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´╗┐Title: Honore de Balzac, His Life and Writings
Author: Sandars, Mary F. (Mary Frances), 1864-
Language: English
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First published 1904.

                           HONORE DE BALZAC
                        HIS LIFE AND WRITINGS


                           MARY F. SANDARS


Books about Balzac would fill a fair-sized library. Criticisms on his
novels abound, and his contemporaries have provided us with several
amusing volumes dealing in a humorous spirit with his eccentricities,
and conveying the impression that the author of "La Cousine Bette" and
"Le Pere Goriot" was nothing more than an amiable buffoon.

Nevertheless, by some strange anomaly, there exists no Life of him
derived from original sources, incorporating the information available
since the appearance of the volume called "Lettres a l'Etrangere."
This book, which is the source of much of our present knowledge of
Balzac, is a collection of letters written by him from 1833 to 1844 to
Madame Hanska, the Polish lady who afterwards became his wife. The
letters are exact copies of the originals, having been made by the
Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, to whom the autographs belong.

It seems curious that no one should yet have made use of this mine of
biographical detail. In English we have a Memoir by Miss Wormeley,
written at a time when little as known about the great novelist, and a
Life by Mr. Frederick Wedmore in the "Great Writers" Series; but this,
like Miss Wormeley's Memoir, appeared before the "Lettres a
l'Etrangere" were published. Moreover, it is a very small book, and
the space in it devoted to Balzac as a man is further curtailed by
several chapters devoted to criticism of his work. The introduction to
the excellent translation of Balzac's novels undertaken by Mr.
Saintsbury, contains a short account of his life, but this only fills
a few pages and does not enter into much detail. Besides these, an
admirable essay on Balzac has appeared in "Main Currents of
Nineteenth-century Literature," by Mr. George Brandes; the scope of
this, however, is mainly criticism of his merits as a writer, not
description of his personality and doings.

Even in the French language, there is no trustworthy or satisfactory
Life of Balzac--a fact on which numerous critical writers make many
comments, though they apparently hesitate to throw themselves into the
breach and to undertake one. Madame Surville's charming Memoir only
professes to treat of Balzac's early life, and even within these
limits she intentionally conceals as much as she reveals. M. Edmond
Bire, in his interesting book, presents Balzac in different aspects,
as Royalist, playwriter, admirer of Napoleon, and so on; but M. Bire
gives no connected account of his life, while MM. Hanotaux and Vicaire
deal solely with Balzac's two years as printer and publisher. The
Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul is the one man who could give a
detailed and minutely correct Life of Balzac, as he has proved by the
stores of biographical knowledge contained in his works the "Roman
d'Amour," "Autour de Honore de Balzac," "La Genese d'un Roman de
Balzac, 'Les Paysans,'" and above all, "L'Histoire des Oeuvres de
Balzac," which has become a classic. The English or American reader
would hardly be able to appreciate these fascinating books, however,
unless he were first equipped with the knowledge of Balzac which would
be provided by a concise Life.

In these circumstances, helped and encouraged by Dr. Emil Reich, whose
extremely interesting lectures I had attended with much enjoyment, and
who very kindly gave me lists of books, and assisted me with advice, I
engaged in the task of writing this book. It is not intended to add to
the mass of criticism of Balzac's novels, being merely an attempt to
portray the man as he was, and to sketch correctly a career which has
been said to be more thrilling than a large proportion of novels.

I must apologise for occasional blank spaces, for when Balzac is with
Madame Hanska, and his letters to her cease, as a general rule all our
information ceases also; and the intending biographer can only glean
from scanty allusions in the letters written afterwards, what happened
at Rome, Naples, Dresden, or any of the other towns, to which Balzac
travelled in hot haste to meet his divinity.

The book has been compiled as far as possible from original sources;
as the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul--whose collection of
documents relating to Balzac, Gautier, and George Sand is unique,
while his comprehensive knowledge of Balzac is the result of many
years of study--has most kindly allowed me to avail myself of his
library at Brussels. There, arranged methodically, according to some
wonderful system which enables the Vicomte to find at once any
document his visitor may ask for, are hundreds of Balzac's autograph
writings, many of them unpublished and of great interest. There, too,
are portraits and busts of the celebrated novelist, letters from his
numerous admirers, and the proofs of nearly all his novels--those
sheets covered with a network of writing, which were the despair of
the printers. The collection is most remarkable, even when we remember
the large sums of money, and the patience and ability, which have for
many years been focussed on its formation. It will one day be
deposited in the museum at Chantilly, near Paris, where it will be at
the disposal of those who wish to study its contents.

The Vicomte has kindly devoted much time to answering my questions,
and has shown me documents and autograph letters, the exact words of
which have been the subject of discussion and dispute, so that I have
been able myself to verify the fact that the copies made by M. de
Spoelberch de Lovenjoul are taken exactly from the originals. He has
warned me to be particularly careful about my authorities, as many of
Balzac's letters--printed as though copied from autographs--are
incorrectly dated, and have been much altered.

He has further added to his kindness by giving me several
illustrations, and by having this book translated to him, in order to
correct it carefully by the information to which he alone has access.
I gladly take this opportunity of acknowledging how deeply I am
indebted to him.

I cannot consider these words of introduction complete without again
expressing my sense of what I owe to Dr. Reich, to whom the initial
idea of this book is due, and without whose energetic impetus it would
never have been written. He has found time, in the midst of a very
busy life, to read through, and to make many valuable suggestions, and
I am most grateful for all he has done to help me.

I must finish by thanking Mr. Curtis Brown most heartily for the
trouble he has taken on my behalf, for the useful hints he has given
me, and for the patience with which he has elucidated the difficulties
of an inexperienced writer.


                           HONORE DE BALZAC

                              CHAPTER I

  Balzac's claims to greatness--The difficulty in attempting a
  complete Life--His complex character--The intention of this book.

At a time when the so-called Realistic School is in the ascendant
among novelists, it seems strange that little authentic information
should have been published in the English language about the great
French writer, Honore de Balzac. Almost alone among his
contemporaries, he dared to claim the interest of the world for
ordinary men and women solely on the ground of a common humanity. Thus
he was the first to embody in literature the principle of Burns that
"a man's a man for a' that"; and though this fact has now become a
truism, it was a discovery, and an important discovery, when Balzac
wrote. He showed that, because we are ourselves ordinary men and
women, it is really human interest, and not sensational circumstance
which appeals to us, and that material for enthralling drama can be
found in the life of the most commonplace person--of a middle-aged
shopkeeper threatened with bankruptcy, or of an elderly musician with
a weakness for good dinners. At one blow he destroyed the unreal ideal
of the Romantic School, who degraded man by setting up in his place a
fantastic and impossible hero as the only theme worthy of their pen;
and thus he laid the foundation of the modern novel.

His own life is full of interest. He was not a recluse or a bookworm;
his work was to study men, and he lived among men, he fought
strenuously, he enjoyed lustily, he suffered keenly, and he died
prematurely, worn out by the force of his own emotions, and by the
prodigies of labour to which he was impelled by the restless
promptings of his active brain, and by his ever-pressing need for
money. Some of his letters to Madame Hanska have been published during
the last few years; and where can we read a more pathetic love story
than the record of his seventeen years' waiting for her, and of the
tragic ending to his long-deferred happiness? Or where in modern times
can more exciting and often comical tales of adventure be found than
the accounts of his wild and always unsuccessful attempts to become a
millionaire? His friends comprised most of the celebrated French
writers of the day; and though not a lover of society, he was
acquainted with many varieties of people, while his own personality
was powerful, vivid, and eccentric.

Thus he appears at first sight to be a fascinating subject for
biography; but if we examine a little more closely, we shall realise
the web of difficulties in which the writer of a complete and
exhaustive Life of Balzac would involve himself, and shall understand
why the task has never been attempted. The great author's money
affairs alone are so complicated that it is doubtful whether he ever
mastered them himself, and it is certainly impossible for any one else
to understand them; while he managed to shroud his private life,
especially his relations to women, in almost complete mystery. For
some years after his death the monkish habit in which he attired
himself was considered symbolic of his mental attitude; and even now,
though the veil is partially lifted, and we realise the great part
women played in his life, there remain many points which are not yet
cleared up.

Consequently any one who attempts even in the most unambitious way to
give a complete account of the great writer's life, is confronted with
many blank spaces. It is true that the absolutely mysterious
disappearances of which his contemporaries speak curiously are now
partially accounted for, as we know that they were usually connected
with Madame Hanska, and that Balzac's sense of honour would not allow
him to breathe her name, except to his most intimate friends, and
under the pledge of the strictest secrecy. His letters to her have
allowed a flood of light to pour upon his hitherto veiled personality;
but they are almost our only reliable source of information.
Therefore, when they cease, because Balzac is with his ladylove, and
we are suddenly excluded from his confidence, we can only guess what
is happening.

In this way, we possess but the scantiest information about the
journeys which occupied a great part of his time during the last few
years of his life. We know that he travelled, regardless of expense
and exhaustion, as quickly as possible, and by the very shortest
route, to meet Madame Hanska; but this once accomplished, we can
gather little more, and we long for a diary or a confidential
correspondent. In the first rapture of his meeting at Neufchatel, he
did indeed open his heart to his sister, Madame Surville; but his
habitual discretion, and his care for the reputation of the woman he
loved, soon imposed silence upon him, and he ceased to comment on the
great drama of his life.

The great versatility of his mind, and the power he possessed of
throwing himself with the utmost keenness into many absolutely
dissimilar and incongruous enterprises at the same time, add further
to the difficulty of understanding him. An extraordinary number of
subjects had their place in his capacious brain, and the ease with
which he dismissed one and took up another with equal zest the moment
after, causes his doings to seem unnatural to us of ordinary mind.
Leon Gozlan gives a curious instance of this on the occasion of the
first reading of the "Ressources de Quinola."

Balzac had recited his play in the green-room of the Odeon to the
assembled actors and actresses, and before a most critical audience
had gone through the terrible strain of trying to improvise the fifth
act, which was not yet written. He and Gozlan went straight from the
hot atmosphere of the theatre to refresh themselves in the cool air of
the Luxembourg Gardens. Here we should expect one of two things to
happen. Either Balzac would be depressed with the ill-success of his
fifth act, at which, according to Gozlan, he had acquitted himself so
badly that Madame Dorval, the principal actress, refused to take a
role in the play; or, on the other hand, his sanguine temperament
would cause him to overlook the drawbacks, and to think only of the
enthusiasm with which the first four acts had been received. Neither
of these two things took place. Balzac "n'y pensait deja plus." He
talked with the greatest eagerness of the embellishments he had
proposed to M. Decazes for his palace, and especially of a grand
spiral staircase, which was to lead from the centre of the Luxembourg
Gardens to the Catacombs, so that these might be shown to visitors,
and become a source of profit to Paris. But of his play he said

The reader of "Lettres a l'Etrangere," which are written to the woman
with whom Balzac was passionately in love, and whom he afterwards
married, may, perhaps, at first sight congratulate himself on at last
understanding in some degree the great author's character and mode of
life. If he dives beneath the surface, however, he will find that
these beautiful and touching letters give but an incomplete picture;
and that, while writing them, Balzac was throwing much energy into
schemes, which he either does not mention to his correspondent, or
touches on in the most cursory fashion. Therefore the perspective of
his life is difficult to arrange, and ordinary rules for gauging
character are at fault. We find it impossible to follow the principle,
that because Balzac possessed one characteristic, he could not also
show a diametrically opposite quality--that, for instance, because
tenderness, delicacy of feeling, and a high sense of reverence and of
honour were undoubtedly integral parts of his personality, the stories
told by his contemporaries of his occasional coarseness must
necessarily be false.

His own words, written to the Duchesse d'Abrantes in 1828, have no
doubt a great element of truth in them: "I have the most singular
character I know. I study myself as I might study another person, and
I possess, shut up in my five foot eight inches, all the incoherences,
all the contrasts possible; and those who think me vain, extravagant,
obstinate, high-minded, without connection in my ideas,--a fop,
negligent, idle, without application, without reflection, without any
constancy; a chatterbox, without tact, badly brought up, impolite,
whimsical, unequal in temper,--are quite as right as those who perhaps
say that I am economical, modest, courageous, stingy, energetic, a
worker, constant, silent, full of delicacy, polite, always gay. Those
who consider that I am a coward will not be more wrong than those who
say that I am extremely brave; in short, learned or ignorant, full of
talent or absurd, nothing astonishes me more than myself. I end by
believing that I am only an instrument played on by circumstances.
Does this kaleidoscope exist, because, in the soul of those who claim
to paint all the affections of the human heart, chance throws all
these affections themselves, so that they may be able, by the force of
their imagination, to feel what they paint? And is observation a sort
of memory suited to aid this lively imagination? I begin to think

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 77.

Certainly Balzac's character proves to the hilt the truth of the rule
that, with few exceptions in the world's history, the higher the
development, the more complex the organisation and the more violent
the clashing of the divers elements of the man's nature; so that his
soul resembles a field of battle, and he wears out quickly.
Nevertheless, because everything in Balzac seems contradictory, when
he is likened by one of his friends to the sea, which is one and
indivisible, we perceive that the comparison is not inapt. Round the
edge are the ever-restless waves; on the surface the foam blown by
fitful gusts of wind, the translucent play of sunbeams, and the
clamour of storms lashing up the billows; but down in the sombre
depths broods the resistless, immovable force which tinges with its
reflection the dancing and play above, and is the genius and
fascination, the mystery and tragedy of the sea.

Below the merriment and herculean jollity, so little represented in
his books, there was deep, gloomy force in the soul of the man who,
gifted with an almost unparalleled imagination, would yet grip the
realities of the pathetic and terrible situations he evolved with
brutal strength and insistence. The mind of the writer of "Le Pere
Goriot," "La Cousine Bette," and "Le Cousin Pons," those terrible
tragedies where the Greek god Fate marches on his victims
relentlessly, and there is no staying of the hand for pity, could not
have been merely a wide, sunny expanse with no dark places.
Nevertheless, we are again puzzled, when we attempt to realise the
personality of a man whose imagination could soar to the mystical and
philosophical conception of "Seraphita," which is full of religious
poetry, and who yet had the power in "Cesar Birotteau" to invest
prosaic and even sordid details with absolute verisimilitude, or in
the "Contes Drolatiques" would write, in Old French, stories of
Rabelaisian breadth and humour. The only solution of these
contradictions is that, partly perhaps by reason of great physical
strength, certainly because of an abnormally powerful brain and
imagination, Balzac's thoughts, feelings, and passions were unusually
strong, and were endowed with peculiar impetus and independence of
each other; and from this resulted a versatility which caused most
unexpected developments, and which fills us of smaller mould with

Nevertheless, steadfastness was decidedly the groundwork of the
character of the man who was not dismayed by the colossal task of the
Comedie Humaine; but pursued his work through discouragement, ill
health, and anxieties. Except near the end of his life, when, owing to
the unreasonable strain to which it had been subjected, his powerful
organism had begun to fail, Balzac refused to neglect his vocation
even for his love affairs--a self-control which must have been a
severe test to one of his temperament.

This absorption in his work cannot have been very flattering to the
ladies he admired; and one plausible explanation of Madame de
Castries' coldness to his suit is that she did not believe in the
devotion of a lover who, while paying her the most assiduous court at
Aix, would yet write from five in the morning till half-past five in
the evening, and only bestow his company on her from six till an early
bedtime. Even the adored Madame Hanska had to take second place where
work was concerned. When they were both at Vienna in 1835, he writes
with some irritation, apparently in answer to a remonstrance on her
part, that he cannot work when he knows he has to go out; and that,
owing to the time he spent the evening before in her society, he must
now shut himself up for fourteen hours and toil at "Le Lys dans la
Vallee." He adds, with his customary force of language, that if he
does not finish the book at Vienna, he will throw himself into the

The great psychologist knew his own character well when, in another
letter to Madame Hanska, who has complained of his frivolity, he
cries, indignantly: "Frivolity of character! Why, you speak as a good
_bourgeois_ would have done, who, seeing Napoleon turn to the right,
to the left, and on all sides to examine his field of battle, would
have said, 'This man cannot remain in one place; he has no fixed

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

This change of posture, though consonant, as Balzac says, with real
stability, is a source of bewilderment to the reader of his sayings
and doings, till it dawns upon him that, through pride, policy, and
the usual shrinking of the sensitive from casting their pearls before
swine, Balzac was a confirmed _poseur_, so that what he tells us is
often more misleading than his silence. Leon Gozlan's books are a
striking instance of the fact that, with all Balzac's jollity, his
camaraderie, and his flow of words, he did not readily reveal himself,
except to those whom he could thoroughly trust to understand him.
Gozlan went about with Balzac very often, and was specially chosen by
him time after time as a companion; but he really knew very little of
the great man. If we compare his account of Balzac's feeling or want
of feeling at a certain crisis, and then read what is written on the
same subject to Madame Hanska, Balzac's enormous power of reserve, and
his habit of deliberately misleading those who were not admitted to
his confidence, may be gauged.

George Sand tells us an anecdote which shows how easily, from his
anxiety not to wear his heart upon his sleeve, Balzac might be
misunderstood. He dined with her on January 29th, 1844, after a visit
to Russia, and related at table, with peals of laughter and apparently
enormous satisfaction, an instance which had come under his notice of
the ferocious exercise of absolute power. Any stranger listening,
would have thought him utterly heartless and brutal, but George Sand
knew better. She whispered to him: "That makes you inclined to cry,
doesn't it?"[*] He answered nothing; left off laughing, as if a spring
in him had broken; was very serious for the rest of the evening, and
did not say a word more about Russia.

[*] "Autour de la Table," by George Sand.

Balzac looked on the world as an arena; and as the occasion and the
audience arose, he suited himself with the utmost aplomb to the part
he intended to play, so that under the costume and the paint the real
Balzac is often difficult to discover. Sometimes he would pretend to
be rich and prosperous, when he thought an editor would thereby be
induced to offer him good terms; and sometimes, when it suited his
purpose, he would make the most of his poverty and of his pecuniary
embarrassments. Madame Hanska, from whom he required sympathy, heard
much of his desperate situation after the failure of Werdet, whom he
likens to the vulture that tormented Prometheus; but as it would not
answer for Emile de Girardin, the editor of _La Presse_, to know much
about Balzac's pecuniary difficulties, Madame de Girardin is assured
that the report of Werdet's supposed disaster is false, and Balzac
virtuously remarks that in the present century honesty is never
believed in.[*] Sometimes his want of candour appears to have its
origin in his hatred to allow that he is beaten, and there is
something childlike and naive in his vanity. We are amused when he
informs Madame Hanska that he is giving up the _Chronique de Paris_
--which, after a brilliant flourish of trumpets at the start, was a
complete failure--because the speeches in the Chambre des Deputes are
so silly that he abandons the idea of taking up politics, as he had
intended to do by means of journalism. In a later letter, however, he
is obliged to own that, though the _Chronique_ has been, of course, a
brilliant success, money is lacking, owing to the wickedness of
several abandoned characters, and that therefore he has been forced to
bring the publication to an end.

[*] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," p. 152, by Le Vicomte de
    Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

Of one vanity he was completely free. He did not pose to posterity. Of
his books he thought much--each one was a masterpiece, more glorious
than the last; but he never imagined that people would be in the least
interested in his doings, and he did not care about their opinion of
him. Nevertheless there was occasionally a gleam of joy, when some one
unexpectedly showed a spontaneous admiration for his work. For
instance, in a Viennese concert-room, where the whole audience had
risen to do honour to the great author, a young man seized his hand
and put it to his lips, saying, "I kiss the hand that wrote
'Seraphita,'" and Balzac said afterwards to his sister, "They may deny
my talent, if they choose, but the memory of that student will always
comfort me."

His genius would, he hoped, be acknowledged one day by all the world;
but there was a singular and lovable absence of self-consciousness in
his character, and a peculiar humility and childlikeness under his
braggadocio and apparent arrogance. Perhaps this was the source of the
power of fascination he undoubtedly exercised over his contemporaries.
Nothing is more noticeable to any one reading about Balzac than the
difference between the tone of amused indulgence with which those who
knew him personally, speak of his peculiarities, and the contemptuous
or horrified comments of people who only heard from others of his
extraordinary doings.

He had bitter enemies as well as devoted friends; and his fighting
proclivities, his objection to allow that he is ever in the wrong, and
his habit of blaming others for his misfortunes, have had a great
effect in obscuring our knowledge of Balzac's life, as the people he
abused were naturally exasperated, and took up their pens, not to give
a fair account of what really happened, but to justify themselves
against Balzac's aspersions. Werdet's book is an instance of this.
Beneath the extravagant admiration he expresses for the "great
writer," with his "heart of gold," a glint can be seen from time to
time of the animus which inspired him when he wrote, and we feel that
his statements must be received with caution, and do not add much to
our real knowledge of Balzac.

Nevertheless, though there are still blank spaces to be filled, as
well as difficulties to overcome and puzzles to unravel, much fresh
information has lately been discovered about the great writer, notably
the "Lettres a l'Etrangere," published in 1899, a collection of some
of the letters written by Balzac, from 1833 to 1848, to Madame Hanska,
the Polish lady who afterwards became his wife. These letters, which
are the property of the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, give many
interesting details, and alter the earlier view of several points in
Balzac's career and character; but the volume is large, and takes some
time to read. It is therefore thought, that as those who would seem
competent, by their knowledge and skill, to overcome the difficulties
of writing a complete and exhaustive life are silent, a short sketch,
which can claim nothing more than correctness of detail, may not be
unwelcome. It contains no attempt to give what could only be a very
inadequate criticism of the books of the great novelist; for that, the
reader must be referred to the many works by learned Frenchmen who
have made a lifelong study of the subject. It is written, however, in
the hope that the admirers of "Eugenie Grandet" and "Le Pere Goriot"
may like to read something of the author of these masterpieces, and
that even those who only know the great French novelist by reputation
may be interested to hear a little about the restless life of a man
who was a slave to his genius--was driven by its insistent voice to
engage in work which was enormously difficult to him, to lead an
abnormal and unhealthy life, and to wear out his exuberant physical
strength prematurely. He died with his powers at their highest and his
great task unfinished; and a sense of thankfulness for his own
mediocrity fills the reader, when he reaches the end of the life of

                              CHAPTER II

  Balzac's appearance, dress, and personality--His imaginary
  world and schemes for making money--His family, childhood,
  and school-days.

According to Theophile Gautier, herculean jollity was the most
striking characteristic of the great writer, whose genius excels in
sombre and often sordid tragedy. George Sand, too, speaks of Balzac's
"serene soul with a smile in it"; and this was the more remarkable,
because he lived at a time when discontent and despair were considered
the sign-manual of talent.

Physically Balzac was far from satisfying a romantic ideal of fragile
and enervated genius. Short and stout, square of shoulder, with an
abundant mane of thick black hair--a sign of bodily vigour--his whole
person breathed intense vitality. Deep red lips, thick, but finely
curved, and always ready to laugh, attested, like the ruddiness in his
full cheeks, to the purity and richness of his blood. His forehead,
high, broad, and unwrinkled, save for a line between the eyes, and his
neck, thick, round, and columnar, contrasted in their whiteness with
the colour in the rest of the face. His hands were large and dimpled
--"beautiful hands," his sister calls them. He was proud of them, and
had a slight prejudice against any one with ugly extremities. His
nose, about which he gave special directions to David when his bust
was taken, was well cut, rather long, and square at the end, with the
lobes of the open nostrils standing out prominently. As to his eyes,
according to Gautier, there were none like them.[*] They had
inconceivable life, light, and magnetism. They were eyes to make an
eagle lower his lids, to read through walls and hearts, to terrify a
wild beast--eyes of a sovereign, a seer, a conqueror. Lamartine likens
them to "darts dipped in kindliness." Balzac's sister speaks of them
as brown; but, according to other contemporaries, they were like
brilliant black diamonds, with rich reflections of gold, the white of
the eyeballs being tinged with blue. They seemed to be lit with the
fire of the genius within, to read souls, to answer questions before
they were asked, and at the same time to pour out warm rays of
kindliness from a joyous heart.

[*] "Portraits Contemporains--Honore de Balzac," by Theophile Gautier.

At all points Balzac's personality differed from that of his
contemporaries of the Romantic School--those transcendental geniuses
of despairing temper, who were utterly hopeless about the prosaic
world in which, by some strange mistake, they found themselves; and
from which they felt that no possible inspiration for their art could
be drawn. So little attuned were these unfortunates to their
commonplace surroundings that, after picturing in their writings
either fiendish horrors, or a beautiful, impossible atmosphere,
peopled by beings out of whom all likeness to humanity had been
eliminated, they not infrequently lost their mental balance
altogether, or hurried by their own act out of a dull world which
could never satisfy their lively imaginations. Balzac, on the other
hand, loved the world. How, with the acute powers of observation, and
the intuition, amounting almost to second sight, with which he was
gifted, could he help doing so? The man who could at will quit his own
personality, and invest himself with that of another; who would follow
a workman and his wife on their way home at night from a music-hall,
and listen to their discussions on domestic matters till he imbibed
their life, felt their ragged clothing on his back, and their desires
and wants in his soul,--how could he find life dull, or the most
commonplace individual uninteresting?

In dress Balzac was habitually careless. He would rush to the
printer's office, after twelve hours of hard work, with his hat drawn
over his eyes, his hands thrust into shabby gloves, and his feet in
shoes with high sides, worn over loose trousers, which were pleated at
the waist and held down with straps. Even in society he took no
trouble about his appearance, and Lamartine describes him as looking,
in the salon of Madame de Girardin, like a schoolboy who has outgrown
his clothes. Only for a short time, which he describes with glee in
his letters to Madame Hanska, did he pose as a man of fashion. Then he
wore a magnificent white waistcoat, and a blue coat with gold buttons;
carried the famous cane, with a knob studded with turquoises,
celebrated in Madame de Girardin's story, "La Canne de Monsieur de
Balzac"; and drove in a tilbury, behind a high-stepping horse, with a
tiny tiger, whom he christened Anchise, perched on the back seat. This
phase was quickly over, the horses were sold, and Balzac appeared no
more in the box reserved for dandies at the Opera. Of the fashionable
outfit, the only property left was the microscopic groom--an orphan,
of whom Balzac took the greatest care, and whom he visited daily
during the boy's last illness, a year or two after. Thenceforward he
reverted to his usual indifference about appearances, his only vanity
being the spotless cleanliness of his working costume--a loose
dressing-gown of white flannel or cashmere, made like the habit of a
Benedictine monk, which was kept in round the waist by a silk girdle,
and was always scrupulously guarded from ink-stains.

Naive as a child, anxious for sympathy, frankly delighted with his own
masterpieces, yet modest in a fashion peculiar to himself, Balzac gave
a dominant impression of kindliness and bonhomie, which overshadowed
even the idea of intellect. To his friends he is not in the first
place the author of the "Comedie Humaine," designed, as George Sand
rather grandiloquently puts it, to be "an almost universal examination
of the ideas, sentiments, customs, habits, legislation, arts, trades,
costumes, localities--in short, of all that constitutes the lives of
his contemporaries"[*]--that claim to notice recedes into the
background, and what is seen clearly is the _bon camarade_, with his
great hearty laugh, his jollity, his flow of language, and his jokes,
often Rabelaisian in flavour. Of course there was another side to the
picture, and there were times in his hardset and harassing life when
even _his_ vivacity failed him. These moods were, however, never
apparent in society; and even to his intimate men friends, such as
Theophile Gautier and Leon Gozlan, Balzac was always the delightful,
whimsical companion, to be thought of and written of afterwards with
an amused, though affectionate smile. Only to women, his principal
confidantes, who played as important a part in his life as they do in
his books, did he occasionally show the discouragement to which the
artistic nature is prone. Sometimes the state of the weather, which
always had a great effect on him, the difficulty of his work, the
fatigue of sitting up all night, and his monetary embarrassments,
brought him to an extreme state of depression, both physical and
mental. He would arrive at the house of Madame Surville, his sister,
who tells the story, hardly able to drag himself along, in a gloomy,
dejected state, with his skin sallow and jaundiced.

[*] "Autour de la Table," by George Sand.

"Don't console me," he would say in a faint voice, dropping into a
chair; "it is useless--I am a dead man."

The dead man would then begin, in a doleful voice, to tell of his new
troubles; but he soon revived, and the words came forth in the most
ringing tones of his voice. Then, opening his proofs, he would drop
back into his dismal accents and say, by way of conclusion:

"Yes, I am a wrecked man, sister!"

"Nonsense! No man is wrecked with such proofs as those to correct."

Then he would raise his head, his face would unpucker little by
little, the sallow tones of his skin would disappear.

"My God, you are right!" he would say. "Those books will make me live.
Besides, blind Fortune is here, isn't she? Why shouldn't she protect a
Balzac as well as a ninny? And there are always ways of wooing her.
Suppose one of my millionaire friends (and I have some), or a banker,
not knowing what to do with his money, should come to me and say, 'I
know your immense talents, and your anxieties: you want such-and-such
a sum to free yourself; accept it fearlessly: you will pay me; your
pen is worth millions!' That is _all I want_, my dear."[*]

[*] "Balzac, sa Vie et ses Oeuvres, d'apres la Correspondance," by
    Mme. L. Surville (nee de Balzac).

Then the "child-man," as his sister calls him, would imagine himself a
member of the Institute; then in the Chamber of Peers, pointing out
and reforming abuses, and governing a highly prosperous country.
Finally, he would end the interview with, "Adieu! I am going home to
see if my banker is waiting for me"; and would depart, quite consoled,
with his usual hearty laugh.

He lived, his sister tells us, to a great extent in a world of his
own, peopled by the imaginary characters in his books, and he would
gravely discuss its news, as others do that of the real world.
Sometimes he was delighted at the grand match he had planned for his
hero; but often affairs did not go so well, and perhaps it would give
him much anxious thought to marry his heroine suitably, as it was
necessary to find her a husband in her own set, and this might be
difficult to arrange. When asked about the past of one of his
creations, he replied gravely that he "had not been acquainted with
Monsieur de Jordy before he came to Nemours," but added that, if his
questioner were anxious to know, he would try to find out. He had many
fancies about names, declaring that those which are invented do not
give life to imaginary beings, whereas those really borne by some one
endow them with vitality. Leon Gozlan says that he was dragged by
Balzac half over Paris in search of a suitable name for the hero of a
story to be published in the _Revue Parisienne_. After they had
trudged through scores of streets in vain, Balzac, to his intense joy,
discovered "Marcas" over a small tailor's shop, to which he added, as
"a flame, a plume, a star," the initial Z. Z. Marcas conveyed to him
the idea of a great, though unknown, philosopher, poet, or
silversmith, like Benvenuto Cellini; he went no farther, he was
satisfied--he had found "_the_ name of names."[*]

[*] "Balzac en Pantoufles," by Leon Gozlan.

Many are the amusing anecdotes told of Balzac's schemes for becoming
rich. Money he struggled for unceasingly, not from sordid motives, but
because it was necessary to his conception of a happy life. Without
its help he could never be freed from his burden of debt, and united
to the _grande dame_ of his fancy, who must of necessity be posed in
elegant toilette, on a suitable background of costly brocades and
objects of art. Nevertheless, in spite of all his efforts, and of a
capacity and passion for work which seemed almost superhuman, he never
obtained freedom from monetary anxiety. Viewed in this light, there is
pathos in his many impossible plans for making his fortune, and
freeing himself from the strain which was slowly killing him.

Some of his projected enterprises were wildly fantastic, and prove
that the great author was, like many a genius, a child at heart; and
that, in his eyes, the world was not the prosaic place it is to most
men and women, but an enchanted globe, like the world of "Treasure
Island," teeming with the possibility of strange adventure. At one
time he hoped to gain a substantial income by growing pineapples in
the little garden at Les Jardies, and later on he thought money might
be made by transporting oaks from Poland to France. For some months he
believed that, by means of magnetism exercised on somnambulists, he
had discovered the exact spot at Pointe a Pitre where
Toussaint-Louverture hid his treasure, and afterwards shot the negroes
he had employed to bury it, lest they should betray its hiding-place.
Jules Sandeau and Theophile Gautier were chosen to assist in the
enterprise of carrying off the hidden gold, and were each to receive a
quarter of the treasure, Balzac, as leader of the venture, taking the
other half. The three friends were to start secretly and separately
with spades and shovels, and, their work accomplished, were to put the
treasure on a brig which was to be in waiting, and were to return as
millionaires to France. This brilliant plan failed, because none of the
three adventurers had at the moment money to pay his passage out; and no
doubt, by the time that the necessary funds were forthcoming, Balzac's
fertile brain was engaged on other enterprises.[*]

[*] "Portraits Contemporains--Honore de Balzac," by Theophile Gautier.

The foundation of his pecuniary misfortunes was laid before his birth,
when his father, forty-five years old and unmarried, sank the bulk of
his fortune in life annuities, so that his son was in the unfortunate
position of starting life in very comfortable circumstances, and of
finding himself in want of money just when he most needed it.

Balzac's father was born in Languedoc in 1746, and we are told by his
son that he had been Secretary, and by Madame Surville, advocate, of
the Council under Louis XVI. Both these statements however appear to
be incorrect, and may be considered to have been harmless fictions on
the part of the old gentleman, as no record of his name can be found
in the Royal Calendar, which was very carefully kept. Almanacs are
awkward things, and his name _is_ mentioned in the National Calendar
of 1793 as a "lawyer" and "member of the general council for the
section of the rights of man in the Commune." But he evidently
preferred to draw a veil over his revolutionary experiences, and it
seems rather hard that, because he happened to possess a celebrated
son, his little secrets should be exposed to the light of day. Later
on he became an ardent Royalist, and in 1814 he joined with Bertrand
de Molleville to draw up a memoir against the Charter, which Balzac
says was dictated to him, then a boy of fifteen; and he also mentions
that he remembers hearing M. de Molleville cry out, "The Constitution
ruined Louis XVI., and the Charter will kill the Bourbons!" "No
compromise" formed an essential part of the creed of the Royalists at
the Restoration.

When M. de Balzac[*] married, in 1797, he was in charge of the
Commissariat of the Twenty-second Military Division; and in 1798 he
came to live in Tours, where he had bought a house and some land near
the town, and where he remained for nineteen years. Here, on May 16,
1799, St. Honore's day, his son, the celebrated novelist, was born,
and was christened Honore after the saint.

[*] The Balzac family will be accorded the "de" in this account of

Old M. de Balzac was in his own way literary, and had written two or
three pamphlets, one on his favourite subject--that of health. He
seems to have been a man of much originality, many peculiarities, and
much kindness of heart. He was evidently impulsive, like his
celebrated son, and he certainly made a culpable mistake, and a cruel
one for his family, when he rashly concluded that he would always
remain a bachelor, and arranged that his income should die with him.
He afterwards hoped to repair the wrong he had thus done to his
children, by outliving the other shareholders and obtaining a part of
the immense capital of the Tontine. Fortunately for himself he
possessed extraordinary optimism, and power of excluding from his mind
the possibility of all unpleasant contingencies--qualities which he
handed on in full measure to Honore. He therefore kept himself happy
in the monetary disappointments of his later life, by thinking and
talking of the millions his children would inherit from their
centenarian father. For their sakes it was necessary that he should
take care of his health, and he considered that, by maintaining the
"equilibrium of the vital forces," there was absolutely no doubt that
he would live for a hundred years or more. Therefore he followed a
strict regimen, and gave himself an infinite amount of trouble, as
well as amusement, by his minute arrangements.

Unfortunately, however, the truth of his theories could never be
tested, as he died in 1829, at the age of eighty-three, from the
effects of an operation; and Madame de Balzac and her family were left
to face the stern facts of life, denuded of the rose-coloured haze in
which they had been clothed by the kindly old enthusiast. Balzac's
mother certainly had a hard life, and from what we hear of her
nervous, excitable nature--inherited apparently from her mother,
Madame Sallambier--we can hardly be astonished when Balzac writes to
Madame Hanska, in 1835, that if her misfortunes do not kill her, it is
feared they will destroy her reason. Nevertheless, she outlived her
celebrated son, and is mentioned by Victor Hugo, when he visited
Balzac's deathbed, as the only person in the room, except a nurse and
a servant.[*]

[*] "Choses Vues," by Victor Hugo.

She was many years younger than her husband--a beauty and an heiress;
and she evidently had her own way with the easy-going old M. de
Balzac, and was the moving spirit in the household: so that the ease
and absence of friction in her early life must have made her
subsequent troubles and humiliations especially galling. Besides
Honore, she had three children: Laure, afterwards Madame Surville;
Laurence, who died young; and Henry, the black sheep of the family,
who returned from the colonies, after having made an unsatisfactory
marriage, and who, during the last years of Honore de Balzac's life,
required constant monetary help from his relations.

Her two young children were Madame de Balzac's favourites, and they
and their affairs gave her constant trouble. In 1822 Laurence married
a M. Saint-Pierre de Montzaigle, apparently a good deal older than
herself; and Honore gives a very _couleur de rose_ account of his
future brother-in-law's family, in a letter written at the time of the
engagement to Laure, who was already married. He does not seem so
charmed with the bridegroom, _il troubadouro_, as with his
surroundings, and remarks that he has lost his top teeth, and is very
conceited, but will do well enough--as a husband. Every one is
delighted at the marriage; but Laure can imagine _maman's_ state of
nervous excitement from her recollection of the last few days before
her own wedding, and can fancy that he and Laurence are not enjoying
themselves. "Nature surrounds roses with thorns, and pleasures with a
crowd of troubles. Mamma follows the example of nature."[*]

[*] "H. de Balzac--Correspondence," vol. i. p. 41.

Laurence's death, in 1826, must have been a terrible grief to the poor
mother; but she may have realised later on that her daughter had
escaped much trouble, as in 1836 the Balzac family threatened M. de
Montzaigle with a lawsuit on the subject of his son, who was left to
wander about Paris without food, shoes, or clothes. We cannot suppose
that any one with such sketchy views of the duties of a father could
have been a particularly satisfactory husband; but perhaps Laurence
died before she had time to discover M. de Montzaigle's deficiencies.

Henry, the younger son, appears to have been brought up on a different
method from that pursued with Honore, as we hear in 1821 that Madame
de Balzac considered that the boy was unhappy and bored with school,
that he was with canting people who punished him for nothing, and must
be taken away. Evidently the younger son was the mother's darling; but
her mode of bringing him up was not happy in its effects, as he seems
to have given continual anxiety and trouble. He came back from the
colonies with his wife; and by threatening to blow out his brains, he
worked on his mother's feelings, and induced her to help him with
money, and nearly to ruin herself. In consequence she was obliged for
a time to take up her abode with Honore, an arrangement which did not
work well. Even when Henry was at last shipped off to the Indies, he
continued to agitate his family by sending them pathetic accounts of
his distress and necessities, and these letters from her much-loved
son must have been peculiarly painful to Madame de Balzac.

Honore and his mother seem never to have understood each other very
well; and she was stern with him and Laure in their youth, while she
lavished caresses on her younger children. Likeness to a father is not
always a passport to a mother's favour, and Madame de Balzac does not
appear to have realised her son's genius, and evidently feared that,
without due repression in youth, the paternal type of imaginative
optimist would be repeated.

She was not a tender mother in childhood, when indeed she saw little
of Honore, as she left him out at nurse till he was four years old,
and sent him to school when he was eight; but later on in all
practical matters she did her best for him, lending him money when he
was in difficulties, and looking after his business affairs when he
was away from Paris. She was evidently easily offended, and rather
absurdly tenacious of her maternal dignity; so that sometimes the
deference and submission of the great writer are surprising and rather
touching. On the other hand it must be remembered that Honore made
great demands on his friends, that they were expected to accord
continual sympathy and admiration, to be perfectly tactful in their
criticisms, and were only very occasionally allowed to give advice.
Therefore his opinion of his mother's coldness may have sprung from
her failure to answer to the requirements of his peculiar code of
affection, and not from any real want of love on her part.

Certainly her severity in his youth had the effect of concentrating
the whole devotion of Honore's childish heart on Laure, the _cara
sorella_ of his later years. She was a writer, the author of "Le
Compagnon du Foyer." To her we owe a charming sketch of her celebrated
brother, and she was the confidante of his hopes, ambitions, and
troubles, of his sentimental friendships, and of the faults and
embarrassments which he confided to no one else. Expressions of
affection for her occur constantly in his letters, and in 1837 he
writes to Madame Hanska that Laure is ill, and therefore the whole
universe seems out of gear, and that he passes whole nights in despair
because she is everything to him. The friendship between the brother
and sister was deep, devoted, and faithful, as Balzac's friendships
generally were--he did not care, as he said in one of his letters, for
_amities d'epiderme_--and the restriction put on his intercourse with
his sister by the jealousy of M. Surville was one of the many troubles
which darkened his later years.

Occasionally, indeed, there were disagreements between the brother and
sister, when Honore did not approve of Laure's aspirations for
authorship. The only subject which really caused coldness on both
sides, however--and this was temporary--was Laure's want of sympathy
for Balzac's attachment to Madame Hanska; because she, like many of
his friends, felt doubtful whether his passionate love was returned in
anything like equal measure. Perhaps, too, there may have lurked in
the sister's mind a slight jealousy of this alien _grande dame_, who
had stolen away her brother's heart from France, who moved in a sphere
quite unlike that of the Balzac family, and whose existence prevented
several advantageous and sensible marriages which she could have
arranged for Honore. Balzac, it must be allowed, was not always
tactful in his descriptions of the perfections of the Hanska family,
who were, of course, in his eyes, surrounded with aureoles borrowed
from the light of his "polar star." It must have been distinctly
annoying, when the virtues, talents, and charms of the young Countess
Anna were held up as an object lesson for Madame Surville's two
daughters, who were no doubt, from their mother's point of view, quite
as admirable as Madame Hanska's ewe lamb. Nevertheless, there was
never any real separation between the brother and sister; and it is to
Laure that--certain of her participation in his joy--poor Balzac
penned his delighted letter the day after his wedding, signed "Thy
brother Honore, at the summit of happiness."

Laure's own career was chequered. In 1820 she married an engineer, M.
Midy de la Greneraye Surville, and from the first the marriage was not
very happy, as Honore writes, a month after it took place, to blame
Laure for her melancholy at the separation from her family, and to
counsel philosophy and piano practice. Possibly Balzac's habits of
ascendency over those he loved, and his wonderful gift of fascination
--a gift which often provides its possessor with bitter enemies among
those outside its influence--made matters difficult for his
brother-in-law, and did not tend to promote harmony between Laure and
her husband. M. Surville probably became exasperated by useless attempts
to vie in his wife's eyes with her much-beloved brother--at any rate,
in later years he was tyrannical in preventing their intercourse, and
we hear of the unfortunate Laure coming in secret to see Balzac, on
her birthday in 1836, and holding a watch in her hand, because she did
not dare to stay away longer than twenty minutes. There were other
worries for Laure and her husband, for, like the rest of the Balzac
family, they were in continual difficulty about money matters. M.
Surville seems to have been a man of enterprise, and to have had many
schemes on hand--such as making a lateral canal on the Loire from
Nantes to Orleans, building a bridge in Paris, or constructing a
little railway. Speaking of the canal, Balzac cheerfully and airily
remarked in 1836 that only a capital of twenty-six millions of francs
required collecting, and then the Survilles would be on the high road
to prosperity. This trifling matter was not after all arranged, if we
may judge from the fact that in 1849 the Survilles moved to a cheap
lodging, and were advised by Balzac, in a letter from Russia, to
follow his habit of former days, and to cook only twice a week. In
fact, they were evidently passing through one of those monetary crises
to which we become used when reading the annals of the Balzacs, and
which irresistibly remind the reader of similar affairs in the
Micawber family.

In spite of the friction on the subject of Madame Surville, there was
never any actual breach between Honore and his brother-in-law; indeed,
he speaks several times of working amicably with M. Surville, in the
vain attempt to put in order the hopelessly involved web of family
affairs. He evidently had great faith in his brother-in-law's plans
for making his fortune, and took the keenest interest in them, even
offering to go over to London, to sell an invention for effecting
economy in the construction of inclined planes on railways. But M.
Surville changed his mind at the last, and Balzac never went to
England after all.

Honore and Laure were together during the time of their earliest
childhood, as they were left at the cottage of the same foster-mother,
and did not come home till Honore was four years old. His sister says,
"My recollections of his tenderness date far back. I have not
forgotten the headlong rapidity with which he ran to save me from
tumbling down the three high steps without a railing, which led from
our nurse's room to the garden. His loving protection continued after
we returned to our father's house, where, more than once, he allowed
himself to be punished for my faults, without betraying me. Once, when
I came upon the scene in time to accuse myself of the wrong, he said,
'Don't acknowledge next time--I like to be punished for you.'"[*]

[*] "Balzac, sa vie et ses oeuvres, d'apres sa correspondance," by
    Madame L. Surville (nee de Balzac).

Both children were in great awe of their parents, and Honore's fear of
his mother was extreme. Years after, he told a friend that he was
never able to hear her voice without a trembling which deprived him of
his faculties. Their father treated them with uniform kindness, but
Honore's heart was filled with love for his kind grandparents, to whom
he paid a visit in Paris in 1804. He came back to Tours with wonderful
stories of the beauties of their house, their garden, and their big
dog Mouche, with whom he had made great friends. The news of his
grandfather's death a few months later was a great grief to him, and
made a deep impression on his childish mind. His sister tells us that
long afterwards, when the two were receiving a reprimand from their
mother, and he saw Laure unable to control a wild burst of laughter,
which he knew would lead to serious consequences, he tried to stop her
by whispering in tragic tones, "Think about your grandfather's death!"

He was a child of very deep affections and warmth of heart, but he did
not show any special intelligence. He was lively, merry, and extremely
talkative, but sometimes a silent mood would fall on him, and perhaps,
as his sister says, his imagination was then carrying him to distant
worlds, though the family only thought the chatterbox was tired. In
all ways, however, he was in these days a very ordinary child, devoted
to fairy stories, fond of the popular nursery amusement of making up
plays, and charmed with the excruciating noise he brought out of a
little red violin. This he would sometimes play on for hours, till
even the faithful Laure would remonstrate, and he would be astonished
that she did not realise the beauty of his music.

This happy childish life, chastened only by the tremors which both
children felt when taken by their governess in the morning and at
bedtime into the stern presence of their mother, did not last very
long for Honore. When he was eight years old (his sister says seven,
but this seems to be a mistake), there was a change in his life, as
the home authorities decided that it was time his education should
begin in good earnest. He was therefore taken from the day school at
Tours, and sent to the semi-military college founded by the Oratorians
in the sleepy little town of Vendome. On page 7 of the school record
there is the following notice: "No. 460. Honore Balzac, age de huit
ans un mois. A eu la petite verole, sans infirmites. Caractere
sanguin, s'echauffant facilement, et sujet a quelques fievres de
chaleur. Entre au pensionnat le 22 juin, 1807. Sorti, le 22 aout,
1813. S'adresser a M. Balzac, son pere, a Tours."[*] Thus is summed up
the character of the future writer of the "Comedie Humaine," and there
was apparently nothing remarkable or precocious about the boy, as his
quick temper is his most salient point in the eyes of his masters. It
will be noticed, too, that the "de," about which Balzac was very
particular, and which was the occasion of many scoffing remarks on the
part of his enemies, does not appear on this register.

[*] "Balzac au College," by Champfleury.

Honore was a small boy to have been completely separated from home,
and the whole scheme of education as devised by the Oratorian fathers
appears to have been a strange one. One of the rules forbade outside
holidays, and Honore never left the college once during the six years
he was at school; so that there was no supervision from his parents,
and no chance of complaint if he were unhappy or ill treated. His
family came to see him at Easter and also at the prize-givings; but on
these occasions, to which he looked forward, his sister tells us, with
eager delight, reproaches were generally his portion, on account of
his want of success in school work. In "Louis Lambert" he gives an
interesting account of the college, which was in the middle of the
town on the little river Loir, and contained a chapel, theatre,
infirmary, bakery, and gardens. There were two or three hundred
pupils, divided according to their ages or attainments into four
classes--_les grands_, _les moyens_, les petits_, and _les minimes_
--and each class had its own class-room and courtyard. Balzac was
considered the idlest and most pathetic boy in his division, and was
continually punished. Reproaches, the ferule, the dark cell, were his
portion, and with his quick and delicate senses he suffered intensely
from the want of air in the class-rooms. There, according to the
graphic picture in "Louis Lambert," everything was dirty, and eighty
boys inhabited a hall, in the centre of which were two buckets full of
water, where all washed their faces and hands every morning, the water
being only renewed once in the day. To add to the odours, the air was
vitiated by the smell of pigeons killed for fete days, and of dishes
stolen from the refectory, and kept by the pupils in their lockers.
The boy who, in the future, was to awaken actual physical disgust in
his readers by his description of the stuffy and dingy boarding-house
dining-room in "Le Pere Goriot," was crushed and stupefied by his
surroundings, and would sit for hours with his head on his hand, not
attempting to learn, but gazing dreamily at the clouds, or at the
foliage of the trees in the court below. No wonder that he was the
despair of his masters, and that his famous "Traite de la volonte,"
which he composed instead of preparing the ordinary school work, was
summarily confiscated and destroyed. So many were the punishment lines
given him to write, that his holidays were almost entirely taken up,
and he had not six days of liberty the whole time that he was at

In addition to the troubles incident to Honore's peculiar temperament
and genius, he had in the winter, like the other pupils, to submit to
actual physical suffering. The price of education included also that
of clothing, the parents who sent their children to the Vendome
College paying a yearly sum, and therewith comfortably absolving
themselves from all trouble and responsibility. But the results were
not happy for the boys, who dragged themselves painfully along the icy
roads in miserable remnants of boots, their feet half dead, and
swollen with sores and chilblains. Out of sixty children, not ten
walked without torture, and many of them would cry with rage as they
limped along, each step being a painful effort; but with the
invincible physical pluck and moral cowardice of childhood, would hide
their tears, for fear of ridicule from their companions.

Nevertheless, even to Balzac, who was peculiarly unfitted for it, life
at the college had its pleasures. The food appears to have been good,
and the discipline at meals not very severe, as a regular system of
exchange of helpings to suit the particular tastes of each boy went on
all through dinner, and caused endless amusement. Some one who had
received peas as his portion would prefer dessert, and the proposition
"Un dessert pour des pois" would pass from mouth to mouth till the
bargain had been made. Other pleasures were the pet pigeons, the
gardens, the sweets bought secretly during the walks, the permission
to play cards and to have theatrical performances during the holidays,
the military music, the games, and the slides made in winter. Best of
all, however, was the shop which opened in the class-room every Sunday
during playtime for the sale of boxes, tools, pigeons of all sorts,
mass-books (for these there was not much demand), knives, balls,
pencils--everything a boy could wish for. The proud possessor of six
francs--meant to last for the term--felt that the contents of the
whole shop were at his disposal. Saturday night was passed in anxious
yet rapturous calculations, and the responses at Mass during that
happy Sunday morning mingled themselves with thoughts of the glorious
time coming in the afternoon. Next Sunday was not quite so delightful,
as probably there were only a few sous left, and possibly some of the
purchases were broken, or had not turned out quite satisfactorily.
Then, too, there was a long vista of Sundays in the future, without
any possibility of shopping; but after all a certain amount of
compounding is always necessary in life, and an intense short joy is
worth a grey time before and after.

When Balzac was fourteen years old, his life at the college came
suddenly to an end, as, to the alarm of his masters, he was attacked
by coma with feverish symptoms, and they begged his parents to take
him home at once. It is curious to notice that the Fathers make no
reference to this failure in their educational system in the school
record, where there is no reason given for Honore's departure from
school. Certainly his life at Vendome was not very healthy, as
sometimes for idleness, inattention, or impertinence he was for months
shut up every day in a niche six feet square, with a wooden door
pierced by holes to let in air. When Champfleury visited the college
years afterwards, the only person who remembered Balzac was the old
Father who had charge of these cells, and he spoke of the boy's "great
black eyes." Confinement in these _culottes de bois_, as they were
called, was much dreaded by the boys, and the punishment seems
barbarous and senseless, except from the point of view of getting rid
of troublesome pupils. Balzac, however, welcomed the relief from
ordinary school life, and indeed manoeuvred to be shut up. In the
cells he had leisure to dream as he pleased, he was free from the
drudgery of learning his lessons, and he managed to secrete books in
his cage, and thus to absorb the contents of most of the volumes in
the fine library collected by the learned Oratorian founders of the
college. The ideas in many of the learned tomes were far beyond his
age, but he understood them, remembered them afterwards, and could
recall in later years not only the thought in each book, but also the
disposition of his mind when he read them. Naturally this precocity of
intellect caused brain fatigue, though this would never have been
suspected by the Fathers of their idlest pupil.

Honore, his sister tells us, came home thin and puny, like a
somnambulist sleeping with open eyes, and his grandmother groaned over
the strain of modern education. At first he heard hardly any of the
questions that were put to him, and his mother was obliged to disturb
him in reveries, and to insist on his taking part in games with the
rest of the family; but with the fresh air and the home life he soon
recovered his health and spirits, and became again a lively, merry
boy. He attended lectures at a college near, and had tutors at home;
but great efforts were necessary in order to get into his head the
requisite amount of Greek and Latin. Nevertheless, at times, he was
astonishing, or might have been to any one with powers of observation.
On these occasions he made such extraordinary and sagacious remarks
that Madame de Balzac, in her character of represser, felt obliged to
remark sharply, "You cannot possibly understand what you are saying,
Honore!" When Honore, who dared not argue, looked at her with a smile,
she would, with the ease of absolute authority, escape from the
awkwardness of the situation by remarking that he was impertinent. He
was already ambitious, and would tell his sisters and brother about
his future fame, and accept with a laugh the teasing he received in

It must have been during this time that he grew to love with an
enduring love the scenery of his native province of Touraine, with its
undulating stretches of emerald green, through which the Loire or the
Indre wound like a long ribbon of water, while lines of poplars decked
the banks with moving lace. It was a smiling country, dotted with
vineyards and oak woods, while here and there an old gnarled walnut
tree stood in rugged independence. The susceptible boy, lately escaped
from the abominations of the stuffy school-house, drank in with
rapture the warm scented air, and often describes in his novels the
landscape of the province where he was born, which he loves, in his
own words, "as an artist loves art." Another lasting memory[*] was
that of the poetry and splendour of the Cathedral of Saint-Gatien in
Tours, where he was taken every feast-day. There he watched with
delight the beautiful effects of light and shade, the play of colour
produced by the rays of sunlight shining through the old stained
glass, and the strange, fascinating effect of the clouds of incense,
which enveloped the officiating priests, and from which he possibly
derived the idea of the mists which he often introduces into his

[*] See "Balzac, sa Vie et ses Oeuvres, d'apres sa Correspondance" par
    Madame L. Surville (nee de Balzac).

                             CHAPTER III

                             1814 - 1820

  Balzac's tutors and law studies--His youth, as pictured in the
  "Peau de Chagrin"--His father's intention of making him a lawyer
  --He begs to be allowed to become a writer--Is allowed his wish
  --Life in the Rue Lesdiguieres, privations and starvation--He
  writes "Cromwell," a tragedy.

At the end of 1814 the Balzac family moved to Paris, as M. de Balzac
was put in charge of the Commissariat of the First Division of the
Army. Here they took a house in the Rue de Roi-Dore, in the Marais,
and Honore continued his studies with M. Lepitre, Rue Saint-Louis, and
MM. Sganzer and Benzelin, Rue de Thorigny, in the Marais. To the
influence of M. Lepitre, a man who, unlike old M. de Balzac and many
other worthy people, was an ardent Legitimist _before_ as well as
_after_ 1815, we may in part trace the strength of Balzac's Royalist
principles. On the 13th Vendemiaire, M. Lepitre had presided over one
of the sections of Paris which rose against the Convention; and though
on one occasion he failed in nerve, his services during the Revolution
had been most conspicuous. On his reception at the Tuileries by the
Duchesse d'Angouleme, she used these words, never to be forgotten by
him to whom they were addressed: "I have not forgotten, and I shall
never forget, the services you have rendered to my family."[*]

[*] "Biographie Universelle," by De Michaud.

We can imagine the enthusiasm and delight with which the man who,
whatever might be his shortcomings in courage, had always remained
firm to his Royalist principles, and who had been a witness of the
terrible anguish of the prisoners in the Temple, would hear these
words from the lips of the lady who stood to him as Queen--the
Antigone of France--the heroine whose sufferings had made the heart of
every loyal Frenchman bleed, the brave woman who, according to
Napoleon, was the one man of her family. Lepitre's visit to the
Tuileries took place on May 9th, 1814, the year that Balzac began to
take those lessons in rhetoric which first opened his eyes to the
beauty of the French language. During Lepitre's tuition he composed a
speech supposed to be addressed by the wife of Brutus to her husband,
after the condemnation of her sons, in which, Laure tells us, the
anguish of the mother is depicted with great power, and Balzac shows
his wonderful faculty for entering into the souls of his personages.
Lepitre had evidently a powerful influence over his pupil, and as a
master of rhetoric he would naturally be eloquent and have command of
language, and in consequence would be most probably of fiery and
enthusiastic temperament. We can imagine the fervour with which the
impressionable boy drank in stories of the sufferings of the royal
family during their imprisonment in the Temple, and strove not to miss
a syllable of his master's magnificent exordiums, which glowed with
the light and heat of impassioned loyalty.

