meetings.
Both the bust and the famous daguerreotype of him belong to the
commencement of the Forties. The sculptor Etex had asked him to sit
for a bust; but David had the preference, being a friend. His profile
of the novelist, sketched in view of a medallion, an engraving of
which appeared in 1843 in the _Loire Illustree_ for August, was deemed
by Madame Surville to be the only real likeness of her brother. Not
until 1889 did the Men of Letters Society decide to honour Balzac by a
statue to be erected amidst the life of the capital which he had so
well described. And even then they allowed certain elements of
prejudice and passion to dominate their counsels, with the result that
a magnificent full-length figure of the novelist executed by the first
sculptor in France was rejected; the committee's plighted word was
violated; and in lieu was accepted and placed in one of the streets of
Paris a sorry likeness hastily modelled by a man who, though a good
sculptor, had one foot in the grave, and who had not, besides, the
conception of what was required.[*]

  [*] See my _Life of Rodin_ (Fisher Unwin, 1906) or my later and
      smaller edition of the same sculptor's life (Grant Richards,

Of the novels that appeared in 1842, _Albert Savarus_, the first
published, is worthy of attention chiefly as being a continuation of
its author's personal experiences. The hero is the same ideal
personification already seen in _Louis Lambert_ and _Z. Marcas_. A
barrister, he suddenly settles in a provincial town, bringing with him
a past history that no one can penetrate and every one would like to
know. When interviewed in his private consulting-room, he presents
himself in a black merino dressing-gown girt about with a red cord, in
red slippers, a red flannel waistcoat, a red skull-cap. The likeness
is once again Balzac's own--adorned by fancy: a superb head, black
hair sparsely sprinkled with white, hair like that of Saint Peter and
Saint Paul as shown in our pictures, with thick glossy curls, hair of
bristly stiffness; a white round neck, as that of a woman; a splendid
forehead with the puissant furrow in the middle that great plans and
thoughts and deep meditations engrave on the brow of genius; an olive
complexion streaked with red; a square nose; eyes of fire; gaunt
cheeks with two long wrinkles, full of suffering; a mouth with
sardonic smile, and a small, thin, abnormally short chin; crow's feet
at the temples; sunken eyes (he repeats himself a little) rolling
beneath their beetling arches and resembling two burning globes; but,
despite all these signs of violent passions, a calm, profoundly
resigned mien; a voice of thrilling softness, . . . the true voice of
the orator, now pure and cunning, now insinuating, but thunderous when
required, lending itself to sarcasm and then waxing incisive. Monsieur
Albert Savarus (_alias_ Balzac) is of medium height, neither fat nor
slim; to conclude, he has prelate's hands.

The mystery of Savarus' earlier life, revealed as the story goes on,
is his meeting in Switzerland with Francesca, the wife of a rich
Italian, whom he eventually wins to love him and to promise marriage
when she is free and he has acquired wealth and fame. All the details
of the prologue are those of Balzac's first relations with Madame
Hanska. The development of the novel, in which Philomene de Watteville
falls in love with Savarus, surprises his secret attachment to
Francesca, intercepts his letters to her, and ruins his hopes, is less
cleverly told. Savarus' retirement to a Carthusian monastery and
fate's punishment of Philomene, who is mutilated and disfigured in a
railway accident, form the denouement, which is strained to the
improbable. The background of the story, with its glimpses of the
manners and foibles of provincial society, is the most valuable
portion of the book.

Between this relapse into lyricism and a much stronger work came the
amusing _Beginning in Life_, suggested by his sister Laure's tale, _Un
Voyage en Coucou_, and giving the adventures of the young Oscar
Husson, a sort of Verdant Green, whose pretentious foolishness leads
him into scrapes of every kind, until, having made himself the
laughing-stock of all around him, and compromised many, he enlists and
goes to the wars, whence he returns maimed for life. A comic character
in the sketch is the bohemian artist Leon de Lora, nicknamed
Mistigris, with his puns and proverbs that were the rage in the early
Forties. A character of more serious calibre is Joseph Bridau, the
talented painter. He and his scamp of a brother, Philippe, are the
twin prominent figures in the novel above alluded to: _La

Originally called the _Two Brothers_, and subsequently _A Bachelor's
Household_, this slice of intensely realistic fiction exhibits the art
of the author at its highest vigour. Philippe Bridau, the mother's
favourite of the two boys, enters the army, sees Waterloo, and, after,
leads the life of an adventurer, with its ups and downs of fortune.
His widowed mother's indulgence, his own innate selfishness, and the
hardening influence of war combine to render him a villain of the
Richard III type, absolutely heartless and conscienceless. He robs his
own family, fixes himself leech-like on that of an uncle, marries the
latter's widow for her money, when he has killed her lover in a duel,
drives his wife into vice, lets her die on a pallet, and refuses to
pay a visit to the deathbed of his mother, whose grey hairs he had
brought down with sorrow to the grave. Like Shakespeare's ideal
villain, he has the philosophy, the humour of his egotism. "I am an
old camel, familiar with genuflections," he exclaims. "What harm have
I done?" he asks, speaking of his robbery of his relative, the old
Madame Descoings. "I have merely cleaned the old lady's mattress." And
he is equally indifferent to what destiny reserves for him. "I am a
_parvenu_, my dear fellow; I don't intend to let my swaddling-clothes
be seen. My son will be luckier than I; he will be a _grand seigneur_.
The rascal will be glad to see me dead. I quite reckon on it;
otherwise he would not be my son."

Most of the other figures are of equal truth to life, and are
presented so as to increase the effect of the complete picture:
Jean-Jacques Rouget, the stupid infatuated uncle, who espouses the
intriguing Flore Brazier; and Flore herself, whose petty vices are
crushed by those of her second husband; Maxime Gilet, the bully of
Issoudun, whose surface bravado is checked and mated by the cooler
scoundrelism of Philippe; Agathe, the foolish mother, whose eyes are
blind to the devotion of her son Joseph; and Girondeau, the old
dragoon, companion to Philippe who casts him off as soon as prosperity
smiles and he has no further need for him. And the narrow-horizoned,
curiously interlaced existences of the county-town add the mass of
their colour-value, sombre but rich. One could have wished in the book
a little more counterbalancing brightness, and less trivial detail;
but neither the defect of the one nor the excess of the other takes
from the novel the right to be considered a masterpiece.

                             CHAPTER XI

               LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1843, 1844

The great event of the year 1843 was Balzac's visit in the summer to
Saint Petersburg, where Madame Hanska had been staying since the
preceding autumn. He had hoped to go there in the January,
commissioned to exploit an important invention for cheaper
shipbuilding, in which his brother-in-law, Monsieur Surville, was
concerned. Like each of his previous schemes for quickly becoming
rich, this invention turned out to be a soap-bubble, bursting as soon
as trial was made of it. What was left intact, however, was his
determination to go to the banks of the Neva; and, throughout the
spring, successive letters announced preparations for departure. The
real motive of his journey was to try to persuade his lady-love to fix
the date of their marriage. Her period of mourning was over, and no
objection could be made now on the ground of propriety. Such
sentimental arguments as Madame Hanska might still put forward, he
trusted to be able to overcome by his presence.

In order that she might be the more anxious to see him, he talked
again of abandoning literature, and sailing for America. This time the
West Indies were his El Dorado. He did not say how the shy millions
were to be coaxed into his purse there, unless he wished her to
understand he intended to export spices, since he added: "If I had
been a grocer for the last ten years, I should have become a
millionaire." Forsooth, these details were mere bluff. His inmost
thought was that Eve would prevent his going across the Atlantic now,
as Madame de Berny had prevented him--so he said--in 1829. Moreover,
there was Balthazar's prediction that he was to be happy with her for
long years. The fortune-teller's sanctum he attended more frequently
than church. Going one day to the house of a magnetizer, a Monsieur
Dupotet, living in the Rue du Bac, he gave his hand to a hypnotized
woman, who placed it on her stomach and immediately loosed it again
with a scared look: "What is that head?" she cried. "It is a world; it
frightens me." "She had not looked at my heart," commented Balzac
proudly. "She has been dazzled by the head. Yet since I was born, my
life has been dominated by my heart--a secret which I conceal with
care." All this he related quite seriously to Eve. Probably, Madame de
Girardin, who accompanied him on this pilgrimage, could have told
Madame Hanska more.

Writing on his birthday, he inserted the prayer he had offered up to
his patron-saint for the accomplishment of his desires, its burden
indicating how near he believed himself to the longed-for goal: "O
great Saint Honore, thou to whom is dedicated a street in Paris at
once so beautiful and so ugly, ordain that the ship may not blow up;
ordain that I may be no more a bachelor, by decree of the Mayor or the
Counsul of France; for thou knowest that I have been spiritually
married for nigh on eleven years. These last fifteen years, I have
lived a martyr's life. God sent me an angel in 1833. May this angel
never quit me again till death! I have lived by my writing. Let me
live a little by love! Take care of her rather than of me; for I would
fain give her all, even my portion in heaven; and especially let us
soon be happy. Ave, Eva."

The love fervour of this prayer was a dominant note throughout the
twelvemonth; we notice after the visit that the familiar _thou_
prevails over the colder _you_; and the letters, both in number and
length, very largely exceed those he had written up to the end of
1842. Funnily, he expresses admiration of himself for this work of
supererogation, informing Eve, on one occasion, that the sixteen
leaves he had recently sent her were worth sixteen hundred francs,
even two thousand, counting extra leaves enclosed to Mademoiselle
Henriette Borel, the governess, for whom he was negotiating an
entrance into a nunnery. Love-letters estimated at five francs a

Let us grant that the epistles at present contained more gossip than
ever, so that the recipient of them had her share of amusement. She
was wonderfully well kept up in Paris happenings in society, including
the stage and art galleries. She learnt that Madame d'Agoult--Daniel
Stern[*]--had become Emile de Girardin's mistress, on losing Liszt,
who had fallen into the toils of the Princess de Belgiojoso, the
latter lady achieving her conquest after luring in succession Lord
Normanby from his wife, Mignet from Madame Aubernon, and Alfred de
Musset from George Sand. Going to see Victor Hugo's _Burgraves_, he
reported that it was nothing to speak of as history, altogether poor
as invention, but nevertheless poetic, with a poetry that carried away
the spectator. It was Titian painting on a mud wall. He chiefly
remarked the absence of feeling, which, in Victor Hugo, was more and
more noticeable. The author of the _Burgraves_ lacked the true. As he
did not publish these opinions, he was able to go on dining with the
poet and to praise the beauty of his fourteen-year-old daughter. On
George Sand's _Consuelo_ he pronounced a severer judgment still,
calling it the emptiest, most improbable, most childish thing
conceivable--boredom in sixteen parts. And yet he had conceived
certain improbable plots himself.

  [*] Her literary pseudonym

Like Charles Lamb, who left his office earlier in the afternoon to
make up for arriving late in the morning, he counterbalanced these
heavy-handed slatings of his friends by extolling his own performance
past and present. Being engaged in revising the _Chouans_ for a fresh
edition, he was struck by qualities in it that he had hitherto held
too lightly. It was all Scott and all Fenimore Cooper, he said, with a
fire and wit, into the bargain, that neither of these writers ever
possessed. The passion in it was sublime! Its landscapes and scenes of
war were depicted with a perfection and happiness that surprised him.
As a piece of self-praise there is probably nothing surpassing this in
the annals of literature. In a competition, Balzac's blasts of vanity
would beat the Archangel Michael's last trump for loudness.

Horace Vernet, he asserted, would never be a great painter. He was a
colourist; he knew how to design and compose, had technical skill,
and, now and again, found sentiment, but did not understand how to
combine these talents in his pictures. He was clever, but had no
genius. His _alter ego_ was Delaroche, to whom he gave his daughter in
marriage. Of the other painters, Boulanger, Delacroix, Ingres,
Decamps, Jules Dupre were his favourites--true artists, he deemed
them. At the _Salon_ he saw hardly anything to please him besides a
canvas by Meissonier and Cogniet's _Tintoretto painting his Dead
Daughter_. He would have liked to see Boulanger's _Death of
Messalina_, but the _Salon_ Committee had refused it.

In music his preferences were as eclectic as in pictures. Liszt, whom
he thought ridiculous as a man, he considered superb as a musician
--the Paganini of the piano, yet inferior to Chopin, since he had not
the genius of composition. And, in singing, Rubini was his idol
--Rubini who triumphed in the role of Othello, giving the suspicion
_air_ in a manner no one could equal. It intoxicated him to hear this
tenor with Tamburini, Lablache, and Madame Grisi; while Nourrit's
song, _Ce Rameau qui donne la Puissance et l'Immortalite_ in _Robert
le Diable_ made his flesh creep. It yielded a glimpse of life with all
its dreams satisfied.

Originally intending to start for St. Petersburg early in June, Balzac
was not able to leave Paris until a month later. As usual, filthy
lucre had to do with his tarrying. In spite of a loan of 11,500 francs
from lawyer Gavault--his guardian, the novelist called him--who for
the privilege of the great man's friendship had been endeavouring
during the two years past to introduce a little order into his
affairs, he had not available cash enough for a trip so far, and
stayed on, hoping to finish his _David Sechard_,* which was running as
a serial in the _Etat_, and his _Esther_,[*] appearing similarly in
the _Parisien_. June he spent at Lagny, where his manuscripts were
being printed, in order to correct the proofs and get his money. But
the _Etat_ ceased issue while he was there; and the _Parisien_, being
in parlous condition, refused likewise to pay up, so that he had to go
off with a thinner-lined pocket than he had expected. Otherwise, he
was in a fitting state of grace to meet his fair tyrant, whose
envelope lectures had brought him into fear of her and at least
outward obedience.

  [*] Part of the _Lost Illusions_.

The torrents of coffee by the aid of which he had forced his last
pen-work through, had been reduced to minimum doses; the occasional
mustard foot-baths that cured his cerebral inflammations were replaced
by entire ablutions every other day; he liked hot baths well enough;
but, in the spells of composition, they were often indefinitely
adjourned, so that this season of purification had its _raison
d'etre_. And now, with his gaze turned to the east, he wondered how
long he was going to remain there. His reply to a person who asked him
to pledge himself for some novels on his return reads much as though
he were counting on an offer to fix his residence in the empire of the
czars. "I don't know whether I shall come back," he said. "France
bores me. I am infatuated with Russia. I am in love with absolute
power. I am going to see if it is as fine as I believe it to be. De
Maistre stayed a long time at St. Petersburg. Perhaps I shall stay
also." This he naturally repeated to Madame Hanska. Not that it was
new to her. A similar hint had been given in January, when he capped
his declaration, "I abhor the English; I execrate the Austrians; the
Italians are nothing," with "I would sooner be a Russian than any
other subject." The comic side of this fury is that Madame Hanska was
a Pole, her late husband too; and neither she nor her family were
reconciled to the Russian yoke. To make his renunciation more
complete, he humbly spoke his dread she might turn from him with the
"get away" said to a dog. No! She had no intention of dismissing him.
His outpourings of devotion caressed her woman's pride, even if she
did not accept them as gospel truth. And however tedious she found his
vamping song of sixpence, his sittings in the parlour counting out his
mirage-money, she put up with them in consideration of her privilege.

Sailing from Havre in the _Devonshire_, an English boat, Balzac
arrived at St. Petersburg towards the end of July. He lodged in a
private house not far from Eve's Koutaizoff mansion; but passed the
three months of his sojourn almost entirely in her society. It was the
first opportunity he had had of getting to know her intimately, their
previous meetings being surrounded with too many restrictions to allow
of familiar intercourse. No detailed record has come down to us of
these days of _tete-a-tete_ existence. All we learn from subsequent
allusions is that, together with a good deal of billing and cooing,
more sustained on the novelist's side, there were some lovers' tiffs,
followed by reconciliations. Apparently the friction was mainly caused
by Eve's evasiveness on the subject of their marriage.

It would seem as though there were an attack on her aloofness in the
long criticism he sent her from his lodgings on Madame d'Arnim's
_Bellina_, a French translation of which had been published not long
before he left Paris. After some general remarks on the circumstance
of a girl's fancying herself in love with a great man living at a
distance, he waxed wroth over what he styled Bellina's head-love, and
over head-love in general. To this monster, Merimee, in his _Double
Mistake_, had given a thrust but a thrust that made it bleed only. The
cleverer Madame d'Arnim had poisoned it with opium. "In order for the
literary expression of love to become a work of art and to be
sublime," he continued, "the love that depicts should itself be
complete; it should occur in its triple form, head, heart, and body;
should be a love at once sensual and divine, manifested with wit and
poetry. Who says love says suffering; suffering from separation;
suffering from disagreement. Love in itself is a sublime and pathetic
drama. When happy, it is silent. Now, the cause of the tedium of
Madame d'Arnim's book," he added, "is easily discoverable by a soul
that loves. Goethe did not love Bellina. Put a big stone in Goethe's
place--the Sphinx no power has ever been able to wrest from its desert
sand--and Bellina's letters are understandable. Unlike Pygmalion's
fable, the more Bellina writes, the more petrified Goethe becomes, the
more glacial his letters. True, if Bellina had perceived that her
sheets were falling upon granite, and if she had abandoned herself to
rage or despair, she would have composed a poem. But, as she did not
love Goethe, as Goethe was a pretext for her letters, she went on with
her girl's journal; and we have read some (not intended for print)
much more charming, not in units, but in tens."

In the rest of the criticism, Balzac swirls round his guns and directs
his fire on Goethe's replies to Bellina. The latter's epistles were
accompanied with presents of braces and slippers and flannel
waistcoats, which were much more appreciated by the poet than her
theories on music. Not so did he, Balzac, treat his Lina, his Louloup
--such was the inference suggested. Every one of her, i.e. Eve's
sayings was treasured up, after being duly pondered upon. Such
adulation must have been delicious to Madame Hanska; and yet she sent
her sighing swain back into his loneliness, with his bonds riveted
tighter, his promises to break with all rivals more solemn, and a
disappointment, over his deferred hopes, that brought on an illness
after his return.

The journey back was made by land through Riga, Taurogen, and Berlin.
In the Prussian capital, Von Humboldt came to see him with a message
from the King and Queen; and Shakespeare's _Midsummer Night's Dream_
was seen on the stage, without pleasure being derived from it. To its
poesy the novelist was little open. Instead of pushing on straight to
France, he bent his course southwards to Dresden, where he visited the
Pinakothek. The Saxon town pleased him more than Berlin, both by its
structural picturesqueness and surroundings. The palace, begun by
Augustus, he esteemed the most curious masterpiece of rococo
architecture. The Gallery he thought over-rated; but he none the less
admired Correggio's _Night_, his _Magdalene_ and two _Virgins_, as
also Raphael's _Virgins_, and the Dutch pictures. His highest
enthusiasm was aroused by the theatre, decorated by the three French
artists Desplechin, Sechan, and Dieterle. He reached Passy on the 3rd
of November, having crowded into the preceding week visits to Maintz,
Cologne, Aix-la-Chapelle, and several places in Belgium.

The form assumed by his malady was arachnitis, an inflammation of the
network of nerves enveloping the brain. For the time being, Nacquart,
his doctor, conjured it away, as he had done in the case of other
seizures from which the patient had suffered. He had known Balzac
since boyhood and was well acquainted with his constitution.
Unfortunately he could not change the novelist's abnormal manner of
living and working. And the mischief was in them.

Balzac's three months' absence from Paris had caused profane tongues
to wag considerably. Notwithstanding his reticence concerning Countess
Hanska, a legend had gathered round about their relations to each
other. More than one paper reported that he had been off on an
expedition, wife, and fortune-hunting--which was true; and one daily,
at least, spoke of his having been engaged by the Czar as a kind of
court _litterateur_. The _Presse_ especially annoyed him by copying
from the _Independance Belge_ a story of his having been surprised by
the Belgian police dining in an hotel with an Italian forger, whose
grand behaviour and abundance of false bank-notes had completely
captivated him. The forger was certainly arrested in the hotel where
he had put up, but the dinner and the chumming were inventions; at any
rate, Balzac affirmed they were, uttering furious anathemas against
the scorpion Girardin, who had allowed so illustrious a name to be
taken in vain.

On the 26th of September, during the St. Petersburg visit, his third
finished theatrical piece, _Pamela Giraud_, was produced at the Gaite
Theatre. Differing essentially from his previous efforts, this play is
an ordinary melodramatic comedy. Pamela, like Richardson's heroine, is
an honest girl, who, occupied in the humble trade of flower-selling,
loves a young man, Jules Rousseau, that she believes to belong to her
own modest rank, whereas, in reality, he is the son of a big
financier. Involved in a Bonapartist conspiracy, which has just been
discovered, Jules comes one night to her room and tries to persuade
her to fly with him. She refuses; and, while he is with her, the
police enter and arrest him. To save him she consents, though opposed
by her parents, to say in Court that her lover had spent the night of
the conspiracy with her; and Jules is acquitted through this false
confession of her being his mistress. Once the happy result obtained,
Jules and his family forget her. The lawyer, however, smitten by her
beauty and virtue, proposes to marry her, and is about to carry his
intention into effect when, remarking that she is pining for the
ungrateful Jules, he contrives to bring him to Pamela's feet again,
and the marriage is celebrated.

_Pamela Giraud_ was written in 1838, but no theatre had been willing
to stage it in its original form. Ultimately two professional
playwrights, Bayard and Jaime, who had already dramatized, the one,
_Eugenie Grandet_ and the _Search for the Absolute_, the other, _Pere
Goriot_, pruned the over-plentifulness of its matter and strengthened
the relief of various parts; and, in the amended guise, it was
performed. Balzac resented the modifications, which explains his
equanimity on hearing, as he travelled homewards, that the piece had
fallen flat. He considered that, presented as he wrote it, the chances
of success would have been greater. He was wrong, and those critics as
well who attributed the failure to enmities arising out of a recent
publication of his, entitled the _Monography of the Press_. Neither of
the two chief _dramatis personae_ was capable of properly interesting
a theatrical audience. The character of Jules is contemptible from
beginning to end, and that of Pamela ceases to attract after the
trial. The conclusion of this play, as that of _Vautrin_, is an
anticlimax and leaves an unsatisfactory impression.

Why did Balzac write his _Monography of the Parisian Press_? Not
altogether from a pure motive, one must own. There is too much gall in
his language, too much satire in the thought. He was sufficiently
acquainted with the inner ring of journalistic life to be able to say
truly what were its blemishes; and, without doubt, at the time when he
composed the chief of his novels, these had a prejudicial effect on
literature as on other phases of activity. But his pamphlet, besides
its indiscriminate condemnations, erred in adopting a style which
rendered the turning of the tables only too easy. And Jules Janin,
whom he had already indisposed by sketching a seeming portrait of him
in the _Provincial Great Man in Paris_, came down heavily on the
daring satirist in the _Debats_ of the 20th of February 1843. The
retort, so he informed Madame Hanska, made him laugh immoderately.
Perhaps; but the laugh must have been somewhat forced--what the French
call "yellow."

In the _Monography_, men of letters, baptized by the novelist
_gendelettres_--one of the few words coined by Balzac which have
become naturalized--may be divided into several categories. First,
there are the _publicistes_, occupied in scratching the pimples of the
body politic. From these pimples they extract a book which is a
mystification. Not far removed from the _publicistes_ are the chief
managing editors and proprietors general, big wigs who sometimes
become prefects, receivers general, or theatrical directors. The type
of this class is glory's porter, speculation's trumpeter, the
electorate's _Bonneau_. He is set in motion by a ballet-dancer, a
cantatrice, an actress; in short, he is a brigand-captain, with other
brigands under him. And of the latter:--There are the _Premiers
Paris_, alias, first tenors. In writing _Premiers Paris_, it is
impossible for a man to avoid mental warp and rapid deterioration. In
such writing, style would be a misfortune. One must know how to speak
jesuitically; and, in order to advance, one must be clever in getting
one's ideas to walk on crutches. Those who engage in the trade confess
themselves corrupt; like diplomatists, they have as a pension the
Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Lettres, a few librarianships, even

Next to the _Premiers Paris_ come the _Faits Paris_; then the
_Camarillists_, other banditti commissioned to distort Parliamentary
speeches; then the newspaper Politicians, who have not two ideas in
their heads. If appointed under-officials, they would be unable to
administer the sweeping of the streets. Consequently, the more
incapable a man is, the better he is qualified to become the Grand
Lama of a newspaper. Indeed, nothing is more explicable than politics.
It is a game at ninepins.

In addition to its Politicians, the newspaper has its _Attaches_. The
_Attaches_ of the Republican party are watched very closely. One day
two Republicans meet, and the first says to the second: "You have sold
yourself; people find you are getting fatter." Whence it follows that
any paper knowing its trade will have only exceedingly thin
_Attaches_; otherwise your _Attache_ will be a mere detached
_Attache_, that is to say, a sort of paid spy, who is mostly a
professor of rhetoric or philosophy. He will dine at all tables, with
mission to attack political leaders; he runs in and out of newspaper
offices, like a dog seeking his master; and, when he has bitten
sharply, he becomes the professor of a fantastic science, the private
secretary of some cabinet, or else consul-general.

Afterwards come the _gendelettre_ pamphleteers. According to the
author of the _Monography_, the pamphlet is the brochure masterpiece;
and he himself is its most illustrious exponent. The Abbe de Lamennais
does not know how to speak to the proletariat. He is not Spartacus
enough, not Marat enough, not Calvin enough; he does not understand
how to storm the positions of the ignoble bourgeoisie at present in

Following on are the _gendelettre-vulgarisateurs_, who have invented
Germany. The type of this class is appointed professor in the College
de France. He marches at the head of the Nothingologues; he is the
almighty king of the Sorbonne. Such people are the skin parasites of
France. The Nothingologue is ordinarily _monobible_;[*] and, as the
bourgeoisie are essentially lacking in intelligence, they are
infatuated with him. The _Monobible_ becomes a director of canals,
railways, the defender of negroes, or else the advocate of slavery; in
a word, the Nothingologue is an important man, quite as the convinced
_gendelettre_, who reserves to himself the Council of State, and as
the sceptic _gendelettre_, who becomes Master of Requests or Governor
of the Marquisas Isles.

  [*] In Balzac's use of the word: A man who has written only one book
      and boasts of it always.

Replying to this diatribe, with its medley of shrewdness and
exaggeration, Janin pointed out that it insulted Quinet, professor at
the College de France; Sainte-Beuve, the poet, novelist, and critic,
the historian of Port-Royal; Philarete Chasles, professor of Foreign
Literature; Loeve Weimars, Consul at Bagdad; not to speak of Planche,
Berlioz, Michel and Chevalier; and that it came amiss from a man who
had lived and still lived on newspapers; who himself had been the
chief managing editor, tenor, Jack-of-all-trades, canard-seller,
camarillist, politician, premier-Paris, fait-Paris, _detache-attache_,
pamphleteer, translator, critic, euphuist, bravo, incense-bearer,
guerillero, angler, humbug, and even, what was more serious, the
banker of a paper of which he was the only, unique, and perpetual
_gendelettre_, and which, so admirably written, cleverly conducted,
and signed with so great a name, did not live six months.

