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Title: Honoré de Balzac
Author: Keim, Albert, 1876-1947, Lumet, Louis, 1872-1923
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Honore de Balzac


Albert Keim and Louis Lumet

Translated from the French by


with illustrations from photographs



Copyright, 1914 by Frederick A. Stokes Company


Of all the books perhaps the one best designed for training
the mind and forming the character is "Plutarch." The lives
of great men are object-lessons. They teach effort, devotion,
industry, heroism and sacrifice.

Even one who confines his reading solely to biographies of
thinkers, writers, inventors, poets of the spirit or poets of
science, will in a short time have acquired an understanding
of the whole History of Humanity.

And what novel or what drama could be compared to such a
history? Accurate biographies record narratives which no
romancer's imagination could hope to rival. Researches,
sufferings, labors, triumphs, agonies and disasters, the
defeats of destiny, glory, which is the "sunlight of the
dead," illuminating the past, whether fortunate or
tragic,--such is what the lives of Great Men reveal to us,
or, if the phrase be allowed, paint for us in a series of
fascinating and dramatic pictures.

This series of biographies is accordingly intended to form a
sort of gallery, a museum of the great servants of Art,
Science, Thought and Action.

It was Emerson who wrote a volume devoted to the
Representatives of Humanity. Here we have still another
collection of "Representative Men." This collection of
profoundly interesting studies is entrusted to the care of
two writers, Mr. Albert Keim and Mr. Louis Lumet, both of
whom have already earned their laurels, the former as poet,
novelist, playwright, historian and philosopher, and author
of a definitive work upon Helvetius which deserves to become
a classic, and the latter as publicist, art critic and
scholar of rare and profound erudition. An acquaintance with
the successive volumes in this series will give ample
evidence of the value of such able collaborators.

On the mountain tops we breathe a purer and more vivifying
air. And it is like ascending to a moral mountain top when we
live, if only for a moment, with the dead who, in their lives
did honour to mankind, and attain the level of those whose
eyes now closed, once glowed like beacon-lights, leading
humanity on its eternal march through night-time towards the


Chapter 1 :: The Treatise on the Human Will.

Chapter 2 :: The Garret.

Chapter 3 :: His Apprenticeship.

Chapter 4 :: In Business.

Chapter 5 :: The First Success.

Chapter 6 :: Dandyism.

Chapter 7 :: The "Foreign Lady."

Chapter 8 :: At Les Jardies.

Chapter 9 :: In Retirement.

Chapter 1.

The Treatise on the Human Will.

At Balzac's funeral, the glorious yet bitter seal upon his destiny,
Victor Hugo delivered a magnificent address, and in his capacity as
poet and seer proclaimed with assurance the judgment of posterity:

     "His life has been brief yet full, and richer in works than
     in days.

     "Alas! This powerful and indefatigable worker, this
     philosopher, this thinker, this poet, this genius has lived
     amongst us that life of storms, of struggles, of quarrels, of
     combats, which has always been the common lot of all great
     men. Today we see him at peace. He has escaped from
     controversies and enmities. He has entered, on the selfsame
     day, into glory and into the tomb. Henceforward he will shine
     far above all those clouds which float over our heads, among
     the brightest stars of his native land."

This discourse was admirable for its truth, its justice and its
far-sightedness, a golden palm branch laid upon the author's tomb,
around which there still arose clamours and bitter arguments, denying
the greatness of his works, and rumours which veiled the features of
the man behind a haze of absurd legends. A star of his country he
certainly was, as Victor Hugo proclaimed him, one of those enduring
stars which time--so cruel to others--fails to change, except to purify
their light and augment their brilliance, to the greater pride of the
nation. His life was indeed short, but it was one which set a salutary
example, because, stripped of idle gossip, it teaches us the inner
discipline, the commanding will and the courage of this hero who, in
the midst of joy and sorrow alike, succeeded in creating an entire

Honore de Balzac was born at Tours on the 20th of March, 1799, on the
ground floor of a building belonging to a tailor named Damourette, in
the Rue de l'Armee d'Italie, No. 25,--now No. 35, Rue Nationale. The
majority of his biographers have confused it with the dwelling which
his father bought later on, No. 29 in the same street according to the
old numbering, and the acacia which is there pointed out as having been
planted at the date of his birth really celebrated that of his brother
Henri, who was several years the younger.

Although born in Touraine, Balzac was not of Tourainian stock, for his
birthplace was due merely to chance. His father, Bernard Francois
Balssa or Balsa, came originally from the little village of Nougaire,
in the commune of Montirat and district of Albi. He descended from a
peasant family, small land-owners or often simple day labourers. It was
he who first added a "c" to his patronymic and who later prefixed the
particle for which the great novelist was afterwards so often
reproached. Bernard Balssa, born July 22, 1746, left his native village
at the age of fourteen years, never to return. What was his career, and
what functions did he fulfil? Honore de Balzac says that his father was
secretary to the Grand Council under Louis XV, and Laure Surville, his
sister, wrote that under Louis XVI he was attorney to the Council. He
himself, in an invitation to the marriage of his second daughter,
Laurence, described himself as former secretary to the King's Council.
During the revolution he was secretary to the minister of the navy,
Bertrant de Molleville, and later was director of the commissary
department in the first division of the Armee du Nord, stationed at

It is impossible to follow him through all the different wanderings
necessitated by his functions, but it is known that upon returning to
Paris he there married the daughter of one of his superior officers,
Sallambier, attached to the Ministry of War and at the same time
director of the Paris hospitals. At the time of the marriage, January
30, 1797, he was fifty-one years of age; his bride, Laure, was only
eighteen, a young girl possessed of culture, beauty and distinction of
manner. The first fruit of this union was a son, who, although nursed
by the mother, died at an early age. Through the influence of his
father-in-law, the elder Balzac obtained in 1799 the direction of the
commissary department of the twenty-second military division, and
installed himself at Tours, where the division was stationed, in the
early months of the same year.

Francois soon had a reputation throughout the province. He was a sort
of philosopher and reformer, a man with ideas. He despised the
currently accepted opinions, and proclaimed his own boldly, indifferent
to the consternation of his fellow townsmen. A large head emerging from
the high, thick collar of his blue, white-braided coat, which opened to
disclose an ample cravat, a smooth-shaven face and florid complexion, a
powerful chin and full cheeks, framed in short, brown "mutton-chop"
whiskers, a small mouth with thick lips, a long straight, slightly
bulbous nose, an energetic face lit up by black eyes, brilliant and
slightly dreamy, beneath a broad, determined forehead overhung with
stray locks of hair, gathered back in the fashion of the Republic,--all
these features proclaimed a rugged personality, a dominant character,
conspicuously at variance with the placid bourgeoisie of Touraine.
Francois Balzac had furthermore an agreeable presence and a
self-satisfied manner, and it pleased him to boast of his southern

The citizens of Tours spoke of him as "an eccentric," but he was
greatly annoyed when the term reached his ears, for, good Gascon that
he was, and proud of himself, body and mind, he felt that it was
singularly humiliating to be treated with so little respect. In point
of fact, he was quite justified in refusing to accept an appellation
which, however well it might fit his manners as a well-intentioned
fault-finder, caustic and whimsical in speech, in no way applied to his
unusually broad and penetrating intelligence, teeming with new and
strictly original ideas.

He was a disciple of Rousseau; he held certain social theories, and he
was unsparing in his criticisms of existing governments. He had his own
views as to how society at large should be governed and improved. The
first of these views consisted in cultivating mankind, by applying the
method of eugenic selection to marriage, in such a manner that after a
few years there would be no human beings left save those who were
strong, robust and healthy. He could not find sufficient sarcasm to
express his scorn of governments which, in civilised countries, allowed
the development of weaklings, cripples and invalids. Perhaps he based
his theory upon his own example. Francois Balzac had the constitution
of an athlete and believed himself destined to live to the age of a
hundred years and upward. According to his calculations, a man did not
reach his perfect development until after completing his first century;
and, in order to do this, he took the most minute care of himself. He
studied the Chinese people, celebrated for their longevity, and he
sought for the best methods of maintaining what he called the
equilibrium of vital forces. When any event contradicted his theories,
he found no trouble in turning it to his own advantage.

"He was never," related his daughter, Mme. Laure Surville, in her
article upon Balzac, "under any circumstances at a loss for a retort.
One day, when a newspaper article relating to a centenarian was being
read aloud (an article not likely to escape notice in our family, as
may well be imagined) he interrupted the reader, contrary to his habit,
in order to say enthusiastically, 'There is a man who has lived wisely
and has never squandered his strength in all sorts of excesses, as so
many imprudent young people do!' It turned out, on the contrary, that
this wise old man frequently became drunk, and that he took a late
supper every evening, which, according to my father, was one of the
greatest enormities that one could perpetrate against one's health.
'Well,' resumed my father imperturbably, 'the man has shortened his
life, no doubt about it.'"

Francois Balzac was not to be shaken in his opinions. Furthermore, he
was not satisfied with asserting them in the course of conversation,
but in spite of his lack of confidence in the influence of books upon
prejudiced readers (for he considered that the sole exception was the
reaction against chivalry brought about by Cervantes's Don Quixote), he
wrote a number of pamphlets in which the vigour and originality of his
mind are revealed. He published successively: An Essay regarding Two
Great Obligations to be fulfilled by the French (1804), An Essay on the
Methods of preventing Thefts and Assassinations (1807), A Pamphlet
regarding the Equestrian Statue which the French People ought to raise
to perpetuate the Memory of Henry IV (1815), The History of Hydrophobia
(1819), etc. In the first of these works Francois Balzac proposed that
a monument should be raised to commemorate the glory of Napoleon and
the French army. Might that not be almost called the origin of the

The singularities of Francois Balzac in no wise hurt him in the
estimation of the inhabitants of Touraine. He served as administrator
of the General Hospice from 1804 to 1812, and introduced there a
practical reform in providing remunerative work for the old men. As an
attache of the Mayor's office, he had the mayoralty offered him in
1808, but he refused it in order to consecrate himself entirely to the
sick and convalescent.

At Tours the Balzac household led the life of prosperous bourgeois
folk. The father had acquired a house with grounds and farm lands. The
Balzacs entertained and were received in society. People enjoyed--
perhaps with some secret smiles--the unexpected outbursts of the
husband, and they liked him for his kindly ironies which had no touch
of malice. As for the subtle and witty Madame Laure Balzac, who had
preserved all the graces of the eighteenth century, she was found
delightful by all those whom she admitted to the honour of entering her
circle of acquaintances.

She was a young woman of distinguished manner, with a somewhat oval
face and small, delicate features, overcast at times with a shade of
melancholy. She had a somewhat distant manner which she redeemed by a
gesture of charming welcome, or a gracious phrase. She was pious, but
without bigotry, a mystic whose religion was that of St. John, all
gentleness and impulse. She read Swedenborg, St. Martin, and Jacob
Boehm. She had an ardent and untrammelled imagination, but her
character was firm. Her decisions were promptly taken and she knew how
to enforce their execution. She was a woman of principle; she respected
social rules and customs and demanded that the members of her family
should observe them.

Four more children were born to this marriage, two sons and two
daughters: Honore, Laure, Laurence, and Henri, all of whom had widely
different destinies. Laure became the wife of an engineer of bridges
and highways, M. Midy de la Greneraye Surville, and was intimately
associated with the life of her older brother, whom she survived down
to 1854; Laurence died a few years after her marriage in 1821 to M. de
Montzaigle; Henri, the youngest, went through divers ups and downs; but
finding himself unable to achieve a position of independence, he
finally went into exile in the Colonies.

Madame de Balzac's first son having died, as was thought, in
consequence of the mother's attempt to nurse him herself, Honore was
placed with a nurse in the country district outside of Tours. He
remained there until four years of age, together with his sister Laure,
and it is there, no doubt, that they formed that tender and trusting
friendship which never wavered. When he returned to the paternal roof,
Honore was a plump, chubby-cheeked little boy with brown hair falling
in masses of curls, a contented disposition and laughing eyes. People
noticed him when out walking in his short vest of brown silk and blue
belt, and mothers would turn around to say, "What a pretty child!"

Honore was impulsive, with a heart overflowing with affection, but the
training he received at home was rigorous and severe. Entrusted to the
hands of servants, under the high and mighty surveillance of his
governess, Mlle. Delahaye, he received from his father, who was already
an old man, nothing more than an indulgent and often absent-minded
affection, while, as for his mother, she carried out with great
firmness her theories regarding the relation between children and
parents. She received hers each evening in her large drawing room with
cold dignity. Before kissing them she recapitulated all the faults they
had committed during the day, which she had learned from the governess,
and her reproofs were reinforced with punishments. Honore never
approached her without fear, repressing all his feelings and his need
of affection. He suffered in secret. Then he would take refuge with his
sister Laure, his only friend and comforter.

Before he was five years old he was sent to a day-school in Tours known
as the Leguay Institution. He had a taste for reading, indeed it was
more than a taste, it was a sort of mental starvation which made him
throw himself hungrily upon every book he encountered. Otherwise,
Honore was frankly a mediocre and negligent. But concentrated in
himself and deprived of the caresses which would have meant so much to
him, he created a whole world out of his readings and sometimes gave
glimpses of it to Laure by acting out before her dramas and comedies of
his own manufacture and of which he was the hero. His exuberance made
him a good comrade; yet he also loved solitude. When alone, he could
give himself up to the fantasies born of his own imagination, and he
invented his own games and used to play upon a cheap toy violin made of
red wood airs which he enjoyed to the point of ecstasy and of which no
one else could bear the sound.

At the age of eight years and some months, on the 22d of June, 1807,
Honore entered a college school at Vendome. It was an institution
celebrated throughout the districts of central France and directed by
the Oratorian Fathers. Prior to the Revolution, cadets used to be
trained there for the army, and it had preserved the military severity
of its discipline. After their admission, the pupils were never allowed
outside vacations and never left its walls until their course of study
was terminated. Honore lived there until April 22, 1813,--and in Louis
Lambert he has described his sufferings, his hopes and the tumultuous
and confused awakening of his genius, throughout those long years of
convent-like imprisonment. He had passed from the cold discipline of
the family circle, which had nevertheless been tempered by an
atmosphere of kindliness, to the hard and impersonal discipline of the
college school. The warm-hearted and melancholy child must needs
undergo this second severe test, and he was destined to come out from
it in a state of self-intoxication, a bewilderment of dreams and ideas.

The college buildings, surrounded by walls, contained everything that
would seem calculated to render existence laborious and gloomy for the
students. The latter were divided into four sections, the Minions, the
Smalls, the Mediums, and the Greats, to which they were assigned
according to the grade of their studies. For diversion, they had a
narrow garden which they could cultivate and a cabin; they had
permission to raise pigeons and to eat them, in addition to the
ordinary fare. The classrooms were dirty, being either muddy or covered
with dust, according to the season, and evil-smelling as a result of
crowding together within narrow spaces too many young folks who were
none too clean and to whom the laws of hygiene were unknown. The
masters were either overbearing or neglectful, incapable of
distinguishing the individual from the crowd and concerned only with
seeing that the rules were obeyed and discipline maintained. The pupils
themselves were often cruel to each other.

It was here that Honore de Balzac formed his own character, alone, and
suffered alone, sensitive and repressed child that he was. From the
very first months of the sojourn in the College of Vendome, he was
classed among the apathetic and lazy pupils, among those of whom
nothing could be made, who would never be an honour to the school that
trained them and could be ignored excepting for the purposes of
punishment. Honore had an insurmountable aversion for all the required
tasks, he was indifferent to the charms of Greek themes or Latin
translations, and history alone had the power of stirring him and
awakening his appetite for knowledge. He was habitually sluggish and
stupid in the eyes of his masters, but what a formidable, unknown work
was going on in the brain of this child!

We may picture him in the classroom, during study hour, leaning on his
left elbow and holding an open book with his right hand, while he rubs
his shoes one against the other, with a mechanical movement. What is he
reading? Morality in Action and in Example. His obscure desires are
taking definite form. To become a great man, a hero, one of those whose
names are transmitted from age to age, such from choice will be his own
destiny. He seizes his pen and rapidly writes "Balzac, Balzac, Balzac"
over all the white margins of the book on morality. (This book passed
into the possession of M. Jules Claretie.) Then once more he leans upon
his elbow, gazing out of the window at a corner of verdure which he can
just glimpse, and forthwith he is off again in one of his interminable

The harsh voice of his teacher interrupts him:

"You are doing nothing, M. Balzac."

The boy falls back from his dreams into the classroom. The reproof has
hurt him keenly. He fixes his magnetic black eyes upon the teacher. Is
it bitterness, disdain or anger towards him for having destroyed those
fruitful meditations? At all events, the teacher feels something like a
shock. He says:

"If you look at me like that, M. Balzac, you will receive the ferrule."

The ferrule! The thong of leather that cut so painfully when it fell
with dreaded rhythm, one, two, three, on the tips of the fingers or the
palm of the hand.

Punishments rained heavily on Balzac, the bad pupil, who seems to have
been perpetually in disgrace over his tasks and lessons. These
punishments included the extra copying of lines in such numbers that he
has been declared the inventor of the three-pointed pen; and then there
was imprisonment in the dormitory, "the wooden breeches," as it was
called in the college, and where he remained for weeks at a time.
Whether he suffered from these punishments and from the contempt of his
teachers, Honore at least never complained; for whatever left his mind
free to follow its own self-cultivation was a welcome opportunity.

He had a tutor, the librarian of the rich Oratorian library, who during
those rare recreation hours, when he had no extra lines to copy, was
supposed to give him special lessons in mathematics. But by a tacit
agreement the teacher paid no attention to the pupil, and the latter
was permitted to read and carry away any books which took his fancy. In
point of fact, no book seemed to him too austere or too repellent or
too obscure for his youthful understanding. He absorbed pell-mell works
upon religion, treatises of chemistry and physics, and historical and
philosophical works. He even developed a special taste for
dictionaries, dreaming over the exact sense of words, the adventures
that befall them in the course of time and their final destinies.

"The absorption of ideas through reading had become in his case a
curious phenomenon," so Honore de Balzac has recorded in Louis Lambert,
in which he has painted in the person of his hero his own formative
years in the college school of Vendome. "His eye would take in seven or
eight lines at once, and his mind would grasp the meaning with a
velocity equal to that of his glance; sometimes even a single word in a
phrase was enough to give him the essence of it. His memory was
prodigious. He retained thoughts acquired through reading with the same
fidelity as those suggested to him in the course of reflection or
conversation. In short, he possessed every kind of memory: that of
places, of names, of things, and of faces. Not only could he recall
objects at will, but he could see them again within himself under the
same conditions of position and light and colour as they had been at
the moment when he first perceived them. This same power applied
equally to the most intangible processes of the understanding. He could
remember, according to his own expression, not merely the exact spot
from which he had gleaned a thought in any given book, but also the
conditions of his own mind at far-off periods. By an undreamed-of
privilege, his memory could thus retrace the progress and entire life
history of his mind from the earliest acquired ideas down to the latest
ones to unfold, from the most confused down to the most lucid. His
brain, which while still young was habituated to the difficult
mechanism of the concentration of human forces, drew from this rich
storehouse a multitude of images admirable for their reality and
freshness, and which supplied him with mental nutriment through all his
periods of clear-sighted contemplation."

Such was the mental condition of Honore at the time when he was
regarded by his masters as a dullard, a mediocre pupil who might as
well be left to reap the consequences of his own laziness. Clad in his
grey uniform, ill shod and with hands red and swollen from chilblains,
he held aloof from his comrades, indifferent alike to their games and
their taunts. The ruddy colour of well-rounded cheeks, due to long
walks in the open air of the countryside around Tours, had disappeared
and his face was now as white and delicate as a young girl's, while his
eyes had become blacker and more mysterious than ever.

Honore de Balzac received visits from his parents at Easter and at the
time of the distribution of prizes. It was a joyous occasion, long
awaited by the boy, who retained the warmest affection for his family.
But his joy was short-lived. The pupil Balzac had won no prizes, he had
received black marks, he had done no work; consequently, instead of the
loving greeting that he expected, he was met only with words of
disappointment and censure; he was told that he did not appreciate the
sacrifices that were being made to educate him, he was idle and lazy;
they hoped that next year he would do better and at last give them some
little satisfaction.

Honore listened to these reproofs with bowed head, and probably he made
promises, in his desire to bring a smile to their faces and to receive
some of those endearments that he had hungered for, through long days
of solitude. But each year he again took up his interrupted dream, more
laboriously and more fiercely than before.

The college school at Vendome possesses a literary society whose
membership is confined to the Greats, and which gives performances of
scenes from tragedies and comedies, poetic recitations, etc. Honore
conceived the ambition to have some writing of his own produced by this
society. He practised rhyming, composed poems, and undertook an epic,
one line of which has remained famous,

"O Inca! luckless and unhappy king,"

for it made him the butt and by-word of the entire school. He was
nicknamed "The Poet," and laughed at for his formless efforts. The
director of the school, M. Mareschal, told him a fable, with the
charitable intent of turning him aside from his ambitions. There was
once upon a time a young linnet in a soft and downy nest; but the young
linnet longed for the free and open air and the blue sky. Its wings had
not yet grown, and yet the imprudent bird made up its mind to fly. What
happened? Why, simply that the young linnet fell from the tree in which
the nest was built, and hurt itself pitifully. Warning to poets who
presume too far upon their powers. Honore disregarded the fable, just
as he had disregarded reproofs, mockery and punishment, and burrowed
deeper than ever into the Oratorian library, in a sort of somber
phrensy. He neglected his studies and assigned tasks for the sake of
the secret and forbidden work that constituted what he called later on,
in Louis Lambert, his contraband studies. Although he continued to
write poetry, his mind as it ripened and gathered strength in its
singular solitude aspired to still loftier works, based upon
metaphysics and pure reason.