No doubt Balzac's "Une Vie de Femme," a touching account of the life
of the Duchesse d'Angouleme, which appeared in the _Reformateur_ in
1832, was partly compiled from the reminiscences of his old master;
and when we hear of his ardent defence of the Duchesse de Berry, or
that he treasured a tea-service which was not of any intrinsic value,
because it had belonged to the Duc d'Angouleme, we see traces of his
intense love and admiration for the Bourbon family.

Nevertheless, in that big, well-balanced brain there was room for many
emotions, and for a wide range of sympathies. The many-sidedness which
is a necessary characteristic of every great psychologist, was a
remarkable quality in Balzac. He may have been present at Napoleon's
last review on the Carrousel--at any rate he tells in "La Femme de
Trente Ans" how the man "thus surrounded with so much love,
enthusiasm, devotion, prayer--for whom the sun had driven every cloud
from the sky--sat motionless on his horse, three feet in advance of
the dazzling escort that followed him," and that an old grenadier
said, "My God, yes, it was always so; under fire at Wagram, among the
dead in the Moskowa, he was quiet as a lamb--yes, that's he!" Balzac's
admiration for Napoleon was intense, as he shows in many of his
writings, and his proudest boast is to be found in the words, said to
have been inscribed on a statuette of Napoleon in his room in the Rue
Cassini, "What he has begun with the sword, I shall finish with the

None of Balzac's masters thought much of his talents, or perceived
anything remarkable about him. He returned home in 1816, full of
health and vigour, the personification of happiness; and his
conscientious mother immediately set to work to repair the
deficiencies of his former education, and sent him to lectures at the
Sorbonne, where he heard extempore speeches from such men as
Villemain, Guizot, and Cousin. Apparently this teaching opened a new
world to him, and he learned for the first time that education can be
more than a dull routine of dry facts, and felt the joy of contact
with eloquence and learning. Possibly he realised, as he had not
realised before--Tours being, as he says, a most unliterary town--that
there were people in the world who looked on things as he did, and who
would understand, and not laugh at him or snub him. He always returned
from these lectures, his sister says, glowing with interest, and would
try as far as he could to repeat them to his family. Then he would
rush out to study in the public libraries, so that he might be able to
profit by the teaching of his illustrious professors, or would wander
about the Latin Quarter, to hunt for rare and precious books. He used
his opportunities in other ways. An old lady living in the house with
the Balzacs had been an intimate friend of the great Beaumarchais.
Honore loved to talk to her, and would ask her questions, and listen
with the greatest interest to her replies, till he could have written
a Life of the celebrated man himself. His powers of acute observation,
interest, and sympathy--in short, his intense faculty for human
fellowship, as well as his capacity for assimilating information from
books--were already at work; and the future novelist was consciously
or unconsciously collecting material in all directions.

In 1816 it was considered necessary that he should be started with
regular work, and he was established for eighteen months with a
lawyer, M. de Guillonnet-Merville, who was, like M. Lepitre, a friend
of the Balzac family, and an ardent Royalist. Eugene Scribe--another
amateur lawyer--as M. de Guillonnet-Merville indulgently remarked, had
just left the office, and Honore was established at the desk and table
vacated by him. He became very fond of his chief, whom he has
immortalised as Derville in "Une Tenebreuse Affaire," "Le Pere
Goriot," and other novels; and he dedicated to this old friend "Un
Episode sous la Terreur," which was published in 1846, and is a
powerful and touching story of the remorse felt by the executioner of
Louis XVI. After eighteen months in this office, he passed the same
time in that of M. Passez, a notary, who lived in the same house with
the Balzacs, and was another of their intimates.

Balzac does not appear to have made any objection to these
arrangements, though his legal studies cannot have been congenial to
him; but they were only spoken of at this time as a finish to his
education--old M. de Balzac, _homme de loi_ himself, remarking that no
man's education can be complete without a knowledge of ancient and
modern legislation, and an acquaintance with the statutes of his own
country. Perhaps Honore, wiser now than in his school-days, had learnt
that all knowledge is equipment for a literary life. He certainly made
good use of his time, and the results can be seen in many of his
works, notably in the "Tenebreuse Affaire," which contains in the
account of the famous trial a masterly exposition of the legislature
of the First Empire, or in "Cesar Birotteau," which shows such
thorough knowledge of the laws of bankruptcy of the time that its
complicated plot cannot be thoroughly understood by any one unversed
in legal matters.

Honore was very well occupied at this time, and his mother must have
felt for once thoroughly satisfied with him. In addition to his study
of law, he had to follow the course of lectures at the Sorbonne and at
the College of France; and these studies were a delightful excuse for
a very fitful occupation of his seat in the lawyer's office. Besides
his multifarious occupations, he managed in the evening to find time
to play cards with his grandmother, who lived with her daughter and
son-in-law. The gentle old lady spoilt Honore, his mother considered,
and would allow him to win money from her, which he joyfully expended
on books. His sister, who tells us this, says, "He always loved those
game in memory of her; and the recollection of her sayings and of her
gestures used to come to him like a happiness which, as he said, he
wrested from a tomb."

Other recollections of this time were not so pleasant. Honore wished
to shine in society. No doubt the two "immense and sole desires--to be
famous and to be loved"--which haunted him continually, till he at
last obtained them at the cost of his life, were already at work
within him, and he longed for the tender glances of some charming
_demoiselle_. At any rate he took dancing-lessons, and prepared
himself to enter with grace into ladies' society. Here, however, a
terrible humiliation awaited him. After all his care and pains, he
slipped and fell in the ball-room, and his mortification at the smiles
of the women round was so great that he never danced again, but looked
on henceforward with cynicism which he expresses in the "Peau de
Chagrin." That wonderful book, side by side with its philosophical
teaching, gives a graphic picture of one side of Balzac's restless,
feverish youth, as "Louis Lambert" does of his repressed childhood.
Neither Louis Lambert nor the morbid and selfish Raphael give,
however, the slightest indication of Balzac's most salient
characteristic both as boy and youth--the healthy _joie de vivre_, the
gaiety and exuberant merriment, of which his contemporaries speak
constantly, and which shone out undimmed even by the wretched health
and terrible worries of the last few years of his life. In his books,
the bitter and melancholy side of things reigns almost exclusively,
and Balzac, using Raphael as his mouthpiece, says: "Women one and all
have condemned me. With tears and mortification I bowed before the
decision of the world; but my distress was not barren. I determined to
revenge myself on society; I would dominate the feminine intellect,
and so have the feminine soul at my mercy; all eyes should be fixed
upon me, when the servant at the door announced my name. I had
determined from my childhood that I would be a great man. I said with
Andre Chenier, as I struck my forehead, 'There is something underneath
that!' I felt, I believed the thought within me that I must express,
the system I must establish, the knowledge I must interpret." In
another place in the same book the bitterness of his social failure
again peeps out: "The incomprehensible bent of women's minds appears
to lead them to see nothing but the weak points in a clever man and
the strong points of a fool."

Reading these words, we can imagine poor Honore, a proud,
supersensitive boy, leaning against the wall in the ball-room, and
watching enviously while agreeable nonentities basked in the smiles he
yearned for. It was a hard lot to feel within him the intuitive
knowledge of his genius; to hear the insistent voice of his vocation
calling him not to be as ordinary men, but to give his message to the
world; and yet to have the miserable consciousness that no one
believed in his talents, and that there was a huge discrepancy between
his ambition and his actual attainments.

In 1820 Honore attained his majority and finished his legal studies.
Unfortunately the pecuniary misfortunes which were to haunt all this
generation of the Balzac family were beginning--as old M. de Balzac
had lost money in two speculations, and now at the age of seventy-four
was put on the retired list, a change which meant a considerable
diminution of income. He therefore explained to his son--Madame
Surville tells us--that M. Passez, to whom he had formerly been of
service, had in gratitude offered to take Honore into his office, and
at the end of a few years would leave him his business, when, with the
additional arrangement of a rich marriage, a prosperous future would
be assured to him. Old M. de Balzac did not specify the nature of the
service which was to meet with so rich a reward; and as he was a
gentleman with a distinct liking for talking of his own doings, we may
amuse ourselves by supposing that it had to do with those Red
Republican days which he was not fond of recalling.

Great was Honore's consternation at this news. In the first place,
owing to M. de Balzac's constant vapourings about the enormous wealth
he would leave to his children, it is doubtful whether Honore, who was
probably not admitted to his parents' confidence, had realised up to
this time that he would have to earn his own living. Then, if it
_were_ necessary for him to work for his bread, he now knew enough of
the routine of a lawyer's office to look with horror on the prospect
of drawing up wills, deeds of sale, and marriage settlements for the
rest of his life. He never forgave the legal profession the shock and
the terror he experienced at this time, and his portraits of lawyers,
with some notable exceptions, are marked by decided animus. For
instance, in "Les Francais peints par eux-memes," edited by Cunmer,
the notary, as described by Balzac, has a flat, expressionless face
and wears a mask of bland silliness; and in "Pamela Giraud" one of the
characters remarks, "A lawyer who talks to himself--that reminds me of
a pastrycook who eats his own cakes." It was rather unfair to decry
all lawyers, because of the deadly fear he felt at the prospect of
being forced into their ranks, as there is little doubt that he would
have shrunk with like abhorrence from any business proposed to him.
His childish longing for fame had developed and taken shape, and for
him, if he lacked genius, there was no alternative but the dragging
out of a worthless and wearying existence. Conscious of his powers, it
was a time of struggle, of passionate endeavour, possibly of
bewilderment; with the one great determination standing firm in the
midst of a chaos of doubt and difficulty--the determination to
persevere, and to become a writer at any cost.

He therefore, to his father's consternation, announced his objection
to following a legal career, and begged to be allowed an opportunity
of proving his literary powers. Thereupon there were lively
discussions in the family; but at last the kindly M. de Balzac,
apparently against his wife's wishes, yielded to his son's earnest
entreaties, and allowed him two years in which to try his fortune as a
writer. The friends of the family were loud in their exclamations of
disapproval at the folly of this proceeding, which would, they said,
waste two of the best years of Honore's life. As far as they could
see, he possessed no genius; and even if he _were_ to succeed in a
literary career, he would certainly not gain a fortune, which after
all was the principal thing to be considered. However, either the
strenuousness and force of Honor's arguments, or the softness of his
father's heart, prevailed in his favour; and in spite of the
opposition of the whole of his little world, he was allowed to have
his own way, and to make trial of his powers. The rest of the family
retired to Villeparisis, about sixteen miles from Paris, and he was
established in a small attic at No. 9, Rue Lesdiguieres, which was
chosen by him for its nearness to the Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal, the
only public library of which the contents were unknown to him. At the
same time, appearances, always all-important in the Balzac family,
were observed, by the fiction that Honore was at Alby, on a visit to a
cousin; and in this way his literary venture was kept secret, in case
it proved unsuccessful.

Having arranged this, and asserted himself to the extent of insisting
that his son should be allowed a certain amount of freedom in choosing
his career, even if he fixed on a course which seemed suicidal, old M.
de Balzac appears to have retired from the direction of affairs, and
to have left his energetic wife to follow her own will about details.
There was no doubt in that lady's mind as to the methods to be
pursued. Her husband had been culpably weak, and had allowed himself
to be swayed by the freak of a boy who hated work and wanted an excuse
for idleness. Honore must be brought to reason, and be taught that
"the way of transgressors is hard," and that people who refuse to take
their fair share of life's labour must of necessity suffer from
deprivation of their butter, if not of their bread. Her husband was an
old man, and had lost money, and it was most exasperating that Honore
should refuse a splendid chance of securing his own future, and one
which would most probably never occur again. To a good business woman,
who did not naturally share in the boundless optimistic views of M. de
Balzac for the future, the crass folly of yielding to the wishes of a
boy who could not possibly know what was best for him, was glaringly
apparent. However, being a practical woman, when she had done her duty
in making the household--except the placid M. de Balzac--thoroughly
uncomfortable, and had most probably driven Honore almost wild with
suppressed irritation, she embarked on the plan of campaign which was
to bring the culprit back, repentant and submissive, to the lawyer's

To accomplish this as quickly as possible, it was necessary to make
him extremely uncomfortable; so having furnished his attic with the
barest necessities--a bed, a table, and a few chairs--she gave him
such a scanty allowance that he would have starved if an old woman,
_la mere Comin_, whom he termed his Iris, had not been told to go
occasionally to look after him. In spite of the gaiety of Balzac's
letters from his garret, the hardships he went through were terrible,
and in later years he could not speak of his sufferings at this time
without tears coming to his eyes. Apparently he could not even afford
to have a fire; and the attic was extremely draughty, blasts coming
from the door and window; so that in a letter to his sister he begs
her, when sending the coverlet for which he has already asked, to let
him have a _very_ old shawl, which he can wear at night. His legs,
where he feels the cold most, are wrapped in an ancient coat made by a
small tailor of Tours, who to his disgust used to alter his father's
garments to fit him, and was a dreadful bungler; but the upper half of
his body is only protected by the roof and a flannel waistcoat from
the frost, and he needs a shawl badly. He also hopes for a Dantesque
cap, the kind his mother always makes for him; and this pattern of cap
from the hands of Madame de Balzac figures in the accounts of his
attire later on in his life. It is not surprising that he has a cold,
and later on a terrible toothache; but it _is_ astonishing that, in
spite of cold, hunger, and discomfort, he preserves his gaiety, pluck,
and power of making light of hardships, traits of character which were
to be strikingly salient all through his hard, fatiguing career. In
spite of the misery of his surroundings, he had many compensations. He
had gained the wish of his heart, life was before him, beautiful
dreams of future fame floated in the air, and at present he had no
hateful burden of debt to weigh him down. Therefore he managed to
ignore to a great extent the physical pain and discomfort he went
through, as he ignored them all through his life, except when ill
health interfered with the accomplishment of his work.

Another characteristic which might also be amazing, did we not meet it
constantly in Balzac's life, is his longing for luxury and beauty, and
his extraordinary faculty for embarking in a perfectly business-like
way on wildly unreasonable schemes. With hardly enough money to
provide himself with scanty meals, he intends to economise, in order
to buy a piano. "The garret is not big enough to hold one," as he
casually remarks; but this fact, which, apart from the starving
process necessary in order to obtain funds, would appear to the
ordinary mind an insurmountable obstacle to the project, does not
daunt the ever-hopeful Honore.

He has taken the dimensions, he says; and if the landlord objects to
the expense of moving back the wall, he will pay the money himself,
and add it to the price of the piano. Here we recognise exactly the
same Balzac whose vagrant schemes later on were listened to by his
friends with a mixture of fascination and bewilderment, and who, in
utter despair about his pecuniary circumstances at the beginning of a
letter, talks airily towards the end of buying a costly picture, or
acquiring an estate in the country.

There is a curious and striking contrast in Balzac between the
backwardness in the expression of his literary genius, and the early
development and crystallisation of his character and powers of mind in
other directions. Even when he realised his vocation, forsook verse,
and began to write novels, he for long gave no indication of his
future powers; while, on the other hand, at the age of twenty, his
views on most points were formed, and his judgments matured.
Therefore, unlike most men, in whom, even if there be no violent
changes, age gradually and imperceptibly modifies the point of view,
Balzac, a youth in his garret, differed little in essentials from
Balzac at forty-five or fifty, a man of world-wide celebrity. He never
appears to have passed through those phases of belief and unbelief
--those wild enthusiasms, to be rejected later in life--which generally
fall to the lot of young men of talent. Perhaps his reasoning and
reflective powers were developed unusually early, so that he sowed his
mental wild oats in his boyhood. At any rate, in his garret in 1819 he
was the same Balzac that we know in later life. Large-minded and
far-seeing--except about his business concerns--he was from his youth
a _voyant_, who discerned with extraordinary acuteness the trend of
political events; and with an intense respect for authority, he was
yet independent, and essentially a strong man.

This absolute stability--a fact Balzac often comments on--is very
remarkable, especially as his was a life full of variety, during which
he was brought into contact with many influences. He studied the men
around him, and gauged their characters--though it must be allowed
that he did not make very good practical use of his knowledge; but
owing to his strength and breadth of vision, he was himself in all
essentials immovable.

The same ambitions, desires, and opinions can be traced all through
his career. The wish to enter political life, which haunted him
always, was already beginning to stir in 1819, when he wrote at the
time of the elections to a friend, M. Theodore Dablin, that he dreamt
of nothing but him and the deputies; and his last book, "L'Envers de
l'Histoire contemporaine," accentuated, if possible more than any work
that had preceded it, the extreme Royalist principles which he showed
in his garret play, the ill-fated "Cromwell."

He never swerved from the two great ambitions of his life--to be
loved, and to be famous. He was faithful in his friendships; and when
once he had found the woman whom he felt might be all in all to him,
and who possessed besides personal advantages the qualifications of
birth and money--for which he had always craved--no difficulties were
allowed to stand in the way, and no length of weary waiting could tire
out his patience. He was constant even to his failures. He began his
literary career by writing a play, and all through his life the idea
of making his fortune by means of a successful drama recurred to him
constantly. Several times he went through that most trying of
experiences, a failure which only just missed being a brilliant
success, and once this affected him so much that he became seriously
ill; but, with his usual spirit and courage, he tried again and again.
His friend Theophile Gautier, writing of him in _La Presse_ of
September 30th, 1843, after the failure of "Pamela Giraud," said truly
that Balzac intended to go on writing plays, even if he had to get
through a hundred acts before he could find his proper form.

One part of Balzac never grew up--he was all his life the "child-man"
his sister calls him. After nights without sleep he would come out of
his solitude with laughter, joy, and excitement to show a new
masterpiece; and this was always more wonderful than anything which
had preceded it. He was more of a child than his nieces, Madame
Surville tells us: "laughed at puns, envied the lucky being who had
the 'gift' of making them, tried to do so himself, and failed, saying
regretfully, 'No, that doesn't make a pun.' He used to cite with
satisfaction the only two he had ever made, 'and not much of a success
either,' he avowed in all humility, 'for I didn't know I was making
them,' and we even suspected him of embellishing them afterwards."[*]
He was delightfully simple, even to the end of his life. In 1849 he
wrote from Russia, where he was confined to his room with illness, to
describe minutely a beautiful new dressing-gown in which he marched
about the room like a sultan, and was possessed with one of those
delightful joys which we only have at eighteen. "I am writing to you
now in my termolana,"[+] he adds for the satisfaction of his

[*] "Balzac, sa Vie et ses Oeuvres, d'apres sa Correspondance," by
    Madame L. Surville (nee de Balzac).

[+] "H. de Balzac--Correspondance," vol. ii. P. 418.

We must now return to Honore in his attic, where, as in later years,
he drank much coffee, and was unable to resist the passion for fruit
which was always his one gourmandise. He records one day that he has
eaten two melons, and must pay for the extravagance with a diet of dry
bread and nuts, but contemplates further starvation to pay for a seat
to see Talma in "Cinna."

He writes to his sister: "I feel to-day that riches do not make
happiness, and that the time I shall pass here will be to me a source
of pleasant memories. To live according to my fancy; to work as I wish
and in my own way; to do nothing if I wish it; to dream of a beautiful
future; to think of you and to know you are happy; to have as ladylove
the Julie of Rousseau; to have La Fontaine and Moliere as friends,
Racine for a master, and Pere-Lachaise to walk to,--oh! if it would
only last always."[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i.

Pere-Lachaise was a favourite resort when he was not working very
hard; and it was from there that he obtained his finest inspirations,
and decided that, of all the feelings of the soul, sorrow is the most
difficult to express, because of its simplicity. Curiously enough, he
abandoned the Jardin des Plantes because he thought it melancholy, and
apparently found his reflections among the tombs more cheerful. He
decided that the only beautiful epitaphs are single names--such as La
Fontaine, Massena, Moliere, "which tell all, and make one dream."

When he returned home to his garret, fresh interests awaited him.
Sometimes, he tells us in the "Peau de Chagrin," he would "study the
mosses, with their colours revived by showers, or transformed by the
sun into a brown velvet that fitfully caught the light. Such things as
these formed my recreations: the passing poetic moods of daylight, the
melancholy mists, sudden gleams of sunlight, the silence and the magic
of night, the mysteries of dawn, the smoke-wreaths from each chimney;
every chance event, in fact, in my curious world became familiar to

Occasionally on Sundays he would go to a friend's house, ostensibly to
play cards--a pastime which he hated. He generally, however, managed
to escape from the eye of his hostess; and comfortably ensconced in a
window behind thick curtains, or hidden behind a high armchair, he
would pour into the ear of a congenial companion some of the thoughts
which surged through his impetuous brain. All his life he needed this
outlet after concentrated mental labour; and sometimes in a friend's
drawing-room, if he knew himself to be surrounded only by intimates,
he would give full vent to his conversational powers. On these
occasions he would carry his hearers away with him, often against
their better judgment, by his eloquence and verve; would send them
into fits of hearty laughter by his sallies; his store of droll
anecdotes, his jollity and gaiety; and would display his consummate
gifts as a dramatic raconteur. Later in life, after he had raised the
enmity of a large section of the writing world, and knew that there
were many watching eagerly to immortalise in print--with gay malice
and wit on the surface, and bitter spite and hatred below--the
heedless and possibly arrogant words their enemy had uttered in
moments of excitement and expansion, he grew cautious; and sometimes
because of this, and sometimes because he was collecting material for
his work, he would often be silent in general society. To the end,
however, he loved a tete-a-tete with a sympathetic listener--one, it
must be conceded, who would be content, except for the occasional
comment, to remain himself in the background, as the great man wanted
a safety-valve for his own impetuous thoughts, and did not generally
care to hear the paler, less interesting impressions of his companion.

With what longing, in the midst of his harassing life in Paris, he
would look back to the charming long fireside chats he had had with
Madame Hanska; and as the time to meet her again came nearer, with
what satisfaction special tit-bits of gossip were reserved to be
talked over and explained during the long evenings at Wierzchownia!
How he loved to rush in to his sister with the latest news of the
personages of his novels, as well as with brilliant plans to improve
his general prospects; and with what enthusiasm he poured out to
Theophile Gautier, or even to Leon Gozlan, his confidences of all
sorts! Plans, absurd and impossible, but worked out with a
business-like arrangement of detail which, when mingled with
somnambulists and magnetisers, had a weird yet apparently fascinating
effect on his hearers; magnificent diatribes against the wickedness of
his special enemies, journalists, editors, and the Press in general;
strange fancies to do with the world where Eugenie Grandet or Le Pere
Goriot had their dwelling,--all these ideas, opinions, and feelings
came from his lips with an eloquence, a force, and a life which were
all convincing. Yet by a strange anomaly, which is sometimes seen in
talkative and apparently unreserved people, Balzac in reality revealed
very little of himself--in fact, we may often suspect him of using a
flow of apparently spontaneous words as a screen to mask some hidden
feeling. Therefore, when people who had considered themselves his
intimate friends tried to write about him after his death, they found
that they really knew little of the essentials of the man, and could
only string together amusing anecdotes, proving him to have been
eccentric, amusing, and essentially _bon camarade_, but giving little
idea of his real personality and genius.

Even in these early days at the card-parties--where sometimes the
hostess noticed the defection of the two young guests, and, holding a
card in each delicate hand, would beckon them to take their place at
the game, which they would do with humble and discomfited faces, like
schoolboys surprised at a forbidden amusement--M. de Petigny, Balzac's
companion, must have been struck by his openness in some respects and
the absolute mystery with which he surrounded himself in others. Where
he lived, what he was doing, what his life was like--all these facts
were hidden from his companion, till he revealed himself at last, on
the verge of his hoped-for triumph. But, on the other hand, the
sentiments and impressions of which M. de Petigny read afterwards in
Balzac's books seemed to him only a pale, distant echo of the rich and
vivid expressions which fell from his lips in these intimate talks.
Magnetism, in which he had a strong faith all his life, was exercising
his thoughts greatly. It was "the irresistible ascendency of mind over
matter, of a strong and immovable will over a soul open to all
impressions."[*] Before long he would have mastered its secrets, and
would be able to compel every man to obey him and every woman to love
him. He had already, he announced, begun to occupy his fixed position
in life, and was on the threshold of a millennium.

[*] Article by M. Jules de Petigny.

Balzac's glimpses of society were, however, rare, and ceased
altogether during the last few months of his stay in the Rue
Lesdiguieres. However, other more satisfying pleasures were his:
"Unspeakable joys are showered on us by the exertion of our mental
faculties; the quest of ideas, and the tranquil contemplation of
knowledge; delights indescribable, because purely intellectual and
impalpable to our senses. So we are obliged to use material terms to
express the mysteries of the soul. The pleasure of striking out in
some lonely lake of clear water, with forests, rocks, and flowers
around, and the soft stirring of the warm breeze--all this would give
to those who knew them not a very faint idea of the exultation with
which my soul bathed itself in the beams of an unknown light,
hearkened to the awful and uncertain voice of inspiration, as vision
upon vision poured from some unknown source through my throbbing

[*] "La Peau de Chagrin," by Honore de Balzac.

There was another side to the picture, and perhaps in this
description, written in 1830, Balzac has slightly antedated his joy in
his creative powers, and describes more correctly his feelings when he
wrote "Les Chouans," "La Maison du Chat-qui-pelote," and the "Peau de
Chagrin" itself, than those of this earlier period of his life, when
the difficulties of expressing himself often seemed insurmountable,
and the hiatus between his ideas and the form in which to clothe them
was almost impossible to bridge over.

Writing did not at any time come easily to him, and "Stella" and
"Coqsigrue," his first novels, were never finished; while a comedy,
"Les Deux Philosophes," was also abandoned in despair. Next he set to
work at "Cromwell," a tragedy in five acts, which was to be his
passport to fame. At this play he laboured for months, shutting
himself up completely, and loving his self-imposed slavery--though his
want of faculty for versification, and the intense difficulty he
experienced in finding words for the ideas which crowded into his
imaginative brain were decided drawbacks. While engaged on this work,
he may indeed have experienced some of the feelings he describes in
the "Peau de Chagrin," quoted above; for, curiously enough,
"Cromwell," his first finished production, was the only one of his
early works about which he was deceived, and which he imagined to be a
_chef d'oeuvre_. It was well he had this happy faith to sustain him,
as, according to the account of M. Jules de Petigny, the circumstances
under which the play was composed must, to put the matter mildly, have
been distinctly depressing.

This gentleman says: "I entered a narrow garret, furnished with a
bottomless chair, a rickety table and a miserable pallet bed, with two
dirty curtains half drawn round it. On the table were an inkstand, a
big copybook scribbled all over, a jug of lemonade, a glass, and a
morsel of bread. The heat in this wretched hole was stifling, and one
breathed a mephitic air which would have given cholera, if cholera had
then been invented!" Balzac was in bed, with a cotton cap of
problematic colour on his head. "You see," he said, "the abode I have
not left except once for two months--the evening when you met me.
During all this time I have not got up from the bed where I work at
the great work, for the sake of which I have condemned myself to this
hermit's life, and which happily I have just finished, for my powers
have come to an end." It must have been during these last months in
his garret, when he neglected everything for his projected
masterpiece, that, covered with vermin from the dirt of his room, he
would creep out in the evening to buy a candle, which, as he possessed
no candlestick, he would put in an empty bottle.

The almost insane ardour for and absorption in his work, which were
his salient characteristics, had already possession of him; and we see
that he laboured as passionately now for fame and for love of his art,
as he did later on, when the struggle to free himself from debt, and
to gain a home and womanly companionship were additional incentives to
effort. At the time of which M. de Petigny speaks, however, his
troubles appeared to be over, as the masterpiece for which he had
suffered so much was completed; and joyfully confident that triumph
awaited him, Honore took it home with him to Villeparisis at the end
of April, 1820. He was so certain, poor fellow, of success, that he
had specially begged that among those invited to the reading of the
tragedy, should be the insulting person who told his father fifteen
months before, that he was fit for nothing but a post as copying

                              CHAPTER IV

                             1820 - 1828

  Reading of "Cromwell"--Balzac is obliged to live at home
  --Unhappiness--Writes romantic novels--Friendship with Madame
  de Berny--Starts in Paris as publisher and afterwards as printer
  --Impending bankruptcy only prevented by help from his parents
  and Madame de Berny.

Evidently Balzac's happy faith in the beauty of "Cromwell" had
impressed his parents, as, apparently without having seen the play,
they had assembled a large concourse of friends for the reading; and
between happy pride in his boy's genius, and satisfaction at his own
acuteness in discerning it, old M. de Balzac was no doubt nearly as
joyous as Honore himself. The Balzac family were prepared for triumph,
the friends were amused or incredulous, and the solemn trial began.[*]
The tragedy, strongly Royalist in principles, opens, according to the
plot as given by Balzac in a letter to his sister,[+] with the
entrance of Queen Henrietta Maria into Westminster. She is utterly
exhausted, and, disguised in humble garments, has returned from taking
her children for safety into Holland, and from begging for the help of
the King of France. Strafford, in tears, tells her of late events, and
of the King's imprisonment and future trial; but during this
conversation Cromwell and Ireton enter, and the Queen, in terror,
hides behind a tomb, till, horrified at the discussion as to whether
or not the King shall be put to death, she comes out, and, as Balzac
remarks, "makes them a famous discourse." Act II. sounds a little
dull, though no doubt it is highly instructive, as a great part of it
is taken up with a monologue by the King detailing the events of his
past reign. Later on Charles, instead of keeping Cromwell's son who
has fallen into his hands, as a hostage for his own life, gives him up
to his father without condition; but Cromwell, unmoved by this
generosity, still plots for his King's death. The fifth Act, which
Balzac remarks is the most difficult of all, opens with a scene in
which the King tells the Queen his last wishes, which Balzac
interpolates with (Quelle scene!); then Strafford informs the King of
his condemnation (Quelle scene!); the King and Queen say good-bye
--(Quelle scene!) again; and the play ends with the Queen vowing
eternal vengeance upon England, declaring that enemies will rise
everywhere against her, and that one day France will fight against
her, conquer her, and crush her.

[*] The original MS., beautifully written out, and tied with faded
    blue ribbon, is in the possession of the Vicomte de Spoelberch
    de Lovenjoul.

[+] "Honore de Balzac--Correspondance," vol. i, p. 28.

Honore began his reading with the utmost enthusiasm, modulating his
sonorous voice to suit the different characters, and even contriving
for a time to impart by his expressive reading a fictitious interest
to the dull, tedious tragedy. Gradually, however, the feeling of
disappointment and boredom among his audience communicated itself to
him. He lost confidence; his beautiful reading began to decline in
pathos and interest; and when at last he finished, and, glancing at
the downcast faces round him, found that even Laure could not look up
at him with a smile of congratulation, he felt a chill at his heart,
and knew that he had not triumphed after all. Nevertheless, he very
naturally rebelled against the strongly expressed adverse judgment of
his enemy of the copying-clerk proposal, and begged to be allowed to
appeal to a competent and impartial critic. To this request his father
assented, and M. Surville, who was now engaged to Laure, proposed that
M. Andrieux, of the Academie Francaise, formerly his own master at the
Ecole Polytechnique, should be asked to give an opinion. Honore, his
sister says, "accepted this literary elder as sovereign judge," no
doubt hoping against hope that a really cultured man would see the
beauties which were unfortunately hidden from the eyes of the
unintellectual inhabitants of Villeparisis. However, the verdict of M.
Andrieux was, if possible, more crushing than any of the events which
had preceded it. In the honest opinion of this expert, the author of
"Cromwell" ought to do anything, no matter what, _except literature_.

Honore had asked for an impartial judgment, and had promised to abide
by it. His discomfiture and sense of failure ought therefore to have
been complete. Genius does not, however, follow the ordinary road; and
with a mixture of pluck, confidence in himself, and pride which always
characterised him, Honore did not allow that he was beaten, and would
not show the feelings of grief and disappointment which must have
filled his heart. "Tragedies are not my line"--that is all he said;
and if he had been allowed to follow his own bent, he would at once
have returned to his garret, and have begun to write again with
unabated ardour.

Naturally, however, the Balzac family refused to allow him to continue
the course of senseless folly which was already beginning to ruin his
health. Madame de Balzac was specially strong on this point; and
though he had only been allowed fifteen months, instead of the two
years promised for his trial, she insisted that he should come home at
once, and remain under the maternal eye. Indeed, this seemed quite
necessary, after the privations he had gone through. His sufferings
never made him thin at any period of his life; but now his face was
pale and his eyes hollow, and his lifelong friend, Dr. Nacquart, sent
him at once to recruit in the air of his native Touraine.

After this followed a time of bitter trial for poor Honore. His sister
Laure married M. Surville in May, 1820, about a month after his return
home, and went to live at Bayeux, so that he was deprived of her
congenial companionship; and, in spite of his fun and buoyancy, his
letters to her show his extreme wretchedness. Years afterwards he told
the Duchesse d'Abrantes that the cruel weight of compulsion under
which he was crushed till 1822 made his struggles for existence, when
once he was free, seem comparatively light. Continually worried by his
nervous, irritable mother, deprived of independence, of leisure, of
quiet, he saw his dreams of future fame vanish like smoke, and the
hated lawyer's office become a certainty, if he failed to make money
by writing. In deadly fear of this, and with the paralysing
consciousness that his present circumstances were peculiarly
unpropitious as a literary education, he rebelled against the hard
fate which denied him opportunity to work for fame. "Laure, Laure," he
cries at this time, "my two only and immense desires--to be loved and
to be celebrated--will they ever be satisfied?"

Whatever his aspirations might be, it was necessary that he should do
something to support himself, as his parents firmly refused to grant
him the 1,500 francs--about sixty pounds--a year for which he begged,
to enable him to live in Paris and to carry out his vocation. He was
therefore obliged to write at his home at Villeparisis in the midst of
distractions and discouragements. In these unpropitious circumstances
he produced in five years--with different collaborators, whose names
are now rescued from absolute oblivion by their transitory connection
with him--eight novels in thirty-one volumes. That he managed to find
a publisher for most of his novels, and to make forty pounds, sixty
pounds, or eighty pounds out of each, is according to his sister, a
remarkable proof of his strength of will, and also of his power of
fascination. The payment generally took the form of a bill payable at
some distant period--a form of receiving money which does not seem
very satisfying; but at any rate Balzac could prove to his family that
he was earning something, and was himself cheered by his small
successes. We can imagine his feverish anxiety, and the cunning with
which he would exert every wile to induce the publisher--himself a
struggling man--to accept his wares, when he knew that a refusal would
mean mingled scoffs and lamentations at home, and possibly a menace
that not much longer leisure would be allowed him for idling. There is
pathos in the fate of one whose genius is unrecognised till his day on
earth is over, but far harder seems the lot of the man who longs and
struggles, feeling that the power is in him, and who yet, by some
strange gulf between thought and expression, can only produce what he
knows to be worthless. It speaks much for Balzac's courage, patience,
and determination, or perhaps for the intuitive force of a genius
which refused to be denied outlet, that he struggled through this
weary time, and in spite of opposition kept to his fixed purpose of
becoming a writer.

These early works--"L'Heritiere de Birague," "Jean-Louis," "Le
Centenaire," "Le Vicaire des Ardennes," "La Derniere Fee," "Wann
Chlore," and others, published in 1822 and the three following years
--were written under the pseudonyms of Lord R'hoone, Viellergle, and
Horace de Saint-Aubin, and are generally wild tales of adventure in
the style of Mrs. Radcliffe. Though occasionally the reader comes
across a paragraph faintly reminiscent of the Balzac of later years,
these youthful attempts are certainly not worthy of the great man who
wrote them, and he consistently refused to acknowledge their
authorship. The two first, "L'Heritiere de Birague" and "Jean-Louis,"
were written with the collaboration of M. Auguste le Poitevin de
l'Egreville, who took the name of Viellergle, while Balzac adopted
that of Lord R'hoone, an anagram of Honore, so that these two novels
are signed with both pseudonyms.[*] It is amusing to find that the
sage Honore, in 1820, prudently discourages a passing fancy on the
part of his sister Laurence for his collaborator, by remarking that
writers are very bad _partis_, though he hastens to add that he only
means this from a pecuniary point of view! Laure, at Bayeux, is made
useful as an amateur advertising agent, and is carefully told that,
though she is to talk about the novels a great deal, she is never to
lend her copies to any one, because people must buy the books to read
them. "L'Heritiere" brought in about thirty-two pounds, and
"Jean-Louis" fifty-three pounds, unfortunately both in bills at long
date; but it was the first money Honore had ever earned, and he was
naturally excited. However, with "La Derniere Fee" he was not so
fortunate, as both versions--one of which appeared in 1823 and the
other in 1824--were published at his own cost. Nevertheless, he has no
illusions about the worth of his books, "L'Heritiere" being, he says,
a "veritable cochonnerie litteraire," while "Jean-Louis" has "several
rather funny jokes, and some not bad attempts at character, but a
detestable plot."

[*] See "Une Page perdue de Honore de Balzac," by the Vicomte de
    Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

In the same year, 1822, he writes one of his droll, beseeching letters
to beg M. and Mme. Surville to help him out of a great difficulty, and
to write one volume of "Le Vicaire des Ardennes" while he writes the
other, and afterwards fits the two together. The matter is most
important, as he has promised Pollet to have two novels, "Le Vicaire"
and "Le Savant"--the latter we never hear of again--ready by October
1st. It is necessary to be specially quick about "Le Vicaire," partly
because Auguste, his collaborator, is writing a novel of the same
name, and Balzac's production _must_ come out first, and also for the
joyful reason that he will actually receive twenty-four pounds in
ready money for the two books, the further fifty-six pounds following
in bills payable at eight months. What do the Survilles think about
it? He throws himself on their generosity, though he is afraid Laure
will never manage to write sixty pages of a novel every day.
Apparently the Survilles, or at least M. Surville--for it is certain
that the devoted Laure would have worked herself to death to help
Honore--did not see their way to proceeding at this rate of
composition, as the next letter from Balzac, written on August 20th,
is full of reproaches because the manuscript has not been at once
returned to him, that he may go on with it himself. Perhaps this want
of help prevented the carrying out of the contract, and was the reason
that the world has not been enriched by the appearance of "Le Savant."
Honore, however, judging by his next letter, did not bear malice: he
was accustomed to make continual requests, reasonable and sometimes
_very_ unreasonable, to his family; and the large good-humour which
was one of the foundations of his robust character, prevented him from
showing any irritation when they were refused.

From 1821 to 1824 he wrote thirty-one volumes, and it is an
extraordinary proof of his versatility, that in 1824, in the midst of
the production of these romantic novels, he published a pamphlet
entitled "Du Droit d'Ainesse" which argues with singular force, logic,
and erudition against the revolutionary and Napoleonic theories on the
division of property; and a small volume entitled "Histoire impartiale
des Jesuites," which is an impassioned defence of religion and the
monarchy. "The Bourbons are the preservers of the sublime religion of
Christ, and they have never betrayed the trust which confided
Christianity to them," he cries. No one reading these political essays
would think it likely that they were the work of the romantic writer
of "La Derniere Fee" or "Argow the Pirate," which were employing
Balzac's pen at the same time.

Young men are often very severe critics of the doings of their family;
and Balzac, cursed with the sensitiveness of genius, and smarting
under the bitter disappointment of disillusionment and of thwarted and
compressed powers, was not likely to be an indulgent critic; but
making due allowance for these facts, it does not appear that his home
was a particularly comfortable place at this time. Old M. de Balzac
was as placid as an Egyptian pyramid and perennially cheerful; but the
restless Madame de Balzac was now following in the footsteps of her
nervous mother and becoming a _malade imaginaire_. This did not add to
the comfort of her family, while the small excitements she roused
perpetually were peculiarly trying to her eldest son, who was himself
not of a placid nature.

However, there were compensations, though the discreet Honore does not
mention these in his letters to Laure, as in 1821 his friendship with
Madame de Berny began, and only ceased in 1836 with her death, which
in spite of his affection for Madame Hanska, was a lifelong sorrow to
him. One of Honore's home duties was to act as tutor to his younger
brother Henry--the spoilt child of the family--who, owing to supposed
delicacy, was educated at home; and as the Bernys lived near
Villeparisis, it was arranged that he should at the same time give
lessons to one of M. and Madame de Berny's boys. This may have helped
to bring about the intimacy between the two houses, and Honore was
struck by Madame de Berny's patience and sweetness to a morose husband
many years older than herself. Later on, the Bernys left the
neighbourhood of Villeparisis, and divided their time between the
village of Saint-Firmin, near Chantilly, and Paris; and Balzac
occasionally paid them visits in the country, and saw Madame de Berny
continually in Paris. She was twenty-two years older than Honore, and
no doubt supplied the element of motherliness which was conspicuously
absent in Madame de Balzac.

She was a gentle and pathetic figure, the woman who understood Balzac
as Madame Hanska did not; who made light of her troubles and
sufferings for fear of grieving him in the midst of his own struggles;
and who, while performing her duties conscientiously as devoted wife
and mother, for twelve years gave up two hours every day to his
society. She lent him money, interceded with his parents on his
behalf, corrected his proofs, acted as a severe and candid though
sympathetic critic, and above all cheered and encouraged him, and
prevented him from committing suicide in his dark days of distress. On
the other hand, the friendship of a man like Balzac must have been of
absorbing interest to a woman of great delicacy of feeling, and
evidently considerable literary powers, whose surroundings were
uncongenial; and his warm and enduring affection helped her to tide
over many of the troubles of a sad life.

Recent researches have discovered several interesting facts about the
origin of the woman to whom may be ascribed the merit of "creating"
the writer who was destined to exercise so great an influence on his
own and succeeding generations.[*] Curiously enough, Louise Antoinette
Laure Hinner, destined at the age of fifteen years and ten months to
become Madame de Berny, was, like Madame Hanska, a foreigner, being
the daughter of Joseph Hinner, a German musician, who was brought by
Turgot to France. Here he became harpist to Marie Antoinette, and
married Madame Quelpee de Laborde, one of the Queen's ladies in
waiting. Two years later, on May 23rd, 1777, the future Madame de
Berny came into the world, and made her debut with a great flourish of
trumpets, Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, represented by the Duc de
Fronsac and Laure Auguste de Fitz-James, Princesse de Chimay, being
her god-parents. When in 1784 her father died, her mother married the
Chevalier de Jarjayes, one of Marie Antoinette's most loyal adherents
during the Revolution. It was he who conceived the project of carrying
off Louis XVII. from the Temple, and who was entrusted with the
precious duty of carrying the seal, ring, and hair belonging to the
Royal Family to the exiled Monsieur and Comte d'Artois.[*]

[*] See "Balzac, Imprimeur," in "La Jeunesse de Balzac," by MM.
    Hanotaux et Vicaire.

We can easily see whence Balzac derived his strong Royalist principles
--how from boyhood the lessons taught him by his masters, M. Lepitre
and M. Guillonnet de Merville, would be insisted on, only with much
greater effect and insistence, by this charming woman of the world.
Her mother, still living, had passed her time in the disturbed and
exciting atmosphere of plots and counterplots; and she herself could
tell him story after story of heartrending tragedies and of
hairbreadth escapes, which had happened to her own relations and
friends. From her he acquired those aristocratic longings which always
characterised him, and through her influence he made acquaintance with
several people of high position and importance, and thus was enabled
to make an occasional appearance in the _beau-monde_ of Paris.

Her portrait gives the idea of an elegant rather than pretty woman,
with a long neck, sloping shoulders, black curls on the temples, at
each side of a high forehead, and large, languishing dark eyes, under
pencilled eyebrows. The oval face has a character of gentle
melancholy, and there is something subdued and suffering in the whole
expression which invites our pity. She wears in the portrait an Empire
dress, confined under the arms by a yellow ribbon.

"La dilecta," as Balzac calls her, cannot have been a very happy
woman. Of her nine children, watched with the most tender solicitude,
only four lived to grow up; and of these her favourite son, "beautiful
as the day, like her tender and spiritual, like her full of noble
sentiments," as Balzac says, died the year before her; and only an
insane daughter and a wild, unsatisfactory son survived her. This
terrible blow broke her heart, and she shut herself up and refused to
see even Balzac during the last year of her life. The end must at any
rate have been peaceful, as, in order to prolong her existence as much
as possible, it had been found necessary to separate her from the
irritable husband with whose vagaries she had borne patiently during
thirty tedious years; but perhaps she was sorry in the end that this
was necessary. Madame de Mortsauf, in the "Lys dans la Vallee," is
intended to be a portrait of her, though Balzac says that he has only
managed to give a faint reflection of her perfections. However this
may be, Henriette de Mortsauf is a charming and ethereal creation, and
from her we can understand the fascination Madame de Berny exerted
over Balzac, and can realise that, as he says to Madame Hanska, her
loss can never be made up to him. It is possible also to sympathise
with the feeling, perhaps unacknowledged even to himself, which peeps
out in a letter to Madame Hanska in 1840.[*] In this he reproaches his
correspondent for her littleness in not writing to him because he
cannot answer her letters quickly, and tells her that he has lately
been in such straits that he has not been able to pay for franking his
letters, and has several times eaten a roll on the Boulevards for his
dinner. He goes on: "Ah! I implore you, do not make comparisons
between yourself and Madame de Berny. She was of infinite goodness and
of absolute devotion; she was what she was. You are complete on your
side as she on hers. One never compares two great things. They are
what they are." Certainly Balzac never found a second Madame de Berny.

[*] "Lettres a L'Etrangere."

From 1822 to 1824 we know little of Balzac's history, except that he
passed the time at home, and was presumably working hard at his
romantic novels; but in 1824 a change came, one no doubt hailed at the
time with eager delight, though it proved unfortunately to be the
foundation of all his subsequent misfortunes.

When he went up to Paris to make arrangements for publishing his
novels, he stayed in the old lodgings of his family in the Rue du Roi
Dore, and here he often met a friend, M. d'Assonvillez, to whom he
confided his fear of being forced into an occupation distasteful to
him. M. d'Assonvillez was sympathetic, advised him to seek for a
business which would make him independent, and, carried away by
Honore's powers of persuasion and eloquence, actually promised to
proved the necessary funds. We can imagine Balzac's joy at this offer,
and the enthusiasm with which he would take up his abode in Paris, and
feel that he was about to earn his living, nay, more, that he would no
doubt become enormously rich, and would then have leisure to give up
his time to literature. What however decided him to become first
publisher and then printer we do not know. He started his publishing
campaign with the idea of bringing out compact editions of the
complete works of different authors in one volume, and began with
Moliere and La Fontaine, carrying on the two publications at the same
time, for fear of competition if his secret should be discovered. The
idea, which had already been thought of by Urbain Canel, was a good
one; but unfortunately Balzac was not able to obtain support from the
trade, and had not sufficient capital for advertising. Therefore by
the end of the year not twenty copies were sold, and he lost 15,000
francs on this affair alone. Consequently, in order to save the rent
of the warehouse in which the books were stored, he was obliged to
part with all the precious compact editions for the price by the
weight of the paper on which they were printed.

Matters now looked very black, as Balzac owed about 70,000 francs; but
M. d'Assonvillez was evidently much impressed by his business
capacity, and was naturally anxious to be repaid the money he had
lent. He therefore introduced Honore to a relation who was making a
large fortune by his printing-press; and Balzac, full of enthusiasm,
dreamt of becoming a second Richardson, and of combining the
occupations of author and printer. His father was persuaded to provide
the necessary funds, and handed him over 30,000 francs--about 1,200
pounds--with which to start the enterprise. In August, 1826, Balzac
began again joyously, first by himself and afterwards with a partner
named Barbier, whom he had noticed as foreman in one of the
printing-offices to which he had taken his novels. Unfortunately a
printing-licence cost 15,000 francs in the time of Charles X.; and
when this had been paid, Barbier had received a bonus of 12,000 francs,
and 15,000 francs had been spent on the necessary materials, there
remained very little capital with which to meet the current expenses
of the undertaking. Nevertheless, the young partners started full of
hope, having bought from Laurent for 30,000 francs the premises at No.
7, Rue des Marais Saint-Germain, now the Rue Visconti, a street so
narrow that two vehicles cannot pass in it. A wooden staircase with an
iron handrail led from a dark passage to the large barrack-like hall
they occupied: an abode which Balzac tried to beautify, possibly for
Madame de Berny's visits, by hangings of blue calico.

There Balzac developed quickly. He learnt the struggle of a business
life, the duel between man and man, through which thousands pass
without gaining anything except business acuteness, but which
introduced the great psychologist to hundreds of new types, and showed
to his keen, observant eyes man, not in society or domesticity, but in
undress, fighting for life itself, or for all that makes life worth
living. In the Rue de Lesdiguieres he had struggled with himself,
striving in cold and hunger to gain the mastery of his art. Here he
battled with others; and since, except on paper, he never possessed
business capacity, he failed and went under; but by his defeat he
paved the way to future triumph. He passed through an experience
possibly unique in the career of a man of letters, one which imparts
the peculiar flavour of business, money, and affairs to his books, and
which fixed on him for all his days the impression of restless,
passionate, thronging humanity which he pictures in his books. The
abyss between his early romantic novels and such a book as the "Peau
de Chagrin" is immeasurable, and cannot be altogether accounted for by
any teaching, however valuable, or even by the strong influence which
intercourse with Madame de Berny exercised. Something else definite
must have happened to him--some great opening out and development,
which caused a sudden appearance on the surface of hitherto latent,
unworkable powers. This forcing-process took place at his first
contact with the war of life; and though he bore the scars of the
encounter as long as he lived, he grew by its clash, ferment, and
disaster to his full stature. In "La Maison du Chat-qui-pelote,"
"Illusions Perdues," and "Cesar Birotteau" he gives different phases
of this life, spent partly in the printer's office and partly in the
streets, rushing anxiously from place to place and from person to
person, trying vainly by interviews to avert the impending ruin.

Matters seemed, however, quite hopeless; but when, towards the end of
1827, an opportunity occurred of becoming possessed of a type-foundry,
the partners, perhaps with the desperation of despair, did not
hesitate to avail themselves of it. This new acquisition naturally
only appeared likely to precipitate the catastrophe, and Barbier
prepared to leave the sinking ship. At this juncture Madame de Berny
came forward with substantial help, and allowed her name to appear as
partner in his place. However, even this assistance did not long avert
disaster--bankruptcy was impending, and Madame de Berny and Laure
implored Madame de Balzac to prevent this. The latter, wishing at all
costs to keep the matter from the ears of her husband, now a very old
man and failing in health, begged a cousin, M. Sedillot, to come
forward, and at least to save the honour of the family. M. Sedillot,
who appears to have been a good man of business, at once set gallantly
to work to disentangle the embroglio, and to free Honore from its
meshes. As a result of his efforts, the printing-press was sold to M.
Laurent, and the type-foundry became the property of the De Bernys,
under whom it was highly successful. At the same time, to save Honore
from disgrace, Madame de Balzac lent 37,000 francs and Madame de Berny
45,000, the latter sum being paid back in full by Balzac in 1836, the
year of Madame de Berny's death. "Without her I should be dead," he
tells Madame Hanska. He was most anxious not to sell the type-foundry,
and his parents have been severely criticised for their refusal to
provide further funds for the purpose of carrying on that and the

This blame seems a little unfair. It is true that, after Balzac had
been obliged, to his intense grief, to part with both businesses at a
loss, a fortune was made out of the type-foundry alone. But the
Balzacs had lost money, and had their other children to provide for;
while Honore, though well equipped with hope, enthusiasm, and belief
in himself, had hitherto failed to justify a trust in his business
capacities. In fact, if his parents had been endowed with prophetic
eyesight, and had been enabled to take a bird's-eye view of their
celebrated son's future enterprises, which were always, according to
his own account, destined to fail only by some unfortunate slip at the
last, it seems doubtful whether they would have been wise to alter the
course they adopted.

                              CHAPTER V

                             1828 - 1829

  Life in the Rue de Tournon--Privations and despair--Friendships
  --Auguste Borget--Madame Carraud--The Duchesse d'Abrantes--George
  Sand, etc.--Balzac writes "La Peau de Chagrin" and the
  "Physiologie du Marriage"--His right to be entitled "De Balzac."

In September, 1828, before the final winding up of affairs, Balzac had
fled from Paris, and had gone to spend three weeks with his friends
the Pommereuls in Brittany. There he began to write "Les Chouans," the
first novel to which he signed his name. With his usual hopefulness,
dreams of future fame filled his brain; and in spite of his
misfortunes, his relief at having obtained temporary escape from his
difficulties and freedom to pursue his literary career was so great,
that his jolly laugh often resounded in the old chateau of Fougeres.
It was certainly a remarkable case of buoyancy of temperament, as the
circumstances in which he found himself were distinctly discouraging.
He was now twenty-nine years old; he owed about 100,000 francs, and
was utterly penniless; while his reputation for commercial capacity
had been completely destroyed. His most pressing liabilities had been
paid by his mother, who was all his life one of his principal
creditors; and he was now firmly under the yoke of that heavy burden
of debt which was destined never again to be lifted from his
shoulders. Once again, as they had done nine years before, his parents
cast off all responsibility for their unsatisfactory son. They had
saved the family honour, which would have been compromised by his
bankruptcy; but they felt that whether he lived or starved was his own
affair. His position was infinitely worse than it had been in those
early days in the Rue Lesdiguieres, when submission would have led to
reinstatement in favour. He was now, as he graphically expressed it,
"thrown into" the Rue de Tournon,[*] and apparently no provision was
made for his wants. His parents, who had moved from Villeparisis to
Versailles the year before, in order to be near Madame Surville,
limited their interference in his affairs to severe criticism on his
want of respect in not coming to see his family, and righteous wrath
at his extravagance in hanging his room with blue calico. These
reproaches he parried with the defence that he had no money to pay
omnibus fares, and could not even write often because of the expense
of postage; while anent the muslin, he stated that he possessed it
before his failure, as La Touche and he had nailed it up to hide the
frightful paper on the walls of the printing-office. Uncrushed by the
scathing comments on his attempts at decoration, curious though
characteristic efforts on the part of a starving man, he writes to his
sister a few days later: "Ah, Laure, if you did but know how
passionately I desire (but, hush! keep the secret) two blue screens
embroidered in black (silence ever!)."[+] He reopens his letter about
the screens to answer one from Madame Surville, written evidently at
the instigation of M. and Mme. de Balzac, to blame his supposed
idleness; and the poor fellow, to whom _this_ fault at least could at
no time be justly imputed, asks her if he is not already unhappy
enough, and tells her pathetically how he suffers from these unjust
suspicions, and that he can never be happy till he is dead. In the
end, however, he returns with childlike persistence to the screens as
a panacea for all his ills, and finishes with: "But my screens--I want
them more than ever, for a little joy in the midst of torment!"

[*] He says himself "Rue Cassini," but this is a mistake.

[+] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 82.

He had now apparently completely gone under, like many another
promising young man of whom great things are expected; and he had in
his pride and misery hidden himself from every one, except a few
intimate friends. With the death on June 19, 1829, of his father,
whose last days were saddened by the knowledge of his son's disaster,
the world was poorer by one castle in the air the less; for besides
his natural sorrow at the death of the kind old man, who was so much
softer than his wife, the dream of becoming a millionaire by means of
the Tontine capital faded way, like all poor Honore's other visions.
Even Balzac's buoyancy was not always proof against the depressing
influence of two or three days of starvation, and he sometimes
descended to the lowest depths, and groped in those dark places from
which death seems the only escape. When he tells us in "La Peau de
Chagrin" that Raphael walked with an uncertain step in the Tuileries
Gardens, "as if he were in some desert, elbowed by men whom he did not
see, hearing, through all the voices of the crowd, one voice alone,
the voice of Death," it is Balzac himself, who, after glorious
aspirations, after being in imagination raised to heights to which
only a great nature can aspire, now lay bruised and worsted, a
complete failure, and thought that by suicide he would at least obtain
peace and oblivion. He knew to the full the truth of his words:
"Between a self-sought death and the abundant hopes whose voices call
a young man to Paris, God only knows what may intervene, what
contending ideas have striven within the soul, what poems have been
set aside, what moans and what despair have been repressed, what
abortive masterpieces and vain endeavours."[*]

[*] Honore de Balzac, "La Peau de Chagrin."