Within a very few years, Janin was to bury the hatchet of polemics
beside Balzac's grave, and, forgetting the soreness generated in him
by the _Monography of the Press_ to constitute himself the dead
author's apologist.

Besides his continuation of Lucien de Rubempre's story in the
_Splendour and Wretchedness of Courtezans_, Balzac published, in the
year 1843, two complete novels, viz. _Honorine_, and _The Muse of the
County_, and a portion of an historical study on Catherine de Medici.
This last work, to which the _Calvinist Martyr_ belongs, was
undertaken with the idea of composing, as he said, a retrospective
history of France treated clairvoyantly, and, as the fragment shows,
with his peculiar bias towards despotism. In the experiment made with
_Catherine de Medici_, he started out thinking to justify and
rehabilitate her memory. Instead, he found himself obliged to exhibit
her committing the worst actions imaginable; and, his conclusions not
concording with his premises, he abandoned further incursions into the
past. History is a dangerous ground for a doctrinaire to investigate.

The former of the two novels is mainly psychological. The wife of a
Count Octave, having quitted her husband for another, has repented of
her fault and separated from her lover, but, through shamefastness,
will not return to her husband. She seeks to gain a livelihood by
flower-making; and her husband, who still loves her and is full of
forgiveness, helps her secretly to obtain orders. At length, by the
good offices of a secretary and the latter's uncle, a priest, he
pleads with his wife more efficaciously, and induces her to return to
him, yet without her pardoning herself; and she dies in giving birth
to a child, dies because she wishes, rather from wounded pride, it
would appear, than on account of her husband, to whose affection she
is strangely insensible. The heroine is not particularly interesting
with her morbidness and hysterical posing; she probably stands for one
of Balzac's principles, and his principles are the most tedious thing
about him.

With the _Muse of the County_, which the author declared to be
Constant's _Adolphe_ treated realistically, we are back in the truer
Balzacian manner. Dinah de la Baudraye--a Sancerre Catherine de
Vivonne--married to an apology for a man, is human flesh and blood;
and her love for the journalist Etienne Lousteau is natural, though
culpable. Indeed, her subsequent devotion to this shallow egotist is
not without greatness. Here the novelist, as much by his wit as by his
denouement, gives perhaps the best practical condemnation of adultery.

"Bah!" says the little de la Baudraye, "do you call it vengeance,
because the Duke of Bracciano will kill his wife for putting him into
a cage and showing herself to him in her lover's arms. Our tribunals
and society are much more cruel."

"In what?" asked Lousteau.

"In letting the woman live with a slender allowance. Every one turns
away from her. She has neither dress nor consideration, two things
which are everything to a woman."

"But she has happiness," replied Madame de la Baudraye grandly.

"No!" replied the husband, lighting his candle to go to bed; "for she
has a lover."

Dinah's punishment is of this kind. Persuaded at length to go back to
the house of her husband, who had been made a peer of France and
accepts Lousteau's children with her, she lives to see her former
lover and father of her children sink so low that she must despise
him, while still occasionally tempted to yield to his caresses.

When Alexandre Dumas, the younger, was received into the French
Academy in 1875, the Count d'Haussonville, who welcomed him, asserted
that the elder Dumas, like Balzac, Beranger, de Lamennais and others,
had preferred to remain an outsider. In the case of Balzac, the Count
was mistaken. The so-called preference was Hobson's choice. He stayed
outside only because he could not get in. Between 1839 and 1849, he
made several attempts to secure the promise of a number of votes
sufficient to elect him. Having stood aside at the earlier date in
favour of Victor Hugo, who was admitted in 1841, he thought he might
count on a reciprocal service from the poet. And, on Bonald's death in
the same year, he asked him, during the visit to Les Jardies, to use
his influence with his colleagues in the Academy. "Hugo promised but
little," says Gozlan; and Balzac had to wait for a better opportunity.
This happened at the end of 1843, when Campenon died, and a vacancy
occurred which he might reasonably claim to fill. Encouraged at
present by Hugo and Charles Nodier, he began the round of visits
required by Academy etiquette; but soon discovered that the members
whose votes he solicited did not consider him rich enough. He
therefore withdrew from the list of candidates, writing to Nodier
that, if he could not succeed in entering the Academy while in
honourable poverty, he would never present himself at the moment when
prosperity should have bestowed her favours on him.

And, so far as personal solicitation was concerned, he never did.
Though not abandoning his desire of belonging to the Forty, and
esteeming rightly that the value of his work entitled him to a place
among them, he felt after this rebuff that, if a fresh proposal were
made, it should come from the other side. He might have done more to
provoke it had not Madame Hanska been against his taking any further
action in the matter, however indirect. Maybe she realized better than
he did the uselessness of his candidature. The enemies he had in the
Academy and its entourage were too powerful for his claims to be
considered. Many years afterwards, Victor Hugo related that the
novelist put himself forward for the vacancy left by Ballanche's death
at the end of 1847, and apropos added the following anecdote.

"I was driving," he said, "down the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, when
in front of the Church I perceived Monsieur de Balzac, who beckoned to
me to stop. I was going to get out of the carriage, but he prevented
me, and said: 'I was just coming to see you. You know I am on the list
for the Academy.' 'Really!' 'Yes. What do you think of my chances?'
'You are too late, I fear. You will get only my vote.' 'It is your
vote especially I want.' 'Are you quite in earnest?' 'Quite.' Balzac
quitted me. The election was virtually decided. For political motives.
The candidature of Monsieur Vatout had a majority of supporters. I
tried to canvass for Balzac, but met with no success. It vexed me to
think that a man of Balzac's calibre should have only one vote, and I
reflected that if I could obtain a second one, I might create some
change of opinion. How was I to gain it? On the election day I was
sitting beside the excellent Pongerville, one of the best of men. I
asked him point blank, 'For whom are you voting?' 'For Vatout, as you
know.' 'I know it so little that I ask you to vote for Balzac.'
'Impossible!' 'Why?' 'Because my bulletin is ready. See.' 'Oh! that
makes no matter.' And on two bits of paper I wrote in my best hand:
'Balzac.' 'Well!' quoth Pongerville; 'well! you will see.' The
apparitor who was collecting the votes approached us. I handed him one
of the bulletins I had prepared. Pongerville, in his turn, stretched
out his hand to put Vatout's name in the urn; but, with a friendly tap
on his fingers, I caused his paper to flutter to the floor. He looked,
appeared irresolute for a moment; and, as I presented him with the
second bulletin, on which Balzac's name was inscribed, he smiled, took
it, and gave it with good grace. And that is how Honore de Balzac had
two votes in his favour at the Academy."

This story is inexact chronologically. Balzac was not a candidate in
1847-48, when Monsieur Vatout was chosen, but at two later elections,
those of the 11th and 18th of January 1849. In each of these he
obtained two votes; and since the second election was to fill the
chair of Monsieur Vatout, who died after occupying it during a
twelvemonth, it would seem that Victor Hugo, deceived by his memory,
confused the two events. As for the conversation with Balzac, it
probably refers to the candidature which the novelist did begin in
1844; and either Hugo's age in 1877, when he told the story, or his
capacity for embellishing was responsible for the interview being
tacked on to the election incident of 1849.

The Pongerville mentioned by Hugo was the same in whose album, in
1844, Balzac wrote a couple of complimentary verses. He happened to
come across the album at his sister's, and, after inserting his
poetry, took the book to Pongerville's house without finding him at
home. He had certainly reckoned, at the close of the preceding year,
on having this Academician's vote, as well as Dupaty's, Hugo's, and
Nodier's. Pongerville may have deemed his own tardy support a
sufficient reward for the verses.

Although Balzac's monetary embarrassments were fated to persist as
long as he lived, the causes being so much in the man, their burden
was somewhat less felt in and from the year 1844. This better state of
things was proved by his looking round for a more commodious
residence. The Passy cottage, picturesque as it was, accorded but ill
with his designs of marrying so grand a dame; and even for his work
was not very suitable, being close to the flats of the Rue Basse,
where families lived with children that disturbed his meditations. He
would have liked to free Les Jardies from its mortgage and keep the
place as a summer resort, while renting a snug mansion in the city
during the winter; but the two abodes were hardly within his means,
unless Eve would loosen her purse-strings. "I will not sell it," he
informed her, referring to his "Folly"; "it was built with my blood
and brains. I will stick to it--if I cannot dispose of it
advantageously," he finished up with, inconsequently. And still she
made no sign; or, rather she proffered no cash. Business advice she
gave in plenty. About each of the Paris houses suggested she had some
objections to make, so that, after fixing successively on a residence
belonging to Madame Delannoy (one of his creditor friends) in the Rue
Neuve-des Mathurins, on the old mansion opposite his Passy abode once
possessed by the Princesse de Lamballe, on the property in the Rue
Ponthieu, and on a plot of land in the Allee des Veuves where he
thought they could build, the end of the year arrived without any
definite solution being reached. The two "louloups," as he called
himself and Eve, filled their correspondence with calculations and
figures, the Paris "louloup" expressing his conviction that figures
were the foundation of their happiness.

If he did not die too soon, she might consider she would marry a
million in giving him her hand, he said. Slily, he now and again
quoted his worth in the estimation of a rival feminine authority. For
example, Madame de Girardin was about to write an article on the great
conversationalists of the day, and had mentioned that she held him to
be one of the most charming. However, when he raised his rate of
exchange in this way, he was always prudent enough to follow up with
concessions. His intimacy with the Englishwoman, Madame Visconti, who
was Eve's bugbear, he broke off completely--at least he swore he had
done so and offered to send his beloved tyrant the cold letter in
which his whilom friend and benefactress bade him good-bye. To let Eve
see it would not be gallant on his part, he confessed; but what could
he deny her, if she persisted. He was her Paris agent, even her Paris
errand-boy, at one time negotiating the entrance of the governess,
Mademoiselle Borel, into the Saint-Thomas-de-Velleneuve nunnery; at
another, purchasing gloves, millinery, and other articles of dress.
Yet she never considered him submissive enough, notwithstanding his
pretty flattery.

"Why shouldn't you have a poet?" he asked, thinking of himself, "as
other people have a dog, a monkey, a parrot--the more so as I have in
me something of these three creatures: I always repeat the same
phrase, I imitate society, I am faithful." And again in a burst of
lyricism, he exclaimed: "Adieu, loved friend, to whom I belong like
the sound to the bell, the dog to his master, the artist to his ideal,
prayer to God, pleasure to cause, colour to the painter, life to the
sun. Love me, for I need your affection, so vivifying, so coloured, so
agreeable, so celestial, so ideally good, of such sweet dominance, and
so constantly vibrating." With comparisons of this sort he was lavish.
"I am like Monsieur de Talleyrand," he told her in another letter.
"Either I show a stolid, tin face and do not speak a word, or else I
chatter like a magpie." Adopting the expression first invented by
Guizot, he characterized their mutual relations as an _entente
cordiale_, impatient, none the less, for the realization of his fancy,
which was to see his idol enter a tabernacle prepared to receive her
on the return from a delightful honeymoon. Meanwhile, he was amassing
furniture and bric-a-brac, just as the bird bits of straw; and he
implored her not to scold him. In the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, he had
ferreted out two Dresden vases, which he bought, resolving to deprive
himself for a time of his grapes at forty sous a pound, in order to
retrieve the money.

The retrieval indeed was not easy, since his passion for collecting
curios led him far, and he generally succumbed to the temptation of
something ancient and rare. In the previous autumn he had bought, for
thirteen hundred and fifty francs, a _secretaire_ and _commode_ in
ebony, with inlaid pearl, that had apparently been manufactured at
Florence in the seventeenth century; these _objets d'art_ he estimated
at values ranging up to forty or fifty thousand francs. A description
of them appeared in the press, and rich amateurs inquired whether he
were willing to sell; but, either because he asked too much or really
did not want to part with them, they were kept, as also his _Christ_
by Bouchardon or Girardon, which he obtained for two hundred francs
and valued at several thousands. If he had no cash for his purchases
--and this frequently happened--he placed one of his already acquired
treasures (possibly unpaid for, too) in the establishment of his
"respectable relative," as he styled the pawnbroker, and thus secured
the coveted object.

In his intercourse with his own family, Madame Hanska was a
continuously troubling factor. The prospect of his alliance with this
foreign aristocrat had less charm for Madame Balzac and Laure than for
Honore. They probably perceived the chimera he was pursuing, and could
not be expected to show enthusiasm. This attitude on their side and a
certain hauteur on his, partly caused by offended dignity, widened the
breach between him and them. "I have now no family," he told "The
Stranger," "and am glad that the coldness should be established before
I am completely happy; for later the reason of it would have been
attributed to you, or to what would have been termed my uppishness.
The isolation, which you wish, will be likewise my dearest desire. My
sister," he proceeded, "has suppressed for ever the literary question
betwixt us, with her blue-stocking whims. I cannot talk to her of my
affairs, nor yet of my mother's. She asserts that her husband is a
greater man than I am." Madame de Berny, he added, had foreseen his
mother's and sister's transformation when she told him he was a flower
that had sprung up on a dunghill! If Madame de Berny told him this, it
was no doubt in a fit of anger against them for endeavouring to sever
the liaison, an endeavour they were perfectly justified in. These
portions of Balzac's confidences, which reflect upon his character
seriously, and besmirch him more than those against whom they were
spoken, cannot be overlooked in a biography. They have to be included
in our judgment of him, and, in a measure, concern the tragic close of
his love romance.

We are fonder of him in the expansive moods when his naive wonder at
his own performances carries him into self-panegyric, which, not
infrequently, we can endorse, though with some discount. Thus, for
instance, the _Bourgeois of Paris_ he declared to be one of those
masterpieces that leave everything else behind. "It is grand, it is
terrifying in verve, in philosophy, in novelty, in painting, in
style." And yet there was Eugene Sue selling the _Wandering Jew_ to a
newspaper for a hundred thousand francs, while the _Philosophy of
Conjugal Life_, a publication of his own in Hetzel's _Diable a Paris_,
fetched only eight hundred; and the _Peasants_ was paid for only at
the rate of sixty centimes a line. His _Modeste Mignon_ which appeared
in the _Debats_, sold rather dearer, six thousand francs being given,
and for the _Bourgeois_, nine thousand. The explanation of Sue's
getting more than he he imagined to be because Sue lived in grander
style than himself with flunkeys to open the door and overawe the
publishers who flocked to the successful writer, whereas he, living in
a cottage, had to cool his heels in an office ante-chamber, and was
exploited on account of his neediness. There was some truth in what he
said; but he did not sufficiently realize that Sue wrote, for the
market, exciting tales that everybody rushed to read. His own books
were, of course, most of them infinitely superior; but they appealed
to a much smaller public. All the same, he was loth to resign himself
to the depreciation Sue's bargains effected in his own. Feverishly he
strove to demonstrate by his painfully gained successes that they were
masterpieces, as he said, by the side of Sue's chimney-fronts, and as
far above them as Raphael was above Dubufe. Moliere, Lesage, Voltaire,
Walter Scott--these were the only names he acknowledged as rivals to
his own. Sue was nothing but a spangled and satined Paul de Kock.

We can grant him that, in fiction, his proper manner was as far in
advance of his epoch as, in politics, his doctrine was behind it.
George Sand was a medium in both, although she dwelt always a little
too much in the clouds. At a dinner with her towards the end of
January, the antagonism of their principles manifested itself over his
recent visit to Russia.

"If you were to see the Czar," Balzac said to her, "you would fall in
love with him and jump from your _bousingotism_[*] to autocracy."

  [*] A word used to characterise the dress and manners of the
      Romanticists, who were fond of Robespierre waistcoats, long
      hair, and other peculiarities intended to distinguish them from
      ordinary mortals.

Madame Dudevant waxed angry. It was not kind in a man who had resisted
her blandishments to make merry over her foibles.

The Russians, he gravely told her, were extremely amiable, easy to get
on with, exceedingly literary, since everything was done on paper, and
Russia was the only country in which people knew how to obey.

The mention of obedience in a people irritated the hostess; but on her
seething he poured a drop of cold water by asking jestingly:

"Would you, in a great danger, wish your servants to deliberate about
what you had ordered them to do?"

train (the epithets are Balzac's) stopped dead at the question. Then
Marliani, one of the guests, remarked that argument was impossible with
poets. Balzac bowed, and added:

"You hear what he says?"

"You are a dreadful satirist," retorted George Sand. "Go on with your
_Comedie Humaine_."

It was not necessary to give the recommendation. He was for ever going
on; and the further he went, the further his horizons receded. The
embracing lines were rather indiscriminate. He came to think himself
capable of reducing every domain to his scale. Men's ambitions,
however, are part of their motive power; and, had his been less
sweeping, the qualities of his work might have diminished with the
defects. "Four men," he cried in one of his vauntings, "have had an
immense life, Napoleon, Cuvier, O'Connell, and--I mean to be the
fourth! The first lived with the life of Europe; he inoculated himself
with armies! The second espoused the globe! The third incarnated in
himself a people! As for me! I shall have borne a whole society in my
head! It is just as well to live thus as every evening to say,
'Spades, hearts, trumps;' or to wonder why Madame such a one has done
such and such a thing."

_Modeste Mignon_, which was published in 1844 with the extra
attraction of some of Auber's music in it is one of Balzac's brighter
and lighter books, and reproduces part of his own last love-story more
objectively treated than in _Albert Savarus_. Its plot was suggested
to him by a short tale which Madame Hanska composed, intending to
submit it for his approval, but which she threw in the fire,
afterwards sending him, in one of her epistles, an outline of what she
had done. Since he utilized her invention, he paid her back by
selecting as his point of departure the adventure of a well-educated
girl of literary tastes, who, through reading the verses of the
celebrated Canalis, at once a poet and a statesman, fell in love with
him and expressed her (literary) admiration in a letter, though she
had never seen him. There were other such cases in the first half of
the nineteenth century besides that of the Polish Countess and the
author of _Eugenie Grandet_. Disdaining to reply to a correspondent
who did not appear to be a person with whom he could take liberties,
Canalis delegated the task to his friend and secretary, La Briere, who
answered under cover of the great man's name and ultimately found out
and, incognito, beheld the lady. She was beautiful and he lost his
heart to her. When later the subterfuge was discovered, Canalis,
interested now, wanted to marry the lady, she being presumably rich.
Through pique, Modeste, for a while, listened to his suit and smiled
on him, albeit, in verity, she was touched by La Briere's sincere
affection. The circumstances leading to the unmasking of Canalis'
selfish character and to Modeste's marriage with La Briere are handled
in a less Balzacian way than the introductory chapters, which,
however, are more than usually tortuous. But the whole story is
pleasing; and, in the discursive paragraphs, there is less dogmatism
and a more delicate sense of contrasts than the novelist is wont to
exhibit when astride a hobby-horse. The following passage has an aroma
of Shelley's _Defence of Poetry_ in it, which merits our attention.
The divine in man says:

"In order to live, thou shalt bend thyself towards earth; in order to
think thou shalt raise thyself heavenwards. We want the life of the
soul as much as that of the body; whence there are two utilities. Thus
it is certain that a book will not serve as foot-gear; an epic, from
the utilitarian point of view, is not worth an economical soup from
the kitchen of a Benevolent Society; and a self-acting boiler, rising
a couple of inches on itself, procures calico a few pence a yard
cheaper; but this machine and the improvements of industry do not
breathe life into a nation, and will not tell the future that it has
existed; whereas Egyptian art, Mexican art, Grecian art, Roman art,
with their masterpieces accused of uselessness, have attested the
existence of these peoples in the vast expanse of time, there where
huge intermediary nations, destitute of great men, have disappeared
without leaving their visiting cards on the globe. All works of genius
are the epitome of a civilization, and presuppose an immense utility.
Forsooth, a pair of boots will not outvie a stage-play in your eyes,
and you will not prefer a windmill to the Church of Saint Ouen. So, a
people is animated with the same sentiment as a man; and man's
favourite idea is to survive himself mentally as he reproduces himself
physically. The survival of a people is the work of its men of

_Beatrix_, the other completed novel of the year, is a drawn-out,
ill-composed work, which is not redeemed sufficiently by its minute
description of Breton manners and its portrait of George Sand in
Felicite des Touches. Six years separated the publication of the first
part of the book from that of the conclusion, and, in the interval,
the unity of plan suffered. Balzac devoted a good deal of labour to
its execution. In all the conjugal ruses employed by Sabine de
Grandlieu to detach Calyste, her husband, from Beatrix, he displays
his peculiar talent, but the ultimate effect is poor.

                            CHAPTER XII

               LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1845, 1846

Though fertile in incidents, the year of 1845 was, from a literary
point of view, more barren than any in Balzac's past career,
exception, of course, made for the time lost during his printing-house
adventure. Beyond his short, witty sketch, _A Man of Business_,
relating the tricks employed by the princes of bohemianism to pay
their debts and indulge their caprices gratis, no finished work was
published. The _Peasants_, which the author never entirely got
through, was taken up repeatedly, and as often put aside from sheer
inability to proceed.

The deadlock in which he found himself had been preparing since his
visit to Saint Petersburg. Whether the intimacy created there between
Madame Hanska and himself was that of two lovers in the chaster sense,
or, as Monsieur Gabriel Ferry assets, in his _Balzac et ses Amies_,
that of a closer union, it had haunted him during his subsequent
twelvemonth's loneliness. And when Eve, who had come to spend the
winter at Dresden, discouraged, from fear of her society friends'
backbiting, the idea of his going there to see her, he grew incapable
of concentrating his mind on his books; and, even in his letters to
her, chafed and was irritable, scolding her for not stamping her
envelopes, and recommending her to acquire habits of order and
economy! confessing the while that, to escape from his melancholy, he
had been playing lansquenet, dining out, going to the theatres, and
leading a nonchalant life.

The tone was a bold one to assume, but clever. His tyrant, already
repenting the pledges given, had been hinting it would be better not
to carry them out. Her own relatives were quite as much against the
match as Balzac's, she reminded him, while narrating all the malicious
tittle-tattle that mutual acquaintances were constantly telling her.
She defended him, she said. "A mistake!" retorted Balzac. "When, in
your presence, any one attacks me, your best plan is to mock the
slanderers by outdoing them. When some one sneeringly remarked to
Dumas that his father was a nigger, he answered: 'My grandfather was a

His scolding for once did good. Eve did not like his "wounding prose,"
but she talked no more of breaking with him. On the contrary, she
relented as far as to remove the embargo on his going to Dresden; so
in May he went. And, what was more, she came in August to Paris;
incognito, since the visit was without the Czar's permission, she and
her daughter Anna travelling from the frontier under the names of
Balzac's sister and niece.

In the novelist's correspondence, there is a curious letter written on
the 2nd of August to Madame Emile de Girardin. In it the writer
excuses himself for not calling on her, being obliged to remain at
home on account of the disquieting condition of a lady friend of his
who had hurt herself and was under medical treatment. The inference is
that the lady in question was staying in his house; and a note written
to Madame Hanska, on the 4th of September, with its allusion to the
Passy garden in which they had walked so much together, makes it
sufficiently plain that she was the August guest. Although no proofs
have yet come to light which we can accept as irrefutable, there seems
to be ground for the supposition put forward that a premature
confinement was the illness, carefully concealed from every one.

If the supposition be correct, it explains the convalescent's being
joined by Balzac again in September at Baden-Baden, where the
arrangements were made for Eve and himself to meet in October at
Chalon-sur-Saone and to travel together to Italy. It was during this
second stay in Germany that the play of the _Saltimbanques_ they had
seen suggested to the novelist the amusing nicknames which he
henceforth adopted when writing to Madame Hanska's family. Anna was
dubbed _Zephirine_; her betrothed, _Gringalet_; Eve, _Atala_; and
himself, _Bilboquet_. Georges, the betrothed, who was a Pole bearing
the title of Count Mniszech, was a young man of scientific tastes and
considerable learning, for whom Balzac conceived a great liking, and
whom he helped in his entomological researches.

The ramble southwards was probably the most pleasurable experience in
the novelist's life, being an anticipated honeymoon. From Chalon they
journeyed along the banks of the Rhone, visiting no fewer than
twenty-three towns on the way. At Naples they parted, and the
prospective bridegroom turned Paris-wards, going via Pisa, Civita
Vecchia, and Marseilles; in this last city he comforted himself for the
separation by hunting out further adornments for the home he was still
busily striving to find in the capital.

At Marseilles lived a poet-friend of his named Mery, whom he had
enlisted as a collaborator in his teeming dramatic schemes. Him he
commissioned to bargain for certain articles of vertu which Lazard,
the famous dealer in antiquities, quoted too dear--eight hundred
francs for a mirror, and five hundred for a statuette. "Let Lazard see
that you will give a thousand francs for the two things," he advised
Mery; "but don't offer more than nine. Glance stoically at the
articles when passing by, and joke the dealer. Then send acquaintances
to offer a little less than you. After a fortnight's haggling, Lazard
will let you have them one fine morning." For getting the better of
these sly shopkeepers, Balzac had a good many devices up his sleeve.

Back in Passy, he was seized again by the same restlessness as in the
spring, thwarting his efforts to settle down to his desk. The utmost
he could accomplish was to wander about, note-book in hand, collecting
material for later use. Happening in December to be near the Assize
Courts, he went in to listen to the trial of Madame Colomes, a niece
of Marshal Sebastiani, who was accused of forging bills. He was struck
by her strong resemblance to the dead _Dilecta_, and also by her
attachment, herself being forty-five years of age, to a young man of
twenty. The latter, after wasting in riotous living the money she had
procured him by her forgeries, fled and left her to bear the brunt of
her shame. The most repugnant detail of this unfortunate woman's case
Balzac utilized not long afterwards in his _Cousin Bette_.

Perhaps it was less his ennui than the curiosity for new sensations
which caused him to accept Gautier's invitation to pass an evening
with Baudelaire and one or two others, at the Hotel Pimodan, for the
purpose of eating hashish. He experienced none of the extraordinary
phenomena usually attributed to the consumption of this drug, his
explanation being that the dose was too weak, or his brain too strong.
However, he owned to having heard celestial voices and to having seen
divine paintings while he descended Lauzun's staircase, in a promenade
that seemed to have lasted twenty years. He does not appear to have
repeated the intoxication. Yet, on receiving another unkind epistle
from Eve, shortly afterwards, he mentioned the possibility of arming
himself against his sea of troubles through the drug's lethal

In anything that had to do with the function of the brain, he was as
interested as if medicine had been his profession. A book of Dr.
Moreau's on madness, which he read during these months of mental
relaxation, drew from him an acknowledgment wherein he foreshadowed
his intention of studying anatomy and myology. "I believe," he said,
"we shall do no good until we have determined the action exercised by
the physical organs of thought in the production of madness. The
organs are the containing sheaths of some fluid or other as yet
inappreciable. I hold this for proved. Well! there are a certain
number of organs which are vitiated by their lack, by their
constitution, others which are vitiated by an excess of afflux.
People, who, like Cuvier and Voltaire, have exercised their organs
early, have rendered them so powerful that no excess can affect them;
whereas those who keep to certain portions of the ideal encephalos,
which we represent as the laboratory of thought--the poets, who leave
deduction and analysis inactive and exploit the heart and imagination
exclusively--may become mad. In short, there would be a fine
experiment to make. I have thought of it for twenty years. This would
be to reconstitute the brain of an idiot, to demonstrate whether a
thinking apparatus can be created by developing its rudiments. Only by
building up a brain shall we know how one is demolished."