While his comrades translated Virgil and Demosthenes, he had begun to
write a Treatise upon the Will, a symbolic work which contained the
germs of his entire destiny. His fellow students, rendered curious by
his sustained application, continuing month after month, tried in vain
to steal glimpses over his shoulder, but Honore de Balzac would permit
no profane eye to fall upon his manuscript. He eluded their persistence
and entrusted the precious pages to a box which he could secure under
lock and key. A conspiracy was formed. They wanted to know what he had
been writing all this time with such serious intent that nothing could
take his attention from it. During a recreation period Honore was
copying, as usual, some extra lines as a punishment. A turbulent troupe
invaded the classroom and flung themselves upon the box which concealed
the manuscript. They wanted to know and they were going to know! Honore
defended the box energetically, for it was his heart and brain which
they wanted to know, it was all his knowledge and beautiful dreams that
they wished to lay bare to the light of day. There followed a veritable
battle around that little wooden casket. Attracted by the outcries of
the assailants, one of the masters, Father Haugoult, arrived in the
midst of the tumult. Balzac's crime was proclaimed, he was hiding
papers in his box and refused to show them. The master straightway
ordered this bad pupil to surrender these secret and forbidden
writings. Honore could not do otherwise than obey, for the box would be
broken open if he did not unlock it of his own accord; so, with
trembling hands, he despoiled himself of his treasures.

With careless fingers the master fumbled over the manuscript and with
an air of disdain and a voice of severity summed up the case against
this bad pupil:

"And it was for the sake of such nonsense that you have been neglecting
your duties!"

Honore held back his tears, profoundly hurt at this blow to his dreams
and his creative pride; but he retained a confused sense of injustice
and a conviction of the superior quality of his work.

He had now been at the Vendome school for more than six years, and had
given himself up to a prodigious amount of work, the extent of which no
one even suspected. He had grown thin and pallid and half dazed,
intoxicated with the ideas which whirled within his brain without
system or order. He seemed to be attacked by some grave malady, the
cause of which could not be explained. The director of the school, M.
Mareschal Duplessis, became anxious and wrote to the boy's parents to
come and take him out of school. They came post-haste. Honore was
apparently in a somnambulistic state, hardly answering the questions
put to him; his features were drawn and haggard, for he had been
carrying too heavy a burden of readings, feelings and thoughts. His
family could no more understand than his masters did the origin of his
strange disorder. And Mme. Sallambier, who had come to live with her
daughter at Tours, after the death of her husband in 1804, summed up
the opinion of the family:

"That is the state in which the schools give us back the fine children
that we send them!"

Chapter 2.

The Garret.

His dazed condition, however, soon passed away after Honore's removal
from the Vendome school. He was required to take long walks and play
outdoor games, in consequence of which his cheeks filled out and
regained their natural healthy colour. In appearance he was now a big
lad, naive and contented, who laughingly submitted to his sisters'
teasing. But he had put his ideas in order: the new and troubled wine
of books, to the intoxication of which he had succumbed, had clarified
itself; his intellect was now exceptionally profound and mature. But
his family was not willing to perceive this, and when by chance some
remark of his revealed it his mother would answer:

"Honore, you do not understand what you are saying!"

He did not try to dissuade her from this opinion, but consoled himself
by turning to Laure and Laurence and confiding his plans to them:

"You shall see! I am going to be a great man!"

The girls laughed at this somewhat heavy-witted brother, who was so
behind-hand in his studies, that although in the second form when he
left Vendome, he had to be put back into the third at Tours, in the
institution conducted by a M. Chretien. They greeted him with profound
bows and mock reverence, and, while he responded with a good-natured
smile, there was a certain pride mingled with it and an indefinable
secret certainty as to the future.

In 1814 Francois Balzac was appointed Director of the Commissary
Department of the First Military District, and the whole family removed
to Paris, settling in the Marais quarter. Honore continued his studies
at two different schools successively, first at the Lepitre school, in
the Rue Saint-Louis, and then at the establishment of Sganzer and
Bauzelin, in the Rue de Thorigny, where he continued to display the
same mediocrity and the same indifference regarding the tasks required
of him. Having finished the prescribed courses, he returned to his
family, which at this time was living at No. 40, Rue du Temple, and his
father decided that he should study law, supplementing the theoretical
instruction of the law school with practical lessons from an attorney
and notary. Honore was enrolled in the law school November 4, 1816, and
at the same time was intrusted to a certain M. de Merville, who
undertook to teach him procedure. He spent eighteen months in these
studies, and was then transferred to the office of M. Passez, where the
same lapse of time initiated him into the secrets of a notary's duties.
In the month of January, 1819, he passed his examinations in law.

During these three years the life of Honore de Balzac had been
extremely laborious. He faithfully attended the law school courses and
copied legal and notarial documents. Yet all this did not prevent him
from satisfying his literary tastes by attending the lectures given at
the Sorbonne by Villemain, Guizot and Cousin. Nor had he given up his
ambition to write and to become a great man, as he had predicted to his
sisters, Laure and Laurence. Mme de Balzac, severe mother that she was,
had regulated the employment of his time in such a way that he could
never be at liberty. His bed-chamber adjoined his father's study, and
he was required to go to bed at nine o'clock and rise at five, under
such strict surveillance that he could later write, in The Magic Skin,
"Up to the age of twenty-one I was bent beneath the yoke of a despotism
as cold as that of a monastic order." In the evening, after dinner, he
rendered an account of his day, and was then permitted to take a hand
at Boston or whist, at the card-table of his grandmother Mme.
Sallambier. The latter, sympathising with her grandson, who was so
strictly limited in money that he hardly had, from day to day, two
crowns that he could call his own, allowed herself to be beaten to the
extent of moderate sums, which Honore afterwards spent in the purchase
of new books.

In spite of this strict family discipline, Honore was at this time a
congenial companion, full of high spirits and eager to please. He was
delightfully ingenuous, and laughed heartily at jests at his own
expense, frankly admitting his own blunders. But at times he would draw
himself up in a haughty manner, half in fun and half in earnest: "Oh! I
have not forgotten that I am destined to be a great man!"

Between the copying of two writs Honore de Balzac feverishly continued
his literary efforts. He did not yet know how to make use of the
material he had already amassed, ideas drawn from books and
observations drawn from life; and he tried to measure his strength with
that of the classic writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. In overhauling Balzac's youthful papers, Champfleury has
recovered the greater part of these essays. They show the greatest
variety of interests. Here are five stanzas of wretched verse
concerning the book of Job, two stanzas on Robert-le-Diable, a
projected poem entitled, Saint Louis, the rough drafts of several
novels, Stenie or Philosophic Errors, Falthurne: the Manuscript of the
Abbe Savonati, translated from Italian by M. Matricante, Primary School
Principal, The Accursed Child, The Two Friends, a satiric sketch, The
Day's Work of a Man of Letters, Some Fools, and, furthermore, fragments
of a work on idolatry, theism and natural religion, a historic
monograph on the Vaudois, some outlined letters on Paris, literature,
and the general police system of the realm of letters. In his youthful
enthusiasms, Honore de Balzac shifted from Beaumarchais to Moliere,
from Voltaire to Rousseau, from Racine to Corneille, and, contrary to
his temperament, he drew up plans for violent and pathetic dramas,
suited to the taste of the day.

After he had passed his examinations in law, and the question arose of
a choice of career, his father announced to him the one which he had
decided Honore should adopt: he should be a notary. One of their
friends was willing to turn over his practice to him after a few years
of apprenticeship. It was an honourable position, remunerative and much
sought after. Honore de Balzac had arrived at the turning point of his
existence. Here were two avenues before him, the first that of a
notary, paved with gold, where he might reap honour, profit and esteem,
a straight and easy route, restful and without unknown dangers; the
second, lying outside of all the paths traced by society, and offering
to those who entered upon it only a nebulous future, full of perils,
uncertain combats, care, privation and want. It is a road which one
must hew out for oneself, through the obscure forest of art and ideas,
and many are the imprudent who have over-estimated their strength and
perished there in the midst of indifference and contempt.

Everything urged Balzac towards a notary's career. The family fortune
had diminished; the father had been placed upon the retired list, he
had lost money in investments, it was absolutely necessary to cut down
expenses, and Honore, as the oldest son, was expected to make a
position for himself rapidly. Why did he hesitate to come to a decision
and gratefully accept the proposition made by his father? The family
brought pressure to bear, yet Honore continued to say, "No, I will not
be a notary." It was considered nothing less than scandalous. His
mother reproached him for his ingratitude and warned him that he was
driving her to despair. She was ashamed of a son who repaid the
sacrifices they had made to educate him with such a want of proper
feeling. Yet Honore persisted in his attitude of revolt, Honore, who
throughout his childhood and youth had hitherto always submitted
docilely to all the rules and commands of the family. "No, I will not
be a notary,--I wish to become an author,--a celebrated author." They
laughed at him. What promise of talent had he ever given to justify
such absurd pretensions? Was it those wretched scribblings which had
formerly caused so much merriment that now inspired him with such
pride? Very well! he must simply get over it. His little absurdities
were all very funny, when he was at the age of frivolity and nonsense,
but now that he had come to years of discretion, it was time he learned
that life was not play: "So, my boy, you will be a notary." "No,"
repeats Honore, "I shall not." His black eyes flash, his thick lips
tremble, and he pleads his cause before the family tribunal, the cause
of his genius which no one else has recognised and which he himself
perceives only confusedly within him.

"From childhood I looked upon myself as foreordained to be a great
man," he wrote in The Magic Skin, "I struck my brow like Andre Chenier,
'There is something inside there!' I seemed to feel within me a thought
to be expressed, a system to be established, a science to be expounded.
I often thought of myself as a general, or an emperor. Sometimes I was
Byron, and then again I was nothing. After having sported upon the
pinnacle of human affairs, I discovered that all the mountains, all the
real difficulties still remained to be surmounted. The measureless
self-esteem which seethed within me, the sublime belief in destiny,
which perhaps evolves into genius if a man does not allow his soul to
be torn to tatters by contact with business interests, as easily as a
sheep leaves its wool on the thorns of the thicket through which it
passes,--all this was my salvation. I wished only to work in silence, to
crown myself with glory, the one mistress whom I hoped some day to

What he actually said lacked the precision and the form of these
phrases, but he was eloquent, and his father, who had no reason to
suppose that he had an imbecile for a son, was the first to yield, in a
measure, to his arguments. His mother still resisted, frightened at the
risks he must run, far from convinced by his words, and without
confidence in the future. Nevertheless, she was forced to yield. It was
decided to try an experiment,--but it was to be kept a close secret,
because their friends would never have finished laughing at such
parental weakness. Two years were accorded to Honore, within which to
give some real proof of his talent. Hereupon he became joyously
expansive, he was sure that he would triumph, that he would bring back
a masterpiece to submit to the judgment of his assembled family and
friends. But, since a failure was possible and they wished to guard
themselves from such a mortification, his acquaintances were to be told
that Honore was at Albi, visiting a cousin. Furthermore, in the hope of
bringing him back to the straight path, through the pinch of poverty,
his mother insisted that nothing more should be granted him than an
annual allowance of fifteen hundred francs (less than 300 dollars), and
that he should meet all his needs out of this sum. Honore would have
accepted a bare and penniless liberty with equal fervour and enthusiasm.

For the sake of economy, the Balzac family decided upon a provincial
life, and removed to Villeparisis, in the department of Seine-et-Oise,
where they secured a small yet comfortable bourgeois house. This was in
the early months of 1819; Honore, at the age of twenty-one, was left
alone in Paris.

They had installed him in a garret, high up under a mansarde roof, in
the Rue Lesdiguieres, No. 9, and it was he himself who chose this
lodging because of the ease with which he could reach the Arsenal
library during the daytime, while at night he would stay at home and

Ah, what a long, deep breath he drew, and how heartily he laughed his
silent, inward laugh, as he stood with crossed arms and let his black
eyes make inspection of his cramped and miserable dwelling. He was
free, free! Here was his desk, covered with brown leather, his ink and
pens, here were four chairs and a cupboard in which to hang his clothes
and store away a few plates and his precious coffee pot, there was his
monastic bed, and beyond it some shelves nailed to the wall to hold his
books. He sat down and dreamed, for he had just won his first victory,
he was no longer accountable to anyone in the world for each and every
hour of his life.

"I rejoiced," he has written in The Magic Skin, "at the thought that I
was going to live upon bread and milk, like a hermit in the Thebiade,
plunged in the world of books and ideas, in an inaccessible sphere, in
the midst of all the tumult of Paris, the sphere of work and of
silence, in which, after the manner of a chrysalis, I was about to
build myself a tomb, in order to emerge again brilliant and glorious."
Next, he calculates what his expenses were during this studious
retreat: "Three cents' worth of bread, two of milk, three of sausage
prevented me from dying of hunger and kept my mind in a lucid
condition... My lodgings cost me three cents a day, I burned three
cents' worth of oil per night, I did my own housework, I wore flannel
night-shirts, in order to cut down my laundry bill to two cents a day.
I warmed my room with coal instead of wood, for I found that the cost
divided by the number of days in the year never exceeded two cents. I
had a supply of suits, underclothing and shoes sufficient to last a
year, and I did not need to dress excepting to go to the libraries and
do a few errands. The sum total of these expenses amounted to only
eighteen cents, which left me two cents over for emergencies." Balzac
somewhat exaggerates his poverty and reduces his expenses to suit the
pleasure of his poetic fantasy, but undoubtedly it was a brusque
transition from the bourgeois comfort of family life to the austerity
of his garret.

Nevertheless, he was exuberant and joyous,--as irresponsible as a young
colt freshly turned out to pasture. His sister Laure, now living at
Villeparisis with her parents, continued to receive his confidences. He
wrote her the most minute details of his solitary existence,--jesting
and burlesquing in a vein of frank and familiar humour.

"You ask, my dear sister, for details of my domestic arrangements and
manner of living; well, here they are:

"I wrote directly to mamma, in regard to the cost of my purchases,--a
little subterfuge to get an increased allowance,--but now you are going
to tremble: it is much worse than a purchase,--I have acquired a servant!

"'A servant! What are you thinking of, my brother?'

"Yes, a servant. He has as odd a name as the servant of Dr. Nacquart
(Balzac's physician); his is called Tranquil; mine is called Myself. A
bad bargain, beyond question! Myself is lazy, awkward, and improvident.
When his master is hungry or thirsty, he sometimes has neither bread
nor water to offer him; he does not even know how to protect him from
the wind which blows in through door and window, as Tulou blows upon
his flute, but less agreeably.

"As soon as I am awake, I ring for Myself, and he makes up my bed. Then
he starts in sweeping, but he is far from expert in that line of


"'What do you wish, sir?'

"'Look at that spider's-web, where that big fly is buzzing loud enough
to deafen me! Look at the sweepings scattered under the bed! Look at
the dust on the window-panes, so thick that I can hardly see!'

"'But Monsieur, I do not see . . .'

"'Come, hold your tongue! No answering back!'

"Accordingly, he holds his tongue.

"He brushes my coat and he sweeps my room while he sings, and he sings
while he sweeps, laughs while he talks, and talks while he laughs. All
things considered, he is a good lad. He has carefully put away my linen
in the wardrobe beside the chimney, after first lining it with white
paper; out of six cents' worth of blue paper, with the border thrown
in, he has made me a screen. He has painted the room white, from the
book-shelves to the chimney. When he ceases to be satisfied,--a thing
which has not yet occurred,--I shall send him to Villeparisis, to get
some fruit, or else to Albi to see how my cousin is." (April 12, 1819.)

Honore de Balzac was intoxicated with his liberty, and revelled in it
to his heart's content. He could dream, idle, read or work, according
to his mood. Ideas swarmed in his brain, and every day he drafted
projects for tragedies, comedies, novels and operas. He did not know
which of all these to work out to a finish, for every one of them
seemed to him capable of being developed into a masterpiece. He brooded
over a possible novel which was to be called Coquecigrue, but he
doubted whether he had the ability to carry it out according to his
conception; so, after long hesitation, he decided in favour of a
classic drama in verse, Cromwell, which he considered the finest
subject in modern history. Honore de Balzac rhymed ahead desperately,
laboriously, for versification was not his strong point, and he had
infinite trouble in expressing, with the required dignity, the
lamentations of the Queen of England. His study of the great masters
hampered him: "I devour our four tragic authors. Crebillon reassures
me, Voltaire fills me with terror, Corneille transports me, and Racine
makes me throw down my pen." Nevertheless, he refused to renounce his
hopes. He had promised to produce a masterpiece, he was pledged to
achieve a masterpiece, and the price of it was to be a blessed

In the silence of his mansarde garret he worked, with his brow
congested, his head enveloped in a Dantesque cap, his legs wrapped in a
venerable Touraine great-coat, his shoulders guaranteed against the
cold, thanks to an old family shawl. He toiled over his alexandrian
lines, he sent fragments of his tragedy to Laure, asking her for
advice: "Don't flatter me, be severe." Yet he had high ambitions: "I
want my tragedy to be the breviary of peoples and kings!" he wrote. "I
must make my debut with a masterpiece, or wring my neck."

Meanwhile Cromwell did not wholly absorb him. Honore de Balzac was
already a fluent writer, full of clamorous ideas and schemes that each
day were born anew. Between two speeches of his play, he would sketch a
brief romance of the old-fashioned type, draft the rhymes of a comic
opera, which he would later decide to give up, because of the
difficulty of finding a composer, hampered as he was by his isolation.
In addition to his literary occupations, he took an anxious interest in
politics. "I am more than ever attached to my career," he wrote to his
sister Laure, "for a host of reasons, of which I will give you only
those that you would not be likely to guess of your own accord. Our
revolutions are very far from being ended; considering the way that
things are going, I foresee many a coming storm. Good or bad, the
representative system demands immense talent; big writers will
necessarily be sought after in political crises, for do they not
supplement their other knowledge with the spirit of observation and a
profound understanding of the human heart?

"If I should become a shining light (which, of course, is precisely the
thing that we do not yet know), I may some day achieve something
besides a literary reputation, and add to the title of 'great writer'
that of great citizen. That is an ambition which is also tempting!
Nothing, nothing but love and glory can ever fill the vast recesses of
my heart, within which you are cherished as you deserve to be."

In order to enlighten himself in regard to the legislative elections,
he appealed to one of his correspondents, M. Dablin, a rich hardware
merchant and friend of the family, who had often come to the aid of his
slender purse. He asked him for a list of the deputies, and inquired
what their political opinions were and how the parties would be divided
in the new Chamber, and when he did not receive as prompt an answer as
he had expected, he repeated his questions with a certain show of
impatience. At this period of isolation, M. Dablin was also his
factotum and his mentor. Balzac commissioned him to buy a Bible,
carefully specifying that the text must be in French as well as Latin;
he wished to read the Sicilian Vespers; he felt it his duty, as a
simple soldier in the ranks of literature, to attend a performance of
Cinna, by the great General Corneille, from the safe seclusion of a
screened box, and he would be glad to see Girodet's Endymion at the
Exposition, "some morning when there is no one else there," in order
not to betray his incognito!

How happy he was during those hours of liberty that were never to
return and which he was destined to remember with unparalleled emotion,
in his subsequent inferno of ceaseless toil! He was utterly
irresponsible, he made an orgy out of a melon or a jar of preserves
sent him from Villeparisis, and he decorated his garret with flowers,
which were the gift of Laure, his beloved confidante. He had his dreams
and his hours of exultation, when he listened to the mingled sounds of
Paris, which rose faintly to his dormer window during the beautiful
golden evenings of springtime, evenings that seemed to young and
ambitious hearts so heavy-laden with ardent melancholy and hope; and he
would cry aloud: "I realised today that wealth does not make happiness,
and that the time that I am spending here will be a source of sweet
memories! To live according to my fantasy, to work according to my
taste and convenience, to do nothing at all if I so choose, to build
beautiful air-castles for the future, to think of you and know that you
are happy, to have Rousseau's Julie for my mistress, La Fontaine and
Moliere for my friends, Racine for my master and the cemetery of Pere
Lachaise for my promenade! . . . Oh! if all this could last forever!"

And his twenty years, burning with the fever of vast desires, betray
themselves in a single exclamation: "To be celebrated and to be loved!"

But there were times when he left his garret at nightfall, mingled with
the crowd and there exercised those marvellous faculties of his which
verged upon prodigy. He has described them in a short tale, Facino
Cano, and they appear to have been an exceptional gift. "I lived
frugally," he writes; "I had accepted all the conditions of monastic
life, so essential to those who toil. Even when the weather was fine, I
rarely allowed myself a short walk along the Boulevard Bourdon. One
passion alone drew me away from my studious habits; yet was not this
itself a form of study? I used to go to observe the manners and customs
of suburban Paris, its inhabitants and their characteristics. Being as
ill-clad and as careless of appearances as the labourers themselves, I
was not mistrusted by them, I was able to mingle with groups of them,
to watch them concluding their bargains and quarrelling together at the
hour when they quit their work. In my case, observation had already
become intuitive, it penetrated the soul without neglecting the body,
or rather it grasped so well the exterior details that it straightway
passed above and beyond them; it gave me the faculty of living the life
of the individual on whom it was exerted, by permitting me to
substitute myself for him, just as the dervish in the Thousand and One
Nights took the body and soul of those persons over whom he pronounced
certain words.