Looking back years afterwards at this terrible time, he can find only
one reason why he did not put an end to himself, and that was the
existence of Madame de Berny: "She was a mother, a woman friend, a
family, a man friend, an adviser," he cries enthusiastically; "she
made the writer, she consoled the young man, she formed his taste, she
cried like a sister, she laughed, she came every day, like a merciful
slumber, to send sorrow to sleep."[*] Certainly there was no woman on
earth to whom Balzac owed so deep a debt of gratitude, and certainly
also he joyfully acknowledged his obligations. "Every day with her was
a fete," he said to Madame Hanska long afterwards.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

About this time another friendship was beginning, which, though slower
in growth and not so passionate in character, was as faithful, and was
only terminated by Balzac's death. When Madame Surville went to live
at Versailles, she was delighted to find that an old schoolfellow,
Madame Carraud, was settled there, her husband holding the post of
director of the military school at Saint-Cyr. Honore had known Madame
Carraud since 1819; but he first became intimate with her and her
husband in 1826, and later he was their constant guest at Angouleme,
where Commandant Carraud was in charge of the Government powder-works,
or at Frapesle in Berry, where Madame Carraud had a country house. She
was a woman of much intelligence and ambition, high-principled and
possessing much common sense. Balzac occasionally complained that she
was a little wanting in softness; but, nevertheless, he invariably
turned to her for comfort in the vicissitudes of his more passionate
attachments. He was also much attached to M. Carraud, a man of great
scientific attainments and a good husband, but, to his wife's despair,
utterly lacking in energy and ambition; so that instead of taking the
position to which by his abilities he was entitled, he soon retired
altogether from public life, and Madame Carraud, who should, according
to Balzac, have found scope for her talents in Paris, was buried in
the country. Nevertheless, the Carrauds were a happy couple, genuinely
devoted to each other; and Madame Carraud cited the instance of their
affection, in spite of the difference of their point of view on many
subjects, when in 1833 she wrote to Honore urging him to marry.[*]
"There is no need to tell you that my husband and I are not
sympathetic in everything. We are so unlike each other that the same
objects appear quite differently to us. Yet I know the happiness about
which I speak. We both feel it in the same degree, though in a
different way. I would not give it up for the fullest existence,
according to generally received ideas. I have not an empty moment."

[*] Letter from Madame Carraud in the Vicomte de Spoelberch de
    Lovenjoul's collection, published in _La Revue Bleue_, November
    21st, 1903.

She was an ardent politician, and we gain much of our knowledge of
Balzac's political views from his letters to her when he wished to
become a deputy; while she also possessed the faculty which he valued
most in his women friends, that of intelligent literary criticism. She
could be critical on other points as well; and, like Madame Hanska,
blamed Balzac for mobility of ideas and inconstancy of resolution,
which she said wasted his intellect. She complained that, in the time
that he might have used to bring one plan successfully to completion,
he generally started ten or twelve new ones, all of which vanished
into smoke, and brought him no advantage.[*]

[*] "L'Ecole des Menages" in "Autour de Honore de Balzac," by the
    Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

Hardly a year passed without Balzac spending some time at the
hospitable house at Frapesle, the doors of which were always open to
him; and there, away from creditors, publishers, journalists, and all
his other enemies, he was able to write in peace and quietness. There,
too, he made many pleasant acquaintances, among them M. Armand Pereme,
the distinguished antiquary, and M. Periollas, who was at one time
under M. Carraud at Saint-Cyr, and afterwards became chief of a
squadron of artillery. To Madame Carraud he also owed an introduction
to his most intimate male friend, Auguste Borget, a genre painter who
travelled in China, and drew many pictures of the scenery there.
Borget lodged in the same house with Balzac in the Rue Cassini, and is
mentioned by him in a letter to Madame Hanska, in 1833, as one of his
three real friends beside her and his sister, Madame de Berny and
Madame Carraud being the other two. It was a very real grief to Balzac
when Borget was away; and he says that even when the painter is
travelling, sketching, and never writes to him, he is constantly in
his remembrance; while in another letter he speaks of his friend's
nobility of soul and beauty of sentiment. To Borget was dedicated the
touching story of "La Messe de l'Athee"; and in case of Balzac's
sudden death it was to this "good, old, and true friend" that the duty
of burning Madame Hanska's letters were entrusted, though eventually
their recipient performed this painful task himself in 1847.

A still older friend was M. Dablin, a rich, retired ironmonger with
artistic tastes, who left his valuable collection of artistic objects
to the Louvre. He was known to Balzac before 1817; and in 1830 the
successful writer remembers with gratitude that M. Dablin used to be
his only visitor during his martyrdom in the Rue Lesdiguieres in 1819.
At that time and later he was most generous in lending Honore money;
and the only cloud that came between them for a long time was his
indignation when Balzac wished to find him further security than his
own life for a loan he had promised. Later on, in 1845, when M.
Dablin, rather hurt by some heedless words from Balzac, and evidently
jealous of his former protege's grand acquaintances, complained that
honours and fortune changed people's hearts--the great novelist found
time, after his daily sixteen hours of work, to write a long letter to
his old benefactor.[*] In this he tells him that nothing will alter
his affection for him, that all his real friends are equal in his
sight; and he makes the true boast that, though he may have the
egotism of the hard worker, he has never yet forsaken any one for whom
he feels affection, and is the same now in heart as when he was a boy.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 115.

Other early and lifelong friendships were with Madame Delannoy, who
lent him money, and was in all ways kind to him, and with M. de
Margonne, who lived at Sache, a chateau on the Indre, in the beautiful
Touraine valley described in "Le Lys dans la Vallee," and who had held
Balzac on his knees when a child. Balzac often paid him visits,
especially when he wanted to meditate over some serious work, as he
found the solitude and pure air, and the fact that he was treated in
the neighbourhood simply as a native of the country and not as a
celebrity, peculiarly stimulating to his imagination and powers of
creation. He wrote "Louis Lambert," among other novels at the house of
this hospitable friend. Madame de Margonne he did not care for: she
was, according to his unflattering portrait of her, intolerant and
devout, deformed, and not at all _spirituelle_. But she did not count
for much; Balzac went to the house for the sake of her husband.

An intimacy was formed about this time between Balzac and La Touche,
the editor of the _Figaro_, who, as has been already mentioned, helped
him in the prosaic task of nailing up draperies. This intimacy must
have been of great value to Balzac's education in the art of
literature, and is remarkable for that reason in the history of a man
in whose writings small trace of outside influence can be descried,
and who, except in the case of Theophile Gautier, seemed little
affected by the thought of his contemporaries. Therefore, though a
long way behind Madame de Berny--without whom Balzac, as we know him,
would hardly have existed--La Touche deserves recognition for his
work, however small, in moulding the literary ideals and forming the
taste of the great writer. Besides this, his friendship with Balzac is
almost unique in the history of the latter, in the fact that, for some
reason we do not know, it was suddenly broken off; and that almost the
only occasion when Balzac showed personal dislike almost amounting to
hatred, in criticism, was when, in 1840, in the _Revue Parisienne_, he
published an article on "Leo," a novel by La Touche. He became, George
Sand says, completely indifferent to his old master, while the latter
--a pathetic, yet thorny and uncomfortable figure, as portrayed by his
contemporaries--continued to belittle and revile his former pupil,
while all the time he loved him, and longed for a reconciliation which
never took place. La Touche had a quick instinct for discovering
genius: he introduced Andre Chenier's posthumous poems to the public,
and launched Jules Sandeau and George Sand. But he was soured by
seeing his pupils enter the promised land only open to genius, while
he was left outside himself. Sooner or later, the eager, affected
little hypochondriacal man with the bright eyes quarrelled with all
his friends, and a rupture would naturally soon take place between the
ultra-sensitive teacher, ready to take offence on the smallest
pretext, and the hearty, robust Tourainean, who, whatever his troubles
might be, faced the world with a laugh, who insisted on his genius
with cheery egotism, and who, in spite of real goodheartedness and
depth of affection, was too full of himself to be always careful about
the feelings of others. How much Balzac owed to La Touche we do not
know; but though, as we have already seen, there were other reasons
for his sudden stride in literature between 1825 and 1828, it is
significant that "Les Chouans," the first book to which he affixed his
name, and in which his genius really shows itself, was written
directly after his intercourse with this literary teacher. No doubt La
Touche, who was cursed with the miserable fate of possessing the
temperament of genius without the electric spark itself, magnified the
help he had given, and felt extreme bitterness at the shortness of
memory shown by the great writer, whom he vainly strove to sting into
feeling by the acerbity of his attacks.

Never at any time did Balzac go out much into society, but his
anonymous novels, though they did not bring him fame, had opened to
him the doors of several literary and artistic salons, and he was a
frequenter of that of Madame Sophie Gay, the author of several novels,
one of which, "Anatole," is said to have been read by Napoleon during
the last night spent at Fontainebleau in 1814. Hers was essentially an
Empire salon, antagonistic to the government of the Bourbons, and
Balzac's feelings were perhaps occasionally ruffled by the talk that
went on around him, though more probably the interest he found in the
study of different phases of opinion outweighed his party
prepossessions. Those evenings must have been an anxious pleasure;
for, with no money to pay a cab fare, there was always the agonising
question as to whether on arrival his boots would be of spotless
cleanliness, while the extravagance of a pair of white gloves meant a
diminution in food which it was not pleasant to contemplate. Then,
too, he felt savage disgust at the elegant costumes and smart
cabriolets owned by empty-headed fops with insufferable airs of
conquest, who looked at him askance, and to whom he could not prove
the genius that was in him, or give voice to his belief that some day
he would dominate them all. The restlessness and discomfort, and at
the same time the sense of unknown and fascinating possibilities which
are the birthright of talented youth, and in the portrayal of which
Balzac is supreme, must have been well known to him by experience; and
his almost Oriental love of beauty and luxury made his life of
grinding poverty peculiarly galling.

Conspicuous in her mother's salon, queen of conversationalists,
reciting verses in honour of the independence of Greece, exciting
peals of laughter by her wit and her power to draw out that of others,
was a brilliant figure--that of the beautiful Delphine Gay, who was,
in 1831, to become Madame de Girardin. She is a charming figure, a
woman with unfailing tact and a singular lack of literary jealousy, so
that all her contemporaries speak of her with affection. She made
strenuous efforts to keep the peace between Balzac and her husband,
the autocratic editor of _La Presse_; and till 1847, when the final
rupture took place, Balzac's real liking for her conquered his
resentment at what he considered unjustifiable proceedings on the part
of her husband. Once indeed there was a complete cessation of friendly
relations, and even dark hints about a duel; but usually Madame de
Girardin prevailed; and though there were many recriminations on both
sides, and several times nearly an explosion, Balzac wrote for _La
Presse_, visited her salon, and was generally on terms of politeness
with her husband. She was proud of her beautiful complexion, and had a
drawing-room hung with pale green satin to show it to the best
advantage; while, like her mother, she wrote novels, one of which she
called "La Canne de M. de Balzac," after the novelist's famous cane
adorned with turquoises.

One of the habituees of Madame Gay's salon was the Duchesse
d'Abrantes; and between her and Balzac there existed a literary
comradeship, possibly cemented by the impecunious condition which was
common to both. In 1827 she lived at Versailles; and whenever Balzac
went to see his parents, he also paid her a visit; when long talks
took place about their mutual struggles, misfortunes and hopes of
gaining money by writing. The poor woman was always in monetary
difficulties. After the fall of the Empire and the death of her
husband, whom she courageously followed throughout his campaign in
Spain, she continued to live in the same luxury that had surrounded
her during her days of splendour; and as the Bourbon Government
refused to help her, she was soon reduced to a state of destitution,
and turned to her pen to pay off her creditors. She wrote several
novels, which at this time are completely forgotten; but in 1831 she
began to bring out her Memoirs, and these give a graphic account of
the social life under the Empire, and have become a classic. These
Memoirs were first published in sixteen volumes, and it must have been
a relief to the public when a second edition, consisting of only
twelve volumes, was brought out three years later.

In 1829, the time of which we are now writing, Balzac could only
sympathise when the poor Duchess, formerly raised to great heights and
now fallen very low, felt depressed at her reverses, and took a gloomy
view of life. He would assure her that happiness could not possibly be
over for ever, and would predict a bright dawn some future day; while
as soon as he began to prosper himself, he did his best to lend her a
helping hand. He effected an introduction to Charles Rabou, so that
her articles were received by the _Revue de Paris_, and he assisted as
intermediary between her and the publishers, taking infinite trouble
on her behalf, and in the end gaining most advantageous terms for her.
No assistance, however, was of permanent use. She, who knew so much,
had never learnt to manage money, and, helped by her eldest son,
Napoleon d'Abrantes, she spent every penny she earned. On July 7th,
1838, she died in the utmost poverty in a miserable room in the Rue
des Batailles, having been turned out of the hospital, where she had
hoped to end her days in peace, because she could not pay her expenses
in advance. Balzac writes to Madame Hanska: "The papers will have told
you about the Duchesse d'Abrantes' deplorable death. She ended as the
Empire ended. Some day I will explain this woman to you; it will be a
nice evening's occupation at Wierzchownia."[*]

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

Another of Balzac's friendships, rather different in character from
those already mentioned, was that with George Sand, "his brother
George" he used to call her. He first made her acquaintance in 1831,
and would often go puffing up the stairs of the five-storied house on
the Quai Saint-Michel, at the top of which she lived. His ostensible
object was to give advice about her writing, but in reality he would
leave this comparatively uninteresting subject very quickly, and pour
out floods of talk about his own novels. "Ah, I have found something
else! You will see! You will see! A splendid idea! A situation! A
dialogue! No one has ever seen anything like it!" "It was joy,
laughter, and a superabundance of enthusiasm, of which one cannot give
any idea. And this after nights without slumber and days without
repose,"[*] remarks George Sand.

[*] "Autour de la Table," by George Sand.

There were limitations in his view of her, as he never fully realised
the scope of her genius, and looked on her as half a man, so that he
would sometimes shock her by the breadth of his conversation. After
her rupture with Jules Sandeau, whose side in the affair he espoused
vehemently, he disapproved of her for some time, and contrasted rather
contemptuously the versatility of her affairs of the heart with the
ideal of passionate, enduring love portrayed in her novels. However,
later on, when he himself had been disappointed in Sandeau, and when
the latter had further roused his indignation by writing a novel
called "Marianna," which was intended to drag George Sand's name
through the mud, Balzac defended her energetically. About the same
time (1839) he brought out his novel "Beatrix," in which she is
portrayed as Mlle. de Touches, with "the beauty of Isis, more serious
than gracious, and as if struck with the sadness of constant
meditation." Her eyes, according to Balzac, were her great beauty, and
all her expression was in them, otherwise her face was stupid; but
with her splendid black hair and her complexion--olive by day and
white in artificial light--she must have been a striking and
picturesque figure. Later on Balzac appears to have partly reconciled
himself to her moral irregularities, on the convenient ground that
she, like himself, was an exceptional being; and we hear of several
visits he paid to Nohant, where he delighted in long hours of talk on
social questions with a comrade to whom he need not show the
_galanteries d'epiderme_ necessary in intercourse with ordinary women.
He says of her: "She had no littleness of soul, and none of those low
jealousies which obscure so much contemporary talent. Dumas is like
her on this point. George Sand is a very noble friend."[*]

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

This is all anticipation; we must now go back to 1828 and 1829, and
picture Balzac's existence first in the Rue de Tournon and then in one
room at the Rue Cassini. Insufficiently clad and wretchedly fed, he
occasionally went to evening parties to collect material for his
writing; at other times he visited some sympathising friend, and
poured out his troubles to her; but he had only one real support--the
sympathy and affection of Madame de Berny. It was a frightfully hard
life. He took coffee to keep himself awake, and he wrote and wrote
till he was exhausted; all the time being in the condition of a
"tracked hare," harassed and pursued by his creditors, and knowing
that all his gains must go to them.

His only relaxations were little visits. He went to Tours, where he
danced at a ball with a girl with red hair, and with another so little
"that a man would only marry her that she might act as a pin for his
shirt."[*] He travelled to Sache, to see M. de Margonne; to
Champrosay, where he met his sister; and to Fougeres in Brittany, at
the invitation of the Baron de Pommereul. During the last-named visit,
as we have already seen, he not only collected the material, but also
wrote the greater part of his novel "Les Chouans," which proved the
turning-point of his career.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 82.

This novel, the first signed with his name, Honore Balzac, was
published by Canel and Levavasseur in March, 1829, and in December of
the same year the "Physiologie du Mariage by a Celibataire," appeared,
and excited general attention; though many people, Madame Carraud
among the number, were much shocked by it. Each of these books brought
in about fifty pounds--not a large sum, especially when we think that
Balzac must at this time have owed about two thousand pounds; but he
had now his foot upon the first rung of the ladder of fame, and
editors and publishers began to apply to him for novels and articles.

It is a curious fact that Balzac, who answered a question put to him
during his lawsuit against the _Revue de Paris_ on the subject of his
right to the prefix "de," with the rather grandiloquent words, "My
name is on my certificate of birth, as that of the Duke of Fitz-James
is on his,"[*] should on the title-page of "Les Chouans" have called
himself simply M. H. Balzac, and on that of the "Scenes de la Vie
Privee," which appeared in April, 1830, M. Balzac, still without the
"de." In 1826 he gives his designation and title as "H. Balzac,
imprimeur, Rue des Marais, St.-Germain, 31," and we have already seen
that he was entered on the school register as Honore Balzac, and that
his parents at that time called themselves M. and Mme. Balzac.
Occasionally, however, as early as 1822, in letters to his sister
Honore insists on the particle "de," and all his life he claimed to be
a member of a very old Gaulish family--a pretension which gave his
enemies a famous opportunity for deriding him.

[*] First Preface to the "Lys dans la Vallee," p 482, vol. xxii. of
    "Oeuvres Completes de H. de Balzac," Edition definitive.

In 1836, during his lawsuit with the _Revue de Paris_, he certainly
spoke on the subject with no doubtful voice:

"Even if my name sounds too well in certain ears, even if it is envied
by those who are not pleased with their own, I cannot give it up. My
father was quite within his rights on this subject, having consulted
the records in the Archive Office. He was proud of being one of the
conquered race, of a family which in Auvergne had resisted the
invasion, and from which the D'Entragues took their origin. He
discovered in the Archive Office the notice of a grant of land made by
the Balzacs to establish a monastery in the environs of the little
town of Balzac, and a copy of this was, he told me, registered by his
care at the Parliament of Paris."[*]

[*] See First Preface to the "Lys dans la Vallee."

Balzac continues for some time in this strain, giving his enemies a
fresh handle for ridicule. After the loss of the lawsuit, the _Revue
de Paris_, raging with indignation, answered him with "Un dernier mot
a M. de Balzac," an article which the writer, after a reflection full
of venom, must have dashed off with set teeth and a sardonic smile,
and in which there is a most scathing paragraph on the vexed question
of the "de":

"He [Balzac] tells us that he _is of an old Gaulish family_ (You
understand, 'Gaulish'--one of Charlemagne's peers! A French family,
what is that? Gaulish!) It is not his own fault, poor man! Further, M.
de Balzac will prove to you that the Bourbons and the Montmorencies
and other French gentlemen must lower their armorial bearings before
him, who is a Gaul, and more--a Gaul of an old family! In fact, this
name 'De Balzac' is a patronymic name (patronymically ridiculous and
Gaulish). He has always been De Balzac, only that! while the
Montmorencies--those unfortunate Montmorencies--were formerly called
Bouchard; and the Bourbons--a secondary family who are neither
patronymic nor Gaulish (of old Gaulish family is of course understood)
were called Capet. M. de Balzac is therefore more noble than the

Towards the end, rage renders the talented writer slightly incoherent,
and we can imagine a blotted and illegible manuscript; but the
question raised is an interesting one, and Balzac attached great
importance to it. A favourite form of spite with his enemies was to
adopt the same measures as did this writer, who, except in the title,
calls him throughout "M. Balzac," a form of insult which possessed the
double advantage of imposing no strain on the mind of the attacking
party, and yet of hitting the victim on a peculiarly tender spot.

Balzac's statement that he was entered "De Balzac" on the register of
his birth is on the face of it untrue, as he was born on the 2nd
Prairial of the year VII., a time when all titles were proscribed; so
that the omission of the "de" means nothing, while his contention that
he dropped the "de" in 1826, because he would not soil his noble name
by associating it with trade, might very easily be correct.
Unfortunately, however, for Balzac's argument, when old M. Balzac
died, on June 19th, 1829, he was described in the register as Bernard
Francois Balzac, without the "de." He does not even seem to have stood
on his rights during his lifetime, as in 1826, after the death of
Laurence, who had become Madame de Montzaigle--it must have been a
satisfaction to the Balzac family to have one indisputable "de" among
them--cards were sent out in the names of M. and Madame Balzac, M. and
Madame Surville, and MM. Honore and Henri Balzac.

Still, it might be possible for us to maintain, if it so pleased us,
that, in spite of certain evidence to the contrary, the Balzacs were
simple, unpretentious people, who, having dropped the "de" at the time
of the Revolution, did not care to resume it; but here M. Edmond Bire,
who furnishes us with the information already given, completely cuts
the ground away from under our feet. It appears that M. Charles
Portal, the well-known antiquary, has in his researches discovered the
birth register of old M. Balzac. He was born on July 22nd, 1746, at La
Nougarie, in the parish of Saint-Martin de Canezac, and is described
in this document, not as Balzac at all, but as Bernard Francois
Balssa, the son of a labourer! At what date he took the name of
Balzac, and whether his celebrated son knew of the harmless deception,
we do not know; but possibly his change of name was another of the
little reserves which the clever old gentleman thought it necessary to
maintain about his past life, and Honore really considered himself a
member of an old family.

At any rate, as M. Bire says, he certainly earned by his pen the right
to nobility, and in this account of him he will be known by his usual
appellation of "De Balzac."

                              CHAPTER VI

                             1829 - 1832

  Work and increasing fame--Emile de Girardin--Balzac's early
  relations with the _Revue de Paris_ and quarrel with Amedee
  Pinchot--First letters from Madame Hanska and the Marquise de
  Castries--Balzac's extraordinary mode of writing--Burlesque
  account of it from the _Figaro_.

The record of the next few years of Balzac's life is a difficult one,
so many and varied were the interests crowded into them, so short the
hours of sleep, and so long the nights of work, followed without rest
by an eight hours' day of continual rush. Visits to printers,
publishers, and editors, worrying interviews with creditors, and
letters on business, politics, and literature, followed each other in
bewilderingly quick succession, and the only respite was to be found
in occasional talks with such friends as Madame de Berny, Madame
Carraud, or the Duchesse d'Abrantes.

Success was arriving. But success with Balzac never meant leisure, or
relief from a heavy burden of debt; it merely gave scope for enormous
prodigies of labour. His passion for work amounted to a disease; and
who can measure the gamut of emotion, ranging from rapture down to
straining effort, which was gone through in those silent hours of
darkness, when the man, the best part of whom lived only in solitude
and night, sat in his monk's habit, before a writing-table littered
with papers? Then, impelled by the genius of creation, he would allow
his imagination full sway, and would turn to account the material
collected by his keen powers of observation and his unparalleled
intuition. It was strenuous labour, with the attendant joy of calling
every faculty, including the highest of all--that of creation--into
activity, and the hours no doubt often passed like moments. But the
fierce battling with expression, the effort to tax super-abundant
powers to the utmost, left their mark; and in the morning Balzac would
drag himself to the printer or publisher, with his hair in disorder,
his lips dry, and his forehead lined.

Jules Sandeau, who had been taken by Balzac to live with him, and who
remarked that he would rather die than work as he did, says that
sometimes, when the passion and inspiration for writing were strong on
him, he would shut himself up for three weeks in his closely curtained
room, never breathing the outside air or knowing night from day. When
utterly exhausted, he would throw himself on his pallet-bed for a few
hours, and slumber heavily and feverishly; and when he could fast no
longer, he would call for a meal, which must, however, be scanty,
because digestion would divert the blood from his brain. Otherwise,
hour after hour, he sat before his square table, and concentrated his
powerful mind on his work, utterly oblivious of the fact that there
was anything in the world save the elbowing, crushing throng of
phantom--yet to him absolutely real--personages, whom he took into his
being, and in whose life he lived. For the time he felt with their
feelings, saw with their eyes, became possessed by them, as the great
actor becomes possessed by the personality he represents. "C'etait un
voyant, non un observateur," as Philarete Chasles said with truth.

In 1829 Balzac was introduced by the publisher M. Levavasseur to Emile
de Girardin, who became--and the connection was life-long--what Mme.
de Girardin called La Touche,--an "intimate enemy." At first all was
harmony. Emile de Girardin's letters, beginning in 1830 with "Mon
tres-cher Monsieur," are addressed in 1831 to "Mon cher Balzac"; but
it is doubtful whether the finish of one written in October, 1830, and
ending with "Amitie d'ambition!!!"[*] is exactly flattering to the
recipient--it savours rather strongly of what is termed in vulgar
parlance "cupboard love." However, Girardin was the first to recognise
the great writer's talents, and at the end of 1829, or the beginning
of 1830, after having inserted an article by Balzac in _La Mode_, of
which he was editor, he invited his collaboration, as well as that of
Victor Varaigne, Hippolyte Auger, and Bois le Comte, in forming a
bibliographical supplement to the daily papers, which was to be
entitled "Le feuilleton des journaux politiques." This was a failure,
but Balzac was associated with Emile de Girardin in several other
literary enterprises; and it was through the agency of this energetic
editor that he wrote his letters on Paris in the _Voleur_, which,
extending from September 26th, 1830, to March 29th, 1831, would form a
volume in themselves. After the Revolution of 1830 stories went out of
fashion, the reviews and magazines being completely occupied with the
task of discussing the political situation; and Balzac wrote
numberless articles in the _Silhouette_, which was edited by Victor
Ratier, and in the _Caricature_, edited by M. Philippon. A few years
later, the latter journal became violently political; but at this time
it consisted merely of witty and amusing articles, ridiculing all
parties impartially.

[*] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," p. 105, by the Vicomte de
    Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

With Victor Ratier, Balzac contemplated a partnership in writing for
the theatre, though he thought Ratier hardly sufficiently industrious
to make a satisfactory collaborator. However, he threatened him in
case of laziness with a poor and honest young man as a rival, and, to
rouse Ratier to energy, remarked that the unnamed prodigy was, like
himself, full of courage, whereas Ratier resembled "an Indian on his
mat."[*] Balzac's imaginative brain was to supply the plot and
characters of each drama; but he was careful, as in the case of his
early novels, that his name should not appear, as the plays were to be
mere vaudevilles written to gain money, and would certainly not
increase their author's reputation. Ratier was therefore to pose as
their sole author, and was to undertake the actual writing of the
play, unless he were too lazy for the effort, when the honest and
unfortunate young man would take his place. The pecuniary part of the
bargain was not mentioned, except the fact that both partners would
become enormously rich; and that result is so invariable a
characteristic of Balzac's schemes that it need hardly be noticed.
However, this brilliant plan came to nothing, not, as we may suppose,
from any failure on the part of the indolent Ratier--as there was in
this case his unnamed rival to fall back upon--but most probably
because its promoter had not a moment's leisure in which to think of
it again.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 115.

Towards the end of 1830 he began to write for the _Revue de Paris_, a
journal with which his relations, generally inharmonious, culminated
in the celebrated lawsuit of 1836. The review was at this time the
property of a company; and the sole object of the shareholders being
to obtain large dividends, they adopted the short-sighted policy of
cutting down their payment to authors, a course which led to continual
recriminations, and naturally made the office of chief editor very
difficult. When Balzac first wrote for the review, Charles Rabou held
this post, following Dr. Veron; but he resigned in a few months, and
was succeeded in his turn by Amedee Pichot. With him Balzac waged
continual war, finally dealing a heavy blow to the review by deserting
it altogether in 1833.

The cause of the dispute, in the first instance, was one which often
reappears in the history of Balzac's relations with different editors.
Being happily possessed of devoted friends, who allowed him complete
freedom while he stayed with them, he found it easier to write in the
quiet of the country than amidst the worries and distractions of
Paris. In 1830, after travelling in Brittany, he spent four months,
from July to November, at La Grenadiere, that pretty little house near
to Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, which he coveted continually, but never
succeeded in acquiring. In 1834 he thought the arrangements for its
purchase were at last settled. After three years of continual
refusals, the owners had consented to sell, and he already imagined
himself surrounded with books, and established for six months at a
time at this studious retreat. However, pecuniary difficulties came as
usual in the way, and except as a visitor, Balzac never tasted the
joys of a country life.

From La Grenadiere he wrote a remarkable letter to Ratier,[*] full of
love for the beauty of nature, a feeling which filled him with a sense
of the littleness of man, and expressing also that uncomfortable doubt
which must occasionally assail the mind of any man possessed of
powerful physique as well as imagination--the doubt whether the
existence of the thinker is not after all a poor thing compared with
that of the active worker, who is tossed about, risks his life, and
himself creates a living drama. He finishes with the words: "And it
seems to me that the sea, a man-of-war, and an English boat to
destroy, with a chance of drowning, are better than an inkpot, and a
pen, and the Rue Saint-Denis."

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p 98.

In May, 1831, Balzac was again away from Paris, this time taking up
his abode in Nemours, where he describes himself as living alone in a
tent in the depths of the earth, subsisting on coffee, and working day
and night at "La Peau de Chagrin," with "L'Auberge Rouge," which he
was writing for the _Revue de Paris_, as his only distraction.

These absences did not apparently cause any friction; but when, in
November, 1831, Balzac went to Sache to stay with M. de Margonne, and
then moved on to the Carrauds, he left "Le Maitre Cornelius," which he
was writing for the _Revue de Paris_, in an unfinished and uncorrected
condition. Thereupon, Amedee Pichot, who naturally wanted consecutive
numbers of the story for his magazine, committed what was in Balzac's
eyes an unpardonable breach of trust, by publishing the uncorrected
proofs, leaving out or altering what he did not understand. Balzac was
furious at his signature being appended to what he considered
unfinished work. Amedee Pichot was also very angry, because Balzac had
unduly lengthened the first part of the story, and had kept him two
months waiting for the finish. Therefore, as diligence was the only
mode of transit, and it was necessary that "Le Maitre Cornelius"
should end with the year, it was impossible to send the proofs before
printing for correction to Angouleme. Nevertheless, as he had
undoubtedly exceeded his rights as editor, he thought it wise to
temporise, and wrote an explanatory and conciliatory letter; and as
this did not pacify Balzac, he dispatched a second of similar tenor.
However, a few days later, on January 9th, 1832, he felt compelled by
the tone of Balzac's correspondence to send a third beginning: "Sir, I
find from the tone of your letter that I am guilty of doing you a
great wrong. I have treated on an equality and as a comrade a superior
person, whom I should have been contented to admire. I therefore beg
your pardon humbly for the 'My dear Balzac' of my preceding letters. I
will preserve the distance of 'Monsieur' between you and me."[*]

[*] "Une Page Perdue de Honore de Balzac," by the Vicomte de
    Spoelberch de Lovenjoul; from which the whole account of the
    dispute between Balzac and Pichot is taken.

However, Balzac was furious. His respect for his own name and his
intense literary conscientiousness were stronger even than his desire
for money, and it was a very black crime in his eyes for any one to
produce one of his works before the public until it had been brought
to the highest possible pitch of perfection. This intense anxiety to
do his best, which caused him the most painstaking labour, often
pressed very hardly on managers of magazines. He was generally paid in
advance, so that his money was safe; and though he could be absolutely
trusted to finish sooner or later what he had undertaken, he showed a
lofty indifference to the exigencies of monthly publication. Moreover,
as is shown in the evidence given later on during his lawsuit with the
_Revue de Paris_, he would sometimes, in his haste for money, accept
new engagements when he already had a plethora of work in hand.
Nevertheless, whatever the failures to fulfil a contract on his part
might be, he was implacable towards those who did not rightly
discharge their obligations to him; and Pichot was never forgiven. In
September, 1832, after endless disputes about the rate and terms of
payment, the most fertile source of recriminations between Balzac and
his various publishers and editors, a formal treaty was drawn up
between the great writer, who was at Sache, and Amedee Pichot, as
director of the _Revue de Paris_. By this, with the option of breaking
the connection after six months, Balzac undertook to write for the
_Revue_ for a year, being still entitled during that time to furnish
articles to the _Renovateur_, the _Journal Quotidienne Politique_, and
_L'Artiste_. In spite of this legal document, there were many disputed
points; and the letters which passed between the two men, and which
now began with the formal "Monsieur," were full of bickerings about
money matters, about Balzac's delay in furnishing copy, and about the
length of his contributions. On one occasion Pichot is severe in his
rebukes, because Balzac has prevented the Duchesse d'Abrantes from
providing a promised article, by telling her that his own writing will
fill two whole numbers of the _Revue_. On another, it is curious to
find that Balzac, who was rather ashamed of the immoral reputation of
his works, thanks M. Pichot quite humbly for suppressing a passage in
the "Voyage de Paris a Java," which the director considered unfit for
family perusal, and excuses himself on the subject with the naive
explanation that he was at the same time writing the "Contes
Drolatiques"![*] Finally, in March, 1833, after six months of the
treaty had expired, Balzac withdrew altogether from the _Revue de
Paris_. He gave no explicit explanation for this step; but in 1836, at
the time of his lawsuit with the _Revue de Paris_, he stated as the
reason for his desertion that he considered Pichot to be the author,
under different pseudonyms, of the adverse criticism of his novels
which appeared in its pages. In the _Revue_ he had, among other
novels, brought out the beginning of "L'Histoire des Treize," and the
parsimonious shareholders now had the mortification of seeing the
great man carry his wares to _L'Europe Litteraire_; while the _Revue
de Paris_, in consequence of his desertion, declined in popularity.

[*] "Autour de Honore de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de

Balzac was now fairly launched on the road of literary fame, and some
of his writings at this time had a momentous influence on his life. In
April, 1830, Madame Hanska, his future wife, read with delight, in her
far-off chateau in Ukraine, the "Scenes de la Vie Privee," containing
the "Vendetta," "Les Dangers de l'Inconduite," "Le Bal de Sceaux, ou
Le Pair de France," "Gloire et Malheur," "La Femme Vertueuse" and "La
Paix de Menage"--two volumes which Balzac had published as quickly as
he could, to counteract the alienation of his women-readers by the
"Physiologie du Mariage." In August, 1831, appeared "La Peau de
Chagrin," which so disappointed Madame Hanska by its cynical tone,
that she was impelled to write the first letter from L'Etrangere,
which reached Balzac on February 28th, 1832, a date never to be
forgotten in the annals of his life. He was not, however, very exact
in remembering it himself, and in later life sometimes became confused
in his calculations between the number of years since he had received
this letter, and the time which had elapsed since he first had the joy
of meeting her. "La Peau de Chagrin" greatly increased Balzac's fame,
and in October, 1831, another anonymous correspondent, Madame la
Marquise de Castries, also destined to exercise a strong, though
perhaps transitory, influence over Balzac, had written to deprecate
its moral tone, as well as that of the "Physiologie du Mariage."
Balzac answered her that "La Peau de Chagrin" was only intended to be
part of a whole, and must not be judged alone; and the same idea is
enlarged upon in a letter to the Comte de Montalembert,[*] written in
August, 1831, which shows Balzac's extreme anxiety not to dissociate
his writings from the cause of religion. In it he explains, with much
insistence, that, in site of the apparent scepticism of "La Peau de
Chagrin," the idea of God is really the mainspring of the whole book,
and on these grounds he begs for a review in _L'Avenir_. The letter
also contains an announcement which is interesting as a proof that two
years before the date given by his sister, the idea of his great
systematic work was already formulated, and that in his imagination it
had assumed colossal proportions. He says: "'La Peau de Chagrin' is
the formula of human life, an abstraction made from individualities,
and, as M. Ballanche says, everything in it is myth and allegory. It
is therefore the point of departure for my work. Afterwards
individualities and particular existences, from the most humble to
those of the King and of the Priest, the highest expressions of our
society, will group themselves according to their rank. In these
pictures I shall follow the effect of Thought on Life. Then another
work, entitled 'History of the Succession of the Marquis of Carabas,'
will formulate the life of nations, the phases of their governments,
and will show decidedly that politics turn in one circle, and are
evidently stationary; and that repose can only be found in the strong
government of a hierarchy."

[*] Letters sent by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul to the
    _Revue Bleue_, November 14th, 1903.

The "Peau de Chagrin," which is a powerful satire on the vice and
selfishness of the day, suffers in its allegorical, though not in its
humanly interesting side, by the vivid picture it gives of Balzac's
youth; as, in spite of the introduction of the influence of the magic
Ass Skin, the account of Raphael in the early part of the book, as the
frugal, determined genius with high intellectual aspirations, does not
harmonise with his weak, despicable character as it unfolds itself
subsequently. The critics exercised their minds greatly about the
identity of the heroines, the beautiful and heartless Fedora--in whom
apparently many ladies recognised their own portrait--and the humble
and exquisite Pauline, type of devoted and self-forgetting love.
Mademoiselle Pelissier, who possessed an income of twenty-five
thousand francs, and had a house in the Rue Neuve-du-Luxembourg, where
she held a salon much frequented by political personalities of the
day, was identified by popular gossip as the model of Fedora. It was
said by Parisian society that Balzac was anxious to marry her, but
that the lady, who afterwards became Madame Rossini, refused to listen
to his suit, though she confessed to a great admiration for his
fascinating black eyes.

The original of Pauline has never been discovered, but, possibly with
a few traits borrowed from Madame de Berny, she is what Balzac
describes in the last pages of "La Peau de Chagrin" as an "ideal, as a
visionary face in the fire, a face with unimaginable delicate
outlines, a floating apparition, which no chance will ever bring back

Since the year 1830 Balzac had lodged in the Rue Cassini, a little,
unfrequented street near the Observatory, with a wall running along
one side, on which was written "L'Absolu, marchand de briques," a name
which Theophile Gautier fancies may have suggested to him the title of
his novel "La Recherche de l'Absolu." Borget, Balzac's great friend
and confidant, had rooms in the same house; and later on, when Borget
was on one of his frequent journeys, these rooms were occupied by
Jules Sandeau, after his parting with George Sand. In despair at her
desertion, he tried to commit suicide; and Balzac, touched with pity
at his forlorn condition, proposed that he should come to Borget's
rooms, and took complete and kindly charge of him--a generosity which
Sandeau, after having lived at Balzac's expense for two years, repaid
in 1836, by deserting his benefactor when he was in difficulties.

Balzac was now in the full swing of work. He writes to the Duchesse
d'Abrantes in 1831:[*] "Write, I cannot! The fatigue is too great. You
do not know that I owed in 1828, above what I possessed. I had only my
pen with which to earn my living, and to pay a hundred and twenty
thousand francs. In several months I shall have paid everything, and I
shall have arranged my poor little household; but for six months I
have all the troubles of poverty, I enjoy my last miseries. I have
begged from nobody, I have not held out my hand for a penny; I have
hidden my sorrows, and my wounds."

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 131.

Poor Balzac! over and over again we hear the same story about the
beautiful time in the future, which he saw coming nearer and nearer,
but which always evaded his grasp at the last. Very often, when he
appears grasping and dictatorial in his business dealings, we may
trace his want of urbanity to some pressing pecuniary anxiety, which
he was too proud to reveal. No doubt these difficulties often sprang
from his extraordinary want of reflection and prudence, as his desire
to make a dashing appearance before the world led him frequently into
the most senseless extravagance. For instance, when he went out of
Paris in June, 1832, intending to travel for several months, he left
behind him two horses with nothing to do, but naturally requiring a
groom, food, and stabling; and it was not till the end of July that,
on his mother's recommendation, he sent orders that they were to be
sold. His money affairs are so complicated, and his own accounts of
them so conflicting, that it is impossible to understand them
thoroughly. Apparently, however, from 1827 to 1836 he could not
support himself and satisfy his creditors without drawing bills. These
he often could not meet, and had to renew; and the accumulated
interest on these obligations formed a floating debt, which was from
time to time increased by some new extravagance.

In his vain struggles to escape, he worked as surely no man has ever
worked before or since. In 1830 he brought out about seventy, and in
1831 about seventy-five publications, including novels, and articles
serious and satirical, on politics and general topics; and in twelve
years, from 1830 to 1842, he wrote seventy-nine novels alone, not
counting his shorter compositions. Werdet, who became his publisher in
1834, gives a curious account of his doings; and this may, with slight
modifications, be accepted as a picture of his usual mode of life when
in the full swing of composition.

He usually went to bed at eight o'clock, after a light dinner,
accompanied by a glass or two of Vouvray, his favourite wine; and he
was seated at his desk by two o'clock in the morning. He wrote from
that time till six, only occasionally refreshing himself with coffee
from a coffee-pot which was permanently in the fireplace. At six he
had his bath, in which he remained for an hour, and his servant
afterwards brought him more coffee. Werdet was then admitted to bring
proofs, take away the corrected ones, and wrest, if possible, fresh
manuscript from him. From nine he wrote till noon, when he breakfasted
on two boiled eggs and some bread, and from one till six the labour of
correction went on again. This unnatural life lasted for six weeks or
two months, during which time he refused to see even his most intimate
friends; and then he plunged again into the ordinary affairs of life,
or mysteriously and suddenly disappeared--to be next heard of in some
distant part of France, or perhaps in Corsica, Sardinia, or Italy. It
is not surprising that even in these early days, and in spite of
Balzac's exuberant vitality, there are frequent mentions of terrible
fatigue and lassitude, and that the services of his lifelong friend,
Dr. Nacquart, were often in requisition, though his warnings about the
dangers of overwork were generally unheeded.

Even with Balzac's extraordinary power of work, the number of his
writings is remarkable, when we consider the labour their composition
cost him. Sometimes, according to Theophile Gautier, he bestowed a
whole night's labour on one phrase, and wrote it over and over again a
hundred times, the exact words that he wanted only coming to him after
he had exhausted all the possible approximate forms. When he intended
to begin a novel, and had thought of and lived in a subject for some
time, he wrote a plan of his proposed work in several pages, and
dispatched this to the printer, who separated the different headings,
and sent them back, each on a large sheet of blank paper. Balzac read
these headings attentively, and applied to them his critical faculty.
Some he rejected altogether, others he corrected, but everywhere he
made additions. Lines were drawn from the beginning, the middle, and
the end of each sentence towards the margin of the paper; each line
leading to an interpolation, a development, an added epithet or an
adverb. At the end of several hours the sheet of paper looked like a
plan of fireworks, and later on the confusion was further complicated
by signs of all sorts crossing the lines, while scraps of paper
covered with amplifications were pinned or stuck with sealing-wax to
the margin. This sheet of hieroglyphics was sent to the
printing-office, and was the despair of the typographers; who, as
Balzac overheard, stipulated for only an hour each in turn at the
correction of his proofs. Next day the amplified placards came back,
and Balzac added further details, and laboured to fit the expression
exactly to the idea, and to attain perfection of outline and symmetry
of proportion. Sometimes one episode dwarfed the rest, or a secondary
figure usurped the central position on his canvas, and then he would
heroically efface the results of four or five nights' labour. Six,
seven, even ten times, were the proofs sent backwards and forwards,
before the great writer was satisfied.

In the _Figaro_ of December 15th, 1837, Edouard Ourliac gives a
burlesque account of the confusion caused in the printing-offices by
Balzac's peculiar methods of composition. This is an extract from the

"Let us sing, drink and embrace, like the chorus of an _opera
comique_. Let us stretch our calves, and turn on our toes like
ballet-dancers. Let us at last rejoice: the _Figaro_, without getting
the credit of it, has overcome the elements and all sublunary

"Hercules is only a rascal, the apples of Hesperides only turnips, the
siege of Troy but a revolt of the national guard. The _Figaro_ has
just conquered 'Cesar Birotteau'!

"Never have the angry gods, never have Juno, Neptune, M. de Rambuteau,
or the Prefect of Police, opposed to Jason, Theseus, or walkers in
Paris, more obstacles, monsters, ruins, dragons, demolitions, than
these two unfortunate octavos have fought against.

"We have them at last, and we know what they have cost. The public
will only have the trouble of reading them. That will be a pleasure.
As to M. de Balzac--twenty days' work, two handfuls of paper, one more
beautiful book: that counts for nothing.

"However it may be, it is a typographical exploit, a literary and
industrial _tour de force_ worthy to be remembered. Writer, editor,
and printer have deserved more or less from their country. Posterity
will talk of the compositors, and our descendants will regret that
they do not know the names of the apprentices. I already, like them,
regret it; otherwise I would mention them.

"The _Figaro_ had promised the book on December 15th, and M. de Balzac
began it on November 17th. M. de Balzac and the _Figaro_ both have the
strange habit of keeping their word. The printing-office was ready,
and stamping its foot like a restive charger.

"M. de Balzac sends two hundred pages pencilled in five nights of
fever. One knows his way. It was a sketch, a chaos, an apocalypse, a
Hindoo poem.

"The printing-office paled. The delay is short, the writing unheard
of. They transform the monster; they translate it as much as possible
into known signs. The cleverest still understand nothing. They take it
to the author.

"The author sends back the first proofs, glued on to enormous pages,
posters, screens. It is now that you may shiver and feel pity. The
appearance of these sheets is monstrous. From each sign, from each
printed word, go pen lines, which radiate and meander like a Congreve
rocket, and spread themselves out at the margin in a luminous rain of
phrases, epithets, and substantives, underlined, crossed, mixed,
erased, superposed: the effect is dazzling.

"Imagine four or five hundred arabesques of this sort, interlaced,
knotted, climbing and sliding from one margin to another, and from the
south to the north. Imagine twelve maps on the top of each other,
entangling towns, rivers, and mountains--a skein tangled by a cat, all
the hieroglyphics of the dynasty of Pharaoh, or the fireworks of
twenty festivities.

"At this sight the printing-office does not rejoice. The compositors
strike their breasts, the printing-presses groan, the foremen tear
their hair, their apprentices lose their heads. The most intelligent
attack the proofs, and recognise Persian, others Malagash, some the
symbolic characters of Vishnu. They work by chance and by the grace of

"Next day M. de Balzac returns two pages of pure Chinese. The delay is
only fifteen days. A generous foreman offers to blow out his brains.

"Two new sheets arrive, written very legibly in Siamese. Two workmen
lose their sight and the small command of language they possessed.

"The proofs are thus sent backwards and forwards seven times.

"Several symptoms of excellent French begin to be recognised, even
some connection between the phrases is observed."

So the article proceeds; always in a tone of comic good-temper, but
pointing to a very real grievance and point of dispute; and helping
the reader to realise the long friction which went on, and finally
resulted in the unanimity with which publishers and editors turned
against Balzac after his famous lawsuit, and showed a vindictive hate
which at first sight is surprising. However, in this case the matter
ends happily, as the article closes with:

"It ['Cesar Birotteau'] is now merely a work in two volumes, an
immense picture, a whole poem, composed, written, and corrected
fifteen times in the same number of days--composed in twenty days by
M. de Balzac in spite of the printer's office, composed in twenty days
by the printer's office in spite of M. de Balzac.

"It is true that at the same time M. de Balzac was employing forty
printers at another printing-office. We do not examine here the value
of the book. It was made marvellously and marvellously quickly.
Whatever it is, it can only be a _chef d'oeuvre_!"

                             CHAPTER VII


  Crisis in Balzac's private life--"Contes Drolatiques"--Madame
  Hanska's life before she met Balzac--Description of her appearance
  --"Louis Lambert"--Disinterested conduct on the part of Madame de
  Berny--Relations between Balzac and his mother--Balzac and the
  Marquise de Castries--His despair.

The year 1832 was a crisis and a turning-point in the history of
Balzac's private life.

Old relations changed their aspect; he received a terrible and
mortifying wound to his heart and to his vanity; and while he
staggered under this blow, a new interest, not in the beginning
absorbing, but destined in time to engulf all others, crept at first
almost unnoticed into his life.

He was now thirty-three years old; it was time that he should perform
the duty of a French citizen and should settle down and marry; and as
a preliminary, it seemed necessary that Madame de Berny should no
longer continue to occupy her predominant place in his life. She was,
as we know twenty-two years older than he, and was a woman capable not
only of romantic attachment, but also of the most disinterested
conduct where her affections were concerned. She saw clearly that,
having formed Balzac, helped him practically, taught him, given him
useful introductions--in short, made him--the time had now come when
it would be for his good that she should retire partially into the
background; and she had the courage to conceive, and the power to
make, the sacrifice. He, on his side, felt the idea of the proposed
separation keenly, and never forgot all his life what he owed to the
"dilecta," or ceased to feel a deep and faithful affection for her.
Still, for him there were compensations, which did not exist for the
woman who was growing old. He was famous, on the way to attain his
goal; and he was regarded as the champion of misunderstood and misused
women. Therefore, as the species has always been a large one, letters
poured in upon him from all parts of Europe--England being the
exception--letters telling him how exactly he had gauged the
circumstances, sentiments, and misfortunes of his unknown
correspondents, asking his advice, expressing intense admiration for
his writings, and pouring out the inmost feelings and experiences of
the writers. The position was intoxicating for the man who, a few
years before, had been unknown and disregarded; and the fact that
Balzac never forgot his old friendships in the excitement of the
adulation lavished upon him, is a proof that his own belief in the
real steadfastness of his character was not mistaken.

Among these unknown correspondents, there were two who specially
interested him. One of these was the Marquise de Castries, who, though
rather under a cloud at this time, was one of the most aristocratic
stars of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, and sister-in-law to the Duc de
Fitz-James, with whom Balzac was already connected in several literary

As we have already seen, she wrote anonymously towards the end of
September, 1831 to complain of the moral tone of the "Physiologie du
Mariage" and of "La Peau de Chagrin." In Balzac's reply, which was
despatched on February 28th, 1832, he thanked her for the proof of
confidence she had shown in making herself known to him, and in
wishing for his acquaintance; and said that he looked forward to many
hours spent in her society, hours during which he would not need to
pose as an artist or literary man, but could simply be himself.[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i., p. 141.

Separated from her husband, and a most accomplished coquette, the
Marquise was recovering from a serious love-affair, when she summoned
Balzac to afford her amusement and distraction. Delicate and fragile,
her face was rather too long for perfect beauty, but there was
something spiritual and slender about it, which recalled the faces of
the Middle Ages. Her health had been shattered by a hunting accident,
and her expression was habitually one of smiling melancholy and of
hidden suffering. Her beautiful Venetian red hair grew above a high
white forehead; and in addition to the attractiveness of her elegant
_svelte_ figure, she possessed in the highest degree the all-powerful
seductive influence which we call "charm."

Reclining gracefully in a long chair, she received her intimates in a
small simple drawing-room furnished in old-fashioned style, with
cushions of ancient velvet and eighteenth-century screens--a room
instinct with the aristocratic aroma of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
There Balzac went eagerly during the spring of 1832, and imbibed the
strange old-world atmosphere of the exclusive Faubourg, of which he
has given a masterly picture in the "Duchesse de Langeais." In this he
shows that by reason of its selfishness, its divisions, and want of
patriotism and large-mindedness, the Faubourg Saint-Germain had
abrogated the proud position it might have held, and was now an
obsolete institution, aloof and cornered, wasting its powers on
frivolity and the worship of etiquette. At first, gratified vanity at
his selection as an intimate by so great a lady, and pleasure at the
opportunity given him for the study of what was separated from the
ordinary world by an impassable barrier, were Balzac's chief
inducements for frequent visits to the Rue de Varenne. Gradually,
however, the caressing tones of Madame de Castries' voice, the quiet
grace of her language, and her infinite variety, found their way to
his heart, and he fell madly in love.

Speaking of her afterwards in the "Duchesse de Langeais," which was
written in the utmost bitterness, when he had been, according to his
own view, led on, played with and deceived by the fascinating
Marquise, Balzac describes her thus: She was "eminently a woman, and
essentially a coquette, Parisian to the core, loving the brilliancy of
the world and its amusements, reflecting not at all, or reflecting too
late; of a natural imprudence which rose at times almost to poetic
heights, deliciously insolent, yet humble in the depths of her heart,
asserting strength like a reed erect, but, like the reed, ready to
bend beneath a firm hand; talking much of religion, not loving it, and
yet prepared to accept it as a possible finality."

In the same book are several interesting remarks about Armand de
Montriveau, the lover of the Duchesse de Langeais, who is, in many
points, Balzac under another name. On one page we read: "He seemed to
have reached some crisis in his life, but all took place within his
own breast, and he confided nothing to the world without." In another
place is a description of Montriveau's appearance. "His head, which
was large and square, had the characteristic trait of an abundant mass
of black hair, which surrounded his face in a way that recalled
General Kleber, whom indeed he also resembled in the vigour of his
bearing, the shape of his face, the tranquil courage of his eye, and
the expression of inward ardour which shone out through his strong
features. He was of medium height, broad in the chest, and muscular as
a lion. When he walked, his carriage, his step, his least gesture,
bespoke a consciousness of power which was imposing; there was
something even despotic about it. He seemed aware that nothing could
oppose his will; possibly because he willed only that which was right.
Nevertheless, he was, like all really strong men, gentle in speech,
simple in manner, and naturally kind." Certainly Balzac, as usual, did
not err on the side of modesty!

Curiously enough, the very day--February 28th, 1832--on which Balzac
wrote to accept the offer of the Marquise de Castries' friendship, was
the day that the first letter from L'Etrangere reached him. At first
sight there was nothing to distinguish this most momentous letter from
others which came to him by almost every post, or to indicate that it
was destined to change the whole current of his life. It was sent by
an unknown woman, and the object of the writer was, while expressing
intense admiration for Balzac's work, to criticise the view of the
feminine sex taken by him in "La Peau de Chagrin." His correspondent
begged him to renounce ironical portrayals of woman, which denied the
pure and noble role destined for her by Heaven, and to return to the
lofty ideal of the sex depicted in "Scenes de la Vie Privee."

This letter, which was addressed to Balzac to the care of Gosselin,
the publisher of "La Peau de Chagrin," has never been found. There
must have been something remarkable about the wording and tone of it;
as Balzac received many such effusions, but was so much impressed by
this one, and by the communications which followed, that he decided to
dedicate "L'Expiation" to his unknown correspondent. This story he was
writing when he received her first letter, and it formed part of the
enlarged edition of the "Scenes de la Vie Privee" which was published
in May, 1832. On communicating this project, however, to Madame de
Berny, she strongly objected to the offer of this extraordinary honour
to "L'Etrangere"; and now doubly obedient to her wishes, and anxious
not to hurt her feelings, he abandoned the idea after the book had
been printed. In January, 1833, in his first letter to Madame Hanska,
he explained the matter at length, and sent her a copy which had not
been altered, and which had her seal on the title-page. The book sent
her has disappeared; but examining some copies of the second edition
of the "Scenes," the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul found that a
page had been glued against the binding, and, detaching this
carefully, discovered the design of the wax seal, and the dedication
"Diis ignotis, 28th February, 1832,"[*] the date on which Balzac
received the first letter from "L'Etrangere."

[*] I have seen this.

This letter gave Balzac many delightful hours, as, when he was able to
write to her, he explained to Madame Hanska. In his pride and
satisfaction, he showed it to many friends, Madame Carraud being among
the number; but she, with her usual rather provoking common-sense,
refused to share his enthusiasm, and suggested that it might have been
written as a practical joke. To this insinuation Balzac gave no
credence; he naturally found it easy to believe in one more
enthusiastic foreign admirer, and he was seriously troubled by the
fact that the first dizain of the "Contes Drolatiques," which
certainly would not satisfy his correspondent's views on the lofty
mission of womanhood, was likely to appear shortly. However, whether
she did not read the first dizain of the "Contes," which appeared in
April, 1832, or whether the perusal of them showed her more strongly
than before that Balzac was really in need of good advice, Madame
Hanska did not show her displeasure by breaking off her correspondence
with him. Balzac had much to occupy his mind in 1832, as he was
conscientiously, though not successfully, trying to make himself
agreeable to the lady selected as his wife by his family. At the same
time, while with regret and trouble in his heart he tried to relegate
Madame de Berny to the position of an ordinary friend, and felt the
delightful agitation, followed by bitter mortification, of his
intercourse with Madame de Castries, we must remember that from time
to time he received a flowery epistle from Russia, written in the
turgid and rather bombastic style peculiar to Madame Hanska.

On the other hand, we can imagine the interest and excitement felt by
the Chatelaine of Wierzchownia as she wrote, and secretly dispatched
to the well-known author, the sentimental outpourings of her soul. The
composition of these letters must certainly have supplied a savour to
a rather flavourless life; for it was dull in that far-off chateau in
Ukraine, which, as Balzac described it afterwards, was as large as the
Louvre, and was surrounded by territories as extensive as a French
Department. There were actually a carcel lamp and a hospital--which
seem a curious conjunction--on the estate, and there were
looking-glasses ten feet high in the rooms, but no hangings on the
walls. Possibly Madame Hanska did not miss these, but what she did miss
was society. She, M. de Hanski,[*] Anna's governess, Mlle. Henriette
Borel, and last, but not least, the beloved Anna herself, the only
child, on whom Madame Hanska lavished the most passionate love, were a
small party in the chateau; and besides two Polish relations, Mlles
Denise and Severine Wylezynska, who generally inhabited the
summer-house, christened by Balzac "La Demoiselliere," they were the
only civilised people in the midst of a huge waste populated by
peasants. M. de Hanski often suffered from "blue devils," which did
not make him a cheerful companion; and when Madame Hanska had
performed a few graceful duties, as chatelaine to the poor of the
neighbourhood, there was no occupation left except reading or writing
letters. She was an intelligent and intellectual woman; and Balzac's
novels, not at first fully appreciated in France because of their
deficiencies in style, were eagerly seized on in Germany, Austria, and
Russia. She read them with delight; and her natural desire for action,
her longing also to pour out, herself unknown, the secret aspirations
and yearnings of her heart to some one who would understand her,
prompted the first letter; which, according to M. de Spoelberch de
Lovenjoul, was dictated by her to Anna's governess, Mlle. Henriette
Borel. So she started lightly on the road which was to lead her, the
leisured and elegant great lady suffering only from ennui, to the
period of her life during which she would toil hour after hour at
writing, would be overwhelmed by business, pestered by duns and
creditors, overworked, overburdened, and over-worried. She was
certainly not very fortunate, for she seems never to have experienced
the passionate love which might have made up for everything.