The beginning of the new year did not bring back his former zeal for
labour. Much of his time he frittered away in adding to his
collections. Here he picked up a portrait of Queen Marie Leczinska by
a pupil of Coypel, there, a Flemish lustre for which he paid four
hundred and fifty francs. Eve reproached him with his idleness,
presumably because he was too frequently at the house of Madame de
Girardin. To calm her he penned a few remarks anent that lady not
exactly complimentary. "Madame de Girardin," he said, "who is charming
among a few friends, is a less agreeable hostess when she holds a
large reception. She belies her origin only by her talent; but, when
she is outside her talent, she becomes once more her mother's
daughter, that is to say 'bourgeoise' and 'Gay' thoroughbred." To the
soiree which drew from him this jibe, he had been invited to meet
Sheridan's granddaughter--an English bore, he styled her--who looked
him up and down through an eye-glass as if he were an actor. His
relations with Emile, Delphine's husband, continued to be marked by
breezes. Before starting for Rome on the 17th of March, he sent him a
few sharp lines complaining of the _Presse's_ delay in printing the
_Peasants_. As a matter of fact, the readers of the _Presse_ were not
pleased with the story; and the editor had been obliged to request the
author to modify the unpublished part. Balzac complied, but felt sore.

The earlier chapters of this novel appeared in 1844; the last ones did
not come out until five years after the novelist's death. The plot of
the book turns on the struggle waged by the peasants and petty
bourgeois of Soulanges against a new but estimable landlord, General
Montcornet, whose estate they are determined to have by hook or by
crook in their own hands, not hesitating, at least some of them, to
assassinate the honest agent who strives to protect his employer's
property against their depredations. All these country folk Balzac has
portrayed with effects depending on the painter's and sculptor's art
as much nearly as on the writer's; and the inmates and visitors of the
village-inn and coffee-house are individualized with an anatomical
intensity fringing on the brutal. Like the _Village Cure_ and the
_Country Doctor_, the _Peasants_ is a novel with a purpose and a
warning. The author preaches against the dividing up of the land; and
advocates agriculture on a large scale by a reversion to the old
estates with their castles and forests. As adjuvants to these he
pleads for the development of Catholicism, a wider influence of the
clergy both in education and private life. His picture of peasant
avarice has been repeated by later writers, Guy de Maupassant and
Zola. True in many particulars, it is traced by a prejudiced mind, and
cannot be accepted as thoroughly representative.

At Rome he found Madame Hanska, and stayed with her there till May.
Instead of describing the Eternal City to his sister, he referred her
to de Lamennais' accounts, himself being fully occupied with his
companion and sight-seeing. He was duly received by the Pope, and
obtained a small crown chaplet for his mother, together with His
Holiness' blessing. Saint Peter's surpassed his expectations, and the
choir's _Miserere_ so delighted him that he went to hear it a second
time in lieu of that of the Sixtine Chapel. The journey back through
Genoa, the Grisons, and Bale was a pretext for continuing his
bric-a-brac purchases, Holbein's _Saint Peter_ being added to his

Reaching Paris at last, he now took up his pen with his old ardour.
Fresh pledges for the future had been given him by Eve. These served
to lure him onward; and behind him were the creditors who had lent him
money for his trip, and were wanting some of it restored. At this
period Madame Hanska's funds and his own were partly associated. Some
of her capital and some of his own, probably the sum accruing from the
sale of Les Jardies, at present definitive, had been invested in North
Railway Shares. Besides, not a few of his paintings and antique pieces
of furniture had been paid for with advances from her strong-box.

The two works that issued from his new effort of creation were _Cousin
Bette_ and _Cousin Pons_. These, with _Pierrette_, made up his series
of the _Poor Relations_.

The _Old Musician_, as he originally called _Pons_, was meant to give
us the case of a man overwhelmed with humiliations and insults, yet
preserving his generosity and pardoning everybody and everything,
avenging himself only through kindness. Composed, like _Cesar
Birotteau_, very rapidly, it bears evidence of the author's haste.
There is no proper love interest in the book, the lack being supplied
by the friendship between Pons and the old German musician, Schmucke.
A number of subordinate biographies are interwoven with the principal
story--those of the banker Brunner, the Auvergnat Remonencq, the
Cibots, who were Pons' porters and caterers, Doctor Poulain and Lawyer
Fraisier. We have plots within plots, wheels within wheels, in this
strange, pathetic life of the musician, whose collecting hobby and
expert's skill in finding out rarities Balzac dwells on with all the
greater detail as he was indulging at that time his own bent in this
direction with peculiar zest and success. But the complexity and
crowding are foils one is glad to have against the sordid treachery of
the Cibot household, as, too, against the woes of Pons and Schmucke.
Perhaps nowhere in his achievement has the novelist got deeper down to
the rockbed of genuine humanity than in this work. _Cousin Pons_ was
published in 1847. _Cousin Bette_ came a year earlier.

Besides the two novels just mentioned, Balzac finished, during this
same period, the long series in which _Vautrin_ is a chief, if not the
chief, character; and also a book variously named the _Brothers of
Consolation_ and the _Reverse Side of Contemporary History_. In the
_Vautrin_ sequels he took up again the fortunes of Lucien de Rubempre,
who, after returning in disgrace to his family, loses courage and is
on the point of drowning himself when he meets with an Abbe Carlos
Herrera; the latter changes the young man's suicidal intentions by
promising to procure him wealth, rank, and honours. Herrera is no
other than Vautrin, who, having escaped from prison, is at the head of
a formidable association of convicts. Carefully hiding his identity
from Lucien, he persuades him to accept monetary help; and gradually
Lucien contrives to enter aristocratic society, becomes the favourite
of the Duchess of Serizy, and will be received as the betrothed of the
nobly born Clotilde de Grandlieu, provided he can show that he
possesses sufficient landed property. It so happens that his mistress
Esther, a Jewess of great beauty, who is as fond of him as Coralie
was, kills herself on learning that she must give him up. And Esther
being in reality an heiress whose father, Gobseck, has just died,
Vautrin forges a will by which the fortune is bequeathed to Lucien.
Unluckily for the ex-convict's plans, some police spies have been on
the track of his proceedings, and an untimely arrest of him and his
protege casts them into prison. These adventures are told in _Whither
Bad Ways Lead_ and two other volumes. A concluding book, entitled
_Vautrin's Last Incarnation_, relates the outlaw's duel with justice
in his confinement, the suicide of his disciple, and his own pardon at
the price of entering into the Government's secret police. The later
portions of this drawn-out piece of fiction are written in the
melodramatic style, and the characterization is distinctly inferior.
The author loses himself in the various imbroglios, and the actors
degenerate into creatures of romance, lacking consistency.

The _Reverse Side of Contemporary History_ has similar defects. It was
commenced in the _Musee des Familles_ in 1842, was continued in 1844,
and was completed only in 1848 in the _Spectateur Republicain_. We
meet at first with a certain Godefroi who reaches middle age without
obtaining any permanent satisfaction out of his life, and who thinks
of burying himself in some quiet quarter of Paris where he can dwell
unknowing and unknown. An accident introduces him to a kind of lay
community whose presiding spirit is a Madame de la Chanterie, and
whose members are a priest and three old gentlemen. These people are
devoting what remains to them of their existence to alleviating pain
and distress. Godefroi is admitted into the association, and, during
his novice expedition, has a curious experience which leads to the
disclosure of Madame de la Chanterie's past. This is narrated in the
second half of the book. We get the whole of that lady's tragic
history, an unjust trial of which she was the victim, the Nemesis
which punished the bad judge in his daughter's frightful malady and
his poverty, and the heaping of coals of fire on his head by the woman
who had suffered so direly through him. On arriving at the end of the
story we cannot recognize it as the one we were made acquainted with
at the outset. The tangle of episode and explanation--the latter
confusing more than it explains--which intervenes in the middle,
issues in a coarser thread that persists till the close. And yet the
start was a fair one.

With _Cousin Bette_, we are back among the monstrosities. Bette is the
poor relation who, unlike Pons, revenges herself for her humiliations
and the insults bestowed on her. She aids in the pecuniary and moral
ruin of the Hulot family, acts in cold blood, and attains her object
before she dies. She is not the only perverted nature delineated.
There is the Baron Hulot, whose odious licentiousness brings him to a
veritable cretinism. There is Crevel, a grotesque, contemptible dupe;
there are the Marneffes, sinks of corruption; and, with these, other
minor characters--the vindictive Brazilian who wreaks his wrath on
Madame Marneffe and on Crevel by his mysterious death-causing gift.
The ideally virtuous Adeline Hulot also the novelist belittles, making
her offer herself to Crevel to save her husband from the consequences
of his degrading passions. Nearly all the book is harrowing, and even
the atmosphere of the bohemian circles, where conversation is one
sparkle of satire, is heavily tainted with vice.

George Sand protested against Madame Hulot's portrait as unnatural;
and, herself being the contrary of prudish in sexual relations, the
opinion cannot be called prejudiced. Balzac defended his treatment,
while admitting there was force in what she said. Arguing with her on
their respective methods, he replied: "You seek to paint man as he
ought to be. I take him as he is. Believe me, we are both right. Both
ways lead to the same goal. I am fond of exceptional beings. I am one
myself. Moreover, I need them to give relief to my common characters;
and I never sacrifice them without necessity. But these common
characters interest me more than they interest you. I aggrandize them;
I idealize them in an inverse direction, in their ugliness or their
stupidity. I give to their deformity terrifying or grotesque
proportions. You could not do this. You are wise not to look at people
and things that would cause you nightmare. Idealize in that which is
pretty and beautiful. This is woman's task."

In spite of sheriff's summonses and stormy discussions with those to
whom he still had indebtedness, and in spite, too, of a tropical
summer, the would-be bride-groom toiled cheerfully on through 1846.
His Passy cottage was becoming, with the continually augmented
collection, quite a museum, and Bertall, the artist-caricaturist, was
in ecstasies over a china service estimated by its owner at some
thousands of francs. His good humour rendered him his former
conversational brilliancy, which had been somewhat damped during the
past twelvemonth, and, at one of Delphine Gay's dinners, where he met
Hugo and Lamartine, he replied to Jove's heavy artillery with a raking
fire from his own quick-firing guns. Lamartine was enchanted. Balzac
must go to the Chamber was his verdict. But Balzac, at present, was
content to correspond with his Eve and to occupy himself with the
restoration of the pictures she was helping him to buy. One of these,
the _Chevalier of Malta_, he had acquired on Gringalet's
recommendation when in Rome. It had been bistered over by the dealer
with a view to hiding a scratch, and there was also the dirt of age
upon it. Requisitioning a clever craftsman in picture-restoring, he
submitted the treasure to him. "It's a masterpiece," pronounced the
expert: "but what will it be worth when the dirt is off?" Three days
later the restorer came back with his drugs and implements. And,
first, he rubbed a corner with some cotton dipped in one of his
mixtures, which frothed the painting white. Then for an hour he
scrubbed the surface progressively until he had a lot of little cotton
balls all black. Afterwards, he began again, for the dirt was in
layers, and, at the conclusion of the scrubbing and brushing, the
chevalier emerged as life-like and fresh as when painted by the pupil
of Raphael--Albert Durer or another--three hundred years before. The
scratch was easily repaired, and Balzac was beside himself with joy.
Relating to Georges Mniszech this happy result, which enriched his
gallery containing already more than half-a-dozen old masters of great
value, he said: "When connoisseurs and dilletanti come to visit my
collection I shall say to them, 'I owe this head to a young professor
of entomology; he is a charming young man, full of wit and feeling,
who, for the moment, is buried in bliss, science, and the steppes of
the Ukraine. He is so versed in paintings that he is a boon to his
friends. Oh! I assure you he out-experts all the experts of Paris put
together. What is his name?--Gringalet!--No, really!--As truly as I am
called Bilboquet.'"

The bliss referred to was Georges' approaching marriage with Eve's
daughter Anna, which was celebrated very unostentatiously at Wiesbaden
in October, owing to the recent death of the Count's father. Balzac
went to the wedding, and stayed with the family for four days. He had
already spent a short time with them in August, on the occasion of the
old Count Mniszech's death, and, on his return journey, had been
accompanied by Madame Hanska as far as Strasburg, where she made him
such a definite statement regarding their marriage as amounted to an
official engagement. It was between the two visits that he
commissioned Georges to buy Atala a Voltaire-armchair for her greater
ease and comfort.

While at the wedding, he was able to tell Eve that he had at last come
upon a house which was everything that could be desired for them two
selves. It was the smaller remaining portion of the splendid mansion
and grounds built for the famous financier, Beaujon, by the architect
Girardin in the eighteenth century. The original property, situated
near the Arc de Triomphe, was nicknamed by contemporaries Beaujon's
Folly. At the owner's death, the mansion and grounds were sold, and
subsequently the Rues Chateaubriand, Lord Byron, and Fortunee were cut
through the place. The abode chosen by the novelist bordered on the
Rue Fortunee. From its staircase there was an entrance into a private
chapel, which the financier had had constructed in his old age for his
soul's edification, and in which he was finally buried. The outside of
the house in Balzac's time was modest in appearance. Alone, a cupola,
seen above the containing walls, suggested memories of bygone glory.
Inside, there were still very substantial pieces of luxury and
artistic decoration that needed only touching up to be practically
what they had been of yore. Balzac detailed all this to his betrothed,
and his selection was approved. No sooner was he in Paris again than
the bargain was settled, and orders were given for the necessary
repairs and renovation to be executed.

The end of 1846 seemed to smile on these projects of a speedy
installation in conformity with his desires. Though the North Railway
Shares had declined considerably, he was earning a good deal of money.
_Cousin Bette_ yielded him thirteen thousand francs, and _Cousin Pons_
was sold for nine--modest prices indeed; but the total, with other
sources of revenue, gave him for the twelvemonth an income of about
fifty thousand francs. In the Beaujon mansion the workmen soon
accomplished prodigies, transforming its dilapidated rooms into
ship-shape and elegance. Bilboquet issued special instructions for
apartments to be fitted up for Gringalet and Zephirine--a bedchamber
and small _salon_, both circular and sculptured, with paintings on the
arches, worthy of the destined aristocratic occupants.

Urged on by the sight of these preparations, he threw himself with
almost frenzy into fresh literary labour. Dr. Nacquart warned him
against the consequences of such brain debauch, as he termed it,
prophesying that harm would ensue. And the doctor was right. Balzac
was soon to pay for his excesses. Just now there was much in the
political firmament that caused the novelist anxiously to wish that
his own fortunes and those of Eve were indissolubly united. "Make
haste!" was his constant cry to her.

"I see," he said, "Italy and Germany ready to move. Peace hangs only
by a thread--the life of Louis-Philippe, who is growing old; and, if
war comes, Heaven knows what would happen to us. . . . For a young and
ambitious sovereign who would not want, like Louis-Philippe, above all
to die quietly in his bed, how favourable the moment would be to
regain the left bank of the Rhine. The populations are harassed by
petty, imbecile royalties. England is at loggerheads with Ireland, who
seeks to ruin her or separate from her. All Italy is preparing to
shake off the yoke of Austria. Germany desires her unity, or perhaps
more liberty merely. Anyway, we are on the eve of great catastrophes.
In France, it is our interest to wait, our cavalry and navy not being
strong enough to enable us to triumph on land and sea; but, when these
two are improved and our defence-works completed, France will be
redoubtable. One must admit, that, by the manner Louis-Philippe is
administering and governing, he is making her the first Power in the
world. Just think! Nothing is factitious with us. Our army is a fine
one; we have money; everything is strong and real at present. When the
port of Algiers is terminated, we shall have a second Toulon in front
of Gibraltar; we are advancing in the domination of the Mediterranean.
Spain and Belgium are with us. This man has made progress. If he were
ambitious and wished to chant the Marseillaise, he would demolish
three empires to his advantage."

The foregoing outlook on the future neglected certain signs of the
times equally necessary to be taken into account with others that were
perceived. In politics especially, the humourist's detachment is
essential to correct perspective, and of humour Balzac had but small
share. As compensation, pleasantry was not wanting in this Duc de
Bilboquet, peer of France and other places--as he subscribed himself
to his dear Gringalet.

In February 1847, for the second time, Madame Hanska came to Paris
incognito. The Beaujon house was nearly ready, and as mistress of it
that was to be, her instructions were required for the garnishing. The
happy Bilboquet conducted her to the Opera, the Italiens, the
Conservatoire, and also to the Varietes where they saw Bouffe and
Hyacinthe play in the laughable _Filleul de tout le Monde_. It was
intended that she should stay till April, and that then he should take
her back to Germany, leaving her there to pursue her journey to
Wierzchownia, whither he was to proceed later. The novelist's so far
published correspondence has large gaps in the year 1847, with an
entire lack of letters to Eve--yet such exist--so that we do not learn
whether the intermediate programme was executed. Until the third
volume of the _Letters to the Stranger_ is published, it will be
impossible to fill in accurately the history of the months between
February and October, in which, however, events of importance
occurred. One of these was Balzac's burning all Madame Hanska's
epistles to him. Why? Apparently on account of a quarrel. And the
quarrel? Was it caused by her finding out that, in 1846, he had a
liaison with a lady resulting in the birth of a six months' child,
which did not survive? Monsieur de Lovenjoul, who is the authority for
this last information, mentions that the harassment Balzac suffered
from the affair was largely responsible for the rapid progress of the
heart-disease that finally killed him.

During the month of April[*] he was occupied in removing his furniture
from the Passy cottage to his new residence. Theophile Gautier, who
paid him a visit there not long after the installation, gave a sketch
of what he saw in an article that appeared in the _Artiste_. He says:

  [*] On the house in Passy; the dates indicating the period of the
      novelist's residence there are incorrect. It is to be hoped that
      the error, which has been pointed out to the Curator, will be

"When one entered this dwelling, which, indeed, was not easy, since
the occupant kept himself close there, a thousand tokens of luxury and
comfort were noticeable which were but little in agreement with the
poverty that he pleaded. One day, however, he received us, and we saw
a dining-room wainscoted in old oak, with table, chimney-piece,
sideboards, dressers, and chairs, all in wood so carved as to have
caused envy to Cornejo Duque and Verbruggen, if they had been present;
a drawing-room upholstered in buttercup damask, and with doors,
cornices, skirting-board, and embrasures in ebony; a library arranged
in bookcases inlaid with tortoise-shell and brass in Boule style; a
bathroom in yellow and black marble, with stucco bass-reliefs; a dome
boudoir, whose ancient paintings had been restored by Edmond Hedouin;
a gallery lighted from above, which we recognized later in the
collection of _Cousin Pons_. There were what-nots laden with all sorts
of curiosities, Dresden and Sevres china, cornet-shaped vases of
frosted celadon, and, on the carpeted staircase, large porcelain
bowls, and a magnificent lantern suspended by a red silk cord. 'Why!
you have emptied one of Aboulcasem's siloes,' we laughingly remarked
to Balzac, as we gazed at all these splendours. 'We were quite right
in asserting that you were a millionaire.' 'I am poorer than ever I
was,' he replied, with a humble, sly air. 'Nothing of this is mine. I
have furnished the house for a friend that I am expecting. I am only
the keeper and porter.'"

Within three short years from this date, the charge fell on her--the
friend. She became the porteress of the abode which the other had
prepared with such lavish attention and expenditure, to serve him only
as a pall.

In 1875, the widow and her son-in-law, Count Mniszech, resolved to
modify the Hotel Beaujon and the adjoining buildings, with the
intention of perpetuating the novelist's memory. The rotunda of the
private chapel they planned to convert into a kind of circular atrium,
with a fountain in the middle and a trellised gallery running round
it, decorated with busts, statues, and other works of art. Changes
likewise were to be effected in the courtyard, to which the pillars of
the chapel nave had been removed; and a statue of the late owner was
to be erected there, close to a tree, the seed of which had been
planted on the occasion of his marriage. The facade of the house on
the Rue Fortunee, now the Rue Balzac, was also to be embellished, and
the central pavilion made to represent the novelist's apotheosis, with
a monumental bass-relief and a niche. Only a small portion of these
alterations was completed. On Madame de Balzac's death, in 1882, the
property was bought by the Baroness Salomon de Rothschild; and, before
the end of the century, it was demolished and the ground it covered
was incorporated into the Baroness's own gardens. All that now marks
the site is the small dome forming the corner of the Rue Balzac and
the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honore.

Whatever menaces of rupture between the lovers may have darkened their
horizon in the spring and summer of 1847 had vanished before the
autumn. At the end of September, Balzac went by invitation to
Wierzchownia, and remained its guest for over four months. The sight
of Russia's huge oak forests, of which the Mniszech family possessed
some twenty thousand acres, suggested to him another of the grandiose
schemes for gaining a large fortune that he was for ever elaborating
in his brain. His project was to establish an exportation to France of
oak timber, either by sea or rail; which, with every expense figured
out, might yield, so he calculated, a profit of a million two hundred
thousand francs for a part area, and would still leave the estate well
wooded after thinning out the trees. The thing was a gold-mine for him
and his family if a banker could be induced to take it up. Alas! his
brother-in-law was obliged to pour cold water on the project, proving
to him that the expenses, contrary to what he had estimated, would far
exceed the receipts. The weak point in the affair, however, was one
that cheaper transport following on increased railway communication
could remedy. Balzac's only mistake was in imagining that this could
be provided immediately. The visitor to Wierzchownia was not wrong in
thinking that Russia's natural productions must sooner or later be one
of the chief supplies of the European market. A better knowledge of
the country, acquired during his stay, enabled him to perceive that
internal reorganization was needed before the country's immense wealth
could be exploited to the same degree as was possible in a country
like France. In the Forties, Russia presented curious contrasts--great
magnificence, and yet entire want of the commonest conveniences.
Madame Hanska's estate was the only one boasting of a Carcel lamp and
a hospital. There were ten-foot mirrors, and no paper on the walls.
Still, he had not to complain of his apartments in pink stucco, with
fine carpets on the floor, and furniture that was comfortable. It
astonished him to find that the whole of the Wierzchownia castle--as
big as the Louvre--was heated by means of straw, which was burnt in
stoves, the weekly consumption being as much as could be seen in the
Saint-Laurent market at Paris. But, then, everything was huge. One of
the Mniszech estates extended over a surface as large as the Seine and
Marne Department, and was watered by no fewer than three rivers, the
Dnieper being one of them. And the cholera was colossal also--a
conscientious cholera, carrying off its forty to fifty victims a day
in Kiew alone, and a total of nine thousand at Savataf. To reassure
his relatives, Balzac added that this plague paid most of its calls at
the houses of rich uncles, to which category he did not belong, and
passed by people who had debts. _Ergo_, he was inoculated against its

                            CHAPTER XIII


It is time something was said now about Balzac's last dramatic
compositions. Since the Gaite fiasco, in 1843, no other theatre had
been brought up to the point of producing a further piece from his
pen, although several negotiations were opened respecting plays
supposed to be well in hand. In 1844, there was his comedy _Prudhomme
en Bonne Fortune_, which the Gymnase had some thoughts of staging.
Poirson, the manager, whom the author met one day in an omnibus, was
enchanted with the idea, and proposed help even on most advantageous
terms. The rehearsals were fixed for March, and the first performance
for May; but, for some reason that we do not learn, the execution of
the project was abandoned. Probably it was the burden of unfinished
novels and a lurking desire to go on with _Mercadet_, which was lying
still in its unachieved state.

Twelve months later, _Mercadet_ appears to have received the last
touches, and to be awaiting only an opportunity for its
representation. But Frederick Lemaitre, who was to assume the chief
role, had previous engagements that monopolized him; so Balzac,
meanwhile, turned again to a subject he had often toyed with, _Richard
the Sponge-Heart_, the name recalling that of Richard the Lion-Heart,
without there being the least analogy between the Norman king and the
hero of the play. In each preceding attempt, the author had stopped
short at the end of the first act, and, on recommencing, had produced
a different version. The hero was a joiner, living in the Faubourg
Saint-Antoine, whose habitual drunkenness had procured him his
nickname. Had it been developed, the piece would no doubt have been a
popular drama, on the lines subsequently followed by Zola's
_Assommoir_. There was talk of performing it at the Varietes in 1845;
the year, however, slipped away, and it was not forthcoming. Dining
with Gautier in December, at the house of Madame de Girardin, Balzac
agreed with Theophile to go on with the drama in collaboration as soon
as the theatres should have worked off some of their stock. Evidently,
this was not done. However, Monsieur Henri Lecomte, in his _Life of
Frederick Lemaitre_, affirms that Balzac did terminate _Richard the
Sponge-Heart_, and that it was handed to Frederick to study. Then,
some months afterwards, being in want of money, he asked the actor to
take it to the publisher, Paulin, and obtain an advance of a thousand
francs on it. If Paulin had it, he must either have mislaid or
destroyed it, for, from this date, all traces of it were lost; and,
to-day, a few fragments alone remain in Monsieur de Lovenjoul's

In 1846, vague mention was made in the correspondence with Madame
Hanska of a military farce called the _Trainards_ or _Laggards_.
However, nothing came of it. But in August 1847, after the publication
of _Cousin Pons_, the novelist paid a visit to Monsieur Hostein,
manager of the Theatre Historique, which had been inaugurated in the
preceding February. On this stage, which was subsequently transformed
into the Theatre Lyrique, and later demolished to make room for the
Boulevard of the Prince Eugene, several pieces of Alexandre Dumas had
just been played in succession; and Balzac said to himself that he
would have a better chance of meeting with appreciative audiences in
these new premises. Monsieur Hostein relates in his _Reminiscences_
that the novelist, calling on him one day at his Bougival
country-residence, went out and sat with him by the river-side, and
there explained that he wished to write a great historic drama entitled
_Peter and Catherine (of Russia)_. Asked for an outline of it, Balzac
tapped his forehead and said: "It is all there. I have only to write.
The first tableau can be rehearsed the day after to-morrow."

"We are," he continued, "in a Russian inn, with many people running in
and out, since troops are passing through the place.

"One of the servants is a lively girl. Pay attention to her. She is
not beautiful, but attractive! And the visitors notice her, and joke
with her. She smiles at every one; but those who go too far in gesture
or language soon discover they have made a mistake.