"To throw off my own habits, to become some one else than myself,
through an intoxication of the moral faculties, and to play this game
at will, such was my way of amusing myself. To what do I owe this gift?
Is it a form of second sight? Is it one of those qualities, the abuse
of which might lead to madness? I have never sought the sources of this
power; I possess it and make use of it, that is all."

Some evenings he would not go out, because ideas were surging in his
brain; but if the rebellious rhymes refused to come he would descend to
the second floor and play some harmless games with certain "persons,"
or it might be a hand at boston, for small stakes, at which he
sometimes won as much as three francs. His resounding laughter could be
heard, echoing down the staircase as he remounted to his garret,
exulting over his extensive winnings. Nothing, however, could turn him
aside from his project of writing Cromwell, and he set himself a date
on which he should present his tragedy to the members of his family
gathered together for the purpose of hearing him read it. After idling
away long days at the Jardin des Plantes or in Pere-Lachaise, he shut
himself in, and wrote with that feverish zeal which later on he himself
christened "Balzacian"; revising, erasing, condensing, expanding,
alternating between despair and enthusiasm, believing himself a genius,
and yet within the same hour, in the face of a phrase that refused to
come right, lamenting that he was utterly destitute of talent; yet
throughout this ardent and painful effort of creation, over which he
groaned, his strength of purpose never abandoned him, and in spite of
everything he inflexibly pursued his ungoverned course towards the goal
which he had set himself. At last he triumphed, the tragedy was
finished, and, his heart swelling with hope, Honore de Balzac presented
to his family the Cromwell on which he relied to assure his liberty.

The members of the family were gathered together in the parlour at
Villeparisis, for the purpose of judging the masterpiece and deciding
whether the rebel who had refused to be a notary had not squandered the
time accorded him in which to give proof of his future prospects as an
author. The father and mother were there, both anxious, the one
slightly sceptical, yet hoping that his son would reveal himself as a
man of talent; the other as mistrustful as ever, but at the same time
much distressed to see her son so thin and sallow, for during those
fifteen months of exile he had lost his high colour and his eyes were
feverish and his lips trembling, in spite of his fine air of assurance.
Laurence was there, young, lively and self-willed; and Laure also,
sharing the secret of the tragedy and sighing and trembling on behalf
of Honore, her favourite brother. It was a difficult audience to
conquer, for they had also invited for that evening such friends as
knew of the test imposed upon the oldest son; and these same friends,
while perhaps regarding it as a piece of parental weakness,
nevertheless now played the role of judges.

"At the end of April, 1820," relates Mme Surville, "he arrived at my
father's home with his finished tragedy. He was much elated, for he
counted upon scoring a triumph. Accordingly, he desired that a few
friends should be present at the reading. And he did not forget the one
who had so strangely underestimated him. (A friend, who judged him
solely on the strength of his excellent handwriting, declared, when the
question arose of choosing a position for him, that he would never make
anything better than a good shipping clerk.)

"The friends arrived, and the solemn test began. But the reader's
enthusiasm rapidly died out as he discovered how little impression he
was making and noted the coldness or the consternation on the faces
before him. I was one of those who shared in the consternation. What I
suffered during that reading was a foretaste of the terrors I was
destined to experience at the opening performances of Vautrin and

"With Cromwell he had not yet avenged himself upon M. -- (the friend of
whom mention has just been made); for, blunt as ever, the latter
pronounced his opinion of the tragedy in the most uncompromising terms.
Honore protested, and declined to accept his judgment; but his other
auditors, though in milder terms, all agreed that the work was
extremely faulty.

"My father voiced the consensus of opinion when he proposed that they
should have Cromwell read by some competent and impartial authority. M.
Surville, engineer of the Ourcq Canal, who was later to become Honore's
brother-in-law, suggested a former professor of his at the Polytechnic
School. (Mlle. Laure de Balzac was married in May, 1820, one month
after the reading of Cromwell, to M. Midy de Greneraye Surville,
engineer of Bridges and Highways.)

"My father accepted this dean of literature as decisive judge.

"After a conscientious reading, the good old man declared that the
author of Cromwell had better follow any other career in the world than
that of literature."

Such was the judgment passed upon this masterpiece which had been
intended to be "the breviary of peoples and of kings!" Yet these
successive condemnations in no way shook Balzac's confidence in his own
genius. He wished to be a great man, and in spite of all predictions to
the contrary he was going to be a great man. No doubt he re-read his
tragedy in cold blood and laughed at it, realising all its emphatic and
bombastic mediocrity. But it was a dead issue, and now with a new
tensity of purpose he looked forward to the works which he previsioned
in the nebulous and ardent future; no setback could turn him aside from
the path which he had traced for himself.

Chapter 3.

His Apprenticeship.

The precious hours of liberty, in the mansarde garret, had taken
flight. After fifteen months of independence, study and work, Honore
returned to the family circle, summoned home by his mother. She
desired, no doubt, to care for him and restore his former robust health
which had been undermined by a starvation diet, but she also wished to
keep him under strict surveillance, since privation had failed to bend
his will and the disaster of his tragedy had not turned him aside from
his purpose. Honore, unconquered by defeat, had asked that they should
assure him an annual allowance of fifteen hundred francs, in order that
he might redeem his failure at an early date. This request was refused,
and nothing was guaranteed him beyond food and lodging, absolutely
nothing, unless he submitted to their wishes.

What years of struggle those were! Honore de Balzac refused to despair
of his destiny, and he valiantly entered upon the hardest of all his
battles, without support and without encouragement, in the midst of
hostile surroundings. He used to go from Villeparisis to Paris, seeking
literary gatherings, knocking at the doors of publishers, exhausting
himself in the search for some opening. And how could he work under the
paternal roof? Nowhere in the house could he find the necessary quiet,
and he was practically looked upon as an incapable, an outcast who
would be a disgrace to his family. He himself felt the precariousness
of his present situation, and in consequence became taciturn, since he
could not communicate to the others his own unwavering faith in the
future, and he was forced to admit that, at the age of twenty-two, he
had not yet given them any earnest of future success.

In order to demonstrate that it is not impossible to live by
literature, and more especially for the sake of establishing his
material independence, he was ready to accept any sort of a task
whatever. And all the more so, since his mother had not given up hope
of making him accept one of those fine careers in which an industrious
young fellow may win esteem and fortune. The "spectre of the daily
grind" stared him in the face, and although he had escaped a notary's
career, through the death of the man to whose practice he was to have
succeeded, they gave him to understand that the sombre portals of a
government position might open to him.

"Count me among the dead," he wrote to his sister Laure, who, since her
marriage, had resided at Bayeux, "if they clap that extinguisher over
me. I should turn into a trick horse, who does his thirty or forty
rounds per hour, and eats, drinks and sleeps at the appointed moment.
And they call that living!--that mechanical rotation, that perpetual
recurrence of the same thing!"

In spite of a few short trips, and occasional brief sojourns in Paris,
in the one foothold which his father had retained there, he was
constrained by necessity to remain beneath the family roof-tree. They
gave him his food and his clothing, but no money. He suffered from
this, and groaned and grumbled as if he were in a state of slavery.
Nevertheless, his unquenchable good humour and his determination to
make his name famous and to acquire a fortune saved him from the
impotence of melancholy. He drew spirited sketches of the family and
sent them to Laure, to prove to her that he was resigned.

He admired his father's impassiveness in the midst of all the confusion
of the household, like an Egyptian pyramid, indifferent to the
hurricane. The fine old man who expected to live upwards of a hundred
years and share with the State, as last survivor, the profits of a
Lafarge tontine policy in which he held a share, a sum amounting to
millions, studied the writings of the Chinese because they were famous
for their longevity. He had lost nothing of his serenity nor of his
caustic wit, and Honore confessed that he himself had very nearly
choked, laughing at some of his jests. Nevertheless he was not a father
in whom one could confide, and the son, isolated and forced to conceal
his feelings, found relief only in his brief periods of work in Paris,
and in observing the habits and manners of the family circle. He
witnessed the preparations for the marriage of his sister, Laurence, to
M. de Montzaigle, visiting inspector of the city imposts of Paris, and
he drew this picturesque portrait of his future brother-in-law: "He is
somewhat taller than Surville; his features are quite ordinary, neither
homely nor handsome; his mouth is widowed of the upper teeth, and there
is no reason for assuming that it will contract a second marriage,
since mother nature forbids it; this widowhood ages him considerably,
but on the whole he is not so bad--as husbands go. He writes poetry, he
is a marvellous shot; if he fires twenty times, he brings down not less
than twenty-six victims! He has been in only two tournaments, and has
taken the prize both times; he is equally strong in billiards; he
rhymes, he hunts, he shoots, he drives, he . . . , he . . . , he . . .
And you feel that all these accomplishments, carried to the highest
degree in one and the same man, have given him great presumption; that
is the trouble with him up to a certain point, and that certain point,
I am very much afraid, is the highest degree in the thermometer of

Honore admitted, however, that his sister Laurence would be happy in
her marriage and that M. de Montzaigle was a thorough gentleman; but it
was not after this fashion that he himself understood marriage and
love: "Presents, gifts, futile objects, and two, three or four months
of courtship do not constitute happiness," he wrote; "that is a flower
which grows apart and is very difficult to find."

Meanwhile Honore de Balzac, tired of the discomfort of trying to work
at Villeparisis, between his ever-distrustful mother and his indulgent
but sceptical father, hired a room in Paris, no one knows by what
means. There he shut himself in, and there he composed the novels of
his youthful period, having for the time being put aside his dreams of
glory. To earn money and to be free, that was his immediate necessity.
Later on, when he had an assured living, he would be able to undertake
those great works, the vague germs of which he even then carried within

His repeated efforts at last bore fruit; he found collaborators, namely
Poitevin de Saint-Alme, who signed himself "Villargle," Amedee de Bast,
and Horace Raisson, and then a publisher, Hubert, who undertook to
bring out his first novel. It was issued in 1822, in four volumes,
under the somewhat cumbrous title of The Heiress of Birague, a Story
based upon the Manuscripts of Don Rage, Ex-Prior of the Benedictines,
and published by his two Nephews, A. de Villargle and Lord R'Hoone.
This work brought him in eight hundred francs in the form of
long-period promissory notes, which he was obliged to discount at a
usurious rate, besides sharing the profits with his collaborator.
Nevertheless the fact that he had earned money renewed his faith in his
approaching deliverance, and he uttered a prolonged and joyous shout.
He informed Laure of his success, and suggested that she should
recommend his novel as a masterpiece to the ladies of Bayeux, promising
that he would send her a sample copy on condition that she should not
lend it to any one for fear that it might injure his publisher by
decreasing the sales. Straightway he began to build an edifice of
figures, calculating what his literary labours would bring him in year
by year, and feeling that he already had a fortune in his grasp. This
was the starting point of those fantastic computations which he
successively drew up for every book he wrote, computations that always
played him false, but that he continued to make unweariedly to the day
of his death.

From this time on, Honore de Balzac devoted himself for a time, with a
sort of feverish zeal, to the trade of novel-maker for the circulating
libraries. He realised all the baseness of it, but, he argued, would he
not be indebted to it for the preservation of his talent? The Heiress
of Birague was followed by Jean-Louis, or the Foundling Girl, published
by Hubert in four volumes, for which he received thirteen hundred
francs. His price was going up, and his productive energy increased in
proportion. Still working for Hubert, he followed Jean-Louis with
Clotilde de Lusignan, or the Handsome Jew, "a manuscript found in the
archives of Provence, and published by Lord R'Hoone," in four volumes.
It brought him in two thousand, a princely sum!

Henceforward, nothing could stop him on his road to success, and he had
no doubt that he would soon earn the twenty thousand francs which were
destined to form the basis of his fortune. He changed publishers and,
in 1822, he brought out through Pollet, within the space of a few
months, The Centenarian or the Two Beringhelds, by Horace de
Saint-Aubin, in eight volumes, and The Vicar of the Ardennes, which
appeared over the same pseudonym, and for which he had requested the
collaboration of his sister and his brother-in-law, Surville.

This was a year of unbridled production. Honore lived in a state of
exaltation; one of his letters to Laure was signed, "writer for the
public and French poet at two francs a page." He had almost realised
his dream of liberty. But when this fever of writing chapter after
chapter, novel after novel, had cooled off, he realised what wretched
stuff they were, and he regretted the precious hours of his youth that
they were costing him, because of his impatience to prove his talent by
results. He admitted this to his sister, frankly and with dignity, in
the full confidence of his inborn gift.

"At all events, I am beginning to feel and estimate my strength. To
know what I am worth, and yet sacrifice the first flower of my ideas on
such stupidities! It is heart-breaking! Oh, if I only had the cash, I
would find my niche fast enough and I would write books that might last
a while!

"My ideas are changing so fast that before long my whole method will
change! In a short time the difference between the me of today and the
me of tomorrow will be the difference between a youth of twenty and a
man of thirty. I think and think, and my ideas are ripening; I realise
that nature has treated me kindly in giving me the heart and brain that
I have. Believe in me, dear sister, for I have need of some one who
believes, though I have not given up the hope of being somebody one of
these days. I realise now that Cromwell did not even have the merit of
being an embryo; and as to my novels, they are not worth a damn; and,
what is more, they are no incentive to do better."

This letter was dated from Villeparisis, on a certain Tuesday evening,
in the year 1822; Honore de Balzac was twenty-three years old; he read
his destiny clearly, but he was fated to achieve it only after
surmounting the hardest obstacles, by "the sweat of toil," to borrow
his own vigorous phrase. While waiting for that desired epoch, when he
would be able to be himself and nothing else, he was forced to continue
to turn the millstone that ground out the worthless grain. In 1823, his
productive power seems to have fallen off, either because he had
exhausted the patience of his publishers, or for some other reason.
During that year he published nothing excepting The Last Fairy or the
New Wonderful Lamp, brought out by Barba.

After the hopes begotten in 1822 and his amazing effort of rapid
production, Balzac once more encountered his old difficulty of placing
his stories, and for nearly three years he waged a fruitless fight. In
order to disarm his mother and give proof of his good will, he gave
lessons to his brother Henri and to young de Berny, the son of a
neighbouring family in Villeparisis; he exhausted himself in efforts
that for the most part were in vain. Nothing, however, broke down his
courage. He succeeded in 1824 in publishing through Buissot Annette and
the Criminal, in four volumes, which was a continuation of The Vicar of
the Ardennes, and was confiscated by the police, and then through
Delongchamps an Impartial History of the Jesuits. Finally Urbain Canel
bought his Wann-Chlore in 1825, and that was the last of the novels of
his youth.

It is interesting to ask, how much headway Honore de Balzac had made
since the days of his vast enthusiasm over Cromwell, in his garret in
the Rue Lesdiguieres. Had he drawn any nearer to fame, that "pretty
woman whom he did not know," and whose kisses he so eagerly desired
during his long nights of labour and of dreams? He has descended into
the literary arena with valiant heart, as a soldier willing to serve in
the ranks, yet cherishing the legitimate hope of earning promotion. He
had not shrunk from the humblest tasks, and yet, after three years of
struggle, he found himself back at the starting point. His novels had
brought him neither fame nor fortune, and he had not even acquired the
leisure that was necessary to him before he could achieve those works
which seethed and teemed within his brain, filling it with the nebulous
and confused elements of an unborn world. What was he to do?

Honore de Balzac refused to admit defeat, and, with a promptness of
decision which belongs rather to men of action than to the
contemplative type, he turned his attention to business and commercial
enterprises. He had none of the prejudices of men of letters, who
refuse to recognise that there are any employments worthy of their
faculties outside of literature. Little he cared as to the means,
provided he could lay the foundation of his fortunes, and assure his
independence. Novels had not brought him material emancipation. Very
well then! he would abandon them without regret. Nevertheless, he would
preserve the memory of them, and recognise that they had been useful as
a literary exercise. In fact, he said to Champfleury, in 1848, "I wrote
seven novels, simply as a training. One to break myself in to dialogue;
one to learn how to write description; one to learn how to group my
characters; one as a study in composition, etc." Although Balzac never
publicly acknowledged these works of his youth, they had their share in
his intellectual development; and, because of this claim, they should
not be wholly set aside from the rest of his gigantic work. In any
case, they are by no means destitute of merit.

Relinquishing his career as man of letters, from which he could not
make a living, Honore de Balzac flung himself into business with the
same activity that he had applied to the production of novels. As early
as 1822, he had entertained various business schemes, and he would have
accepted the appointment of deputy supervisor of the construction work
on the Saint-Martin canal, under his brother-in-law, Surville, if he
had been able to give the required security. But he had at his command
only five hundred francs, which was an inadequate sum. The attraction
of business, which was one of the characteristics of his temperament,
enticed him into the most chimerical adventures, although the first
business connection which he formed, and which was in the nature of
publishing and bookselling, resulted in giving him the financial start
which he so ardently desired.

Chapter 4.

In Business.

Having started in to be a "literary man-of-all-work," to borrow the
phrase of Hippolyte Auger, his collaborator on the Feuilleton des
Journaux Politiques, who was closely in touch with him in those early
days, Honore de Balzac had formed relations with the second rate
papers, the publishers of novels, the promoters of all sorts of works
that might lend themselves to speculating purposes in the publishing
line. It was undoubtedly due to the chance demands of literary work
that he found himself flung headlong into business. He had reached the
point where he was ready to accept any proposition of a promising
nature, in his eagerness to become free, to escape the strict
surveillance of his family and the reproaches of his mother, and
furthermore he was urged into this path by a certain Mme. de Berny, a
woman who loved him and who wished to see him become a great man, for
she alone recognised his genius.

How and when had they become acquainted? Perhaps at Paris, since the de
Bernys dwelt at No. 3 Rue Portefoin, and the Balzacs at No. 17, perhaps
later on at Villeparisis, as a result of the neighbourly relations
between the two families. However this may be, Mme. de Berny exerted a
profound and decisive influence upon Honore de Balzac; she was his
first love and, it should be added, the only real one, if we may judge
by the length of time that he cherished an unchanging memory of her.

Laure Antoinette Hinner was born at Versailles on May 24th, 1777; she
was the daughter of a German harpist who had been summoned from Wetzlar
to the Court of France, and her mother was Louise Guelpee de Laborde,
lady-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette. She had no less personages than
the king and queen for her god-father and god-mother, and she grew up
within sound of the festivities of the Trianon, in an atmosphere of
frivolity and exaggerated refinements. Her mother, left a widow when
the child was barely ten years old, took a second husband, Francois
Regnier de Jarjayes, a fervent royalist, involved in all the plots
which had for their object the deliverance of the royal family. After
the brilliant days of court life, she lived through the tragic hours of
the Revolution, in the midst of conspirators, and in an atmosphere of
restlessness and anxiety. In 1793, Laure Hinner, at the age of fifteen
years and ten months, was married at Livry to Gabriel de Berny, who was
himself only twenty. The union seems to have resulted unhappily, in
spite of the fact that it was blessed with nine children; the
sensibility of the wife and her warm-hearted tenderness accorded ill
with the cold and reserved character of the husband.

When Balzac entered into his close friendship with Mme. de Berny, the
latter was forty-five years of age and a grandmother. In spite of her
years and her many children, she was still beautiful, on the order of
tender and mature beauty. Balzac borrowed certain traits from her for
the noblest heroines in his works; and she served successively as model
for Mme. Firmiani, for Mme. de Mortsauf in The Lily in the Valley, and
for Pauline in Louis Lambert; and he spoke constantly of her in his
correspondence with Mme. de Hanska, yet always with a sort of reverence
and passionate gratitude.

She was a woman of almost clairvoyant intelligence, instinctive and
unerring, and was endowed with rich qualities of heart and brain, which
she had never had a chance to use. She treasured letters and souvenirs,
and she held in reserve a store of tenderness of a rather maternal
sort. Balzac, isolated in the midst of his own family, thrust back upon
himself and suffering from the need of expansion, surrendered himself
utterly to this new friend, with the impetuosity born of happiness and
freedom. She was his confidential adviser, his comforter and his
friend. She listened to his dreams, she shared the elation of his
ambitions, she espoused his projects and fostered his genius; and when
he was too cruelly wounded in the struggle, she consoled him with words
of soothing tenderness.

It caused Mme. de Berny actual suffering to see her young friend
toiling for sheer mercenary ends, and squandering the precious years of
his youth in writing novels that were frankly hack-work; and it hurt
her also to see the condition of financial servitude in which his
family kept him. While the father, Francois de Balzac, watched his
son's efforts with indulgent irony, for he held that novels were to the
Europeans what opium is to the Chinese, and while the mother, irritated
at the rebellion of her first-born, maintained her attitude of hostile
distrust, Mme. de Berny alone had confidence in his future,
notwithstanding that appearances were all against him.

Mme. de Berny and Honore de Balzac undoubtedly put their heads
together, to seek for some means of bettering a situation so painful
and humiliating for a young man of twenty-five. Accordingly, when
chance seemed to offer them a good opportunity, they hastened to take
advantage of it.

The publisher, Urbain Canel, had conceived the idea of bringing out the
French classics in single compact octavo volumes, to be issued in
installments. He was to begin this collection with a Lafontaine, for
which he had ordered a preface from Balzac, who had previously done
work for him. We may well believe that he at the same time enlarged
upon his projects and that he aroused Balzac's interest by dwelling
upon the magnitude, the novelty and the large remuneration of his
enterprise. It was a question of nothing more nor less than the
production of an entire library. Balzac's imagination awoke to the
possibilities of this scheme which seemed to him a colossal one,
capable of laying the foundations of numerous fortunes. He calculated
what he might make out of it personally, and decided that at last
destiny had deigned to smile upon him. Canel was far richer in hopes
for the success of his project than in money to carry it out, and he
was ready to accept all offers of co-operation, if not actually to
solicit them. When Mme. de Berny was informed of the scheme by Balzac,
she did not try to dissuade him from joining in it, but, on the
contrary, devoted and trusting friend that she was, offered to aid him
by placing a considerable sum of money at his disposal.