[*] Balzac invariably talks of M. de Hanski and Madame Hanska, as do
    other contemporary writers.

Till the time when she first put herself into communication with
Balzac, her life had not been cheerful. A member of a Polish great
family, the Countess Eve Rzewuska was born at the Chateau of
Pohrbyszcze on January 25, 1804 or 1806. She was one of a large
family, having three brothers and three sisters, nearly all of whom
played distinguished parts in France or Russia; and her eldest
brother, Count Henry Rzewuski, was one of the most popular writers of
Poland. In 1818 or 1822 she married the rich M. Vencelas de Hanski,
who was twenty-five years her senior, an old gentleman of limited
mind; pompous, unsociable, and often depressed; but apparently fond of
his wife, and willing to allow her the travelling and society which he
did not himself care for. Madame Hanska had many troubles in her
married life, as she lost four out of her five children; and being an
intensely maternal woman, the deepest feelings of her heart were
henceforward devoted to Anna, her only surviving child, whom she never
left for a day till the marriage of her darling in 1846, and of whom,
after the separation, she could not think without tears.

She was a distinctly different type from the gentle, devoted Madame de
Berny, whose French attributes were modified by the sentiment and
romance she inherited from her Teutonic ancestors; or from Madame de
Castries, the fragile and brilliant coquette. Mentally and physically
there was a certain massiveness in Madame Hanska which was absent in
her rivals. She was characterised by an egoism and self-assertiveness
unknown to the "dilecta"; while, on the other hand, her principles
were too strong to allow her to use a man as her plaything, as Madame
de Castries had no scruple in doing. Side by side with her tendency to
mysticism, she possessed much practical ability, a capacity for taking
the initiative in the affairs of life, as well as considerable
literary and critical power. Balzac had enormous respect for her
intellect, and references to the splendid "analytical" forehead, which
must have been a striking feature in her face, occur as often in his
letters as admiring allusions to her pretty dimpled hands, or playful
jokes about her droll French pronunciation. Her miniature by
Daffinger,[*] taken in the prime of her beauty, gives an idea of great
energy, strength of will, and intelligence. She is dark, with a
decided mouth, and rather thick lips as red as a child's. Her hair is
black, and is plainly braided at each side of her forehead; her eyes
are dark and profound, though with the vague look of short sight; and
her arms and shoulders are beautiful. Altogether she is a handsome
woman, though there are indications of that tendency to _embonpoint_
about which she was always troubled, and which Balzac, with his usual
love of prescribing for his friends, advised her to combat by daily

[*] In the possession of the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

However, in the spring of 1832, the time which we are considering,
Madame Hanska was not even a name to Balzac; she was merely
"L'Etrangere," an unknown woman who might be pretty or ugly, young or
old; but who at any rate possessed the knack--or perhaps the author of
"Seraphita" or of "Louis Lambert" would have said the power by
transmutation of thought and sympathy--of interesting him in the
highest degree.

In June, with the hope that absence would loosen the bonds of
affection which united him and Madame de Berny, and with an _arriere
pensee_ about another charming personality whom he might meet on his
travels, Balzac left Paris for six months, and began his tour by
paying a visit to M. de Margonne at Sache. There he wrote "Louis
Lambert" as a last farewell to Madame de Berny; and in memory of his
ten years' intimacy with her, on the title-page were the dates 1822
and 1832, and underneath the words "Et nunc et semper." The manuscript
was sent to her for criticism, and she wrote a charming letter[*] on
receipt of it to Angouleme, where Balzac was staying with Madame
Carraud. In this she shows the utmost tenderness and gentle
playfulness; but while modestly deprecating her power to perform the
task he demands from her, which she says should be entrusted to Madame
Carraud, she has the noble disinterestedness to point out to him where
she considers he has erred. She tells him that, after reading the book
through twice, and endeavouring to see it as a whole, she _thinks_ he
has undertaken an impossible task, and that, trying to represent
absolute truth in its action, he has attempted what is the province of
God alone. Then, with the utmost tact and delicacy, she touches on a
difficult point, and says that when Goethe and Byron attempt to paint
the aspirations of a superior being, we admire their breadth of view,
and wish we could aid them with our minds to reach the unattainable;
but that an author who announces that he has swept to the utmost range
of thought shocks us by his vanity, and she begs Balzac to eliminate
certain phrases in his book which sound as though he had this belief.
She finished thus: "Manage, my dear one, that every one shall see you
from everywhere by the height at which you have placed yourself, but
do not claim their admiration, for from all parts strong
magnifying-glasses will be turned on you; and what becomes of the most
delightful object when seen through the microscope?" Loving Balzac so
tenderly, growing old so quickly, with Madame de Castries and the
unknown Russian ready to seize the empire which she had abdicated
willingly, though at bitter cost, what a temptation it must have been
to leave these words unsaid, and now that she was parting from Balzac
to accord him the unstinted admiration for which he yearned! That
Madame de Berny thought of him only, of herself not at all, speaks
volumes for the nobility and purity of her love, and we again feel
that the "predilecta" never rose to her heights, and that to his first
love belongs the credit of "creating" Balzac.

[*] See "La Jeunesse de Balzac," by MM. Hanotaux and Vicaire, p. 74.

During Balzac's absence from Paris, Madame de Balzac, who was
installed in his rooms in the Rue Cassini, appears in quite a new
light, and one which leads to the suspicion that the much-abused lady
was not quite as black as she had been painted. The hard and heartless
mother is now transmogrified into the patient and indefatigable runner
of errands; and we must admire the business capacity, as well as
bodily strength, which Madame de Balzac showed in carrying out her
son's various behests. In one letter alone she was enjoined to carry
out the following directions[*]: (1) She was to copy out an article in
the _Silhouette_, which she would find on the second shelf for quartos
near the door in Balzac's room. (2) She was to send him her copy of
"Contes Drolatiques," and also "Les Chouans," which she would receive
corrected from Madame de Berny. Furthermore, she was told to dress in
her best and go to the library, taking with her the third and fourth
volumes of "Scenes de la Vie Privee," as a present to M. de Manne, the
librarian. She was then to hunt in the "Biographie Universelle" under
B or P for Bernard Palissy, read the article, make a note of all books
mentioned in it as written _by_ him or _about_ him, and ask M. de
Manne for them. Next, Laure was to be visited, as the "Biographie,"
which had formerly belonged to old M. de Balzac, was at her house; and
the works on Palissy mentioned in that must be compared carefully with
those already noted down; and if fresh names were found, another visit
must be paid to the librarian. If he did not possess all the books and
they were not very dear, they were to be bought. A visit to Gosselin
was to be the next excursion for poor Madame de Balzac, who apparently
walked everywhere to save hackney carriage fares; and as minor matters
she must send a letter he enclosed to its destination, and see that
the groom exercised the horses every day.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 153.

Certainly, if Balzac worked like a galley slave himself, he also kept
his relations well employed; but Madame de Balzac apparently did
everything contentedly, in the hope, as a good business woman, that
the debts would at last be paid off; and though there were occasional
breezes, the relations between her and her son were cordial at this
time. Possibly she was pleased at his removal from the influence of
Madame de Berny, of whom she was always jealous; and certainly she was
delighted at the idea of his marriage. The intended daughter-in-law,
whose name is never mentioned, was evidently a widow with a fortune,
so the affair was highly satisfactory. The lady was expected to pay a
visit to Mere, near Sache; and Balzac felt obliged to go there three
times a week to see whether she had arrived--a duty which interfered
sadly with his work. If he seemed likely to prosper in his suit, she
was to be impressed by the sight of his groom and horses. However,
this matrimonial business transaction was not successful, as we hear
nothing more of it, and the next direction his mother receives is to
the effect that she had better sell all his stable equipage.

Whether Madame de Balzac resented these demands on her, or whether she
was disgusted at Balzac's failure to secure a rich wife, and thus put
an end to the family troubles, we do not know; but when he returned to
Paris at the end of the year, to his great disappointment she refused
to live with him, and left him alone when he sorely needed sympathy
and consolation.

It is curiously characteristic of Balzac, that at this very time, when
in secret he contemplates marriage, he writes to Madame Carraud that
he is going to Aix to run after some one who will perhaps laugh at him
--one of those aristocratic women she would no doubt hold in
abhorrence: "An angel beauty in whom one imagines a beautiful soul, a
true duchess, very disdainful, very loving, delicate, witty, a
coquette, a novelty to me! One of those phenomena who efface
themselves from time to time, and who says she loves me, who wishes to
keep me with her in a palace at Venice (for I tell you everything)
--who wishes that I shall in future write only for her, one of those
women one must worship on one's knees if she desires it, and whom one
has the utmost pleasure in conquering--a dream woman! Jealous of
everything! Ah, it would be better to be at Angouleme at the
Poudrerie, very sensible, very quiet, listening to the mills working,
making oneself sticky with truffles, learning from you how to pocket a
billiard-ball, laughing and talking, than to lose both time and

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 161.

After his stay at Sache, Balzac went on to the Poudrerie, where he
became ill from overwork, and wrote to his sister that a journey was
quite necessary for his health. On August 22nd he started from
Angouleme, having borrowed 150 francs from M. Carraud to take him as
far as Lyons. He had already spent the 100 francs sent him by his
mother, and he expected to find 300 francs more awaiting him at Lyons.
There he arrived on the 25th, having unfortunately fallen in mounting
the imperial of the diligence, and grazed his shin against the
footboard thus making a small hole in the bone. However, we can
appreciate the excellent reasons which led him to the conclusion that,
in spite of the inflammation in his leg, it would be wise to press on
at once to Aix. When he arrived there, on August 26th, he was
evidently rewarded by a very cordial greeting from the Marquise; as,
the day after, he wrote a most affectionate and joyful letter to his
mother, thanking her in the warmest terms for all she had done, and
for the pleasure she had procured him by enabling him to take this

He was now established in a simple little room, with a view over
the lovely valley of the Lac du Bourget; he got up each morning at
half-past five, and worked from then till half-past five in the evening,
his _dejeuner_ being sent in from the club, and Madame de Castries
providing him with excellent coffee, that primary necessity of his
existence. At six he dined with her, and they spent the evening till
eleven o'clock together. It was an exciting drama that went on during
those long _tete-a-tetes_. On one side was the accomplished coquette,
possibly only determined to make a plaything of the man of genius, to
charm him and keep him at her feet; or perhaps with a lurking hope
that her skilful game would turn to earnestness, and that in the
course of it she would manage to forget that charming young Metternich
who died at Florence and left her inconsolable. On the other was
Balzac, his senses bewildered by passionate love, but his acuteness
and knowledge of human nature not allowing him to be altogether
deceived; so that he writes to Madame Carraud: "She is the most
delicate type of woman--Madame de Beauseant, only better; but are not
all these pretty manners exercised at the expense of the heart?"[*]
Nevertheless, these were only passing doubts: he could not really
believe that she would behave as she was doing if there were no love
for him in her heart, and he pursued his suit with the intense ardour
natural to him. Occasionally she became alarmed, and tried to rebuff
him by a cold, irritable manner; but he continued to treat her with
the utmost gentleness. No doubt, she was not altogether without
feeling: an absolutely cold woman could not have exercised dominion
over a man of the stamp of Balzac; and though she is always
represented as playing a game, probably there were agitations, doubts,
questionings, and possibly real trouble, on her side, as well as on
that of Balzac. At any rate, the admirer of his novels may give her
the benefit of the doubt, and remember in gratitude that she
undoubtedly added to the gamut of the great psychologist's emotions,
and therefore increased his knowledge of the human heart, and the
truth and vividness of his books. Balzac, who spoke of the "doleurs
qui font trop vivre," plunged very deeply into the learning of the
school of life at this time.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 195.

At last came a final rupture, of which we can only conjecture the
cause, as no satisfactory explanation is forthcoming. The original
"Confession" in the "Medecin de Campagne," which is the history of
Balzac's relations and parting with Madame de Castries, is in the
possession of the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul. The present
Confession was substituted in its place, because the first revealed
too much of Balzac's private life. However, even in the original
Confession, we learn no reason for Madame de Castries' sudden resolve
to dismiss her adorer, as Balzac declares with indignant despair that
he can give no explanation of it. Apparently she parted from him one
evening with her usual warmth of affection, and next morning
everything was changed, and she treated him with the utmost coldness.

Madame de Castries, with her brother-in-law, the Duc de Fitz-James and
his family, had settled to leave Aix on October 10th, and to travel in
Italy, visiting Rome and Naples; and they had been anxious that Balzac
should be one of the party. At first Balzac only spoke of this
vaguely, because of the question of money; but as pecuniary matters
were never allowed to interfere with anything he really wanted to do,
his mother cannot have been surprised to receive a letter written on
September 23rd, telling her that the matter was settled, and that he
was going to Italy.[*] As she would naturally ask how this was to be
managed, he explains that he will put off paying a debt of 500 francs,
and that, being only responsible for a fourth share in the hire of
Madame de Castries' carriage, this money would suffice for his
expenses as far as Rome. There he will require 500 francs, and the
same amount again at Naples; but this money will be gained by the
"Medecin de Campagne," and he will only ask Madame de Balzac for 500
francs--without which he will perhaps, after all, manage--to bring him
back from Naples in March. On September 30th he writes to M. Mame, the
publisher, to tell him about the nearly-finished "Medecin de
Campagne," and still talks of his projected journey; but on October
9th, as a result of Madame de Castries' behaviour towards him, he has
left her at Aix, and is himself at Annecy, and on October 16th he has
travelled on to Geneva. His only explanation for his sudden change of
plan is a vague remark to his mother about the 1,000 francs required
for the journey,[+] and about the difficulty of publishing books while
he is away from France; while on the real reason of his change of plan
he is absolutely silent. Before the end of 1832 he is back in Paris,
and in spite of his success and celebrity is probably passing through
the bitterest months of his life.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 202.

[+] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 220.

                             CHAPTER VIII

                             1832 - 1835

  Advertisement in the _Quotidienne_--Letters between Balzac and
  Madame Hanska--His growing attachment to her--Meeting at
  Neufchatel--Return to Paris--Work--"Etudes de Moeurs au XIXieme
  Siecle"--"Le Medecin de Campagne"--"Eugenie Grandet"--Meets Madame
  Hanska at Vienna--"La Duchesse de Langeais"--Balzac's enormous
  power of work--"La Recherche de l'Absolu"--"Le Pere Goriot"
  --Vienna--Monetary difficulties--Republishes romantic novels
  --Continual debt--Amusements.

Meanwhile, during the tragic drama of the downfall of poor Balzac's
high hopes, Madame Hanska continued to write steadily; but she was
becoming tired of receiving no answer to her letters, and of not even
knowing whether or no they had reached their destination. Therefore
she wrote on November 7th, 1832, to ask Balzac for a little message in
the _Quotidienne_, which she took in regularly, to say that he had
received her letters; and Balzac, in reply, inserted the following
notice in the _Quotidienne_ of December 9th, 1832. "M. de B. has
received the message sent him; he can only to-day give information of
this through a newspaper, and regrets that he does not know where to
address his answer. To. L'E.--H. de B."[*]

[*] A copy of the _Quotidienne_ with this advertisement is in the
    possession of the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, and I have
    seen it.

After this, it is amusing to see that Balzac was most particular in
impressing on his publishers the necessity of advertising his
forthcoming works in the _Quotidienne_, one of the few French papers
allowed admission into Russia. On the other hand, the receipt of the
_Quotidienne_ with this announcement made Madame Hanska so bold, that
in a letter dated January 9th, 1833, she gave Balzac the welcome
information that she and M. de Hanski were leaving Ukraine for a time,
and coming nearer France; and that she would indicate to him some way
of corresponding with her secretly. As this is the last of her letters
that can be found, we do not know what method she pointed out to
Balzac; and his first letter to her is dated January, 1833, and after
their meeting at Neufchatel in September, he wrote a short account of
his day every evening to his beloved one, and once in eight days he
despatched this journal to its destination. As he kept to this plan
with only occasional interruptions whenever he was absent from her,
till his marriage four months before his death, these letters, some of
which are published in a volume called "Lettres a l'Etrangere," form a
most valuable record of his life. In one of the first, it is
interesting to see that he is obliged to soothe her uneasiness at the
strange variety of his handwritings, as Madame Carraud had answered
one of her letters in his name; and to allay her suspicions, he makes
the rather unlikely explanation, that he has as many writings as there
are days in the year. In the future, however, her letters are sacred,
no eye but his own being permitted to gaze on them; and with his usual
reticence where his feelings are seriously involved, he ceases to
mention to his friends his correspondent in far Ukraine.

A little later he comments with joy on the fact that Madame Hanska has
sent him a copy of the "Imitation of Christ,"[*] which represents our
Lord on the cross, just as he is writing "Le Medecin de Campagne,"
which portrays the bearing of the cross by resignation, and love,
faith in the future, and the spreading around of the perfume of good
deeds. To Balzac, believer in the power of the transmission of
thought, this coincidence was of good augury.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

All this time he had not forgotten Madame de Berny, or the faithless
Madame de Castries; and is profoundly miserable. On January 1st, 1833,
he writes to his faithful friend, Madame Carraud, to pour out his
troubles, and says: "In vain I try to transfer my life to my brain;
nature has given me too much heart, and in spite of everything, more
than enough for ten men is left. Therefore I suffer. All the more
because chance made me know happiness in all its moral extent, while
depriving me of sensual beauty. She" (Madame de Berny) "gave me a true
love which must finish. This is horrible! I go through troubles and
tempests which no one knows of. I have no distractions. Nothing
refreshes this heat, which spreads and will perhaps devour me." He
then passes on to Madame de Castries, and continues: "An unheard-of
coldness has succeeded gradually to what I thought was passion, in a
woman who came to me rather nobly."[*] In a letter to Madame Hanska,
speaking of Madame de Castries, though he does not name her, he says:
"She causes me suffering, but I do not judge her. Only I think that if
you loved some one, if you had drawn him every day towards you into
heaven, and you were free, you would not leave him alone in the depths
of an abyss of cold, after having warmed him with the fire of your

[*] Letters sent by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul to the
    _Revue Bleue_ of November 21st, 1903.

[+] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

Gradually, however, the new love gained ground; though at first Balzac
showed that nervous dread of repetition of pain which was, in a man of
his buoyancy and self-confidence, the last expression of depression
and disillusionment. "I trembled in writing to you. I said to myself:
'Will this be only a new bitterness? Will the skies open to me again,
for me only to be driven from them?'"[*] Nevertheless, passages such
as the following, even taking into account the sentimental tone Balzac
always adopted to his female correspondents, show that he was not
destined to remain permanently inconsolable. "I love you, unknown, and
this strange thing is the natural effect of an empty and unhappy life,
only filled with ideas, and the misfortunes of which I have diminished
by chimerical pleasures."[*]

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

In these words he gives himself the explanation of his overmastering
love for Madame Hanska, a love which seems to have puzzled his
contemporaries and some of his subsequent biographers. The man with
the passionate nature, who cried in his youth for the satisfaction of
his two immense desires--to be celebrated and to be loved--soon found
the emptiness of the life of fame alone; and Madame Hanska, dowered
with all that he longed for, came into his life at the psychological
moment when he had broken with the old love, born into the world too
soon, and had suffered bitterly at the cruel hands of the new. He
turned to her with a rapture of new hope in the glories that might
rise for him; and through trouble, disappointment and delay, he never
once wavered in his allegiance.

In the early spring of 1833, the Hanski family, after no doubt many
preparations, and surrounded by a great paraphernalia--for travelling
in those days was a serious matter--started on the journey about which
Madame Hanska had already told Balzac. Neufchatel was their
destination; and through Mlle Henriette Borel, Anna's governess, who
was a native of the place, and Madame Hanska's confidante, the Villa
Andrie, in the Faubourg, just opposite the Hotel du Faubourg, was
secured for them. Mlle Borel was a most useful person, as she always
went to the post to claim Balzac's letters, and through Madame Hanska
he sends her many directions, and specially enjoins great caution. We
are told[*] that she was so much struck by the solemnities at M. de
Hanski's funeral--the lights, the songs, and the national costumes
--that she decided to abjure the Protestant faith, and that in 1843
she took the veil. We may wonder however, whether tardy remorse for
her deceit towards the dead man, who had treated her with kindness,
had not its influence in causing this sudden religious enthusiasm,
and whether the Sister in the Convent of the Visitation in Paris
gave herself extra penance for her sins of connivance.

[*] "Balzac a Neufchatel," by M. Bachelin.

From Neufchatel, Madame Hanska sent Balzac her exact address; and as
he had really settled to go to Besancon in his search for inexpensive
paper to enable him to carry out his grand scheme for an universal
cheap library, it was settled that, travelling ostensibly for this
purpose, he should go for a few days to Neufchatel, and meet Madame
Hanska. He therefore wrote to Charles de Bernard, at Besancon, to ask
him to take a place for him in the diligence to Neufchatel, on
September 25th, 1833; and it is easy to imagine his qualms of anxiety,
and yet joyful excitement, when he left Paris on the 22nd, and started
on his fateful journey. At Neufchatel, he went to the Hotel du
Faucon,[*] in the centre of the town, but found a note begging him to
be on the Promenade du Faubourg next day from one to four; and he at
once removed to the Hotel du Faubourg, so that he might be near the
Villa Andrie. Madame Hanska no doubt shared to a certain extent his
tremors of anticipation; but as a beauty and great lady she would
naturally feel more confident than Balzac--especially when she had
donned with care her most elegant and becoming toilette, and felt
armed at every point for the encounter.

[*] "Un Roman d'Amour," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul,
    p. 75.

The Promenade du Faubourg at Neufchatel overlooks the lake, and is
terminated by a promontory known as the Cret, a splendid point of
vantage, whence there is a view of the Villa Andrie and over the
gardens of the Hotel du Faubourg. Here, on the afternoon of September
26th, 1833, among others strollers, were two who might have seemed to
an observant eye to be waiting for somebody: one was a stout,
inelegant little man, with something bizarre about his costume, and
the other a dark, handsome lady, dressed in the height of fashion, and
perhaps known to some of the loungers as the rich Russian Countess.
The manner of their meeting is uncertain; but whether Madame Hanska,
with one of Balzac's novels in her hand, recognised him at once and
rushed towards him joyously, or whether, as another story goes, she
was at first disenchanted by his unromantic appearance and drew back,
matters little.[*] In either case, according to Balzac's letter to his
sister written on his return to Paris, they exchanged their first kiss
under the shade of a great oak in the Val de Travers, and swore to
wait for each other; and he speaks rapturously of Madame Hanska's
beautiful black hair, of her fine dark skin and her pretty little
hands. He mentions, too, her colossal riches, though these do not of
course count beside her personal charms; but the remark is
characteristic, and Balzac's pride and exultation are very
apparent.[+] At last he has found his "grande dame," endowed with
youth, beauty and riches, one who would not be ashamed to live with
him in a garret, and yet would, by her birth, be able to hold her own
in the most exclusive society in the world.

[*] "Un Roman d'Amour," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul,
    p. 75.

[+] I have seen in M. de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul's collection, the
    autograph of the whole of this letter as quoted in the "Roman

He is specially pleased, too, that he has succeeded in charming Madame
Hanska's husband, to whom he was apparently introduced at once, though
we do not know by what means. Certainly M. de Hanski appears to have
felt a warm liking for the great writer, who charmed him and made him
laugh by his amusing talk, kept his blue devils at bay, sent him first
copies of his books, and sympathised with his views on political
matters. M. de Hanski was also much flattered by Balzac's friendship
for his wife, and would finish a polite and stilted epistle by saying
that he need trouble Balzac no more, as he knows his wife is at the
same time writing him one of her long chattering letters. Even when,
by sad mischance, two of Balzac's love-letters fell into M. de
Hanski's hands, and the great writer was forced to stoop to the
pretence that they were written in jest, the husband seems to have
accepted the explanation, and not to have troubled further about the
matter. Later on, he sent Balzac a magnificent inkstand as a present,
which the recipient rather ungratefully remarked required palatial
surroundings, and was too grand for his use.

On October 1st, the happy time at Neufchatel came to an end, as the
Hanskis were leaving that day, and Balzac's work awaited him in Paris.
He got up at five o'clock on the morning of his departure, and went on
to the promontory, whence he could gaze at the Villa Andrie, in the
vain hope of a last meeting with Madame Hanska; but to his
disappointment the Villa was absolutely quiet, no one was stirring. He
had a most uncomfortable journey back, for everything was so crowded
that fifteen or sixteen intending passengers were refused at each
town; and as Charles de Bernard had not been able to secure a place
for him in the mail coach, he was obliged to travel in the imperial of
the diligence with five Swiss, who treated him as though he were an
animal going to the market, and he arrived in Paris bruised all over.

In Balzac's letters after his return to Paris there is much mention of
his enjoyment of the Swiss scenery, which is after all only Madame
Hanska under another name; but he is absolutely discreet, and never
speaks of the lady herself. He is redoubling his work, on the chance
of managing to pay her another visit. "For a month longer, prodigies
of work, to enable me to see you. You are in all my thoughts, in all
the lines that I shall trace, in all the moments of my life, in all my
being, in my hair which grows for you."[*]

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

Fortunately the long years of waiting, the anxieties, the hope
constantly deferred, the pangs of unequally matched affection, and at
last the short and imperfect fruition, were hidden from him.
Henceforward everything in his life refers to Madame Hanska, and he
waits patiently for his hoped-for union with her. His deference to his
absent friend, his fear of her disapproval, his admiration for her
perfections, are half pathetic and half comical.

Though she does not appear to have been strait-laced in her reading,
he is terribly afraid of falling in her estimation by what he writes,
and he explains anxiously that such books as "Le Medecin de Campagne"
or "Seraphita" show him in his true light, and that the "Physiologie
du Mariage" is really written in defence of women. The "Contes
Drolatiques" he is also nervous about, and he is much agitated when he
hears that she has read some of them without his permission.

He is not always _quite_ candid, and the reader of "Lettres a
l'Etrangere" may safely surmise that there is a little picturesque
exaggeration in his account of the solitary life he leads; and that
Madame Hanska had occasionally good reason for her reproaches at the
reports she heard, though Balzac always replies to these complaints
with a most touching display of injured innocence. Nevertheless, the
"Lettres a l'Etrangere" are the record of a faithful and ever-growing
love, and there is much in them which must increase the reader's
admiration for Balzac.

The year 1833 was a prosperous one with him, as in October he sold to
the publisher, Madame Charles Bechet, for 27,000 francs, an edition of
"Etudes de Moeurs au XIXieme Siecle" in twelve octavo volumes,
consisting of the third edition of "Scenes de la Vie Privee," the
first of "Scenes de la Vie de Province," and the first part of the
"Scenes de la Vie Parisienne." The last volume of this edition did not
appear till 1837, and before that time Balzac had taken further
strides towards his grand conception of the Comedie Humaine. In
October, 1834,[*] he writes to Madame Hanska that the "Etudes de
Moeurs," in which is traced thread by thread the history of the human
heart, is only to be the base of the structure; and that next, in the
"Etudes Philosophiques," he will go back from effect to cause, from
the feelings, their life and way of working, to the conditions behind
them on which life, society, and man have their being; and that having
described society, he will in the "Etudes Philosophiques" judge it. In
the "Etudes de Moeurs" types will be formed from individuals, in the
"Etudes Philosophiques" individuals from types. Then, after effects
and causes, will come principles, in the "Etudes Analytiques." "Les
moeurs sont le spectacle, les causes son les coulisses et les
machines, et les principes c'est l'auteur." When this great palace is
at last completed, he will write the science of it in "L'Essai sur les
Forces Humaines"; and on the base, he, a child and a laugher, will
trace the immense arabesque of the "Contes Drolatiques," those
Rabelaisian stories in old French tracing the progress of the
language, which he often declared would be his principal claim to
fame. In 1842 the name "La Comedie Humaine" was after much
consideration given to the whole structure, and in the preface he
explains this title by saying: "The vastness of a plan which includes
Society's history and criticism, the analysis of its evils, the
discussion of its principles, justifies me, I think, in giving to my
work the name under which it is appearing to-day--'The Human Comedy.'
Pretentious, is it? Is it not rather true? That is a question for the
public to decide when the work is finished."

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that in twelve years, from 1830 to
1842, Balzac wrote seventy-nine novels--an enormous number, especially
remembering the fact that during the same time he published tales and
numberless articles--the great work was never finished; and the last
philosophical study, which was entitled "The Marquis of Carabbas," and
was to treat of the life of nations, was not even begun.

However, in 1833, when he really started the germ of his life-work,
he, like his father, had the idea that he would live to an enormous
age; and he was in high spirits about the pecuniary side of his
transaction with Madame Bechet.

Except for what he owes his mother, in seven months he will be free of
debt, he cries rapturously; but it is hardly necessary to mention that
this happy time of deliverance never did arrive. Indeed, we are
scarcely surprised, when he writes on November 20th, to say that his
affairs are in the most deplorable condition; that he has just sent
four thousand francs, his last resource, to Mame, the publisher, and
is as poor as Job; with one lawsuit going on, and another beginning
for which he requires twelve hundred francs. His chronic state of
disagreement with Emile de Girardin, editor of _La Presse_, had at
this time, in spite of Madame de Girardin's attempts at mediation,
become acute; so that they nearly fought a duel. The year before, as
we have already seen, he had quarrelled with his former friend, Amedee
Pichot, and had deserted the _Revue de Paris_, so his business
relations were, as usual, not very happy.

However, he was at first much pleased with Madame Bechet, who, with
unexpected liberality, herself paid 4000 francs for corrections; and
in July, 1834, he got rid of publisher Gosselin, whom he politely
designates as a "nightmare of silliness," and a "rost-beaf ambulant,"
and started business with Werdet, not yet the "vulture who fed on
Prometheus," but an excellent young man, somewhat resembling
"l'illustre Gaudissart," full of devotion and energy.

The year 1833 was rich in masterpieces. In September appeared "Le
Medecin de Campagne," with its motto, "For wounded souls, shade and
silence"; and though, like "Louis Lambert," it was not at first a
success, later on its true value was realised; and the hero, the good
Dr. Benassis, is one of Balzac's purest and most noble creations. It
was followed in December by "Eugenie Grandet," a masterpiece of Dutch
genre, immortalised by the vivid vitality of old Grandet, that type of
modern miser who, in contradistinction to Moliere's Harpagon, enjoyed
universal respect and admiration, his fortune being to some people in
his province "the object of patriotic pride." The book raised such a
storm of enthusiasm, that Balzac became jealous for the fame of his
other works, and would cry indignantly: "Those who call me the father
of Eugenie Grandet wish to belittle me. It is a masterpiece, I know;
but it is a little masterpiece; they are very careful not to mention
the great ones."[*] This, which is the best known and most generally
admired of Balzac's novels, is dedicated by a strange irony of fate to
Maria, whose identity has never been discovered; the only fact really
known about her being her pathetic request to Balzac, that he would
love her just for a year, and she would love him for all eternity. She
did not, however, have undisputed possession of even the short time
she longed for, as Madame Hanska's all-conquering influence was in the
ascendant; but, as Balzac was always discreet, perhaps poor Maria was
not aware of this.

[*] "Balzac, sa Vie et ses Oeuvres d'apres sa Correspondance," by
    Madame L. Surville.

In the midst of the acclamations and congratulations on the appearance
of "Eugenie Grandet," Balzac again left Paris, and went to Geneva,
where he arrived on December 25th, 1833. He left for Paris on February
8th, having spent six weeks with the Hanski family. During this time a
definite promise was made by Madame Hanska, that she would marry him
if she became a widow. "Adoremus in aeternum" was their motto; he was
her humble "moujik," and she was his "predilecta, his love, his life,
his only thought."[*]

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

Curiously enough, his occupation in Geneva, in the rapture of his
newly-found happiness, was to write the "Duchesse de Langeais," by
which he intended to revenge himself on Madame de Castries, though he
could not help, in his book, making her turn to him at last, when it
was too late. The wound was still smarting. He detests and despises
her, he says; and the only words of spitefulness recorded in his
generous, large-minded life, are when he mentions, with pretended
pity, that owing to ill-health she has completely lost her beauty. In
spite of this outburst, however, we find that he came forward later
on, and helped her with much energy when she was in difficulties. He
never had the satisfaction of knowing whether she were punished or
not; as when he showed her the book before it was published, with the
ostensible reason of wishing her to disarm the Faubourg St. Germain,
which is severely criticised in its pages, she professed much
admiration for it.

Meanwhile, Madame de Berny was beginning the slow process of dying;
and Balzac speaks constantly with trouble of her failing health, and
of the heart disease from which she suffered, and which, with her
usual unselfishness, she tried to conceal from him. She was too ill
now to correct his proofs, and her family circumstances were, as we
have already seen, very miserable; so that her life was closing sadly.
In January, 1835, Balzac spent eight days with her at La Boulonniere,
near Nemours, working hard all the time; and was horrified to find her
so ill, that even the pleasure of reading his books brought on severe
heart attacks.

His life at this time was enormously busy; the passion for work had
him in its grip, and even _his_ robust constitution suffered from the
enormous strain to which he subjected it by his constant abuse of
coffee, which caused intense nervous irritation; and by the short
hours of sleep he allowed himself. He never rested for a moment, he
was never indifferent for a moment, his faculties were constantly on
the stretch, and Dr. Nacquart remonstrated in vain. In August, 1834,
he was attacked by slight congestion of the brain, and imperatively
ordered two months' rest; which, of course, he did not take; and now
from time to time, in his letters, occur entries of sinister omen,
about symptoms of illness, and doctor's neglected advice. In October
"La Recherche de l'Absolu" appeared, and instead of greeting it with
the enthusiasm he usually accorded to his books, he remarked to Madame
Hanska that he hoped it was good, but that he was too tired to judge.
However, by December of the same year, when "Le Pere Goriot" was
published, he had to a certain extent recovered his elasticity, and
said that it was a beautiful work, though terribly sad, and showed the
moral corruption of Paris like a disgusting wound. A few days later he
became more enthusiastic, and wrote: "You will be very proud of 'Le
Pere Goriot.' My friends insist that nothing is comparable to it, and
that it is above all my other compositions."[*] Certainly the vivid
portrait of old Goriot, that ignoble King Lear, who in his
extraordinary passion of paternal love rouses our sympathy, in spite
of his many absurdities and shortcomings, is a striking instance of
Balzac's power in the creation of type.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

He was straining every nerve to be able to meet Madame Hanska in
Vienna; but with all his efforts his journey was put off month after
month, and it was not till May 9th, 1835, that he was at last able to
start. He arrived at Vienna on the 16th; having hired a post carriage
for the journey, a little extravagance which cost him 15,000 francs.
His stay there was not a rest, as, to Madame Hanska's annoyance, he
worked twelve hours a day at "Le Lys dans la Vallee," and explained to
her that he was doing a good deal in thus sacrificing three hours a
day for her sake--fifteen hours out of the twenty-four being his usual
time for labour. He visited Munich on his way back, and arrived in
Paris on June 11th, to find a crowd of creditors awaiting his arrival,
and his pecuniary affairs in terrible confusion. Owing, he considered,
to the machinations of his enemies, articles had appeared in different
papers announcing that he had been imprisoned for debt--a report which
naturally ruined his credit, and caused a general gathering of those
to whom he owed money. It was not a pleasant home-coming; as Werdet
and Madame Bechet were in utter despair, and reproached Balzac
bitterly for his absence, while all his silver had been pawned by his
sister to pay his most pressing liabilities.

It is curious about this time to notice the reappearance of the early
romantic novels, "Jane la Pale," "La Derniere Fee," and their
fellows.[*] Balzac, as we have seen was in terrible straits for money,
and he knew that the Belgians, who at this time practised the most
shameless piracy, would reprint the books for their own advantage, if
he did not. Therefore, in self-defence, he determined to bring out an
edition himself; though, as he consistently refused to acknowledge the
authorship of these despised productions, the treaty was drawn up in
the name of friends. Nevertheless, with his usual caution, he drew up
a secret document which was signed by M. Regnault, one of those in
whose name the sale to the publisher was arranged, to the effect that
the works of the late Horace de Saint-Aubin were really the property
of M. de Balzac. "L'Heritiere de Birague" and "Jean Louis" did not
appear in this edition, probably owing to the intervention of M. Le
Poitevin, who considered them partly his property; but they were
published with the others in an edition printed in 1853, after a
lawsuit between Balzac's widow and his early collaborator.

[*] "Une Page Perdue de Honore de Balzac," by the Vicomte de
    Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

The condition of the whole Balzac family at the close of 1835 was
tragic, M. Henri, back from abroad, and utterly incapable, as Balzac
says, of doing anything, talked of blowing out his brains; Madame
Surville was ill, Madame Balzac's reason or life was despaired of; and
Balzac chose this time to consult a somnambulist about Madame Hanska,
and was told the distressing news that she was in anxiety of some
sort, and that her heart was enlarged! Fortunately, in October, 1835,
the Hanski family returned to Wierzchownia, and the constant worry to
Balzac of their proximity to France was removed for the time.

In December another misfortune befell Balzac. A fire broke out at the
printing office in the Rue du Pot-de-Fer, and burnt the first hundred
and sixty pages of the third dizain of the "Contes Drolatiques," as
well as five hundred volumes of the first and second dizain, which had
cost him four francs each. He thus lost 3,500 francs, and to add to
the calamity, did not receive the sum of 6,000 francs which in the
ordinary course of events would have been due to him at the end of the
year, when but for this disaster he would have handed over the third
dizain to Werdet and an associate.

Figures and sums of money occur constantly in Balzac's letters; but
his accounts of his pecuniary affairs are so conflicting and so
complicated that it is impossible to understand them; indeed it is
doubtful whether he ever mastered them himself, as he continually
expected to be out of debt in a few months. According to his own story
to Madame Hanska, he left the printing office owing 100,000 francs,
had to find 6,000 francs a year for interest on this debt, and
required 3,000 francs to live on; while in 1828, 1829, and 1830, he
only made 3,000 francs each year, so that in three years he had
increased his debt by 24,000 francs. In 1830 the Revolution caused
general disaster among the publishers, and "La Peau de Chagrin" only
made 700 francs, so that in 1830 and 1831 Balzac had an income of only
10,000 francs a year, and had to pay out 18,000 francs. From 1833 to
1836 he received 10,000 francs a year by his treaty with Madame
Bechet; 6,000 of this he paid in interest on his debt, while 4,000
apparently remained to live on. However, between the fire in the Rue
du Pot-de-Fer, Werdet's delinquencies, the failure of the _Chronique_,
and the sums paid back to publishers who had advanced money on
arrangements Balzac cancelled to fulfil this new agreement, hardly
anything was left; and in 1837 he owed 162,000 francs.

In August, 1835, he describes his life thus[*]: "Work, always work!
Heated nights succeed heated nights, days of meditation days of
meditation; from execution to conception, from conception to
execution! Little money compared with what I want, much money compared
with production. If each of my books were paid like those of Walter
Scott, I should manage; but although well paid, I do not attain my
goal. I received 8,000 francs for the 'Lys'; half of this came from
the publisher, half from the _Revue de Paris_. The article in the
_Conservateur_ will pay me 3,000 francs. I shall have finished
'Seraphita,' begun 'Les Memoires de Deux Jeunes Mariees,' and finished
Mme. Bechet's edition. I do not know whether a brain, pen, and hand
will ever before have accomplished such a 'tour de force' with the
help of a bottle of ink."

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

As it is impossible for even a Balzac to live without relaxation, even
if he goes without rest, what, may we ask, were his recreations at
this time? In the first place he often went to the theatre; and he was
passionately fond of music, occupying a place in the box at the
Italian Opera, which was reserved specially for dandies. One of his
extravagances was a dinner at which he entertained the five other
"tigres," as the occupants of this box were nicknamed, and Rossini,
Olympe Pelissier, Nodier, Sandeau, and Bohain. At this banquet, the
most sumptuous fare and the most exquisite wines were provided for the
guests, and the table was decked with the rarest flowers. Balzac
enjoyed the festivity immensely, as well as the _eclat_ which followed
it; and relates with delight that all Paris was talking of it, and
that Rossini said he had not seen more magnificence when he dined at
royal tables.

However busy he was, he never completely deprived himself of the
pleasure of listening to music; though on one occasion he remarks
regretfully, that he has been obliged to limit his attendance at the
Opera to two visits each month; and on another, that he has been so
overwhelmed with business that he has not been able even to have a
bath, or go to the Italian Opera, two things that are more necessary
to him than bread. His works abound in references to his beloved art,
and when he was writing "Massimilla Doni" he employed a professional
musician to instruct him about it. Beethoven, in particular, he speaks
of with the utmost enthusiasm, and after hearing his "Symphony in Ut
mineur," he says that the great musician is the only person who makes
him feel jealous, and that he prefers him even to Rossini and Mozart.
"The spirit of the writer," he says, "cannot give such enjoyment,
because what _we_ print is finished and determined, whereas Beethoven
wafts his audience to the infinite."[*]

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

The other amusements of this great thinker and seer would strike the
reader as strange, if he did not perhaps, by this time, realise that
no anomaly need surprise him in Balzac's extraordinary personality.

He writes to Madame Hanska[*]: "As to my joys, they are innocent. They
consist in new furniture for my room, a cane which makes all Paris
chatter, a divine opera-glass, which my workers have had made by the
optician at the Observatory; also the gold buttons on my new coat,
buttons chiselled by the hand of a fairy, for the man who carries a
cane worthy of Louis XIV. in the nineteenth century cannot wear
ignoble pinchbeck buttons. These are little innocent toys, which make
me considered a millionaire. I have created the sect of the
'Cannophiles' in the world of fashion, and every one thinks me utterly
frivolous. This amuses me!" Certainly Balzac was not wrong when he
told his correspondent that there was much of the child in him.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

                              CHAPTER IX

                          NO PARTICULAR DATE

  Balzac's portrait as described by Gautier--His character--Belief
  in magnetism and somnambulism--His attempts to become deputy--His
  political and religious views.

In the Salon of 1837 appeared a portrait of Balzac by Boulanger,[*] of
which Theophile Gautier gave the following description in _La Presse_:
"M. de Balzac is not precisely beautiful. His features are irregular;
he is fat and short. Here is a summary which does not seem to lend
itself to a painting, but this is only the reverse of the medal. The
life and ardour reflected in the whole face give it a special beauty.

[*] See the chapter entitled "Un Portrait" in "Autour de Honore de
    Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

"In this portrait, M. de Balzac, enveloped in the large folds of a
monk's habit, sits with his arms crossed, in a calm and strong
attitude; the neck is uncovered, the look firm and direct; the light,
shining from above, illumines the satin-like smoothness of the upper
parts of the forehead, and throws a bright light on the bumps of
imagination and humour, which are strongly developed in M. de Balzac;
the black hair, also lit up, shining and radiant, comes from the
temples in bright waves, and gives singular light to the top of the
head; the eyes steeped in a golden penumbra with tawny eyeballs, on a
moist and blue crystalline lens like that of a child, send out a
glance of astonishing acuteness; the nose, divided into abrupt
polished flat places, breathes strongly and passionately, through
large red nostrils; the mouth, large and voluptuous, particularly in
the lower lip, smiles with a rabelaisian smile under the shade of a
moustache much lighter in colour than the hair; and the chin, slightly
raised, is attached to the throat by a fold of flesh, ample and
strong, which resembles the dewlap of a young bull. The throat itself
is of athletic and rare strength, the plump full cheeks are touched
with the vermilion of nervous health, and all the flesh tints are
resplendent with the most joyful and reassuring brilliancy.

"In this monk's and soldier's head there is a mixture of reflection
and of good-humour, of resolution and of high spirits, which is
infinitely rare; the thinker and good liver melt into each other with
quaint harmony. Put a cuirass on this large breast, and you will have
one of those fat German foot-soldiers so jovially painted by Terburg.
With the monks' habit, it is Jean des Entommeurs[*]; nevertheless, do
not forget that the eyes throw, through all this embonpoint and
good-humour, the yellow look of a lion to counteract this Flemish
familiarity. Such a man would be equal to excesses of the table, of
pleasure, and of work. We are no longer astonished at the immense
quantity of volumes published by him in so short a time. This
prodigious labour has left no trace of fatigue on the strong cheeks
dappled with red, and on the large white forehead. The enormous work
which would have crushed six ordinary authors under its weight is
hardly the third of the monument he wishes to raise."

[*] One of the characters in Rabelais.

The original of this portrait was sent to Madame Hanska at
Wierzchownia; but a sketch of it belongs to M. Alexandre Dumas the
younger, and has often been engraved. From this, it seems as though
Theophile Gautier must have read his knowledge of Balzac's character
as a whole into his interpretation of the picture. To the ordinary
observer, Boulanger's portrait represents Balzac as the thinker,
worker, and fighter, stern and strenuous; not the delightful comrade
who inspired joy and merriment, and the recollection of whom made
Heine smile on his death-bed. The wonderful eyes which had not their
equal, and which asked questions like a doctor or a priest, are
brilliantly portrayed. Balzac himself allows this, though he complains
to Madame Hanska that they have more of the psychological expression
of the worker than of the loving soul of the individual--a fact for
which we may be grateful to Boulanger. Balzac is much delighted,
however, with Boulanger's portrayal of the insistence and intrepid
faith in the future, a la Coligny or a la Peter the Great, which are
at the base of his character; and he goes on to give an attractive,
though rather picturesque account of his career and past misfortunes,
which is evidently intended to counteract any misgivings Madame Hanska
may feel at his sternness as depicted in the portrait.

"Boulanger has seen the writer only,[*] not the tenderness of the
idiot who will always be deceived, not the softness towards other
people's troubles which cause all my misfortunes to come from my
holding out my hand to weak people who are falling into disaster. In
1827 I help a working printer, and therefore in 1829 find myself
crushed by fifty thousand francs of debt, and thrown without bread
into a gutter. In 1833, when my pen appears to be likely to bring in
enough to pay off my obligations, I attach myself to Werdet. I wish to
make him my only publisher, and in my desire to bring him prosperity,
I sign engagements, and in 1837 find myself owing a hundred and fifty
thousand francs, and liable on this account to be put under arrest, so
that I am obliged to hide. During this time I make myself the Don
Quixote of the poor. I hope to give courage to Sandeau, and I lose
through him four to five thousand francs, which would have saved other
people." It would be interesting to hear what Barbier and Werdet would
have said, if they had been allowed to read this letter; but on
Browning's principle, that a man should show one side to the world,
and the other to the woman he loves, no doubt Balzac's account of past
events was quite justifiable.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

Boulanger's picture gave Balzac a great deal of trouble, as well as
delighted yet anxious speculation about Madame Hanska's opinion of it,
when it arrived in Wierzchownia. This was naturally an important
matter, his meetings with her being so rare that, except his letters,
the picture would generally be her only reminder of him; and for this
reason it was most necessary that it should show him at his best. It
was therefore very trying that Boulanger should have exaggerated the
character of his quiet strength, and made him look like a bully and a
soldier; and we can enter thoroughly into his feelings, and sympathise
heartily with his uneasiness, because Boulanger has not quite caught
the fineness of contour under the fatness of the face. Undoubtedly,
the picture does not give the idea of a person of extreme refinement,
or distinction of appearance. Nevertheless, judging from stories told
by his contemporaries, and also from some of the books written by the
great novelist, it seems likely that Boulanger's powerful and strongly
coloured portrait, though only redeemed from coarseness by the intense
concentration of expression and the intellectual light in the
wonderful eyes, was strikingly true to nature, and caught one very
real aspect of the man. Perhaps, however, it was not the one
calculated to work most strongly on the feelings of his absent
lady-love; who, no doubt, poor Balzac hoped, would often make her way
to the spot in the picture gallery where his picture hung in its quaint
frame of black velvet, and would refresh herself with the sight of her
absent friend. When her miniature by Daffinger was sent him, he was
stupefied all day with joy; and he always carried it about with him,
considering it an amulet which brought him good fortune.

He believed in talismans, and had pretty fanciful ideas about being
present to his friends in the sudden flicker of the fire, or the
brightening of a candle-flame. Balzac, the Seer, the believer in
animal magnetism, in somnambulism, in telepathy, the weaver of strange
fancies and impossible daydreams--Balzac with philosophical theories
on the function of thought, and faith in the mystical creed of
Swedenborg--in short, the Balzac of "Louis Lambert" and "Seraphita,"
is not, however, depicted by Boulanger: _he_ can only be found in M.
Rodin's wonderful statue. There the great _voyant_, who, in the
beautiful vision entitled "L'Assomption," saw man and woman perfected
and brought to their highest development, stands in rapt contemplation
and concentration, his head slightly raised, as if listening for the
voice of inspiration, or hearing murmurs of mysteries still

Somnambulism, in particular, occupied much of Balzac's attention. He
wrote in 1832 to a doctor, M. Chapelain, who evidently shared his
interest in the subject, to ask why medical men had not made use of it
to discover the cause of cholera[*]; and on another occasion, after an
accident to his leg, he sent M. Chapelain, from Aix, two pieces of
flannel which he had worn, and wanted to know from them what caused
the mischief, and why the doctors at their last consultation advised a
blister. Unluckily, we hear no more of this matter, and never have the
satisfaction of learning how much the learned doctor deduced from the
fragments submitted to his inspection. Time after time Balzac mentions
in his correspondence that he has consulted somnambulists when he has
been anxious about the health of the Hanski family; and it is curious
that a few months before he received the letter from Madame Hanska,
telling of her husband's death, he had visited a sorcerer, who by
means of cards, told him many extraordinary things about his past
career, and said that in six weeks he would receive news which would
change his whole life.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 147.

The portrait was still destined to cause Balzac much anxiety. After
the close of the Salon, the painter had promised to take a copy of it
for Madame de Balzac, who, "between ourselves," Balzac remarked to
Madame Hanska, would not care much about it, and certainly would not
know the difference between the replica and the original, in which the
soul of the model was searched for, examined and depicted,[*] and
which was, of course, to belong to the beloved friend.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

However, there were still many delays. Boulanger showed "horrible
ingratitude," and did not appreciate sufficiently the honour done him
by his illustrious sitter in allowing his portrait to be taken. He
refused at first to begin the copy; but this difficulty was at last
arranged, and the original was carefully packed in a wooden crate,
instead of going in a roll as Balzac had at first intended. Still
there were innumerable stoppages, and doubt where the precious canvas
was located; till the impatient Balzac was only deterred from his
intention of starting a lawsuit against the authorities, by a fear of
bringing the noble name of Hanski into notoriety. It is sad that the
last time we hear of this precious picture in Balzac's lifetime was
when he went to Wierzchownia, in 1849; and then it had been relegated
to a library which few people visited, and he describes it with his
usual energy, as the most hideous daub it is possible to see--quite
black, from the faulty mixing of the colours; a canvas of which, for
the sake of France, he is thoroughly ashamed.

The sketch of the portrait is not disfigured; and the engravings of it
give an interesting view of Balzac's personality. With due deference
to the great psychologist, we cannot think the painter was wrong in
imparting a slightly truculent expression to the face. Balzac was
essentially a fighter: he started life with a struggle against his
family, against the opinion of his friends, and, harder than all,
against his own impotence to give expression to his genius; and, in
the course of his career he made countless enemies, and finished by
enrolling among their ranks most of the literary men of the day. This
alienation was to a great extent caused by his inveterate habit of
boasting, of applying the adjectives "sublime" and "magnificent" to
his own works: an idiosyncracy which was naturally annoying to his
brother authors. It was deprecated even by his devoted and admiring
friends; though they knew that, as George Sand says, it was only
caused by the _naivete_ of an artist, to whom his work was

His personal charm was so great, that Werdet, his enemy, says that in
his presence those who loved him, forgot any real or fancied complaint
against him, and only remembered the affection they felt for him.
Nevertheless, in the course of his life of fighting, his ever-pressing
anxieties and the strain of his work, coupled with his belief in the
importance and sacredness of his destiny, made him something of an
egotist. Therefore, in spite of his real goodness of heart, he would
sometimes shoulder his way through the world, oblivious of the
unfortunate people who had come to grief owing to their connection
with him, and careless of the lesser, though very real troubles of
harassed and exasperated editors, when his promised copy was not

Like Napoleon, to whom, amidst the gibes of his contemporaries, he
likened himself, he wanted everything; and those with this aspiration
must necessarily be heedless of their neighbours' smaller ambitions.
"Without genius, I am undone!" he cried in despair; but when it was
proved beyond dispute that this gift of debatable beneficence was his,
he was still unsatisfied.

What, after all, was the use of genius except as a stepping-stone to
the solid good things of the earth? Where lay the advantage of
superiority to ordinary men, if it could not be employed as a lever
with which to raise oneself? Reasoning thus, his extraordinary
versatility, his power of assimilation, and his varied interests, made
his ambitions many and diverse. The man who could enter with the
masterly familiarity of an expert into affairs of Church, State,
Society, and Finance, who would talk of medicine like a doctor, or of
science like a savant, naturally aspired to excellence in many

At times, as we have already seen, strange fancies filled his brain:
dreams, for instance, of occupying the highest posts in the land, or
of gaining fabulous sums of money by some wildly impossible scheme,
such as visiting the Great Mogul with a magical ring, or obtaining
rubies and emeralds from a rich Dutchman. The two apparently
incompatible sides to Balzac's character are difficult to reconcile.
On some occasions he appears as the keen business man, who studies
facts in their logical sequence, and has the power of drawing up legal
documents with no necessary point omitted. The masterly Code which he
composed for the use of the "Societe des Gens-de-Lettres" is an
example of this faculty. At other times we are astonished to find that
the great writer is a credulous believer in impossibilities, and a
follower of strange superstitions. A similar paradox may be found in
his books, where, side by side with a truth and occasional brutality
which makes him in some respects the forerunner of the realists, we
find a wealth of imagination and insistence on the power of the higher
emotions, which are completely alien to the school of Flaubert and

Perhaps in his own dictum, that genius is never quite sane, gives a
partial explanation of many of his fantastic schemes. The question of
money was his great preoccupation and anxiety, and possibly his
pecuniary difficulties, and the strain of the heavy chain of debt he
dragged after him, constantly adding to its weight by some fresh
extravagance, had affected his mind on this one point. Marriage with
poverty he could not conceive; and, as he was intensely affectionate,
he longed for a home and womanly companionship. "Is there no woman in
the world for me?" he cried despairingly; but in this, as in
everything else, he required so much, that it was difficult to find
any one who would, in his eyes, be worthy to become Madame Honore de
Balzac. His wife must be no ordinary woman; in addition to birth and
wealth, she must possess youth, beauty, and high intellectual gifts;
and one great difficulty was, that the lady endowed with this
combination of excellencies would naturally require some winning, and
Balzac had no time to woo. However, it was absolutely necessary that
his married life should be one of luxury and magnificence, beautiful
surroundings being indispensable to his scheme of existence, "Il
faut," he said, "que l'artiste mene une vie splendide." Therefore,
till the right lady was found, Balzac toiled unceasingly; and when in
Madame Hanska the personification of his ideal at last appeared, he
redoubled his efforts, till overwork, and his longing for her, caused
the decay of his physical powers, and his strength for labour

Literature, a rich marriage, a successful play, or a political career,
were all incidentally to make his fortune; though it must be said, in
justice, that this motive, though it entwines itself with everything
in Balzac's life, was not his only, or even his principal incentive to

In his desire to become a deputy, for instance, the longing to serve
his country and to have a voice in her Councils, which he would use
boldly, conscientiously, without fear or favour, to further her true
interests, was ever present with him. As early as 1819, he had begun
to take the keenest interest in the elections, telling M. Dablin, from
whom he wanted a visit, that he dreamed of nothing but him and the
deputies, and begging him for a complete list of those chosen in each
department, with a short notice of his opinion on each.

By the law of election of 1830, any Frenchman who was thirty years of
age, and contributed 500 francs a year directly, in taxes, was
eligible as a deputy. When the law was made Balzac was thirty-one, and
paid the requisite amount; he therefore determined, in spite of his
enormous output of literary work at this time, to add the career of a
deputy to his labours; and in April, 1831, he wrote to ask for the
assistance of the General Baron de Pommereul, with whom he had been
staying at Fougeres, collecting material for "Les Chouans," while at
the same time he worked up the country politically. His manifesto, at
this period, is found in the "Enquete sur la Politique des Deux
Ministeres,"[*] in which he calls the Government a "monarchie tempere
par les emeutes," objects to the "juste milieu" observed by the
Ministers; and while bringing forward, with apparent impartiality, the
advantages of the two courses of peace and war, very evidently longs
for France to take the battlefield again, to obtain what he considers
her natural frontier, that of the Rhine. He also enters _con amore_
into the details of raising a Napoleonic army, and of establishing the
system of the Landwehr in France. A very remarkable passage in this
manifesto is that on the Press; by which, he says, the Government is
terrorised. With extraordinary penetration, he advises that the
strength of journalism shall be broken by the sacrifice of the three
or four millions gained by the "timbre," and the liberation of the
newspapers, which are stronger than the seven ministers--for they
upset the Government, and cannot be themselves suppressed--there will
be a hundred, and the number will neutralise their power, so that they
will become of no account politically.