"All at once, a soldier enters, bolder than the rest. He gets the girl
to sit down with him, and wants to clink glasses with her. On the
innkeeper's objecting, he rises in a rage, thumps the table with his
fist, and cries: 'Let no one oppose my will, or I will set fire to the

"The innkeeper orders the girl to obey, for the troops are everywhere,
and the peasant is alarmed. Sitting down again, the soldier drinks
with the girl, tells her she shall be happy with him, and promises her
a finer home than she has.

"But while they are talking, a door opens at the back, and an officer
appears. Those present rise with respect, except the girl and her
companion. Approaching them, the officer lays his hand heavily on the
soldier's arm, and says: 'Stand up, fellow. Go to the counter, and
write your name and that of your regiment, and hold yourself at my

"The soldier stands up automatically, obeys, and, having presented the
paper, retires.

"Then the officer sits down and flirts with the girl, who accepts his

"But now a stranger shows himself at the door. He is clad in a big
cloak. At the sight of him, men and women fall on their knees, except
the officer, who is too agreeably occupied to notice the new arrival.
In a moment of enthusiasm, he says to the girl: 'You are divine. I
will take you with me. You shall have a fine house, where it is warm.'

"Just then, the man in the cloak draws near. The officer recognizes
him, turns pale, and bows down, uttering: 'Oh, pardon, sire!'

"'Stand up,' orders the master, meantime examining the servant, who,
on her side, looks without trembling at the all-powerful Czar.

"'You may withdraw,' the latter tells the officer. 'I will keep this
woman, and give her a palace.'

"Thus met for the first time Peter I and she who became Catherine of

Having given this prologue, Balzac went on to speak of the staging of
his play, which he promised to arrange in accordance with what he knew
of the country's scenery and customs, Russia being, from an artistic
point of view, admirable to exhibit theatrically. Monsieur Hostein was
quite gained over by the prospect of something so novel; and Balzac,
paying him a second call, some few days later, pledged himself to
start for Kiew and Moscow very shortly, and, from there, to go to
Wierzchownia and finish his drama. The journey to Russia was made; and
Balzac, in due course, returned, but he did not bring with him the
denouement of _Peter and Catherine_.

Not that his mind was less preoccupied with the drama. On the
contrary, Champfleury, who went to see him in the Rue Fortunee, soon
after his arrival in Paris, found him more bent on writing for the
stage than ever. One idea of his now was to create a _feerie_, or sort
of pantomime, sparkling throughout with wit. Another was to form an
association for dramatic authors of standing (himself naturally
included), not to defend their interests, but to get them to work in
common, and to keep thus the various Paris theatres provided with
their work. It was a _trust_ scheme before the era of trusts. If the
thing were managed, they might renew the miracles of those
indefatigable and marvellous Spanish playwrights--Calderon, who
composed between twelve and fifteen hundred pieces, Lope de Vega, who
composed more than two thousand. However, he feared that many of his
colleagues might not care to fall in with his suggestions. "They are
idlers, donkeys," he added. "There is only one worker among them, and
that is Scribe. But what a piece of literature his _Memoirs of a
Hussar Colonel_ is!"

Another visitor to the Rue Fortunee in February 1848 was Monsieur
Hostein, to whom the novelist had offered for the spring a piece that
should replace _Peter and Catherine_. This time the manuscript was
ready. It lay on the table, bearing on its first page the title,
_Gertrude, a Bourgeois Tragedy_. The piece was a five-act one, in
prose. A couple of days later, actors and actresses were assembled in
Balzac's drawing-room. Madame Dorval pursed her lips at the words,
_Gertrude, tragedy_. "Don't interrupt," cried the author, laughing.
However, after the reading of the second act they had to interrupt.
The play was overloaded with detail. A good deal of pruning was
effected, together with a change in title, before the first
performance on the 25th of May; and more excisions might have been
made with advantage. Alterations less beneficial were those introduced
into the cast, Madame Dorval being eliminated in favour of Madame
Lacressonniere. This lady was a much poorer actress, but was a
_persona grata_ with Monsieur Hostein. Both public and critics
accorded Balzac's new effort a very fair reception, notwithstanding
the mediocrity of the acting and the peculiar circumstances under
which it was produced, just as the Revolution storm was breaking out.

The _Maratre_, or _Stepmother_, as the piece was called when staged,
presents the home of a Count de Grandchamp, who, after being a general
under the First Empire, has turned manufacturer under the restoration.
He has a grown-up daughter, Pauline, and a second wife named Gertrude,
the latter still a young, handsome woman, with a ten-year-old son, the
little Napoleon. Though they are outwardly on good terms, the
stepmother and stepdaughter nevertheless hate each other. They are in
love with the same man, Ferdinand, the manager of the general's works.
On this hatred the entire interest of the play turns. Ferdinand really
loves Pauline; but he has formerly been engaged to Gertrude, who
jilted him to marry the general, and this fact somewhat embarrasses
him in his wooing. Moreover, his father was an officer under the
Revolution Government, and, if the general should learn that, it would
ruin his chances of obtaining the old gentleman's consent. The plot
arising out of these relations is, at first, cleverly dealt with by
the author, who involves matters further by a second suitor for
Pauline, to whom Gertrude tries to marry her, in order that she
herself may regain Ferdinand's affection. In the second act, a
word-duel is fought between the two women, during a whist-party, each
seeking to surprise the opponent's true sentiments towards Ferdinand.
This scene is exceedingly original; and, subsequently, a bold
employment is made by the author of the _enfant terrible_--the young
Napoleon--for the purpose of helping on the unravelling of the plot.
The concluding portion of the piece and its sombre tragedy--the deaths
of Pauline and Ferdinand--is heavier in dialogue and cumbrous in
construction, with its officers of justice who supply a useless
episode. One might sum up the _Stepmother_ as a weak ending to a
strong beginning. None the less it shows progress on _Vautrin_ and
_Pamela Giraud_.

A few days after the Revolution, Theodore Cogniard, manager of the
Porte-Saint-Martin Theater, wrote to Balzac and proposed to reproduce
_Vautrin_. Balzac, in replying, referred to Lemaitre's _toupet_, and
explained that, when disguising Vautrin as a Mexican general, he had
in his mind General Murat. He told Cogniard he was willing to allow
the revival, if care were taken against there being any caricature of
the now disposed monarch. The manager agreed, but the performances did
not come off, apparently on account of the disturbed state of the
city. In 1850, an unauthorized revival was put on the stage of the
Gaite, while Balzac was at Dresden. Being informed of it, the novelist
protested in a letter to the _Journal des Debats_, and the piece was
at once withdrawn.

The _Stepmother_ was Balzac's last dramatic composition played during
his lifetime. This was partly his own fault. In the short epoch of the
Second Republic, when neither the Comedie Francaise nor the Odeon, the
two national homes of the drama, were thriving, it was to the
directors' interest to seek out men of talent; and he had overtures
from both theatres. Mauzin of the Odeon even promised him, as he had
promised Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, a premium of six thousand
francs and a percentage of receipts on any sum over a thousand francs.
Balzac consented to write a tragedy entitled _Richard Sauvage_, and
got as far as--a monologue. With Lockroy of the Theatre Francais also
he made an arrangement for a comedy. There had been talk at first,
both inside and outside the Francais, of a satirical piece called the
_Petty Bourgeois_, but having nothing except the name in common with
his unfinished novel similarly yclept. His motive for not proceeding
with it he set forth to the journalist Hippolyte Rolle, in a letter
published in his correspondence. "Is it on the morrow of a battle," he
wrote, "when the bourgeoisie have so generously shed their blood on
behalf of threatened civilization, and when they are in mourning, that
one can drag them before the footlights?"

The manager, he said, had been pleased to accept in exchange another
comedy which would be soon performed. This comedy was the resuscitated
_Mercadet_, the title of which had been altered to the _Speculator_ in
1847, and the _Jobber_ in 1848. Under the last appellation, it was
read by the Comedie Committee in August, and unanimously approved.
However, between this date and December, Balzac had taken his
departure to Wierzchownia, where he seemed likely to remain for a
while; and, in his absence, the members of the Committee repented of
their bargain. Another solemn sitting was held in December, and an
amended resolution was passed, accepting the _Jobber_ on condition
that certain corrections were made in it. On being apprized of the
proviso, Balzac immediately cancelled his treaty with Lockroy, and
entered into negotiations with Hostein, who professed himself only too
happy to place the Theatre Historique at the author's disposal. Alas!
the same difficulties and worse cropped up here. Hostein wrote that
his public was a boulevard one, much fonder of melodrama than comedy,
and that, if the _Jobber_ were to succeed, it must be completely
modified. Naturally, Balzac refused. He had not withdrawn it from the
first theatre in Paris, which demanded only trifling alterations, to
permit it to be cut up by a theatre of less importance.

Content to wait till a more complaisant director should make overtures
to him, he filled in his leisure at Wierzchownia by inventing the
_King of Beggars_, which he announced to his friend Laurent Jan as an
up-to-date play flattering the all-powerful plebs; and he likewise
sketched a tragedy in which Madame Dorval was to have the chief role.
This was in April, 1849, and, a few weeks later, Madame Dorval was
dead. Only on the 23rd of August 1851, a year after his own death, did
his executors meet with a director, Monsieur Montigny of the Gymnase,
who undertook to stage _Mercadet the Jobber_. Less intransigent than
Balzac, the executors allowed its five acts to be reduced to three,
and a considerable amount of suppression and remodelling to be
operated by a professional playwright, Adolphe Dennery. Performed with
these concessions to theatrical requirements and popular taste, and
with Geoffroy in the chief role, failing Lemaitre and Regnier,
_Mercadet_ pleased the public greatly, too greatly for some bull and
bear habitues of the Bourse, who feared that their pockets might
suffer. Owing to their complaints, the Minister for the Interior
temporarily suspended the representations, basing his interdiction on
the ground that expressions struck out by the Censor had been inserted
again by the actors. Prudently, Monsieur Montigny ordered a few more
excisions, and the prohibition was raised. Seventeen years elapsed
before the Comedie Francaise at last placed _Mercadet_ on its
repertory and inaugurated the event by a special performance with Got
as the _Jobber_.

The hero of the piece is a financier who has very little cash, but
innumerable projects for gaining money. These involve methods which
are not always straight-forward; yet, since he believes in the success
of what he advocates, he is not absolutely unprincipled, though he
does not mind to some extent gulling the gullible. His chief aim is to
trick his creditors--themselves, as it happens, not worthy of much
pity; and, himself kind-hearted, loving his wife and daughter, and not
a libertine, he appeals to the sympathies of the reader or the
audience. Most of the amusement of the play--and it is very amusing
--is derived from the metamorphoses adopted by the _Jobber_ in dealing
with each sort of creditor. Moreover, the love-passages between Julie,
the daughter, and a poor clerk who thinks her an heiress, are so
managed as to strengthen the comic side of certain situations. The
unexpected arrival of a rich uncle from America releases the _Jobber_
ultimately from the tangle into which he has twisted himself. It is
the least original part of the comedy; but was suggested, like the
rest of the play, by Balzac's own circumstances. Was he not always
expecting a windfall; and was not Eve a kind of rich--relative? To add
one more detail concerning _Mercadet_, it was revived at the Comedie
Francaise in 1879, and again in 1890, there being as many as 107
performances. Its indisputable qualities have caused some writers to
conclude that, if Balzac had lived longer, he would have become as
great a dramatist as he was a novelist. This is very doubtful.
Notwithstanding its long incubation of nearly a decade, and the
advantage it possessed in embodying so much personal experience,
_Mercadet_ was still weak in construction and was largely wanting in
dramatic compression. And, at fifty years of age, with failing powers,
Balzac would have found the task increasingly hard to acquire an art
for which, by his own confession, he had no born aptitude.

The temporary government which was set up, in consequence of the
February Revolution of 1848, conceived the curious idea of summoning
the members of the Men of Letters Society to a meeting in the Palais
Mazarin, for the purpose of eliciting from them an expression of
opinion on the situation of literature and the best way to protect it.
Balzac, who had newly arrived from Wierzchownia, went to the meeting
and was chosen chairman. But no sooner was the discussion opened than
it degenerated into dispute and tumult; the place became a bear-garden,
and, after vainly endeavouring to restore order, he took up his hat
and left the room.

When the general elections were held, for the forming of a Constituent
Assembly, he stood as a candidate, and published a long declaration of
his opinions in the _Constitutionnel_, in which had appeared his _Poor
Relations_. The candidature had no success; it could scarcely be
expected to have any. His political style was not one to catch the
popular vote; and his sympathies were too visibly autocratic to
commend themselves at such a moment. What deceived him was that, at
first, there appeared to be a chance for the establishment of a strong
central power well disposed towards sage reforms of a social,
administrative, and financial character, with men like Lamartine to
elaborate them; and to a government of this kind he could have given
his support. When he realized that the trend of events was towards a
Republic of Utopian experiment which he regarded as doomed to failure
and disaster, he quietly dropped out of the struggle, and, leaving
Paris once more in September, retraced his steps to Wierzchownia.

The political disturbances of the previous six months had been
prejudicial both to his invested capital and to his income accruing
from work. It was difficult to sell fiction advantageously when people
were more interested in facts; nor did he care much to continue his
efforts under a _regime_ that he looked upon as a usurpation. Until
the speedy overthrow which he confidently reckoned upon, he said to
himself that he would do better to occupy himself with the question of
his marriage. The hope was at present a forlorn one, but it was worth
risking. He started with the intention of coming back, like the
Spartan, either on his shield or under it.

Short of available cash, as always, he borrowed five thousand francs
from his publisher, Souverain, for the expenses of his journey and
pocket-money, and placed his mother in charge of his Beaujon mansion,
with procuration to buy the complement of his domestic articles.

The warm welcome he received on reaching Madame Hanska's residence
made him so sanguine that he wrote to Froment-Meurice, his jeweller in
Paris, asking that the cornaline cup might be sent him which had been
on order for the past two years. The jeweller was evidently not
anxious to oblige such a bad payer. This cup, the novelist said, was
to be flanked by two figures, Faith and Hope, the former holding a
scroll, with Neuchatel and the date 1833 on it, the latter, another
scroll, with a kneeling Cupid--the whole resting on a ground covered
with cacti and various thorny plants besides, in silver gilt.

The blasts of winter in a rigorous climate laid him by with bronchitis
in November. He suffered at the same time great difficulty in
breathing; and the doctors diagnosed certain symptoms of heart trouble
that caused them to consider his case a grave one. This malady
relegated all matrimonial projects for the moment into the background.
Madame Hanska did not hide that she regretted having put so much of
her money into the purchase and furnishing of a house that they hardly
seemed likely to inhabit together. Adding up what it had cost them
both, they estimated the total at three hundred and fifty thousand
francs. Into these figures the price of pictures entered for a large
amount. The most recent were Greuze's _Jeune Fille Effrayee_, from the
last King of Poland's Gallery; two Canalettis, once the property of
Pope Clement XIII; _James II of England's Wife_, by Netscher; the same
king's portrait, by Lely, in addition to a Van Dyck, two Van Huysums,
and three canvases by Rotari, a Venetian painter of the eighteenth

The winter was not propitious to Madame Hanska either. Two fires on
her estate did enormous damage, and her money losses were important.
Balzac, though tenacious of his plan, talked constantly of going back
to his loneliness, yet stayed on still; and Eve, who either would not
or could not screw up her courage, invented fresh reasons for
procrastinating. One of these was the Emperor's refusal to sanction
the marriage unless Madame Hanska's landed property were transferred
to her daughter's husband. A scolding letter from the novelist's
mother, accusing Honore of remissness towards his nieces and family,
was by chance read to the Wierzchownia hostess, and this further
complicated a situation already sufficiently involved. Balzac's bile
was stirred. He relived his feelings in a long reply to Laure. It
seemed after all he would return to Paris under his shield. "I had a
marriage which made my fortune," he told her. "Everything is now upset
for a bagatelle. Know that it is with marriages as with cream; a
changed atmosphere, a bad odour, spoils them both. Bad marriages are
easily arranged; good ones only with infinite precaution. . . . I can
tell you, Laure," he continued, "it is something, when one wishes, to
be able in Paris to open one's drawing-room and gather in it an
_elite_ of society who will find there a woman as polished and
imposing as a queen, illustrious by her birth, allied to the greatest
families, witty, educated, and beautiful. One has thus a fine means of
domination. With a household thus established, people are compelled to
reckon; and many persons of high position will envy it, especially
since your dear brother will bring to it only glory and a clever

Here we have the secret of Balzac's persistence, and ample proof also
of what has already been asserted, to wit, that his affection for the
_Stranger_ was a fancy born and bred rather in the head than in the

It was perhaps to take the edge off this quip quarrelsome that the
following amusing lines were addressed in the next month to his
nieces, giving them particulars about animal and vegetables foods in
Russia. "The country," he said, "has no veal--I mean eatable veal, for
cows produce calves here as well as elsewhere; but these calves are of
Republican leanness. Beef, such as one gets in Paris, is a myth; one
remembers it only in dreams. In reality, one has meat twenty years
old, which is stringy and which serves to bulk out the packets of hemp
intended for exportation. One consoles one's self with excellent tea
and exquisite milk. As for the vegetables, they are execrable. Carrots
are like turnips, and turnips are like nothing. On the other hand,
there are gruels galore. You make them with millet, buckwheat, oats,
barley; you can make them even with tree-bark. So, my nieces, take
pity on this country, so rich in corn, but so poor in vegetables. Oh!
how Valentine would laugh to see the apples, pears, and plums! She
wouldn't give over at the end of a year. Good-bye, my dear girls, and
accept the Republic patiently; for you have real beef, veal, and
vegetables, and a kind uncle happy and fed on gruel."

Ill again with his heart in the April of 1849, Balzac had the good
luck to be attended by a pupil of the famous Doctor Franck, the latter
being the original of his _Country Doctor_. This disciple, and his son
to a less extent, were men of a newer and more enlightened school; and
the elder man, by bold experiments, reduced his patient's
arterio-sclerosis to the point of what seemed to be convalescence. But
the treatment was tedious and lasted on into the summer, so that the
novelist was left weak and delicate at the end. In such a condition he
was less than ever fit to carry on his wooing.

To give himself a countenance, he spoke again of departure, fixing the
date for the month of October. Madame Hanska was apparently willing to
let him go. She had played the hostess generously during nearly a
twelvemonth to this invalid, and it seemed to her enough. Not that she
intended to sever the engagement. She wished merely to wait and see
how matters turned out. Meantime, he could watch over their common
property, now augmented by the acquisition of an extra plot of land at
the side, which could be resold later at a large profit. But a
resumption of the old burden was more than Balzac could face. In
September he was prostrated by what Dr. Knothe called an intermittent
brain fever, which continued for more than a month. His constitution
pulled him through, with the aid of good nursing; and then, realizing
that her tergiversations had been partly responsible for the attack,
Eve, at last, in conversations between them that followed his
recovery, let him understand that she relented and was willing to
accompany him back to Paris as his wife, if the Emperor would permit
of such a transfer of the estate to Count Mniszech as might enable her
to receive a share of its revenues.

The victory was won, yet at a heavy cost. For a man so worn down by
illness Russia was not the place to recruit in. Its biting winds
throughout the winter of 1849 and 1850 withered what little vitality
Balzac had still remaining, and at Kiew, where he had gone with Madame
Hanska on business, he was again laid up with fever.

All the different formalities required by Russian law having been
finally complied with, the wedding was celebrated on the 14th of
March, in the Church of Saint Barbara at Beriditchef, some few hours
distant from Wierzchownia. At once the bridegroom despatched the news
to his family and friends. His joy was such that he fancied he had
never known happiness before. "I have had no flowery spring," said his
letter to Madame Carraud. "But I shall have the most brilliant of
summers, the mildest of autumns. . . . I am almost crazy with

More than a month elapsed ere the newly married couple were able to
set out on their journey to the French capital, and, even then, they
had to travel along roads studded with quagmires into which their
carriage frequently sank up to the axle. Sometimes fifteen or sixteen
men and a crick were necessary to extricate them. Though on their
honeymoon, they found the repetition of these incidents monotonous,
and were so tired when they reached Dresden that they stayed there to
recover themselves. From this town Balzac sent a few lines to his
mother and sister mentioning the approximate date of their reaching
home; and instructions were given that everything should be in order,
flowers on the table, and a meal prepared. He did not want his mother
to be at the house to receive them, deeming it more proper that his
wife should call on her first, either at Laure's, or at Suresnes where
she was living. They got into Paris on the 22nd or 23rd of May.

Monsieur de Lovenjoul relates that the two travellers drove up to the
Beaujon mansion a little before midnight. Weary with the journey, they
stepped out of the cab and rang the bell, rang more than once, for no
one came to open the door. Through the windows they could see the
lamps lighted and signs of their being expected. But where was the
valet, Francois Munck, who had been left in charge by the novelist's
mother? Apparently, he had deserted his post. Balzac kept on ringing,
shouting at intervals, and thumping the gate. Still there was silence
inside. The one or two people passing at this late hour stopped out of
curiosity, and began in their turn to call and knock; while the
cabman, tired of waiting, put down the luggage on the footpath.

Madame de Balzac grew impatient. It was cold standing in the night-air.
Her husband, nonplussed and exceedingly annoyed, did not know what to
say to the bystanders. One of the latter offered to fetch a locksmith,
named Grimault, who lived in a street close by. The suggestion was
gladly agreed to, since there seemed nothing else to be done. However,
until such time as the locksmith should come, they continued battering
at the gate and throwing tiny pebbles at the windows; and the master,
thus shut out from his own dwelling, hallooed to the invisible valet:
"I am Monsieur de Balzac." It was useless. The door refused to open.
Around Madame de Balzac, now seated on one of the trunks, other
passers-by had gathered and listened to the novelist's excited
comments on his predicament. The occurrence was certainly

At length, the locksmith was brought and the gate was forced. The
whole party, hosts and impromptu guests, hurried through the narrow
courtyard, entered the house without further hindrance, and were met
by a strange spectacle. The valet had been seized with a sudden fit of
madness and had smashed the crockery, scattered the food about, spilt
a bottle of wine on the carpet, upset the furniture, and ruined the
flowers. Having performed these exploits, he was wandering aimlessly
to and fro with demented gestures, and in this state they discovered
him. After securing and fastening him up in a small room, the visitors
helped to place the luggage in the yard and then retired, with profuse
thanks from the novelist, who being thoroughly unnerved by this
untoward incident, was obliged to go straight to bed. The next day,
Francois was taken to an asylum at his master's expense, as is proved
by a receipt still existing in which Balzac is dubbed a Count. Perhaps
the title was a piece of flattery on the doctor's part, or the
novelist may have imagined that his marrying a Countess conferred on
him letters of nobility.

Anyway, this assumed lordship was poor compensation for the immense
disappointment of his marriage in every other respect. From the moment
he and his wife took possession of their fine Beaujon residence,
whatever bonds of friendship and tenderness had previously existed
between them were irremediably snapped asunder. Peculiarities of
character and temperament in each, which, as long as they were lovers,
had been but slightly felt, now came into close contact, clashed, and
were proved to be incompatible. Moreover, there were disagreeable
revelations on either side. The husband learnt that his wife's
available income was very much inferior to what he had supposed or
been led to believe, and the wife learnt that her husband's debts, far
from being paid, as he had asserted, subsisted and were more numerous
and larger than he had ever in sober truth admitted. So, instead of
coming to Paris to be the queen of a literary circle, the _Stranger_
saw herself involved in liabilities that threatened to swallow up her
own fortune, if she lent her succour.

Reproaches and disputes began in the week following their instalment.
The disillusioned Eve withdrew to her own apartments in anger; and
Balzac, whose bronchitis and congestion of the liver had grown worse,
remained an invalid in his. They had intended spending only a
fortnight or so in Paris, and then travelling south to the Pyrenees
and Biarritz; but this programme was perforce abandoned. All through
the month of June the patient was under medical treatment, able to go
out only in a carriage, and, even so, in disobedience to the doctor's
orders. One of these visits was to the door of the Comedie Francaise,
where Arsene Houssaye, the Director, came to speak to him about
_Mercadet_, and indulgently promised him, it should be staged soon,
the _Resources of Quinola_ also.

On the 20th of June, he wrote, through his wife, to Theophile Gautier,
telling him that his bronchitis was better and that the doctor was
proceeding to treat him for his heart-hypertrophy, which was now the
chief obstacle to his recovery. At the end of the letter he signed his
name, adding: "I can neither read nor write." They were the last words
of his correspondence. From that date his heart-disease undermined him
rapidly; and the few friends whom he received augured ill from what
they remarked. Not that he lost hope himself. Although suffering
acutely at intervals from difficulty in breathing, and from the oedema
of his lower limbs, which slowly crept upwards, he spoke with the same
confidence as always of his future creations that he meditated. His
brain was the one organ unattacked. From Dr. Nacquart he inquired
every day how soon he might get to work again.

The month of July and the first half of August passed thus, the dropsy
gaining still on him in spite of all that Nacquart and other medical
men could do to combat it. To every one but the patient himself, it
was evident that he was dying. Houssaye, who came to see him on the
16th of August, found Dr. Nacquart in the room. He relates that
Balzac, addressing the latter, said: "Doctor, I want you to tell me
the truth. . . . I see I am worse than I believed. . . . I am growing
weaker. In vain I force myself to eat. Everything disgusts me. How
long do you think I can live?"--The doctor did not reply.--"Come,
doctor," continued the sick man, "do you take me for a child? I can't
die as if I were nobody. . . . A man like me owes a will and testament
to the public."--"My dear patient, how much time do you require for
what you have to do?" asked Nacquart.--"Six months," replied Balzac;
and he gazed anxiously at his interlocutor.--"Six months, six months,"
repeated the doctor, shaking his head.--"Ah!" cried Balzac dolorously;
"I see you don't allow me six months. . . . You will give me six weeks
at least. . . . Six weeks with the fever, is an eternity. Hours are
days; and then the nights are not lost."--The doctor shook his head
again. Balzac raised himself, almost indignant.--"What, doctor! Am I,
then, a dead man? Thank God! I still feel strength to fight. But I
feel also courage to submit. I am ready for the sacrifice. If your
science does not deceive you, don't deceive me. What can I hope for
yet? . . . Six days? . . . I can in that time indicate in broad
outlines what remains to be done. My friends will see to details. I
shall be able to cast a glance at my fifty volumes, tearing out the
bad pages, accentuating the best ones. Human will can do miracles. I
can give immortal life to the world I have created. I will rest on the
seventh day."--Since beginning to speak, Balzac had aged ten years,
and finally his voice failed him.--"My dear patient," said the doctor,
trying to smile, "who can answer for an hour in this life? There are
persons now in good health who will die before you. But you have asked
me for the truth; you spoke of your will and testament to the
public."--"Well?"--"Well! this testament must be made to-day. Indeed,
you have another testament to make. You mustn't wait till to-morrow."
--Balzac looked up.--"I have, then, no more than six hours," he
exclaimed with dread.