In April, 1825, a partnership for the purpose of publishing French
classics, and more especially a Lafontaine in one octavo volume, to be
issued in installments, was formed between Messrs. Urbain Canel,
publisher, Charles Carron, physician, Honore de Balzac, man of letters,
and Benet de Montcarville, retired officer. It was not long before the
partners quarrelled, and M. Hanotaux has published a letter (La
Jeunesse de Balzac: Balzac Imprimeur, 1825-1828 (The Youth of Balzac:
Balzac as Printer), by G. Hanotaux and G. Vicaire, Paris, 1903.),
written by M. Carron, in which the latter complains of Balzac's
arrogant tone, while at the same time apologising to him for having
called him a liar. At all events, when a second partnership was formed
later in that same month of April, with a view to the publishing of a
Moliere, to form a part of the same collection as the Lafontaine, the
only members left were Canel and Balzac, who agreed each to put up half
the capital and divide the profits and losses equally.

Balzac had taken his role quite seriously, and the first partnership
was barely formed when he set off for Alencon, in order to make
arrangements with a certain engraver, Godart fils, who had been chosen
to reproduce the drawings by Deveria, with which the collection was to
be illustrated. He was the most active of all the partners;
nevertheless, as business ventures, the Lafontaine and the Moliere were
very far from profitable. The volumes were to be issued in four parts
at five francs each, making the cost of the complete work in each case
twenty francs. But when the installments of the Lafontaine were issued,
during the months of April and May, in an edition of three thousand
copies, they met with no success. Urbain Canel declared that he could
go no further with the venture, the partners withdrew, and Balzac was
left alone to bear the whole burden of the enterprise. His share of the
capital had been furnished him by a certain M. d'Assouvillez, and, in
order to buy out Canel's interest, Mme. de Berny endorsed notes to the
amount of nine thousand, two hundred and five francs, between May 15,
1825, and August 31, 1826. Altogether, the net result of the
transaction was a loss to Balzac of fifteen thousand francs. Being
unable to continue by himself the publication of these two works, he
sold the Lafontaine to Baudouin, who paid for it by transferring to
Balzac a number of uncollectable claims. One of these, amounting to
28,840 francs, was a debt owed by a bookseller in Reims, named Fremeau,
who had failed and who cleared off this obligation by turning over to
Balzac an entire shopful of battered old volumes, out of date and

Did this first disastrous experience turn him aside from further
business ventures? Not at all. Balzac was by nature dogged and
persevering. Hope illuminated his calculations; he found the best of
reasons to explain the failure of an edition of classic authors; but he
conjured up still better ones for assailing new enterprises. The
edition of the classics had not been a success,--well, no matter! He
would establish himself as a printer. In the course of his
peregrinations among the printing-houses he had made the acquaintance
of a young foreman named Barbier, in whose welfare he had become
interested and whose special ability he had recognised. He decided to
take him into partnership.

Balzac's father, when asked to help his son to establish himself in
business, gave a guarantee of thirty thousand francs, which represented
the invested capital, that had yielded the interest of fifteen hundred
francs, the sum allowed him at an earlier period. Mme. de Berny
interested herself in the proposed venture, and so did M.
d'Assouvillez, the former silent partner. Balzac acquired the
establishment of Laurens Sr., Printer, No. 17, Rue des
Marais-Saint-Germain, now Rue Visconti, at the cost of thirty thousand
francs, plus twelve thousand francs as an indemnity to Barbier, because
he was resigning from an assured position, and fifteen thousand francs
for equipments. On the 12th of April, 1826, he sent in an application
to the Minister of the Interior, and, thanks to two letters of
recommendation from M. de Berny, counsellor to the Royal Court of
Paris, he obtained his license on January 1st, as successor to
Jean-Joseph Laurens, retired.

What was Balzac's life during the two years that he practised the
profession of printer? In his contract of partnership with Barbier he
had reserved for himself the offices of bookkeeper and cashier, signing
papers and soliciting orders, while his associate was to attend to the
technical end of the enterprise. In order to feed his presses with
work, Balzac counted upon his energy, his will power, his spirit of
initiative and his tact; he mentally recapitulated the number of
publishers with whom he had had relations, and who beyond a doubt would
entrust their work to him. The printing house was located on the ground
floor of a distinctly gloomy building in the Rue des Marais, a street
so narrow that two carriages found it difficult to pass each other.

When he had finished his round of calls upon clients, he watched the
busy labour of his workmen in the fetid atmosphere of the composing
room, and he swelled with joy as though he himself were the motor power
of the various parts of a living organism. Nothing discouraged him,
neither physical fatigue nor the mental strain of carrying on so huge
an enterprise. Then, when it seemed as though he was on the point of
bending beneath the burden, a secret consolation caused him once again
to square his shoulders. On the floor above the printing house he had
fitted up a little apartment quite luxuriously, and there each day he
received Mme. de Berny, who came to bring him the comfort of brave and
tender words, which seemed to him to open the golden gates of the
future. For Mme. de Berny these were the hours in which she could lay
bare her ardent and sensitive soul, while for Balzac they were a whole
education in sentiment and social graces at the hands of a woman rich
in sensibility and in memories. At this period she exerted a most
effective influence over the ideas of her young friend; she pictured to
him the conditions of fashionable life prior to the Revolution, with
its great ladies, its court intrigues, and its mysteries of passion and
ambition; and she imbued him with monarchical principles. But, above
all else, it was she herself who was the life-giving flame which fired
his genius. All of Balzac's life seems to have been impregnated with
these first lessons received from her, and he could never recall
without emotion the aid that he received from Mme. de Berny during
those early years of hard struggles. In 1837 he wrote as follows to
Mme. Hanska:

"I should be very unjust if I did not say that from 1823 to 1833 an
angel sustained me through that hideous battle. Mme. de B..., although
married, has been like an angel to me. She has been mother, sweetheart,
family, friend and counsellor; she has formed the writer, she has
consoled the man, she has created my taste; she has wept and laughed
with me like a sister, she has come day after day and every day to lull
my sorrows, like a beneficent sleep. She has done even more, because,
although her finances are in control of her husband, she has found
means to lend me no less than forty-five thousand francs, and I paid
back the last six thousand francs in 1836, including five per cent.
interest, of course. But it was only gradually that she came to speak
of my debt. Without her I should certainly have died. She often became
aware that I had had nothing to eat for several days; and she provided
for all my needs with angelic goodness. She encouraged me in that pride
which preserves a man from all baseness, and which today my enemies
reproach me for, as being a foolish self-satisfaction, and which
Boulanger has perhaps somewhat exaggerated in his portrait of me." (The
original of this portrait of Honore de Balzac is at the chateau of
Wierzchownia; there is a copy of it in the Palace at Versailles.)

The illusions which Balzac cherished of the rapid success of his
printing house vanished very soon, and from the outset he found himself
facing the realities of a difficult situation. In spite of all his
efforts, clients remained rare, and there was no sort of order either
in the business organisation or in the financial management. M. Gabriel
Vicaire has made an investigation to determine how many works issued
from Balzac's presses, and he has been unable to count more than one
hundred and fifty, or thereabouts, which was a small number, during a
space of two years, for an important and well-equipped printing house.
The first order that he filled was a druggist's prospectus, Anti-mucous
Pills for Longevity, or Seeds of Life, for Cure, a Parisian druggist,
of No. 77, Rue Saint-Antoine; it was a four-leaf 8vo pamphlet, dated
July 29, 1826. The average orders seem to have been commonplace enough;
nevertheless, Balzac did print a number of interesting books for
various publishers; among others, The Historical and Literary
Miscellanies of M. Villemain, for Ladvocat, and La Jacquerie, Feudal
Scenes, followed by the Carvajal Family, a drama by the "author of the
dramatic works of Clara Gazul" (Merimee), for Brissot-Thivars. He was
also the printer for two periodicals, the Gymnase, for Carnot and
Hippolyte Auger, the editors of that review of social tendencies, and
the Annales Romantiques, for Urbain Canel. The latter was the publisher
of the younger literary school, and brought out in his magazine the
works of Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, Benjamin Constant,
Chateaubriand, Delavigne, etc. Are we to suppose that business cares
had turned Balzac aside from all his literary projects? And what must
his feelings have been when he read on pages still smelling of fresh
ink names already familiar, and some of them long since famous, while
he himself was still only a simple printer? There is reason for
thinking that his business venture, with all its cares and anxieties,
never interrupted the silent but fabulous labour that was shaping
itself inside his brain, and that when he saw new authors becoming
famous he merely said, "My day will come." Meanwhile, he yielded to an
influence absolutely opposed to his natural bent, and contributed to
the Annales two poems perfectly romantic in tone: an Ode to a Young
Girl and Verses Written in an Album.

But in reality Balzac never had the gift of versification, even in his
youth; and later on, when he had need of poems for his Human Comedy, he
applied to his friends, Theophile Gautier, Mme. de Girardin, or
Lassailly, merely indicating the general tone of the verses he wanted
them to write.

In addition to the above-mentioned periodicals, Honore de Balzac
printed the Album of History and Anecdote, from January to April, 1827,
and he seems also to have been its editor. For, as a matter of fact,
subscriptions to it were received at the printing house, No. 17, Rue
des Marais-Saint-Germain, and there are anecdotes to be found in it
which he afterwards repeated in some of his works.

In spite of all his hopes and efforts, the business went from bad to
worse, and Balzac endured all the agonies of a merchant who sees the
dawn of the day when a note falls due and knows that his cash drawer is
empty. We can picture him, anxiously studying his account books, with
his elbows on his desk, and imagining a thousand ingenious means of
meeting his financial troubles. But the hard reality shattered them,
one by one, like thin glass. He was a prey to the money-lenders and the
lawyers, who had no mercy upon a poor wretch who had failed to "make
good," and accomplish his ruin with mathematical indifference. The
sheriffs, the attorneys, the usurers, the intrusive hordes of clerks
and process-servers swooped down upon the printing house and the
printer, eager to share the spoils. Honore de Balzac, alone in his
"horrible struggle," stood at bay against the pack, using all the
stratagems that he had learned in long years of conflict to throw them
off the track and save his last remaining resources. He put forth all
his accumulated cleverness, his fertile spirit of invention, yet he
finally had to yield to superior numbers, and witness the rapid and
steady disintegration of a business on which he had staked so many

But a new opportunity presented itself; his imagination caught fire,
and he foresaw a fortune, an assured fortune which nothing could take
from him,--and once again he laughed his deep, sonorous, powerful laugh,
defying destiny. In September, 1827, a type foundry was offered for
sale, after having failed, and Balzac, in conjunction with Barbier and
the assignee Laurent, bought it for the sum of thirty-six thousand
francs. Mme. de Berny, with her inalienable devotion, joined with him
in the new venture, contributing nine thousand francs as her share. The
business of the foundry had hitherto been limited to the production of
fonts of type, but it was the ambition of the partners to extend its
scope to engraving on steel, copper and wood, and to a special method
of stereotyping invented by Pierre Duronchail, to which they had
acquired the rights. A catalogue reproducing the various forms of type
which the foundry could furnish, as well as vignettes, head and tail
pieces and typographical ornaments, was widely circulated, yet the
world at large failed to perceive the advantages offered by the
rejuvenated and improved house of Gille Fils. After a three months'
trial, Barbier withdrew from the partnership formed for the
exploitation of the foundry, and on April 3, 1828, a new association
was formed between Laurent and Balzac, in which Mme. de Berny's name
also figured, but only as a silent partner. But every effort was in
vain, nothing could avert disaster. On the 16th of April, 1828, the
partnership of Laurent and Balzac was dissolved, the former remaining
as assignee.

Balzac was dismayed. The menace of insolvency closed the horizon of all
his hopes. He had wished to triumph without the aid of his family, to
demonstrate that he could carry on a business and achieve a fortune.
Yet now he was obliged to call his family to his assistance, to cry out
for succour. The situation was desperate, and it was necessary to act
quickly, wisely and energetically, for the family honour was at stake.
Mme. de Balzac, who until now had shown herself a suspicious and
dissatisfied mother, sacrificed herself in the presence of imminent
disaster; she offered up all her private fortune to satisfy the
creditors. At her request, one of her cousins, M. Sedillot, undertook
the settlement of the unfortunate business difficulties of her son,
Honore; and, being a prudent and experienced business man, he was able
to limit the extent of the disaster. Barbier bought back the printing
house for sixty-seven thousand francs, and Mme. de Berny put her son,
Alexandre, in charge of the foundry, in place of Balzac. The
liabilities amounted to 113,081 francs, of which 37,600 had been
advanced by Mme. de Balzac while the only assets were the 67,000 francs
resulting from the sale of the printing house. Among the debts recorded
in the settlement there are some which prove that at this time Balzac
had already acquired a taste for luxury; he owed Thouvenin, book-binder
to the Duc d'Orleans, 175 francs for binding a Lafontaine, a Boileau,
and a Thousand and One Nights, while the long unsettled bill of his
shoemaker amounted to no less than three hundred francs!

The intervention of his mother and the sacrifices that she consented to
make saved him from inevitable failure, but he had to endure an
avalanche of reproaches. At the age of twenty-nine he withdrew from
business, with debts amounting to ninety thousand francs, and how could
he, rebellious son that he was, ever hope to clear himself, when he
might by this time have been a prosperous notary, well on the road
towards honours, if he had only listened to the wise counsel of his
parents? His father, Francois Balzac, had learned of the disaster, in
spite of all the precautions taken to keep him in ignorance, and he
addressed a letter, very noble in tone, to M. Sedillot, thanking him
for having saved the family name from dishonour. We get an echo of the
recriminations which must have arisen within the family circle from the
firm yet bitter reply that Balzac made to his sister Laure:

"Your letter has given me two detestable days and two detestable
nights. I brooded over my justification, point by point, like
Mirabeau's Memoire to his father, and I was already fired with zeal for
the task; but I have decided not to write it. I cannot spare the time,
my dear sister, and besides I do not feel that I have been at all in
the wrong." And in the same letter he said further, with calm pride: "I
must live, my dear sister, without asking anything of anybody; I must
live in order to work and pay back every one to whom I am in debt."

Yes, he was nearly twenty-nine years old, his debts amounted to ninety
thousand francs, and he was alone and without resources,--but although
it was a heavy burden he did not consider that it was too heavy for his
shoulders. He had debts, but he meant to pay them, by means of his pen
and his genius; and so we shall see him undertaking the most formidable
task that ever human brain produced,--and that was destined to cease
only at his death.

Chapter 5.

The First Success.

Misfortune, far from discouraging Balzac, strengthened all his powers
of resistance and exalted his will and his energy. He had a healthy and
strongly optimistic nature, upon which chagrins, reverses and sorrows
acted like so many stimulants; he was never so resolute as after a
defeat. M. Sedillot had barely begun the liquidation of his business
affairs, the printing house and foundry, when he gave himself up
passionately and exclusively to his literary work, apparently having
forgotten all his troubles, save the necessity of paying his debts. He
had a habit of prompt decisions and quick action. Eager to break at
once all the remaining fetters that bound him to his assignee, he wrote
to the General Baron de Pommereul, at Fougeres:

"For the past month I have been busy over some historical researches of
great interest, and I hope that in the absence of talent, which in my
case is altogether problematic, our national manners and customs may
perhaps bring me good luck. I have realised that, no matter how
industrious I am, my efforts will not bring me in anything like a
living wage before the first of next January; and meanwhile the purest
chance has brought to my attention a historic incident of 1798 relating
to the war of the Chouans and the Vendeans, which gives me a subject
that is very easy to handle. It requires no research, except in regard
to the localities.

"My first thought was of you, and I decided to ask you to grant me an
asylum for a matter of twenty days. My muse, her trumpet, a quire of
paper and myself will surely not be greatly in your way." (Balzac in
Brittany, published letter by R. du Pontavice de Heussy.)

The general's father had been a friend of Francois Balzac, who had
rendered him some financial service; accordingly the son hastened to
reply to Honore that his house was open to him. No sooner was the
letter received than the latter set forth, such was his haste to leave
Paris, collect the material for his story, and find the necessary
tranquillity for writing it. He left Paris without change of linen and
with his toilet all in disorder, intoxicated with his sense of liberty,
"to such an extent," writes M. de Pontavice, "that he presented himself
to his provincial friends wearing such a piteous hat that they found it
necessary to conduct him forthwith to the only hatter in Fougeres. That
honourable tradesman went to infinite pains before he succeeded in
discovering any headwear large enough to shelter the bony casket which
contained the Human Comedy."

Honore de Balzac was exuberant with joy. He took his hosts by storm
through his wit and good humour. He questioned M. de Pommereul as to
the main facts about the Chouans; he jotted down in his notebook, which
he afterwards came to call his larder, a host of original anecdotes
preserved by oral tradition; and he roamed the whole countryside,
fixing in his mind the landscapes and the gestures, attitudes and
physiognomies of the peasants, and saturating himself with the
atmosphere of the region in which he was to place the chief scenes of
his drama.

Those were happy hours during which Honore de Balzac withdrew to his
first-floor room, seated himself before a little table placed close to
the window, and wrote with feverish elation of the heroic acts of the
Blues and the Chouans, of Commander Hulot, Marche-a-Terre and the Abbe
Gudin, and wove tangled threads of the adventures of Fouche's spy Mlle.
de Verneuil, who set forth to save the young stripling and allowed
herself to be caught in the divine snare of love.

On some evenings he remained in the drawing-room in company with his
hosts, and entered into controversies with Mme. de Pommereul, who,
being very pious herself, tried to persuade him to make a practice of
religion; while Balzac, in return, when the discussion was exhausted,
endeavoured to teach her the rules of backgammon. But the one remained
unconverted and the other never mastered the course of the noble game.
Occasionally he helped to pass the time by inventing stories, which he
told with all the vividness of which he was master.

The days slipped away, as fruitful as they were happy; but Balzac's
family became troubled over his prolonged absence. They feared that he
was wasting his time amid the pleasures of the country, after all the
sacrifices they had made for him, and when he ought to be hard at work,
clearing off his debts. They summoned him home, and he left Fougeres at
the end of October, regretting the interruption to his task. But he had
no sooner arrived in Paris than he set to work again, and he did not
fail to keep his provincial friends informed of the progress of his
novel. The first thing he did was to change its title from The
Stripling, to which Mme. de Pommereul had objected, to The Chouans or
Brittany Thirty Years Ago, and finally settled definitely on The Last
Chouan or Brittany in 1800. This work, the first that he signed with
his own name, was finished in the beginning of 1829, and was published
by Urbain Canel. On the eleventh of March he announced to the Baron de
Pommereul that he was sending him a set.

"Between four and six days from now," he wrote, "you will receive the
four 12mo volumes of The Last Chouan or Brittany in 1800.

"Did I call it my work? . . . It is partly yours also, for as a matter
of fact it is built up from the precious anecdotes which you so ably
and so generously related to me between glasses of that pleasant and
mild vin de Grave and those crisp buttered biscuits."

The Last Chouan proved a success. It was criticised and its merit was
admitted. L'Universel shows the tone of most of the articles devoted to
it: "After all, the work is not without interest; if reduced to half
its length, it would be amusing from one end to the other. In general,
the style is pretentious in almost all of the descriptive parts, but
the dialogue is not lacking in naturalness and frankness."

In 1829, after the publication of The Last Chouan, Honore de Balzac
plunged boldly, under his own name, into the turmoil of literature. He
pushed ahead audaciously, elbowing his way, and he made himself
enemies. He went his own road, indifferent to sarcasms, mockeries, and
spiteful comments called forth by his tranquil assurance and certainty
of his own strength, which he did not try to hide. At a period when it
was the fashion to sigh and be pale and melancholy, in a stage-setting
of lakes, clouds and cathedrals, and when one was expected to be
abnormal and mediaeval, Balzac displayed a robust joviality, he was
proud of his stalwart build and ruddy complexion, and, far from looking
to the past for literary material, his observing and clairvoyant eyes
eagerly seized the men of his own time and transformed them into heroes.

All day long he went the rounds of publishers and editors, of papers
and reviews, and sought connections with other writers of repute.
Returning in the evening to his study, he would write throughout the
entire night, until long after the dawn had come, with feverish
regularity and energy and without fatigue, ready to begin again the
next day. When he gave up his printing house he went to live at No. 1,
Rue Cassini, in a quarter which at that time was almost deserted,
between the Observatory and the Maternity Hospital. He brought his
furniture with him and fitted up his rooms in accordance with his own
tastes and resources. This had called forth some bitter comments from
his parents: What right had he to comfort and to something approaching
luxury before he had cleared off his debts? "I am reproached for the
furnishings of my rooms," he wrote to his sister Laure, "but all the
furniture belonged to me before the catastrophe came! I have not bought
a single new piece! The wall covering of blue percale which has caused
such an outcry was in my chamber at the printing house. Letouche and I
tacked it with our own hands over a frightful wall-paper, which would
otherwise have had to be changed. My books are my tools and I cannot
sell them. My sense of good taste, which enables me to make all my
surroundings harmonious, is something which cannot be bought
(unfortunately for the rich); yet, after all, I care so little for any
of these things that, if one of my creditors wants to have me secretly
imprisoned at Sainte-Pelagie, I shall be far happier there; for my
living will cost me nothing and I shall be no closer prisoner than my
work now keeps me in my own home."