[*] Another political pamphlet, entitled "Du Gouvernement Moderne,"
    written by Balzac at Aix in 1832, has lately been published in the
    _North American Review_. The original is in the collection of the
    Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

Balzac had no chance at Fougeres, where a rich proprietor of the
neighbourhood was chosen as deputy, and no doubt M. de Pommereul
advised him not to proceed further in the matter. However, with his
usual tenacity, he wrote in September to M. Henri Berthoud, manager of
the _Gazette de Cambrai_, who wanted to collaborate with the _Revue de
Paris_, promising to further his wishes by all the means in his power,
if M. Berthoud would, on his part, support his candidature at Cambrai.
At the same time, he determined to try Angouleme, where he sometimes
went to stay with a relation, M. Grand-Besancon, and had met a M.
Berges, chief of the Government preparatory school, who was much
struck by his talent, and promised to help him. In June, 1831, he
wrote to Madame Carraud,[*] who took much interest in his political
aspirations, and sent her three copies of the Manifesto for
distribution. He told her that he was working day and night to become
deputy, was going out into society for this purpose; and was so
overwhelmed with business, that he had not touched "La Peau de
Chagrin" since he was last at Saint-Cyr.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 118.

He was evidently full of hope; but in spite of the powerful support of
the _Revue de Paris_, the _Temps_, the _Debats_, and the _Voleur_, the
steady-going electors had no mind to be represented by a penniless
young author, who was chiefly known to the general public as the
writer of the "Physiologie du Mariage," a book distinctly _not_
adapted for family reading. Therefore, in this, as in many other hopes
of his life, Balzac was doomed to disappointment; though the readers
of novels may be grateful to the unkind fate which caused him to turn
with renewed ardour to the neglected "Peau de Chagrin." He cherished a
slight resentment against Angouleme, as he showed in "Illusions
Perdues," where the aristocracy of that town are rather unkindly
treated; but he was not discouraged in his political ambitions, and in
1832 he joined with M. Laurentie, the Duc de Noailles, the Duc de
Fitz-James (nephew to the Princesse de Chimay, who acted as proxy for
Marie Antoinette at Madame de Berny's christening) and others, to
found a Legitimist journal, the _Renovateur_. In this appeared an
article against the proposed destruction of the monument to the Duc de
Berry, in which Balzac indignantly asks: "Why do you not finish the
monument, and raise an altar where the priests may pray God to pardon
the assassin?"

Having thus shown his principles clearly, he turned his attention in
1832 to Chinon, which was close to Tours, where he and his family had
lived for so long, and to Sache, where he was a constant visitor.
There, if anywhere, he seemed likely to succeed; and the
_Quotidienne_, the paper which afterwards supported him during his
lawsuit against the _Revue de Paris_, had promised its voice in his
favour. Again cruel Fate dogged his footsteps, as in May he tumbled
out of his tilbury, and his head came violently into contact with what
he calls the "heroic pavements of July"; the accident being a sad
result of his childish delight in driving at a tremendous pace in the
Bois, which is rebuked by his sage adviser, Madame Carraud. Certainly
carriages, horses, and a stable, seemed hardly prudent acquisitions
for a man in debt; but Balzac always defended his pet extravagances
with the specious reasoning that nothing succeeds like success; and
that most of his literary friends did not become rich because they
lived in garrets, and were on that account trampled on by haughty
publishers and editors. He writes to Madame de Girardin on this
occasion: "Only think, that I who am so handsome have been cruelly
disfigured for several days, and it has seemed curious to be uglier
than I really am."[*] As a further and more serious result, he was
laid up in bed, and had to undergo a severe regimen of bleeding,
during the time that he should have been at Sache, working hard about
his election; and when he did arrive there, in June, he recognised
that he was too late for success. However, another dissolution, which
after all did not take place, was expected in September, and Balzac
looked forward to making a determined attempt then. This hope being
frustrated, it was not till 1834 that he again came forward as a
candidate: this time for Villefranche, where, curiously enough,
another M. de Balzac was nominated, and when M. de Hanski wrote to
congratulate Balzac, the latter was obliged to explain the mistake. On
this occasion he had purposed to present himself as champion of the
Bourbon Royal Family, especially of the Duchesse de Berry, for whom he
had an immense admiration, while she read his books with much delight
during her captivity in the Castle of Blaye. He wrote to M. de Hanski
that he considered the exile of Madame and the Comte de Chambord the
great blot on France in the nineteenth century, as the French
Revolution had been her shame in the eighteenth.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 147.

This was Balzac's last serious attempt to stand for Parliament during
the Monarchy of July, though he often talked in his letters to Madame
Hanska of his political aspirations, looked forward to becoming a
deputy in 1839, and hoped till then to dominate European opinion
--rather a large ambition--by a political publication. In his letters
he is continually on the point of beginning his career as a statesman;
and in 1835 his views are even more inflated than usual. He will
absorb the _Revue des Deux Mondes_ and the _Revue de Paris_, is in
treaty to obtain one newspaper, and will start two others himself, so
that his power will be irresistible. "Le temps presse, les evenements
se compliquent,"[*] he cries impatiently. He is still strangled by
want of money--a hundred thousand francs is the modest sum he
requires; but he will write a play in the name of his secretary, and
the spectre of debt will be laid for ever.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

However, in the stress of work, which made his own life like the
crowded canvas of one of his own novels, these brilliant schemes came
to nothing, and Balzac was never in the proud position of a deputy. He
gives his views clearly in a letter to Madame Carraud in 1830.[*]
"France ought to be a constitutional monarchy, to have a hereditary
royal family, a house of peers of extraordinary strength, which will
represent property, etc., with all possible guarantees for heredity,
and privileges of which the nature must be discussed; then a second
assembly, elective, representing all the interests of the intermediary
mass, which separates those of high social position from the classes
who are generally termed the people."

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 108.

"The purport of the laws, and their spirit, should be designed to
enlighten the masses as much as possible--those who have nothing, the
workmen, the common people, etc., in order that as many as possible
should arrive at the intermediary state; but the people should, at the
same time, be kept under a most powerful yoke, so that its individuals
may find light, help, and protection, and that no idea, no statute, no
transaction, may make them turbulent.

"The greatest possible liberty should be allowed to the leisured
classes, for they possess something to keep, they have everything to
lose, they can never be dissolute.

"As much power as possible should be granted to the Government. Thus
the Government, the rich people, and the bourgeoisie have interest in
keeping the lowest class happy, and in increasing the number of the
middle class, which is the true strength of the state.

"If rich people, the hereditary possessors of fortune in the highest
Chamber, are corrupt in their manners, and start abuses, these are
inseparable from the existence of all society; they must be accepted,
to balance the advantages given."

This extract is taken from a letter which is, Balzac tells his
correspondent, strictly private; but, with his usual independence and
fearlessness, he did not hesitate to enunciate his opinions in public,
and invariably refused to stoop to compromise or to disguise.
Consequently, we cannot wonder that he never attained his ambition;
particularly as he lacked the aid of money, and had no support, except
the politically doubtful one of a literary reputation. His penetration
and power of prescience were remarkable, and it is startling to find
that he foretells the fall of the Monarchy of July, and the Revolution
of 1848.[*] "I do not think," he says, "that in ten years from now the
actual form of government will subsist--August, 1830, has forgotten
the part played by youth and intelligence. Youth compressed will burst
like the boiler of a steam engine." In "Les Paysans," one of his most
wonderful novels, he gives a vivid picture of the constant struggle
going on under the surface between the peasants and the bourgeoisie,
and shows that the triumph of the former class must be the inevitable

[*] "Revue Parisienne," p. 26

His was essentially a loyal, reverential nature, with the soldierly
respect for constituted authority which is often the characteristic of
strong natures; and he was absolutely unswerving in his principles
--the courage and tenacity which distinguished him through life, never
deserting him in political emergencies. He was patriotic and
high-minded; absolutely immovable in all that concerned his duty. On
one occasion, when it was proposed at a public meeting that the
Legitimists should follow the example of their political opponents and
should stoop to evil doings, he refused decidedly, saying: "The cause
of the life of man is superhuman. It is God who judges; His judgment
does not hinge on our passions."[*] In his eyes, Religion and the
Monarchy were twin sisters, and he speaks sadly in "Le Medecin de
Campagne" of the downfall of both these powers. "With the monarchy we
have lost honour, with our unfruitful attempts at government,
patriotism; and with our fathers' religion, Christian virtue. These
principles now only exist partially, instead of inspiring the masses,
for these ideas never perish altogether. At present, to support
society we have nothing but selfishness."[+] Elsewhere, he laments the
atheistic government, and the increase of incredulity; and longs for
Christian institutions, and a strong hierarchy, united to a religious

[*] "Balzac et ses Oeuvres," by Lamartine de Prat.

[+] "Le Medecin de Campagne."

Balzac was not orthodox. There is no doubt, from a letter to Madame
Hanska, that the Swedenborgian creed he enunciates in "Seraphita" is
to a great extent his own; but he believed in God, in the immortality
of the soul, and considered natural religion, of which, in his eyes,
the Bourbons were the depositors, absolutely essential to the
well-being of a State. He had a great respect for the priesthood, and
has left many a charming and sympathetic picture of the parish _cure_,
such as l'Abbe Janvier in "Le Medecin de Campagne," who acts hand in
hand with the good doctor Benassis, as an enlightened benefactor to
the poor; or l'Abbe Bonnet, the hero of "Le Cure du Village," whose
face had "the impress of faith, an impress giving the stamp of the
human greatness which approaches most nearly to divine greatness, and
of which the undefinable expression beautifies the most ordinary
features." In "Les Paysans" we have another fine portrait, L'Abbe
Brossette, who is doing his work nobly among debased and cunning
peasants. "To serve was his motto, to serve the Church and the
Monarchy at the most menaced points; to serve in the last rank, like a
soldier who feels destined sooner or later to rise to generalship, by
his desire to do well, and by his courage."

There is a beautiful touch in that terrible book "La Cousine Bette,"
where the infamous Madame Marneffe is dying of a loathsome and
infectious disease, so that even Bette, who feels for her the
"strongest sentiment known, the affection of a woman for a woman, had
not the heroic constancy of the Church," and could not enter the room.
Religion alone, in the guise of a Sister of Mercy, watched over her.

                              CHAPTER X


  Balzac starts the _Chronique de Paris_--Balzac and Theophile
  Gautier--Lawsuit with the _Revue de Paris_--Failure of the
  _Chronique_--Strain and exhaustion--Balzac travels in Italy
  --Madame Marbouty--Return to Paris--Death of Madame de Berny
  --Balzac's grief and family anxieties--He is imprisoned for
  refusal to serve in Garde Nationale--Werdet's failure--Balzac's
  desperate pecuniary position and prodigies of work--Close of
  the disastrous year 1836.

Balzac opened the first day of the year 1836 by becoming proprietor of
the _Chronique de Paris_, an obscure Legitimist publication, which had
been founded in 1834 by M. William Duckett. It started under Balzac's
management with a great flourish of trumpets, the Comte (afterwards
Marquis) de Belloy and the Comte de Gramont taking posts as his
sectaries; while Jules Sandeau, Emile Regnault, Gustave Planche,
Theophile Gautier, Charles de Bernard, and others, became his
collaborators. Balzac's special work was to provide a series of papers
on political questions, entitled "La France et l'Etranger," papers
which show his extraordinary versatility; and his helpers were to
provide novels and poems, satire, drama, and social criticism; so that
the scope of the periodical was a wide one.

At first, Balzac was most sanguine about the success of his new
enterprise, and was very active and enthusiastic in working for it. On
March 27th, he wrote to Madame Hanska about the embarrassment caused
him by his plate having been pawned during his unfortunate absence in
Vienna, nearly a year ago. It was worth five or six thousand francs,
and he required three thousand to redeem it. This sum he had never
been able to raise, while, to add to his difficulties, on the 31st of
the month he would owe about eight thousand four hundred francs.
Nevertheless, he _must_ have the silver next day or perish, as he had
asked some people to dine who would, he hoped, give sixteen thousand
francs for sixteen shares in the _Chronique_. If borrowed plate were
on his table he was terribly afraid that the whole transaction would
fail; as one of the people invited was a painter, and painters are an
"observant, malicious, profound race, who take in everything at a
glance."[*] Everything else in his rooms would represent the opulence,
ease, and wealth of the happy artist.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

Poor Balzac! To add to his difficulties, it was impossible to borrow
anywhere in Paris, as he had only purchased the _Chronique_ through
the exceptional credit he enjoyed, and this would be at once destroyed
if he were known to be in difficulties. We do not hear any further
particulars about this tragedy, and cannot tell how far the
conjunction of the borrowed plate--if it _were_ after all borrowed
--and the astute painter, contributed to the downfall of the
_Chronique_. Werdet, however, attributes the disaster to the laziness
of the talented staff, who could not be induced to work together.
However that may be, the result was a terrible blow to Balzac; who was
now, in addition to all his other liabilities, in debt for forty
thousand francs to the shareholders.

It is as a member of the staff of the _Chronique_, that the name of
Theophile Gautier first appears in connection with Balzac; and the two
men remained close friends till Balzac's death. In 1835 Theophile
Gautier published "Mademoiselle de Maupin," in which his incomparable
style excited Balzac's intense admiration, painfully conscious as he
was of his own deficiencies in this direction. Therefore, in forming
the staff of the _Chronique_, he at once thought of Gautier, and
despatched Jules Sandeau to arrange matters with the young author, and
to give him an invitation to breakfast. Theophile Gautier, much
flattered, but at the same time rather alarmed at the idea of an
interview with the celebrated Balzac, tells us that he thought over
various brilliant discourses on his way to the Rue Cassini, but was so
nervous when he arrived that all his preparations came to nothing, and
he merely remarked on the fineness of the weather. However, Balzac
soon put him at his ease, and evidently took a fancy to him at once,
as during breakfast he let him into the secret that for this solemn
occasion he had borrowed silver dishes from his publisher!

The friendship between Balzac and Gautier, though not as intimate and
confidential as that between Balzac and Borget, was true and
steadfast; and was never disturbed by literary jealousy. Gautier
supported Balzac's plays in _La Presse_, and helped with many of his
writings. Traces of his workmanship, M. de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul
tells us, are specially noticeable in the descriptions of the art of
painting and of the studio, in the edition of "Un Chef-d'Oeuvre
Inconnu" which appeared in 1837.[*] These descriptions are in
Gautier's manner, and do not appear in the edition of 1831; so that in
all probability they were written, or at any rate inspired by him.
Gautier also wrote for Balzac, who had absolutely no faculty for
verse, the supposed translation of two Spanish sonnets in the
"Memoires de Deux Jeunes Mariees," and the sonnet called "La Tulipe"
in "Un Grand Homme de Province a Paris." On his side, Balzac defended
Gautier on all occasions, and in 1839 dedicated "Les Secrets de la
Princesse de Cadignan," then called "Un Princesse Parisienne," "A
Theophile Gautier, son ami, H. de Balzac."

[*] "H. de Balzac and Theophile Gautier" in "Autour de Honore de
    Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

Beyond this friendship, the affair of the _Chronique_ brought Balzac
nothing but worry and trouble. And it came at a time when misfortune
assailed him on all sides. Madame de Berny was approaching her end,
and he wrote to his mother on January 1st, 1836, the day he started
the _Chronique de Paris_: "Ah! my poor mother, I am broken-hearted.
Madame de Berny is dying! It is impossible to doubt it! Only God and I
know what is my despair. And I must work! Work weeping."[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 323.

In the midst of his trouble, a most unfortunate occurrence took place,
which besides embittering his life at the time had a decided effect on
his subsequent career; and indirectly obscured his reputation even
after his death.

In 1833, as we have already seen, Balzac, after long dissensions with
Amedee Pichot, had definitely left the _Revue de Paris_. However, in
1834, when Pichot retired from the management, the new directors, MM.
Anthoine de Saint-Joseph, Bonnaire, and Achille Brindeau, tried to
satisfy their readers by recalling Balzac; and "Seraphita" began to
appear in the pages of the _Revue_. Difficulties, as might be
expected, soon arose between Balzac and the management; and the
undercurrent of irritation which subsisted on both sides only required
some slight extra cause of offence, to render an outbreak inevitable.
In September, 1835, M. Buloz, already director of the _Revue des Deux
Mondes_, an extremely able, but bad-mannered and dictatorial man, took
possession also of the much-tossed-about _Revue de Paris_. Balzac had
known Buloz since 1831, when the latter bought the _Revue des Deux
Mondes_, which was then in very low water, and was working with
tremendous energy to make it successful. At that time, Buloz and he
often shared a modest dinner, and with the permission of M. Rabou,
then manager of the _Revue de Paris_, Balzac contributed "L'Enfant
Maudit," "Le Message," and "Le Rendez-Vous" to the _Revue des Deux
Mondes_, and only charged a hundred francs for the same quantity of
pages for which he was paid a hundred and sixty francs by Rabou.
However, on April 15th, 1832, there appeared in the _Revue des Deux
Mondes_ a scathing, anonymous criticism of the first dizain of the
"Contes Drolatiques." This had apparently been written by Gustave
Planche; but Balzac considered Buloz responsible for it, and therefore
refused to write any longer for his review. In August, 1832, Buloz,
who does not appear to have been particularly scrupulous in his
business relations, wrote to apologise, saying that though it was not
in his power to suppress the offending article, he had done his best
to soften it; and that now he was sole master of the Revue, so that
not a word or line could pass without his permission. He therefore
begged Balzac to resume his old connection with him, and explained
that if he had not been confined to his bed and unable to walk, or
even to bear the shaking of a cab, he would have come to visit him,
and matters would have been quickly arranged. Balzac's answer, which
is written from Angouleme, is couched in the uncompromising terms of
"no surrender," which he generally adopted when he considered himself
aggrieved. He did not absolutely refuse to write for the Review, and
referred Buloz to Madame de Balzac for terms; but, by the tone of his
letter, he negatived decidedly the idea of resuming friendly relations
with his correspondent, and while rather illogically professing a
lofty indifference to criticism, remarked that he felt the utmost
contempt for those who calumniated his books.[*]

[*] See "Correspondance Inedite--Honore de Balzac," _Revue Bleue_,
    March 14, 1903.

After this the _Revue des Deux Mondes_ became hostile to Balzac; and
when Buloz and Brindeau bought the _Revue de Paris_, a proceeding
which must have been a shock to him, he believed that Brindeau would
be sole director, and drew up his agreement with him alone; having
already refused to have business dealings with the ever active Buloz.
However, Buloz soon took the principal place, and was so apologetic
for his past misdeeds, and so insistent in promising amendment for the
future, that Balzac, evidently reflecting that it would be distinctly
against his interests to exclude himself from two of the most
important reviews in Paris, consented to reconsider his decision.
Therefore the following agreement, which is interesting as an example
of Balzac's usual conditions when issuing his novels in serial form,
was drawn up between the two men.

The Review was only to use Balzac's articles for its subscribers. He
was to regain absolute rights over his books three months after their
first publication--this was an invariable stipulation in all Balzac's
treaties--and was to give up fifty francs out of the two hundred and
fifty considered due to him for each "feuille" of fifteen pages, to
reimburse Buloz for the number of times the proofs had to be
reprinted.[*] On these terms he agreed to finish "Le Pere Goriot," as
well as "Seraphita," and to write the "Memoires d'une Jeune Mariee,"
with the understanding that a separate contract was to be made for
each of his contributions, and that he was free to write for other

[*] The account of the lawsuit between Balzac and the _Revue de Paris_
    is taken from his "Historique du Proces auquel a donne lieu 'Le
    Lys dans la Vallee,'" which formed the second preface of the first
    edition of "Le Lys dans la Vallee" and is contained in vol. xxii.
    of the Edition Definitive of Balzac's works; and from "H. de
    Balzac et 'La Revue de Paris,'" which is the Review's account of
    the case, and may be found in "Un dernier chapitre de l'Historie
    des Oeuvres de H. de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberche de

Almost at once difficulties began, difficulties which are inevitable
when a genius of the stamp of Balzac is bound by an unfortunate
agreement to provide a specified quantity of copy at stated intervals.
Balzac could not write to order. "Seraphita," planned to please Madame
Hanska, was intended to be a masterpiece such as the world had never
seen. From Balzac's letters there is no doubt that he was
conscientiously anxious to finish it, only, as he remarks, "I have
perhaps presumed too much of my strength in thinking that I could do
so many things in so short a time."[*] When he made the unfortunate
journey to Vienna, "Seraphita" still required, at his own computation,
eight days' and eight nights' work; but, settled there, he turned his
attention at once to "Le Lys dans la Vallee," which he had substituted
for the "Memoires d'une Jeune Mariee," and at which he laboured
strenuously. The first number of this appeared in the _Revue de
Paris_, on November 22, 1835; but in the meantime Balzac's uncorrected
proofs had been sold by Buloz to MM. Bellizard and Dufour, proprietors
of the _Revue Etrangere de St. Petersbourg_. Therefore, in October,
before the authorised version was published in Paris, there appeared
in Russia, under the title of "Le Lys dans la Vallee," what Balzac
indignantly characterised as the "unformed thoughts which served me as
sketch and plan."

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

This was double treachery on the part of Buloz, as, by the treaty
already mentioned, he had bought the right to publish Balzac's novels
in the _Revue de Paris_ only; and even if this stipulation had not
been made, he had no excuse for selling as Balzac's completed work,
what he knew to be absolutely unfinished. Balzac, after this, refused
to receive him on friendly terms; but a meeting was arranged at the
house of Jules Sandeau, at which Balzac and the Comte de Belloy met
Buloz and Bonnaire. Sandeau and Emile Regnault, who were friends of
both the contending parties, were also present; and they, after this
conference, became for a time exclusively Balzac's friends, as he
remarks significantly. Balzac owed the Review 2,100 francs; but the
remainder of the "Lys" was ready to appear, and he calculated that for
this, the payment due to him would be about 2,400 francs. He therefore
proposed that the account between him and the journal should be closed
with the end of the "Lys"; and that as indemnity for the injury done
him by the action of Buloz in publishing his unfinished work in the
_Revue Etrangere_, he should be permitted to send the novel in book
form to a publisher at once, instead of waiting the three months
stipulated in the agreement. MM. Buloz and Bonnaire refused this
arrangement, declaring that it would be extortion; and after giving
them twenty-four hours for reflection, Balzac announced his intention
of writing no longer for the _Revue de Paris_, and prepared to bring
an action against the proprietors.

Buloz and Bonnaire, however, decided that it would be good policy for
the first attack to be on their side, and as Balzac could not obtain
his proofs from Russia for a month at least, they sued him for breach
of contract in not writing "Les Memoires d'une Jeune Mariee," and
claimed 10,000 francs damages for his refusal to finish the "Lys dans
la Vallee"; as well as fifty francs for each day's delay in his doing
this. Balzac brought forward his counter claim, and offered the _Revue
de Paris_ the 2,100 francs which had been advanced to him; but they
refused to be satisfied with the payment of this debt; and in May,
1836, the case opened.

There was a side issue on the subject of "Seraphita," about which the
_Revue_ certainly had just cause for complaint. In May, 1834, Balzac
had been paid 1,700 francs in advance for this, and the first number
appeared on June 1st, the second not following till July 20th. Then
Balzac disappeared altogether; and when he returned in November, he
proposed to begin "Le Pere Goriot" in the _Revue_, and promised after
this had come to an end to return to "Seraphita"; but it was not till
the middle of August, 1835, that he at last produced another number.
After this there were again delays, and, according to Buloz, the whole
of "Seraphita" was never offered to the _Revue de Paris_. The truth,
however, appears to have been that Buloz at last completely lost his
temper at Balzac's continual failures to fulfil his engagements, and
declared that "Seraphita" was unintelligible, and was losing
subscribers to the Review. Balzac, furious at this insult, paid Buloz
300 francs, to defray the expenses already incurred for the printing
of "Seraphita," and took back his work. Buloz's receipt for this money
is dated November 21st, 1835, two days before the appearance of the
first number of the "Lys dans la Vallee" in Paris, so storms were
gathering on all sides. Ten days after this, on December 2nd, Werdet
brought out "Seraphita" in book form in "Le Livre Mystique," which
contained also "Louis Lambert" and "Les Proscrits," a fact which
proved Balzac's contention that in November it was ready for
publication in the _Revue de Paris_. The first edition of "Le Livre
Mystique" was sold in ten days, and the second followed it a month
after, which, as Balzac remarked sardonically, was "good fortune for
an unintelligible work." This success on the part of his enemy no
doubt did not help to soften the indignant Buloz; and he must have
been further exasperated by an article in the _Chronique de Paris_, in
which Balzac was styled the "Providence des Revues," and the injury
the _Revue de Paris_ sustained in the loss of his collaboration was
insisted on with irritating emphasis.

The case was carried on with the utmost bitterness by the _Revue de
Paris_; Balzac's morals, his honesty, even his prose, being attacked
with the greatest violence. Editors and publishers on all sides gave
their testimony against him. He must have been amazed and confounded
by the deep hatred he had evoked by his want of consideration, which
on several occasions certainly amounted to a breach of good faith. All
his old sins found him out. Amedee Pichot, former manager of the
_Revue de Paris_, Forfellier of the _Echo de la Jeune France_, and
Capo de Feuillide of _L'Europe Litteraire_, raised their voices
against the high-handed and rapacious author. The smothered enmity and
irritation of years at last found vent; and it was in vain that Balzac
demonstrated, in the masterly defence of his conduct written in one
night, which formed the preface to the "Lys dans la Vallee," that he
had always remained technically within his rights, and that as far as
money was concerned he owed the publishers nothing. Unwritten
conventions had been defied, because it was possible to defy them with
impunity; and editors who had gone through many black hours because of
the failure of the great man to keep his promises, and who smarted
under the recollection of the discourteous refusal of advances it had
been an effort to make, did not spare their arrogant enemy now that it
was possible to band together against him.

Perhaps, however, the bitterest blow to poor Balzac, was the fact that
his brother authors, of whose rights he had been consistently the
champion, did not scruple to turn against him. Either terrorised by
the all-powerful Buloz, or jealous of one who insisted on his own
abilities and literary supremacy with loud-voiced reiteration,
Alexandre Dumas, Roger de Beauvoir, Frederic Soulie, Eugene Sue, Mery,
and Balzac's future acquaintance Leon Gozlan, signed a declaration at
the instance of Buloz, to the effect that it was the general custom
that articles written for the _Revue de Paris_ should be published
also in the _Revue Etrangere_, and should thus avoid Belgian piracy.
Jules Janin, whose criticisms on Balzac are peculiarly venomous, and
Loeve-Veimars, added riders to this statement, expressing the same
views, only with greater insistence. To these assertions, Balzac
replied that Buloz had specially paid George Sand 100 francs a sheet
over the price arranged, to obtain the right of sending her corrected
proofs to Russia; and that arrangements on a similar basis had been
made with Gustave Planche and M. Fontaney. The fact that exceptional
payments were made on these occasions was conclusive evidence against
simultaneous publication in Paris and St. Petersburg being the
received practice. Moreover, as Balzac observes with unanswerable
justice, even if this custom _did_ exist, it would count as nothing
against the agreement between him and Buloz. "M. Janin can take a
carriage and go himself to carry his manuscripts to Brussels; M. Sue
can get into a boat and sell his books in Greece; M. Loeve-Veimars can
oblige his editors if they consent, to make as many printed copies of
his future works as there are languages in Europe: all that will be
quite right, the _Revue_ is to-day like a publisher. My treaties,
however, are made and written; they are before the eyes of the judge,
they are not denied, and state that I only gave my articles to the
_Revue de Paris_, to be inserted solely _in_ the _Revue_, and nowhere

Balzac won the case. It was decided by the Tribunal of Judges on
Friday, June 3rd, 1836, that he was not bound to give the "Memoires
d'une Jeune Mariee" to the _Revue de Paris_, as when promised, the
story had not been yet written, and the "Lys dans la Vallee" had been
substituted for it; also that the 2100 francs which he had already
offered to Buloz was all that he owed the Review. The judges left
unsettled the question as to whether the proprietors of the _Revue de
Paris_ were entitled to hand over their contributors' corrected proofs
to the _Revue Etrangere_; but decreed that they were certainly in the
wrong when they parted with unfinished proofs. They were therefore
condemned to pay the costs of the action.

Balzac's was a costly victory. Except the _Quotidienne_, which stood
by him consistently, not a paper was on his side. His clumsiness of
style, his habit of occasionally coining words to express his meaning,
and the coarseness of some of his writings, combined with the
prejudice caused by his literary arrogance, had always, to a certain
extent, blinded literary and critical France to his consummate merits
as a writer. Now, however, want of appreciation had changed to bitter
dislike; and in addition to abuse, indiscriminate and often absurd of
his writings, his enemies assailed his morals, ridiculed his personal
appearance, and made fun of his dress and surroundings. He was not
conciliatory; he did not bow to the storm. In June, 1839, appeared the
second part of "Illusions Perdues," which was entitled "Un Grand Homme
de Province a Paris," and was a violent attack on French journalism;
and in March, 1843, Balzac published the "Monographie de la Presse
Parisienne," a brilliant piece of work, but certainly not calculated
to repair the breach between him and the publishing world.
Nevertheless, though his pride and independence prevented him from
trying to temporise, there is no doubt that Balzac suffered keenly
from the hostility he encountered on all sides. He writes to Madame
Hanska directly after the lawsuit: "Ah! you cannot imagine how intense
my life has been during this month! I was alone for everything;
harassed by the journal people who demanded money of me, harassed by
payments to make, without having any money because I was making none,
harassed by the lawsuit, harassed by my book, the proofs of which I
had to correct day and night. No, I am astonished at having survived
this struggle. Life is too heavy; I do not live with pleasure."[*] To
add to his difficulties, Madame Bechet had lately become Madame
Jacquillard, and possibly urged to action by M. Jacquillard, and
alarmed by tales of Balzac's misdemeanours, she became restive, and
demanded the last two volumes of the "Etudes de Moeurs" in twenty-four
hours, or fifty francs for each day's delay. The affairs of the
_Chronique_ were at this time causing Balzac much anxiety, and he fled
to the Margonnes at Sache; not for rest, but to work fifteen hours a
day for "cette odieuse Bechet"; and there, in eight days, he not only
invented and composed the "Illusions Perdues," but also wrote a third
of it.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

However, the strain had been too great even for _his_ extraordinary
powers, and while walking in the park after dinner with M. and Mme. de
Margonne, on the day that letters arrived from Paris with the news
that liquidation of the _Chronique_ was necessary, he fell down in a
fit under one of the trees. Completely stunned for the time, he could
write nothing; and thought, in despair, of giving up the hopeless
struggle, and of hiding himself at Wierzchownia. Fortunately, his
unconquerable courage soon returned; he travelled to Paris, wound up
the affairs of the _Chronique_; and as Werdet had allowed him twenty
days' liberty, and his tailor and a workman had lent him money to pay
his most pressing debts, he obtained a letter of credit from
Rothschild, and started for Italy.

His ostensible object was a visit to Turin, to defend the Comte
Guidoboni-Visconti in a lawsuit, as the Count, whose acquaintance he
had made at the Italian Opera, could not go himself to Italy. In
reality, however, in his exhaustion, and the overstrained state of his
nerves, he craved for the freedom and distraction which he could only
find in travel. Madame Visconti was an Englishwoman--another Etrangere
--her name before her marriage had been Frances Sarah Lowell. Later
on, she became one of Balzac's closest friends, and Madame Hanska was
extremely jealous of her influence.

It is amusing to discover that Balzac did not take this journey alone.
He was accompanied by a lady whom he describes in a letter as
"charming, _spirituelle_, and virtuous," and who, never having had the
chance in her life of breathing the air of Italy, and being able to
steal twenty days from the fatigues of housekeeping, had trusted in
him for inviolable secrecy and "scipionesque" behaviour. "She knows
whom I love, and finds there the strongest safeguard."[*] This lady
was Madame Marbouty, known in literature as Claire Brunne, and during
her stay in Italy as "Marcel"--a name taken from the devoted servant
in Meyerbeer's opera "Les Huguenots," which had just appeared. A few
weeks earlier, she had refused to travel in Touraine with Balzac, as
she considered that a journey with him in France would compromise her;
but, apparently, in Italy this objection did not apply. She travelled
in man's clothes, as Balzac's page, and both he and she were
childishly delighted by the mystification they caused. Comte Sclopis,
the celebrated Piedmontese statesman, who acted as their cicerone in
Turin society, was much fascinated by the charming page. The liking
was evidently mutual, as, after the travellers had left Italy, Balzac
records that at Vevey, Lausanne, and all the places they visited,
Marcel cried: "And no Sclopis!" and it sounds as though the
exclamation had been accompanied by a sigh. Several times during the
journey the lively Amazon was mistaken for George Sand, whom she
resembled in face, as well as in the fancy for donning masculine
attire; and the mistake caused her intense satisfaction. At Geneva,
haunted to Balzac by happy memories, the travellers stayed at the
Hotel de l'Arc, and Balzac's mind was full of his lady-love, whose
spirit seemed to him to hallow the place. He saw the house where she
stayed, went along the road where they had walked together, and was
refreshed in the midst of his troubles and anxieties by the thought of

[*] See "L'Ecole des Manages," in "Autour de Honore de Balzac," by the
    Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

On August 22nd the travellers returned to Paris on excellent terms
with each other, and for some years after this journey friendly
relations continued. In 1842, in remembrance of their adventure,
Balzac dedicated "La Grenadiere" to Madame Marbouty, under the name of
Caroline, and added the words, "A la poesie du voyage, le voyageur
reconnaissant." Later on, however, they quarrelled, and she wrote "Une
Fausse Position," in which Balzac is represented in a decidedly
unflattering light; and after this he naturally withdrew the
dedication in "La Grenadiere."

On his return from this amusing trip a terrible trouble awaited
Balzac. Among the letters heaped together upon his writing-table was
one from Alexandre de Berny, announcing abruptly the death of Madame
de Berny, which had taken place on July 27th. Balzac was utterly
crushed by this blow. He had not seen Madame de Berny for some time,
as since the death of her favourite son she had shut herself up
completely, pretending to Balzac that she was not very ill, but saying
laughingly that she only wanted to see him when she was beautiful and
in good health. Now she was dead, and the news came without
preparation in the midst of his other troubles. She was half his life,
he cried in despair; and writing to Madame Hanska he said that his
sorrow had almost killed him. In the midst of this overwhelming grief
other worries added their quota to the weight oppressing Balzac. Henri
de Balzac gave his family continual trouble, while Laurence's husband,
M. de Montzaigle, refused to support his children; in fact, the only
faint relief to the darkness surrounding the Balzac family at this
time was M. Surville's hopefulness about the Loire Canal scheme.

In addition to all these misfortunes, Balzac had to submit to the
annoyance of several days' imprisonment in the Hotel des Haricots, for
his refusal to serve in the Garde Nationale, a duty which was, he
said, the nightmare of his life. The place of detention was not
luxurious. There was no fire, and he was in the same hall for a time
with a number of workmen, who made a terrible noise. Fortunately, he
was soon moved to a private room, where he was warm and could work in
peace. After this, in terrible pecuniary difficulties, and feeling
acutely the loss of the woman who had been an angel to him in his
former troubles, he left the Rue Cassini and fled from Paris, to avoid
further detention by the civic authorities. He took refuge at
Chaillot, and under the name of Madame Veuve Durand hid at No. 13, Rue
des Batailles. Here he lodged for a time in a garret formerly occupied
by Jules Sandeau, from the window of which there was a magnificent
view of Paris, from the Ecole Militaire to the barrier of the Trone,
and from the Pantheon to L'Etoile. From time to time Balzac would
pause in his work to gaze on the ocean of houses below; but he never
went out, for he was pursued by his creditors.

It is curiously characteristic of his love of luxury that, destitute
as he was, he had no intention of occupying this modest garret for
long, but that a drawing-room on the second floor, which would cost
700 francs, was already in preparation for his use. It was to No. 13,
Rue des Batailles, that Emile de Girardin, who had just started _La
Presse_, wrote asking him to contribute to its pages; and, in
consequence, Balzac produced "La Vieille Fille," which began to appear
on October 23rd, and shocked the subscribers very much. Here, too, at
a most inopportune moment, Madame Hanska addressed to him a depressed
and mournful letter, of which he complains bitterly. She was at this
time extremely jealous of Madame Visconti, from whom she suspected
that Madame de Mortsauf, in the "Lys dans la Vallee," had been drawn;
and Balzac says he supposes that he must give up the Italian opera,
the only pleasure he has, because a charming and graceful woman
occupies the same box with him. In October he paid a sad little visit
to La Boulonniere, which must have brought before him keenly the loss
he had sustained; and after he spent a few days at Sache, where he was
ill for a day or two as a result of mental worry and overwork.

Another blow was to fall on Balzac before the disastrous year 1836
came to a close. The "Lys dans la Vallee," on which Werdet had pinned
all his hopes, had sold very badly, possibly owing to the hostility of
the newspapers. As a climax to all Balzac's miseries, in October
Werdet failed. This was doubly serious, as Balzac had signed several
bills of exchange for his publisher, and was therefore liable for a
sum of 13,000 francs. Werdet wrote a book abusing Balzac as the cause
of his failure; and Balzac, on his side, was certainly unsympathetic
about the misfortunes of a man whose interests, after all, were bound
up with his own, and whom he politely called "childish, bird-witted,
and obstinate as an ass." The truth seems to have been that, as Werdet
aspired to be Balzac's sole publisher, he was obliged to buy up all
the copies of Balzac's books which were already in the hands of
publishers, and not having capital for this, he obtained money by
credit and settled to pay by bills at long date. He also brought
before the public a certain number of books by writers sympathetic to
his client, and as these books were usually by young and unknown
authors, their printing did not cover expenses. As a consequence of
these imprudent ventures he was unable to meet his bills on maturity;
and Balzac, being liable for some of them, was naturally furious, as
_he_ had to be in hiding from the creditors, while Werdet, as he
remarked bitterly, was walking comfortably about Paris. Werdet was
young and enthusiastic, and no doubt his imagination was fired by
Balzac's picture of the glorious time in the future, when the great
writer and his publisher should have both made their fortunes, and
their carriages should pass each other in the Bois de Boulogne. There
is no reason, however, to think that Balzac wilfully misrepresented
matters, as Werdet insinuates. He was essentially good-hearted, as
every one who knew him testifies; but his extraordinary optimism and
power of self-deception, combined with the charm of his personality
and the overmastering influence he exercised, made him a most
dangerous man to be connected with in business; and Werdet, like many
another, suffered from his alliance with the improvident man of

Balzac also at this times suffered severely; but he had now completely
recovered his energy. In his efforts to clear himself he worked thirty
nights without going to bed, sending contributions to the _Chronique_,
the _Presse_, the _Revue Musicale_, and the _Dictionnaire de la
Conversation_, composing the "Perle Brisee," "La Vieille Fille," and
"Le Secret des Ruggieri," besides finishing the last volumes of the
"Etudes de Moeurs" and bringing out new editions of several of his
books. As the result of his labours, he calculated, with his usual
cheerfulness, that if he worked day and night for six months, and
after that ten hours a day for two years, he would have paid off his
debts and would have a little money in hand. In the end, he bound
himself for fifteen years to an association formed by a speculator
named Bohain: 50,000 francs being given him at once to pay off his
most pressing debts, while, by the terms of the agreement, he provided
a stipulated number of volumes every year, and was given 1,500 francs
a month for the first year, 3,000 francs a month for the second year,
4,000 francs for the third, and so on. Besides this, he was to receive
half the profits of each book after the publisher's expenses had been
defrayed. As he was extremely pleased with this arrangement, which at
any rate freed him from his immediate embarrassments, a faint ray of
sunlight shone for him on the close of the sad year of 1836.

                              CHAPTER XI

                             1836 - 1840

  "Louise"--Drawing-room in Rue des Batailles--The "Cheval Rouge"
  --Balzac's second visit to Italy--Conversation with Genoese
  merchant--Buys Les Jardies at Sevres--Travels to Sardinia to
  obtain silver from worked-out mines--Disappointment--Balzac goes
  on to Italy--Takes up his abode in Les Jardies--Life there--He
  hopes to write a successful play--"L'Ecole des Menages"--Balzac's
  half-starved condition--He defends Peytel.

It is curious to find that during the events recorded in the last
chapter, when, to put the matter mildly, Balzac's spare time was
limited, he yet managed to conduct a sentimental correspondence with
"Louise," a lady he never met and whose name he did not know.
Apparently, in the midst of his troubles, he was seized by an
overmastering desire to pour out his feelings in writing to some
kindred soul. Madame Hanska was far away, and could not answer
promptly; besides, though passionately loved, she was not always
sympathetic, the solid quality of her mind not responding readily to
the quickness and delicacy of Balzac's emotions. Louise, to whom in
1844 he dedicated "Facino Cane," was close at hand; she was evidently
mournful, sentimental, and admiring; she sent him flowers when he was
in prison, and at another time a sepia drawing. Besides, her shadowy
figure was decked for him with the fascination of the unknown, and
there was excitement in the wonder whether the veil enveloping her
would ever be lifted, and, like Madame Hanska, she would emerge a
divinity of flesh and blood. However, in spite of Balzac's entreaties
she refused to reveal her identity; and after about a year's
correspondence, during which time Louise suffered from a great
misfortune, the nature of which she kept secret, the letters between
them ceased altogether.

Balzac had now left his garret, and was established in the
drawing-room on the second floor of 13, Rue des Batailles, which is
exactly described in "La Fille aux Yeux d'Or." The room was very
luxurious, and the details had been thought out with much care.[*] One
end of it had square corners, the other end was rounded, and the
corners cut off to form the semicircle were connected by a narrow dark
passage, and contained--one a camp bedstead, and the other a
writing-table. A secret door led to this hiding-place, and here Balzac
took refuge when pursued by emissaries from the Garde Nationale,
creditors, or enraged editors. The scheme of colour in the room was
white and flame-colour shading to the deepest pink, relieved by
arabesques of black. A huge divan, fifty feet long and as broad as a
mattress, ran round the horseshoe. This, like the rest of the
furniture, was covered in white cashmere decked with flame-coloured
and black bows, and the back of it was higher than the numerous
cushions by which it was adorned. Above it the walls were hung with
pink Indian muslin over red material, the flame-colour and black
arabesques being repeated. The curtains were pink, the mantelpiece
clock and candlesticks white marble and gold, the carpet and _portieres_
of rich Oriental design, and the chandelier and candelabra to light the
divan of silver gilt. About the room were elegant baskets containing
white and red flowers, and in the place of honour on the table in the
middle was M. de Hanski's magnificent gold and malachite inkstand.
Balzac showed the glories of this splendid apartment with infantile
pride and delight to visitors; and here, reckless of his pecuniary
embarrassments, he gave a grand dinner to Theophile Gautier, the
Marquis de Belloy, and Boulanger, and entertained them in the evening
with good stories "a la Rabelais."

[*] See "Honore de Balzac" in "Portraits Contemporains," by Theophile

About this time Balzac started the association he called the "Cheval
Rouge," which was intended to be a mutual help society among a number
of friends, who were to push and praise each other's compositions, and
to rise as one man against any one who dared to attack a member of the
alliance. The idea was a good one; but there was a comic side to it as
conducted by Balzac, and the "Cheval Rouge," after five or six
meetings, ceased to exist without having seriously justified its
existence. Theophile Gautier, Jules Sandeau, and Leon Gozlan were
among the members; and so dazzling were the pictures drawn by Balzac
of the powers and scope of the society, that each one saw himself in
imagination with a seat in the French Academy, and in succession peer
of France, minister, and millionaire. It was sad that with these lofty
aims the association should have been dissolved because most of its
members were not able to pay their fifteen francs subscription. The
first meeting was held at the Cheval Rouge, a very modest restaurant
on the "Quai de l'Entrepot," from which the society took its name. The
members were summoned by a card with a little red horse on it, and
under this the words "Stable such a day, such a place." Everything was
carried on with the greatest secrecy and mystery, and the
arrangements, which were conducted by Balzac with much seriousness,
afforded him intense pleasure. The "Cheval Rouge" might have been a
dangerous political society from the precautions he took. In order to
avoid suspicion one member was always to greet another member coldly
in society; and Balzac would pretend to meet Gautier with much
ceremony for the first time in a drawing-room, and then by delighted
winks and grimaces would point out to him how well he was acting.

In March, 1837, Balzac paid a second visit to Italy; travelling
through a part of Switzerland, stopping at Milan, Venice, Genoa, and
Florence, and returning to Paris on May 3rd. His health was, he said,
detestable at this time, and he required rest and change. He went
alone, as Gautier, who had intended to be his companion, was kept in
Paris by the necessity of writing criticisms on the pictures in the
Salon. One object of Balzac's journey was to visit Florence to see
Bartolini's bust of Madame Hanska, of which he evidently approved, as
he asked M. de Hanski's permission to have a small copy made of it
which he could always keep on his writing-table; but this was never
sent to him. He was delighted with Venice, which he now saw for the
first time; and in Florence was specially charmed with the pictures at
the Pitti, though he found travelling by himself rather dull, and
decided that his next journey should be undertaken at a time when
Gautier could accompany him. At Genoa he met a wily merchant, to whom
he unfortunately confided the last brilliant scheme for making his
fortune which was floating through his active brain.

He had read in Tacitus that the Romans found silver in Sardinia; and
it occurred to him, that, as the ancients were not learned in
extracting metals, silver might still be found among the lead which
was turned out of the mines as refuse. The Genoese merchant appeared
much interested in Balzac's conversation, and remarked that, owing to
the carelessness of the Sardinians, whole mountains of dross,
containing lead, and most probably silver, were left in the vicinity
of the mines. He was most obliging: he promised to send Balzac a
specimen of the dross that it might be submitted to Parisian experts,
and if the result were satisfactory, Balzac and he were to ask for a
permit from the Government at Turin, and would work the mines
together. When this had been arranged Balzac departed in high spirits,
determined to keep his secret carefully, and feeling that at last he
was on the high road to fortune. On the way back he was detained in
quarantine for some time, and partly from economy, partly because he
wanted to see Neufchatel, where he had first met Madame Hanska, he
travelled back by Milan and the Splugen, and reached Paris in perfect

Here fresh misfortunes awaited him, as Werdet was bankrupt, and, as a
consequence, his creditors pursued Balzac. Never in future would he be
answerable or sign his name for any one, he cried in despair. He had
forestalled the money allowed him by his treaty with Bohain, was
working day and night, and in a few days would retire into an unknown
garret, and live as he had done in the Rue Lesdiguieres. Nevertheless,
in his anxiety to see Madame Hanska, he had begun to think out
economical ways of getting to Ukraine. He was not very well at this
time, and in August he went to Sache, to see whether his native air
would revive him.

His next action would be astonishing to any one unacquainted with his
extraordinary recklessness. In October 1837 he gave up the rooms at
the Rue Cassini, which he had kept during the time of his residence at
Passy; and in order to escape what he termed "an atrocious law" on the
subject of his abhorrence the Garde Nationale, he bought a piece of
land in the Ville d'Avray, at Sevres, on which he began to build a
house, planned by himself. This soon acquired celebrity as "Les
Jardies," and gave much amusement to the Parisians, who were never
tired of inventing stories about Balzac's villa. In March, 1838,
before he settled in his new abode, he started on a journey to
Sardinia to investigate matters himself about the mines. It was a year
since the Genoese merchant had promised to send him a specimen of the
dross, and as nothing had yet arrived, he was beginning to feel

The object of his journey was kept absolutely secret; owing to the
dangers of the post even Madame Hanska being told only that "it is
neither a marriage, nor anything adventurous, foolish, frivolous, or
imprudent. It is a serious and scientific affair, about which it is
impossible for me to tell you a word, because I am bound to the most
absolute secrecy."[*] He had to borrow from his mother and from a
cousin, and to pawn his jewellery to obtain money for his expedition.
On the way he stayed with the Carrauds at Frapesle, where he was ill
for a few days; and he went from there to pay his "comrade" George
Sand a three days' visit at Nohant. He found her in man's attire,
smoking a "houka," very sad, and working enormously; and he and she
had long talks, lasting from five in the evening till five in the
morning, and ranging over manners, morals, love affairs, and
literature. She approved of "La Premiere Demoiselle," a play planned
in February, 1837, which Madame Hanska had discouraged because she did
not like the plot; and Balzac determined to work at it seriously now
that "Cesar Birotteau" was finished. This brilliant picture of the
Parisian _bourgeoisie_ had been published in December, 1837, under the
title of "Histoire de la Grandeur et de la decadence de Cesar
Birotteau." Since then, Balzac had produced nothing new in book form,
though he was writing "La Maison de Nucingen" for _La Presse_, and
working at "Massimilla Doni," and at the second part of "Illusions
Perdues." He was also preparing to bring out a "Balzac Illustre,"
which was to be a complete edition of his works with pictures; but of
this only one volume, "La Peau de Chagrin," was ever published.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

From Nohant he went to Marseilles, and from there he sent letters both
to his mother and to Madame Carraud, written in a very different frame
of mind from his usual one when he embarked on a scheme for making his
fortune. "Now that I am almost at my destination, I begin to have a
thousand doubts; anyhow, one cannot risk less to gain more. I do not
fear the journey, but what a return if I fail!"[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 394.

He crossed from Marseilles to Ajaccio, and suffered much on the
voyage, though he travelled on the mail steamer from Toulon, and spent
a great deal of money by doing this. However, he was really trying to
be economical, as on his way to Marseilles he had lived on ten sous'
worth of milk a day, and when he reached there he put up at an hotel
where his room cost fifteen sous and his dinner thirty.

The scenery of Corsica was, he said, magnificent; but he did not much
appreciate Ajaccio, where he had to wait some time for a boat to take
him to Sardinia, and said the civilisation was as primitive as that of
Greenland. His only consolation about the delay was in the idea that
he would have time to go on with "La Premiere Demoiselle," for which
George Sand predicted a great success, while his sister told him it
was superb. Therefore, as he had written the "Physiologie du Mariage"
and "La Peau de Chagrin" against the advice of Madame de Berny, he
determined to continue his play in spite of Madame Hanska's
disapproval. His five days' journey to Sardinia was most
uncomfortable, as he travelled in a rowing-boat belonging to French
coral fishers. The food caught consisted of execrable soup, made from
the fish caught by the fishermen during the voyage; and Balzac had to
sleep on the bridge, where he was devoured by insects. To add to his
misfortunes, the boat was kept for five days in quarantine in view of
the port, and the inhabitants refused to give the occupants any food,
or to allow them in a bad storm to attach their cables to the
port-rings. This they managed at last to do, in spite of the objections
of the governor, who, determined to assert his authority, decreed that
the cable should be taken off as soon as the sea became calm: a
regulation which, as Balzac said, was absurd, because either the
people would by that time have caught the cholera, or they would not
catch it at all.

When Balzac at last landed, he felt as though he were in Central
Africa or Polynesia, as the inhabitants wore no clothes, and were
bronzed like Ethiopians. He was much horrified at their misery and
savage condition. Their dwellings he describes as dens without
chimneys, and their food in many parts consisted of a horrible bread
made of acorns ground, and mixed with clay.

No doubt he was not disposed to take a particularly favourable view of
Sardinia, as it was to him the scene of a bitter disappointment. He
had been right in his calculations about the value of the refuse from
the mines: the dross contained 10 per cent of lead, and the lead 10
per cent of silver. But a Marseilles company as well as his Genoese
friend had been beforehand with him, had obtained from the Government
at Turin the right to work the mines, and were already in possession.
Balzac's monetary sacrifices, and the hardships he had suffered on his
journey, were in vain; he must return to sleepless nights of work, and
must redouble his efforts in the endeavour to pay back the money he
had borrowed for his expedition. He showed his usual pluck at this
juncture; there were no complaints in his letters, and with singular
forbearance he does not even abuse the faithless Genoese merchant. His
expedition was useful to others, if not to himself; as he travelled on
to Italy, and made a long stay at Milan in order to work for the
interests of the Viscontis, whose property, without his efforts, would
have been sequestrated owing to political complications. It is
significant that Madame Hanska, who was always suspicious about Madame
Visconti, was not informed of this reason for his long sojourn at
Milan, which we hear of from a letter to his sister. Balzac was
terribly low-spirited at this time; his whole life seemed to have been
a failure, and he was approaching the age of forty, the date at which
he had always determined to give up his aspirations, to fight no more,
and to join the great company of the resigned. He was tired out, and
very homesick. He admired the Cathedral, the churches, the pictures;
but he was weary of Italy, and longed for France with its grey skies
and cold winds. Behind this longing, and possibly the origin of it,
was a passionate desire in his disappointment and disgust of life to
be again near his "polar star."

It was a comfort when, the affairs of the Viscontis being at last
satisfactorily arranged, he was able on June 6th to start on his
journey back to France. He travelled by the Mont Cenis, and was nearly
blinded by clouds of fine dust, so that he was unable to write for
some days.

When he reached Paris he only remained for a short time in the Rue des
Batailles, as in July, 1838, in defiance of his doctor's warnings
about damp walls, he took up his residence at Les Jardies, having at
the same time a _pied-a-terre_ in Paris at the house of Buisson, his
tailor, 108, Rue Richelieu. Les Jardies was a quaint abode. Built on a
slippery hill, it overlooked the Ville d'Avray with smoky Paris below,
and in the distance there was a view of the plain of Mont-rouge and
the road to Orleans, which led also to Balzac's beloved Tours. The
principal staircase was outside, because Balzac, in designing the
house, found that a staircase seriously interfered with the symmetry
of the rooms. Therefore he placed it in an inconspicuous position in a
special construction at the back, and owing to the extremely steep
slope the visitor entered by the top floor, and made his way down
instead of up. There were three stories, the lowest containing the
drawing-room and dining-room, the second a bedroom and dressing-room,
and the third Balzac's study. All round the house, which was painted
to represent bricks, was a verandah supported by black columns, and
the cage in the rear which held the staircase was painted red. About
sixty feet behind this curious habitation was the real living-place of
Les Jardies, where Balzac kept his servants. Part of this he let at a
later date to the Viscontis, and they had charge of his rich library,
and of the beautiful furniture brought from the Rue des Batailles,
which might, if kept by its owner, have been seized by his creditors.

The interior of this charming abode was intended to be adorned with
the utmost magnificence, but it was never finished; there were no
curtains, and no furniture to speak of. Years after, descriptions such
as the following were still scrawled in charcoal on the bare stucco:
"Here is a veneering of Parian marble"; "Here is a mantelpiece in
cipolin marble"; "Here is a ceiling painted by Eugene Delacroix."
Balzac laughed himself at these imaginary decorations, and was much
delighted when Leon Gozlan wrote in large letters in his study, which
was as bare as the other rooms, "Here is a priceless picture by
Raphael." However, there was one thing at Les Jardies of which he was
really proud; and that was his system of bell-ringing, which he
considered a _chef-d'oeuvre_. Instead of having hanging wires with
"big, stupid, indiscreet bells" at the end of them, _his_ bells were
hidden ingeniously in an angle of the wall; and his pride in this
brilliant invention made him forget any possible deficiencies in the
decorations and appointments of the mansion.

The great feature, however, at Les Jardies, and the torment, the
delight, and the despair of Balzac's life, was the piece of land round
the house where the garden ought to have been. He had beautiful plans
about this when first he arrived at Les Jardies. The soil was then
absolutely bare; but, as he remarked, it was possible to buy
everything in Paris, and as money was, of course, no object with him,
he intended in the autumn to have good-sized magnolias, limes,
poplars, and willows transported there, and to make a little Eden of
sweet scents, covered with plants and bushes. No doubt, in imagination
he already saw his beautiful flowers, and wandered in this delightful
and well-kept garden, which, as nothing with Balzac could possibly be
ordinary, was to be "surprising." The reality, however, was sadly
different from his expectations. In vain, by his orders asphalt paths
were made in all directions, and landscape gardeners worked for
months, trying with stones cunningly inserted to prop up the steep,
slippery slope, and to form little terraces on which something might
have a chance of growing. With the slightest shower, down tumbled
these plateaus; and the work of building had to begin again. It was
amusing, Leon Gozlan tells us, to see the amazement of the actor
Frederick Lemaitre when he came to see Balzac; and found himself
expected to walk up the side of a hill, with the ground at each step
slipping under his feet. To support himself he stuck stones behind his
heels, and Balzac meanwhile walked by his side with the calmness of a
proprietor who is thoroughly used to the vagaries of his own
territory, and scorns foreign assistance.