The details of this narration given to the _Figaro_ many years after
the event[*] do not read much like history. A more probable account
tells that Balzac, after one of his fits of gasping, asked Nacquart to
say whether he would get better or not. The doctor hesitated, then
answered: "You are courageous. I will not hide the truth from you.
There is no hope." The sick man's face contracted and his fingers
clutched the sheet. "How long have I to live?" he questioned after a
pause. "You will hardly last the night," replied Nacquart. There was a
fresh silence, broken only by the novelist's murmuring as if to
himself: "If only I had Bianchon, he would save me." Bianchon, one of
his fictitious personages, had become for the nonce a living reality.
It was Balzac who had taken the place of his medical hero in the
kingdom of shadows. Anxious to soften the effect of his sentence,
Nacquart inquired if his patient had a message or recommendation to
give. "No, I have none," was the answer. However, just before the
doctor's departure, he asked for a pencil, and tried to trace a few
lines, but was too week; and, letting the pencil drop from his
fingers, he fell into a slumber.

  [*] 20th of August 1883.

In his _Choses Vues_, Victor Hugo informs us that, on the afternoon of
the 18th, his wife had been to the Hotel Beaujon and heard from the
servants that the master of the house was dying. After dinner he went
himself, and reached the Hotel about nine. Received at first in the
drawing-room, lighted dimly by a candle placed on a richly carved oval
table that stood in the centre of the room, he saw there an old woman,
but not, as he asserts, the brother-in-law, Monsieur Surville. No
member of Balzac's own family was present in the house that evening.
Even the wife remained in her apartments. The old woman told Hugo that
gangrene had set in, and that tapping now produced no effect on the
dropsy. As the visitor ascended the splendid, red-carpeted staircase,
cumbered with statues, vases, and paintings, he was incommoded by a
pestilential odour that assailed his nostrils. Death had begun the
decomposition of the sick man's body even before it was a corpse. At
the door of the chamber Hugo caught the sound of hoarse, stertorous
breathing. He entered, and saw on the mahogany bed an almost
unrecognizable form bolstered up on a mass of cushions. Balzac's
unshaven face was of blackish-violet hue; his grey hair had been cut
short; his open eyes were glazed; the profile resembled that of the
first Napoleon. It was useless to speak to him unconscious of any
one's presence.

Hugo turned and hastened from the spot thinking sadly of his previous
visit a month before, when, in the same room, the invalid had joked
with him on his opinions, reproaching him for his demagogy. "How could
you renounce, with such serenity, your title as a peer of France?" he
had asked. He had spoken also of the Beaujon residence, the gallery
over the little chapel in the corner of the street, the key that
permitted access to the chapel from the staircase; and, when the poet
left him, he had accompanied him to the head of the stairs, calling
out to Madame de Balzac to show Hugo his pictures.

Death took him the same evening.[*] During the last hours of his life
Giraud had sketched his portrait for a pastel;[+] and, on the morning
of the 19th, a man named Marminia was sent to secure a mould of his
features. This latter design had to be abandoned. An impression of the
hands alone was obtainable. Decomposition had set in so rapidly that
the face was distorted beyond recognition. A lead coffin was hastily
brought to cover up the ghastly spectacle of nature in a hurry.

  [*] De Lovenjoul says that Balzac died on the 17th, not the 18th.
      This discrepancy is most curious, the latter date figuring as
      the official one, as well as being given by Hugo and others.

  [+] De Lovenjoul says that the sketch was made after death. But,
      if the mask was not possible, it is difficult to understand
      how a pencil likeness could have been drawn.

Two days later, on the 21st of August, the interment took place at
Pere Lachaise cemetery. The procession started from the Church of
Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, to which the coffin had been transported
beforehand. There was no pomp in either service or ceremony. A
two-horse hearse and four bearers--Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Francis
Wey, and Baroche, the Minister for the Interior made up the funeral
accessories. But an immense concourse of people followed the body to
the grave. The Institute, the University, the various learned
societies were all represented by eminent men, and a certain number of
foreigners, English, German, and Russian, were present also. Baroche
attended rather from duty than appreciation. On the way to the
cemetery, he hummed and hawed, and remarked to Hugo: "Monsieur Balzac
was a somewhat distinguished man, I believe?" Scandalized, Hugo looked
at the politician and answered shortly: "He was a genius, sir." It is
said that Baroche revenged himself for the rebuff by whispering to an
acquaintance near him: "This Monsieur Hugo is madder still than is

Over the coffin, as it was laid under the ground near the ashes of
Charles Nodier and Casimir Delavigne, the author of _Les Miserables_
and _Les Feuilles d'Automne_ pronounced an oration which was a
generous tribute to the talent of his great rival. On such an occasion
there was no room for the reservations of criticism. It was the moment
to apply the maxim, _De mortuis nil nisi bonum_. "The name of Balzac,"
he said, "will mingle with the luminous track projected by our epoch
into the future. . . . Monsieur de Balzac was the first among the
great, one of the highest among the best. All his volumes form but a
single book, wherein our contemporary civilization is seen to move
with a certain terrible weirdness and reality--a marvellous book which
the maker of it entitled a comedy and which he might have entitled a
history. It assumes all forms and all styles; it goes beyond Tacitus
and reaches Suetonius; it traverses Beaumarchais and attains even
Rabelais; it is both observation and imagination, it lavishes the
true, the intimate, the bourgeois, the trivial, the material, and,
through every reality suddenly rent asunder, it allows the most
sombre, tragic ideal to be seen. Unconsciously, and willy nilly, the
author of this strange work belongs to the race of revolutionary
writers. Balzac goes straight to the point. He grapples with modern
society; and from everywhere he wrests something--here, illusion;
there, hopes; a cry; a mask. He investigates vice, he dissects
passion, he fathoms man--the soul, the heart, the entrails, the brain,
the abyss each has within him. And by right of his free, vigorous
nature--a privilege of the intellects of our time, who see the end of
humanity better and understand Providence--Balzac smilingly and
serenely issues from such studies, which produced melancholy in
Moliere and misanthropy in Rousseau. The work he has bequeathed us is
built with granite strength. Great men forge their own pedestal; the
future charges itself with the statue. . . . His life was short but
full, fuller of works than of days. Alas! this puissant, untired
labourer, this philosopher, this thinker, this poet, this genius lived
among us the life of all great men. To-day, he is at rest. He has
entered simultaneously into glory and the tomb. Henceforth, he will
shine above the clouds that surround us, among the stars of the

To the credit of Balzac's widow it should be said that, although not
legally obliged, she accepted her late husband's succession, heavy as
it was with liabilities, the full extent of which was communicated to
her only after the funeral. The novelist's mother, having renounced
her claim on the capital lent by her at various times to her son,
received an annuity of three thousand francs, which was punctually
paid until the old lady's demise in 1854. Buisson the tailor, Dablin,
Madame Delannoy, and the rest of the creditors, one after the other,
were reimbursed the sums they had also advanced, the profits on
unexhausted copyright aiding largely in the liberation of the estate.
Before Eve's own death, every centime of debt was cleared off.

In the romance of Balzac's life it will be always arduous, if not
infeasible, to estimate exactly Madame Hanska's role, unless, by some
miracle, her own letters to the novelist could arise phoenix-like from
their ashes. The liaison that she is said to have formed soon after
her husband's death with Jean Gigoux, the artist, who painted her
portrait in 1852, may be regarded either as a retaliation for Honore's
infidelities, which she was undoubtedly cognizant of, or else as the
rebound of a sensual nature after the years spent in the too
idealistic realm of sentiment. And, whichever of these explanations is
correct, the irony of the conclusion is the same.

                            CHAPTER XIV

                        THE COMEDIE HUMAINE

The idea of joining his separate books together and forming them into
a coherent whole was one that matured slowly in Balzac's mind. Its
genesis is to be found in his first collection of short novels
published in 1830 under the titles: _Scenes of Private Life_, and
containing _The Vendetta_, _Gobseck_, _The Sceaux Ball_, _The House of
the Tennis-playing Cat_, _A Double Family_, and _Peace in the
Household_. Between these stories there was no real connexion except
that certain characters in one casually reappeared or were alluded to
in another. By 1832, the _Scenes of Private Life_ had been augmented,
and, in a second edition, filled four volumes. The additions comprised
_The Message_, _The Bourse_, _The Adieu_, _The Cure of Tours_, and
several chapters of _The Woman of Thirty Years Old_, some of which had
previously come out as serials in the _Revue de Paris_ or the _Mode_.

It has already been related how the novelist all at once realized what
a gain his literary production might have in adopting a plan and
building up a social history of his epoch. And, in fact, this
conception did stimulate his activity for some time, serving too, as
long as it was uncrystallized, to concentrate his visions upon
objective realities.

Needing, between 1834 and 1837, a more comprehensive title for the
rapidly increasing list of his works, he called them _Studies of
Manners and Morals in the Nineteenth Century_, subdividing them into
_Scenes of Private Life_, _Scenes of Parisian Life_, and _Scenes of
Provincial Life_. However, some things he had written were classible
conveniently neither under the specific names nor under the generic
one. These outsiders he called _Tales and Philosophic Novels_,
subsequently shortening the title, between 1835 and 1840, to
_Philosophic Studies_. The question was what wider description could
be chosen which might embrace also this last category. Writing to
Madame Hanska in 1837, he used the expression _Social Studies_,
telling her that there would be nearly fifty volumes of them. Either
she, or he himself, must, on reflection, have judged the title
unsatisfactory, for no edition of his works ever bore this name. Most
likely the thought occurred to him that such an appellation was more
suitable to a strictly scientific treatise than to fiction.

The expression _Comedie Humaine_, which he ultimately adopted, is said
to have been suggested to him by his whilom secretary, the Count
Auguste de Belloy, after the latter's visit to Italy, during which
Dante's _Divine Comedy_ had been read and appreciated. But already,
some years prior to this journey, the novelist would seem to have had
the Italian poet's masterpiece before his mind. In his _Girl with the
Golden Eyes_, he had spoken of Paris as a hell which, perhaps, one day
would have its Dante. De Belloy's share in the matter was probably an
extra persuasion added to Balzac's own leaning, or the Count may have
been the one to substitute the word _human_.[*]

  [*] A communication has been made to me, while writing this book,
      by Monsieur Hetzel, the publisher, tending to show that his
      father, who was also known in the literary world, had a large
      share in the choice of the _Comedie Humaine_ as a title.

Madame Hanska was at once informed of the choice. "The _Comedie
Humaine_, such is the title of my history of society depicted in
action," he told her in September 1841. And when, between 1841 and
1842, Hetzel, together with Dubochet and Turne, brought out sixteen
octavo volumes of his works illustrated, they each carried his name,
while a preface set forth the reasons which had led the author to
choose it. Thereafter, every succeeding edition was similarly styled,
including Houssiaux' series in 1855, and the series of Calmann-Levy,
known as the definitive one, between 1869 and 1876.

Against the appellation itself no objection can reasonably be made.
Balzac's fiction takes in a world--an underworld might appropriately
be said--of Dantesque proportions. As soon as it was fully fledged, it
started with a large ambition. "My work," he said to Zulma Carraud in
1834, "is to represent all social effects without anything being
omitted from it, whether situation of life, physiognomy, character of
man or woman, manner of living, profession, zone of social existence,
region of French idiosyncrasy, childhood, maturity, old age, politics,
jurisdiction, war." And in the Forties the same intention was stated
as clearly. "I have undertaken the history of the whole of society.
Often have I summed up my plan in this simple sentence: A generation
is a drama in which four or five thousand people are the chief actors.
This drama is my book."

When Hetzel decided to publish a so-far complete edition of the
_Comedie_, he induced the novelist to insert a preface composed for
the occasion. Balzac wished at first to use an old preface that he had
written in conjunction with Felix Davin, and placed, under the
latter's signature, at the beginning of the _Study of Manners and
Morals in the Nineteenth Century_. Hetzel objected to this, and urged
that so important an undertaking ought to be preceded by an author's
apology. His advice was accepted, and the preface was developed into a
veritable doctrine and defence. Here are some of its essential

"The _Comedie Humaine_," says Balzac, "first dawned on my brain like a
dream--one of those impossible projects, it seemed, that are caressed
and allowed to fly away; a chimera which smiles, shows its woman's
face, and forthwith unfolds its wings, mounting again into a fancied
heaven. But the chimera, as many chimeras do, changed into reality. It
had its commands and its tyranny to which I was obliged to yield.

"It was born from a comparison between humanity and animality. It
would be an error to believe that the great quarrel which in recent
times has arisen between Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire is
concerned with a scientific innovation. The _unity of composition_
involved in it had already, under other terms, occupied the greatest
minds of the two preceding centuries. On reading over again the
extraordinary works of such mystic writers as Swedenborg,
Saint-Martin, etc., who have studied the relations of science with the
infinite, and the writings of the finest geniuses in natural history,
such as Leibnitz, Buffon, Charles Bonnet, etc., one finds in the
monads of Leibnitz, in the organic molecules of Buffon, in the
vegetative force of Needham, in the _jointing_ of similar parts of
Charles Bonnet--who was bold enough to write in 1760: 'The animal
vegetates like the plant;' one finds, I say, the rudiments of the
beautiful law of _self for self_ on which the unity of composition
reposes. There is only one animal. The Creator has made use only of
one and the same pattern for all organized beings. The animal is a
principle which acquires its exterior form, or, to speak more exactly,
the differences of its form, in the surroundings in which it is called
upon to develop. The various zoologic species result from these
differences. The proclamation and upholding of this system, in
harmony, moreover, with the ideas we have of the Divine power, will be
the eternal honour of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, who was the vanquisher
of Cuvier on this point of high science, and whose triumph was
acknowledged in the last article written by the great Goethe."

Continuing his exposition, the novelist says all men resemble each
other, but in the same manner as a horse resembles a bird. They are
also divided into species. These species differ according to social
surroundings. A peasant, a tradesman, an artist, a great lord are as
distinct from each other as a wolf is from a sheep. Besides, there is
another thing peculiar to man, viz. that male and female are not
alike, whereas among the rest of the animals, the female is similar to
the male. The wife of a shopkeeper is sometimes worthy to be the
spouse of a prince, and often a prince's wife is not worth an
artist's. Then, again, there is this difference. The lower animals are
strictly dependent on circumstances, each species feeding and housing
itself in a uniform manner. Man has not such uniformity. In Paris, he
is not the same as in a provincial town; in the provinces, not the
same as in rural surroundings. When studying him, there are many
things to be considered--habitat, furniture, food, clothes, language.
In fine, the subject taken up by a novelist who wishes to treat it
properly, comprises man as an integral portion of a social species,
woman as not peculiarly belonging to any, and _entourage_ from its
widest circumference of country down to the narrowest one of home.

"But," he goes on, "how is it possible to render the drama of life
interesting, with the three or four thousand varying characters
presented by a society? How please at the same time the philosopher,
and the masses who demand poetry and philosophy under striking images?
If I conceived the importance and poetry of this history of the human
heart, I saw no means of execution; for, down to our epoch, the most
celebrated narrators had spent their talent in creating one or two
typical characters, in depicting one phase of life. With this thought,
I read the works of Walter Scott. Walter Scott, the modern _trouvere_,
was then giving a gigantic vogue to a kind of composition unjustly
called secondary. Is it not really harder to compete with the registry
of births, marriages, and deaths by means of Daphnis and Chloe,
Roland, Amadis, Panurge, Don Quixote, Manon Lescaut, Clarissa,
Lovelace, Robinson Crusoe, Ossian, Julie d'Etanges, My Uncle Toby,
Werther, Rene, Corinne, Adolphe, Gil Blas, Paul and Virginia, Jeanie
Deans, Claverhouse, Ivanhoe, Manfred, Mignon, than to arrange facts
almost similar among all nations, to seek for the spirit of laws
fallen into decay, to draw up theories which lead people astray, or,
as certain metaphysicians, to explain what exists? First of all,
nearly all these characters, whose existence becomes longer, more
genuine than that of the generations amid which they are made to be
born, live only on condition of being a vast image of the present.
Conceived in the womb of the century, the whole human heart moves
beneath their outward covering; it often conceals a whole philosophy.
Walter Scott, therefore, raised to the philosophic value of history
the novel--that literature which from century to century adorns with
immortal diamonds the poetic crown of the countries where letters are
cultivated. He put into it the spirit of ancient times; he blended in
it at once drama, dialogue, portraiture, landscape, description; he
brought into it the marvellous and the true, those elements of the
epopee; he made poetry mingle in it with the humblest sorts of
language. But having less invented a system than found out his manner
in the ardour of work, or by the logic of this work, he had not
thought of linking his compositions to each other so as to co-ordinate
a complete history, each chapter of which would have been a novel and
each novel an epoch. Perceiving this want of connection, which, indeed
does not render the Scotchman less great, I saw both the system that
was favourable to the execution of my work, and the possibility of
carrying it out. Although, so to speak, dazzled by the surprising
fecundity of Walter Scott, always equal to himself and always
original, I did not despair, for I found the reason of such talent in
the variety of human nature. _Chance is the greatest novelist in the
world._ To be fertile, one has only to study it. French society was to
be the historian. I was to be only the secretary. By drawing up an
inventory of virtues and vices, by assembling the principal facts of
passions, by painting characters, by choosing the principal events of
society, by composing types through the union of several homogeneous
characters, perhaps I should succeed in writing the history forgotten
by so many historians, that of _manners and morals_. With much
patience and courage, I should realize, with regard to France in the
nineteenth century, the book we all regret which Rome, Athens, Tyre,
Memphis, Persia, India have not unfortunately left about their
civilizations, and which like the Abbe Barthelemy, the courageous and
patient Monteil had essayed for the Middle Ages, but in a form not
very attractive."

One may well believe the novelist when he explains that "it was no
small task to depict the two or three thousand prominent figures of an
epoch," representing typical phases in all existences, which, says he,
"is one of the accuracies I have most sought for. I have tried to give
a notion also of the different parts of our beautiful land. My work
has its geography, as it has its genealogy and its families, its
places and things, its persons and its facts, as it has its blazonry,
its nobles and its commoners, its artisans and its peasants, its
politicians and its dandies, its army, in fine, its epitome of life
--all this in its settings and galleries."

The Human Comedy, as finally arranged and classified in 1845, had
three chief divisions: _Studies of Manners and Morals_, _Philosophic
Studies_, _Analytic Studies_; and the first of these was subdivided
into _Scenes of Private Life_, _Scenes of Provincial Life_, _Scenes of
Parisian Life_, _Scenes of Military Life_, _Scenes of Political Life_,
_Scenes of Country Life_.

Even if we include the unwritten books, the diminution from first to
second and from second to third is considerable. In the novelist's
mind, this difference was intentional. According to his conception,
the first large series represented the broad base of effects, upon
which was superposed the second plane of causes, less numerous and
more concentrated. In the latter, he strove to answer the why and
wherefore of sentiments; in the former, to exhibit their action in
varying modes. In the former, therefore, he represented individuals;
in the latter, his individuals became types. All this he detailed to
Madame Hanska, insisting on the statement that everywhere he gave life
to the type by individualizing it, and significance to the individuals
by rendering them typical. At the top of the cone he treated, in his
analytical studies, of the principles whence causes and effects
proceed. The manners and morals at the base, he said, were the
spectacle; the causes above were the side-scenes; and the principles
at the top were the author.

Coming to the subdivisions, he explains that his _Scenes of Private
Life_ deal with humanity's childhood and adolescence, and the errors
of these, in short, with the period of budding passions; the _Scenes
of Provincial Life_, with passions in full development--calculation,
interest, ambition, etc.; the _Scenes of Parisian Life_, with the
peculiar tastes, vices and temptations of capitals, that is to say,
with passion unbridled. The interpretation assigned to these
categories is a fanciful one. Passions are born and bred and produce
their full effect in every place and phase of life. They may assume
varying forms in divers surroundings, but such variation has no
analogy with change of age. Only by forcing the moral of his stories
was the author able to give them these secondary significations.
Indeed, he was often in straits to decide in which category he ought
to class one and another novel. _Pere Goriot_ was originally in the
_Scenes of Parisian Life_, where it has a certain _raison d'etre_.
Ultimately, it found its way into the _Scenes of Private Life_. And a
greater alteration was made by removing _Madame Firmiani_ and the
_Woman-Study_ from the _Philosophic Studies_, and placing them also in
the _Private Life_ series.

Be it granted that the plan of the _Comedy_ was grandiose in its
scope; it was none the less doomed in its execution to suffer for its
ambitiousness, since an attempt was made to subordinate imagination to
science in a domain where the rights of imagination were paramount.

That which Balzac has best rendered in it is the struggle for life on
the social plane; and that which forms its most legitimate claim to be
deemed in some measure a whole is the general reference to this in all
the so-called parts. Before the Revolution, the action of the law was
narrower, being chiefly limited to members of one class. With the fall
of ancient privilege the sphere of competition was opened to the
entire nation; and, instead of nobles contending with nobles,
churchmen with churchmen, tradesmen with tradesmen, there was an
interpenetration of combatants over all the field of battle, or
rather, the several smaller fields of battle became one large one.
Balzac's fiction reproduces the later phase in minute detail, and,
mostly, with a treatment suited to the subject.

Brunetiere, whose chapter on the _Comedy_ is written more gropingly
than the rest of his study of the novelist, makes use of an ingenious
comparison with intent to persuade that the stories had from the very
first a predestined organic union, with ramifications which the author
saw but obscurely and which were joined together more closely--as also
more consciously--during the lapse of years. "Thus," he says,
"brothers and sisters, in the time of their infancy or childhood, have
nothing in common except a certain family resemblance--and this not
always. But, as they advance in age, the features that individualized
them become attenuated, they return to the type of their progenitors,
and one perceives that they are children of the same father and
mother. Balzac's novels," he concludes, "have a connection of this
kind. In his head, they were, so to speak, contemporary."

The simile is not a happy one. It does not help to reconcile us to an
artificial approximation of books that are heterogeneous, unequal in
value, and, frequently, composed under influences far removed from the
after-thought that was given to them by a putative father. Balzac was
not well inspired in relating his novels to each other logically. Such
natural relationship as they possess is that of issuing from the same
brain, though acting under varying conditions and in different states
of development; and it is true that, if the story of this brain is
known, and its experiences understood, a certain classification might
be made--perhaps more than one--of its creations, on account of common
traits, resemblances of subject or treatment, which could serve to
link them together loosely. But, between this arrangement and the
artificial hierarchy of the _Comedy_, it is impossible to find a bridge
to pass over.

One of the real links betwixt the novels is the reappearance of the
same people in many of them, which thing is not in itself displeasing.
It has the advantage of allowing the author to display his men and
women in changed circumstances, to cast side-lights upon them, and to
reveal them more completely. However, here and there, we pay for the
privilege in meeting with bores whose further acquaintance we would
fain have been spared. And then, also, we are likely enough to come
across a hero or heroine as a child, after learning all about his or
her maturer life; to accompany people to the grave and see them
buried, and yet, in a later book, to be introduced to them as alive as
ever they were. This is disconcerting. Usually, Balzac remembers his
characters well enough to be consistent in other respects when he
makes them speak and act, or lets us into his confidence about them.
Still, he is guilty of a few lapses of memory. In _The Woman of Thirty
Years Old_, Madame d'Aiglemont has two children in the early chapters;
subsequently, one is drowned, and, instead of one remaining, we learn
there are three--a new reading of Wordsworth's _We are seven_. Again,
in the _Lost Illusions_, Esther Gobseck has blond hair in one
description of her, and black in another. We are reduced to supposing
she had dyed it. Mistakes of the kind have been made by others writers
of fiction who have worked quickly. In the _Comedy_, the number of
_dramatis personae_ is exceedingly large. Balzac laughingly remarked
one day that they needed a biographical dictionary to render their
identity clear; and he added that perhaps somebody would be tempted to
do the work at a later date. He guessed rightly. In 1893, Messrs.
Cerfbeer and Cristophe undertook the task and carried it through in a
book that they call the _Repertory of the Comedie Humaine_.[*] All the
fictitious personages or petty folk that live in the novelist's pages
are duly docketed, and their births, marriages, deaths, and stage
appearances recorded in this _Who's Who_, a big volume of five hundred
and sixty-three pages, constituting a veritable curiosity of

  [*] This work has been made available at Doctrine Publishing Corporation by Team
      Balzac. It is in two volumes.--Preparer's Note.

Much has been said in the preceding chapters of the large use Balzac
made of his own life, his adventures, his experiences, in composing
the integral portions of his _Comedy_, so that its contents, for any
one who can interpret, becomes a valuable autobiography. And the
lesser as well as the greater novels supply facts. In the _Forsaken
Woman_, Madame de Beauseant, who has been jilted by the Marquis of
Ajuda-Pinto, permits herself to be wooed by Gaston de Nueil, a man far
younger than herself. After ten years, he, in turn, quits her to marry
the person his mother has chosen for him; but, unable to bear the
combined burden of his remorse and yearning regret, he commits
suicide. This tale, like the _Lily in the Valley_, is a adaptation of
Balzac's liaison with Madame de Berny. It was written in the very year
he severed the material ties that bound them. The only distinction
between his case and that of Gaston de Nueil was that he had no desire
to kill himself, and was content to be no more than a friend, since he
was the freer to flirt with Madame de Castries. And when the latter
lady kept him on tenter-hooks, tormenting him, tempting him, but never
yielding to him, he revenged himself by writing the _Duchess de
Langeais_, attributing to the foolish old general his own hopes,
fears, and disappointments at the hands of the coquettish, capricious
duchess. "I alone," he said in a letter, "know the horrible that is in
this narrative." And, if, in _Albert Savarus_, we have a confession of
his political ambitions and campaigns, we get in _Cesar Birotteau_ and
the _Petty Bourgeois_ his financial projects, which never brought him
anything; in _A Man of Business_--as well as elsewhere--his continual
money embarrassments. How deeply he felt them, he often lets us gather
from his fiction. "I have been to a capitalist," he wrote in one of
his epistles to Madame Hanska, "a capitalist to whom are due
indemnities agreed on between us for works promised and not executed;
and I offered him a certain number of copies of the _Studies of
Manners and Morals_. I proposed five thousand francs with deferred
payment, instead of three thousand francs cash. He refused everything,
even my signature and a bill, telling me my fortune was in my talent
and that I might die any time. This scene is one of the most infamous
I have known. Some day I will reproduce it."