In spite of this apparent and wholly circumstantial disinterestedness,
Balzac loved artistic surroundings, rugs, tapestries and silver ware.
He detested mediocrity, and could enjoy nothing short either of
glorious poverty, nobly endured in a garret, or wealth and the
splendour of a palace. Balzac shared his apartment with Auguste Borget,
a painter and traveller, who was one of his most faithful friends. From
a window in their parlour they could look across some gardens and see
the dome of the Invalides. Ever since his childhood Balzac had made a
sort of worship of Napoleon. He was his model and his great ambition
was to equal Napoleon's exploits in the realm of the intellect. Mme.
Ancelot relates in the Salons of Paris that Balzac had erected a sort
of altar, surmounted by Napoleon's bust, on which he had inscribed:
"What he began with the sword I shall achieve with the pen." This
anecdote is confirmed by Philarete Chasle, who saw the statue in the
Rue Cassini apartment, a plaster statue representing the emperor clad
in his redingote and holding his celebrated lorgnette in his hand.

Napoleon's influence upon Balzac was profound, or rather there was a
sort of parallelism between their two ambitions, each of a different
order, but equally formidable. Balzac was essentially a conqueror and
legislator. But he wished to establish his empire in the intellectual
domain, for he believed that the time for territorial conquest was
past; yet he wished to prescribe laws for the people and govern them
himself. He was a born ruler, whether he turned to literature or
politics, and he appointed himself "Marshal of Letters," just as he
might have aspired to be prime minister to the king.

After the publication of The Last Chouan, Balzac's literary activity
became prodigious. Shutting himself into his workroom and seated before
a little table covered with green cloth, under the light of a
four-branched candlestick, dressed in his monkish frock, a white robe
in which he felt at ease, with the cord tied slackly around his waist
and his shirt unbuttoned at the collar, he turned out, in a dizzy orgy
of production, The Physiology of Marriage, the short stories
constituting the Scenes of Private Life, At the Sign of the
Cat-and-Racket, The Ball at Sceaux, The Vendetta, A Double Family,
Peace in the Household, Gobseck and Sarrasine, besides studies,
criticisms and essays for newspapers and magazines.

The Physiology of Marriage appeared at the end of December, 1829, and
caused quite a little scandal. The public did not understand Balzac's
ideas, they recoiled from the boldness of his themes, which sounded
like sheer cynicism, and remembered only the crudity of certain
anecdotes, without trying to penetrate their philosophy. He was
attacked in the public press, and even his friends did not spare him
their reproaches. Balzac defended himself against the criticisms of
Mme. Zulma Carraud, whom he had met at Versailles at the home of his
sister Laure, and whose esteem and affection he was anxious to keep.
Mme. Carraud was a broad-minded and discerning woman, of delicate
sensibility and an upright nature. Her husband was Commander Carraud,
director of studies at the Military School of Saint-Cyr, and later
inspector of the powder works at Angouleme. Balzac loved her as a
confidential friend,--who, at the same time, did not spare him the
truth,--and he made frequent visits to the towns where she lived,
especially to Issoudun, at her chateau of Frapesle, after the Commander
had gone into retirement.

The Physiology might seem to have been an abnormal work for a man of
Balzac's years if it was not known that he had two collaborators, Mme.
de Berny, who brought him her experience as a woman of the world, and
his father, who gave him the greater part of his maxims.

Francois de Balzac believed that he was ordained to live for more than
a hundred years, and perhaps he would have attained that age if he had
not succumbed to the after-effects of an operation on the liver, June
19, 1829. Honore felt this loss keenly, for, although his father often
showed himself sceptical as to the value of his son's literary efforts,
too little attention has been paid to the share that he had in the
origin of that son's ideas.

The Physiology had only just appeared when Balzac published the Scenes
of Private Life, on March 10, 1836; and without slackening speed, he
contributed to a number of different journals. Emile de Girardin had
welcomed him to the columns of La Mode, which he had founded in 1829,
under the patronage of the Duchesse de Berry, and he contributed
sketches to it regularly: El Verdugo, The Usurer, a Study of a Woman
(signed "By the author of the Physiology of Marriage"), Farewell, The
Latest Fashion in Words, A New Theory of Breakfasting, The Crossing of
the Beresina, and Chateau Life, an essay against the publication of
which Balzac protested because his sensitive literary conscience was
unwilling that it should be printed until developed into something more
than a crude sketch,--and lastly came the Treatise on Fashionable Life,
a manual which, under the form of pleasantry, was saturated with
philosophy and lofty social doctrines.

At the same period, from 1829 to 1830, he collaborated with Victor
Ratier on the Silhouette, under his own name and various pseudonyms.
For this periodical he wrote phantasies of a festive tone and somewhat
broad humour: Some Artists (signed, "An Old Artist"), The Studio, The
Grocer, The Charlatan, Aquatic Customs, Physiology of the Toilet, the
Cravat considered by itself and in its relations to Society and the
Individual, Physiology of the Toilet and Padded Coats, Gastronomic
Physiology, etc. In Le Voleur, edited by Maurice Alhoy, he published La
Grisette Parvenue, A Working Girl's Sunday, and Letters on Paris, a
series of articles, incisive and farsighted, dealing with French
politics. Finally, still in 1830, he was almost one of the accredited
editors of La Caricature, for which he wrote fantasies against the
government, sketches of Parisian manners, and pictures of the life of
the capital, some of which were destined later to find their way into
The Magic Skin; namely, Le Cornac de Carlsuhe, Concerning Indifference
in Politics, A Minister's Council, The Veneerer, A Passion in College,
Physiology of the Passions, etc.

But, not satisfied with this fecundity,--which would have exhausted many
another man of letters,--Honore de Balzac, in 1830, founded a critical
organ, in company with Emile de Girardin, H. Auger, and Victor
Varaigne, under the title of Feuilleton des Journaux Politiques.

And there were thousands of pages which Balzac carelessly let fall from
his fertile pen, and which he valued so slightly that he never
afterwards gathered them together for his collected works. On the other
hand, they did not seem to interfere with the composition of his more
important writings, and at the very time that he seemed to be
scattering his efforts in twenty different papers he was writing The
Woman of Thirty, under the guidance of Mme. de Berny, and working on
his extraordinary Magic Skin, a dramatic study with a colouring of
social philosophy, which he was greatly distressed to hear defined as a
novel. He was possessed with a sort of fever of creation, he had
already visualised nearly all the characters in his Human Comedy, and,
in spite of his driving labours and his marvellous facility at writing,
he could not keep pace with his own imagination. Meanwhile, in order to
keep himself awake and excite his productive forces, he indulged, at
this period, in a veritable orgy of coffee, cup after cup, an orgy
which was destined, after twenty years' continuance to have a
disastrous effect upon his health.

Balzac took the most minute precautions in making this coffee; he not
only selected several kinds from different localities, in order to
obtain a special aroma, but he had his own special method of brewing
it, which developed all the virtues of the blend. In his Treatise on
Modern Stimulants he has told us how he prepared the coffee and what
its effects were upon his temperament. "At last I have discovered a
horrible and cruel method," he writes, "which I recommend only to men
of excessive vigour, with coarse black hair, a skin of mingled ochre
and vermilion, squarish hands and legs like the balustrades in the
Palace Louis XV. It consists in the employment of a decoction of ground
coffee taken cold and anhydride (a chemical term which signifies
'little or no water') and on an empty stomach. This coffee falls into
your stomach, which, as you have learned from Brillat-Savarin, is a
sack with a velvety interior, lined with little pores and papillae; it
finds nothing else, so it attacks this delicate and voluptuous lining;
it becomes a sort of food which demands its digestive juices; so it
wrings them forth, it demands them as a pythoness calls upon her god,
it maltreats those delicate walls as a truckman maltreats a pair of
young horses; the plexus nerves inflame, they burn and send their
flashes to the brain. Thereupon everything leaps into action; thoughts
and ideas rush pell-mell over one another, like battalions of the grand
army on the field of battle, and the battle takes place. Recollections
arrive in a headlong charge, with banners flying; the light cavalry of
comparisons advances in a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic
hurries up with its gun-carriages and ammunition; flashes of wit arrive
like so many sharp-shooters; the action develops; the paper slowly
covers over with ink, for the night's work has begun, and it will end
in torrents of black water, like the battle in torrents of black

In spite of the alarming benefits which Balzac attributes to this
regime, one is amazed at the abundance of his productions, for, even
though he sacrificed a large part of his days and nights, he none the
less frequented certain famous salons, was often absent on vacations at
M. de Margonne's home at Sache; at La Grenadiere, where he rented a
house; and at Nemours. Besides, he had to spare some time to his
friends, his publishers, and to the adjustment of his already
complicated finances.

With his remarkably keen sense of realities, he knew that it did not
suffice merely to produce a work in order to have it become known and
sell; and, while it was repugnant to him to solicit an article from a
fellow craftsman, he excelled in the art of exciting curiosity, and
acquiring partisans and women admirers who, upon the publication of
each new volume, would loudly proclaim it as a masterpiece. He was on
intimate terms with the Duchesse d'Abrantes and Mme. Sophie Gay; he was
received by the Baron Gerard and by Mme. Ancelot; he announced to his
publisher, Charles Gosselin, that Mme. Recamier had asked him to give a
reading from his Magic Skin, "so that we are going to have a whole lot
of people to boom us in the Faubourg Saint-Germain." And he did not
content himself with all these benevolent "boomers," for, according to
Philibert Audebrand, he himself wrote a very flattering article on his
own work in La Caricature, over one of his three pseudonyms.

The book-collector Jacob sketched a verbal portrait of Balzac in 1831,
a little heavy and over-emphasised, yet fairly like him: "He was about
thirty-two years old, and seemed younger than his age. He had not yet
taken on too much flesh, yet he was far from being slender, as he still
was five or six years earlier. He did not yet wear his hair long, nor
had he a moustache. His open countenance revealed a character
ordinarily kindly and jovial; his high colour, red lips and brilliant
eyes were often likely to give the impression that he had just come
from the dinner table, where he had not wasted his time." In order to
give a greater degree of truth and life to this sketch, it should be
added that Balzac had extremely mobile features, that he was very
sensitive, and that, if anything was said that gave him offence, his
expression became indifferent, non-committal or haughty. He suffered
when he was congratulated on his short stories and tales, for with
justifiable pride he wished to be appreciated as a poet, a philosopher
and a thinker. It has not been sufficiently recognised how well he
understood the essence of his own genius; for, aside from the short
recitals in the Scenes of Private Life, his early works are philosophic
works, The Magic Skin, Louis Lambert, and The Country Doctor, ranging
all the way from the most lofty speculations regarding human
intelligence to the details of the social, material and moral
organisation of a village.

But, on the other hand, although Balzac had already acquired a massive
aspect, he did not have that vulgar outline which Jacob, the
book-fancier, suggests. And when he was speaking enthusiastically in a
drawing-room his face irradiated, one might almost say, a sort of
spirituality, his eyes glowed with a splendid fire, and his lips parted
in a laugh of such potent joyousness that he communicated the contagion
of it to his hearers. He spoke in a pleasant, well-modulated voice,
with fluctuations in tone that accorded nicely with the circumstances
of the recital; and his gestures and power of mimicry seemed to conjure
up the characters whose adventures he narrated. He was so successful
that he gave up telling stories in public, for fear of acquiring the
reputation of an entertainer, which might have robbed him of the high
consideration which he exacted both for himself and for his writings.

In the full heat of his literary work Balzac did not forget his
political ambitions; and, since the Revolution of July, 1830, had made
him eligible, he was anxious to present himself in 1832 at one of the
electoral colleges, as a candidate for the supplementary elections. In
April he wrote a pamphlet, Inquest into the politics of two Ministries,
which he signed "M. de Balzac, eligible elector," and in which he set
forth his criticisms of the government and his own principles. As soon
as it was printed he sent off forty copies to General de Pommereul, for
the purpose of distribution among his friends in Fougeres; and he wrote

"I shall write successively four or five more, in order to prove to the
electors who nominate me that I can do them honour, and that I shall
try to be useful to the country.

"As for parliamentary incorruptibility, my ambition is to see my
principles triumphantly carried out by an administration, and great
ambitions are never for sale." Whether Baron de Pommereul forewarned
him of failure at the hands of his fellow citizens, or whether Balzac
wished to have two strings to his bow instead of one, no one knows, but
at all events in June he asked Henry Berthoud, director of the Gazette
de Cambrai, to back him as candidate in his district. In return, Balzac
promised to try to get some articles by Berthoud accepted by Rabon for
the Revue de Paris. "The coming Assembly," he prophesied, "is likely to
be a stormy one; it is ripe for revolution. It is possible that the
people of your district would prefer to see a Parisian representing
their interests rather than any of their own men; a town always loves
to see itself represented by an orator; and, if I seek election to the
Assembly, it is with the idea of playing a leading part in politics and
of giving the benefit to the community which supported me and from
which I have received the political baptism of election. All my friends
in Paris, either rightly or wrongly, base some hope upon me. I shall
have as my credentials: Yourself, if that is agreeable to you; the
Revue de Paris, the Temps, the Debats, the Voleur, one other minor
journal, and my own actions from now on."

But, in spite of all his projects, Balzac was destined never to be a
candidate from any district,--and so much the better for the advancement
of French thought.

Chapter 6.


After the publication of the Physiology and The Magic Skin, which
followed The Chouans and Scenes from Private Life, Balzac found himself
enrolled among the fashionable novelists. The public did not understand
his ideas, they were incapable of grasping the grandeur of the vast
edifice which he already dreamed of raising to his own glory, but they
enjoyed his penetrating analysis of the human heart, his understanding
of women, and his picturesque, alluring and dramatic power of
narrative. He excited the curiosity of his women readers, who
recognised themselves in his heroines as in so many faithful mirrors;
and the consequence was that he was besieged by a host of feminine
letters. Balzac had a perfumed casket in which he put away the
confidences, avowals and advances of his fair admirers, but he did not
reply to them.

In September, 1831, however, an unsigned letter arrived at the chateau
at Sache, where he had been spending his vacation; but, as he had
already left, it was forwarded to him in Paris. It was distinguished by
its refinement of tone, its cleverness and its frank and discerning
criticisms of the Physiology and The Magic Skin,--so much so, indeed,
that Balzac decided to answer its attacks upon him by defending his
works and explaining his ideas. There followed a second letter and then
others, and before long a correspondence had been established between
Balzac and the unknown lady, so fascinating on her side of it that
Balzac was eager to know her name, and demanded it, under penalty of
breaking off the whole correspondence. She willingly revealed her
identity, she was the Duchesse de Castries. She informed him further
that it would give her pleasure to have him call upon her, in the Rue
de Varennes, on the day when she received her intimate friends. Balzac,
no doubt, gave utterance to his great, joyous, triumphant laugh, in
which there was also mingled a touch of pride.

Mme. de Castries was one of the most highly courted ladies in the
exclusive circle of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, an aristocrat of
aristocrats; she was still young,--her age was thirty-five,--and
beautiful, with pale and delicate features, crowned with masses of hair
of a dazzling Venetian blonde. She was a descendant of the de Maille
family, her husband had been a peer of France under Charles X, and
through marriage with the Duc de Fitz-James, one of the leaders of the
legitimist party, was her brother-in-law, thus connecting her with the
highest nobility of France. To Balzac she represented the doorway to a
world of which he had had only vague glimpses as reflected in the
reminiscences of Mme. de Berny,--and she smiled upon him with a
mysterious smile of welcome.

The novelist hastened to accept the Duchess's invitation, and became
one of the regular frequenters of her salon. She led him on; and he
talked of his ideas, his projects and his dreams. He also talked
discreetly of his heart, and without encouraging him, she allowed him
to understand that she listened to him without displeasure. His
relations with Mme. de Berny had been tinged with a sort of bitterness,
due to the disparity in their ages, and his happiness had never been
complete. These relations were now about to come to a close, yet even
after the rupture they were destined to remain like a single soul,
united by a profound and lasting affection, beyond the reach of any
severance. Be that as it may, Balzac at this period was audaciously
planning another conquest, and a dazzling one, more brilliant than his
most ambitious hopes could have wished. So the pretty game continued,
half in sport and half in earnest.

Whether it was due solely to the influence of the duchess or whether a
certain amount of calculation entered in, since literary success is
judged by the money profits and the expenditures and fashionable
appearance of the writer, or whether he also obeyed his own fondness
for a broad and sumptuous scale of living, no one knows; probably
something of all three entered in; but the fact remains that after he
knew Mme. de Castries Balzac became transformed into a dandy, a man of
fashion. He was a lion in that circle of gilded youth which frequented
the Opera and the Bouffes, that shone in famous salons, that diverted
itself in cabarets, and distinguished itself by wealth, gallantry and

Balzac now had money. He possessed an unusual faculty for disposing of
his copy advantageously. To begin with, he was paid by the magazines to
which he gave the first serial rights, the Revue de Paris and the Revue
des Deux Mondes; and, secondly, in disposing of the book rights he
never gave his publishers more than the right to bring out one edition
and for a limited time; and the result was that frequent new editions,
either of single works or groups of works, taken together with his new
works, formed altogether a considerable production of volumes.
Furthermore, he received advances from publishers and editors, he
trafficked in endorsed notes, he borrowed and lived on credit. This was
in a measure the prosperity that he had so greatly coveted, yet he
gained it at the cost of countless toil, activity and worriment.

Balzac now acquired carriages and horses, he had a cabriolet and a
tilbury painted maroon; his coachman was enormous and was named
Leclercq, while the groom was a dwarf whom he called Anchises. He
engaged servants, a cook and a valet named Paradis. He patronised the
most fashionable tailor of the time, and dressed in accordance with the
decrees of the latest style. Mme. Ancelot states that he ordered no
less than thirty-one waistcoats, and that he had not given up the hope
of some day having three hundred and sixty-five, one for each day in
the year. He abandoned wool in favour of silk. Rings adorned his
fingers; his linen was of the finest quality; and he used perfumes, of
which he was passionately fond.

In the morning he went to the Bois, where the other young men of
fashion congregated; he sauntered up and down and later paid visits; in
the evening, when he had no invitations to social functions, he dined
at the Rocher de Cancale or at Bignon's, or showed himself at the Opera
in the box occupied by an ultra-fashionable set known as the "Tigers."
After the performance he hurried off to cut a brilliant figure at the
salon of the beautiful Delphine Gay, the wife of Emile de Girardin, in
company with Lautour-Mezeray, the "man with the camelia," Alphonse
Karr, Eugene Sue, Dumas, and sometimes Victor Hugo and Lamartine. In
that celebrated apartment, hung in sea-green damask, which formed such
a perfect background for Delphine's blonde beauty, Balzac would arrive
exuberant, resplendent with health and happiness, and there he would
remain for hours, overflowing with wit and brilliance.

In the midst of this worldly life he by no means neglected Mme. de
Castries, but, on the contrary, was assiduous in his attentions to the
fair duchess. At her home he met the Duc de Fitz-James and the other
leaders of militant legitimism, and little by little he gravitated
towards their party. He wrote The Life of a Woman for Le Renovateur,
and also an essay in two parts on The Situation of the Royalist Party;
but it was not long before he quarrelled with Laurentie, the editor in
chief who probably wounded his pride as a man of letters.

The society which he frequented must have reacted on Balzac, for it was
at this time that he conceived the desire of proving himself a
gentleman by descent, the issue of a time-honoured stock, the
d'Antragues family. He adopted their coat-of-arms and had his monogram
surmounted by a coronet. Later on he abandoned these pretensions, and
his forceful and proud reply is well known when some one had proved to
him that he had no connection with any branch of that house:

"Very well, so much the worse for them!"

But meanwhile, how about his work? It is not known by what prodigy
Balzac kept at his task, in spite of this busy life of fashion and
frivolity. He published The Purse, Mme. Firmiani, A Study of a Woman,
The Message, La Grenadiere, The Forsaken Woman, Colonel Chabert (which
appeared in L'Artiste under the title of Transaction), The Vicar of
Tours, and he composed that mystical work which cost him so much pains
that he almost succumbed to it, the Biographical Notice of Louis
Lambert. At the same time he corrected, improved and partly rewrote The
Chouans and the newly published Magic Skin, with a view to new
editions, in accordance with the criticisms of his sister Laure and
Mme. de Berny.

Nevertheless, money continued to evaporate under his prodigal fingers;
he had counted upon revenues which failed to materialise, he could no
longer borrow, for his credit was exhausted, and he found himself
reduced to a keener poverty than that of his mansarde garret. After all
this accumulation of work, all this expenditure of genius, to think
that he did not yet have an assured living! He had frightful attacks of
depression, but they had no sooner passed than his will power was as
strong as ever, his fever for work redoubled, and his visionary gaze
discerned the fair horizons of hope as vividly as though they were
already within reach of his hand. Then he would shut himself into his
room, breaking off all ties with the social world, or else would flee
into the provinces, far from the dizzy whirl of Paris.

Thus it happened that he made several sojourns at Sache in 1831, and
that he set out for it once again in 1832, determined upon a lengthy
absence. Mme. de Castries had left Paris and had asked him to join her
at the waters of Aix in September; but, before he could permit himself
to take this trip, he must needs have the sort of asylum for work that
awaited him in Touraine.