Occasionally, however, even Balzac came to the end of his equanimity.
The wall, which separated his property from that of the neighbour
below him, was a continual anxiety. In spite of all possible
precautions it tumbled down constantly, and scattered stones and
mortar over the ground on each side of it. After this had happened two
or three times, and Balzac, while investigating the extent of the
damage on one of these occasions, had fallen and injured his leg, so
that he was in bed for forty days, a meeting of experts was held, and
it was decided that the angle at which the wall had been built was not
sufficiently acute. The error was rectified, and there were general
rejoicings and congratulations; but the next day it rained, and in the
evening news was brought to Balzac that the whole structure had
toppled over, and was reposing in ruins in his neighbour's garden.
This was serious, as the neighbour promptly sent in an enormous bill
for damages done to his carrots and turnips; and it was probably on
this occasion that Balzac wrote in March 1839 a despairing letter to
Madame Carraud, containing the words: "To you, sister of my soul, I
can confide my greatest secrets; I am now in the midst of terrible
misery. All the walls of Les Jardies have fallen down through the
fault of the builder, who did not make any foundations."[*] No
builder, however, managed to effect the feat of making this
unfortunate wall stand upright; and in the end, to allow it to come
down in peace and comfort whenever it felt so disposed, Balzac bought
the strip of his neighbour's land which bordered it, and after that,
ceased to feel anguish at its vagaries.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 453.

The wall was decidedly important, as Balzac's fortune was to be made
by the contents of the garden at Les Jardies, and it would not have
been satisfactory for strangers to be able to wander there at will.
Balzac's new plan for becoming rich was to cover most of his territory
with glass houses, and to plant 100,000 feet with pineapples. Owing to
the warmth of the soil, he considered that these pineapples would not
need much heat, and could be sold at five francs apiece, instead of
the louis charged for them in Paris. They would therefore be quickly
disposed of, and 500,000 francs would be made, which, deducting
100,000 francs for expenses, would mean a clear profit of 400,000
francs a year. "And this money will be made without a page of copy,"
said poor Balzac. He was, of course, absolutely confident about the
success of this new undertaking, and Theophile Gautier, who tells the
story,[*] says that a search was made for a shop in which to sell
these pineapples of the future. This shop was to be painted black with
lines of gold, and was to have on it in huge letters the announcement,
"Ananas des Jardies"; but Gautier managed to persuade Balzac in order
to avoid useless expense, not to hire it till the next year, when the
pineapples would have had time to grow. However, perhaps Balzac was
discouraged by the sight of the snow falling silently on his slope, or
possibly his desire to make a fabulous sum of money by a successful
play had for a time blotted out all other ambitions; at any rate, we
hear no more of the pineapples of Les Jardies.

[*] "Portraits Contemporains--Honore de Balzac," by Theophile Gautier.

Balzac's terribly embarrassed condition in 1837 caused him to return
with new ardour to the idea which haunted him all his life, that of an
immense theatrical success which should put an end for ever to his
pecuniary embarrassments. References to projected plays, to the
difficulty he found in writing them, and to his hope of finally
freeing himself from debt by producing a masterpiece at the theatre,
occur constantly in his letters. "Marie Touchet" and "Philippe le
Reserve"--afterwards to become "Les Ressources de Quinola"--were the
names of some of the plays he intended to write. In February, 1837, as
we have already seen, he planned out "La Premiere Demoiselle," which
he abandoned for the time, but which he worked at with much energy
during his ill-fated expedition to Sardinia, and continued at Les
Jardies during the summer and autumn of 1838. Before starting for
Sardinia he wrote to Madame Carraud: "If I fail in what I undertake, I
shall throw myself with all my might into writing for the theatre." He
kept his word, and "La Premiere Demoiselle," a gloomy bourgeois
tragedy, which soon received the name of "L'Ecole des Menages," was
the result.

With the distrust in himself, which always in matters dramatic mingled
with his optimistic self-confidence, Balzac determined to have a
collaborator, and chose a young man named Lassailly, who was
peculiarly unfitted for the difficult post. In doing this he only gave
one instance out of many of the wide gulf which separated Balzac the
writer, gifted with the psychological powers which almost amounted to
second sight, and Balzac in ordinary life, many of whose misfortunes
had their origin in an apparent want of knowledge of human nature,
which caused him to make deplorable mistakes in choosing his

The agreement between Balzac and his collaborator stipulated that the
latter should be lodged and fed at the expense of Balzac, and should,
on his side, be always at hand to help his partner with dramatic
ideas. Balzac performed _his_ part of the treaty nobly, and Lassailly
remembered long afterwards the glories of the fare at Les Jardies; but
his life became a burden to him from his incapacity to do what was
expected of him, and he was nearly killed by Balzac's nocturnal
habits. He was permitted to go to bed when he liked; but at two or
three in the morning Balzac's peremptory bell would summon him to
work, and he would rise, frightened and half stupefied with sleep, to
find his employer waiting for him, stern and pale from his vigil.
"For," Leon Gozlan says, "the Balzac fighting with the demon of his
nightly work had nothing in common with the Balzac of the street and
of the drawing-room."[*] He would be asked severely what help he could
give, and, as a result of his terrified and drowsy stammerings would
be sent to bed for another hour to see whether in that time
inspiration would visit him. Six or eight times in the course of the
night would this scene be repeated; and at last Lassailly, who was
delicate, became seriously ill and had to leave Les Jardies, ever
after looking back on the terrible Balzac and his appalling
night-watches, as a nightmare to be recalled with a shudder.

[*] "Balzac en Pantoufles," by Leon Gozlan.

Balzac, deprived of Lassailly's valuable assistance, worked on alone;
and at first everything seemed likely to go well with "L'Ecole des
Menages."[*] The Renaissance, a new theatre which had opened on
November 8th, 1838, with the first representation of Victor Hugo's
"Ruy Blas," seemed willing to take Balzac's play to follow this; and
M. Armand Pereme, a distinguished antiquary whom Balzac had met at
Frapesle, was most active in conducting the negotiations. However, in
the end the Renaissance refused the drama. Balzac was terribly
dilatory, and irritated every one by not keeping his engagements, and
he was also high-handed about the arrangements he considered necessary
to the success of his tragedy. His unfortunate monetary
embarrassments, too, made it necessary for him to ask for 16,000
francs before the play was written, a request which the Renaissance
Theatre was rather slow in granting. However, the real reason for the
rejection of the drama, which took place on February 26th, 1839--just
at the time when Balzac was in despair because the wall at Les Jardies
had fallen down--was want of money on the part of the managers of the
theatre. The only thing that could save the Renaissance from ruin was
a great success; and Alexandre Dumas, with whom the directors had
formerly quarrelled, had now made peace with them, and had offered
them "L'Alchimiste," which would be certain to attract large
audiences. They accepted this in place of Balzac's play, and "L'Ecole
des Menages," of which the only copy extant is in the possession of
the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, has never been acted.

[*] See "L'Ecole des Menages" in "Autour de Honore de Balzac," by the
    Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

Balzac was in terrible trouble about the rejection of the drama from
which he had hoped so much. He wrote to Madame Carraud[*] in March,
1839: "I have broken down like a foundered horse. I shall certainly
require rest at Frapesle. The Renaissance had promised me 6,000 francs
bounty to write a piece in five acts; Pereme was the agent, everything
was arranged. As I wanted 6,000 francs at the end of February, I set
to work. I spent sixteen nights and sixteen days at it, only sleeping
three hours out of the twenty-four; I employed twenty workmen at the
printer's office, and I managed to write, make and compose the five
acts of 'L'Ecole des Menages' in time to read it on February 25th. The
directors had no money, or perhaps Dumas, who had not acted fairly to
them, and with whom they were angry, had returned to them; they would
not hear my piece, and refused it. So here I am, worn out with work,
sixteen days lost, 6,000 francs to pay, and nothing! This blow has
crushed me, I have not yet recovered from it. My career at the theatre
will have the same course as my literary career, my first work will be
refused. A superhuman courage is necessary for these terrible
hurricanes of misfortune."

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 454.

In the midst of his troubles, he thought with bitter regret of Madame
de Berny, who would have understood everything, and have known how to
help and console him. He was in a miserable state, was chased like a
hare by creditors, and was on the point of lacking bread, candles, and
paper. Then to add to his misery would come a sensible letter from the
far-distant Madame Hanska, blaming his frivolity and levity; and, in
his state of semi-starvation, poor Balzac would be almost driven
frantic by words of reproach from his divinity.

A little earlier than this he had found time for an enormous amount of
work which would seem completely out of his province, and had written
letter after letter in the _Siecle_, and spent 10,000 francs, in
defence of Peytel, a notary of Belley, who had been condemned to death
on August 26th, 1839, for the murder of his wife and servant. Peytel
appealed against his sentence, and Balzac, who had met him several
times, espoused his cause with vehemence. There did not seem to be
much satisfactory defence available for the prisoner, who admitted the
fact that while driving in a carriage not far from Belley, he had shot
both his wife and the coachman. Balzac, however, was urgent in
upholding Peytel's contention that his crime had been homicide, not
murder, and brought forward the plea of "no premeditation." His
energetic efforts were of no avail: Peytel was executed at Bourg on
November 28th, 1839, and Balzac, who had espoused his cause with
quixotic enthusiasm, was genuinely sorry. He wrote to Madame Hanska in
September: "I am extremely agitated by a horrible case, the case of
Peytel. I have seen this poor fellow three times. He is condemned; I
start in two hours for Bourg." On November 30th he continues: "You
will perhaps have heard that after two months of unheard-of efforts to
save him from his punishment Peytel went two days ago to the scaffold,
like a Christian, said the priest; I say, like an innocent man."[*]

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

Another disappointment this year was the fact that Balzac considered
it his duty, after presenting himself as candidate for the Academie
and paying many of the prescribed visits, to retire in favour of
Victor Hugo. As early as 1833 he had aspired to become some day "un
des Quarante," and he then said half jokingly to his sister: "When I
shall work at the dictionary of the Academy!"[*] He was never destined
to receive the honour of admittance to this august body, though after
his first attempt in 1839, when he himself withdrew, he again tried
his fortune in 1843 and in 1849. His normal condition of monetary
embarrassment was one reason for his failure, and no doubt some of the
members of l'Academie Francaise disapproved of certain of his books,
and perhaps did not admire his style. At any rate, as his enemy
Saint-Beuve expressed it concisely: "M. de Balzac est trop gros pour
nos fauteuils," and while men who are now absolutely unknown entered
the sacred precincts without difficulty, the door remained permanently
closed to the greatest novelist of the age.

[*] "Balzac, sa Vie et ses Oeuvres," par Mme. L. Surville (nee de

                             CHAPTER XII

                             1840 - 1843

  "Vautrin"--_La Revue Parisienne_--Societe des Gens-de-Lettres
  --Balzac leaves Les Jardies, and goes to the Rue Basse, Passy
  --Death of M. de Hanski--"Les Ressources de Quinola"--"La
  Comedie Humaine"--Balzac goes to St. Petersburg to meet Madame
  Hanska--Her reasons for deferring the marriage.

The sad fate of "L'Ecole des Menages" did not long discourage Balzac.
At the beginning of 1840 he made an engagement to provide Harel, the
speculative manager of the Theatre Porte-St-Martin, with a drama. The
play was accepted before it was written; and in order to be near the
theatre Balzac established himself in the fifth floor of the house of
Buisson, his tailor, at the corner of the Rue Richelieu. His
proceedings were, as usual, eccentric. One day Gautier, who tells the
story, was summoned in a great hurry, and found his friend clad in his
monk's habit, walking up and down his elegant attic, and shivering
with impatience.

"'Here is Theo at last,' he cried, when he saw me. 'You idler! dawdle!
sloth! gee up, do make haste! You ought to have been here an hour ago!
To-morrow I am going to read to Harel a grand drama in five acts.'

"'And you want my advice,' I answered, settling myself comfortably in
an armchair, ready to submit to a long reading.

"From my attitude Balzac guessed my thought, and said simply, 'The
drama is not written.'

"'Good heavens!' said I: 'well, then you must put off the reading for
six weeks.'

"'No, we must hurry on the drama to get the money. In a short time I
have a large sum of money to pay.'

"'To-morrow is impossible; there is no time to copy it.'

"'This is the way I have arranged things. You will write one act,
Ourliac another, Laurent-Jan the third, De Belloy the fourth, I the
fifth, and I shall read it at twelve o'clock as arranged. One act of a
drama is only four or five hundred lines; one can do five hundred
lines of dialogue in a day and the night following.'

"'Relate the subject to me, explain the plot, sketch out the
characters in a few words, and I will set to work,' I said, rather

"'Ah,' he cried, with superb impatience and magnificent disdain, 'if I
have to relate the subject to you, we shall never have finished!'"[*]

[*] "Portraits Contemporains--Honore de Balzac," by Theophile Gautier.

After a great deal of trouble, Gautier managed to persuade Balzac to
give him a slight idea of the plot, and began a scene, of which only a
few words remain in the finished work. Of all Balzac's expected
collaborators, Laurent-Jan, to whom "Vautrin" is dedicated, was the
only person who worked seriously.

In two months and a half of rehearsals Balzac became almost
unrecognisable from worry and overwork. His perplexities became public
property, and people used to wait at the door of the theatre to see
him rush out, dressed in a huge blue coat, a white waistcoat, brown
trousers, and enormous shoes with the leather tongues outside, instead
of inside, his trousers. Everything he wore was many sizes too big for
him, and covered with mud from the Boulevards; and it was an amusement
to the frivolous Parisians to see him stride along in these peculiar
garments, his face bearing the impress of the trouble and overstrain
he was enduring. He was at the mercy of every one. The manager hurried
and harried him, because the only hope of saving the theatre from
bankruptcy was the immediate production of a successful play. The
actors, knowing the piece was not finished, each clamoured for a part
to suit his or her peculiar idiosyncrasies, and Balzac was so
overburdened, that occasionally in despair he was tempted to abandon
his play altogether.

There was tremendous excitement in Paris about the approaching first
representation of "Vautrin"; and foreign politics, banquets, and even
the burning question of reform, paled in interest before the great
event. All the seats were sold beforehand; and as there was a rush for
the tickets, Balzac and Harel chose their audience, and thought that
they had managed to secure one friendly to Balzac. Unfortunately,
however, the seats were sold so early that many of them were parted
with at a profit by the first buyers, and in the end a large
proportion of the spectators were avowedly hostile to Balzac. March
14th, 1840, was the important date, and Balzac wrote to Madame Hanska:
"I have gone through many miseries, and if I have a success they will
be completely over. Imagine what my anxiety will be during the evening
when 'Vautrin' is being acted. In five hours' time it will be decided
whether I pay or do not pay my debts."[*]

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

He was very nervous beforehand, and told Leon Gozlan that he was
afraid there would be a terrible disaster.

The plot of the play is extraordinary and impossible. Vautrin, the
Napoleon among convicts, who appears in several of Balzac's novels, is
the hero; he had declared war against society, and the scene of the
drama, with Vautrin as the principal figure, passes in the
aristocratic precincts of the Faubourg St. Germain. The theatre was
crowded for the performance, and the first three acts, though received
coldly, went off without interruption. At the fourth act, however, the
storm burst, as Frederick Lemaitre, who evidently felt qualms about
the success of his part, had determined to make it comic, and appeared
in the strange costume of a Mexican general, with a hat trimmed with
white feathers, surmounted by a bird of paradise. Worse still, when he
took off this hat he showed a wig in the form of a pyramid, a coiffure
which was the special prerogative of Louis Philippe! The play was
doomed. The Duke of Orleans, who was in one of the boxes, left the
theatre hurriedly; and it was difficult to finish the performance, so
loud were the shouts, hisses, and even threats. The next day the
following official announcement appeared in the _Moniteur_: "The
Minister of the Interior has interdicted the appearance of the drama
performed yesterday at the Theatre of the Porte St. Martin under the
title of 'Vautrin.'" Balzac's hated foes, the journalists, of course
rejoiced in his downfall, and accentuated the situation by declaring
the piece to be not only disloyal, but revoltingly immoral. On the
other hand, Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Mme. de Girardin, stood
firmly by him, and Frederick Lemaitre, to whom Balzac evidently bore
no malice for his large share in the disaster, was, he said,

Leon Gozlan went to see Balzac the day after the performance, and
found him outwardly calm, but his face was flushed, his hands burning,
and his lips swollen, as though he had passed through a night of
fever. He did not mention the scene of the night before, but talked
eagerly of a plan to start a large dairy at Les Jardies, and to
provide Paris and Versailles with rich milk. He had several other
equally brilliant schemes on hand: he intended to grow vines,
cultivate vegetables, sell manure; and by these varied means to assure
himself of an income of eighteen thousand francs.

The Director of the Beaux-Arts was sent to offer Balzac money to make
up for his loss; he says, however: "They came to offer me an
indemnity, and began by proposing five thousand francs. I blushed to
my hair, and answered that I did not accept charity, that I had put
myself two hundred thousand francs in debt by writing twelve or
fifteen masterpieces, which would count for something in the glory of
France in the nineteenth century; that for three months I had done
nothing but rehearse 'Vautrin,' and that during those three months I
should otherwise have gained twenty-five thousand francs; that a pack
of creditors were after me, but that from the moment that I could not
satisfy all, it was quite indifferent to me whether I were tracked by
fifty or by a hundred, as the amount of courage required for
resistance was the same. The Director of the Beaux-Arts, Cave, went
out, they tell me, full of esteem and admiration. 'This,' said he, 'is
the first time that I have been refused.' 'So much the worse,' I

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

Balzac became very ill with fever and brain neuralgia the day after
the performance of "Vautrin," and Madame Surville took him to her
house and nursed him. When he left his bed it was, of course to find
his affairs in a worse condition than ever, and he was, as he
described himself, "a stag at bay." His friendship with Madame
Visconti was a consolation to him in his troubles; he described her to
Madame Hanska, who did not quite appreciate these raptures, as "one of
the most amiable of women, of infinite and exquisite goodness. Of
delicate, elegant beauty, she helps me to support life." Nevertheless,
no friendships made up for the want of a wife, and home, the two
things for which he yearned; and he writes sadly: "I have much need
now of having my wounds tended and cured, and of being able to live
without cares at Les Jardies, and to pass my days quietly between work
and a wife. But it seems as if the story of every man will only be a
novel to me."[*]

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

His despondency did not abate his powers of work, as from April to
December he published "Z. Marcas," "Un Prince de la Boheme," and
"Pierre Grassou"; while in 1841, among other masterpieces, appeared
"La Fausse Maitresse," "Une Tenebreuse Affaire," "Un Menage de
Garcon," "Ursule Mirouet," and "Les Memoires de deux Jeunes Mariees."
He was almost at the end of his courage however, and talked seriously
in the case of failure in his new enterprise--the _Revue Parisienne_
--of going to Brazil on some mad errand which he would undertake
because it _was_ mad; and of either coming back rich or disappearing

A monthly magazine, of which one man was to be director, manager,
editor, besides being sole contributor, was a heroic attempt at making
a fortune; and this was what Balzac contemplated, and accomplished for
a short time in the _Revue Parisienne_. His mode of working was not
calculated to lessen the strain to which he subjected himself, as,
never able to start anything till pressed for time, he left the work
till near the end of the month, when the printers were clamouring for
copy. Then there was no pause or slumber for him; his attention was
concentrated on his varied and difficult subjects till the moment when
he rushed with disordered garments to the printer's office. There,
seated anywhere--on the corner of a table, at a compositor's frame, or
before a foreman's bureau--he became completely absorbed in the
colossal labour of reading and correcting his proofs. The first number
of the _Revue Parisienne_ appeared on July 25th, 1840; but it was only
continued for three months, as Balzac decided that the task was too
much for him. During its short life however, it furnished a
magnificent and striking example of his extraordinary powers and
mental attainments; as each of the numbers was the size of a small
volume, and he provided novels, biography, philosophy, analysis, and
criticism, and treated brilliantly each subject he attacked.

A question in which Balzac took the greatest interest was that of the
rights of authors and publishers, under which Louis Philippe did not
meet with much respect. Not only did the Belgians reproduce French
works at a cheap rate by calmly dispensing with the duty of paying
their authors; but publishers in the provinces often followed this
pernicious practice, and it was difficult to prosecute them. A
striking instance of this injustice was to be found in the case of
"Paroles d'un Croyant," by M. de Lamennais, of which ten thousand
pirated copies were sold in Toulouse, where only five hundred of the
authorised edition had been sent by the publisher. No redress could be
obtained because, though the fact was certain, legal proofs were
apparently lacking; but in consequence of this glaring infraction of
the rights of both author and publisher, on December 28th, 1838,
Balzac became a member of the Societe des Gens-de-Lettres. This
Society, which was insignificant when he first joined it, owed
everything to his reputation, and to the energy with which he worked
for its interests. On October 22, 1839, he spoke at Rouen in its
behalf, in the first action brought by it against literacy piracy.
Later in the same year he was elected President, and in May, 1840,
he drew up the masterly "Code Litteraire de la Societe des
Gens-de-Lettres"[*] to which reference has already been made. On
September 5th, 1841, however, in consequence of a dispute concerning the
drawing up by the Gens-de-Lettres of a manifesto to be presented to the
deputies composing the Law Commission on Literary Property, Balzac
withdrew from the Society. The ostensible reason for his resignation
was, that at a committee meeting to discuss the Manifesto, doubts were
thrown on his impartiality; but it seems probable from his letter[+]
that some unwritten ground for complaint really caused his withdrawal.
After Balzac's death, the Society des Gens-de-Lettres acknowledged
with gratitude the debt owed him as one of the founders of the
Society, and the help received from his intelligence and activity.

[*] This may be found in the Edition Definitive of Balzac's works, or
    in "Balzac Chez Lui," by Leon Gozlan.

[+] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 20.

In 1840, before he ceased to belong to the Societe des Gens-de-Lettres,
he had left Les Jardies; and had hidden himself under the name of
Madame de Brugnolle, his housekeeper, in a mysterious little house at
No. 19, Rue Basse, Passy; to which no one was admitted without many
precautions, even after he had given the password. Behind this was a
tiny garden where Balzac would sit in fine weather, and talk over the
fence to M. Grandmain, his landlord. In his new abode he established
many of his treasures: his bust by David d'Angers, some of the
beautiful furniture he was collecting in preparation for the home he
longed for, and many of his pictures, those treasures by Giorgione,
Greuze, and Palma, which were the delight of his heart. With great
difficulty, by publishing books and articles in quick succession, he
had prevented the sale of Les Jardies by his creditors. As he had no
money to pay cab fares this entailed rushing from Passy to Paris on
foot, often in pouring rain; with the result that he became seriously
ill, and found it necessary to recruit in Touraine and Brittany.

On June 15th, 1841, a fictitious sale for 15,500 francs was made of
Les Jardies, which had cost Balzac 100,000 francs; but he did not
really part with the villa till later, when he had decided that it
would not be suitable ultimately as a residence. To add to his
troubles, he found it necessary to take his mother to live with him,
an arrangement which gave rise to many little storms, and made writing
a difficult matter. Madame Visconti's society gave him no consolation
at this time,--he was disappointed in her; and decided that his abuse
of Englishwomen in the "Lys dans la Vallee," was perfectly justified.

Fortunately, he was now feeling tolerably cheerful about money
matters; as he had paid off the hundred thousand francs he owed from
his treaty in 1836, and hoped in fifteen months to have made
arrangements for discharging all his debts; while three publishers,
Dubochet, Furme, and Hetzel & Paulin, had undertaken to publish a
complete edition of his works with engravings. This was to be the
first appearance of the long-dreamt-of "Comedie Humaine," the great
work of Balzac's life.

However, for a time even this took secondary place, as on January 5th,
1842, a letter with a black seal arrived from Madame Hanska; and gave
the important news of the death of M. de Hanski, which had taken place
on November 10th, 1841. Balzac's letter in answer to this is pathetic
to any one cognisant of his subsequent history. He begins with
confidence:[*] "As to me, my dear adored one, although this event
enables me to reach what I have desired so ardently for nearly ten
years, I can, before you and God, say in justice, that I have never
had anything in my heart but complete submission, and that in my most
terrible moments I have not soiled my soul with evil wishes." Further
on, he tells her that nothing in him is changed; and suddenly seized
with a terrible doubt from the ambiguous tone of her letter, he cries,
in allusion to a picture of Wierzchownia which always hung in his
study: "Oh! I am perhaps very unjust, but this injustice comes from
the passion of my heart. I should have liked two words for myself in
your letter. I have hunted for them in vain--two words for the man
who, since the landscape in which you live has been before his eyes,
has never continued working for ten minutes without looking at it."

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

He longs to start at once to see her, but from the tone of her letter
he gathers that he had better wait until she writes to him again, when
he begs for the assurance that her existence will henceforward belong
to him, and that no cloud will ever come between them. He is alarmed
about her anxiety on the subject of her letters. They are quite safe,
he says, kept in a box like the one in which she keeps his. "But why
this uneasiness now? Why? This is what I ask myself in terrible
anxiety!" He finishes with "Adieu, my dear and beautiful life whom I
love so much, and to whom I can now say 'Sempre medesimo.'"

Madame Hanska, in reply to this letter, objected strongly to the
breach of "les convenances" which would be committed if Balzac came to
see her early in her widowhood; and it was not till July 17th, 1843,
that he was at last permitted to meet her in St. Petersburg, and then
he had not seen her since his visit to Vienna, eight years before.

However, he was now full of happy anticipations, and it was with the
greatest enthusiasm that he looked forward to the appearance of "Les
Ressources de Quinola," which had been accepted by the Odeon, and on
which he founded the most extravagant hopes. The long night of trouble
was nearly over, and a late happiness would dawn upon him, heralded by
a brilliant success at the theatre, which would not only free him from
debt, but would also enable him to offer riches to the woman he loved.

At the first hearing of this play in the green-room of the Odeon, the
company had been rather disenchanted as we know, because, after
reading four acts admirably, Balzac was forced to improvise the
unwritten fifth, and this he did so badly that Madame Dorval, the
principal actress, refused to act. However, on the same day Lireux,
the director of the Odeon, came to the Restaurant Risbeck, where
Balzac was dining with Leon Gozlan, and said that he would accept the
play. Balzac at once insisted that for the first three representations
he must have command of the whole of the theatre, but he promised that
Lireux should share the receipts with him, and these he said would be
enormous. He also stipulated that for his three special performances
no journalists should be admitted, there being war to the knife
between him and them. As the place of Balzac's abode was being kept
strictly secret for fear of his creditors, the time of the rehearsal
each day was to be communicated to him by a messenger from the
theatre, who was told to walk in the Champs Elysees, towards the Arc
de l'Etoile. At the twentieth tree on the left, past the Circle, he
would find a man who would appear to be looking for a bird in the
branches. The messenger was to say to him, "I have it," and the man
would answer, "As you have it, what are you waiting for?" On receiving
this reply the emissary from the Odeon would hand over the paper, and
depart without looking behind him. The only comment that Lireux, who
appears to have been a practical man, made on these curious
arrangements was, that if the twentieth tree had been struck by
lightning during the night, he supposed that the servant must stop at
the twenty-first, and Balzac assented gravely to this proposition.

The great writer worked with his usual energy at the rehearsals,
continually rewriting parts of the play, and besides this occupation
spending hours in the theatre bureau, as he had determined to sell all
the tickets himself. For the first night of "Les Ressources de
Quinola" the audience was to be brilliantly representative of the
aristocracy, beauty, and talent of France. The proscenium would,
Balzac hoped, be occupied by ambassadors and ministers, the pit by the
Chevaliers de St. Louis, and the orchestra stalls by peers; while
deputies and state functionaries were to be placed in the second
gallery, financiers in the third, and rich bourgeoisie in the fourth.
Beautiful women were to be accommodated with particularly prominent
places; the price of the seats was to be doubled or trebled; and to
avoid the continual interruptions to which "Vautrin" was subjected,
tickets were only to be sold to Balzac's assured friends. Therefore
many persons who offered fabulous sums of money were refused
admittance, and told that every seat was taken. By these means Balzac
ultimately overreached himself, as people believed that all the seats
were really sold, and that it was no use to apply for tickets. When,
therefore, March 19th, 1842, the night of Balzac's anticipated triumph
arrived, instead of a brilliant assemblage crowding the Odeon, it was
three parts empty; and the small audience, who had paid enormously for
their seats, and naturally expected a brilliant throng in the theatre,
were in a critical and captious mood.

The scene of the play was laid in Spain in the time of Phillip II.,
and much of the dialogue was witty and spirited; but Balzac had mixed
up serious situations and burlesque in a manner irritating to the
audience, and there were many interruptions. Balzac was fortunately
unaware of his want of success; he had completely disappeared, and it
was not till half-past twelve, long after the finish of the
performance, that he was discovered fast asleep at the back of a box.
The fourth representation of "Les Ressources de Quinola" was specially
tumultuous. Lireux, being now master of the theatre, invited all the
journalistic world to be present, and they, furious at their exclusion
during the first three nights, encouraged the general clamour. Some of
the hooters were turned out, and the audience then amused themselves
by ejaculating "Splendid!" "Admirable!" "Superb!" and "Sublime!" at
every sentence, and by singing comic couplets, such as:

  C'est M. Balzac,
  Qu'a fait tout ce mic-mac!

During the intervals.

However, after two scenes had been entirely cut out, and several
others suppressed, "Quinola" ran for nineteen nights. Many years
afterwards, in 1863, it was acted at the Vaudeville, and was a great
success. During his lifetime Balzac's plays received little applause
--in fact, were generally greeted with obloquy; but when it was too
late for praise or blame to matter, his apotheosis as a dramatist took
place; and on this occasion his bust was brought to the stage, and
crowned amid general enthusiasm.

The year 1842 is important in the annals of Balzac's life, as on April
23rd his novels were for the first time collected together to form the
"Comedie Humaine," his great title to fame. The preface to this ranks
among the celebrated prefaces of the world, and it was written at the
suggestion of his friend Hetzel, who objected strongly to the prefaces
signed Felix David, which had been placed in 1835 at the beginning of
the "Etudes de Moeurs au XIXieme Siecle," and of the "Etudes
Philosophiques." In an amusing letter Hetzel tells Balzac that a
preface should be simple, natural, rather modest, and always
good-humoured. "Sum up--sum up as modestly as possible. There is the
true pride, when any one has done what you have. Relate what you want
to say quite calmly. Imagine yourself old, disengaged from everything
even from yourself. Speak like one of your own heroes, and you will
make something useful, indispensable.

"Set to work, my fat father; allow a thin publisher to speak thus to
Your Fatness. You know that it is with good intentions."[*]

[*] "Trois Lettres," in "Autour de Honore de Balzac," by the Vicomte
    de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

We may be grateful to Hetzel for this advice, which Balzac evidently
followed; as the preface is written in a quiet and modest tone unusual
with him, and he follows Hetzel's counsel, and gives a concise summary
of his intention in writing the "Comedie Humaine."

He explains that he has attempted in his great work to classify man,
as Buffon has classified animals, and to show that his varieties of
character, like the differences of form in the lower creation, come
from environment. The three great divisions of the Comedie Humaine are
"Etudes de Moeurs," "Etudes Philosophiques," and "Etudes Analytiques";
and the "Etudes de Moeurs" comprise many subdivisions, each of which,
in Balzac's mind, is connected with some special period of life.

The "Scenes de la Vie Privee," of which the best-known novels are "Le
Pere Goriot" (1834), "La Messe de l'Athee" (1836), "La Grenadiere"
(1832), "Albert Savarus" (1842), "Etude de Femme" (1830), "Beatrix"
(1838), and "Modeste Mignon" (1844), Balzac connects with childhood
and youth. The "Scenes de la Vie de Province," to which belong among
others "Eugenie Grandet" (1833), "Le Lys dans la Vallee" (1835),
"L'Illustre Gaudissart" (1833), "Pierrette" (1839), and "Le Cure de
Tours" (1832), typify a period of combat; while "Scenes de la Vie
Parisienne," which contain "La Duchesse de Langeais" (1834), "Cesar
Birotteau" (1837), "La Cousine Bette" (1846), "Le Cousin Pons" (1847),
"Facino Cane" (1836), "La Maison de Nucingen" (1837), and several
less-known novels, show the effect of Parisian life in forming or
modifying character.

Next Balzac turns to more exceptional existences, those which guard
the interests of others, and gives us "Scenes de la Vie Militaire,"
comprising "Une Passion dans la Desert" (1830), and "Les Chouans"
(1827); and "Scenes de la Vie Politique," which contain "Un Episode
sous la Terreur" (1831), "Une Tenebreuse Affaire" (1841), "Z. Marcas"
(1840), and "L'Envers de l'Histoire Contemporaine" (1847). He finishes
the "Etudes de Moeurs" with "Scenes de la Vie de Campagne," consisting
of "Le Medecin de Campagne" (1832), "Le Cure de Village" (1837 to
1841), and "Les Paysans" (1844); and these are to be, Balzac says,
"the evening of this long day. Here are my purest characters, my
application of the principles of order, politics, morality."

There are no subdivisions to the "Etudes Philosophiques," among which
we find "La Peau de Chagrin," written in 1830, and considered by
Balzac a link between the "Etudes de Moeurs" and the "Etudes
Philosophiques"; "Jesus-Christ en Flandre" (1831), "Massimilla Doni"
(1839), "La Recherche de l'Absolu" (1834), "Louis Lambert" (1832), and
"Seraphita" (1835). To the division entitled "Etudes Analytiques"
belong only two books, "La Physiologie du Mariage" (1829), and
"Petites Miseres de la Vie Conjugale" (1830 to 1845).

"The Comedie Humaine" was never finished, but, incomplete as it is, it
remains a noble memorial of Balzac's genius, as well as an astonishing
testimony of his extraordinary power of work. The last edition of it
which was published in Balzac's lifetime appeared in 1846, and formed
sixteen octavo volumes. It consists of eighty-eight novels and tales,
and by far the greater number of these appeared in the first edition
of 1842. A strong connection is kept up between the different stories
by the fact that the same characters appear over and over again, and
the reader finds himself in a world peopled by beings who, as in real
life, at one time take the foremost place, and anon are relegated to a
subordinate position; but who preserve their identity vividly

Balzac found it impossible to manage without a _pied-a-terre_ in
Paris, and for some reason he could no longer lodge with Bouisson, his
tailor, so in 1842 he took a lodging in the same house with his
sister, Madame Surville, at 28, Rue du Faubourg Poissonniere. Life was
brightening for him; he was beginning by his strenuous efforts to
diminish perceptibly his load of debt, and the star of hope shone
brightly on his path.

After many doubts on the part of Madame Hanska, who was most
particular in observing the proprieties, he was allowed in 1843 to
meet her in St. Petersburg, and arrived on July 17th, after a rough
passage from Dunkerque, during which his discomforts were nothing to
him, so joyous was he at the thought of soon seeing his beloved one.
Madame Hanska was established at the Hotel Koutaizoff, in the Rue
Grande Millione, and Balzac took a lodging near, and thought St.
Petersburg with its deserted streets a dreary place. All minor
feelings were, however, merged in the happiness of being near Madame
Hanska, of hearing her voice, and of giving expression to that
passionate love which had possessed him for more than ten years. In
his sight she was as young and beautiful as ever, and his fascinated
eyes watched her with rapture, as she leant back thoughtfully in the
little arm-chair in the blue drawing-room, her head resting against a
cushion trimmed with black lace. He could recall every detail
afterwards of that room, could count the points of the lace, and see
the bronze ornaments filled with flowers, in which he used to catch
his knees in his rapid pacings up and down; and his eyes would fill
with tears, and the creations of his imagination fade and become
unreal, beside the haunting pictures of his memory. He loved Madame
Hanska with a love which had grown steadily since their first meeting,
and which now was threatening to overmaster him, so that even work
would become impossible. Nevertheless, though she was most charming
and affectionate, and he stayed in St. Petersburg until September,
nothing definite was settled.

Madame Hanska was a prudent person; her dearly-loved daughter Anna was
growing up, and it was quite necessary to settle her in life before
taking any decided step. Besides, though she hardly allowed this to
herself, there is no doubt that she was rather alarmed at the prospect
of becoming Madame Honore de Balzac. The marriage would be decidedly a
_mesalliance_ for a Rzewuska, and her family constantly and steadily
exerted their influence to prevent her from wrecking her future. What,
they asked her, would be her life with a husband as eccentric,
extravagant, and impecunious, as they believed Balzac to be? They
collected gossip about him in Paris, and told Madame Hanska endless
stories, occasionally true, often false, and sometimes merely
exaggerated, about his oddities, his love affairs, and his general
unsuitability for alliance with an aristocratic family. It was no
doubt pleasant to have a man of genius and of worldwide fame as a
lover; but what would be her position if she took the fatal step, and
bound herself to him for life? Madame Hanska listened and paused: she
well understood her advantages as a great and moneyed lady; and she
was under no illusions as to the harassed and chequered existence
which she would lead with Balzac. She had often lent him money, his
letters kept her well informed about the state of his affairs; and the
idea of becoming wife to a man who was often forced to fly from his
creditors, must have been extremely distasteful to a woman used to
luxury and consideration. Maternal affection, love of her country,
prudence, social and worldly considerations--besides the fear of the
Czar's displeasure--were all inducements to delay; and even if she had
felt towards Balzac the passionate love for the lack of which
posterity has reproached her, it surely would have been the duty of an
affectionate mother to think of her child's welfare before her own
happiness. Later on, when Anna was married, and Balzac, broken in
health and tortured by his longings, was kept a slave to Madame
Hanska's caprices, the hard thing may be said of her, that she was in
part the cause of the death of the man she pretended to love. In 1843,
however, whatever motives incited her, her action in delaying matters
appears under the circumstances to have been right; and Balzac seems
to have felt that he had no just cause for complaint.

He wrote to Madame Hanska, at each of the stopping-places during his
tiring overland journey back to France, and describes vividly the
miserable, jolting journey through Livonia, where the carriage road
was marked out by boughs thrown down in the midst of a sandy plain,
and all around was depressing poverty and desolation. Berlin, peopled
with Germans of "brutal heaviness," he detested, and he loathed the
society dinner parties, with no conversation--nothing but tittle-tattle
and Court gossip; and complained of the trains, which travelled he
said no quicker than a French diligence. Nevertheless, in contrast
to Russia, the great _voyant_ was struck with the air of "liberte de
moeurs" which prevailed throughout Germany. He liked Dresden, and
enjoyed his visit to its picture gallery, where he especially admired
a Madeleine and two Virgins by Correggio, as well as two by Raphael,
one of them presumably the San Sisto Madonna. The gem of the whole
collection, however, in his opinion, was Holbein's Madonna; and he
longed to have Madame Hanska's hand in his while he gazed at it. As he
was away from her, he was very restless, and soon tired of all he saw.
He longed to be back in Paris, and to find distraction in his work.
"Think of my trouble, my sadness, and my sorrow, and you will be full
of pity and of indulgence for the poor exile,"[*] he writes.

[*] "Lettres a l'Etrangere."

                             CHAPTER XIII

                             1843 - 1846

  Pamela Giraud--Balzac again attempts to become member of the
  Academie Francaise--Mlle. Henriette Borel's reception into a
  religious house--Comte Georges Mniszech--"Les Paysans" started in
  _La Presse_--Madame Hanska's unreasonableness hinders Balzac's
  work--He travels with her and her daughter, and they return with
  him to Passy--Comtesse Anna engaged to Comte Georges Mniszech
  --Balzac takes Madame Hanska and her daughter to Brussels--He
  meets Madame Hanska at Baden-Baden--Leaves Paris again, meets
  Wierzchownia party at Naples--Buys bric-a-brac for future home
  --Work neglected--Dispute with Emile de Girardin--Balzac's
  unhappiness and suspense--He goes to Rome--Comes back better
  in health and spirits--"La Cousine Bette" and "Le Cousin Pons"
  --Balzac goes to Wiesbaden--Marriage of Comtesse Anna and Comte
  Georges Mniszech--Balzac and Madame Hanska secretly engaged
  --Parisian gossip.

On September 26th, 1843, during Balzac's absence in St. Petersburg,
another play of which he was author was produced at the Gaite. It was
called "Pamela Giraud," and the plot is contrived with an ability
which proves Balzac's increased knowledge of the art of writing for
the theatre. At the same time he has attempted no innovations, but he
has kept to the beaten track; and the play is an old-fashioned
melodrama with thrilling and heart-rending situations, and virtue
triumphant at the end. Owing to Balzac's attack on journalism in the
"Monographie de la Presse Parisienne," which had appeared in March,
and finished with the words, "Si la presse n'existait pas, il faudrait
ne pas l'inventer," the whole newspaper world was peculiarly hostile
to him at this time, and his play received no mercy, and was a
failure. Curiously enough, Balzac seemed rather pleased at this news,
which reached him at Berlin, on his journey home to France. He had
made use of the services of two practised writers for the theatre to
fit his melodrama to the exigencies of the stage, and possibly this
fact dulled his interest in it. At any rate he was strangely
philosophical about its fate.

On November 28th, 1843, soon after his return to Paris, a vacancy was
left in the Academy by the death of M. Vincent Campenon; and Charles
Nodier and Victor Hugo proposed Balzac as a candidate for the empty
seat. Balzac, however, soon withdrew, as he found that his impecunious
condition would be a reason for his rejection, and he wrote promptly
to Nodier and to M. de Pongerville, another member of the Academy,
that if he could not enter L'Academie because of honourable poverty,
he would never present himself at her doors when prosperity was his
portion. In September, 1845, another vacancy occurred; but in spite of
Madame de Girardin's entreaties that Balzac should again come forward
as a candidate, he refused decidedly, and wrote to Madame Hanska that
in doing this he knew himself to be consulting her wishes.

The year 1844 was not an unhappy one with Balzac, though his health
was bad, and he speaks of terrible neuralgia; so that he wrote "Les
Paysans" with his head in opium, as he had written "Cesar Birotteau"
with his feet in mustard. Apparently Madame Hanska held out hopes that
in 1845 his long probation might come to and end, as he writes: "Days
of illness are days of pleasure to me, for when I do not work with
absorption of all my moral and physical qualities, I never cease
thinking of 1845. I arrange houses, I furnish them, I see myself
there, and I am happy."[*] It was a joy to him to fulfil Madame
Hanska's commissions, and thus to come in contact with people who had
been at any time connected with her. Therefore, in spite of his busy
life, he took much trouble over the arrangements for the entrance of
Anna's former governess, Mlle Henriette Borel, into a religious house
in Paris, and was present at her reception into the Couvent de la
Visitation, Rue l'Enfer, in December, 1845. He was rather annoyed on
this occasion, as he was working tremendously hard at the "Comedie
Humaine," and at his "Petites Miseres de la Vie Conjugale," and the
good nuns, who "thought the world turned only for themselves," told
him that the ceremony would take place at one o'clock and would last
an hour, whereas it was not over till four, and as he had to see
Lirette afterwards, he could not get away till half-past five.
However, he was consoled by the idea that he was representing his dear
Countess and Anna, who were in Italy at the time, and he thought the
service imposing and very dramatic. He was specially thrilled when the
three new nuns threw themselves on the ground, were covered with a
pall, while prayers for the dead were recited over them; and after
this rose up crowned with white roses, as the brides of Christ.
Lirette was radiant when she had taken the veil, and wished that every
one would enter a religious house.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 102.

In July, 1844, Madame Hanska and her daughter made the acquaintance
of the Comte Georges Mniszech, who appeared to be a very suitable
_parti_for Anna. Balzac naturally took a keen interest in all the
prospective arrangements, and consulted anxiously with Madame Hanska
about the young Comte's character, which must of course have proved
perfect, before a treasure like the young Countess could be confided
to his keeping. It is strikingly characteristic of Balzac's
disinterestedness, that though he knew that the young Countess's
marriage would remove the principal obstacle between him and Madame
Hanska, he was most insistent in recommending caution till the young man
had been for some time on probation. However, an engagement soon took
place, and it seemed as though the great desire of Balzac's heart would
in a short time be within his reach, and that happiness would shine upon
him at last.

In 1844 he published among other books "Modeste Mignon," "Gaudissart
II," a fragment of the first part of "L'Envers de L'Histoire
Contemporaine," which he entitled "Madame de la Chanterie," the end of
the first part of "Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes," the third
and last part of "Beatrix," and the first part of "Les Paysans." This
began to appear in _La Presse_ on December 3rd, and the disputes about
its publication led to Balzac's final rupture with Emile de Girardin.

"Les Paysans" was never finished; but was intended to be the most
considerable, as it is, even in its present fragmentary condition, one
of the most remarkable of Balzac's novels. For eight years he had at
intervals started on the composition of this vivid picture of the deep
under-current of struggle which was going on between the peasant of
France and the _bourgeoisie_; that deadly fight for the possession of
the soil which resulted, as the great _voyant_ plainly descried it
must, in the Revolution of 1848, and the victory of the peasant.
Balzac also intended to depict the demoralisation of the people by
their abandonment of the Catholic religion; and the novel, in
emulation of Victor Hugo and of Dumas, was to fill many volumes. The
first version of it, entitled "Le Grand Proprietaire," was begun about
1835, and the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul in his interesting
book entitled "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," gives the text of
this, the MS. of which forms part of his collection. About the year
1836 or 1838, Balzac altered the title of his proposed novel to "Qui a
Terre, a Guerre," and it was not till 1839 that he named the work "Les
Paysans." In 1840 Balzac offered "Les Paysans," which he said was
ready to appear in fifteen days, to M. Dujarier, the manager of _La
Presse_, and received 1,650 francs in advance for the novel. However,
in 1841 he substituted "Les Deux Freres," which was the first part of
"La Rabouilleuse," for "Les Paysans," and offered the latter work as
if finished to Le Messager and also to the publisher Locquin, under
the title of "La Chaumiere et le Chateau."

In April, 1843, Balzac had paid back part of his debt to _La Presse_
by publishing "Honorine" in its columns, but in September, 1844, he
received 9,000 francs in advance for the still unwritten "Les
Paysans." It was further arranged that when this debt had been worked
out, he should be given sixty centimes a line for the remainder of the
novel, and that _La Presse_ should pay for composition and
corrections. It will be noticed that Emile de Girardin, the autocratic
chief of _La Presse_, had at last wearied of the bickering which had
gone on between him and Balzac ever since their first relations of
1830, and in 1840 had handed over the task of dealing with the
aggravating author to his subordinate Dujarier. The treaty concerning
"Les Paysans" was therefore drawn up with Dujarier, and matters no
doubt would have proceeded harmoniously, had not the latter been
killed in a duel in March, 1845.

The first number of "Les Paysans" appeared on December 3rd, 1844, and
then, owing to a most untoward concatenation of circumstances, there
was a long pause in Balzac's contributions to _La Presse_. Madame
Hanska had unfortunately decided for some time that she would in 1845
make one of those journeys which more than anything else threw Balzac
and his affairs into inextricable confusion. Before M. de Hanski's
death, however, Balzac was at any rate welcomed with effusion when, in
his longing to see Madame Hanska, he left his affairs in Paris to take
care of themselves. In those early days she was devotedly attached to
him; besides, an adorer was a fashionable appendage for an elegant
married woman, and the conquest of a distinguished man of letters like
Balzac was something to be proud of. Now, however, there was no
husband as a protector in the eyes of the world; and marriage, a
marriage about which she felt many qualms, loomed large before her
startled eyes. She had no intention of giving up the delightful luxury
of Balzac's love; but might she not by judicious diplomacy, she
sometimes asked herself, manage to enjoy this, without taking the last
irrevocable step? Her position was not enviable, the state of feeling
embodied in the words "she would and she wouldn't" always betokening
in the subject a wearing variability of mind posture; but compared
with the anguish of Balzac, whom she was slowly killing by her
vacillations, her woes do not deserve much sympathy.

At St. Petersburg, possibly during one of their walks on the quay, or
on a cozy evening when the samovar was brought up at nine o'clock, and
placed on the white table with yellowish lines--she had promised
Balzac that he might meet her next year at Dresden. However, when she
arrived there, and found herself in a circle of her own relations, who
according to Balzac poisoned her mind against him, she not only
objected to his presence, but, in her sudden fear of gossip, she
forbade him to write to her again during her stay at Dresden. She sent
off another letter almost at once, contradicting her last command; but
she would not make up her mind whether Balzac might come to her at
Dresden, whether she would consent to meet him at Frankfort, or
whether he should prepare a house for her and Anna in Paris. Balzac
could settle to nothing. In order to work as he understood the word,
it was necessary that he should exclude all outside disturbing
influence, and hear only the voices of the world where Le Pere Goriot,
old Grandet, La Cousine Bette, and their fellows, toiled, manoeuvred,
and suffered. How could he do this, how could he even arrange his
business affairs, when a letter might come by any post, telling him to
start at once and meet his beloved one? Precious time was wasted,
never to be recalled; and when Balzac, raging with impatience and
irritation, dared very gently, and with words of affection, to express
the feelings which devoured him, the divinity was offended, and he
received a rebuke for his impatience and tone of authority.

In April, 1845, he writes: "Shall I manage to write two numbers of the
'Paysans' in twelve days? That is the problem, for I have not a single
line written. Dresden and you, between you, turn my head; I do not
know what will become of me. There is nothing more fatal than the
state of indecision in which you have kept me for three months. If I
had started on January 1st, and had returned on February 28th, I
should have been more advanced in my work, and I should have had two
good months, like the ones at St. Petersburg. Dear sovereign star, how
do you expect me to conceive an idea or write a single phrase, with my
heart and head agitated as they have been since last November? It has
been enough to make a man mad! In vain I have stuffed myself with
coffee: I have only succeeded in increasing the nervous trembling of
my eyes, and I have written nothing; this is my situation to-day,
April 10th; and I have _La Presse_ behind me, sending to me every day,
and the 'Paysans,' which is my first long work. I am between two
despairs, that of not seeing you, of not having seen you, and the
literary and financial trouble, the trouble of self-respect. Oh,
Charles II. was quite right to say: 'But she?' in all the affairs
submitted to him by his ministers.

"I can only write you this word, and it is full of sadness, for I must
work and try to forget you for several days, to belong in the future
more thoroughly and surely to you. It is noon; I start again at 'Les
Paysans' for the tenth time, and all the muscles in my face work like
those of an animal; Nature has had enough of work--she kicks over the
traces. Ah! why have I debts? Why must I work whether I wish to or
not? I am so unhappy, so tormented, so despondent, that I refuse to be
hopeless; you must surely see that I am more than ever yours, and that
I pass my life uselessly away from you, for the glory gained by
inspired work is not worth a few hours passed with you! In the end I
trust only in God and in you alone: in you who do not write me a word
more for that; you who might at least console me with three letters a
week, and who hardly write me two, and those so short!"[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 142.

However, on April 18th he received a letter from Madame Hanska
containing the words, "I wish to see you," and rushed off at once to
Dresden oblivious of everything but his one desire. _La Presse_
apparently submitted to this interruption philosophically. Its readers
had not found the opening of "Les Paysans" amusing, while _Le Moniteur
de l'Armee_ had strongly and rather absurdly objected to it, as likely
to lower military prestige. _La Presse_ had therefore decided in any
case to put off the appearance of "Les Paysans" till February, and to
begin the year 1845 with "La Reine Margot," by Alexandre Dumas.

Meanwhile Balzac was having a delightful time. Having joined Madame
Hanska at Dresden, he travelled with her and the Comtesse Anna and
Comte Georges Mniszech, who had lately become engaged, to Cannstadt,
Carlsruhe, and Strasburg; and to his intense delight, in July, the
Countess and her daughter came to him at Passy, and took up their
abode in a little house near the Rue Basse, with a carefully chosen
housemaid, cook, and man. The Czar had prohibited the journey to
France, so they travelled incognito as Balzac's sister and niece, the
Countess Anna taking the name of Eugenie, perhaps in remembrance of
Balzac's heroine Eugenie Grandet.[*] In the morning they went by cab
or on foot into Paris, and in the evening a carriage was at their
disposal, and they visited the theatre and the opera. We can easily
realise the excitement and joy Balzac felt in showing them all his
treasures--the bust by David D'Angers, the precious Medici furniture
of ebony encrusted with mother-of-pearl, the Cellini statuettes, and
the pictures by Giorgione, Palma, Watteau, and Greuze.

[*] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de

July passed quickly in this mode of life, Balzac acting as cicerone to
the two ladies, and their identity was fortunately not discovered. In
August he conducted them as far as Brussels on their way back to
Dresden, and together they visited Fontainebleau, Orleans, Bourges,
his much-loved Tours, Blois, Rotterdam, La Hague, and Antwerp. At
Brussels they were met by M. Georges Mniszech, who took charge of the
two Countesses in Balzac's place. The latter felt obliged to write
afterwards to the Count to apologise for his cold good-bye, and to
explain that he had been forced to assume indifference, because he
feared a complete breakdown unless he sternly repressed all appearance
of feeling.

However, he was not away for long from Madame Hanska, as he spent from
September 20th till October 4th with her at Baden-Baden, where she had
been ordered for a course of the waters. The time there was the
happiest in his life, as it seemed to him that he could now plainly
see a picture of the future, which he prayed for and dreamed of in the
midst of his crushing work.

On October 16th, 1845, he left Paris again, met Madame Hanska, her
daughter, and prospective son-in-law at Chalons, and started with them
on their Italian tour. It took a day to travel by boat from Chalons to
Lyons, and another day to go by boat from Lyons to Avignon; but the
time flew from Madame Hanska and Balzac, who were engrossed all the
way in delightful talk. They arrived at Marseilles on October 29th,
and stayed for two nights at the Hotel d'Orient, where Balzac's friend
Mery had secured rooms for them. They then went by sea to Naples, and
there Balzac worked so hard at sight-seeing, saw so much, and talked
so volubly, that he was quite exhausted. He remained a few days only
at Naples, and had a very tiring journey back, as the sea was
extremely rough; and when he reached Marseilles Mery insisted on
taking him into society, so that he had no opportunity of resting even
there. It was altogether a very expensive journey. He could not drink
the water on board the boat coming home, and therefore was obliged to
quench his thirst with champagne; and as the captain and the steward
showed him extraordinary politeness, _they_ had also to be given
champagne, and invited to a lunch party at the Hotel d'Orient when the
ship arrived at Marseilles. Balzac was evidently rather ashamed of
this escapade, and begged Madame Hanska not to let Georges know
anything of his extravagance, as he would be certain to make fun of

The bric-a-brac shops at Marseilles were another terrible cause of
temptation, and one to which Balzac apparently succumbed without a
struggle, consoling himself with the reflection that his purchases
were "de vraies occasions a saisir."

When he arrived at Passy on November 17th, and retired to bed with an
attack of fever as the result of all his fatigues, he might be
expected to feel slightly depressed at the thought of the time he had
wasted during the last few months, and of his small advance in the
work of paying off his debts. As far as we can judge, however, these
were not his reflections. He was dreaming of the past year, the
happiest year of his life, because so much of it had been spent with
Madame Hanska; and when his mind turned to more practical subjects, he
thought of various projects for buying the house which was to be their
future home, and of the way it should be decorated. His mind dwelt
constantly on these preparations for his married life; and he
continued to correspond with Mery, and to entrust him with delicate
commissions which required much bargaining. At this Mery was not,
according to his own account, very successful, as he remarks in an
amusing letter to Balzac: "I call to witness all the marble false gods
which decorate Lazardo's dark museum. I have neglected nothing to
succeed with your message. I have paid indolent visits, I have taken
the airs of a bored 'agathophile,' I have turned my back on the
objects of your desire. All my efforts have been in vain. They
obstinately continue to ask fabulous prices."[*]

[*] Letters from the collection of the Vicomte de Spoelberch de
    Lovenjoul, published in the _Revue Bleue_ of December 5th, 1903.

In February, 1845,[*] Balzac had written cheerfully about the 30,000
francs for "Les Paysans" which he would obtain from the publisher, and
the 10,000 from the journal; of the 15,000 francs which would come to
him from "La Comedie Humaine," and the 30,000 from the sale of Les
Jardies, besides 10,000 francs from his other works and 20,000 from
the railway du Nord; and had calculated that his most pressing
liabilities would soon be discharged. His figures and computations on
the subject of money can never be relied on, and the railway du Nord
was a most unfortunate speculation, and proved a constant drain on his
resources. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that he was beginning to
diminish perceptibly the burden of debt which pressed upon him, and
that if Madame Hanska had not existed, and if on the other hand he had
not himself embarked on some mad scheme or senseless piece of
extravagance, he might in a few years have become a free man. These
long months of expensive inaction rendered this happy solution to the
troubles of his life impossible.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 123.