And he did, with many things else that happened to him in his dealings
with his fellows. There is biography too, as well as autobiography in
the _Comedy_--this notwithstanding his disclaimers. Exact portraiture
he avoided for obvious reasons, but intentional portraiture he
indulged in largely; and life and character were sufficiently near the
truth for shrewd contemporaries to recognize the originals. To add one
or two examples to the number already given. Claire Brunne (Madame
Marbouty) seems to have suggested his _Muse of the County_, a
Berrichon blue-stocking; Madame d'Agoult and Liszt became Madame de
Rochfide and the musician Conti in _Beatrix_; a cousin of Madame
Hanska, Thaddeus Wylezinski, who worshipped her discreetly, is
depicted under the traits of Thaddeus Paz, a Polish exile in the
_False Mistress_, who assumes a feigned name to conceal his love;
Lamartine furnished the conception of the poet Canalis in _Modeste
Mignon_, the resemblance being at first so striking that the novelist
afterwards toned it away a little; and Monnier, the caricaturist,
certainly supplied the essential elements in Bixiou, who is so well
drawn in _Cousin Bette_ and the _Firm of Nucingen_. The Baron Nucingen
himself has some of the features of the James de Rothschild whom
Balzac knew; and Rastignac embodied the author's impression of Thiers
in the statesman's earlier years. One might go further and couple
Delacroix the painter's name with that of Joseph Bridau in _A
Bachelor's Household_, Frederick Lemaitre, the actor's, with Medal's
in _Cousin Pons_, Emile de Girardin's with du Tillet's in _Cesar
Birotteau_. At last, however, owing to the mingling of one personality
with another, identification is increasingly difficult, unless the
novelist comes to our assistance, as in the story _Cousin Bette_,
where he confesses Lisbeth the old maid, to be made up out of three
persons, Madame Valmore, Madame Hanska's aunt, and his own mother.

Summing up Balzac's entire literary production, which in Monsieur de
Lovenjoul's catalogue occupies no fewer than fourteen pages, we find
that it comprises, besides the ninety-six different works of the
_Comedie Humaine_ properly so called, ten volumes of his early novels;
six complete dramatic pieces--one, the _School for Husbands and Wives_
recently published;[*] thirty _Contes Drolatiques_; and three hundred
and fourteen articles and opuscles, some of them fairly long, since
the _Reminiscences of a Pariah_ has a hundred and eighty-four pages
octavo, the _Theory of Walking_ fifty, the _Code of Honest People_ a
hundred and twelve, the _Impartial History of the Jesuits_ eighty;
these exclusive of the _Revue Parisienne_ with its two hundred and
twenty pages, which, as we have seen, was written entirely by himself.
When we remember that the whole of this, with the exception of the
early novels and six of the opuscles, was produced in twenty years, we
can better appreciate the man's industry, which, as Monsieur Le Breton
calculates, yielded an average of some two thousand pages, or four to
five volumes a year.

  [*] Played for the first time March 13, 1910, at the Odeon Theatre.

In the miscellanies one meets with much that is curious, amusing, and
instructive, quite worthy to figure in the _Comedy_--witty dialogues,
light stories containing deductions _a la_ Sherlock Holmes or Edgar
Allan Poe, plenty of satire, sometimes acidulated as in his _Troubles
and Trials of an English Cat_, and theories about everything,
indicative of extensive reading, large assimilation and quick
reasoning. The miscellanies really stand to the novels in the relation
of a sort of prolegomenon. They serve for its better understanding,
and are agreeable even for independent study.

                             CHAPTER XV

                         VALUE OF THE WORK

The aim of an author whose writings are intended to please must be
ethical as well as aesthetic, if he respects himself and his readers.
He wishes the pleasure he can give to do good, not harm. The good he
feels capable of producing may be limited to the physical or may
extend beyond to the moral; but it will be found in his work in so far
as the latter is truly artistic.

Balzac's prefaces and correspondence are so many proofs that he
rejected the pretensions of literature or any other art to absolute
independence. The doctrine of art for art's sake alone would have had
no meaning to him. However much his striving to confer on his novels
organic unity, and however much the writing against time deteriorated
his practice, they did not prevent him from recognizing the ethical
claim. What he realized less was the necessity of submitting treatment
to the same government of law.

Even if we grant that the plan of the _Comedie Humaine_ existed in the
novelist's mind from the commencement, obscurely at first, more
clearly afterwards, the plan itself was not artistic in the sense that
an image in the architect's mind is artistic when he designs on paper
the edifice he purposes to construct, or in the painter's mind when he
chooses the subject and details of his picture, or in the sculptor's
mind when he arranges his group of statuary, or in the musician's mind
when he conjures up his opera or oratorio. Balzac's plan was one of
numbers or logic merely. The block of his _Comedy_ was composed on the
dictionary principle of leaving nothing out which could be put in; and
his genius, great as it was, wrestled achingly and in vain with a task
from which selection was practically banished and which was a piling
of Pelion on Ossa.

For this reason it is that, regarded as an aggregate, the _Comedie
Humaine_ can be admired only as one may admire a forceful mass of
things, when it is looked at from afar, through an atmosphere that
softens outlines, hides or transforms detail, adds irreality. In such
an ambience certain novels that by themselves would shock, gain a sort
of appropriateness, and others that are trivial or dull serve as
foils. But, at the same time, we know that the effect is partly

In a writer's entire production the constant factor is usually his
style, while subject and treatment vary. Balzac, however, is an
exception in this respect as in most others. He attains terse vigour
in not a few of his books, but in not a few also he disfigures page
after page with loose, sprawling ruggedness, not to say pretentious
obscurity. His opinion of himself as a stylist was high, higher no
doubt than that he held of George Sand, to whom he accorded eminence
mainly on this ground. Of the French language he said that he had
enriched it by his alms. Finding it poor but proud, he had made it a
millionaire. And the assertion was put forward with the same
seriousness that he displayed when declaring that there were three men
only of his time who really knew their mother-tongue--Victor Hugo,
Theophile Gautier, and himself. That his conversancy with French
extended from Froissart downwards, through Rabelais' succulent jargon
as well as Moliere's racy idiom, is patent in nearly all he wrote; and
that he was capable of using this vocabulary aptly is sufficiently
shown in the best and simplest of his works. But it is not so clear
that he added anything to the original stock. Such words as he coined
under the impetus of his exuberance are mostly found in his letters
and have not been taken into favour.

A demur must likewise be entered against his style's possessing the
qualities that constitute a charm apart from the matter expressed. Too
many tendencies wrought in him uncurbed for his ideas to clothe
themselves constantly in a suitable and harmonious dress. Generally
when his personality intruded itself in the narrative, it was quite
impossible for him to speak unless affectedly, with a mixture of odd
figures of speech and similes that hurtled in phrases of heavy
construction. Taine has collected a few of these. In the _Cure of
Tours_ we read:--

"No creature of the feminine gender was more capable than Mademoiselle
Sophie Gamard of formulating the elegiac nature of an old maid."

Elsewhere, he speaks of the "fluid projections of looks that serve to
touch the suave skin of a woman;" of the "atmosphere of Paris in which
seethes a simoon that swells the heart;" of the "coefficient reason of
events;" of "pecuniary mnemonics;" of "sentences flung out through the
capillary tubes of the great female confabulation;" of "devouring
ideas distilled through a bald forehead;" of a "lover's enwrapping his
mistress in the wadding of his attentions;" of "abortions in which the
spawn of genius cumbers an arid strand;" of the "philosophic moors of
incredulity;" of a "town troubled in its public and private

In one of the chapters of _Seraphita_, he says: "Wilfred arrived at
Seraphita's house to relate his life, to paint the grandeur of his
soul by the greatness of his faults; but, when he found himself in the
zone embraced by those eyes whose azure scintillations met with no
horizon in front, and offered none behind, he became calm again and
submissive as the lion who, bounding on his prey in an African plain,
receives, on the wing of the winds, a message of love, and stops. An
abyss opened into which fell the words of his delirium!"

And the same Wilfred "trusted to his perspicacity to discover the
parcels of truth rolled by the old servant in the torrent of his

During the years of Balzac's greatest literary activity, which were
also those of his bitterest polemics, his opponents made much capital
out of the caprices of his pen. In the lawsuit against the _Revue de
Paris_, Monsieur Chaix d'Est-Ange, the defendant's counsel, provoked
roars of laughter by quoting passages from the _Lily in the Valley_;
and Jules Janin, in his criticism of _A Provincial Great Man in
Paris_, grew equally merry over the verbal conceits abounding in the
portraits of persons. And yet the very volumes that furnish the
largest number of ill-begotten sentences contain many passages of
sustained dignity, sober strength, and proportioned beauty.

Normally, Balzac's style, in spite of its mannerisms, its use and
abuse of metaphor, its laboured evolution and expression of the idea,
and its length and heaviness of period, adapts itself to the matter,
and alters with kaleidoscopic celerity, according as there is
description, analysis, or dramatization. Thus blending with the
subject, it loses a good deal of its proper virtue, which explains why
it does not afford the pleasure of form enjoyed in such writers as
George Sand, Flaubert, Renan, and Anatole France. The pleasure his
word-conjuring can yield is chiefly of the sensuous order. The
following passage is, as Taine says, botany turned into imagination
and passion:--

"Have you felt in the meadows, in the month of May, the perfume which
communicates to every living being the thrill of fecundation, which,
when you are in a boat, makes you dip your hands in the rippling water
and let your hair fly in the wind, while your thoughts grow green like
the boughs of the forest? A tiny herb, the sweet-smelling anthoxanthum
is the principal of this veiled harmony. Thus, no one can stay in its
proximity unaffected by it. Put into a nosegay its glittering blades
streaked like a green-and-white netted dress; inexhaustible effluvia
will stir in the bottom of your heart the budding roses that modesty
crushes there. Within the depths of the scooped-out neck of porcelain,
suppose a wide margin composed of the white tufts peculiar to the
sedum of vines in Touraine; a vague image of desirable forms turned
like those of a submissive slave. From this setting issue spirals of
white-belled convolvulus, twigs of pink rest-harrow mingled with a few
ferns, and a few young oak-shoots having magnificently coloured
leaves; all advance bowing themselves, humble as weeping willows,
timid and suppliant as prayers. Above, see the slender-flowered
fibrils, unceasingly swayed, of the purply amourette, which sheds in
profusion its yellowy anthers; the snowy pyramids of the field and
water glyceria; the green locks of the barren bromus; the tapered
plumes of the agrosits, called wind-ears; violet-hued hopes with which
first dreams are crowned, and which stand out on the grey ground of
flax where the light radiates round these blossoming herbs. But
already, higher up, a few Bengal roses scattered among the airy lace
of the daucus, the feathers of the marsh-flax, the marabouts of the
meadow-sweet, the umbellae of the white chervil, the blond hair of the
seeding clematis, the neat saltiers of the milk-white cross-wort, the
corymbs of the yarrow, the spreading stems of the pink-and-black
flowered fumitory, the tendrils of the vine, the sinuous sprays of
honeysuckle; in fine, all that is most dishevelled and ragged in these
naive creatures; flames and triple darts, lanceolated, denticulated
leaves, stems tormented like vague desires twisted at the bottom of
the soul; from the womb of this prolix torrent of love that overflows,
shoots up a magnificent red double-poppy with its glands ready to
open, displaying the spikes of its fire above the starred jasmine and
dominating the incessant rain of pollen, a fair cloud that sparkles in
the air, reflecting the light in its myriad glistening atoms. What
woman, thrilled by the love-scent lurking in the anthoxanthum, will
not understand this wealth of submissive ideas, this white tenderness
troubled by untamed stirrings and this red desire of love demanding a
happiness refused in those struggles a hundred times recommenced, of
restrained, eternal passion. Was not all that is offered to God
offered to love in this poesy of luminous flowers incessantly humming
its melodies to the heart, caressing hidden pleasures there, unavowed
hopes, illusions that blaze and vanish like gossamer threads on a
sultry night?"

This last quotation was probably in Sainte-Beuve's mind when he spoke
of the efflorescence by which Balzac gave to everything the sentiment
of life and made the page itself thrill. Elsewhere he found the
efflorescence degenerate into something exciting and dissolvent,
enervating, rose-tinted, and veined with every hue, deliciously
corruptive, Byzantine, suggestive of debauch, abandoning itself to the
fluidity of each movement. Sainte-Beuve was not an altogether
unprejudiced critic of the novelist; but his impeachment can hardly be
refuted, although Brunetiere would fain persuade us that the only
thing which may be reasonably inveighed against in Balzac's style is
its indelicacy or rather native non-delicacy. If the _Contes
Drolatiques_ alone had been in question, this lesser accusation might
suffice. But there are the _Lost Illusions_, the _Bachelor's
Household_, and _Cousin Bette_, not to mention other novels, in which
the scenes of vice are dwelt upon with visible complacency and a
glamour is created and thrown over them by the writer's imagination,
in such a way that the effect is nauseous in proportion as it is
pleasurable. The artistic representation of vice and crime is
justifiable only in so far as the mind contemplating it is carried out
and beyond into the sphere of sane emotion. True, by considerable
portions of the _Comedie Humaine_ only sane emotions are roused; but
these portions are, more often than not, those wherefrom the author's
peculiar genius is absent. It is in less conspicuous works, or those
like the _Cure of Tours_, the _Country Doctor_, _Cesar Birotteau_,
_Cousin Pons_, the _Reverse Side of Contemporary History_ that the
eternal conflict of good and evil is so exhibited as to evoke healthy
pity, sympathy, admiration, and their equally healthy contraries, and
also a wider comprehension of life.

It is difficult to separate the subject-matter of a novel from its
treatment. Yet a word should be said of Balzac's widening the limits
of admission. His widening was two-fold. It boldly took the naked
reality of latest date, the men and women of his time in the full
glare of passion and action, unsoftened by the veil that hides and in
some measure transforms when they have passed into history; and it
included in this reality the little, the commonplace, the trivial.
This innovator in fiction aimed, as Crabbe and Wordsworth had aimed in
poetry, at interesting the reader in themes which were ordinarily
deemed to be void of interest. The thing deserved trying. His
predecessors, and even his contemporaries, had neglected it. An
experimenter in this direction, he now and then forgot that the proper
subject-matter of the novel is man--man either individual or
collective--and spent himself in fruitless endeavours to endow the
abstract with reality.

When he opined, somewhat rashly, that George Sand had no force of
conception, no power of constructing a plot, no faculty of attaining
the true, no art of the pathetic, he doubtless wished the influence to
be drawn that he was not lacking in them himself.

As regards the first, his claim can be admitted without reserve. Force
of conception is dominant throughout his fiction. It is that which
gained his novels their earliest acceptance. Whether they were
approved or disapproved in other respects, their strong originality
imposed itself on the attention of friends and enemies alike. One felt
then, and one feels now, though more than half a century has elapsed
since they were produced, that, whatever factitious accretions clung
to them, they came into the world with substance and form new-fashioned;
no mere servile perpetuation of an effete type, but a fresh departure
in the annals of art.

Especially is this seen in his characterization. His men and women are
most of them put on foot with the energy of movement in them and an
idiosyncrasy of speech and action that has not been surpassed. As
already stated, they generally are not portraits, although his memory
was of that peculiar concave visuality which allowed him to cast its
images forth solidly into space. What he did was to remodel these
images with proportions differing from those of the reality,
magnifying or diminishing them pretty much as Swift with his
Brobdingnagians and Lilliputians; and, having got the body of his
personage recomposed, with mental and moral qualities and defects
corresponding to every one of its details--for Balzac was a firm
believer in the corporal being an exact reflection of the spiritual
--he set his mechanisms in motion.[*]

  [*] "A round waist," he says, "is a sign of force; but women so
      built are imperious, self-willed, more voluptuous than tender.
      On the contrary, flat-waisted women are devoted, full of
      finesse, inclined to melancholy." Elsewhere, he informs us that
      "most women who ride horseback well are not tender." "Hands
      like those of a Greek statue announce a mind of illogical
      domination; eyebrows that meet indicate a jealous tendency. In
      all great men the neck is short, and it is rare that a tall
      man possesses eminent faculties."

To call his men and women mechanisms, while yet acknowledging their
intense vitality, may seem a contradiction; but nothing less than this
antinomy is adequate to indicate the fatality of Balzac's creatures.
None of them ever appear to be free agents. Planet-like they revolve
in an orbit, or meteor-like they rush headlong, and their course in
the one or the other case is guessable from the beginning. Not that
change or development is precluded. The conjuror provides for large
transformation; but the law of such transformation is one of iron
necessity, and, when he brings in at the end his interferences of
Providence, they shock us as an inconsequence. However, though bound
by their weird, his people are extraordinarily various in their aspect
and doings. It is rare that he repeats his characters, albeit many of
them touch each other at certain points. The exceptions are caused by
his sometimes altering his manner of characterization and proceeding
from the inside first. This variation goes to the extent of
distinguishing influences of the soil as well as of social grade and
temperament. His northerners speak and act otherwise than those of the
south or west, and, in the main, are true to life, despite the
author's perceptible satire when depicting provincials.

Parallel to his vigorous creation of character is the force with which
he builds up their environment. Here his realism is intense. Indeed,
occasionally one is tempted to credit Balzac with a greater love of
things than of men, yet not the things of nature as much as things
made by men. His portrayal of landscape may be fine prose, but
contains no pure feeling of poetry in it, while, in the town, in the
house, in the street, wherever the human mind and hand have left their
imprints, his language grows warm, his fancy swoops and grasps the
significance of detail; these dumb survivals of the past become
eloquent to his ears; his eyes discover in them a reflecting retina
which, obedient to his command, resuscitates former contacts, a world
buried and now found again. When attempting the historical novel, in
which his persons are typical rather than individual, he still
preserves this exactitude of local colouring. His descriptions of
places, in fact, in all his books are almost photographs, and, where
change has been slow, still serve to guide the curious traveller.

In his preface to the _Cabinet of Antiques_, he explains how he
dealt with his raw material. A young man has been prosecuted before
the Assize Court, and had been condemned and branded. This case he
connected with the story of an ancient family fallen from its high
estate and dwelling in provincial surroundings. The story had
dramatic elements in it, but less intensely dramatic than those of
the young man's case. "This way of proceeding," he says, "should be
that of an historian of manners and morals. His task consists in
blending analogous facts in a single picture. Is he not rather bound
to give the spirit than the letter of the happenings? He synthesizes
them. Often it is necessary to pick out several similar characters
in order to succeed in making up one, just as odd people are met with
who are so ridiculous that two distinct persons may be created out of
them. . . . . Literature uses a means employed in painting, which, to
obtain a fine figure, adapts the hands of one model, the foot of
another, the chest of a third, the shoulders of a fourth."

The foregoing quotation raises the question of the significance of the
term truth as applied to fiction. Evidently, it cannot have the same
meaning as when applied to history or biography. In the latter, the
writer invents neither circumstances nor actions, nor the persons
engaged in them, but seeks to know the whole of the first two exactly
as they occurred, and to interpret, as nearly to life as may be, the
third. However, if he be a philosopher, he will perhaps try to show
the intimate relations existing between these same persons and the
events in which they were concerned; and, in doing so, he will step
out of his proper role and assume one which is less easy for him than
for the novelist to play, since the writer of fiction composes both
his _dramatis personae_ and their story; and the concordance between
them is more a matter of art than of science.

Still it is possible that neither a novelist's characters nor their
environment shall be in entire agreement with all observable facts.
There may be arrangements, eliminations, additions, which, though
pleasing to the reader, may remove the mimic world to a plane above
that of the so-called real one. Thus removed, Balzac judged George
Sand's production to be. And we must confess that, even in _Little
Fadette_, _The Devil's Pool_, and _Francois le Champi_, it deals with
human experience in a mode differing widely from that which the author
of _Eugenie Grandet_ considered conform to truth.

As regards the methods of these two rivals, the claim to superior
truth cannot be settled in Balzac's favour by merely pointing to his
realism. Realism tried by the norm of truth is relative. What it
represents of the accidental in life may be much less than what it
omits of the essential or potential, for these two words are often
interchangeable. In the same object, different people usually see
different aspects, qualities, attributes. Is one spectacle necessarily
true and another false? It is certain that George Sand, in her stories
of peasant life, largely uses the artist's liberty of leaving out a
great deal that Balzac would have put in when treating a like subject.
It is certain that from some themes and details that Balzac delighted
in describing she deliberately turned away, and it is certain also
that she introduced into her fiction not a little of the Utopian world
that has haunted man in his later development without there being
actuality or the least chance of realization to lend it substance. But
Balzac's fiction has, too, its pocket Utopias, less attractive and
less invigorating than Madame Dudevant's, and in his most realistic
portrayals there are not infrequently dream-scapes of the fancy. The
truth that we can most readily perceive in his work is one which,
after all, embraces the ideally potential in man as well as his most
material manifestations. It is small compared with the mass of what he
wrote; but, where found, it is supreme.

In constructing plot Balzac is unequal and often inferior. Here it is
that his romanticist origins reappear rankly like weeds, giving us
factitious melodrama that accords ill with his sober harvest of
actuality. And his melodrama has not the merit of being various. It
nearly always contains the same band of rogues, disguised under
different names, conspiring to ruin innocent victims by the old tricks
of their trade.

Then, again, many of his novels have no understandable progression
from the commencement, through the middle, to the conclusion. This is
not because he was incapable of involving his characters in the
consequences of their actions, but because things that he esteemed of
greater importance interfered with the story's logical development. We
have episodes encroaching on the main design, or what was originally
intended to be the main design, which is disaggregated before the end
is arrived at. As a matter of fact, quite a number of his plots are
swamped by what he forces into them with the zeal of an
encyclopaedist. Philosophy, history, geography, law, medicine, trade,
industry, agriculture enter by their own right. The novelist yields up
his wand, and the pedagogue or _vulgarisateur_ comes forward with his
chalk and blackboard. Canalization is explained at length in the
_Village Cure_; will-making is discoursed upon in _Ursule Mirouet_;
promissory notes, bills of exchange, and protests, not to speak of
business accounts, cover pages in the _Lost Illusions_; therapeutics
takes the place of narrative in the _Reverse Side of Contemporary
History_; physiology is lectured upon in the _Lily in the Valley_;
_Louis Lambert_ aims at becoming a second and better edition of the
_Thoughts of Pascal_; and in _Seraphita_ we have sermons as long and
tedious as those of an Elizabethan divine. The result is that even
novels containing the presentment of love in its most passional phases
lose their right to the name. At best they can be called only
disparate chapters of fiction; at worst, they are merely raw material.

As for his achievement in the pathetic, it is almost nil. At least, if
by pathos we mean that which touches the heart's tenderest strings.
Harrow us, he can; play upon many of our emotions, he is able to at
will. But, at bottom, he had too little sympathy with his fellows to
find in their mistakes, or sins, or sufferings, the wherewithal to
bring out of us our most generous tears. Those he wept once or twice
himself when writing were drawn from him by a reflex self-pity that is
easily evoked. In genuine pathos, Hugo is vastly his superior.

Women occupy so preponderant a position in the _Comedy_ that one is
forced to ask one's self whether these numerous heroines are
reproduced with the same fidelity to nature as are his men. At any
rate, they are not all treated in the same manner. In his descriptions
of grand ladies the satiric intention is rarely absent. Why, it is
difficult to say, unless it was that he was unable to avoid the error
of introducing the pique of the plebeian suitor, and that the satire
was an effort to establish the balance in his favour. "When I used to
go into high society," he told Madame Hanska, "I suffered in every
part of me through which suffering could enter. It is only
misunderstood souls and those that are poor who know how to observe,
because everything jars on them, and observation results from
suffering." In his inmost thought he had no high opinion of women.
Notwithstanding his flattery of Madame Hanska, he was a firm upholder
of the old doctrine of male supremacy; and, at certain moments, he
slipped his opinion out, content afterwards to let Eve or another
suppose that his hard words were not spoken in earnest. One of his
would-be witticisms at the expense of the fair sex was: "The most
Jesuitical Jesuit among the Jesuits is a thousand times less
Jesuitical than the least Jesuitical woman." The form only of the
accusation was new. How often before and since the misogynist has
asserted that women have no conscience. Be it granted that Balzac's
grand dames often have very little, and some of his other women also.
They are creatures of instinct and passion susceptible only of being
influenced through their feelings. Yet, as regards the former,
Sainte-Beuve assures us that their portraits in the _Comedy_ resemble
the originals. He says: "Who especially has more delightfully hit off
the duchesses and viscountesses of the Restoration period!" Brunetiere
accepts this testimony of a contemporary who himself frequented the
_salons_ of the great. Some later critics, on the contrary, hold that
the novelist has given us stage-dames with heavy graces and a bizarre
free-and-easiness as being the nearest equivalent to aristocratic
nonchalance. One thing is certain, namely, that Balzac was personally
acquainted rather with that side of aristocratic society which was not
the better. It was the side bordering on licentiousness, where manners
as well as morals are easily tainted and vulgarity can creep in.
Again, he creates his women with a theory, and, in art, theories are
apt to become prejudices. According to his appreciation Walter Scott's
heroines are monotonous; they lack relief, he said, and they lack it
because they are Protestants. The Catholic woman has repentance, the
Protestant woman, virtue only. Many of Balzac's women repent, and many
of those that repent either backslide or come very near to it. His
altogether virtuous women are childish without being children, and
some are bold into the bargain. In fine, his gamut of feminine
psychology seems to be limited, very limited. Women of the finest mind
he neither comprehended nor cared to understand. They were outside his

But what he missed in the whole representation of the fair sex he made
up for by what he invented, as indeed, too, in his representation of
the sterner sex; and Jules Janin's account of the matter is not far
from the truth:--

"He is at once the inventor, the architect, the upholsterer, the
milliner, the professor of languages, the chambermaid, the perfumer,
the barber, the music-teacher, and the usurer. He renders his society
all that it is. He it is who lulls it to sleep on a bed expressly
arranged for sleep and adultery; he, who bows all women beneath the
same misfortune; he, who buys on credit the horses, jewels, and
clothes of all these handsome sons without stomach, without money,
without heart. He is the first who has found the livid veneer, the
pale complexion of distinguished company which causes all his heroes
to be recognized. He has arranged in his fertile brain all the
adorable crimes, the masked treasons, the ingenious rapes mental and
physical which are the ordinary warp of his plots. The jargon spoken
by this peculiar world, and which he alone can interpret, is none the
less a mother-tongue rediscovered by Monsieur de Balzac, which partly
explains the ephemeral success of this novelist, who still reigns in
London and Saint Petersburg as the most faithful reproduction of the
manners and actions of our century."