M. de Margonne, his host, welcomed him like a son each time that he
arrived. He had entire liberty to live at the chateau precisely as he
chose. He was not required to be present at meals, nor to conform to
any of the social conventions which might have interfered with the most
profitable employment of his time. If, in the absorption of working out
the scheme of the task which he had in progress, he was sometimes
irritable and sullen, no one took offence at his attitude. When he had
not yet reached the stage of the actual writing, and was merely
composing his drama within his powerful imagination, he arose early in
the morning and set off upon long walks across country, sometimes
solitary and silent, sometimes getting into conversation with the
people he met and asking them all sorts of questions. He had no other
source of amusement, for he did not care for hunting, and, as to
fishing, he made no success of it, for he forgot to pull in the fish
after they had taken the hook!

"The only games that interested him were those that demanded
brain-work," writes a relative to M. de Margonne, M. Salmon de
Maison-Rouge, in a vivid account of Balzac's visits to Sache. "My
father, who prided himself upon playing a very good game of checkers,
on one occasion tried a game with him. After several moves my father
said, "Why, Monsieur de Balzac, we are not playing Give-away! You are
letting me take all your men; you are not playing the game seriously."
"Indeed, I am," rejoined Balzac, "as seriously as possible," and he
continued to let his men be taken. At last he had only one man left,
but he had so managed the moves that, without my father being aware of
it, this last man was in a position to take all the men my father had
left in one single swoop,--and there were a good many, for M. de Balzac
had taken only six up to that move. From that time onward my father
regarded him as one of the keenest minds that had ever lived."
(Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Touraine, Volume XII.)

But Balzac was not staying at Sache for the purpose of playing
checkers, and in the same notice M. Salmon tells of his habits of work,
on the strength of an account given by M. de Margonne:

"He had a big alarm-clock," he writes, "for he slept very well and very
soundly, and he set the alarm for two o'clock in the morning. Then he
prepared himself some coffee over a spirit lamp, together with several
slices of toasted bread; and then started in to write in bed, making
use of a desk so constructed that he could freely draw up his knees
beneath it. He continued to write in this manner until five o'clock in
the evening, taking no other nourishment than his coffee and his slices
of toasted bread.

"At five o'clock he arose, dressed for dinner, and remained with his
hosts in the drawing-room until ten o'clock, the hour at which he
withdrew to go to bed. And he never in the least modified this settled

These sojourns at Sache were longer or shorter according to the stage
of his work and the state of his purse. The servants at the chateau had
learned to tell from his expression whether he was prosperous or
hard-up; when he felt poor he met them with an affable air and kindly
words, for that was all he had to give them; when he was rich he moved
among them with the air of a prince. They pardoned his haughty manner
because he was generous. M. de Margonne often aided him with loans, but
in order to keep him as long as possible, he never gave him the money
until the moment of his departure.

On leaving Paris for he knew not how long, Honore de Balzac entrusted
his interests to his mother. They were of such opposite temperaments,
the one imaginative and extravagant, staking his whole life and fortune
on fabulous figures, and the other precise, calculating and rather
austere, that they could hardly be expected to understand each other,
and frequent clashes had blunted all their tenderer impulses. Mme. de
Balzac could not understand her son's blunders, and blamed him severely
for them. She suffered from his apparently dissipated life, his love of
luxury, his belief in his own greatness, of which no evidence had yet
been offered to her matter-of-fact mind. Still wholly unaware of his
genius, she could not fail to misjudge him. Yet she had already
sacrificed herself once to save him from bankruptcy; and, with all her
frowning and grumbling, she would never refuse her aid and experience
when he asked for it.

It was Mme. de Balzac who undertook to see the publishers and magazine
editors, to pass upon the contracts, to follow up the negotiations
already under way, and to conclude them; in short, she represented her
son in all respects in his badly involved business relations. From a
distance he supervised operations, with a mathematical keenness of
vision, and his mother assumed the responsibility of carrying out his
wishes, bringing to the contest all her qualities of vigour, clear
perception and crafty dealings. Honore de Balzac did not spare her. For
he estimated her endurance by his own; and no sooner was he installed
at Sache than he began to give her instructions that were little short
of orders. She must copy The Grocer, which the Silhouette had
published, send him a copy of Contes Bruns, obtain from Mme. de Berny a
volume of The Chouans with her corrections, read the article on Bernard
Palissy in the great Biographie Universelle, copy it, and make note of
all the works that Palissy had written or which had been written about
him, then hurry with those notes to M. de Mame, the book-seller,--whom
she was to present with copies of volumes 3 and 4 of Scenes of Private
Life, telling him that Honore had had a fall and could not leave the
house,--and ask him to procure the works on her list,--then go to Laure,
and read the notice on Bernard Palissy in "Papa's Biography," to see
whether any other works are mentioned which were not included in the
Biographie Universelle, and to buy elsewhere whatever M. de Mame did
not have, if they were not too dear, and send them all as soon as
possible. These works were all needed by Balzac as documents for the
Search for the Absolute, which was meant to conclude the fourth volume
of Philosophic Tales, published by Gosselin,--but probably they did not
reach him in time, for the Search for the Absolute did not appear until
1834, and its place in the Tales was taken by the Biographic Notice of
Louis Lambert.

To these express recommendations regarding his work Balzac added orders
relative to his household. He "desired" that Leclercq should take out
the horses half an hour each day; he concerned himself in regard to his
outstanding debts, and he begged his mother to find out what he owed
for June and July, so that he could get her the money.

Those few months of fashionable life and his frequenting aristocratic
clubs had put his affairs in a piteous state. Mme. de Balzac drew up a
balance sheet, without any attempt to spare him, and pointed out just
what sacrifices were necessary. He was in no position to meet the heavy
demands, in spite of his desperate toil. A gleam of hope, however, came
in the midst of his distress, for his friends at Sache held out
prospects of a wealthy marriage; but this hope was an elusive one: the
prospective bride was not expected in Touraine until the month of
October, and how in the meantime was he to pay his pressing debts? He
calculated the utmost that he could earn, he assumed certain advances,
he added up and with the help of his optimism he swelled his
prospective receipts, yet not sufficiently to satisfy his creditors. He
groaned, for he did not wish to sell at a loss what he had acquired
with such difficulty, despoil himself, strip himself bare like a St.
John;--then his energy reawoke and his self-confidence enabled him to
accept the hard test. He consented to give up his horses,--for whose
feed he was still owing, since he could not feed them on poetry, as he
humorously wrote to Mme. de Girardin,--and his cabriolet. What matter?
He was strong enough to rebuild the foundations of his fortune!

From now on Honore de Balzac thought of nothing but his work. He wrote
his Biographical Notice of Louis Lambert in thirty days and fifteen
nights; but this effort was so prodigious that an apoplectic stroke
prostrated him and he came very near dying. He endured his financial
anxieties and empty purse, upheld by the certainty of his own genius.
He knew how much unfinished work there was in the first version of his
books and he had spells of artistic despair, but they were brief, for
he relied on his strength of will to bring his writings to the
perfection of which he dreamed. "This Biographic Notice of Louis
Lambert," he wrote to Laure, "is a work in which I have tried to rival
Goethe and Byron, to out-do Faust and Manfred; and the tilt is not over
yet, for the proof sheets are not yet corrected. I do not know whether
I shall succeed, but this fourth volume of Philosophic Tales ought to
be a final reply to my enemies, and ought to show my incontestable
superiority." When his family became concerned over his precarious
situation, and the complications in which he had entangled himself,
Balzac answered their reproaches by prophesying the future: "Yes, you
are right," he said to Laure, "I shall not stop, I shall go on and on
until I attain my goal, and you will see the day when I shall be
numbered among the great minds of my country." Then, in the same
letter, he added, for his mother's benefit: "Yes, you are right, my
progress is real and my infernal courage will be rewarded. Persuade my
mother to think so too, dear sister; tell her to show me the charity of
a little patience; her devotion will be rewarded! Some day, I hope, a
little glory will pay her for everything! Poor mother! The imagination
with which she endowed me is a perpetual bewilderment to her; she
cannot tell north from south nor east from west; and that sort of
journeying is fatiguing, as I know from experience!

"Tell my mother that I love her as I did when I was a child. Tears
overcome me as I write these lines, tears of tenderness and despair,
for I foresee the future, and I shall need that devoted mother on the
day of my triumph! But when will that day come?"

Lastly, he explained the necessity of his isolation and excused himself
for it: "Some day, when my works are developed, you will realise that
it required many an hour to think out and write so many things; then
you will absolve me for all that has displeased you, and you will
pardon, not the egoism of the man (for he has none), but the egoism of
the thinker and worker."

Towards the middle of July he left Sache in order to go to Angouleme,
to visit Mme. Carraud, whose husband had been appointed Inspector of
the Powder Works, just outside the town. He arrived there on the 17th,
intending to stay five weeks and happy to have reached this friendly
asylum. Mme. Carraud was one of the women who had the most faith in
Balzac; she was the recipient of his confidences, even the most
delicate ones; and when his conduct displeased her she did not hesitate
to take him to task. In her home Honore was treated as a son of the
family, and Commander Carraud also welcomed him with cordial affection.
In their house, just as at Sache, he kept on with his work, for "I must
work" was his life-long cry, which he sometimes uttered blithely, in
the luminous joy of creation, and sometimes with a horrible
breathlessness, as though he was gradually being crushed by the weight
of his superhuman task. But he never succumbed. From the moment of his
arrival at the Powder Works, notwithstanding the fatigue of the
journey, he hardly gave himself time to clasp the hands of his friends
before he plunged into the concluding chapters of Louis Lambert; and
even when he was not writing he gave himself no rest, but set about the
preparation of new works. He led an even more cloistered life here than
at Sache, interrupting all correspondence excepting business letters to
his mother. For he was bent upon gaining two things, money and fame.
Besides, there were the corrections to be made in The Chouans, in the
fourth volume of the Philosophic Tales, and he was writing The Battle
(which never was published), the Contes Drolatiques, the Studies of
Women, the Conversations between Eleven o'Clock and Midnight, La
Grenadiere (written in one night), and The Accursed Child, and at the
same time was planning The Country Doctor, one of his most important

Meanwhile, Mme. Carraud was proud of her guest. She entertained her
friends at the Powder Works, the father and mother of Alberic Second,
and M. Berges, principal of the high school, who was later to support
Balzac's candidacy in Angouleme. The local paper, the Charentais, had
announced the presence of the author of The Magic Skin, and when he
went to have his hair cut by the barber, Fruchet, in the Place du
Marche, he was the object of public attention. The young men of the
democratic club called upon him and assured him that they would support
his candidacy, in spite of his aristocratic opinions. Balzac awoke to a
consciousness of the value of his name, and in the letters to his
mother dealing with business relations with his publishers assumed a
more commanding tone. She need not trouble herself further, he wrote,
in calling on magazine editors; she was to send for M. Pichot, editor
of the Revue de Paris, to come to her house, and she was to lay down
certain conditions, which he could accept or refuse, according to
whether he wanted more of Balzac's copy or not. Pichot must agree in
writing to pay two hundred francs a page, with no reduction for blank
spaces. Balzac was to be at liberty to reprint the published articles
in book form, and no disagreeable paragraph in reference to himself or
his works was to be published in the magazine. So much for M. Pichot!
Next, she was to summon M. Buloz, of the Revue des Deux Mondes, to come
in his turn to her house, and here are the detailed instructions which
Mme. de Balzac was to follow in his case: "You will show him the
manuscript, without letting him take it with him, because you are only
an agent and do not know the usual customs. Be very polite.

"You will tell him that I wish him to write a letter promising not to
print anything displeasing to me in his magazine, either directly or

"That he shall give a receipt for all outstanding accounts, with
settlement in full up to September 1, 1832, between me and the Revue;

"That my contributions are to be printed in the largest sized type;

"And paid at the rate of two hundred francs a page, without deduction
for blank spaces.

"After he has agreed in writing to these terms, let him have The
Orphans (the definitive title of which was La Grenadiere);

"Buloz must have a good article written on the Scenes and the fourth
volume of the Philosophic Tales."

Having taken this masterful tone, Balzac gave his mother this final
practical recommendation, never to give any credit to the periodical
and to demand the money immediately after publication of the article!

Having made all his plans in detail, Balzac left Angouleme on August
22, 1832, in order to join Mme. de Castries at the waters of Aix. It
was an amorous adventure, yet he did not enter into it without certain
misgivings, for he did not know whether the Duchess was sincere or
whether she was playing with his feelings. Nevertheless, he set out
joyously, although lightly equipped in the way of money,--Commander
Carraud was obliged to lend him a hundred and fifty francs,--but with
several stories begun and plenty of work on hand, for nothing, not even
the hope of being loved by a woman of high position, could make him
forget his work. He arrived at Limoges, where he saw Mme. Nivet, Mme.
Carraud's sister, who had bought him some enamels, and to whom he
applied to superintend his orders of porcelain. Faithful to his method
of documentation, he visited the sights of the city rapidly, within a
few hours, and such was his keenness of vision and tenacity of memory
that he was able afterwards to describe it all exactly, down to the
slightest details. On the very evening after his arrival at Angouleme
he set forth for Lyons, but the journey was fated not to be made
without an accident, for in descending from an outside seat of the
coach, at Thiers, Balzac struck his knee against one of the steps so
violently that--in view of his heavy weight--he received a painful wound
on his shin. He was tended at Lyons, the wound healed, and he profited
by his enforced quiet to correct Louis Lambert and to add to it those
"last thoughts" which form one of the highest monuments of human

Honore de Balzac installed himself at Aix, near Mme. de Castries. He
was happy, for she had received him with a thousand charming
coquetries; and he had paid his court to her, yet he did not interrupt
his work for a single day! "I have a simple little chamber," he wrote
to Mme Carraud, "from which I can see the entire valley. I force myself
pitilessly to rise at five o'clock in the morning, and I work beside my
window until five-thirty in the afternoon. My breakfast, an egg, is
sent in from the club. Mme. de Castries has some good coffee made for
me. At six o'clock we dine together, and I pass the evening with her."

Balzac lived economically. His chamber cost him two francs a day and
his breakfast fifteen sous. Yet, after having rendered an account of
his expenses to his mother, he was obliged to ask her for money; and he
played her another of his characteristic neat little tricks. At Aix he
had happened to run across a certain Auguste Sannegou, to whom he owed
eleven hundred francs. And, as the latter had just been losing rather
heavily, he offered to reimburse him, an offer which Sannegou lost no
time in accepting with pleasure. Consequently it became necessary for
Mme. de Balzac to send her son the eleven hundred francs post-haste,
plus two hundred francs which he needed for his personal expenses. His
mother made the sacrifice,--for he sent her a beautiful account of
perspective revenues: 3,000 francs from the Revue de Paris, 2,000
francs for La Bataille, 2,000 francs for a volume of Contes
Drolatiques, 5,000 for four new volumes to be brought out by Mame,
total 9,000 francs,--and after he received the money he acknowledged
that he paid only half the sum due to Sannegou, and kept the rest for a
trip to Italy.

The Fitz-James family came to rejoin the duchess; Balzac was exultant;
he had been exceedingly well treated and had been promised a seat as
deputy, if a general election took place; and he was to go to Rome in
the same pleasant company. But he lacked money, and the sums which his
mother was about to collect in Paris were destined to meet maturing
notes. Besides, he was anxious to finish, without further delay, The
Country Doctor, which he announced to his publisher, Mame, in
triumphant terms:

"Be doubly attentive, Master Mame!" he wrote. "I have been for a long
time imbued with a desire for that form of popular fame which consists
in selling many thousands of copies of a little 18mo volume like Atala,
Paul and Virginia, The Vicar of Wakefield, Manon Lescaut, Perrault,
etc., etc. The multiplicity of editions offsets the lack of a number of
volumes. But the book must be one which can pass into all hands, those
of the young girl, the child, the old man, and even the nun. When the
book once becomes known,--which will take a long or a short time,
according to the talent of the author and the ability of the
publisher,--it becomes a matter of importance. For example: the
Meditations of Lamartine, of which sixty thousand copies were sold; the
Ruins by Volny, etc.

"Accordingly, this is the spirit in which my book is conceived, a book
which the janitor's wife and the fashionable lady can both read. I have
taken the New Testament and the Catechism, two books of excellent
quality, and have wrought my own from them. I have laid the scene in a
village,--and, for the rest, you will read it in its entirety, a thing
which rarely happens to a book of mine,"

for this work Balzac demanded a franc a volume, or seventy-five
centimes at least, and an advance of a thousand francs. This sum was
indispensable if he was to go to Italy. The trip began in October,
under happy auspices, and on the 16th they stopped over at Geneva. From
there Balzac sent his mother two samples of flannel which he had worn
over his stomach. He wanted her to show them to M. Chapelain, a
practitioner of medical magnetism, in order to consult him regarding a
malady which he suspected that he had, and ask him where it was located
and what treatment he should follow. Balzac was a believer in occult
sciences, and once before, during the epidemic of cholera in 1832, he
wrote to M. Chapelain, asking if he could not discover the origin of
the scourge and find remedies capable of stopping it. It was not only
magnetism that interested him, but clairvoyance as well, fortune
tellers and readers of cards, to whom he attributed an acuteness of
perception unknown to ordinary natures.

This enjoyable trip was destined to end at Geneva, so far as Balzac was
concerned. Whether he realised that Mme. de Castries was merely playing
with his affections, or whether his pride was hurt by some unlucky
phrase, no one knows, but he suddenly deserted his companions and
returned to France, offering as a pretext the urgency of his literary
work. This adventure left an open wound, and it took more than five
years to cure him. He suffered cruelly, and we get an echo of his pain
in the line in the Country Doctor, "For wounded hearts, darkness and
silence." He avenged himself on Mme. de Castries by writing the Duchess
of Langeais, in which he showed how a society woman amused herself by
torturing a sensitive and sincere gentleman.

Chapter 7.

The "Foreign Lady".

After his return to Paris, Balzac threw himself into a frightful orgy
of work. It would seem as though his one desire was to forget the
coquette who had so cruelly punished him for loving her, and as though
he felt the need of atoning to himself for the hours that she had taken
him from his work. His physician, Dr. Nacquart, feared that he would
break down, and prescribed a month's rest, during which time he was
neither to read nor write, but lead a purely vegetative life. Yet, in
spite of this injunction, he found himself unable to stop working, for
he was urged on by his genius, and hounded by the terrible necessity of
meeting maturing notes, as well as by his own luxurious tastes which
must be satisfied at any cost. He had the most extravagant hopes of big
returns from The Country Doctor; and in this belief his friends
encouraged him. Emile de Girardin and Auguste Borget estimated that the
book would sell to the extent of four hundred thousand copies. It was
proposed to bring out a one-franc edition which was expected to
circulate broadcast, like prayer-books. Balzac made his own
calculations,--for he was eternally making calculations,--and, relying
confidently upon their accuracy, allowed himself to purchase carpets,
bric-a-brac, a Limoges dinner set, a silver service and jewellery, all
for the adornment of the small den in the Rue Cassini. He ordered
chandeliers; he stopped short of nothing save a silver chafing-dish. He
piled debts upon debts: but what difference did it make, for success
was before him, within reach of his hand, and he would have no trouble
at all to pay!

Alas, none of the actualities of life would ever break down his robust
confidence nor his golden dreams! Even before The Country Doctor was
published he found himself involved in a law suit with his publisher,
and after its appearance the public press criticised it sharply.
"Everyone has his knife out for me," he wrote to Mme. Hanska, "a
situation which saddened and angered Lord Byron only makes me laugh. I
mean to govern the intellectual world of Europe, and with two more
years of patience and toil I shall trample on the heads of all those
who now wish to tie my hands and retard my flight! Persecution and
injustice have given me a brazen courage."

After each of his disillusions he had arisen again stronger than
before; and at this juncture a new element had entered into his life
which gave him an augmented energy and courage. This element was the
one secret romance of his life, which gave rise to a host of anecdotes
and legends. In the month of February, 1832, his publisher, Gosselin,
forwarded a letter to him, signed L'Etrangere, "A Foreign Lady," which
caught his attention by the nobility of the thoughts expressed in it.
This first letter was followed by several others, and in one of them,
dated November 7th, the "Foreign Lady" requested him to let her know of
its safe arrival: "A line from you, published in La Quotidienne, will
assure me that you have received my letter, and that I may write to you
without fear. Sign it, A L'E. H. de B. ('To the Foreign Lady from H. de
B.')." The line requested appeared in La Quotidienne, in its issue of
December 9th, and thus began a long and almost daily correspondence
which was destined to last for seventeen years.

The "Foreign Lady" was a Polish woman of noble birth, Mme. Hanska, who
before her marriage was Countesse Eveline Rzewuska, who lived at her
chateau of Wierzchownia, in Volhynia, with her husband, who possessed
vast estates, and her daughter, Anna, who was still a child. Mme.
Hanska had read the Scenes from Private Life, and she had been filled
with enthusiasm for the author's talent and with a great hope of being
able to exert an influence over his mind and to direct his ideas.

The mysterious nature of this strange correspondence pleased Balzac: he
was able, in the course of it, to give free rein to his imagination,
and at the same time to picture her to himself as a type of woman such
as he had longed for through many years, endowing her with a beauty
which represented all the virtues. His first letters, although
dignified and reserved, nevertheless revealed the fact that he was
seeking for some woman in whom he could confide, and very soon he began
to pour out his heart freely. It is in this collection of letters,
which extend from January, 1833, down to 1847, that we must search for
the true details of his life, rather than in any of those collections
of doubtful anecdotes, which show it only in the distorted form of
caricature, and only too often have no foundation of truth.
Nevertheless it is necessary to read them with a certain amount of
critical reservation, for he often shows himself in them in a false
light, which probably seemed necessary to him, in order to carry out
the diplomatic course which he had undertaken, and which terminated in
his marriage.