Meanwhile fresh misfortunes were gathering. On November 27th, 1845,
Emile de Girardin, who since Dujarier's death had resumed business
relations with Balzac, addressed to him a most discourteous letter. He
apparently disbelieved in the terms of the agreement by which the
great writer was to be paid sixty centimes a line for "Les Paysans,"
and demanded a certified copy of it;[*] and he also announced that for
"Les Petites Miseres de la Vie Conjugale," which was about to appear
in the _Revue_, he could not pay more than forty centimes, which was,
he said, his maximum price to contributors. Later on, in March, 1846,
Girardin despatched another message to complain of the delay in
continuing "Les Paysans," and in this he remarked with bitter emphasis
that as _La Presse_ paid so highly for what was published in her
pages, she had at least the right of objecting to being treated
lightly. Balzac replied on March 16th, 1846, that _he_ was the one who
ought to bear malice, as Dujarier had upset his arrangements by
interrupting the publication of "Les Paysans" to substitute "La Reine
Margot," by Dumas, and that now his brain required rest, and that he
was starting that very day for a month's holiday in Rome.

[*] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de
    Lovenjoul (from which the whole account of the dispute between
    Balzac and Emile de Girardin is taken).

If Balzac had remained in France it is doubtful whether he would have
written much, as he had been in a miserably unsettled state all the
winter of 1845 to 1846. His health was bad: he mentions continual
colds and neuralgia, and on one occasion remarks that owing to
complete exhaustion he has slept all through the day. Besides this,
his suspense about Madame Hanska's ultimate decision made him
absolutely wretched. He writes to her on December 17th, 1845: "Nothing
amuses me, nothing distracts me, nothing animates me; it is the death
of the soul, the death of the will, the weakening of the whole being;
I feel that I can only take up my work again when I see my life
determined, fixed, arranged."[*] Later on in the same letter he says:
"I am crushed; I have waited too long, I have hoped too much; I have
been too happy this year, and I do not want anything else. After so
many years of misfortune and of work, to have been free as a bird,
superhumanly happy, and to return to one's cell! . . . is it possible?
. . . I dream: I dream by day and by night, and the thought of the
heart driven back on itself prevents all action of the thought of the
brain; it is terrible!"

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 200.

On one occasion Madame Hanska wrote apparently reproaching him with
talking indiscreetly about her; and without finishing the letter, the
end of which was affectionate, and would have calmed his mind, he at
once jumped out of the cab in which he was driving, and walked for
hours about Paris. He was wearing thin shoes, and there were two
inches of snow on the ground; but his agitation was so great at her
unjust accusations, and his indignation so fierce at the wickedness of
the people who had libelled him, that he hardly knew where he was
going, and returned at last, still so excited by the anguish of his
mind, that he was not conscious of bodily fatigue. Such crises, and
the consequent exhaustion afterwards, were not conducive to work;
particularly in a man whose heart was already affected, and who had
overstrained his powers for years.

Possibly in the hope of obtaining distraction and relief from the
anxious misery of thought, he went into society more than usual this
year; and in spite of the strained relations between him and Emile de
Girardin, he often dined at the editor's house, and was on most
friendly terms with Madame de Girardin. On January 1st, 1846, he wrote
to Madame Hanska, "I dined, as I told you in my last letter, with
Nestor Roqueplan, the director of the Theatre des Varietes, the last
Wednesday of December, and the last day of the month with the
illustrious Delphine. We laughed as much as I can laugh without you,
and far from you. Delphine is really the queen of conversation; that
evening she was especially sublime, brilliant, charming. Gautier was
there as well; I left after having a long talk with him. He said that
there was no hurry for 'Richard, Coeur d'Eponge'; the theatre is well
provided at present. Perhaps Gautier and I will write the piece
together later on."[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 212.

Balzac's mind was still running on the theatre. Owing to failing
health and to his unfortunate love affair, he now found it more
difficult to concentrate his mind than formerly, and the incessant
work of earlier years was no longer possible; so that the easy road to
fortune offered by a successful play became doubly attractive.
"Richard Coeur d'Eponge," however, never appeared; and except several
fragments, which are in the hands of the Vicomte de Spoelberch de
Lovenjoul, it is doubtful whether it was written, though Balzac often
discussed the plot with Gautier.

What, after all, were novels, essays, or plays, of what interest were
scenes, plots, or characters, what was fame, what was art itself,
compared with Madame Hanska? How was it possible for a man to work,
with the gloriously disquieting prospect before him that in so many
months, weeks, days, he should meet his divinity? The phantoms of his
imagination faded to insignificance, and then to utter nullity, beside
the woman of flesh and blood, the one real object in a world of
shadows. On March 17th, 1846, he started on his journey to Rome, and
everything became a blank, except the intoxicating thought that each
hour diminished the distance between him and the woman he loved. She
evidently received him with enthusiasm, and showed so much affection,
that though nothing definite was settled, he felt that her ultimate
decision to marry him was certain; and was only deferred to a more
convenient season, when her daughter Anna should have become La
Comtesse Mniszech. Therefore the whole world brightened for him, and
he became again full of life and vigour. He stayed for a month in the
Eternal City, was presented to the Pope, admired St. Peter's
extremely, and said that his time there would for ever remain one of
the greatest and most beautiful recollections of his life. As the
route by sea was crowded by travellers who had spent Holy Week in
Rome, and all wanted to return at the same time, he travelled back by
Switzerland; and explored fresh country and hunted for curiosities on
the way. Several pictures were to follow him from Italy: a Sebastian
del Piombo, a Bronzino, and a Mirevelt, which he describes as of
extreme beauty; and with his usual happy faith in his own good luck,
he hoped to pick up some other bargains such as "Hobbemas and Holbeins
for a few crowns," in the towns through which he would pass on his
journey. A definite engagement did not take place till some months
later; but some tacit understanding must now have been allowed by
Madame Hanska, as there began to appear from this time in Balzac's
letters exact descriptions of the Sevres china, the inlaid furniture,
and the bric-a-brac, which he was buying evidently with her money as
well as his own, to adorn their future home together. As usual, on his
return he found his affairs in utter confusion, was pursued by
creditors, and was absolutely without money. As a last misfortune, his
housekeeper, Madame de Brugnolle, in whose name the habitation at
Passy had been rented, and who generally managed his business affairs,
was busy preparing for her approaching marriage, and had naturally no
time to spare for her supposed lodger's difficulties. Altogether
Balzac felt that the world was a harassing place.

However, his health was admirable, "et le talent! . . . oh! je l'ai
retrouve dans sa fleur!"[*] He was full of hope and confidence; and
although the shares of the railway du Nord continued to fall in value,
he considered that with steady work at his novels, and with the help
of a successful comedy, he would soon have paid off his debts, and
would have a little house of his own, with room for his beautiful
things; which, owing to want of space, and also to fear of his
creditors, were never unpacked. It was necessary to prove that he was
as young, as fresh, and as fertile as ever, and with this object in
view, in June, 1846, he began the two books which were to form the
series entitled "L'Histoire des Parents Pauvres." The first, "La
Cousine Bette," appeared in the _Constitutionnel_ from October to
December, 1846, and is intended to represent "a poor relation
oppressed by humiliations and injuries, living in the midst of three
or four families of her relations, and meditating vengeance for the
bruising of her amour-propre, and for her wounded vanity!"[*] The
second received several names in turn. It was first called "Le Vieux
Musicien," next "Le Bonhomme Pons," and then "Le Parasite," a title on
which Balzac said he had decided definitely. However, Madame Hanska
objected, as she declared that "Le Parasite" was only suitable for an
eighteenth-century comedy, and the book appeared in April, 1847, as
"Le Cousin Pons." Though intensely tragic, it is not as horrible or
revolting as its pendant, the gloomy "Cousine Bette"; and Balzac has
portrayed admirably the simple old man with his fondness for good
dinners; "the poor relation oppressed by humiliations and injuries,
pardoning all, and only revenging himself by doing kindnesses." Side
by side with him is the touching figure of his faithful friend
Schmucke, the childlike German musician, who dies of grief at the
death of Pons. In writing these two remarkable books, his last
important works, Balzac proved conclusively that his hand had not lost
its cunning, and that the slow rate of literary production during the
last few years of his life was caused by his unhappy circumstances,
and not by any failure in his genius.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 243.

After all, the year 1846 ended for him with agitation which
increased his heart disease. His beloved trio, whom he had christened
the "troupe Bilboquet," after the vaudeville "Les Saltimbanques," had
now moved to Wiesbaden; and thither their faithful "Bilboquet," the
"vetturino per amore," as Madame de Girardin laughingly called him,
rushed to meet them. He found "notre grande et chere Atala" rather
crippled with rheumatism, and not able to take the exercise which
was necessary for her, but in his eyes as beautiful as ever. The
"gentille Zephirine," otherwise the Countess Anna, was gay,
charming, and beautifully dressed; and "Gringalet," the Count,
was completely occupied--when not making love--with his collection
of insects, on which he spent large sums. About this collection
Balzac made many rather heavy jokes, calling the Count a
"Gringalet sphynx-lepidoptere-coleoptere-ante-diluvien,"[*] but in
an anxious desire to ingratiate himself with Madame Hanska's family,
he often despatched magnificent specimens of the insect species from
Paris to add to it.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 287.

Balzac travelled about a little with the Hanski family, and remained
with them till September 15th, when he was obliged to go back to
Paris. Either at this time, or when he returned for the wedding of the
Comtesse Anna and the Comte Georges Mniszech, which took place at
Wiesbaden on October 13th, 1846, a secret engagement was contracted
between him and Madame Hanska.

He was now terribly anxious that there should be no further delay
about his marriage, and on his way back from Germany on one of these
two occasions, he applied to M. Germeau, then prefect of Metz,[*] who
had been at school with him at Vendome, to know whether the necessary
formalities could be abridged, so that the wedding might take place at
once. This was impossible; and though the great obstacle to their
union was now removed, Madame Hanska refused to be parted from her
beloved daughter, and insisted on accompanying the newly married
couple on their honeymoon. Her determination caused Balzac terrible
agony of mind, as she was unwell, and was suffering a great deal at
the time, and he therefore wished her to remain quietly somewhere in
France; moreover, despair seized him at her hesitation to become his
wife, when the course at last seemed clear. His trouble at this time
appears to have had a serious effect on his health, and some words
spoken half in malice, half in warning by Madame de Girardin, must
have sounded like a knell in his ears. He tells them apparently in
jest to Madame Hanska to give her an example of the nonsense people
talk in Paris. In his accuracy of repetition, however, we can trace a
passionately anxious desire to force Madame Hanska herself to deny the
charges brought against her; and perhaps lurking behind this, a wish
unacknowledged even to himself, to shame her if--even after all that
had passed--she were really not in earnest.

[*] See "Une Page Perdue de Honore de Balzac," p. 276, by the Vicomte
    de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

He says: "Madame de Girardin told me that she heard from a person who
knew you intimately, that you were extremely flattered by my homage;
that from vanity and pride you made me come wherever you went; that
you were very happy to have a man of genius as courier, but that your
social position was too high to allow me to aspire to anything else.
And then she began to laugh with an ironical laugh, and told me that I
was wasting my time running after great ladies, only to fail with
them. Hein! Isn't that like Paris!"[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 295.

The reader of Balzac's life is forced to the sad conclusion that
Parisian gossip had on this occasion sketched the situation tolerably
correctly; though the truth of the picture was no doubt denied with
much indignation by Madame Hanska.

                             CHAPTER XIV

                             1846 - 1848

  Balzac buys a house in the Rue Fortunee--Madame Hanska's visit to
  Paris--Balzac burns her letters--Final breach with Emile de
  Girardin--Balzac's projects for writing for the theatre--He goes
  to Wierzchownia--Plan for transporting oaks from Russia to France
  --Balzac returns to Paris at the eve of the Revolution of 1848
  --Views on politics--Stands for last time as deputy.

Much of Balzac's time, whenever he was in Paris in 1845 and 1846, was
taken up with house-hunting; and some of his still unpublished letters
to Madame Hanska contain long accounts of the advantages of the
different abodes he had visited. He was now most anxious to be
permanently settled, as there was no room for his art treasures in the
Rue Basse; but as Madame Hanska's tastes had to be consulted as well
as his own, it was necessary to be very careful in his choice.
However, in October, 1846, he at last found something which he thought
would be suitable. This was the villa which had formerly belonged to
the financier Beaujon, in the Rue Fortunee, now the Rue Balzac. The
house was not large, it was what might now be described as a "bijou
residence," but though out of repair, it had been decorated with the
utmost magnificence by Beaujon, and Balzac's discriminating eye
quickly discerned its aesthetic possibilities.

In front of the house was a long narrow courtyard, the pavement of
which was interrupted here and there by flower-beds. This courtyard
was bordered by a wall, and above the wall nothing could be seen from
the road but a cupola, which formed the domed ceiling of the
financier's boudoir. Some of the inside adornments possessed a
delightful fitness for the uses to which they were destined. For
instance, what could have been a more graceful compliment to the
Mniszechs than to lodge them during their visits to Paris, which would
of course be frequent, in a set of rooms painted with brilliant exotic
butterflies, poised lightly on lovely flowers? Apparently foreseeing,
as Balzac remarks, that a "Lepidopterian Georges" would at some time
inhabit the mansion, Beaujon had actually provided a beautiful bedroom
and a little drawing-room decorated in this way.[*] It seemed quite

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 289.

Balzac was very happy superintending the building operations, deciding
exactly where his different treasures would look best in his new
abode, and hunting for fresh acquisitions to make every detail
perfect. Later on, his letters from Russia to his mother when she was
taking charge of the house--then furnished and decorated--show how
dearly he loved all his household goods, and how well he was
acquainted with their peculiarities; how he realised the danger,
unless it were held by the lower part,[*] of moving the greenish-grey
china vase with cracked glaze, which was to stand on one of the
consoles in black wood and Buhl marqueterie; and how he thought
anxiously about the candle ornaments of gilt crystal, which were only
to be arranged _after_ the candelabra had been put up in the white
drawing-room. In 1846 and 1847, his letters are instinct with the
passion of the confirmed collector, who has no thought beyond his
bric-a-brac. His excitement is intense because Madame Hanska has
discovered that a tea service in his possession is real Watteau, and
because he has had the "incredible good fortune" to find a milk jug
and a sugar basin to match it exactly. When we remember that the man
who thus expresses his delight was in the act of writing "Les Parents
Pauvres," and of evoking scenes of touching pathos and gloomy horror,
we are once more amazed at the extraordinary versatility of Balzac's
mind and genius.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 337.

The deep thinker, the pessimistic believer in the omnipotence of vice
and in the helpless suffering of virtue, who drags to light what is
horrible from among the dregs of the people, seems to have nothing in
common with the charming, playful figure of "le vieux Bilboquet," who
gave Madame Hanska's daughter and her son-in-law a big place in his
heart, and was never jealous when, avowedly for their sakes, his
wishes, feelings, and health were unconsidered; whose servants,
hard-worked though they were, adored him; and who never forgot his
friends, or failed to help them when adversity fell upon them.

At the beginning of 1847, peace for a time visited Balzac's restless
spirit. In February he went to Germany to fetch Madame Hanska, and
leaving the Mniszechs to go back alone to Wierzchownia, she travelled
with him to Paris, and remained there till April. It is significant,
as the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul remarks,[*] that during the
time of her stay in Paris, when Balzac's mind was no longer disturbed
by his constant longing to see her, he accomplished the last serious
bout of work in his life, beginning the "Depute D'Arcis" in _L'Union_,
"La Cousine Bette" in the _Constitutionnel_, and "La Derniere
Incarnation de Vautrin" in _La Presse_.

[*] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," p. 194

He had other duties at the same time, being occupied with what _he_
calls the most beautiful work of his life, that of preventing "a
mother separated from so adorable a child as her Grace the Countess
Georges, from dying of grief." He writes to the Mniszechs on February
27th, 1847[*]: "Our dear adored Atala is in a charming and magnificent
apartment (and not too dear). She has a garden; she goes a great deal
to the convent" (to see Mlle. Henriette Borel). "I try to distract her
and to be as much as possible Anna to her; but the name of her dear
daughter is so daily and continually on her lips, that the day before
yesterday, when she was enjoying herself immensely at the Varietes--in
fits of laughter at the 'Filleul de Tout le Monde,' acted by Bouffe
and Hyacinthe--in the midst of her gaiety, she asked herself in a
heartbroken voice, which brought tears to my eyes, how she could laugh
and amuse herself like this, without her 'dear little one.' I allow,
dear Zephirine, that I took the liberty of telling her, that you were
amusing yourself enormously without her, with your lord and master,
His Majesty the King of the Coleoptera; that I was sure that you were
at this time one of the happiest women in the world; and I hope that
Gringalet, on whom I drew this bill of exchange, will not contradict
me. I have four tolerably strong attractions to bring forward against
the thought of you: 1st, the Conservatoire; 2nd, the Opera; 3rd, the
Italian Opera; 4th, the Exhibition."

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 312.

Balzac's hands were certainly pleasantly full at this time. His power
of writing, which had temporarily deserted him, seemed now to have
returned in full vigour; and he had made forty or fifty thousand
francs in three months, so was hopeful of paying off his debts, a
point on which Madame Hanska wisely laid much stress. She still
refused to decide anything definitely about the date of their
marriage; but the house was to a great extent her property, and at
this time she identified herself completely with Balzac in all the
arrangements to do with it. Though he kept on his rooms in the Rue
Basse and left his effects there, he moved in April 1847 to the Rue
Fortunee, that he might be better able to superintend the building and
decorating, and might himself keep watch over his treasures, which
must gradually be unpacked and bestowed to the best advantage. About
the middle of April he conducted Madame Hanska to Forbach on her way
back to Wierzchownia, and himself returned to Paris to finish the
house, put his affairs in order, and then follow her to Wierzchownia.
There he hoped the wedding would quickly take place, and that Monsieur
and Madame Honore de Balzac would return to Paris, and would live to a
ripe old age in married happiness; he writing many masterpieces, she
helping with advice, and forming a salon where her social position,
cleverness, and charm would surround her with the highest in the land.
The prospect was intoxicating; surely no one was ever so near the
attainment of his most radiant visions!

On Balzac's return to Paris, however, he was confronted by realities
of the most terrible nature.

When he arrived at the Rue Basse, he found to his horror that the lock
of his precious casket had been forced, and some of Madame Hanska's
letters had been abstracted. It was a case of blackmail, as the thief
demanded 30,000 francs, in default of which the letters would at once
be handed over to the Czar. If this were to happen, Balzac's hopes of
happiness were annihilated, and the consequences to Madame Hanska
would be even more serious. Unless approached with the utmost caution,
the Czar would certainly refuse his consent to the marriage of a
Russian subject with a foreigner, and would be furious if he were to
discover a secret love affair between the French novelist and one of
his most important subjects. Yet how could Balzac find 30,000 francs?

Already in the grip of heart disease the agony he endured at this time
took him one stage further down the valley of death. In the end he
managed by frightening the thief, to effect the return of the letters
without any immediate payment; but the anguish he had passed through,
and the thought of the terrible consequences only just evaded, decided
him to burn all the letters he had received from Madame Hanska. It was
a terrible sacrifice. He describes in an unpublished letter to her his
feelings, as he sat by the fire, and watched each letter curl up,
blacken, and finally disappear. He had read and re-read them till they
had nearly dropped to pieces, had been cheered and comforted by the
sight of them when the world had gone badly, and had owned them so
long that they seemed part of himself. There was the first of all, the
herald of joy, the opening of a new life; and almost as precious at
this moment seemed the one which discovered to him the identity of his
correspondent, and held out hopes of a speedy meeting. One after
another he took them out of the box which had held some of them for
many years, and each seemed equally difficult to part with. However,
as he wrote to Madame Hanska, he knew that he was doing right in
destroying them, and that the painful sacrifice was absolutely

Meanwhile, Emile de Girardin was naturally becoming impatient about
the continuation of "Les Paysans," which he had never received.[*] He
wrote to Balzac at the end of April, 1847, that the printer had been
ready for the finish of the book since the November before, and that
unless Balzac could produce it in June, the idea of its appearance in
_La Presse_ must be given up altogether; and in this case he must ask
the author to settle with M. Rouy about the advances of money already
made to him. He further remarked with scathing though excusable
distrust in Balzac's fulfilment of his business engagements, that he
refused to continue to bring out the work at all, unless he were
absolutely certain that it was completely written and that no further
interruption would ensue. Friendly social relations still subsisted,
however, between Balzac and the Girardins, as, about the same time
that Emile penned this uncompromising epistle, the following note
reached Balzac,[+] the last he ever received from the peace-making
Madame de Girardin:

"It is the evening of my last Wednesday. Come, cruel one. Mrs. Norton
will be here. Do you not wish me to have the glory of having presented
you to this English 'Corinne'? Emile tells me that 'La Derniere
Incarnation de Vautrin' is admirable. The compositors declare that it
is your _chef-d'oeuvre_.

"Only till this evening, I implore you.


[*] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de
    Lovenjoul, from which the whole account of Balzac's rupture with
    Girardin is taken.

[+] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de
    Lovenjoul, p. 262

Balzac on his side, was now most anxious to finish "Les Paysans,"
especially as his penniless state at this time would render it most
difficult for him to pay back the money advanced to him by _La
Presse_. He was in special difficulties, as he had lately borrowed ten
or fifteen thousand francs from the impecunious Viscontis, giving them
as guarantee some shares in the unfortunate Chemin de Fer du Nord, and
as the railway was a failure, and these shares were a burden instead
of a benefit, Balzac was bound in honour to relieve his friends of
their troublesome possession, and to pay back what he owed them. This
necessity was an additional incentive to action, and Balzac's letters
to Madame Hanska about this time, contain several indications of his
anxiety about "Les Paysans." On June 9th he speaks of his desire to
bring it to a close; and on the 15th he writes that he must certainly
finish it at once, to avoid the lawsuit with which he has been for so
long threatened by _La Presse_. However, he seems to have experienced
an unconquerable difficulty in its composition, as in that of
"Seraphita," the other book about which he had cherished a peculiarly
lofty ideal. Therefore in July the termination of "Les Paysans" had
not yet reached the office of _La Presse_, and on the 13th of the
month Balzac received the following letter:[*]

          "PARIS, July 13th, 1847

"'Le Piccinino' will be finished this week. Only seven numbers of 'Les
Paysans' are completed in advance. We are therefore at the mercy of an
indisposition, of any chance incident, things of which it is necessary
for me to see the possibility, and to which I must not expose myself.

"Really you high dignitaries of the periodical are insupportable, and
you will manage so cleverly that the periodical will some day fail you

"For my part, my resolution on this matter is taken, and firmly taken,
and if I had not a remainder of the account to work out, I would
certainly not publish 'Les Paysans,' as I have not received the last

          "EMILE DE GIRARDIN."

[*] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de
    Lovenjoul, p. 268.

Balzac's answer to this missive is lost. It must have been despatched
at once, and was evidently not conciliatory, as it was answered on the
same day in the following terms:

          "PARIS, July 13th, 1847.

"I only publish 'Les Paysans' because we have an account to settle.
Otherwise I certainly should not publish it, and the success of 'La
Derniere Incarnation de Vautrin' would certainly not impel me to do

"Therefore if you are able without inconvenience to pay back to the
_Presse_ what it advanced to you, I will willingly give up 'Les
Paysans.' Otherwise I will publish 'Les Paysans,' and will begin on
Monday next, the 19th. But I insist that there shall be no
interruption. I count on this.

          "EMILE DE GIRARDIN."

Girardin's bitter resentment is excusable, when we remember that it
was in September, 1844, nearly three years before, that Balzac had
received 9,000 francs in advance for "Les Paysans." Since then only
one number of the promised work had been produced, and the great
writer's only explanation for his long delay in finishing the book was
the inadequate one, that Dujarier had interrupted "Les Paysans" after
the first chapters had been published, to be able to begin Alexandre
Dumas' novel "La Reine Margot," before the end of 1844.

In Balzac's reply, written next day, he definitely withdrew "Les
Paysans" from publication, and said that he would pay what he owed _La
Presse_ within the space of twenty days, and would not charge for what
had not yet been printed; though it had been written and composed
specially for _La Presse_, and at the request of the _Presse_. As to
Emile de Girardin's insinuations about the failure of "La Derniere
Incarnation de Vautrin," Balzac remarked that this had been written
for _L'Epoque_, not for _La Presse_, and that it had not been
necessary for Girardin to purchase it from the moribund journal,
unless he had approved of it. Girardin had hurt him on his tenderest
point when he branded his works as failures. With pride and bitterness
in his heart he went through the accounts with Mr. Rouy, and found
that out of the 9,000 francs received from _La Presse_, he still owed
5,221 francs 85 centimes. How he raised the money it is impossible to
guess, but on August 5th he paid 2,500 francs, and on September 1st
2,000 more, so that only 721 francs 85 centimes remained of his debt,
and he made his preparations to start for Wierzchownia with his mind
at rest.

He heard from Emile de Girardin again, as we shall see later on, but
he had seen Madame de Girardin for the last time. She did not forget
him, however, and the news of his death was so terrible a shock that
she fainted away. She died in 1855, and was deeply mourned by her
friends. Theophile Gautier, in his admiring account of her, says that
for some years before her death, she became a prey to depression and
discouragement at the conditions surrounding her. It may have been
that her brilliant, exciting life led naturally to a partly physical
reaction, and that she became too tired by the emotions she had gone
through, to adapt herself with buoyancy to the ever variable
conditions of existence. At all events she is a refreshing figure in
the midst of much that is unsatisfactory--a woman witty, highly
gifted, a queen of society, who was yet kindly, generous, and
absolutely free from literary jealousy.

Before the middle of September when Balzac left for Wierzchownia, we
hear once of him again. He was still dreaming of the theatre as a
means of relief from all his embarrassments,[*] and on a hot day in
August, 1847, he went to Bougival, to pay a visit to M. Hostein, the
director of the Theatre Historique, a new theatre which had not yet
been opened six months. There, sitting in the shade on the towing path
by the river, he unfolded to the manager his design of writing a grand
historical drama on Peter I. and Catherine of Russia, to be entitled
"Pierre et Catherine." Nothing was written, it was all still in his
head; but he at once sketched the first scene to the manager, and
talked with enthusiasm of the enormous success which would be caused
by the novelty of introducing the Russian peasant on the stage. The
play could be written very quickly; and M. Hostein,[+] carried away by
Balzac's extraordinarily persuasive eloquence, already began to
reflect about suitable scenery, dresses, and decorations, for the
framing of his masterpiece. However, to his disappointment Balzac
returned in a few days, to announce that there would be some delay in
the production of his play, as he wished to study local colouring on
the spot, and was on the point of starting for Russia. He said that
when he returned to Paris in the spring, he would bring M. Hostein a
completed play, and with this promise the manager was obliged to be

[*] "Honore de Balzac," by Edmond Bire.

[+] "Historiettes et Souvenirs d'un Homme de Theatre," by M. Hostein.

Balzac was in an enormous hurry to reach Wierzchownia, and set himself
with much energy to the task of finishing the house in the Rue
Fortunee. His efforts in this direction were doubtless the reason that
the writing of "Pierre et Catherine" was postponed till the _moujik_
could be studied in his native land. At last, however, the work of
decoration was complete, and his mother left in charge, with minute
directions about the care of his treasures. He had toiled with
breathless haste, and managed after all to start earlier than he had
expected. Once on the journey his northern magnet drew him with
ever-increasing strength, and regardless of fatigue, he travelled for
eight days in succession without stoppage or rest, and arrived ten days
before his letter announcing his departure from Paris. The inhabitants
of the chateau were naturally much surprised at his sudden appearance,
and Balzac considers that they were touched, or rather--though he does
not say this--that _She_ was touched by his _empressement_.

He was much delighted with his surroundings. Wierzchownia was a
palace, and he was interested and amused with the novelty of all he
saw. He writes: "We have no idea at home of an existence like this. At
Wierzchownia it is necessary to have all the industries in the house:
there is a confectioner, a tailor, and a shoemaker."[*] He was
established in a delicious suite of rooms, consisting of a
drawing-room, a study, and a bedroom. The study was in pink stucco,
with a fireplace in which straw was apparently burnt, magnificent
hangings, large windows, and convenient furniture. In this Louvre of a
Wierzchownia there were, as Balzac remarks with pleasure, five or six
similar suites for guests. Everything was patriarchal. Nobody was
bored in this wonderful new life. It was fairy-like, the fulfilment of
Balzac's dreams of splendour, an approach of reality to the grandiose
blurred visions of his hours of creation. He who rejoiced in what was
huge, delighted in the fact that the Count Georges Mniszech had gone
to inspect an estate as big as the department of Seine-et-Marne, with
the object of dismissing a prevaricating bailiff. It gave him intense
satisfaction to record the wonders of this strange new life: to tell
those at home of the biting cold, which rendered his pelisse of
Siberian fox of no more protection than a sheet of blotting-paper; or
to mention casually that all the letters were carried by a Cossack
across sixty "verstes" of steppes.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 324.

The Russians were eager to show their admiration of the celebrated
French novelist, and Balzac experienced the truth of the adage, that a
prophet is not without honour save in his own country. On the journey
out the officials were charmingly polite to him, and when he went to
Kiev to pay his respects to the Governor-General, and to obtain
permission for a lengthy sojourn in Russia, he was overwhelmed with
attentions. A rich moujik had read all his books, burnt a candle for
him every week to St. Nicholas, and had promised a sum of money to the
servants of Madame Hanska's sister, if they could manage that he might
see the great man. This atmosphere of adoration was very pleasant to
one whose reward in France for the production of masterpieces, seemed
sometimes to consist solely in condemnation and obloquy. Balzac
enjoyed himself for the time, and rested from his literary labours,
except for working at the second part of "L'Envers de l'Histoire
Contemporaine," which is called "L'Initie," and writing the play which
he had promised Hostein as a substitute for "Pierre et Catherine."

His ever-active brain had now evolved a plan for transporting sixty
thousand oaks to France, from a territory on the Russian frontier
belonging to Count Georges Mniszech and his father. He was anxious
that M. Surville should undertake the matter, as, after abstruse and
careful calculations--which have the puzzling veneer of practicality
always observable in Balzac's mad schemes--he considered that
1,200,000 francs might be made out of the affair, and that of course
the engineer who arranged the transport would reap some of the
benefit. The blocks of wood would be fifteen inches in diameter at the
base, and ten at the top. They would first be conveyed to Brody, from
there by high road to Cracow, and thence they would travel to France
by the railway, which would be finished in a few days. Unfortunately,
there were no bridges at Cologne over the Rhine, or at Magdeburg over
the Elbe; but Balzac was not discouraged by the question of the
transshipment of sixty thousand oaks, any more than in his old days in
the Rue Lesdiguieres, he had been deterred from the idea of having a
piano, by the attic being too small for it. M. Surville was to answer
categorically, giving a detailed schedule of the costs of carriage and
of duty from Cracow to France; and to this, Balzac would add the price
of transport from Brody to Cracow. He discounted any natural
astonishment his correspondent would feel, at the neglect hitherto of
this certain plan for making a fortune, by remarking that the
proprietors were Creoles, who worked their settlements by means of
moujiks, so that the spirit of enterprise was entirely absent.[*] M.
Surville, however, received this brilliant proposition without
enthusiasm, and did not even trouble to write himself about the
matter, but sent back an answer by his wife, that the price of
transporting the freight from one railway to another at Breslau,
Berlin, Magdeburg, and Cologne, would render the scheme impossible.
Balzac showed unusual docility at this juncture; he was evidently
already half-hearted about the enterprise, and remarked that since his
first letter he had himself thought of the objections pointed out by
M. Surville, and had remembered hearing that a forest purchased in
Auvergne, had ruined the buyer, owing to the difficulty of transport.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 321.

Balzac was very happy at Wierzchownia, though the fulfilment of the
great desire of his life seemed still distant. Madame Hanska's
hesitation continued: she considered herself indispensable to her
children; besides, owing to the unfortunate state of the Chemin de Fer
du Nord, Balzac's pecuniary affairs would certainly be in an
embarrassed condition for the next two years. Living in the same house
with her, seeing her every day, and feeling sure of her affection, and
of a certain happy consummation to his long probation, would not after
all have been very painful, except for one great drawback, which
increased continually as time went on; and that was the terrible
effect of the inclement climate on Balzac's health. He had suffered
from heart disease for some years, and in a letter to his sister, he
traces its origin to the cruelty of the lady about whom she knows
--possibly Madame de Castries. His abuse of coffee, however, and the
unnatural life which he had led with the object of straining the
tension of every power to its uttermost, and thus of forcing the
greatest possible quantity and quality of literary work out of
himself, had done much to ruin his robust constitution. Nevertheless,
if he had been able to take up his abode with his wife in the Rue
Fortunee, and to enjoy the freedom from anxiety which her fortune
would have assured to him; if he had been happy with her, and
surrounded by his beautiful things, had at last lived the life for
which he had so long yearned, it seems as though several years at
least might have remained to him. The enormous labours of his earlier
years would indeed have been impossible,[*] but "Les Parents Pauvres"
had shown that his intellect was now at its best, and material for
many masterpieces was still to be found in that capacious brain and
fertile imagination. However, the rigours of the Russian climate,
aided no doubt by the privations and anxieties Balzac suffered in
Paris after the Revolution of 1848, and by the barbarous treatment
which he underwent at the hands of the doctor at Wierzchownia,
rendered his case hopeless; and at this time only one more stone was
destined to be laid on the unfinished edifice of the "Comedie

[*] "Balzac, sa Vie, son Oeuvre," by Julien Lemer.

In February, 1848, it was absolutely necessary that Balzac should go
to Paris, as money must at once be found, to meet the calls which the
ill-fated Chemin de Fer du Nord was making on its shareholders. Balzac
suffered terribly from cold on the journey, and arrived at the Rue
Fortunee at a most unfortunate time, just before the Revolution of
February, 1848.

In consequence of the disturbed state of the political atmosphere, the
outlook for literature was tragic; and Balzac, who was in immediate
want of money, found himself in terrible straits. Living with two
servants in his luxurious little house, surrounded by works of art
which had cost thousands of francs, he was almost dying of hunger. His
food consisted of boiled beef, which was cooked and eaten hot once a
week, and the remaining six days he subsisted on the cold remains. It
seemed impossible to raise money for his present pressing necessities.
He managed to sell "L'Initie,"[*] at a ridiculously small price, to an
ephemeral journal called _Le Spectateur Republicain_, but only
received in return bills at a long date, and it was doubtful whether
he was ever paid the money due to him.

[*] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de

Nevertheless, whatever effects his privations may have had on his
health, they did not subdue his spirits, as both Lemer and
Champfleury,[*] who each spent several hours with him in the Rue
Fortunee, talk of his undiminished vivacity, his hearty fits of
laughter, and his confident plans for the future. Lemer, who had known
him before, does indeed remark that he seemed much aged; but
Champfleury, who saw him for the first time, is only struck with his
strength, animal spirits, and keen intelligence. In the midst of the
despondent unhealthy tendencies of the literary talent of his day, he
was still, with his _joie de vivre_, a man apart. _Naif_, full of a
charming pride, he loved literature "as the Arab loves the wild horse
he has found a difficulty in subduing." Nevertheless, material
prosperity, as ever, occupied an important place in the foreground of
his scheme of life, and his mind was still running on the theatre, as
the great means of gaining money. He warned Champfleury not to follow
his example, which led after the production of many books to an
existence of deplorable poverty, but to write only three novels a
year, so that ten months annually should be left for making a fortune
by working for the theatre, "car il faut que l'artiste mene une vie

[*] "Balzac, sa Vie, son Oeuvre," by Julien Lemer.

[+] "Grandes Figures d'Hier et d'Aujourd'hui," by Champfleury.

Schemes still coursed each other through his quick-moving brain. He
wished to create an association of all the great dramatists of the
day, who should enrich the French stage with plays composed in common.
He was rather despondent about this, however, as he said that most
writers were cowardly and idle, and he as afraid they would therefore
refuse to join his society. Scribe was the only one who would work;
"Mais quelle litterature que 'Les Memoires d'un Colonel de Hussards!'"
he exclaimed in horror.[*] Another plan for becoming colossally rich
of which he talked seriously, was to gain a monopoly of all the arts,
and to act as auctioneer to Europe: to buy the Apollo Belvedere, for
instance, let all the nations compete for it against each other, and
then to sell to the highest bidder.

[*] "Notes Historiques sur M. de Balzac," by Champfleury.

He took a gloomy view of the political situation, because, though he
had a great admiration for Lamartine, he feared that the poet would
not have sufficient strength of mind, to take advantage of the great
majority he would doubtless have in the next Assemblee Constituante,
and to make himself the chief of a strong government, when he might
justify his magnificent _role_, by presiding at the accomplishment of
the great social and administrative reforms, demanded by justice, and
material, moral, and intellectual progress. In one of his remarks was
a touch of sadness. He told Lemer that, at the present crisis, all
authors should sacrifice their writing for a time, and throw
themselves with energy into politics. "Et pour cela il faut etre
jeune," he added with a sigh; "et moi, je suis vieux!"

However, on March 18th, 1848, a letter written by him appeared in the
_Constitutionnel_, in which he stated that he would stand as deputy if
requested to do so.[*] In consequence, the "Club de la Fraternite
Universelle" wrote to inform him that his name had been put on the
list of candidates for election, and invited him to explain his
political views at a meeting of the Club. In the _Constitutionnel_ of
April 19th Balzac answered this request by refusing to go to the
meeting, and at the same time announced that he had no intention of
canvassing, and wished to owe his election solely to votes not asked
for, but given voluntarily. He further commented on the fact that from
1789 to 1848 France had changed its constitution every fifteen years,
and asked if it were not time, "for the honour of our country, to
find, to found, a form, an empire, a durable government; so that our
prosperity, our commerce, our arts, which are the life of our
commerce, the credit, the glory, in short, all the fortune of France,
shall not be periodically jeopardised?"

[*] "Honore de Balzac," by Edmond Bire.

Naturally, these uncompromising views did not meet with favour from
the "citoyens membres du Club de la Fraternite Universelle," and
Balzac was not elected a member of the Assemblee Nationale.

                              CHAPTER XV

                             1848 - 1849

  Description of interior of house in the Rue Fortunee--"La Maratre"
  --Projected plays--"Le Faiseur"--Balzac seeks admission for the
  last time to the Academie Francaise--He returns to Wierzchownia
  --Failing health--Letters to his family--Family relations are

During his stay in Paris, which lasted from February till the end of
September, Balzac was careful not to admit any strangers to the
mysterious little house in the Rue Fortunee. Even his trusted friends
were only shown the magnificence of his residence with strict
injunctions about secrecy, so afraid was he that the news of his
supposed riches should reach the ears of his creditors. He was only
the humble custodian, he said, of all these treasures. Nothing
belonged to him; he was poorer than ever, and was only taking charge
of the house for a friend. This was difficult to believe, and his
acquaintances, who had always been sceptical about his debts, laughed,
and said to his delight, yet annoyance, that he was in reality a
millionaire, and that he kept his fortune in old stockings.

Theophile Gautier, after remarking how difficult it was to gain an
entrance to this carefully-guarded abode, describes it thus: "He
received us, however, one day, and we were able to see a dining-room
panelled in old oak, with a table, mantelpiece, buffets, sideboards,
and chairs in carved wood, which would have made a Berruguete, a
Cornejo Duque, or a Verbruggen envious; a drawing-room hung with
gold-coloured damask, with doors, cornices, plinths, and embrasures
of ebony; a library ranged in cupboards inlaid with tortoiseshell
and copper in the style of Buhl; a bathroom in yellow breccia, with
bas-reliefs in stucco; a domed boudoir, the ancient paintings of which
had been restored by Edmond Hedouin; and a gallery lighted from the top,
which we recognised later in the collection of 'Cousin Pons.' On the
shelves were all sorts of curiosities--Saxony and Sevres porcelain,
sea-green horns with cracked glazing; and on the staircase which was
covered with carpet, were great china vases, and a magnificent lantern
suspended by a cable of red silk."[*]

[*] "Portraits Contemporains: Honore de Balzac," by Theophile Gautier.

The gallery, the holy of holies of this temple of Art, where the
treasures laboriously collected and long concealed, were at last
assembled, is described exactly in "Le Cousin Pons." It was a large
oblong room, lighted from the top, the walls painted in white and
gold, but "the white yellowed, the gold reddened by time, gave
harmonious tones which did not spoil the effect of the canvases."[*]

[*] "Le Cousin Pons," by Honore de Balzac.

There were fourteen statues in this gallery mounted on Buhl pedestals,
and all round the walls were richly decorated ebony buffets containing
_objets d'art_, while in the centre stood carved wooden cases, which
showed to great advantage some of the greatest rarities in human work
--costly jewellery, and curiosities in ivory, bronze, wood, and
enamel. Sixty-seven pictures adorned the walls of this magnificent
apartment, among them the four masterpieces, the loss of which is the
most tragic incident in the melancholy story of poor old Pons. There
were a "Chevalier de Malte en Priere," by Sebastian del Piombo; a
"Holy Family," by Fra Bartolommeo; a "Landscape," by Hobbema; and a
"Portrait of a Woman," by Albert Durer. Apparently they were in
reality mediocre as works of art, but they were a source of the utmost
pride and delight to their owner, who said enthusiastically of one of
them--the Sebastian del Piombo--that "human art can go no further."
When we know that in the novel Balzac is speaking of his own cherished
possessions, we think of his own words, "Ideas project themselves with
the same force by which they are conceived,"[*] and can understand the
reason of the positive pain we feel, when the poor old Cousin Pons is
bereft of his treasures. The great _voyant_ was transported by his
powerful imagination into the personality of the old musician, and the
heartrending situation he had evoked must have been torture to him;
though with the courage and conscientiousness of the true artist he
did not hesitate in the task he had set himself, but ever darkened and
deepened the shadows of his tragedy towards the close.

[*] "Le Pere Goriot," by Honore de Balzac.

It is not surprising to hear that this sumptuous house cost 400,000
francs, but it is astonishing, and it gives the inhabitant of
steady-going England an idea of the inconvenience of revolutions, that
its owner and occupant should in 1848 have been starving in the midst
of magnificence, and that it should have been impossible for him to
find a purchaser for some small curiosity, if he had wished to sell it
to buy bread. Part of the cost of the house had been defrayed by Madame
Hanska, but Balzac had evidently overstepped her limits, and had
involved himself seriously in debt. One of the alleged reasons given
by the lady for the further deferment of her promise to become Madame
Honore de Balzac, was the state of embarrassment to which Balzac had
reduced himself by his expenditure in decoration; and, in his despair
and disgust, the home he had been so happily proud of, and which
seemed destined never to be occupied, soon became to him "that
rascally plum box."

At this time, however, he was still tasting the joys of ownership, and
was, as usual, hopeful about the future. His dreams of theatrical
success seemed at last destined to come true.[*] Hostein, who had
rushed to the Rue Fortunee as soon as he heard of the arrival of the
great man, to ask for the play promised him in place of "Pierre et
Catherine," found Balzac as usual at his desk, and was presented with
a copy-book on which was written in large characters, "Gertrude,
tragedie bourgeoise." The play was read next day in Balzac's
drawing-room to Hostein, Madame Dorval, and Melingue; and Hostein
accepted it under the name of "La Maratre," Madame Dorval expressing
much objection to its first title. Eventually, to Madame Dorval's and
Balzac's disappointment, Madame Lacressoniere, who had much influence
with Hostein, was entrusted with the heroine's part; and the tragedy
was produced at the Theatre-Historique on May 25th, 1848. In spite of
the disturbed state of the political atmosphere, which was ruinous to
the theatres, the play met with considerable success; and the critics
began to realise that when once Balzac had mastered the _metier_ of
the theatre, he might become a great dramatist. About this time,
Cogniard, the director of the Porte-Saint-Martin, received a letter
with fifty signatures, asking for a second performance of "Vautrin."
He communicated this request to Balzac, who stipulated that if
"Vautrin" were again put on the stage, all caricature of Louis
Philippe should be avoided by the actor who played the principal part.
He added that when he wrote the play he had never intended any
political allusion. However, "Vautrin" was not acted till April, 1850,
when, without Balzac's knowledge, it was produced at the Gaite.
Balzac, who heard of this at Dresden, on his journey to Paris from
Russia, wrote to complain of the violation of his dramatic rights, and
in consequence the play was withdrawn from the boards of the Gaite.

[*] "Honore de Balzac," by Edmond Bire.

During his stay in Paris in 1848, Balzac sketched out the plots of
many dramas. The director of the Odeon, in despair at the emptiness of
his theatre after the political crisis of June, offered Victor Hugo,
Dumas, and Balzac[*] a premium of 6,000 francs, and a royalty on all
receipts exceeding 4,000 francs, if they would produce a play for his
theatre; and in response to this offer Balzac promised "Richard
Sauvage," which he never wrote. The manager of the Theatre Francais,
M. Lockroy, also made overtures to the hitherto despised dramatist;
and Balzac thought of providing him with a comedy entitled "Les Petits
Bourgeois," but abandoned the idea. "Is it," he wrote to Hippolyte
Rolle, "the day after a battle when the _bourgeoisie_ have so
generously shed their blood for menaced civilisation; is it at the
time when they are in mourning, that they should be represented on the

[*] "Honore de Balzac," by Edmond Bire.

[+] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 332.

At this time, however, Balzac had in his portfolio a play quite ready
to be acted--one which had several times changed its title, being
called by its author successively "Mercadet," "Le Speculateur," and
"Le Faiseur." It was read and accepted by the Comedie Francaise on
August 17th, 1848, under the name of "Le Faiseur"; and when Balzac
returned to Russia at the end of September, he asked his friend
Laurent-Jan to take charge of the comedy during his absence. Evidently
he heard that matters were not going very smoothly, as in December he
wrote to Laurent-Jan from Wierzchownia to say that if the Comedie
Francaise refused "Mercadet"--which had been "recue a l'unanimite" on
August 17th--it might be offered to Frederick Lemaitre; and a few days
later, hearing that the piece was "recue seulement a corrections," by
the Comedie Francaise, he withdrew it altogether. "Le Faiseur" or
"Mercadet" was then offered to the Theatre Historique, and Balzac
already saw in imagination his sister and his two nieces attending the
first night's performance, decked out in their most elegant toilettes.
As he was in Russia, and his mother did not go to the theatre, they
would be the sole representatives of the family; and Hostein must
therefore provide them with one of the best boxes in the theatre. If
there were hissings and murmurings, as Balzac expected from past
experiences, his younger niece Valentine would be indignant; but
Sophie would still preserve her dignity, "and you, my dear sister.
. . . But what can a box do against a theatre?"

Nevertheless, though Hostein accepted "Le Faiseur," he announced that
his clients preferred melodrama to comedy, and that, in order to fit
it for his "theatre de boulevard," the play would require
modifications which would completely change its character. Balzac
naturally objected to these proposed alterations, as they sounded
infinitely more sweeping than the "corrections" of the Comedie
Francaise, and the play was never acted during his life. On August
23rd, 1851, however, as we have already seen, "Mercadet le Faiseur,"
with certain modifications made by M. Dennery, and also with omissions
--for the play as Balzac originally wrote it was too long for the
theatre--was received with tremendous acclamations at the Gymnase; and
on October 22nd, 1868, it was acted at the Comedie Francaise, and
again in 1879 and in 1890.

Mercadet, first played by Geoffroy, who conceived Balzac's creation
admirably, and at the Comedie Francaise less successfully by Got, is a
second Figaro, with a strong likeness to Balzac himself. He is
continually on the stage, and keeps the audience uninterruptedly
amused by his wit, good-humour, hearty bursts of laughter, and
ceaseless expedients for baffling his creditors. The action of the
play is simple and natural, and the dialogue scintillates with _bon
mots_, gaiety, and amusing sallies. The play had been conceived and
even written in 1839 or 1840, and never did Balzac's imperishable
youth shine out more brilliantly than in its execution. It is curious
to notice that his innate sense of power as a dramatist, which never
deserted him, even when he seemed to have found his line in quite a
different direction, was in the end amply justified.

His vivacity and hopefulness never forsook him for long. Even in his
terrible state of health in 1849, and in spite of his disappointment
at the non-appearance of "Le Faiseur," he was in buoyant spirits, and
informed his sister in one of his letters, that he was sending a
comedy, "Le Roi des Mendiants," to Laurent-Jan, as soon as he could
manage to transport it to St. Petersburg. There, the French Ambassador
would be entrusted with the charge of despatching it to Paris, as
manuscripts were not allowed to travel by post.[*] About three weeks
later,[+] he wrote to ask his mother to tell Madame Dorval that he was
preparing another play, with a great _role_ in it designed specially
for her. However, owing to Balzac's failing health the drama never
took form, and Madame Dorval died on April 20th, 1849, about three
weeks after his letter was despatched.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 393.

[+] "Correspondance," vol. ii, p. 397.

At the time of his stay in the Rue Fortunee in 1848, he was, however,
satisfied about "Mercadet," which had, as we have seen, been accepted
by the Comedie Francaise; and the production of which would help, he
doubtless hoped, to relieve him from his monetary difficulties. Ready
money was an ever-pressing necessity. Emile de Girardin, in his
political activity during the Revolution of 1848, had not forgotten
his personal resentments, and soon after Balzac's arrival in Paris he
requested him to pay at once the 721 francs 85 centimes which he still
owed _La Presse_.[*] This Balzac could not possibly do, and most
probably he forgot all about the matter. Not so his antagonist, who on
October 7th, 1848, after Balzac had returned to Russia, demanded
immediate payment; and four days afterwards applied to the Tribunal of
the Seine for an order that the debt should be paid from the future
receipts of "Le Faiseur," which was at that time in rehearsal at the
Theatre Francais. This demand was granted, but as after all the play
was withdrawn, Emile de Girardin did not receive his money. However,
he was paid in the end, as he wrote Balzac a receipt dated December
30th, 1848, for 757 francs 75 centimes, a sum which included legal
expenses as well as the original debt.

[*] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de

There were to be two elections to the Academie Francaise in January,
1849, as M. Chateaubriand's and M. Vatout's armchairs were both
vacant; and Balzac determined again to try his fortune. He wrote the
required letter before his departure to Russia, and this was read at a
meeting of the illustrious Forty on October 5th, 1848.[*] Apparently,
Balzac's absence from France, which prevented him from paying the
prescribed visits, militated against his chances of success, as his
ardent supporter, M. Vacquerie, wrote in _L'Evenement_ of January 9th,
1849: "Balzac is now in Russia. How can he be expected to pay visits?
He will not become a member of the Academie because he has not been in
Paris? And when posterity says, 'He wrote "Splendeurs et Miseres des
Courtisanes," "Le Pere Goriot," "Les Parents Pauvres," and "Les
Treize,"' the Academie will answer: 'Yes, but he went on a journey.'"

[*] "Honore de Balzac," by Edmond Bire.

At the first election, which took place on January 11, 1849, the Duc
de Noailles was at the head of the list, with twenty-five papers in
his favour, and Balzac received two; at the second, on January 18th,
when M. de Saint-Priest was the successful candidate, two members of
the Academy again voted for Balzac at the first round of the ballot,
but at the third and deciding round his name was not included at all.
Balzac wrote to Laurent-Jan to ask for the names of his supporters, as
he wished to thank them; and about the same time, in a letter to his
brother-in-law, M. Surville, he let it be understood that he would
never again present himself as a candidate for admission to the
Academie Francaise, as he intended to put that body in the wrong.

This is anticipation; we must return to the end of September, 1848,
when Balzac, after having arranged the necessary business matters,
hurried back to Madame Hanska. For the better guardianship of his
treasures, he left his mother with two servants installed in the Rue
Fortunee, and he expected to return to Paris by the beginning of 1849.
His family did not hear from him for more than a month after his
arrival, when his mother received a letter full, as usual, of
directions and commissions, but giving no news of his own doings. He
was evidently ill at the time he wrote, and a few days afterwards was
seized with acute bronchitis, and was obliged to put off his projected
return to Paris.

Balzac's health all through the winter was deplorable, and under the
direction of the doctor at Wierzchownia, he went through a course of
treatment for his heart and lungs. This doctor was a pupil of the
famous Franck, the original of Benassis in the "Medecin de Campagne,"
and Balzac appears to have had complete faith in him, and to have been
much impressed by his dictum, that French physicians, though the first
in the world for diagnosis, were quite ignorant of curative methods.
Balzac's passion at this time for everything Russian, must have been
peculiarly trying to his family. It surely seemed to them madness that
he should separate himself from his country, should gradually see less
and less of his friends, and should show an inclination to be ashamed
of his relations, for the sake of a woman crippled with rheumatism,
and no longer young, who, however passionately she may have loved him
in the past, seemed now to have grown tired of him. Sophie and
Valentine Surville were no doubt delighted to receive magnificent silk
wraps from their uncle, trimmed with Russian fur; but the letter
accompanying the gift must, we think, have rather spoiled their
pleasure, or at any rate was likely to have hurt their mother's
feelings. It was surely hardly necessary to inform "ma pauvre Sophie"
that it was in vain for her to compete with the Countess Georges in
proficiency on the piano, as the latter had "the genius of music, as
of love"; and a long string of that wonderful young lady's perfections
must have been rather wearying to those who had not the felicity of
being acquainted with her. Apparently the young Countess possessed
deep knowledge without pedantry, and was of delicious naivete,
laughing like a little child; though this did not prevent her from
showing religious enthusiasm about beautiful things. Further, she was
of angelic goodness, intensely observant, yet extremely discreet, most
respectful to her adored mother, very industrious, and she lived only
for duty. "All these advantages are set off by a proud air, full of
good breeding, an air of ease and grandeur which is not possessed by
every queen, and which is quite lost in France, where every one wishes
to be equal. This outward distinction, this look of being a great
lady, is one of the most precious gifts which God, the God of women,
can bestow on them."[*] To paint her character aright, Balzac says, it
would be necessary to blend in one word virtues which a moralist would
consider it impossible to find united in a single human being; and her
"sublime education" was a crown to the whole edifice of her

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 345.

The only consolation which an impartial though possibly unprincipled
observer, might have offered at this point to the unfortunate Sophie
and Valentine, would be the fact that the young Countess was evidently
extremely plain, as even Balzac's partiality only allows him to say:
"Physically she possesses grace, which is more beautiful even than
beauty, and this triumphs over a complexion which is still brown (she
is hardly sixteen years old), and over a nose which, though well cut,
is only charming in the profile."

Let us hope, however, that our pity is after all wasted on the nieces,
and that in their joy at the idea of receiving handsome presents, they
either skipped the unwelcome portions of their distinguished uncle's
letter, or that, knowing the cause of his raptures, if they _did_
read, they laughed and understood.

His Polar Star is seldom mentioned by name in Balzac's letters; she is
generally "the person with whom I am staying," and he says little
about her, except that she is very much distressed at the amount of
his debts, and that the great happiness of his life is constantly
deferred. Two fires had taken place on the estate, and the Countess
was in addition burdened with three lawsuits: one about some property
which should have come to her from an uncle, and about which it would
be necessary for her to go to St. Petersburg. Balzac's letters as
usual abound in allusions to his monetary difficulties, while the
Survilles had been almost ruined by the Revolution of 1848, so that
the outlook for the family was black on all sides.

All this time Balzac's relations were becoming more and more
discontented with his doings, as well as with the general aspect of
his affairs. Honore was evidently pursuing a chimera, and because of
his illusions, many burdens were imposed on them. Madame de Balzac the
principal sufferer, was tired of acting as custodian at the Rue
Fortunee, where she was expected to teach Francois how to clean the
lamps, and received careful instructions about wrapping the gilt
bronzes in cotton rags. It seemed as though her son were permanently
swallowed up by that terrible Russia, about which, as he remarked
impatiently, she would never understand anything; and she longed to
retire to her little lodgings at Suresnes, and to do as she pleased.
Laure, too, had her grievances, though possibly she kept them to
herself and strove to act as peacemaker. She and her family were in
terrible monetary straits, and the sight of the costly house, which
seemed destined never to be occupied, must have been slightly
exasperating. She was quite willing to be useful to Honore, and did
not mind when troublesome commissions were entrusted to her; but it
was no doubt galling to notice that--though her daughters were
expected to write continually, and were supposed to be amply rewarded
for their labours, by hearing of the delight with which the young
Countess listened to their letters--a strong motive lurking behind
Balzac's anxiety to hear often from his family, was the desire to
impress Madame Hanska favourably with the idea of their affection for
himself, and their unity. At the same time, a sad presentiment warned
her, that if ever her brother were married to this great lady, his
family and friends would see little more of him. The prospect cannot
have been very cheerful to poor Laure, as either Honore would return
to France brokenhearted and overwhelmed with debt, or he would gain
his heart's desire, and would be lost to his family.

The tone of Balzac's letters to his relations at this time has been
adversely criticised, and it is true that the reader is sometimes
irritated by the frequency of his requests for service from them, and
his continual insistence on the wonderful perfections of the Hanski
family, and their grandeur and importance. Occasionally, too, his
letters show an irritability which is a new feature in his character.
We must remember, however, in judging Balzac, that he was nearly
driven wild by the position in which he found himself. It was
necessary that he should always be bright, good-natured, and agreeable
to the party at Wierzchownia, and his letters to his family were
therefore the only safety-valve for the impatience and despair, which,
though he never utters a word of reproach against Madame Hanska, must
sometimes have taken possession of him.