Janin's animus blinded him to the rest, and it is just the rest of the
qualities which converted the ephemeral success into the permanent.
Taine's estimate is more discursive. He is further removed from
polemics. He says:--

"Monsieur de Balzac has of private life a very deep and fine sentiment
which goes even to minuteness of detail and of superstition. He knows
how to move you and make you palpitate from the first, simply in
depicting a garden-walk, a dining-room, a piece of furniture. He
divines the mysteries of provincial life; sometimes he makes them.
Most often he does not recognize and therefore isolates the pudic and
hidden side of life, together with the poetry it contains. He has a
multitude of rapid remarks about old maids and old women, ugly girls,
sickly women, sacrificed and devoted mistresses, old bachelors,
misers. One wonders where, with his petulant imagination, he can have
picked it all up. It is true that Monsieur de Balzac does not proceed
with sureness, and that in his numerous productions, some of which
appear to us almost admirable, at any rate touching and delicious or
piquant and finely comic in observation, there is a dreadful pell-mell.
What a throng of volumes, what a flight of tales, novels of all sorts,
droll, philosophic, and theosophic. There is something to be enjoyed
in each, no doubt, but what prolixity! In the elaboration of a
subject, as in the detail of style, Monsieur de Balzac has a facile,
unequal, risky pen. He starts off quickly, sets himself in a gallop,
and then, all at once, he stumbles to the ground, rising only to fall
again. Most of his openings are delightful; but his conclusions
degenerate or become excessive. At a certain moment, he loses
self-control. His observing coolness escapes; something in his brain
explodes, and carries everything far, far away. Hazard and accident
have a good share in Monsieur de Balzac's best production. He has his
own manner, but vacillating, fidgety, often seeking to regain

How much one could wish that, instead of producing more, Balzac should
have produced less. With a man of his native power and perseverance,
what greater perfection there might have been! Certainly, no defect is
more patent in the _Comedie Humaine_ than the trail of hasty
workmanship, the mark of being at so much a line. Strangely, the speed
with which he wrote furnished him with a cause for boasting. More
properly, it ought to have filled him with humiliation. Many
_litterateurs_ are compelled to drive and overdrive their pens. But,
if they have the love of letters innate in them, it will go against
the grain to send into the world their sentences without having had
leisure to polish each and all. Examples have already been given of
the short time spent over several books of the _Comedy_. There is no
need to repeat these or to add to their names. Occasionally, the
result was not bad, when, as with _Cesar Birotteau_, the subject had
been long in the novelist's head. This, however, was the exception.
The fifty-five sheets once composed in a single week, and the six
thousand lines once reeled off in ten days, were probably invented as
well as set on paper within the periods stated. No doubt, much was
altered in the galley proofs; but the alterations would be made with
the same celerity, so that they risked being no improvement either in
style or matter. Balzac, indeed, was aware of the imperfections
arising from such a method; and he not infrequently strove to correct
them in subsequent editions. The task might perhaps have been carried
out fully, if the bulk of his new novels had not been continually
growing faster than he could follow it with his revision.

The commercial compromises that he consented to were still more
injurious to the artistic finish of some of his later pieces of
fiction. For instance, when the _Employees_ was about to come out in a
volume, after its publication as a serial the length was judged to be
insufficient by the man of business. He wanted more for his money.
What did Balzac do? He searched through his drawers, pitched upon a
manuscript entitled _Physiology of the Employee_, and drilled it into
the other story. Of these patchwork novels _The Woman of Thirty Years
Old_ is the worst. Originally, it was six distinct short tales which
had appeared at divers dates. The first was entitled _Early Mistakes_;
the second, _Hidden Sufferings_; the third, _At Thirty Years Old_; the
fourth, _God's Finger_; the fifth, _Two Meetings_; and the sixth and
last, _The Old Age of a Guilty Mother_. In 1835, the author took it
into his head to join them together under one title, _The Same Story_,
although the names of the characters differed in each chapter, so that
the chief heroine had no fewer than six appellations. Not till 1842
did he remedy this primary incoherence, yet without the removal of the
_aliases_ doing anything towards bestowing consistency on the several
personages thus connected in Siamese-twin fashion. To-day, any one who
endeavors to read the novel through will proceed from astonishment to
bewilderment, and thence to amazement. Nowhere else does Balzac come
nearer to that peculiar vanity which fancies that every licence is
permissible to talent.

In his chapter on the social importance of the _Comedie Humaine_,
Brunetiere tries to persuade us that, before Balzac's time, novelists
in general gave a false presentation of the heroes by making love the
unique preoccupation of life. And he seems to include dramatists in
his accusation, declaring that love as a passion, the love which
Shakespeare and Racine speak of, is a thing exceeding rare, and that
humanity is more usually preoccupied with everything and anything
besides love; love, he says, has never been the great affair of life
except with a few idle people. Monsieur Brunetiere's erudition was
immense, and the nights as well as the days he spent in acquiring his
formidable knowledge may in his case have prevented more than a
passing thought being given to the solicitation of love. If the
eminent critic had been as skilled in psychology as he was in
literature, he would have been more disposed to recognize that, amidst
all the toils and cares of life, love, in some phase, is after all the
mainspring, and that, if it were eliminated from man's nature, the
most puissant factor of his activity would disappear. Love is part of
the huge sub-conscious in man; and the novelist, in making the events
of his fiction turn upon it, does no more than follow nature.

However, it is not exact that all novelists and dramatists, or even
the majority of them, before Balzac's time made love the sole
preoccupation of their heroes. What they did rather--in so far as
their writing was true--was to give a visible relief to it which in
real life is impossible, since it belongs to the invisible, inner
experience. Nor is it exact that Balzac consistently assigns a
secondary place in his novels to love. He does so in his best novels,
but not in some that he thought his best--_The Lily in the Valley_ and
_Seraphita_ for example. The relegation of love to the background in
these novels which happen to be his masterpieces was caused by
something mentioned in a preceding chapter, to wit, that Balzac never
thoroughly felt or understood love as a great and noble passion. And
love, with him, being so oddly mixed up with calculation, it was to be
expected he should succeed best in books in which the dominant
interest was some other passion--an exceptional one. If money plays,
on the contrary, such an intrusive role in his novels, its
introduction was less from voluntary, reasoned choice than from
obsession. He deals with this subject sometimes splendidly, but, at
other times, he wearies. Had money filled a smaller part of his work,
the work would not have been lost.

In fine, with its beauties and its ugliness, its perfections and its
shortcomings, the _Comedy_ is the illumination cast by a master-mind
upon the goings-out and comings-in of his contemporaries, the creation
of a more universal and representative history of social life than had
been previously written. Having considerable ethical value, it is
worth still more on account of the ways it opens towards the fiction
of the future.

                            CHAPTER XVI

                           THE INFLUENCE

Balzac's influence during his lifetime was, with but few exceptions,
exercised outside his own, novelist's profession. The sphere in which
it made itself chiefly felt was that of the cultured reading public,
and the public was, first and foremost, a foreign one. History
repeated itself. To Honore d'Urfe, the author of the _Astree_, in the
sixteenth century, while living in Piedmont, a letter came announcing
that twenty-nine princesses and nineteen lords of Germany had adopted
the names and characters of his heroes and heroines in the _Astree_,
and had founded an academy of true lovers. Almost the same thing
occurred to the nineteenth-century Honore de Balzac. For a while,
certain people in Venetian society assumed the titles and roles of his
chief personages, playing the parts, in some instances, out to their
utmost conclusion.

Sainte-Beuve, who, in 1850, drew attention to this curious historical
analogy, went on to mention that, in Hungary, Poland, and Russia,
Balzac's novels created a fashion. The strange, rich furniture that
was assembled and arranged, according to the novelist's fancy, out of
the artistic productions of many countries and epochs, became an
after-reality. Numerous wealthy persons prided themselves on
possessing what the author had merely imagined. The interior of their
houses was adorned _a la Balzac_.

One evening at Vienna, says his sister, he entered a concert-room,
where, as soon as his presence was perceived and bruited about, all
the audience rose in his honour; and, at the end of the entertainment,
a student seized his hand and kissed it, exclaiming: "I bless the hand
that wrote _Seraphita_." Balzac himself relates that, once travelling
in Russia, he and his friends, as night was coming on, went and asked
for hospitality at a castle. On their entrance, the lady of the house
and some other members of the fair sex vied with each other in
eagerness to serve the guests. One of the younger ladies hurried to
the kitchen for refreshment. In the meantime, the novelist's identity
was revealed to the _chatelaine_. A lively conversation was
immediately engaged in, and, when the impromptu Abigail returned with
the refreshment, the first words she heard were: "Well, Monsieur
Balzac, so you think--" Full of surprise and joy she started, dropped
the tray she had in her hands, and everything was broken. "Glory I
have known and seen," adds the narrator; "wasn't that glory?"

It was more. It was power wielded for good or evil, like that of every
other great man, be he statesman, or priest, or artist. The conviction
of possessing this power caused Balzac to complain with sincere
indignation of those who charged him with being an immoral writer.
"The reproach of immorality," he said in his preface to the second
edition of _Pere Goriot_, "which has ever been launched at the
courageous author, is the last that remains to be made, when nothing
else can be urged against a poet. If you are true in your portrayal,
if, by dint of working night and day you succeed in writing the most
difficult language in the world, the epithet immoral is cast in your
face. Socrates was immoral, Jesus Christ was immoral. Both were
persecuted in the name of the societies they overthrew or reformed.
When the world wishes to destroy any one, it taxes him with

This argument is beside the question. It does not settle whether the
apologist's influence upon the men and women of his generation and
beyond--an influence which, in his lifetime, was incontestable, and
may be deemed potent still, to judge by the extent to which his books
are read--was and is good or bad. Balzac's personality is here only
indirectly involved. His individual character might have been better
or worse without the conclusion to be drawn being affected. Good men's
influence is not always good, nor bad men's influence always bad.
Intention may be inoperative, and effect may be involuntary.

Balzac claimed the right to speak of all conduct, to represent all
conduct in his fiction; and we shall see, farther on, that he imposed
his claim upon those who followed him in literature. But, if he
anticipated reality--and this is acknowledged--if he led society to
imitate his fiction, if his exceptional representations tended, with
him and after him, to become general or more frequent in one or
another class of society, he must be considered morally responsible
for the result. It has already been remarked, in the preceding
chapter, that there are two ways of reproducing reality in literature
and art, one of them favouring, not through didacticism but through
emotion, the creation in the mind of a state of healthy feeling,
thought, and effort; the other, that sort of fascination with which
the serpent attracts its victims. It is certain that Balzac did not
adequately take this into account, certain also that in parts of his
_Comedy_, the secret, unconscious sympathy of the author with some of
his sicklier heroes and heroines could not and did not have that
dynamic moral action which he vainly desired.

Of the chief French novelists or _litterateurs_ who were his
contemporaries, critics are inclined to esteem his influence most
evident on George Sand and Victor Hugo. Brunetiere, indeed, begins
with Sainte-Beuve. But the similarities discoverable between the
author of _Volupte_ and the author of the _Comedie Humaine_ were
present in Sainte-Beuve's work at a period when Balzac was only just
issuing from obscurity, and appear, moreover, to be due to
temperament. In the case of George Sand, the inference is based partly
on the praise she meted out to Balzac in her reminiscences. Brunetiere
specifies the _Marquis de Villemer_ as the one proved example of
imitation. But this novel was written in 1861, eleven years after
Balzac's death; and, in so far as it differs from _Mauprat_ and the
earlier books, whether _La Petite Fadette_ or _Consuelo_, can be shown
to be the result of a natural and independent evolution.

As regards Victor Hugo, on the contrary, there is plenty of _prima
facie_ evidence that he largely utilized Balzac's material and method;
and there is evidence also that Balzac utilized, though in a less
degree, the subjects developed by Hugo. The reciprocal borrowing is
easy to explain, both men, in spite of their fundamental
peculiarities, having much in them that was common--imagination
difficult to control, fondness for exaggeration, language prone to be
verbose and turgid, research of devices to astonish the reader. Hugo's
_Miserables_ is a monument of his fiction that owes much to Balzacian
architecture. The realism of the latter author is converted without
difficulty into the former's romanticism, or, rather, the alloy of
romanticism is so considerable in Balzac's work that there is little
conversion to make. Ferragus and Vautrin are prototypes of Valjean,
just as Valjean's Cosette exploited by Madame Thenardier is an
adaptation of Ferragus' daughter or Doctor Minoret's Ursula. The
prison manners and slang of the _Miserables_ inevitably recall those
of _Vautrin's Last Incarnation_, while, on the other hand, Hugo's
salon _ultra_ reappears in the _Cabinet of Antiques_. And the
analogies present themselves continually. One might almost say that
the whole of the _Comedie Humaine_ suggested things to its future
panegyrist, who wrote his greatest novel in the years consecutive to
Balzac's death. Of course, Hugo's borrowings, being those of a man of
genius, were not made use of servilely. Like Shakespeare and Moliere,
the author of the _Miserables_ metamorphosed and enhanced what he

Balzac's major influence on literature began as soon as he was dead.
And the men he reacted on soonest were the dramatists; not through his
own plays, which figured so small in his achievement, or, if through
them at all, then only as they applied the same principles as his
novels. The stage, being ever _en vedette_, is best situated to
interpret the signs of the times, and is likewise more open to the
solicitations of novelty, more ready to try new methods. A noticeable
defect of the French drama, in the first half of the nineteenth
century, was the pronounced artificiality of its characters and plots.
Whatever the kind of play exhibited, the same stereotyped noble
fathers, ingenuous maidens, coquettes, and Lotharios strutted on the
boards. Whatever else changed, these did not. Only their costumes
differed. Moreover, the adventures in which the _dramatis personae_
displayed themselves contained always the same sort of tricks for
bringing about the denouement. Even the language had its own style,
outside which nothing was appropriate. All this was classicism in its
most degenerate form, an art from which original inspiration was
banished to the profit of a much inferior species of skill. Be it
granted that the drama, more than any other kind of literature, is
liable to the encroachment and dominance of such artificiality on
account of its foreshortening in perspective. Be it granted, also,
that sometimes a new movement will intensify an old habit. The
Romanticists, though reformers in other respects, did little or
nothing to render the stage more real. Their lyricism, in front of the
footlights, needed buskins and frippery, or, at any rate, fostered
them, as the pieces of Hugo and de Vigny proved.

The younger Dumas, Emile Augier, Halevy and Becque--with a crescendo
that in the last of the four is somewhat harsh--diverged from the
traditional path, and in their plays put men and women whose motives
and conduct were nearer to the humanity of their audience. The
departure from old lines in these dramatists is patent; and, after
discounting the part that may have been temperamental or contingent on
some other cause, there remains the larger share to attribute to
Balzac's influence. Dumas' _Dame aux Camelias_ originally staged in
1852, was a timid start in the new direction. The theme, that of the
courtezan in love, was a favourite one with the classical school, and
much of the ancient style and tone pervades it; yet its atmosphere is
a modern one, the expression of its sentiment is modern too, and the
accessories are supplied with an eye to material and moral exactitude.
The same author's _Question d'Argent_, composed a few years later, was
a more direct tribute to the modifying power of the _Comedie Humaine_.
It was Balzac's _Mercadet the Jobber_ remodelled with a larger stage
science. Hypnotized subsequently by the _piece a these_ (and not to
his advantage) Dumas went off at a tangent whereas Augier, once
engaged in the newer manner with his _Gendre de Monsieur Poirier_,
persisted in it with each of his succeeding pieces, flattering his
model by resurrection after resurrection of the _Comedy's_ principal
actors, Bixiou and Lousteau in Giboyer and Vernouillet, Balthazar
Claes in the Desronceretz of _Maitre Guerin_. Ludovic Halevy
apparently wished every one to perceive what he owed to the father of
French realism. Finding in the _Petty Bourgeois_ a Madame Cardinal
whose comic personality and peculiar moral squint suited one of his
plays, he adopted her entirely, name and all, altering only what her
more recent surroundings required. Henri Becque digested Balzac rather
than imitated him. One feels in reading his _Corbeaux_ that it is a
disciple's own work. The master's virtues and some of the disciple's
faults are everywhere present, both in the subject and in the
treatment. We have the same world of money and business that shows so
big throughout the _Comedy_, an unfaithful partner and lawyer
introducing ruin into the house of the widow and orphan. The practice
of legal ruse and robbery--in these things Balzac had rung the changes
again and again. What Becque added were sharpness of contrast,
dramatic concentration, bitterer satire, and likewise greater art.

If one may hazard a guess at the reasons that convinced the older
school of playwrights of their error, there are two by which they must
have been struck--the artistic possibilities of the real suggested by
the _Comedie Humaine_, and the prescience--one might say the intuition
--it exhibited of things that were destined to reveal themselves more
prominently in the latter half of the nineteenth century. And in this
respect Balzac in no wise contributed to what he foresaw and, so to
speak, prophesied--the growing stress of the struggle for life in
domains political, social, financial, industrial, the coming of
uncrowned kings greater in puissance than monarchs of yore, the reign
of not one despot but many, the generalization of intrigue, the
replacement of ancient disorders by others of equal or increased
virulence and harder to remedy, hundred-headed hydras to combat, most
difficult of herculean tasks. The reflection of all this in the
_Comedy_ was calculated to impress at its hour, and the hour arrived.
Men looked at the counterfeit presentment and wondered why no one had
recognized these things sooner. From that moment, the reputation of
the _Comedie Humaine_ was made. Perhaps, after all, in such
connection, the one or two of Balzac's plays that went so resolutely
off the old lines--the _Resources of Quinola_ and _Mercadet_,--may
have served, in remembrance, despite their insignificance beside the
novels, which were the true drama, to awaken the attention of
professional dramatists, especially as one after another story of the
_Comedy_ was dramatized. But it was the fund of observation and the
leaven of satire which startled, aroused, and ultimately set the stage
agog. Not even the lighter forms of composition were left unaffected.
Labiche, in the vaudeville style, with his _Voyage de Monsieur
Perrichon_ and _La Cagnotte_, gave his audience, behind his puppets,
the touch of present reality, the sensation of existent follies.

The relative slowness with which the novels of Balzac's younger
contemporaries and his successors were penetrated with realism was
partly due to the lasting effect of George Sand's idealistic fiction.
As we have seen, Balzac himself was reacted upon by it to some extent;
but he yielded against his will, and the result in his case was a
bastard one. She whom he called his brother George survived him for
more than twenty years, and continued to the last to add to her
reputation, so that naturally the impetus she lent to the idealistic
movement was long before it was spent, if indeed one may say that the
impetus has altogether been lost. Adepts like Octave Feuillet, with
his _Roman d'un Jeune Homme Pauvre_, and Victor Cherbuliez, with his
_Comte Kostia_, endeavoured to perpetuate idealism or at least to
recreate it in other forms. And then there were independents, like
Flaubert who, with _Madame Bovary_, passed realism by on his way to
naturalism. Yet it is worth remarking that Flaubert made a sort of
_volte face_ in 1869, and wrote his _Education Sentimentale_, in
which, under the pressure of simple circumstance, the hero descends
gradually from the soaring of youth's hopes and ambitions to the dull,
dun monotony of mature life, with nothing left him save the iron
circle of his environment. Here the disillusionment is that of all
Balzac's chief _dramatis personae_. Moreover, the minor characters of
_Madame Bovary_ may well owe something to the _Comedy_. These doctors,
chemists, cures, prefectoral councillors and country squires would
possibly never have been depicted but for their having already existed
for twenty years in the predecessor's gallery of portraits.

There is no need to call the de Goncourts and Guy de Maupassant
imitators because they bear a strong stamp of Balzac's influence. They
have greater art, a finer style, and, above all, more pathos than the
earlier master was capable of. But they are true disciples, as
likewise Feuillet in his later manner with _Monsieur de Camors_. De
Maupassant's short stories, exemplifying his severely objective
treatment at his best, are Balzac's purified of their lingering
romanticism, and his _Bel Ami_ is a modernized Lucien de Rubempre.
And, if the resemblances are closer between works of the de Goncourts
less known, such as _Charles Demailly_, or _Manette Salomon_ and the
_Lost Illusions_, _Peter Grassou_, the _Muse of the County_, yet the
means employed by the two brothers to endow with life and form _Renee
Mauperin_ and _Germinie Lacerteux_, fixing a background, stamping the
outlines, filling in details, adding particularities, all this was
Balzacian method, insufficient forsooth, in the domain of psychology,
but furnishing idiosyncrasy in plentiful variations.

When we come to Alphonse Daudet, time enough has elapsed for realism
to evolve into naturalism so-called. Naturalism is realism stark-naked
--the dissecting-room, and a good deal besides, which Monsieur Zola
illustrated well but not wisely. Daudet, fortunately for his
reputation, was a naturalist _sui generis_, with a delicate artistic
perception altogether lacking to the author of the Rougon-Macquart
series. He was also an independent, but willing to take lessons in his
trade. And how much he learnt from _Cousin Bette_ may be judged by his
_Numa Roumestan_ and _Froment Jeune et Rissler aine_. There are close
analogies also between the best of Balzac's fiction and the sombre
realism of the _Evangeliste_, based on tragic facts that had come
under Daudet's personal notice. Of the two realisms Daudet's is
certainly the more genuine, with its lambent humour that glints on
even the saddest of his pictures.

In neither the naturalistic school of fiction, nor the psychological,
in so far as the latter is represented by Bourget, has Balzac's
influence been a gain. Bourget has borrowed Balzac's furniture, his
pompous didacticism, his occasional indecency--in fine, all that is
least essential in the elder's assets, without learning how to breathe
objective life into one of his characters. Zola borrowed more, but
mainly the unwholesome parts, truncating these further to suit his
theory of the novel as a slice of life seen through a temperament, and
travestying in the Rougon-Macquart scheme, with its burden of heredity
and physiological blemish, Balzac's cumbrous and plausible doctrine of
the _Comedy_. Both novelists made a mistake in arrogating to
themselves the role of the _savant_. Neither of them seemed to
understand that there are limits imposed on each profession by the
mode of its operation. For Zola the novel was not only an observation
working upon the voluntary acts of life, it was an experiment--like
that of the astrologers whom Moses met in Egypt--producing phenomena
artificially, and allowing a law of necessity to be deduced from the
result. And for Balzac the novel was something of the same kind--a
synthesis of every human activity framed by one who, as he proudly
claimed, had observed and analysed society in all its phases from top
to bottom, legislations, religions, histories, and present time. What
Balzac did in fiction and what he thought he did are separated by a
gulf which could only have been bridged over by the long and painful
study of a man surviving for centuries. His scientific knowledge was
superficial in nearly every branch. It was his divination which was
great. And divination is not omniscience.

An offshoot from the naturalistic school apparently, but derived more
truly from the _Comedie Humaine_, is that decadent, pornographic art,
of which Balzac would have been ashamed, had he lived to see the
vegetation that grew up from the seeds he had sown without knowing
what they would bring forth. In Zola's novels the plant was already
full grown; its earlier appearance as the slender blade was
Champfleury's vulgar satire, the _Bourgeois de Molinchart_. More
recently the blossom has revealed its pestilential rankness so plainly
that no one can be deceived as to its noxious effect.

Where Balzac's influence is likeliest to remain potent for good is in
the domain of history. He was not altogether an initiator here, having
learnt from Walter Scott in the one as in the other capacity; but he
developed and focussed what he had received; he added to it, and made
it a factor in the historical science. After him historians began to
assign a more important place in their narrations and chronicles to
the manners and interests of the people, patiently seeking to assemble
and situate everything that could relate them exactly to the great
political and other public events which would be nothing but names
without them. The de Goncourts, in their _History of French Society
during the Revolution and under the Directoire_, applied this method
with all the zeal of fresh disciples, and with hardly enough
discretion. Taine's _Origins of Contemporary France_ abdicates none of
the older historian's role, but its background is Balzacian. Among the
later writers who have taken up the historian's pen, Masson, Lenotre,
and Anatole France, illustrate the newer principles, each with a
difference, but all excellently, the first in his _Napoleon_, the
second in his _Old Houses, Old Papers_, the third in his _Joan of

It can scarcely be disputed that an entrance of realism into French
literature would have occurred in the second half of the nineteenth
century, had there been no Balzac. Some other novelists or writers,
themselves reacted upon by the scientific spirit, would have set the
example in their own way, if not with the achievement of the author of
the _Comedy_. On the other hand, it is certain that Balzac, had he put
his hand to another treatment of fiction, would nevertheless have
created a school. His tremendous force would have channelled into the
future, whatever the nature of its current. As Sainte-Beuve well says,
he wrote what he wrote with his blood and muscles, not merely with his
thought, and such work backed by genius was sure to tell,
notwithstanding its defects, the latter even to some extent aiding.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Having partly a bibliographic value, and partly confirming the
statements above as to Balzac's influence, the following details
concerning theatrical adaptations of some of his novels may serve as a
supplement to this chapter.

The first made was produced at the Vaudeville in 1832, and was based
on the story of _Colonel Chabert_, which under another title, _The
Compromise_, had finished as a serial in the March _Artiste_ of the
same year. In Balzac's tale--the one of the novels that contains most
real pathos--the Colonel, who is a Count of the Empire, is left for
dead on the battlefield of Eylau, with wounds that disfigure him
dreadfully. Rescued, and sojourning for a long while in German
hospitals, he ultimately returns to France, but only to find his wife,
who believes him dead, married to another nobleman. Treated as an
imposter by everybody save a former non-commissioned officer of his
regiment, he falls into poverty and wretchedness, and dies in a
hospice, whilst his wife continues to live rich and honoured. Jacques
Arago and Louis Lurine, who composed the play, altered the denouement.
The husband is pensioned off by his wife, who, however, suffers for
her hard-heartedness, being afterwards deserted by her second husband.
A second version of the same subject was produced twenty years later
at the Beaumarchais Theatre by Faulquemont, and, in 1888, a third at

_Eugenie Grandet_ was staged as a comedy, at the Gymnase in 1835, by
Bayard and Paulin, who dealt with the plot very freely. Eugenie,
happening to lay hold of the letter telling of her uncle's intention
to commit suicide, begs her father to send money enough to Paris to
prevent the catastrophe. On her father's refusing, she steals one of
the old man's strong-boxes and gives it to the son of a local notary,
who hurries to the capital with it and reaches there in time to save
Charles' father from ruin and death. As Charles has also fled with his
uncle's mare on the same errand, the miser thinks he is the thief, and
obtains a warrant for his arrest. But Eugenie avows everything except
the name of her accomplice. Explanations occur, now that Guillaume
Grandet is saved; Charles comes out of prison and marries Eugenie,
whose dowry is the money that has served so good a purpose. With
Bouffe in the chief role, the _Miser's Daughter_, as the piece was
called, had a great popularity, and was several times revived.

In 1835 also, was produced _Pere Goriot_ at the Varietes, there being
three collaborators in the dramatizing, Theaulon, de Comberousse, and
Jaime. Their adaptation possessed the same characters as the novel,
but the roles are considerably modified. Victorine Taillefer becomes
Goriot's illegitimate daughter, who is provided for by her father, yet
brought up without ever seeing him and without the least inkling of
her relationship to him. But Vautrin has discovered that a sum of five
hundred thousand francs is deposited on her behalf with a notary; and
he goes to Grenoble, where she is living, brings her back with him to
Paris, and presents her to Goriot as a poor girl, his intention being
to ask her in marriage at the proper moment. The retired tradesman
takes her in, and she remains with him when his other daughters marry,
and during the time they pass in ungratefully stripping him of his
fortune. At last his sons-in-law, to salve their consciences, offer to
place him in an almshouse. Goriot indignantly refuses, and tells them
he has another daughter whom he has made rich, and that he will go and
live with her. Now is Vautrin's opportunity. He informs Goriot who
Victorine is, and, since she had given her affections to the young
Rastignac, he, like a good fellow, renounces his own matrimonial
project and assists the old father in marrying the lovers happily. The
part of Goriot was acted by Vernet, who did entire justice to Balzac's
great creation. Simultaneously at the Vaudeville, another and poorer
version of the novel was given; and, in 1891, at the Theatre Libre,
Tabarand experimented a third piece, this last being a faithful
reproduction of the novel. Antoine scored a big success in the part of
Goriot, rendering the death-bed scene with remarkable power and skill.