From 1833 onward he was destined to lead a double life, the one before
the eyes of the world, with its gesticulations, its eccentricities, its
harlequinades, that left the lookers-on gaping with amazement; and the
other his secret life, which he revealed only to Mme. Hanska, day by
day,--his slave-like toil, his burden of debts which no amount of effort
seemed to lighten, his prodigious hopes, and from time to time his
desperate weariness.

After the publication of The Country Doctor the confused plan of his
vast work took more definite form, the scattered parts began to fit
together, and he foresaw the immense monument in which he was destined
to embody an entire social epoch.

"The day when he was first inspired with this idea was a wonderful day
for him," Mme. Surville has recorded. "He set forth from the Rue
Cassini, where he had taken up his residence after leaving the Rue de
Tournon, and hurried to the Faubourg Poissoniere, where I was then

"'Salute me,' he cried out joyously, 'for I am on the high road to
become a genius!'

"He then proceeded to unfold his plan to us, although it still rather
frightened him. In spite of the vastness of his brain, time alone would
enable him to work out such a plan in detail!

"'How splendid it will be if I succeed!' he said as he strode up and
down the parlour; he was too excited to remain in one place and joy
radiated from all his features. 'From now on they are welcome to call
me Balzac the tale-smith! I shall go on tranquilly squaring my stones
and enjoying in advance the amazement of all those purblind critics
when they finally discover the great structure that I am building!'"

What vital force there was in all the characters of Balzac's novels,
and how well entitled he was to boast that he was running in
competition with the whole social structure! He had not yet formulated
his conception of the Human Comedy, but he was on the road to it when
he planned to rearrange the volumes already published with others that
he had in preparation, in a series of scenes in which the
representative types of the different social classes should develop.
This was the first rough draft of his later great collected editions.
In order to carry out his plan, he had to break with his former
publishers, pay back advance royalties, and defend law-suits. His
collective edition took the general title of Studies of the Manners and
Customs of the Nineteenth Century, and was divided into Scenes of
Private Life, Scenes of Provincial Life, and Scenes of Parisian Life.
He gave the rights of publication of this collective edition first to
Madame the Widow Bechet and later to Edmond Werclet, in consideration
of the sum of twenty-seven thousand francs. This was the most
advantageous contract that he had made up to this time, and he hoped
that it would free him from all his debts, with the exception of what
he owed his mother. In addition to his previously published volumes, he
included in this edition the following new works: Eugenie Grandet, The
Illustrious Gaudissart, The Maranas, Ferragus, The Duchess of Langeais,
The Girl with the Golden Eyes, The Search for the Absolute, The
Marriage Contract, The Old Maid, and the first part of Lost Illusions.
But he did not include either The Chouans or his philosophic works.

Twenty-seven thousand francs was an enormous sum, without parallel save
that paid to Chateaubriand for his collected works; but in Balzac's
case the payment was made in the form of notes for long periods, and he
was left without ready money. In the midst of all his other labours he
had to rack his brain in order to find some way of cashing these notes.
"Finding that I had nothing to hope for from the bankers," he wrote to
Mme. Hanska, "I remembered that I owed three hundred francs to my
doctor, so I called upon him in order to settle my account with one of
my bits of negotiable paper, and he gave me change amounting to seven
hundred francs, minus the discount. From there I made my way to my
landlord, an old grain dealer in the Halle, and paid my rent with
another of my notes, which he accepted, giving me back another seven
hundred francs, minus the exchange; from him I went to my tailor, who,
without demur, took over another of my thousand franc notes, entered it
in his ledger, and paid me the whole thousand francs!

"Seeing that I was in for a run of luck, I took a cab and drove to the
home of a friend, who is a millionaire twice over, a friend of twenty
years standing. As it happened, he had just returned from Berlin. I
found him in, and at once he hurried to his desk, gave me two thousand
francs, and relieved me of two more of the Widow Bechet's notes,
without even looking at them. Ha! ha!--I returned to my rooms and
summoned my vendor of wood and my grocer, in order to settle my
accounts, and, in place of a five hundred franc bank note, slipped each
of them one of the widow's five hundred franc promissory notes! By four
o'clock I was free once more and ready to meet the next day's
obligations. My mind is at ease for a month to come. I can seat myself
once more in the fragile swing of my dreams and let my imagination keep
me swinging. Ecco, Signora!

"My dear, faithful wife-to-be, did I not owe you this faithful picture
of your future home life in Paris? Yes, but here are five thousand
francs squandered, out of the twenty-seven thousand, and before setting
out for Geneva I still have ten thousand to pay: three thousand to my
mother, one thousand to my sister, and six thousand in judgments and
costs.--'Good gracious, my dear man, where will you raise all that?'--
Out of my ink-well!" (Letter dated October 31, 1833.)

The tone of the correspondence had become more tender and confidential,
mirroring back an intimate picture of a laborious existence, laden with
anxieties,--and the reason is that Balzac now knew his "Foreign Lady,"
for he had met her at Neufchatel, whence he returned overflowing with
enthusiasm. From the date of the very first letters he had received his
imagination had taken fire, and he had responded with an answering
ardour to this woman who had so ingenuously laid bare her heart to him.
It was a romantic adventure upon which he set forth rejoicing. He had
sent to the fair unknown a lock of his hair, which he had allowed to
remain for some time uncut, in order to send one as long as possible;
he had presented her with a perfumed casket, destined to be the
mysterious receptacle of his letters; a friend had drawn a sketch of
his apartment in the Rue Cassini, so that she might see what a pleasant
little den the toiler had; and lastly he inserted in a copy of The
Country Doctor an aquarelle, in which he was portrayed in the somewhat
exaggerated guise of his own Doctor Bernassis. This was a sacrifice to
which he consented for love's sake, because he had always refused to
let anyone, even Gerard, paint his portrait, insisting "that he was not
handsome enough to be worth preserving in oil."

But letter-writing and delicate attentions in the form of gifts were
far from satisfying him. He wanted to see her, to talk with her, to put
into speech shades of feeling so delicate that the written word was
powerless to reproduce them. And presently chance aided and abetted
him. Mme. Hanska left Wierzchnownia for a summer vacation in
Switzerland, and Balzac, on the trail of one of those business
opportunities for which he was ever on the watch, was obliged to go to
Besancon at precisely the same season. His mission related to the
manufacture of a special kind of paper, to be made exclusively for his
works, and which he imagined would speedily make his fortune. Since she
was to be at Neufchatel and he at Besancon, how could they resist the
pleasure of a first meeting? Permission was asked to call, and
permission was granted; and Balzac, impatient and intoxicated with
hope, left Paris, September 22d, arrived at Neufchatel on the 25th, and
for five days enjoyed profound happiness, tender and unalloyed. They
met, and the sentiments born of their correspondence, far from being
destroyed by this meeting, were on the contrary exalted into trembling
avowals, transports and protestations of eternal love. Balzac returned
to Paris radiant with his new-found joy. He wrote as follows to his
sister Laure, the habitual recipient of his confidences:

"I found down yonder all that is needed to flatter the thousand
vanities of that animal known as man, of which species the poet still
remains the vainest variety. But why do I use the word vanity? No, that
has nothing to do with it. I am happy, very happy in thought, and so
far all for the best and in all honour . . .

"I say nothing to you of her colossal wealth; of what consequence is
that, beside a perfection of beauty which I can compare to no one
except the Princess of Bellejoyeuse, only infinitely better?"

Mme. Hanska was profoundly religious and a practical Catholic; and from
this time onward she exerted an influence over the trend of Balzac's
thoughts. Indeed, he brought back from their first interviews the germ
idea of his mystical story, Seraphita. The project of the special paper
having failed to materialise at Besancon, he tried to carry it out
through the mediation of Mme. Carraud, but with no better success.

The Country Doctor proved a source of nothing but disappointments to
Balzac, who received an adverse decision from the courts, in the
lawsuit bought by Mame, because he had failed to furnish copy at the
stipulated dates, and found himself facing a judgment of three thousand
francs damages, besides another thousand francs for corrections made at
his expense. The cost of the latter was, for that matter, always
charged to him by his publishers in all his contracts, because his
method of work raised this item to an unreasonable sum. For one of his
short stories, Pierette, Balzac demanded no less than seventeen
successive revised proofs. And his corrections, his additions and his
suppressions formed such an inextricable tangle that the typesetters
refused to work more than an hour at a time over his copy.

The failure of the work on which he had counted so much and the loss of
his lawsuit did not discourage him. To borrow his own phrase, he
"buried himself in the most frightful labours." Between the end of 1833
and 1834 he produced Eugenie Grandet, The Illustrious Gaudissart, The
Girl with the Golden Eyes, and The Search for the Absolute. The paper
which he used for writing was a large octavo in form, with a parchment
finish. His manuscripts often bore curious annotations and drawings. On
the cover of that of Eugenie Grandet he had drawn a ground plan of old
Grandet's house, and had compiled a list of names, from which he chose
those of the characters in the story. Balzac attached an extreme
importance to proper names, and he did not decide which to give to his
heroes until after long meditation, for he believed that names were
significant, even to the extent of influencing their destinies. The
manuscript of The Search for the Absolute bears witness to his constant
preoccupation about money. He had inscribed on it the following account:

Total for June  7,505 francs.
Total for July  1,500 francs.
Floating debt   3,700 francs.
               12,705 francs.

And melancholically he wrote below it, "Deficit, 1,705!" His writing
was small, compressed, irregular and often far from easy to read; when
he suppressed a passage, he used a form of pothook erasure which
rendered the condemned phrase absolutely illegible.

In 1834, Honore de Balzac, while still keeping his apartment in the Rue
Cassini, transferred his residence to Chaillot, No. 13, Rue des
Bastailles (now the Avenue d'Iena), in a house situated on the site of
the hotel of Prince Roland Bonaparte. This was his bachelor quarters,
where he received his letters, under the name of Madame the Widow
Durand. He had by no means abandoned his projects of luxurious
surroundings, and in The Girl with the Golden Eyes he has given a
description of his own parlour, which shows that he had in a measure
already realised his desires:

"One-half of the boudoir," he wrote, "described an easy and graceful
semicircle, while the opposite side was perfectly square, and in the
centre glistened a mantelpiece of white marble and gold. The entrance
was through a side door, hidden by a rich portiere of tapestry, and
facing a window. Within the horseshoe curve was a genuine Turkish
divan, that is to say, a mattress resting directly upon the floor, a
mattress as large as a bed, a divan fifty feet in circumference and
covered with white cashmere, relieved by tufts of black and poppy-red
silk arranged in a diamond pattern. The headboard of this immense bed
rose several inches above the numerous cushions which still further
enriched it by the good taste of their harmonious tints. The walls of
this boudoir were covered with red cloth, overlaid with India muslin
fluted like a Corinthian column, the flutings being alternately
hollowed and rounded, and finished at top and bottom with a band of
poppy-red cloth embroidered with black arabesques. Seen through the
muslin, the poppy-red turned to rose colour, the colour emblematic of
love; and the same effect was repeated in the window curtains, which
were also of India muslin lined with rose-coloured taffeta and
ornamented with fringes of mixed black and poppy-red. Six vermilion
sconces, each containing two candles, were fixed at even intervals to
the wall, for the purpose of lighting the divan. The ceiling, from the
centre of which hung a chandelier of dull vermilion, was a dazzling
white, and the cornice was gilded. The carpet resembled an Oriental
shawl, exhibiting the patterns and recalling the poetry of Persia, the
land where it had been woven by the hands of slaves. The furniture was
all upholstered in white cashmere, emphasised by trimmings of the same
combination of black and poppy-red. The clock, the candle-sticks, all
the ornaments, were of white marble and gold. The only table in the
room had a cashmere covering. Graceful jardinieres contained roses of
all species having blossoms of red or white."

Theophile Gautier has borne witness to the accuracy of this
description; but as though wishing to show him the double aspect of his
life, Balzac, after willingly exhibiting in detail all the luxury of
his boudoir, led him to a corner recess, necessitated by the rounded
form of one side of the room; and there, hidden behind the ostentatious
decoration, there was nothing but a narrow iron cot, a table and a
chair; this was where he worked.

Balzac disliked being disturbed while working; and, for the double
reason of avoiding unwelcome visitors and throwing his creditors off
the scent, he had invented a whole series of pass-words, which it was
necessary to know before one could penetrate to his apartment. A
visitor, let into the secret, would say to the porter, "The season for
plums has arrived," thanks to which he acquired the right to enter the
house. But this was only the first degree of initiation. A servant
would next come forward and ask, "What does Monsieur wish?" and one had
to be able to answer, "I have brought some Brussels lace." This
constituted the second degree and resulted in permission to ascend the
stairs. Then, with the door of the sanctuary just ajar, the visitor
could not hope to see it swing fully open before him until he had made
the assertion that "Mme. Durand was in good health!" Whenever Balzac
suspected that his pass-words had been betrayed, he invented a new set,
which he communicated only to those few chosen spirits whom he cared to
receive. And this method of protecting himself caused him, when with
his friends, to indulge in great outbursts of his vast, resounding

In spite of envy and conspiracies, Balzac's reputation was now
established; he had become one of those writers who are widely
discussed and whose sayings and doings are a current topic of
conversation. At the same time, he was the prey of the low-class
journals, which attacked him maliciously. At this period, Balzac was
passing through a second attack of dandyism. He was once again to be
seen at the Opera, at the Bouffes and at the fashionable salons. He
sported a monstrous walking stick, the handle of which was set with
turquoises; he showed himself in the box occupied by an
ultra-fashionable set known as the "Tigers," wearing a blue coat,
adorned with golden buttons, "buttons," he said, "wrought by the hand
of a fairy"; and he had a "divine lorgnette," which had been made for
him by the optician of the Observatory. He began to be laughed at; and,
gossip taking a hand, his glorious luxury was attributed to the
generosity of an elderly Englishwoman, Lady Anelsy, whose lucky
favourite he was supposed to be. His walking stick especially--a stick
that, in his estimation, was worthy of Louis XIV--excited curiosity. It
was ridiculed, decried and admired. Mme. de Girardin wrote a novel
around it, Monsieur de Balzac's Walking Stick, in which she attributed
to it the power of rendering invisible whoever held it in his left hand.

He had a carriage adorned with his monogram, surmounted by the arms of
the d'Entragues; he frequented the salons of the Rothschilds, and of
Mme. Appony, the wife of the Austrian ambassador; he gave magnificent
dinners to Latour-Mezeray, to Sandeau, to Nodier, to Malitourne and to
Rossini, who declared that he had "never seen, eaten or drunken
anything better, even at the tables of kings."

Then, suddenly, Balzac returned to the fierce heat of production; he
abandoned his friends and acquaintances, and became invisible for
months at a time, buried in his hiding-place at Chaillot, or else
taking refuge at the home of M. de Margonne at Sache, or of Mme.
Carraud at Frapesle. And when he reappeared, it was with his hands
laden with masterpieces, his eye more commanding and his brow held high
with noble pride. With a speed of production that no one has ever
equalled he turned forth, one after another, his great novels, Old
Goriot, The Lily in the Valley, Seraphita, The Atheist's Mass, The
Interdiction, The Cabinet of Antiques, Facino Cane, and he revised,
corrected and remodelled a part of his earlier works into the
Philosophic Studies which he brought out through Werdet, and his
Studies of Manners, published by Mme. Bechet. His plan had grown still
larger, the formidable creation with which his brain was teeming was
taking organic shape, and he now perceived the architecture of his vast
monument. He expounded it to Mme. Hanska, with justifiable pride:

"I believe that by 1838 the three divisions of this gigantic work will
be, if not completed, at least superposed, so that it will be possible
to judge the mass of the structure.

"The Studies of Manners are intended to represent all social effects so
completely that no situation in life, no physiognomy, no character of
man or woman, no manner of living, no profession, no social zone, no
section of France, nor anything whatever relating to childhood,
maturity or old age, to politics, justice or war, shall be forgotten.

"This being determined, the history of the human heart traced thread by
thread, and the history of society recorded in all its parts, we have
the foundation. There will be no imaginary incidents in it; it will
consist solely of what is happening everywhere.

"Then comes the second story of my structure, the Philosophic Studies,
for after the effects we shall examine the causes. In the Studies of
Manners I shall already have painted for you the play of the emotions
and the movement of life. In the Philosophic Studies I shall expound
the why of the emotions and the wherefore of life; what is the range
and what are the conditions outside of which neither society nor man
can exist; and, after having surveyed society in order to describe it,
I shall survey it again in order to judge it. Accordingly the Studies
of Manners contain typical individuals, while the Philosophic Studies
contain individualised types. Thus on all sides I shall have created
life: for the type by individualising it, and for the individual by
converting him into a type. I shall endow the fragment with thought,
and I shall have endowed thought with individual life.

"Then, after the effects and causes, will come the Analytic Studies, of
which the Physiology of Marriage will form part: for after the effects
and causes, the next thing to be sought is the principles. The manners
are the performance, the causes are the stage setting and properties,
and the principles are the author; but in proportion as my work circles
higher and higher into the realms of thought, it narrows and condenses.
If it requires twenty-four volumes for the Studies of Manners, it will
not require more than fifteen for the Philosophic Studies, and it will
not require more than nine for the Analytic Studies. In this way, man,
society and humanity will have been described, judged and analysed,
without repetition, resulting in a work which will stand as the
Thousand and One Nights of the Occident.

"When the whole is completed, my edifice achieved, my pediment
sculptured, my scaffolding cleared away, my final touches given, it
will be proved that I was either right or wrong. But after having been
a poet, after having demonstrated an entire social system, I shall
revert to science in an Essay on the Human Powers. And around the base
of my palatial structure, with boyish glee I shall trace the immense
arabesque of my Hundred Droll Tales."

Think of the courage that it needed not to recoil before this
superhuman task, planned with such amplitude and precision! Yet, aside
from a few rare days of discouragement, Balzac did not feel that it was
beyond his powers. After each brief period of weakening, his optimism
always reappeared, and having indicated his goal, he concluded: "Some
day when I have finished, we can have a good laugh. But today I must

Accordingly he worked, not only "today," but every day, in the midst of
the material uncertainty created by his accumulated debts, his
lawsuits, and his need of luxury; and his method of work was to retire
at six o'clock in the evening, rise at two in the morning, and remain
sometimes more than sixteen hours before his table, wrestling with his

Nevertheless he was able to escape in May, 1835, for a trip to Vienna
to see Mme. Hanska, enjoy a fortnight of happiness, and return to Paris
with his heart in holiday mood. His good humour never deserted him. He
related how, lacking any knowledge of German, he devised a way of
paying his postilion. At each relay he summoned him to the door of the
carriage and, looking him fixedly in the eye, dropped kreutzers into
his hands one by one, and when he saw the postilion smile he withdrew
the last kreutzer, knowing that he had been amply paid!

Returning to Paris by the eleventh of June, Balzac found nothing but a
new crop of sorrows and anxieties awaiting him, together with "three or
four months of hard labour" in perspective. His publisher, Werdet, had
not been able to meet his payments, and his sister Laure had been
obliged to pawn all her brother's silver at the Mont-de-Piete, in order
to save the notes from being protested. On the other hand, his mother
was seriously ill; it was feared the result would be either death or
insanity, and his brother Henri had reached a state in which he was on
the point of blowing out his brains. Family sorrows, money troubles,
such was perpetually his fate! and accordingly he redoubled his
courage. He had been working not more than sixteen hours consecutively,
but now he worked for twenty-four at a stretch, and after five hours
sleep began again this new schedule which practically meant an average
of twenty-one and one-half working hours per day. He would be able to
earn eight thousand francs, but in order to do so he must deliver
within forty days the last chapters of Seraphita and the Young Brides
to the Revue de Paris, the Lily in the Valley to the Revue des Deux
Mondes, and an article for the Conservateur, all of which was
equivalent to writing four hundred and forty-eight pages.

And still this did not satisfy him! His ambition pushed him once again
towards his earlier political designs. He counted upon the support of
the reviews for which he was writing, he planned to found two
newspapers, and dreamed of creating a party composed of the
intellectual element, of which he would naturally be the leader. It was
in this spirit that, during the last months of 1835, he acquired the
Chronique de Paris, of which he became the director. To this weekly
periodical, which henceforth appeared twice a week, Balzac summoned a
brilliant editorial staff--he always disdained to supervise any other
than shining lights--including Gustave Planche, Nodier, Theophile
Gautier, Charles de Bernard, while the illustrations were furnished by
Gavarni and Daumier. Since he already aspired to a foreign ministry or
ambassadorship, he reserved the department of foreign affairs for
himself, and for more than a year he treated of European diplomacy with
extraordinary penetration and accuracy. He made prodigious efforts to
keep his review on its feet, but in spite of his activity and the
talent of his collaborators, the Chronique exerted little or no
influence, and remained very poor in subscribers.

While he was still editing it he once more underwent the singular and
vexatious experience of being imprisoned. Although a good citizen, he
energetically refused to fulfill his duties in the national guard,
which he deemed unbefitting the dignity of an artist and author. In
March, 1835, he had already been detained for seven days in the Hotel
Bazancourt; so in order to avoid a similar annoyance in the future he
hired his apartment under another name than his own. But his
sergeant-major, a dentist by profession and a man of resource,
succeeded in capturing him and landing him safely in the "Hotel des
Haricots." (Popular nickname for the debtors' prison. [Translator's
Note.]) He was locked up without a penny in his pocket, and in order to
soften the rigours of his captivity must needs appeal for help to his
publisher, Werdet. His hardships, however, proved to be tolerably mild
when once he was supplied with money. In the prison he met Eugene Sue,
who was detained for the same cause, and who carried the thing off in
lordly fashion, having sumptuous repasts brought to him on his own
silver service. Owing to this attitude there was a certain coldness at
first between the two novelists, but before long they joined forces in
order to enliven their days of imprisonment. Eugene Sue could draw, and
he made a pen-and-ink sketch of a horse, a horseman and a stretch of
seashore, which Balzac inscribed as follows: "Drawn in prison in the
Hotel Bazancourt, where we were under punishment for not having mounted
guard, in accordance with the decree of the grocers of Paris."