His was a terrible dilemma. Ill and suffering, so that he was not able
to work to diminish his load of debt, desperately in love with a
cold-hearted woman, who used these debts as a lever for postponing what
on her side was certainly an undesirable marriage; and enormously
proud, so that failure in his hopes would mean to him not only a broken
heart, but also almost unbearable mortification; Balzac, crippled and
handicapped, with his teeth set hard, his powers concentrated on one
point, that of winning Madame Hanska, was at times hardly master of
himself. There was indeed some excuse for his irritation, when his
family wrote something tactless, or involved themselves in fresh
misfortunes, just as matters perhaps seemed progressing a little less
unfavourably than usual. Their letters were always read aloud at the
lunch table at Wierzchownia, and often, alas! their perusal served to
prove anew to Madame Hanska, the mistake she had made in contemplating
an alliance with a member of a family so peculiarly unlucky and

At last the smouldering indignation between Balzac and his relations
burst into a flame. The immediate cause of ignition was a letter from
Madame de Balzac, complaining that Honore had not written sufficiently
often to her; and further, that he did not answer his nieces'
epistles. These reproaches were received with much indignation, as
Balzac remarked in his answer, which was dated February, 1849, that he
had written seven times to his mother since his return to Wierzchownia
in September, and that he did not like to send letters continually,
because they were franked by his hosts. He goes on to say rather
sadly, that it will not do for him to trespass on the hospitality
offered him, because, though he has been royally and magnificently
received, he has still no rights but those of a guest. On the subject
of his neglect to write to his nieces, he is very angry, and cries in
an outburst of irritability: "It seems strange to you that I do not
write to my nieces. It is you, their grandmother, who have such ideas
on family etiquette! You consider that your son, fifty years old, is
obliged to write to his nieces! My nieces ought to feel very much
honoured and very happy when I address a few words to them; certainly
their letters are nice, and always give me pleasure."[*] A postscript
to the letter contains the words: "Leave the house in the Rue Fortunee
as little as possible, I beg you, because, though Francois is good and
faithful, he is not very clever, and may easily do stupid things."

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 373.

Balzac followed this with another letter, which apparently impressed
on his mother that to please the Wierzchownia family she must behave
very well to him; and this communication naturally annoyed Madame de
Balzac even more than the preceding one.

In reply, she wrote a severe reprimand to her son, in which she
addressed him as "vous," and remarked that her affection in future
would depend on his conduct. In fact, as Balzac wrote hotly to Laure,
it was the letter of a mother scolding a small boy, and he was fifty
years old! Unfortunately, too, it arrived during the _dejeuner_, and
Balzac cried impulsively, "My mother is angry with me!" and then was
forced to read the letter to the party assembled. It made a very bad
impression, as it showed that either he was a bad son, or his mother
an extremely difficult person to get on with. Fate had chosen an
unfavourable moment for the arrival of this missive, which, later on,
when her wrath had abated, Madame de Balzac announced that she had
written partly in jest. Balzac had at last been allowed to write to
St. Petersburg, to beg the Czar's permission for his marriage with
Madame Hanska, and this had been very decidedly refused. Madame Hanska
was not at this time prepared to hand over her capital to her
daughter, and thus to take the only step, which would have induced her
Sovereign to authorise her to leave his dominions. She therefore
talked of breaking off the engagement, and of sending Balzac to Paris,
to sell everything in the Rue Fortunee. She was tired of struggling;
and in Russia she was rich, honoured, and comfortable, whereas she
trembled to think of the troublous life which awaited her as Madame
Honore de Balzac. Madame de Balzac's letter further strengthened her
resolve. Apparently, in addition to evidence about family dissensions,
it contained disquieting revelations about the discreditable Henri,
and the necessity for supporting the Montzaigle grandchildren; and the
veil with which Balzac had striven to soften the aspect of the family
skeletons was violently withdrawn. He was in despair. At this juncture
his mother's communication was fatal! She had done irreparable

The long letter he wrote to Madame Surville,[*] imploring her to act
as peacemaker, and insisting on the benefits which his marriage would
bring to the whole family, would be comical were it not for the
writer's real trouble and anxiety; and the reader's knowledge that,
underlying the common-sense worldly arguments--which were brought
forward in the hope of inducing his family to help him by all the
means in their power--was real romantic love for the woman who had now
been his ideal for sixteen years.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 378.

He put the case to Madame Surville as if it were her own, and asked
what her course would be if she were rich, and Sophie an heiress with
many suitors. Sophie, according to her uncle's hypothesis, was in love
with a young sculptor; and her parents had permitted an engagement
between the two. The sculptor, however, came to live in the same house
with his _fiancee_, and his family wrote him letters which he showed
to Madame Surville, containing damaging revelations about family
matters. As a culminating indiscretion, his mother wrote to this
sculptor, "who is David, or Pradier, or Ingres," a letter in which she
treated him like a street boy. What would Laure do in these
circumstances? Balzac asks. Would she not in disgust dismiss the
sculptor, and choose a more eligible _parti_ for Sophie?
"Unsatisfactory marriages," he remarks sagely, "are easily made; but
satisfactory ones require infinite precautions and scrupulous
attention, or one does not get married; and I am at present most
likely to remain a bachelor."[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 328.

He appeals to Madame Surville's self-interest. "Reflect on the fact,
my dear Laure, that not one of us can be said to have arrived at our
goal, and that if, instead of being obliged to work in order to live,
I were to become the husband of a most intellectual, well born and
highly connected woman, with a solid though small fortune--in spite of
this woman's desire to remain in her own country and to make no new
relations, even family ones--I should be in a much more favourable
position to be useful to you all. I know that Madame Hanska would show
kindness to and feel keen interest in your dear little ones."

Surely, he says, it will be an advantage to the whole family, when he
has a _salon_ presided over by a beautiful, clever woman, imposing as
a queen, where he can assemble the _elite_ of Parisian society. He
does not wish to be tyrannical or overbearing with his family, but he
informs them that it will be of no use to place themselves in
opposition to such a woman. He warns them that she and her children
will _never forgive_ those who blame him to them. Further on in his
lengthy epistle, he gives instructions in deportment, and tells his
relations that in their intercourse with Madame Hanska they must not
show servility, haughtiness, sensitiveness, or obsequiousness; but
must be natural, simple, and affectionate. It was no wonder that the
Balzac family disliked Madame Hanska! And the poor woman cannot be
considered responsible for the feeling evoked!

Towards the end of his letter, however, the reader forgives Balzac,
and realises that the cry of a desperate man, ill and suffering, yet
still clinging with determined strength to the hope which means
everything to him, must not be criticised minutely. "Once everything
is lost, I shall live no longer; I shall content myself with a garret
like that of the Rue Lesdiguieres, and shall only spend a hundred
francs a month. My heart, soul, and ambition will be satisfied with
nothing but the object I have pursued for sixteen years: if this
immense happiness escapes me, I shall no longer want anything, and
shall refuse everything!"

                             CHAPTER XVI

                             1849 - 1850

  Peace renewed between Balzac and his family--He thinks of old
  friends--Madame Hanska's continued vacillations--Dr. Knothe's
  treatment--Madame Hanska's relations with Balzac, and her
  ignorance about his illness--Visit to Kiev--Balzac's marriage
  --His letters to his mother, sister, and to Madame Carraud
  --Delay in starting for France--Terrible journey--Madame Honore
  de Balzac's pearl necklace and strange letter--Balzac's married
  life--Arrival of the newly-married couple in Paris.

The quarrel between Balzac and his family was quickly made up, and it
was settled that his mother should--if she wished to do so--return at
once to Suresnes; and come up every day to the Rue Fortunee, taking
carriages for this purpose at Balzac's expense. However, having made a
small commotion, and asserted her dignity by the announcement that she
felt perfectly free to leave the Rue Fortunee whenever she chose to do
so, Madame de Balzac's resentment was satisfied; and she remained
there till a month before Balzac's return in May, 1850, when illness
necessitated her removal to her daughter's house.[*] The nieces, of
whom Balzac was really extremely fond, "sulked" no longer, but wrote
letters which their uncle praised highly, and which he answered gaily
and amusingly. The shadowy cloud, too, which had prevented the brother
and sister from seeing each other clearly, dispersed for ever; and one
of Honore's letters to Laure about this time contains the loving
words, "As far as you are concerned, every day is your festival in my
heart, companion of my childhood, and of my bright as well as of my
gloomy days."[+]

[*] "Une Page perdue de Honore de Balzac," by the Vicomte de
    Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

[+] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 420.

It is curious to notice that Balzac's thoughts now turned to those
faithful friends of his youth, who had in late years passed rather
into the background of his life. He wrote a long letter to Madame
Delannoy, who had been a mother to him in the struggling days of his
half-starved youth. He had paid off the debt he owed her, but he said
he would never be able to thank her adequately for her tenderness and
goodness to him. He thought also of Dablin, his early benefactor; and
he remembered the old days at Frapesle, and wrote Madame Carraud a
most affectionate letter, sending messages of remembrance to Borget
and to the Commandant Carraud, and inquiring about his old
acquaintance Periollas. The Carrauds, like others in those
revolutionary days, had lost money; and Balzac explained that though
owing to his illness he had been forbidden to write, he felt obliged
to disobey his doctor's commands, that Madame Carraud should not
believe that true friends can ever fail each other in trouble. He
says: "I have never ceased thinking about you, loving you, talking of
you, even here, where they have known Borget since 1833. . . . How
different life is from the height of fifty years, and how far we are
often from our hopes! . . . How many objects, how many illusions have
been thrown overboard! and except for the affection which continues to
grow, I have advanced in nothing!"[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 422.

The annals of this last year of Balzac's life, are a record of
constantly disappointed hope and of physical suffering. One after
another he was forced to give up his many plans, and to remain in
suffering inaction. He had intended to go to Kiev to present himself
to the Governor-General, but this expedition was put off from month to
month owing to his ill health. A visit to Moscow on his way back to
Paris, was another project which had to be abandoned, as he was never
well enough to make his proposed visit to France till he took his last
painful and difficult journey in April, 1850, and sight-seeing was
then impossible. His hopefulness, however, never left him, and his
projected enterprises, whether they took the shape of writings or of
travels, were in his eyes only deferred, never definitely
relinquished. The wearing uncertainty about Madame Hanska's intentions
was the one condition of his life which continued always, if
continuance can be considered applicable to anything so variable as
that lady's moods. In April, 1849, Balzac wrote to his sister: "No one
knows what the year 1847, and February, 1848, and above all the doubt
as to what my fate will be, have cost me!"[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 392.

Sometimes, Madame Hanska, cruelly regardless of the agony she caused
the sick man by her heedless words, would threaten to break off the
engagement altogether. On other occasions, Balzac would write to his
family to say that, for reasons which he was unable to give in his
letters, the question of the marriage was _postponed indefinitely_;
and once he made the resolution that he would not leave Wierzchownia
till the affair was settled in one way or another. In a crisis of his
terrible malady he wrote: "Whatever happens, I shall come back in
August. One must die at one's post. . . . How can I offer a life as
broken as mine! I must make my situation clear to the incomparable
friend who for sixteen years has shone on my life like a beneficent

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 401.

The relations between Balzac and Madame Hanska at this time are
mysterious. He shows his usual caution in his letters to his family,
and the reader is conscious that much was passing at Wierzchownia, on
which Balzac is absolutely silent, and that many events that he _does_
record are carefully arranged with the intention of conveying certain
impressions to his hearers. One of his motives is clear. He was
nervously afraid that gossip about his secret engagement, and possibly
approaching marriage, should be spread abroad prematurely; and that
the report might either frighten Madame Hanska into dismissing him
altogether, or might reach the ears of her relations, and cause them
to remonstrate with her anew on the folly of her proceedings.

Other discrepancies are puzzling. All through 1849 Balzac, as we have
seen, was very ill. He was suffering from aneurism of the heart, a
complaint which the two doctors Knothe told him they could cure. With
perfect faith in their powers, Balzac wrote to his sister expressing
regret that, owing to the ignorance of the French doctors Soulie had
been allowed to die of this malady, when he might have been saved if
Dr. Knothe's treatment had been followed. The younger doctor, however,
soon gave up Balzac's case as hopeless; but the father, who was very
intimate with the Wierzchownia family, always expressed himself
confidently about his patient's ultimate recovery; and Balzac wrote:
"What gratitude I owe to this doctor! He loves violins: when once I am
at Paris I must find a Stradivarius to present to him."[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 404.

Dr. Knothe's principal prescription was pure lemon juice. This was to
be taken twice a day, to purify and quicken the circulation of the
blood in the veins, and to re-establish the equilibrium between it and
the arterial blood. Either as a consequence of this treatment, or in
the natural course of the illness, a terrible crisis took place in
June, 1849, during which Balzac's sufferings were intense; and for
twenty-five hours the doctor never left him. After this he was better
for a time, and though his eyesight had become so weak that he was
unable to read at night, he could walk, go upstairs, and lie flat in
bed. In October he was seized with what he called Moldavian fever, a
disease which came, he said, from the swamps of the Danube, and
ravaged the Odessa district and the steppes; and again he became
dangerously ill. In January, 1850, the fever was followed by a
terrible cold in his lungs, and he was obliged to remain for ten days
in bed. However, he was cheered by the society of Madame Hanska and
Madame Georges Mniszech, who showed "adorable goodness" in keeping him
company during his imprisonment.

After hearing all this, it is startling to read in a letter from
Madame Honore de Balzac to her daughter written from Frankfort on May
16th, 1850,[*] that it is awkward that she should know nothing of the
regimen to which Balzac has been subjected by Dr. Knothe; because when
they arrive in Paris, his own doctor is certain to ask for
particulars! The most indifferent hostess could not fail, one would
think, to interest herself sufficiently about the welfare of the
solitary and expatriated guest under her roof, to consult with the
doctor about him when he was dangerously ill. More especially would
she feel responsibility, when it was owing to her own action that the
patient was cut off from all other advice, except that of a medical
man who was her peculiar _protege_. He would thus be completely in her
charge; and she would naturally be nervously anxious, for her own
comfort and satisfaction, to acquaint herself with the course of the
malady, and with the treatment used to subdue it. If we add to these
considerations the fact that the sufferer was not a mere acquaintance,
was not even only a great friend; but was the man who loved her, the
man whose wife she had promised to become, Madame Hanska's ignorance
appears totally inexplicable.

[*] Unpublished letter in the possession of the Vicomte de Spoelberch
    de Lovenjoul.

We must remember, however, that we only have _Balzac's_ account of his
illness, and of his interviews with the doctor; and that the malady
being heart disease, it is possible that Dr. Knothe considered it his
duty to deceive his patient--possible therefore that Madame Hanska
knew before her marriage that Balzac was a dying man, and that the
doctor's prescriptions were useless.

Owing to the burning of her letters, we have only Balzac's
enthusiastic and lover-like descriptions to guide our idea of Madame
Hanska; and she remains to some extent a shadowy figure, difficult to
realise. Several characteristics, however, stand out clearly: among
them her power of hiding her thoughts and feelings from those to whom
she was most deeply attached; also an occasional self-control, which
seems strangely at variance with her naturally passionate and
uncontrolled nature. She was extremely proud; and the wish, while
pleasing herself, to do nothing which would lower her in the eyes of
the world, exercised a powerful influence over her actions.
Intellectually brilliant, a clever woman of business, and mentally
active; she was yet on some occasions curiously inert, and carried the
state of mind embodied in the words "live and let live," to dangerous
lengths. She must have possessed great determination, as even Balzac's
adoration, and his undoubted powers of fascination, could not move her
from the vacillations which, designedly or no, kept _him_ enchained at
her feet while _she_ remained free.

Among much however, in her character that we cannot admire, she
possessed one virtue in perfection--that of maternal love. The bond of
affection between the mother and her daughter Anna was strong and
enduring, and Madame Hanska would willingly have sacrificed everything
for her beloved child's happiness. This was the true, engrossing love
of her life; her affection for Balzac not having remained in its first
freshness, as his love for her had done. On the contrary, it was at
this time slightly withered, and had been partially stifled by
prudential considerations, so that it was difficult to discover among
the varied and tangled growths which surrounded it.

It is an interesting problem whether Balzac, in spite of his brave
words, realised that Madame Hanska no longer cared for him. When he
wrote that he was sure that none of these deferments proceeded from
want of love, did he pen these words with a wistful attempt to prove
to himself that the fact was as he stated? After eighteen months in
the same house with Madame Hanska, could he _really_ believe that only
material difficulties kept her apart from him? Or did he at last
understand: and though stricken to death, cling still, for the sake of
his pride and his lost illusions, to what had been for so long his one
object in life? We do not know.

The only thing of which we are certain is, that if the fact of Madame
Hanska's indifference _had_ slowly and painfully dawned upon Balzac,
he would never have told, and would have used words to hide his

On the other hand, there is sometimes a ring of truth about his words,
which seem to prove that he had not yet tasted the full bitterness of
the tragedy of his life. On November 29th, 1849, he wrote to Madame
Surville[*]: "It is the recompense of your life to possess two such
children; you must not be unjust to fate; you ought to be willing to
accept many misfortunes. The case is the same with me and Madame
Hanska. The gift of her affection accounts to me for all my troubles,
my worries, and my terrible labours. I have been paying in advance for
the price of this treasure: as Napoleon says, everything is paid for
here, nothing is stolen. I seem, indeed, to have paid very little.
Twenty-five years of work and struggle are nothing compared to a love
so splendid, so radiant, so complete. I have been fourteen months in a
desert, for it _is_ a desert; and it seems to me that they have passed
like a dream, without an hour's weariness, without a single dispute;
and that after five years to travel together, and sixteen years of
intimate acquaintance, our only troubles have been caused by the state
of our health and by business matters."

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 426.

When he wrote these words, Balzac must have at last felt tolerably
confident about a happy solution to his troubles. However, in a later
letter to his mother, he says that the Wierzchownia party are going to
Kiev for the great Fair, that he will avail himself of this occasion
for the renewal of his passport, and that he will not know till he
arrives there, whether the great event will at last take place. In any
case, he will start for France directly after the party return to
Wierzchownia in the beginning of February; and as caution is still
highly important, his mother must judge from his directions about the
Rue Fortunee, whether he is coming back alone, or is bringing his
bride with him. She is, in any case, not to be sparing about fires in
the library and the picture gallery; and can write to him at Berlin,
and at Frankfort, on his way home.

The great Fair at Kiev, which was called the "Foire des Contrats," was
a notable occasion for gaiety; and extensive preparations were made
beforehand for the enjoyment of a thoroughly festive time. A house was
hired by Madame Hanska and the Mniszechs, and furniture, carriages,
and servants, were despatched in advance. The weather, however, was an
important consideration; and on this occasion, owing to the inclemency
of the season, the roads were unfortunately impassable, so that the
pleasure trip had to be deferred from the middle till the end of
February. This was no doubt a sad disappointment to the Countess Anna,
who thereby missed much enjoyment, and the delay must have caused
intense irritation to the impatient Balzac, but Madame Hanska's
feelings on the subject remain, as usual, enigmatical.

When the Wierzchownia party at last arrived at Kiev, Madame Georges
Mniszech found plenty of gaiety awaiting her, and enjoyed herself
immensely, going out to balls in costumes of regal magnificence. Her
partners were often very rough, and on one occasion Balzac relates
that a handkerchief belonging to the young Countess, which had cost
more than 500 francs, was torn to pieces in a figure of the mazurka,
in which men contend for the dancer's handkerchief. However, "La mere
adorable" at once repaired the deficiency in her daughter's trousseau
by presenting her with one of the best of her own, "twice as nice,
with only linen enough to blow one's nose on, all the rest being
English point lace."

Balzac was unable to be present at any of these festivities, as the
journey to Kiev had caused him acute suffering; and two days after his
arrival, while he was paying his State visits to the authorities,[*]
he caught the most violent cold he had ever had, and spent the time of
his stay at Kiev in his bedroom, where his only pleasure was to see
the Countess Anna before she started for her parties, and to admire
her beautiful clothes. He ascribes his malady to "a terrible and
deleterious blast of wind called the 'chasse-neige,' which travels by
the course of the Dnieper, and perhaps comes from the shores of the
Black Sea," and which managed to penetrate to him, though he was
wrapped up with furs so that no spot seemed left for the outside air
to reach. He was now very ill, and the slightest agitation, even a
sentence spoken rather loudly in his presence, would bring on a
terrible fit of suffocation. He still hoped to return to Paris before
long, and clung to the idea that his wife would accompany him; but he
said it would be impossible to travel without a servant, as he was
unable to carry a parcel or to move quickly. As he remarks, "Tout cela
n'est pas gai!"

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 436.

However, his expedition and its attendant suffering were not
useless,[*] as the "four or five successive illnesses and the
sufferings from the climate, which I have laughed at for her sake,
have touched that noble soul; so that she is, as a sensible woman,
more influenced by them, than afraid of the few little debts which
remain to be paid, and I see that everything will go well." On March
11th, 1850, he writes from Berditchef that "everything is now arranged
for the affair his mother knows of," but that the greatest discretion
is still necessary. Madame de Balzac is given minute directions about
the flowers which are to decorate the house in the Rue Fortunee, as a
surprise to Madame Honore; and as we read, we can imagine Balzac's
pride and delight when he wrote the name. His ailments and sufferings
are forgotten, and the letter sounds as though written by an
enthusiastic boy. He will send from Frankfort to let Madame de Balzac
know the exact day that he and his bride will reach Paris; and in
order that the mystery may be preserved, will merely say, "Do not
forget on such a day to have the garden arranged,"[+] and his mother
will understand what he means. The whole house is evidently
photographed in his mind like the houses in his novels. He knows the
exact position of each vase: of the big jardiniere in the first room,
the one in the Japanese drawing-room, the two in the domed boudoir,
and the two tiny ones in the grey apartment. They are all to be filled
with flowers; but the marquetry jardiniere in the green drawing-room,
evidently the future Madame Honore's special abode, is to be filled
with "_belles, belles fleurs_!"

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 438.

[+] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 444.

The wedding took place at seven o'clock on the morning of March 14th,
1850, at the church of Saint Barbe at Berditchef. In the unavoidable
absence of the Bishop of Jitomir, the ceremony was performed by the
Abbe Comte Czarouski, whom Balzac calls a holy and virtuous priest,
and likens to Abbe Hinaux, the Duchesse d'Angouleme's confessor.

The Countess Anna accompanied her mother, and was in the highest
spirits; and the witnesses were the Comte Georges Mniszech, the Comte
Gustave Olizar brother-in-law to the Abbe Comte Czarouski, and the
cure of the parish of Berditchef. Madame Honore de Balzac had given
her capital to her children, but received in exchange a large income,
a fact which she wisely concealed because of Balzac's creditors; and
Balzac speaks with admiration of her noble generosity and
disinterestedness, in this denuding herself of her fortune.

The newly-married couple travelled back to Wierzchownia, arriving,
quite tired out, at half-past ten at night; and the next morning, as
soon as he woke, Balzac wrote to inform his mother of the great event.
He explained, with a well-adjusted prevision of future discord, if the
elder Madame de Balzac's dignity were not sufficiently considered,
that his wife had intended writing herself to offer her respects, but
that her hands were so swollen with rheumatic gout that she could not
hold a pen. He further informed his family, who had hitherto been kept
in ignorance of the fact, that from the same cause she was often
unable to walk. However, this did not depress him, as he remarked with
his usual cheerfulness, that she would certainly be cured in Paris,
where she would be able to take exercise and would follow a prescribed
treatment. On the same day he penned a delighted letter to his sister,
containing the exultant words: "For twenty-four hours, therefore,
there has now existed a Madame Eve de Balzac, _nee_ Rzewuska, _or_ a
Madame Honore de Balzac, _or_ a Madame de Balzac the younger." He
could hardly believe in his own good fortune, and the joyful letter
finishes with the words, "Ton frere Honore, au comble du bonheur!"

Two days later, Balzac wrote to Madame Carraud a letter in which he
said: "Three days ago I married the only woman I have ever loved, whom
I love more than ever, and whom I shall love till death. This union
is, I think, the recompense which God has had in reserve for me after
so much adversity, so many years of work, so much gone through and
overcome. I did not have a happy youth or happy springtide; I shall
have the most brilliant of summers and the sweetest of autumns." In
his newly-found happiness he did not forget that his old friend was
now in straitened circumstances, but begged her from himself and
Madame Honore to consider their house as her own: "Therefore, whenever
you wish to come to Paris you will come to us, without even giving us
notice. You will come to us in the Rue Fortunee as if to your own
home, just as I used to go to Frapesle. This is my right. I must
remind you of what you said to me one day at Angouleme, when, having
broken down after writing 'Louis Lambert,' I was afraid of madness,
and talked of the way in which people afflicted in this manner were
neglected. On that occasion you said, 'If you were to become mad I
should take care of you!' I have never forgotten those words, or your
look and expression. I am just the same now as I was in July, 1832. It
is because of those words that I claim you to-day, for I am nearly mad
with happiness."[*]

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 448.

In another part of the letter he tells her: "Ah! I never forget your
maternal love, your divine sympathy with suffering. Therefore,
thinking of all you are worth, and of the way in which you are
struggling with trouble, I, who have so often waged war with that
rough adversary, tell you that, knowing your unhappiness, I am ashamed
of _my_ happiness; but we are both too great for these littlenesses.
We can say to each other that happiness and unhappiness are only
conditions in which great hearts live intensely, that as much strength
of mind is required in one position as in the other, and that
misfortune with true friends is perhaps more endurable than happiness
surrounded by envy."

Balzac was not, after all, destined to start on his journey homeward
as quickly as he had intended. His health was terribly bad, his eyes
had become so weak that he could neither read nor write, and the
chronic heart and lung malady was gaining ground so rapidly, that his
breathing was affected if he made the slightest movement. It was
absolutely necessary that he should rest for a time at Wierzchownia
before attempting any further exertion. Another delay was caused by
the young Countess being attacked by measles. Her devoted mother, who
in her crippled state could not attempt any active nursing, sat by her
daughter's bedside all day, and refused to leave Wierzchownia till her
anxiety about her darling's health should be over.

It was, therefore, not till the end of April that M. and Madame Honore
de Balzac started for what proved to be a terrible journey. They did
not arrive in Dresden till about May 10th, having taken three weeks to
go to a distance which ought naturally to have been accomplished in
five or six days. The roads were in a fearful condition, and their
lives were in danger not once, but a hundred times a day. Sometimes
fifteen or sixteen men were required to hoist the carriage out of the
mud-holes into which it had fallen. It is a wonder that Balzac
survived the torture of the journey, and it must have been very trying
to the rheumatic Madame Honore. When at last they arrived at Dresden
they were both utterly exhausted, while Balzac was extremely ill, and
felt ten years older than when he started. His sight was so bad that
he could not see the letters that he was tracing on the paper, and was
obliged to apologise to his correspondents for his extraordinary
hieroglyphics, while he told Madame Surville that the swollen
condition of his wife's hands still rendered it impossible for her to

However, Madame Honore was well enough to amuse herself by visits to
the jewellers' shops, where she bought a magnificent pearl necklace, a
purchase of which Balzac evidently approved, as he remarked that it
was so beautiful that it would make a saint mad! On his part, he was
greeted on his arrival by a new vexation; as letters from Paris told
him of "Vautrin" being put on the stage without his permission, and,
as we have seen, he wrote with much indignation, to put a stop to this
infringement of his rights.

An interesting letter already referred to, which is now in the
possession of the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, is dated from
Frankfort, the travellers' next stopping-place. It is written to the
Countess Anna, and was begun by Balzac, and finished by his wife.
About Balzac's part of the letter there is not much to remark, except
that he was evidently very fond of his step-daughter, that he told her
how ill he was, and that the handwriting is the scrawl of a man who
could not see. His high spirits indeed have disappeared, but this
change of tone is easily accounted for by the state of his health. It
is Madame Honore's part of the letter which strikes the reader as
curiously inadequate. It is dated May 16th, only five days after
Balzac's letter from Dresden informing his family of his wife's
inability to hold a pen, and is perfectly written; so that her
rheumatic gout must have abated suddenly. She begins her letter by
commenting placidly on the sadness of seeing the sufferings of our
"poor dear friend," says she tries in vain to cheer him, and contrasts
regretfully the difference between her feelings during this journey,
and her happiness when she last visited the same places, with her
darling child at her side. The principal subject in her present rather
wearying life, is the wonderful pearl necklace, which she takes out of
its case conscientiously every day, that the air may preserve the
whiteness of the pearls. She states, indeed, that she does not care
much about it, and has only bought it to please her husband; but it
seems to have pressed the unfortunate husband rather into the
background, and to have become the chief centre of its owner's
thoughts and solicitude.

The chilling unsatisfactory impression the letter leaves on the
reader, however, is not conveyed so much by what is said by Balzac's
newly-married wife, as by what she leaves unsaid. It must be
remembered that the Countess Eve possessed the power of expressing
herself with the utmost warmth, and with even exaggerated emphasis,
when she saw fit occasion for the display of feeling. We must also
keep the fact in mind, that in writing to the daughter who was her
intimate friend, she would naturally give some indications of her real
self; and though it might be impossible for one of her curiously
secretive temperament to lift the veil altogether, and to open her
heart without reserve, she would be likely in some way to enable the
reader to realise her mental attitude. Therefore it is disconcerting
and disquieting to discover that the one noticeable characteristic of
the letter, is utter want of feeling. No anxiety is expressed about
the growing illness of the sick man, not a word tells of fears so
terrible that she hardly dares breathe them, about the ultimate result
of his malady; on the contrary, everything is taken as a matter of
course, and as though the writer had expected it beforehand. There is
not even a recognition of Balzac as her husband; he is merely "our
poor dear friend," a person for whom she feels vague pity, and in whom
Anna's degree of interest is likely to be the same as her own.

Balzac was only married for about five months, and very little is
known of his life during that time. It is certain, however, that his
marriage did not bring him the happiness which he had expected, and
Madame Hanska's letter from Frankfort helps to explain the reason of
the tragedy. Perhaps he had raised his hopes too high for fulfilment
to be a possibility in this world of compromise, and very likely his
sufferings had made him irritable and exacting. Nevertheless, so quick
a wearing out of the faithful and passionate love which had lasted for
sixteen years, and so sudden a killing of the joy which had permeated
the man's whole being when he had at last attained his goal, seems a
hard task for a woman to accomplish; and can only be explained by her
employment of the formless yet resistless force of pure indifference.

Balzac's awakening, the knowledge that the absolute perfection he had
dreamed of was only an ideal created by his own fancy, must have been
inexpressibly bitter. Utter moral collapse and vertigo were his
portion, and chaos thundered in his ears, during his sudden descent
from the heights clothed with brilliant sunshine, to the puzzling
depths, where he groped in darkness and sought in vain for firm
footing. "Our poor dear friend" seems, for the moment, to have merited
even more sympathy than the measure accorded to him by his wife, in
her intervals of leisure after caring for her pearl necklace.

Balzac's mother had, as we have already seen, taken up her abode with
Madame Surville, long before the often-deferred appearance in Paris of
her son and daughter-in-law; but Honore had given directions, that at
any rate she was to leave the Rue Fortunee before he and his bride
arrived. It would, he said, compromise her dignity to help with the
unpacking, and Madame Honore should visit her mother-in-law next day
to pay her respects. Balzac was anxious that the first meeting should
take place at Laure's house rather than at Madame de Balzac's lodging
at Suresnes, as it was now impossible for him to mount any steps, and
there were fewer stairs at No. 47, Rue des Martyrs than at his
mother's abode.[*] His health, he wrote, was so deplorable that he
would not remain for long in Paris, but would go with his wife to
Biarritz to take the waters.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 456.

The travellers did not after all arrive in Paris till near the end of
May. This is proved by a letter from Madame de Balzac[*] to a friend,
written on the 20th of that month, in which she says that they are now
expected every day, but that their progress is a slow one, owing to
her son's illness and the heavy condition of the roads. She adds that
she has now been in bed for three months, so Laure must evidently have
acted as her deputy, in the task of superintending Francois'
preparations in the Rue Fortunee. No doubt Francois worked
strenuously, as he, like all Balzac's servants, was devoted to his
master, though on this occasion he unwittingly provided him with a
ghastly home-coming.

[*] "Une Page perdue de Honore de Balzac," by the Vicomte de
    Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

The travellers did not arrive at the Rue Fortunee till late at
night.[*] The house was brilliantly lit, and through the windows they
could see the flowers with which the rooms were decorated; but in vain
they rang at the courtyard gate--no one appeared to let them in. It
was a miserable arrival, and utterly inexplicable, as Balzac had
planned the arrangements most carefully beforehand, going minutely
into commissariat details, that his bride might find everything
absolutely comfortable on her arrival in her new home. It was
impossible to force an entrance, so M. and Madame Honore de Balzac,
utterly worn out by the fatigues of the journey, and longing for rest,
were obliged to sit in the carriage and spend the time in agitation
and vain conjecture, while a messenger was despatched for a locksmith.
When the door was at last opened, a terrible solution to the problem
presented itself. The excitement and strain of the preparations, and
of the hourly expectation of the travellers, had completely upset the
mental balance of the unfortunate Francois, and he had gone suddenly
mad! It was a sinister omen, a wretched commencement to Balzac's home
life; and he, always superstitious, was no doubt doubly so in his
invalided and suffering condition. Francois Munch was sent to a
lunatic asylum, where he was cared for at his master's expense.

[*] "Un Roman d'Amour," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

                             CHAPTER XVII

                            1850 AND AFTER

  Balzac's ill-health--Theophile Gautier and Victor Hugo--Balzac's
  grief about the unfinished "Comedie Humaine"--His interview with
  the doctor--Victor Hugo's account of his death-bed--Balzac's death
  and funeral--Life afterwards in the Rue Fortunee--Reckless
  extravagance--House rifled at Madame de Balzac's death--Fate of
  Balzac's MSS.--His merits as a writer.

When Balzac's friends came to visit him in the Rue Fortunee, they were
much shocked by the change in his appearance. His breathing was short,
his speech jerky, and his sight so bad that he was unable to
distinguish objects clearly. Nevertheless, as Gautier says,[*] every
one felt such intense confidence in his wonderful constitution that it
seemed impossible to think of a probably fatal result to his malady.
Balzac himself, optimistic as ever, clung persistently to his hope of
speedy recovery. His fame was now at its zenith, the series entitled
"Les Parents Pauvres" had awakened the utmost enthusiasm; and the
_elite_ of the Parisian world were eager to flock to the Rue Fortunee
to stare at the curiosities collected there, and to make the
acquaintance of Balzac's rich and distinguished Russian wife.

[*] "Portraits Contemporains: Honore de Balzac," by Theophile Gautier.

However, in his native country, Balzac was destined never to receive a
full guerdon of adulation and admiration; for though he was visited by
a few friends, the doctors insisted on keeping him otherwise in the
strictest retirement.

Theophile Gautier relates that he went to the Rue Fortunee to say
good-bye to his friend before starting for Italy, and, though
disappointed not to see him, was relieved about his health when told
that he was out driving. However, a little later, a letter was brought
to Gautier which had been dictated by Balzac to his wife, in which he
explained that he had only gone to the Customhouse to get out some
luggage, and had done this against the express orders of his doctors.
However, he spoke cheerfully of his health, saying that he was feeling
better, and that the next day the doctors intended to attack the
chronic malady from which he was suffering. For two months at least he
expected to be kept like a mummy, and not to be allowed to speak or to
move; but there were great hopes of his ultimate recovery. If Gautier
came again, he hoped for a letter beforehand naming the day and hour,
that he might certainly be at home; as in the solitude to which he was
doomed by the doctors, his friend's affection seemed to him more
precious than ever. All this was written in Madame de Balzac's
handwriting, and under it Balzac had scrawled: "I can neither read nor
write!"[*] Gautier left for Italy soon after this, and he never saw
his friend again. He read the news of Balzac's death in a newspaper
when he was at Venice, taking an ice at the Cafe Florian, in the
Piazza of St. Mark; and so terrible was the shock, that he nearly fell
from his seat. He tells us that he felt for the moment unchristian
indignation and revolt, when he thought of the octogenarian idiots he
had seen that morning at the asylum on the island of San Servolo, and
then of Balzac cut off in his prime; but he checked himself, for he
remembered that all souls are equal in the sight of God.

[*] "Portraits Contemporains: Honore de Balzac," by Theophile Gautier.

Victor Hugo also visited the invalid, and says that even a month
before his death he was perfectly confident about his recovery, and
was gay and full of laughter, discussing politics, stating his own
legitimist views with decision, and accusing his visitor of being a
demagogue. He said: "I have M. de Beaujon's house without the garden,
but I am owner of the gallery leading to the little church at the
corner of the street. A door on my staircase leads into the church.
One turn of the key, and I am at Mass. I care more for the gallery
than for the garden."[*]

[*] "Choses Vues," by Victor Hugo.

When Victor Hugo got up to go, Balzac accompanied him with difficulty
to this staircase, to point out the precious door; and called to his
wife, "Mind you show Hugo all my pictures." Though Balzac does not
appear to have been very intimate with the great romantic poet in
former years, he seems to have found special pleasure in his society
at this time. Hugo was at the seaside when Balzac next sent for him.
He hurried back,[*] however, at the urgent summons, and found the
dying man stretched on a sofa covered with red and gold brocade.
Balzac tried to rise, but could not; his face was purple, and his eyes
alone had life in them. Now that happiness in his married life had
failed him, his mind had reverted to the yet unfinished "Comedie
Humaine"; and he talked long and sadly of projected herculean labours,
and of the fate of his still unpublished works. "Although my wife has
more brains than I, who will support her in her solitude, she whom I
have accustomed to so much love?" "Certainly," Victor Hugo remarks
drily, "she was crying a great deal."

[*] See letter written by Madame Hamelin to the Countess Kisselef
    quoted in "Histoire des Oeuvres de Balzac," by the Vicomte de
    Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, p. 406.

Nevertheless, though Balzac did at last realise his dangerous state,
he had no idea that his end was approaching so near, and he still
hoped to be able to add a few more stones to the edifice of the
"Comedie Humaine," that great work, which was now again the principal
object of his life, the one bright vision in a world of
disappointment. In August, however, an agonising suspicion began for
the first time to visit him momentarily, a terrible fear to assail
him. What if there were not time after all? What if the creations
which floated through his mind while he lay suffering and helpless,
were never destined to be put into shape? What if his opportunity for
work on earth were really over? It was a horrible idea; a fancy, he
told himself, born only of weakness. Destiny _must_ intend him to
finish his appointed task. Robbed of everything else he had longed
for, that one consolation surely remained. He would ask the doctor,
would be content with no vague and soothing generalities, but would
insist on knowing the exact truth. It could not--ah, it could not be
as black as the nightmares of his imagination!

He approached the subject cautiously on the doctor's next visit.[*]
Perhaps, he said, he had after all never realised sufficiently the
acuteness of his malady. He certainly felt terribly ill, and knew that
he was losing ground; while, in spite of all his efforts, he was
unable to eat anything. His duty required that he should bequeath a
certain legacy to the public, and he had calculated carefully, and had
discovered that he would be able in six months to accomplish his task.
Could the doctor promise him that length of time? There was no answer
to this searching question, but a shake of the head from the pitying
doctor. "Ah," cried Balzac sorrowfully, "I see quite well that you
will not allow me six months. . . . Well, at any rate, you will at
least give me six weeks? . . . Six weeks with fever is an eternity.
Hours are like days . . . and then the nights are not lost." Again the
doctor shook his head, and Balzac once more lowered his claims for a
vestige of life. "I have courage to submit," he said proudly; "but six
days . . . you will certainly give me that? I shall then be able to
write down hasty plans that my friends may be able to finish, shall
tear up bad pages and improve good ones, and shall glance rapidly
through the fifty volumes I have already written. Human will can do
miracles." Balzac pleaded pathetically, almost as though he thought
his interlocutor could grant the boon of longer life if he willed to
do so. He had aged ten years since the beginning of the interview, and
he had now no voice left to speak, and the doctor hardly any voice for
answering. The latter managed, however, to tell his patient that
everything must be done to-day, because in all probability to-morrow
would not exist for him; and Balzac cried with horror, "I have then
only six hours!" fell back on his pillows, and spoke no more.

[*] The following account of Balzac's interview with his doctor is
    taken from an article written by Arsene Houssaye in the _Figaro_
    of August 20th, 1883. It is right to add that the Vicomte de
    Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, the great authority on Balzac, throws
    grave doubts on the accuracy of the story.

He died the next day, and Victor Hugo gives us one more glimpse of
him.[*] The poet was told by his wife, who had visited Madame de
Balzac during the day, that Balzac's last hour had come; and directly
after dinner he took a cab and drove rapidly to the Rue Fortunee. "I
rang. It was moonlight, occasionally veiled by clouds. The street was
deserted. No one came. I rang a second time. The door was opened. A
servant appeared with a candle. 'What does Monsieur want?' she said.
She was crying.

[*] "Choses Vues, 1850: Mort de Balzac," by Victor Hugo.

"I gave my name. I was shown into the room on the ground floor. On a
pedestal opposite the fireplace was the colossal bust of Balzac by
David. In the middle of the salon, on a handsome oval table, which had
for legs six gilded statuettes of great beauty, a wax candle was
burning. Another woman came in crying, and said: 'He is dying. Madame
has gone to her own rooms. The doctors gave him up yesterday.' After
going into medical details, the woman continued: 'The night was bad.
This morning at nine o'clock Monsieur spoke no more. Madame sent for a
priest. The priest came, and administered extreme unction. Monsieur
made a sign to show that he understood. An hour afterwards he pressed
the hand of his sister, Madame Surville. Since eleven o'clock the
death rattle has been in his throat, and he can see nothing. He will
not last out the night. If you wish it, Monsieur, I will call M.
Surville, who has not yet gone to bed.'

"The woman left me. I waited several minutes. The candle hardly
lighted up the splendid furniture of the salon, and the magnificent
paintings by Porbus and Holbein which were hanging on the walls. The
marble bust showed faintly in the obscurity, like the spectre of a
dying man. A corpse-like odour filled the house.

"M. Surville came in, and confirmed all that the servant had told me.
I asked to see M. de Balzac.

"We crossed a corridor, went up a staircase covered with a red carpet
and crowded with artistic objects--vases, statues, pictures, and
stands with enamels on them. Then we came to another passage, and I
saw an open door. I heard the sound of difficult, rattling breathing.
I entered Balzac's room.

"The bedstead was in the centre of the room. It was of mahogany, and
across the foot and at the head were beams provided with straps for
moving the sick man. M. de Balzac was in this bed, his head resting on
a heap of pillows, to which the red damask sofa cushions had been
added. His face was purple, almost black, and was inclined to the
right. He was unshaved, his grey hair was cut short, and his eyes open
and fixed. I saw his profile, and it was like that of the Emperor

"An old woman, the nurse, and a servant, stood beside the bed. A
candle was burning on a table behind the head of the bed, another on a
chest of drawers near the door. A silver vase was on the stand near
the bed. The women and man were silent with a kind of terror, as they
listened to the rattling breathing of the dying man.

"The candle at the head of the bed lit up brilliantly the portrait of
a young man, fresh-coloured and smiling, which was hanging near the
fireplace. . . .

"I lifted the coverlet and took Balzac's hand. It was covered with
perspiration. I pressed it. He did not respond to the pressure. . . .

"I went downstairs again, carrying in my mind the memory of that livid
face, and, crossing the drawing-room, I looked again at the bust
--immovable, impassive, proud, and smiling faintly, and I compared
death with immortality."

Balzac died that night, Sunday, August 17th, 1850, at half-past
eleven, at the age of fifty-one.

The dying man's almost complete isolation is strange, and the
servant's news that M. Surville had not _yet_ gone to bed has a
callous ring about it. Perhaps, however, the doctors had told Madame
de Balzac and Madame Surville that Balzac was unconscious, and they
had therefore withdrawn, utterly exhausted by the fatigues of the
night before. In any case, it seems sad, though possibly of no moment
to the dying man, that several of his nearest relations should have
deserted him before the breath had left his body. Our respect for the
elder Madame de Balzac is decidedly raised, because, though there had
occasionally been disagreements between her and her son, the true
mother feeling asserted itself at the last, and she alone watched with
the paid attendants till the end came.

However, some one was busy about the arrangements, as Balzac's
portrait was taken by Giraud directly after his death, and a cast was
made of his beautifully-shaped hand. His body was taken into the
Beaujon Chapel before burial, so that he passed for the last time, as
Victor Hugo remarks, through that door, the key of which was more
precious to him than all the beautiful gardens which had belonged to
the old Farmer-General.

The funeral service was held on Wednesday, August 20th, at the Church
of Sainte Philippe du Roule. The rain was descending in torrents, but
the procession, followed by a large crowd, walked the whole way across
Paris to the Cemetery of Pere-la-Chaise, where the interment took
place. The pall-bearers were Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Monsieur
Baroche, and Sainte-Beuve. At the grave Victor Hugo spoke, finishing
with the words: "No, it is not the Unknown to him. I have said this
before, and I shall never tire of repeating it: it is not darkness to
him, it is Light! It is not the end, but the beginning; not
nothingness, but eternity! Is not this the truth, I ask you who listen
to me? Such coffins proclaim immortality. In the presence of certain
illustrious dead, we understand the divine destiny of that intellect
which has traversed earth to suffer and to be purified. Do we not say
to ourselves here, to-day, that it is impossible for a great genius in
this life to be other than a great spirit after death?"[*]

[*] "Funerailles de Balzac," in "Actes et Paroles," by Victor Hugo.

The Cemetery of Pere-la-Chaise had been one of Balzac's favourite
haunts in the old half-starved days of the Rue Lesdiguieres. "Here I
am back from Pere-la-Chaise," he wrote to his sister in 1820,[*] "and
I have brought with me some good big inspiring reflections. Decidedly,
the only fine epitaphs are these: La Fontaine, Messena, Moliere, a
single name, which tells all and makes one dream." Probably Madame
Surville remembered these words and repeated them to Madame Honore de
Balzac, for the monument erected to Balzac is a broken column with his
name inscribed on it.

[*] "Correspondance," vol. i. p. 24.

The fortunes of the inhabitants of the Rue Fortunee were not happy
after Balzac's death. Madame Honore de Balzac's contemporaries
considered that she as not really as overwhelmed with sorrow at her
husband's death as she appeared to be, and that when she wrote
heartbroken letters, she slightly exaggerated the real state of her
feelings; but she assumed gallantly the burdens laid upon her by the
state of pecuniary embarrassment in which her husband died. If Balzac
had lived longer and had been able to work steadily, there is little
doubt that he would in a few years have become a free man, as the
Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul tells us[*] that in the years
between 1841 and 1847, after which date his productions became very
rare, he had enormously diminished the sum he owed.

[*] "La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de

Under Balzac's will his widow might have refused to acknowledge any
liability for his debts, but she set to work bravely, with the aid of
MM. Dutacq and Fessart, to make as much money as she could out of
Balzac's published works, and to bring before the public those that
were still unpublished. In this way, "Mercadet le Faiseur" was acted a
year after Balzac's death, and "Les Petits Bourgeois" and "Le Depute
d'Arcis" were published, the latter being finished, according to
Balzac's wish, by Charles Rabou. "Les Paysans," which was to have
filled eight volumes, and of which, as we have already seen, only a
few chapters were written, presented great difficulty; but at last
Madame de Balzac, aided by Champfleury and by Charles Rabou, managed
to give some consistency to the fragment, and it appeared in the
_Revue de Paris_ in April, May and June, 1855. Unfortunately, however,
no information was given as to the unfinished state in which it had
been left by Balzac, and therefore no explanation was offered of the
insufficiency of the _denouement_, and the inadequacy of the last
chapters. Madame de Balzac worked hard, and long before her death in
April, 1882, the whole of Balzac's debts were paid off.

This was most creditable to her; but side by side with her admirable
conduct in this respect, she seems to have either actively abetted, or
at any rate acquiesced in mad extravagance on the part of Madame
Georges Mniszech, who with her husband, had come to live in the Rue
Fortunee after Balzac's death. Perhaps Madame de Balzac was too busy
with her literary and business arrangements, to pay attention to what
was happening, or possibly maternal devotion prevented her from
denying her beloved daughter anything she craved for. At all events
the results of her supineness were lamentable, especially as M.
Georges Mniszech was not capable of exercising any restraint on his
wife; he being for some years before his death in 1881, in the most
delicate state of health, both mental and physical.

Madame Georges Mniszech--after years of the wild Russian steppes,
suddenly plunged into the fascinations of shopping in Paris, and left
to her own devices--seems to have shown senseless folly in her
expenditure. Additions were made to the house in the Rue Fortunee,
though Balzac's rooms were left untouched; and the Chateau de
Beauregard, at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, was bought as a country
residence. Madame de Balzac and her daughter were, however, rich, and
could quite afford to live comfortably, and even luxuriously. Their
ruin seems to have been brought about by reckless expenditure on
things which were of absolutely no use, and were only bought for the
amusement of buying. Several sales of pictures took place, and on
February 9th, 1882,[*] the Chateau de Beauregard and its contents were
sold by order of the President of the Civil Tribunal of Corbeil.

[*] "Life of Balzac," by Frederick Wedmore.

Madame de Balzac died in April of the same year; and the very day of
her funeral, Madame Georges Mniszech's creditors pushed her and her
maid into the street, and rifled the house in the Rue Fortunee. The
booty was transported to the auction-room known as l'Hotel Drouot, and
there a sale was held by order of justice of Balzac's library, his
Buhl cabinets, and some of his MSS., including that of "Eugenie
Grandet," which had been given to Madame Hanska on December 24th,
1833. During the shameless pillage of the house, the vultures who
ransacked it found evidence of the most reckless, the most imbecile
extravagance, proof positive that the wisdom, prudence, even the
principles of poor Balzac's paragon the Countess Anna, had been routed
by the glitter and glamour of the holiday city. One room was filled
with boxes containing hats, and in another, piles of costly silks were
heaped, untouched since their arrival from the fashionable haberdasher
or silk mercer.[*] Balzac's treasures, the curiosities he had amassed
with so much trouble, the pictures of which he had been so proud, were
ruthlessly seized; while precious manuscripts and letters, which would
perhaps have brought in a hundred thousand francs if they had been put
up for sale, were thrown out of the window by the exasperated throng.

[*] "Journal des Goncourts," vol. viii. P. 48.

The Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul rescued a page of the first of
Balzac's letters to Madame Hanska which has been found up to this
time, from a cobbler whose stall was opposite the house. The cobbler,
when once started on the quest by the Vicomte, discovered many other
letters, sketches, and unfinished novels, which had been picked up by
the neighbouring shopkeepers, and were only saved in the nick of time
from being used to wrap up pounds of butter, or to make bags for other
household commodities. It was an exciting chase, requiring patience
and ingenuity; and Balzac's former cook held out for years, before she
would consent to sell a packet of letters which the Vicomte coveted
specially. Sometimes incidentally there were delightful surprises, and
occasionally real joys; as on the occasion when the searcher found at
a distant grocer's shop, the middle of the letter, of which the first
page had been saved from destruction at the hands of the cobbler.

The bitter dislike Balzac had evoked in the literary world, and his
occasional obscurity and clumsy style, have militated very strongly
against his popularity in his native land, where perfection in the
manipulation of words is of supreme importance in a writer. While in
France, however, Balzac's undoubted faults have partially blinded his
countrymen to his consummate merits as a writer, and they have been
strangely slow in acknowledging the debt of gratitude they owe to him,
the rest or the world has already begun to realise his power of
creating type, his wonderful imagination, his versatility, and his
extraordinary impartiality; and to accord him his rightful place among
the Immortals. Nevertheless we are still too near to him, to be able
to focus him clearly, and to estimate aright his peculiar place in
literature, or the full scope of his genius.

Some very great authorities claim him as a member of the Romantic
School; while, on the other hand, he is often looked on--apparently
with more reason--as the first of the Realists. His object in writing
was, he tells us, to represent mankind as he saw it, to be the
historian of the nineteenth century, and to classify human beings as
Buffon had classified animals. No doubt this scheme was very
imperfectly carried out: certainly the powerful mind of Balzac with
its wealth of imagination, often projected itself into his puppets, so
that many of his characters are not the ordinary men and women he
wished to portray, but are inspired by the fire of genius. This fact
does not, however, alter the aim of their creator. He intended to be
merely a chronicler, a scientific observer of things around him; and
though his works are tinged to a large extent with the Romanticism of
the powerful school in vogue in his day, this object marks him plainly
as the forerunner of the Realists, the founder of a totally new
conception of the scope and range of the novel.

Theophile Gautier's words should prove to the modern reader, the debt
of gratitude he owes to the inaugurator of a completely original
system of fiction. Speaking of Balzac's impecunious and ambitious
heroes, Gautier cries:[*] "O Corinne, who on the Cape of Messina
allowest thy snowy arm to hang over the ivory lyre, while the son of
Albion, clothed in a superb new cloak, and with elegant boots
perfectly polished, gazes at thee, and listens in an elegant pose:
Corinne, what wouldst thou have said to such heroes? They have
nevertheless one little quality which Oswald lacked--they live, and
with so strong a life that we have met them a thousand times."
Balzac's own words, speaking of his play "La Maratre,"[+] might also
serve for a motto for his novels: "I dream of a drawing-room comedy,
where everything is calm, quiet, and amiable. The men play whist
placidly by the light of candles with little green shades. The women
talk and laugh while they work at their embroidery. They all take tea
together. To sum up, everything announces good order and harmony.
Well, underneath are agitating passions; the drama stirs, it prepares
itself secretly, till it blazes forth like the flame of a

[*] "Portraits Contemporains: Honore de Balzac," by Theophile Gautier.

[+] "Historiettes et Souvenirs d'un Homme de Theatre," by H. Hostein.

Balzac is essentially a Realist, in his use of the novel as a vehicle
for the description of real struggling life; with money and position,
the principal desiderata of modern civilisation, powerful as
determining factors in the moulding of men's actions. Life, as
portrayed in the old-fashioned novel, where the hero and heroine and
their love affairs were the sole focus of attraction, and the other
characters were grouped round in subordinate positions, while every
one declined in interest as he advanced in years, was not life as
Balzac saw it; and he pictures his hero's agony at not having a penny
with which to pay his cab fare, with as much graphic intensity, as he
tells of the same young gentleman's despair when his inamorata is
indifferent to him.

Nevertheless, if we compare Balzac with the depressing writers of the
so-called Realist School, we shall find that his conception of life
differed greatly from theirs. In Flaubert's melancholy books, even
perfection of style and painstaking truth of detail do not dissipate
the deadly dulness of an unreal world, where no one rises above the
low level of self-gratification; while Zola considers man so
completely in his physical aspect, that he ends by degrading him below
the animal world. Balzac, on the other hand, believed in purity, in
devotion, and unselfishness; though he did not think that these
qualities are triumphant on earth. In his pessimistic view of life,
virtue generally suffered, and had no power against vice; but he knew
that it existed, and he believed in a future where wrongs would be

He is a poet and idealist, and thus akin to the Romanticists--though
he lacks their perfection of diction--in his feeling for the beauty of
atmospheric effects, and also in his enthusiasm for music, which he
loved passionately. The description of Montriveau's emotions when the
cloistered Duchesse de Langeais plays in the church of Spain--and
Balzac tells us that the sound of the organ bears the mind through a
thousand scenes of life to the infinite which parts earth from heaven,
and that through its tones the luminous attributes of God Himself
pierce and radiate--is totally unrealistic both in moral tone, and in
its accentuation of the power of the higher emotions. His intense
admiration for Sir Walter Scott--an admiration which he expresses time
after time in his letters--is a further proof of his sympathy for the
school of thought, which glorified the picturesque Middle Ages above
every other period of history.

Whichever school, however, may claim Balzac, it is an undisputed fact
that he possessed in a high degree that greatest of all attributes
--the power of creation of type. Le Pere Goriot, Balthazar Claes, Old
Grandet, La Cousine Bette, Le Cousin Pons, and many other people in
Balzac's pages, are creations; they live and are immortal. He has
endowed them with more splendid and superabundant vitality than is
accorded to ordinary humanity.

To do this, something is required beyond keenness of vision. The gift
of seeing vividly--as under a dazzling light--to the very kernel of
the object stripped of supernumerary circumstance, is indeed necessary
for the portrayal of character; but although Dickens, as well as
Balzac, possessed this faculty to a high degree, his people are often
qualities personified, or impossible monsters. For the successful
creation of type, that power in which Balzac is akin to Shakespeare,
it is necessary that a coherent whole shall be formed, and that the
full scope of a character shall be realised, with its infinite
possibilities on its own plane, and its impotence to move a
hairsbreadth on to another. The mysterious law which governs the
conduct of life must be fathomed; so that, though there may be
unexpected and surprising developments, the artistic sense and
intuition which we possess shall not be outraged, and we shall still
recognise the abiding personality under everything. Balzac excels in
this; and because of this power, and also because--at a time when
Byronic literature was in the ascendant, and it was the fashion to
think that the quintessence of beauty could be found by diving into
the depths of one's own being--he came forward without pose or
self-consciousness, as a simple observer of the human race, the world
will never cease to owe him a debt of gratitude, and to rank him among
her greatest novelists.

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