In 1836, _La Grande Breteche_, with its vengeful husband who walls up
his wife's lover alive, tempted Scribe and another playwright,
Melesville. In their arrangement, there is a virtuous wife whose
husband is a bigamist. On learning the truth, she consents to receive
the visit of Lara, an admirer of hers, whom she loves; and, when the
Bluebeard, Valdini, surprises his victim and proceeds to the
immurement, his first wife slips in most conveniently and whisks him
off, leaving Valentine free to marry Lara.

It is curious to notice how, in almost every instance, the first
adapting dramatists transformed Balzac's tragedies into comedies,
softening the stern facts of life and its injustices, and meting out
the juster rewards and punishments which the novelist's realism

In Antony Beraud's _Gars_, a play drawn from the _Chouans_ and
performed at the Ambigu-Comique in 1837, the hero and heroine, instead
of dying, are saved by a political amnesty decreed by Napoleon; and
the curtain falls to the cry of _Vive l'Empereur_. More than fifty
years later, in 1894, the same theatre gave a close rendering of the
dramatic portions of the _Chouans_, due to the collaboration of Berton
and Blavet, the tragic ending being preserved, with all the effects
properly belonging to it.

Commonplace, like the _Gars_, were the arrangements of the _Search for
the Absolute_, in 1837, and _Cesar Birotteau_ in 1838. The former was
staged under the bizarre title, _A+Mx=O+X, or the Dream of a Savant_.
The authors, Bayard and Bieville, concealed their identity under an
algebraic X as well; and their piece, which made Balthazar Claes a
Parisian chemist and a candidate to a vacant chair in the College de
France, failed to attract at the Gymnase, in spite of Bouffe's talent
and the redemption of Balthazar.

_Cesar Birotteau_ was performed at the Pantheon Theatre, which was
demolished in 1846. The love-story of Popinot and Cesarine, which is
so briefly sketched in the novel, assumed chief importance in Cormon's
adaptation, and, of course, Cesar does not die.

Scribe borrowed largely from the _Comedie Humaine_. His _Sheriff_
libretto for Halevy's music at the Opera Comique in 1839 was a
transmogrification of _Master Cornelius_. Balzac's Cornelius is Louis
XI's money-lender, who lives with his sister in an old mansion, next
to a house with the King's natural daughter, Marie de Sassenage,
occupies with her husband, the Comte de Sainte-Vallier. The old
money-lender, perceiving that his gold is disappearing, has had four of
his apprentices hanged on suspicion. The like fate now threatens Marie's
lover, Georges d'Estouteville, who in order to see her more safely,
has persuaded Cornelius to let him stay in his dwelling one night.
Marie appeals to the King to spare her lover's life, and Louis, on
investigating the matter, discovers that Cornelius is a somnambulist,
and has been robbing himself and burying his gold. On being told of
this, the old money-lender has no peace of mind, fearing the King will
take all his treasure, and ultimately cuts his own throat. In Scribe's
parody, for a parody the piece virtually is, the scene is laid in
England. John Turnel, the Sheriff of London, is the somnambulist, and
he suspects his own daughter and his cook of stealing his money. But,
differing from Cornelius, he accepts the situation when the truth is
revealed to him under circumstances that make him as ridiculous as the
spectre of Tappington in the _Ingoldsby Legends_; and, as a comic
opera generally ends happily, he consents to the marriage of his
daughter, Camilla, and of Keat, the cook, with their respective

An English setting was likewise given by Scribe to his play of
_Helene_, suggested by Balzac's _Honorine_, which was staged at the
Gymnase in 1846. Helene is a young orphan who draws and paints for her
living, and has the good fortune to have all her canvases bought at
advantageous prices by a rich dealer named Crosby. But suddenly she
learns that the dealer is acting in behalf of a certain Lord
Clavering, and, fearing some underhand designs, she refuses to keep
the money that has been paid her. Smitten by her disinterestedness as
well as by her beauty, Lord Clavering would gladly marry her, but is
bound by his word plighted to Lord Dunbar's daughter. However, the
latter elopes with another nobleman, and Clavering marries Helene.
This pretty theme, developed by the actress Rose Cheri, made a huge

Nearly as great was the actress's success at the same theatre in 1849,
when she played the principal role in Clairville's _Madame Marneffe_ a
version of _Cousin Bette_, but very much modified, since Bette is
eliminated altogether, and Valerie Marneffe, instead of being a
depraved creature, is merely a clever woman of the world, who avenges
her father's ruin on the Baron Hulot and Crevel, they being mainly
responsible for it. When Balzac was at Wierzchownia, on his last
visit, he wrote to his mother asking her to go to the theatrical
agent's in order to receive his third of the receipts produced by the
piece. These author's royalties must have helped his purse

In the year after the novelist's death, the applauded representation
of _Mercadet_, at the Gymnase, stimulated other managers of theatres
to go on exploiting his _Comedy_. In September, the _Shagreen Skin_,
arranged by Judicis, was played at the Ambigu-Comique, with _tableaux_
of almost literal imitation, yet bringing to life again, in the
denouement, the chief _dramatis personae_, and making the whole drama
a dream.

At the Comedie Francaise, in 1853, Barriere and de Beauplan produced a
five-act prose play drawn from the _Lily in the Valley_. The novel was
an awkward one to dramatize, there being very few elements in it
capable of yielding situations for the stage. So the result was poor.
A better thing was made in 1859 by de Keraniou out of the _Sceaux
Ball_. On it he based an agreeable piece entitled _Noblesse Oblige_,
with a delicately interpreted love scene in it which met with
appreciative audiences at the Odeon.

One more example, that of _Cousin Pons_, may be given to close the
list of these adaptation, which are fully treated in Edmond Bire's
interesting book dealing with certain aspects of Balzac's life and
work. _Cousin Pons_ was staged at the Cluny Theatre in 1873. Alphonse
de Launay, the author of the play, keeps to his text fairly well; but
he adds a love episode which thrusts the friendship of the two
musicians into the second place. Moreover, after the death of Pons,
Schmucke lives to inherit his fortune and the Camusots are checkmated.

                            CHAPTER XVII


It may be affirmed, without thereby disparaging the _Comedie Humaine_,
that Balzac's personality is even more interesting than his work; and
this is a sufficient excuse for returning to it in a last chapter and
trying, at the risk of repetition, to make its presentment completer
by way of supplement and summary.

The interest does not arise alone from the contrasts of his foibles,
which, forsooth, are nearly always comic--when they are not tragic. We
are just as much attracted by the contrasts of his qualities, and by
the interplay of the former with the latter--the victories and
defeats, the glimpses of immense possibility, the struggles between
temperament and environment, all these having a fullness of display
rarely found in human nature.

Besides the portraits in painting or sculpture executed of the
novelist by Deveria, Boulanger, David d'Angers, and others, some
mention of which has already been made, there was one begun by
Meissonier, who unfortunately did not finish it. Monsieur Jules
Claretie states that the canvas on which it was drawn was subsequently
covered by the artist's _Man choosing a Sword_, to-day in the Van
Prael collection at Brussels. About Boulanger's picture Theophile
Gautier has a good deal to tell us in his article of 1837, published
in the _Beaux Arts de la Presse_; and it scarcely agrees with Balzac's
condemnation of the portrait as a daub, when he saw the canvas some
years later in Russia. Remarking on the difficulty of rendering the
novelist's physiognomy, on account of its mobility and strange aspect,
Gautier gives it as his opinion that Boulanger succeeded perfectly in
seizing the complex expression which seemed to escape all efforts of
the brush. The description is a long one; and any one desirous of
comparing with each other the impressions received by Balzac's
contemporaries who came into close contact with him would do well to
read it after this description by Lamartine. In the tenth of his
lectures on Literature during the year 1856, the author of _Jocelyn_,
speaking of what he had observed, said:--

"His exterior was as uncultivated as his genius. It was the shape of
an element: big head, hair scattered over his collar and cheeks like a
mane that scissors never trimmed, lips thick, eyes soft but of flame;
costume clashing with every elegance; clothes too small for his
colossal body; waistcoat unbuttoned; linen coarse; blue stockings;
shoes that made holes in the carpet; an appearance as of a schoolboy
on holiday, who has grown during the year and whose stature has burst
his garments. Such was the man that by himself wrote a whole library
about his century, the Walter Scott of France, not the Walter Scott of
landscape and adventure, but what is much more prodigious, the Walter
Scott of characters, the Dante of the infinite circles of human life,
the Moliere of read comedy, less perfect but more fertile than the
Moliere of played comedy. Why does not his style equal his conception?
France would then have two Molieres, and the greater would not be he
who lived first."

Returning to the same subject in his hundred and sixth lecture, eight
years later, Lamartine continued:--

"He bore his genius so simply that he did not feel it. He was not
tall, and, however, the lighting up of his face and the mobility of
his body prevented his small stature from being noticed; but this
height swayed like his thought. Between the ground and him there
appeared to be a certain margin; now, he stooped down to pick up a
sheaf of ideas; now, he stood on tiptoe to follow the soaring
of his thought into the infinite. He was big, thick-set,
square-shouldered-and-hipped. His neck, chest, body, thighs, and limbs
were mighty. There was much of the ampleness of Mirabeau, but no
heaviness; there was so much soul that this carried that lightly. The
weight seemed to give him force and not to take it from him. His short
arms gesticulated with ease; he talked as an orator speaks. His voice
resounded with the somewhat savage energy of his lungs, but it had
neither roughness nor irony nor anger. His legs, on which he waddled a
little, carried his bust smartly; his hands, plump and broad,
expressed his whole thought by their waving movements. Such was the
man in his stalwart frame. But, in front of the face, one forgot the
framework. The speaking countenance, from which it was impossible to
detach one's gaze, both charmed and fascinated the beholder. His hair
floated over the forehead in large locks; his black eyes pierced like
arrows blunted by benevolence; they entered yours confidently as if
they were friends; his cheeks were full, rosy, and strongly coloured;
the nose was well modelled, yet a trifle long; his lips, gracefully
limned, ample and raised at the corners; his teeth, unequal, broken,
and blackened by cigar-smoke; his head often inclining towards the
neck, then proudly raised during speech. But the dominating trait of
his face, even more than intelligence, was communicative kindness. He
charmed your mind when he spoke, and, when not speaking, he charmed
your heart. No passion of hatred or envy could have been expressed by
this physiognomy; it would have been impossible for him not to be
kind. Yet it was not a kindness of indifference or nonchalance, as in
the epicurean face of a La Fontaine; it was a loving kindness,
intelligent with regard to itself and others, which inspired gratitude
and the outpouring of the heart, and defied a person not to love him.
A gay childishness was the characteristic of this figure, a soul on
holiday when he laid down his pen to forget himself with his friends.
. . . But, when I saw him some years later, what gravity did that
which was serious not inspire in him? what repulsion did his
conscience not evince towards evil? What difficult virtues did his
apparent joviality not conceal?"

This tribute of an intimate, as generous as that of Hugo and perhaps
more sincere, may pass without comment in so far as it concerns the
outer man. On the moral side its exactitude may be questioned, both
for what it omits and what it asserts. The omissions are considerable.
The assertions deal too exclusively with that conduct which people
generally exhibit in their most amicable relations with each other.
Balzac's kindness of heart came out in not a few experiences of his
life; but deeper than these ephemeral bursts of generosity were
selfishnesses that were enormous and persistent. The impulsive energy,
the huge boyishness, the appetites physical and mental that age never
trained nor chastened were phenomena that all his friends noted,
though the manifestations differed.

Some lines of Gozlan's in his _Balzac in Slippers_, form a good sequel
to Werdet's account of the Gargantuan dinner. "Balzac drank nothing
but water," says Gozlan, but this must have been on Fridays; "and ate
but little meat. On the other hand, he consumed great quantities of
fruit. . . . His lips palpitated, his eyes lit up with happiness, at
the sight of a pyramid of pears or fine peaches. Not one remained to
go and relate the rout of the others. He devoured them all. He was
superb in vegetable Pantagruelism, with his cravat taken off, his
shirt unbuttoned at the neck, his fruit-knife in hand, laughing,
drinking water, carving into the pulp of a doyenne pear. I should like
to add--and talking. But Balzac talked only little. He let others
talk, laughed at intervals, silently, in the savage manner of
Leather-stocking, or else, he burst out like a bomb, if the sentence
pleased him. It needed to be pretty broad, and was never too broad. He
melted with pleasure, especially at a silly pun inspired by his wines,
which were delicious."

Another portrait drawn of the novelist by a contemporary, interpreting
the inner man, but less flattering to the great delineator of
character, is not free from satire and narrowness; but some of the
traits it outlines are closely and accurately observed. In his
_Histoire du Quarante et Unieme (Academy) Fauteuil_, Arsene Houssaye
wrote: "Monsieur de Balzac--that haughty rebel who would fain have
been a founder, that refined Rabelais who discovered a woman where
Rabelais had discovered only a bottle--Monsieur de Balzac dreamed of
the gigantic, yet without being an architect of Cyclopean times.
Consequently, when he tried to build his temple of Solomon, he had
neither marble nor gold enough to his hand. For his _human comedy_ he
often lacked actors, and had to resign himself frequently to making
the understudies play. It is the fashion to-day to raise Balzac to the
level of the dominating geniuses of the world, such as Homer, Saint
Augustine, Shakespeare and Moliere; but for the mind that has accurate
vision, how many rocks are overturned on this Enceladus, what
staircases are forgotten in his Tower of Babel, as in his Jardies
house! Balzac was half a woman, as George Sand was half a man. He had
a woman's curiosities, he had also her contradictions. Balzac believed
himself religious; but his church was the witches' sabbath, and his
priest was not Saint Paul but Swedenborg, if not Mesmer; his Gospel
was the conjuror's book, perhaps that of Pope Honorius--Honorius de
Balzac. He believed himself a politician, and endeavoured to continue
de Maistre; he fancied he was glorifying authority, whereas he
realized the perpetual apotheosis of force; his heroes were named
indifferently Moses or Attila, Charlemagne or Tamerlane, Ricci, the
General of the Jesuits, or Robespierre, the profaner of the sanctuary,
Napoleon or Vautrin. The _History of the Thirteen_ will remain as the
grandiose and monstrous defence of personal force defying the social.
But will it not remain also, by the side of Hegel's philosophy, as an
eloquent codicil to those testaments of individual sovereignty signed
by Aristophanes, Montaigne, and Voltaire? He believed himself a
spiritualist, and, sublime sawbones, he studied only in the medical
amphitheatre. He entered a drawing-room only through the kitchen and
the dressing-room. He was always ignorant of that fine saying of
Hemsterhuys: 'This world is not a machine but a poem.' He believed
himself a painter of manners, and he invented the manners. His women
who are so vividly alive, Madame de Langeais or La Torpille, have
never been intimate with any other company than that of Monsieur de
Balzac. As other great artists, he created his world, a strange world
which has consoled and welcomed all the outcasts of the real world, an
impossible world which has more than once painted the actual one in
its likeness. What charming women of the provinces have since
developed into a Eugenie Grandet, a Madame de Mortsauf, a Madame
Claes! . . . What was wanting to Balzac in the hell of life, whose
every spiral he descended, was virginity in love and ingenuousness in
poetry. He always lost himself in the difficult places of style; and
himself wept over the lack. When he wrote the _Search for the
Absolute_, he was in quest of the ideal; but the ideal is that which
one had inside one's self, just as love is. The studies of the chemist
and alchemist, of the doctor and jurist, do not light the flame of

The quotations do not exhaust the list of portraits emanating from
Balzac's fellows, but they adequately illustrate the varying views,
which were many. Indeed, like the sculptor who produces several
studies of the same model and shows a different interpretation each
time, critics have presented us, in more than one instance, with
descriptions of the novelist, at an earlier and a later date, that
contain important discrepancies.

Balzac was an enigma because he was not always the same personality to
himself. Both his energies and his desires carried him outside the
limits in which a man's individuality is usually manifested. Despite
Monsieur Houssaye, one may even sympathize, though incredulous, with
admirers that would have him to be a universal genius, unfortunately
thwarted by fate--one who else might have opened up all the avenues of
knowledge that humanity can ever penetrate. This persuasion was
undoubtedly his own; and it partly explains his Faustus curiosities
leading him now and again into illegitimate and unwholesome
experiments, of which we get some glimpse in his books and

That he could have succeeded in other careers, the medical one, for
example, the painter's or sculptor's perhaps, or the mechanical
inventor's, seems likely; but his impulsiveness, his exuberance, and
his poor financial ability would have been hindrances in directions
where success depends largely on exact calculation, method, and
detail. In political life, his brilliance would assuredly have
sufficed to procure him prominence in opposition. As a minister he
would have inevitably fallen a victim to the inconsistencies of his
own attitude--inconsistencies due to the fact that his judgments were
intuitional and instinctive, with prejudices reacting on them, too
numerous and too strong to allow him to weigh things fairly and
deliberately. Moreover, his mind was too much engrossed by the sole
picturesqueness of phenomena to delve deep enough beneath them for
their essential relations. This is why it happens that his arguments
are often worse than his convictions, the latter being inherited, in
general, and at least having the residuary wisdom of tradition
together with the additional force of his common sense. Thus, on the
eve of giving the ignorant man a power equal to that of the
intelligent one, and of handing over the supreme decision in the vital
concerns of a country to unsafeguarded majorities less qualified for
the task than ancient oligarchy or autocracy. But he had nothing of
worth to suggest, no alternative save the return to abuses of the
grossest kind which experience had proved to lead to revolution.

His ponderous declaration: "I write by the light of two eternal
truths, religion and the monarchy," was a sort of cheap-jack
recommendation of the so-called philosophy in his _Comedie Humaine_.
His Catholic orthodoxy, if orthodoxy it were, savoured more of
politics than religion. He did not wish the old ecclesiastical
organization and faith of France to be changed, because he saw in it a
useful police agency for restraining the masses. As for his Royalism,
which had a smack of Frondism in it, he stuck to it because it
accorded with his conservative, eclectic tastes, and not because he
had worked it out as the best theory of government. Such dissertations
as appear in his writings, on either the one or the other subject,
have nothing more original about them than can be found in the most
ordinary election speech or pulpit discourse.

And in the realm of pure speculative thought he was not great. Beyond
the limits of the visible, his intuition failed him; so that he
floundered helplessly when not upheld by the doctrines of others,
which, since he did not understand them, he adapted to his purpose but
awkwardly. Whether there were latent faculties in him that might have
developed with training, it is impossible to affirm or deny; however,
we may be forgiven the doubt. From a mind so forceful, the native
perception, though uncultured, should have issued in something better
than _Lambert_ or _Seraphita_. Still, there is this to be said, that a
man whose eyes were so constantly bent on facts, whose gaze was always
spying out details which escaped the common observation, was embracing
a plane parallel, if inferior to that which was covered by a Plato.

The title of the author of the _Comedy_ to be called a philosopher can
be defended only on the ground of his adding a new domain to the rule
of science. He was not the discoverer of the law of cause and effect.
Nor was he the one in his own country who did the most towards
demonstrating the interdependence of the various branches of
knowledge, this honour being reserved to Comte. But the transference
of the minute causalities of life into fiction was systematized by
him. He made the thing an artistic method, using it with the same
power, though not the same chasteness, as George Eliot after him. His
employment was not very logical--how could it be when the guiding mind
was in chronic fermentation? He gives us this contradiction that human
thought is at once the grandeur and destruction of life--an opinion
imbued with ecclesiasticism, confusing thought with passion. It is
passion alone which disintegrates; and, in the _Comedie Humaine_, such
monomaniacs as Grandet, Claes, and Hulot are destroyed not by their
thought but their desire.

Balzac's pessimism is not philosophic. In him it was not the despair
of an intellect that had worn itself out in vainly seeking for the
solution of the riddle of the universe, vainly striving after a theory
that should reconcile nature's brute law with the human demand for
justice and immanent goodness. By original temperament an optimist, he
changed and grew pessimistic with the untoward happenings of his
agitated career, and under the fostering of his native self-esteem.
Possibly too, as Le Breton asserts, a secondary cause was his having
imbibed the pretentious doctrines of the Romantic school, the disdains
of the young artistic bloods of 1830, who held their clan composed the
loftier, super-human race, the only one that counted. Berlioz carried
this folly of pride to its highest pitch. In his _Memoirs_, he
declared that the public (of course excluding himself) were an
infamous tag-rag-and-bob-tail. The people of Paris, he protested, were
more stupid and a hundred times more ferocious, in their caperings and
revolutionary grimaces, than the baboons and orang-outangs of Borneo.
Balzac at times adopted and expressed similar opinions. Gozlan relates
that one day the owner of Les Jardies said to him in the attic of his
hermitage: "Come, let us spit upon Paris." The novelist imagined that
talents of the kind he possessed ought to be admitted to every honour;
and his hatred of the Revolution and Republicanism was more because he
believed they were inimical to art--and his art--than because they had
cast down a throne. His bitterness was to some extent excusable, for
he was exploited much during his lifetime, and had, even to the end,
to bend his neck to the yoke. But he also belonged to the class of
exploiters by his mental constitution. Could he have had his way, all
the men of letters around him would have been in his pay, writing for
their bare living and contributing to his fame. In this connection
there is an anecdote narrated by Baudelaire, in the _Echo des
Theatres_ of the 25th of August 1846, and referable to the year 1839.

The Jardies hermit had a bill of twelve hundred francs to meet; and
for this reason he was sad as he walked up and down the double passage
of the Opera--he, the hardest commercial and literary head of the
nineteenth century; he, the poetic brain upholstered with figures like
a financier's office; he, the man of mythologic failures, of
hyperbolic and phantasmagoric enterprises, the lanterns of which he
always forgot to light; he, the great pursuer of dreams for ever in
quest of the absolute; he, the funniest, most attractive as well as
the vainest character of the _Comedie Humaine_; he, the original, as
unbearable in private life as he was delightful in his writings; the
big baby swollen with genius and conceit, who had so many qualities
and so many failings that one feared to attack the latter for fear of
injuring the former, and thus spoiling this incorrigible and fatal

At length, however, his forehead grew serene and he went towards the
Rue de Richelieu with sublime and cadenced step. There he entered the
den of a rich man (Curmer), who received him with due honour.

"Would you like," quoth he, "the day after to-morrow to have in the
_Siecle_ and the _Debats_ two smart articles on the French depicted by
themselves, the articles to be signed by me? I must have fifteen
hundred francs. The affair is a grand one for you."

The editor, unlike his _confreres_, found the proposal reasonable, and
the bargain was concluded on the spot, with the stipulation that the
money should be paid on the delivery of the first article. Leaving the
office, the visitor returned to the passage of the Opera; and there he
met a diminutive young man of shrewish, witty countenance (Edouard
Ourliac), known among the journalists for his clownish verve.

"Edouard, will you earn a hundred and fifty francs to-morrow?"

"Won't I, if I get the chance!" answered the latter.

"Then come and drink a cup of coffee."

"To-morrow," explained his principal, "I must have three big columns
on the French depicted by themselves, and I must have them early, for
I have to copy and sign them."

Edouard hastened away to his task, while the novelist went and ordered
a second article in the rue de Navarin.

The first article appeared two days later in the _Siecle_, and was
signed, strangely enough, neither by the little man nor by the great
man, but by a third person known in Bohemia for his tom-cat and
opera-comique amours (Gerard de Nerval). The second friend was big,
idle, and lymphatic. Moreover, he had no ideas; he knew only how to
thread words together like pearls; and, as it takes longer to heap up
three long columns of words than to make a volume of ideas, his article
appeared only several days later in the _Presse_.

The twelve-hundred-francs debt was paid. Each one was perfectly
satisfied, except the editor, who was not quite. And this was how a
man of genius discharged his liabilities.

Balzac's individuality is one of those that inevitably raise the
question as to how far genius and creative imagination are made up of
will-power, how far what is produced by great talent is sub-conscious
inspiration virtually independent of effort. Although Shelley confines
his assertions on the subject to poetry, he nevertheless seems to
imply that creation of any kind has little to do with the will. "The
mind in creation," he says, "is as a fading coal, which some invisible
influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness;
this power arises from within, like the colour of a flower which fades
and changes as it is developed, and the ocnsciuso portions of our
natures are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure. Could
this influence be durable in its original purity and force, it is
impossible to predict the greatness of the results; but, when
composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline." The case
of Balzac suggests that the sort of genius Shelley had in his thought
is the exception rather than the rule. The author of the _Comedy_
himself asserts that great talents do not exist without great will.
"You have ideas in your brain?" he says. "Just so. I also. . . . What
is the use of that which one has in one's soul if no use is made of
it?" . . . "To conceive is to enjoy; it is to smoke enchanted
cigarettes; but, without the execution, everything goes away in dream
and smoke." . . . "Constant work is the law of art as it is that of
life; for art is creation idealized. Consequently, great artists and
poets do not wait for orders or customers; they bring forth to-day,
to-morrow, continually."

It may be, after all, that the difference is one of those verbal ones
to which Locke draws attention in his _Essay on the Human
Understanding_. Will-power is partly an inheritance and partly an
acquisition. And acquired qualities are always less puissantly
exercised, less effective in the results obtained. Even in poetry it
would appear that, without will to unlock the door, fine faculties
that are dormant may never make their existence known. Balzac gives us
an example of a native will that was for ever rushing through his
being and arousing to activity first one and then another of his
native powers. And, if the total accomplishment was not conform to the
tremendous liberation of force, it was because there was circumstance
harder than will and the intershock of energies that ran counter to
each other.

In fine, alas! there is something absent from the man which would have
both beautified himself and added a saner beauty to his work--the
pursuit of those finer ideals which mean consistent devotion to duty
and broad sympathy with human nature, irrespective of nation, colour,
and position, in its yearnings and in its fate. Fascinated by material
aims, worshipping the Napoleonic epopee to the extent of framing his
conduct by it, measuring the happiness of existence rather by its
honours and furniture than by its moral attainments, he missed the
first poetry of love as he missed the last wisdom of age. This
limitation of the man makes itself sorely felt in his writings, where
we, more often than not, tread a Dane's _Inferno_, unrelieved by the
brighter glimpses and kindlier impulses that still are found in our
world of self-seeking and suffering.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Balzac" ***

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