A still harsher prison, that of Clichy, very nearly fell to Balzac's
lot, a few months later. His efforts to carry on the Chronique had been
in vain, and he had been obliged to abandon it, toward the middle of
1837, with a fresh accumulation of debts. One of his creditors, William
Duckett, pressed him so vigorously for a sum of ten thousand francs
that Balzac was forced to go into hiding, and the process-servers were
unable to discover him. A woman finally betrayed his retreat, and one
morning the officers of the law presented themselves at the home of
Mme. de Visconti, the lady who had given him asylum. Balzac was caught,
but not taken, for the generous woman promptly paid the debt demanded
of him.

Once again he had been saved, but now all his creditors were at his
heels, and he was like a hare before them, never sure where he could
lay his head. In order to satisfy them he added toil to toil, story to
story, notwithstanding the sorrow caused him by the loss of Mme. de
Berny, that early love who had protected his youth and sustained his
courage, with an unwavering devotion, a heart of wife and mother in
one. His troubles were now constant, and he was forced to carry on a
famous litigation with Buloz, director of the Revue des Deux Mondes,
who had forwarded to the Revue Etrangere of St. Petersburg uncorrected
proofs of the Lily of the Valley. In defending himself he was defending
the common rights of all authors.

Theophile Gautier, whom he had invited to collaborate on the Chronique
de Paris at a time when the author of Mademoiselle de Maupin was but
little known, has left some vivid recollections of Balzac at this

"It was," he writes, "in that same boudoir (the luxurious chamber in
the Rue des Batailles) that he gave us a splendid dinner, on which
occasion he lighted with his own hands all the candles in the vermilion
sconces as well as those in the chandelier and candlesticks. The guests
were the Marquis de B- (de Belloy) and the artist L.B. (Louis
Boulanger). Although quite sober and abstemious by habit, Balzac did
not disdain on occasion the festive board and flowing bowl; he ate with
a whole-hearted satisfaction that was appetising to see, and he drank
in true Pantagruelian fashion. Four bottles of the white wine of
Vouvray, one of the headiest wines known, in no way affected his strong
brain, and produced no other result than to add a slightly keener
sparkle to his gaiety.

"Characteristic touch! At this splendid feast, furnished by Chevot,
there was no bread. But when one has all the superfluities, of what use
are the necessities?"

Balzac, who ordinarily ate quite soberly, consumed an enormous quantity
of fruit, pears, strawberries and grapes. He held that they were good
for his health, and that they suited his temperament, overheated as it
was by his abuse of coffee and his sleepless nights. Alcohol did not
agree with him, and as to tobacco, he detested it to such a degree that
he refused to employ servants who had the habit of smoking.

His intellectual conceptions intermingled with the current events of
life, and he drew no very clear demarcation between the characters and
adventures which he created and the actualities of life. The History of
the Thirteen and the exploits of the association of which Ferragus was
chief gave Balzac the idea of forming a secret society, after the
manner of the one he had conceived, the members of which were to afford
one another aid and protection under all circumstances. This society he
called the Red Horse, from the name of the restaurant where the charter
members met. They were Theophile Gautier, Leon Gozlan, Alphonse Karr,
Louis Desnoyers, Eugene Guinot, Altorache, Merle, and Granier de
Cassagnac, all of whom swore the oath of fidelity and enthusiastically
named Balzac Grand Master of the new order. The place of meeting was
changed each week, in order not to attract the attention of the waiters
who served the "Horses,"--cabalistic name of the conspirators,--and their
secret had to be carefully guarded, for it was nothing less than a
project for distributing among the members of the Red Horse the chief
offices of State, the ministries and ambassadorships, the highest
positions in arts and letters, the Academie Francaise and the Institut.
These secret reunions ceased after a few months, for there was no more
corn in the crib,--in other words, a majority of the "Horses" were
unable to pay their dues.

Did these chimerical dreams serve to distract Balzac's thoughts from
the realities, or did he believe that he possessed some occult means of
dominating society? Perhaps it was something of both. His material
situation had become worse. Werdet succumbed under the weight of his
publications, dragging down his favourite author in his ruin. Balzac
had hours of heavy depression; he went for a rest to Mme. Carraud's
home at Frapesle, and after his return to Paris he wrote her in the
following strain:

"I am horribly embarrassed for money. By tomorrow I may not have a care
in the world, if the matters that I have in hand turn out well; but
then again it is quite possible that I may perish. It is quite dramatic
to be always hovering between life and death; it is the life of a
corsair; but human endurance cannot keep it up forever."

He sought for new publishers; then, having passed through the crisis of
humility, he straightened up once more, his courage was born again, and
he undertook a very mysterious journey the goal of which he revealed to
no one, aside from Commander Carraud, whom he had let into his secret.
He announced only that if he succeeded it would mean a fortune for him
and all his family. Balzac borrowed five hundred francs and left Paris
in March, 1836, arriving on the 20th in Marseilles, and on the 26th in
Ajaccio, where, his incognito having been betrayed by a former fellow
student, he was royally entertained by the younger generation; and on
April 1st he set out for Sardinia in a small sloop propelled by oars.
What was the object of this journey? During a stay in Genoa in 1837 a
merchant of that city had told him that whole mountains of slag existed
near the silver mines which the Romans had worked in Sardinia. This
information had set Balzac's spirit of deduction to working, and,
assuming that the ancients were very ignorant in the art of reducing
ores and had probably abandoned enormous quantities of silver in the
slag, had asked his Genoese friend to send him some specimens to Paris.

Landing at Alghiero, he explored Sardinia, saw the mountains of slag
and, returning to Genoa on the 22d, had the discomfiture of learning
that his Genoese friend, instead of sending him the requested
specimens, had adopted the idea himself and had obtained from the court
of Turin the right to develop the project in conjunction with a firm in
Marseilles which had assayed the ore. All Balzac's hopes of making his
fortune once more crumbled to pieces; yet he refused to succumb, but,
at the same time he wrote the bad news to Laure, announced that he had
hit upon something better! Such was his unconquerable optimism. He
returned by way of Milan, where he remained several weeks, attending to
some business matters for the Visconti family, and, far from his
"phrase-shop," he indulged in bitter reflections. At the age of
thirty-nine his debts amounted to two hundred thousand francs, he had
resorted to every means to clear himself, and, weary of so many useless
efforts, he ceased to look forward to a day of liberation.

But he missed his routine of exhausting labour, he sighed for his
table, his candles, his white paper; he wanted to get back to his
feverish nights, his days of meditation, in his secluded and silent
workroom where, better than anywhere else, all his heroic personages
quivered into being, and he beheld all the various lives of his
creation with a bitter, almost terrible joy. He returned to Paris
during the first half of June, lamenting: "My head refuses to do any
intellectual work; I feel that it is full of ideas, yet it is
impossible to get them out; I am incapable of concentrating my
thoughts, of compelling them to consider a subject from all its sides
and then determine its development. I do not know when this imbecile
condition will pass off, perhaps it is only that I am out of practice.
When a workman has left his tools behind him for a time his hand
becomes clumsy; it has, so to speak, undergone a divorce from them; he
must needs begin again little by little to establish that fraternity
due to habit and which binds the hand to the implement and the
implement to the hand." But his discouragement did not last long, for
he soon had his implement in hand again, with a stronger grip on it
than ever.

Chapter 8.

At Les Jardies.

It was in 1835 that Balzac conceived the idea of acquiring some land,
situated between Sevres and Ville-d'Avray, for the purpose of building
a house. He wished in this way to give a guarantee to his mother, evade
compulsory service in the National Guard, and become a landed
proprietor. He had explored all the suburbs of Paris before deciding
upon a hillside with a steep slope, as ill adapted to building as to
cultivation. But, having definitely made his choice, he acquired
sections from the adjacent holdings of three peasants, thus obtaining a
lot forty square rods in extent, to which he naturally hoped to add
later on. He calculated that he would not have to spend more than
twenty-five thousand francs, which he could borrow,--in point of fact,
the total cost came to more than ninety thousand,--and that the interest
to be paid would not come to more than the rent he was then paying for
his apartment. The first step was to surround his property with walls,
and Balzac then christened it with the name of Les Jardies. He laughed
with sheer contentment, foreseeing himself in his mind's eye already
installed in his own abode, far from Paris, and yet near to it, and
beyond the reach of importunate visitors and the curiosity of cheap
journalism. Nevertheless Les Jardies cost him as much sarcasm and
ridicule as his monstrous walking-stick set with turquoises. He had
given his own plans to his architects, and he himself attentively
superintended his contractors and masons. He experienced all the
annoyances incident to construction, delays in the work, disputes with
the workmen, the worry of raising money and meeting payments, and the
impossibility of obtaining exactly what he wished. He was impatient to
take possession of his own home, but the completion of it was delayed
from month to month; it was to have been ready for occupancy by
November 30, 1837, yet on his return from Sardinia in June 1838, it was
not yet finished. But he was so eager to move in that in defiance of
his physician's orders he installed himself in August, in the midst of
all the confusion and with the workmen still all around him. It was a
dreadful condition of things, the upturned ground, the empty chambers,
the chill of new plaster, and an irritating sense of things not
finished and pushed along in haste; but he was exultant, and distracted
his own attention by admiring the beauty of the surrounding landscape.

How delightful it was to live at Les Jardies! It required not more than
ten minutes to reach the heart of Paris, the Madeleine, and it cost but
ten sous. The Rue des Batailles and the Rue Cassini were at the other
end of the world, and you must needs spend a couple of francs for the
shortest drive which wasted an hour,--such was the fashion in which
Balzac dreamed! And he would gaze at his acre of ground, bare,
ploughed-up clay, without a tree or a blade of grass, and he found no
trouble in transforming it mentally into an eden of "plants, fragrance
and shrubbery." He planned to fill it with twenty-year magnolias,
sixteen-year lindens, twelve-year poplars, birches and grape vines
which would yield him fine white grapes the very next year. And then he
would earn thirty thousand francs and buy two more acres of land, which
he would turn into an orchard and kitchen-garden.

The house which was the object of so many witticisms was a small
three-storied structure, containing on the ground floor a dining-room
and parlour, on the next a bed-chamber and dressing-room, and on the
upper floor Balzac's working room. A balcony supported by brick pillars
completely surrounded the second story, and the staircase--the famous
staircase--ascended on the outside of the house. The whole was painted
brick colour, excepting the corners, which had stone trimmings.

Behind the house itself, at a distance of some sixty feet, were the
outhouses, including, on the ground floor, the kitchen, pantry,
bathroom, stables, carriage-house and harness-room; on the floor above
an apartment to let, and on the top floor the servants' quarters and a
guest chamber. Furthermore, Balzac had a spring of water on his own

For months all Paris talked of the staircase at Les Jardies which
Balzac, great architect that he was, had forgotten to put into the
plans for his house. Under the caption, "Literary Indiscretions," the
following humorous note appeared in La Caricature Provisoire;

"M. de Balzac, after having successively inhabited the four corners of
the globe and the twelve wards of Paris, seems to have definitely
transferred his domicile to the midst of an isolated plain in the
outskirts of Ville-d'Avray; he occupies a house which he has had built
there for his own particular accommodation by a direct descendant of
the marvellous architect to whom the world owes the cathedral of
Cologne. This house, in which no doors or windows are to be found, and
which is entered through a square hole cut in the roof, is furnished
throughout with an oriental luxury of which even the pashas themselves
would be incapable of forming an idea. The great novelist's private
study has a floor inlaid with young girl's teeth and hung with superb
cashmere rugs that have been sent him by all the crowned heads of the
universe. As to the furniture, the chairs, sofas and divans, they are
one and all stuffed with women's hair, both blonde and brunette, sent
to the author of La Grenadiere by a number of women of thirty who did
not hesitate a minute to despoil themselves of their most beautiful
adornment,--a sacrifice all the more rare since they have passed the age
at which the hair would grow again!"

Balzac removed to Les Jardies as soon as the walls of the dwelling had
been raised and the floorings laid, and he lived there before there was
a piece of furniture in any of the rooms, aside from the few
indispensable things. Leon Gozlan has amusingly related the manner in
which the novelist supplied their lack by an effort of imagination. He
wrote on the walls with charcoal what he intended the interior
decoration of his house to be: "Here a wainscoting of Parian marble;
here a stylobate of cedar wood; here a ceiling painted by Eugene
Delacroix; here an Aubusson tapestry; here a mantelpiece of cipolino
marble; here doors on the Trianon model; here an inlaid floor of rare
tropical woods."

Leon Gozlan says that "Balzac did not resent pleasantries at the
expense of these imaginary furnishings," and he adds, "he laughed as
heartily as I, if not more so, the day when I wrote, in characters
larger than his own, on the wall of his bed-chamber, which was as empty
as any of the others:

                         HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN.'"

Balzac laughed, but Gozlan did not understand that he found more
pleasure in desiring things than in actually possessing them, for in
the former case he was limited only by the extent of his own desires,
which were almost infinite.

Among the various speculative schemes which Balzac dreamed of, in
connection with Les Jardies, and which were to make his fortune,--a
dairy, vineyards which were to produce Malaga and Tokay wine, the
creation of a village, etc.,--particular mention should be made of his
plans for the cultivation of pineapples, which we have upon the
authority of Theophile Gautier:

"Here was the project," he tells us, "a hundred thousand square feet of
pineapples were to be planted in the grounds of Les Jardies,
metamorphosed into hothouses which would require only a moderate amount
of heating, thanks to the natural warmth of the situation. The
pineapples were expected to sell at five francs each, instead of a
louis (twenty francs), which was the ordinary price; in other words,
five hundred thousand francs for the season's crop; from this amount a
hundred thousand francs would have to be deducted for the cost of
cultivation, the glass frames, and the coal; accordingly, there would
remain a net profit of four hundred thousand, which would constitute a
splendid income for the happy possessor,--'without having to turn out a
page of copy,' he used to say. This was nothing; Balzac had a thousand
projects of the same sort; but the beautiful thing about this one was
that we went together to the Boulevard Montmartre to look for a shop in
which to sell these pineapples that were not yet even planted. The shop
was to be painted black, with gold trimmings, and there was to be a
sign proclaiming in enormous letters: PINEAPPLES FROM LES JARDIES.

"However, he yielded to our advice not to hire the shop until the
following year, in order to save needless expense."

When the first satisfaction of being a landed proprietor had passed,
Balzac realised that he had added a new burden to those he already
carried, and he confided to Mme. Carraud: "Yes, the folly is committed
and it is complete! Don't talk of it to me; I must needs pay for it,
and I am now spending my nights doing so!" Forty thousand francs had
been added to his former debts, to say nothing of all sorts of trouble
which Les Jardies was still destined to cost him.

In spite of his formidable powers of production, which had caused him
to be called by Hippolyte Souverain "the most fertile of French
novelists,"--a title, by the way, of which he was far from proud,--Honore
de Balzac could not succeed in freeing himself from debt. Nevertheless,
between 1836 and 1839 he published: The Atheist's Mass, The
Interdiction, The Old Maid, The Cabinet of Antiques, Facino Cane, Lost
Illusions (1st part); The Superior Woman (later The Employees), The
Cabinet of Antiques (2d part), The House of Nucingen, Splendours and
Miseries of Courtezans (1st part), A Daughter of Eve, Beatrix, Lost
Illusions (2d part), A Provincial Great Man in Paris, The Secrets of
the Princesse de Cadignan, The Village Cure, and to these he added in
1840 Pierrette, Pierre Grassou, and A New Prince of Bohemia. His prices
had risen, new illustrated editions of his earlier works had been
issued, and he was receiving high rates for his short stories, not only
from the magazines but from newspapers such as the Figaro, the Presse,
the Siecle and the Constitutionnel; yet nothing could extinguish his
debts, those debts which he had been so long carrying like a cross.
"Why," said he, "I have been bowed down by this burden for fifteen
years, it hampers the expansion of my life, it disturbs the action of
my heart, it stifles my thoughts, it puts a blight on my existence, it
embarrasses my movements, it checks my inspirations, it weighs upon my
conscience, it interferes with everything, it has been a drag on my
career, it has broken my back, it has made me an old man. My God, have
I not paid dearly enough for my right to bask in the sunshine! All that
calm future, that tranquillity of which I stand so much in need, all
gambled away in a few hours and exposed to the mercy of Parisian
caprice, which for the moment is in a censorious mood!"

Balzac now staked all his hopes upon his first play, Vautrin, which was
about to be produced at the Porte Saint-Martin theatre. From the very
outset of his literary career his thoughts had steadily turned to the
drama, and his earliest attempt had been that ill-fated Cromwell, which
had failed so ignominiously when read to his family. Yet this setback
had not definitely turned him aside from the stage; and, while he
rather despised the theatre as a means of literary expression, he had
never ceased to consider it as the most rapid method of earning money
and founding a fortune. All the time that he was writing his Human
Comedy, one can feel that he was constantly pre-occupied with the
composition of plays, of which he drafted the scenarios without ever
elaborating them. In 1831 he invited Victor Ratier, editor of La
Silhouette, to collaborate with him, specifying, however, "that it was
more a question of establishing a literary porkshop than a reputation";
in 1832 he announced to his mother that he had "taken the step of
writing two or three plays for stage production!" and he added, "This
is the greatest misfortune which could happen to me; but necessity is
stronger than I, and it is impossible to extricate myself in any other
way. I shall try to find some one who will do me the service of signing
them, so that I shall not need to compromise my own name." Thereafter
he conceived successively a Marie Touchet, a tragedy in prose entitled
Don Philip and Don Carlos, a farce comedy, Prudhomme Bigamist, a drama,
The Courtiers, written in collaboration with Emmanuel Arago and Jules
Sandeau, and a high-class comedy, The Grande Mademoiselle, also in
collaboration with Sandeau. Then, in 1836, he reverted to Marie
Touchet, and composed La Gina, a drama in three acts, and Richard the
Sponge-Hearted. Finally, in 1839, he wrote for the Renaissance Theatre
The School of Married Life, with the obscure aid of Lassailly, a
five-act play for which he was offered an award of six thousand francs,
and which he himself produced in print. But it was never performed, in
spite of many promises.

This first unsuccessful attempt at stage production discouraged him at
first, yet he never gave up his determination to succeed. He prepared a
second play, intending to ask Theophile Gautier to collaborate with
him; this second play was Vautrin.

The first performance of Vautrin took place March 14, 1840. Balzac
expected that this play would bring him in at least six thousand
francs. Tickets had been greatly in demand, and speculators had so
completely cornered them that the audience, composed largely of the
author's friends, could not obtain them at the box office. It was a
tumultuous evening, and one would have to go back to the great opening
nights of Victor Hugo in order to find a parallel case of hostile
demonstrations. Frederik Lemaitre, who played the role of Jacques
Collin, had conceived the idea of making himself up to resemble Louis
Philippe. The King of France, far from being pleased at seeing himself
masquerading as a bandit, suppressed the play, which consequently had
only the one performance. It was a disaster, but Balzac bore up
valiantly under it. Leon Gozlin, who called upon him at Les Jardies on
the very day when the royal interdiction reached him, relates that he
talked of nothing else but his plans for improving his property.
Balzac's friends, headed by Victor Hugo, tried to use their influence
with the government officials, but the latter were powerless to do
otherwise than to confirm the order of Louis Philippe; the royal edict
had been imperative. The government offered to pay Balzac an indemnity,
but he proudly refused.

A few months prior to the production of Vautrin, Balzac, then at the
height of his financial difficulties and literary labours, had
nevertheless courageously undertaken the defense of a man accused of
murder whom he believed to be innocent. This act was in accordance with
his conception of his duty as a citizen, and it bore witness to his
generosity and sense of justice. The case in question was that of a
certain notary, Peytel by name, of Belley, who was accused of the
premeditated murder of his wife and man-servant. Balzac had had a
slight acquaintance with him in 1831, at the time when Peytel was part
owner of the Voleur, to which Balzac contributed. This acquaintance had
sufficed him to judge of the man's character and to conclude that he
was incapable of the double crime with which he was charged. Regardless
of his own most pressing interests, Balzac, accompanied by Gavarni, set
out for Bourg, where the trial and sentence of death had already taken
place. He saw the condemned man, and the conversations which they had
together still further strengthened his opinion. This opinion he set
forth in a Comment on the Peytel Case, which the Siecle published in
its issues of September 15-17, 1839, and with a compelling force of
argument and a fervent eloquence he demonstrated the innocence of the
unfortunate notary. Nevertheless, the Court of Cassation found no
reason for granting a new trial, and Peytel was executed at Bourg,
October 28, 1839. This was a bitter blow to Balzac, who had believed
that he could save him. Furthermore, his efforts and investigations had
cost him ten thousand francs!

This was a cruel loss, both in time and in money. His novels were not
bringing him in a hundredth part of what he estimated that he ought to
be earning, in view of his extraordinary rate of production. He placed
the blame upon the unauthorised Belgian reprints, which, according to
his calculations, had robbed him of more than a million francs.
Literary works were not at that time properly protected, and it was the
province of the Society of Men of Letters to demand from the Government
an effective defense against the "hideous piracy" of foreign countries.
Balzac was admitted to the Society in 1839,--although with no small
difficulty, for he had many enemies, and received only fifty-three
votes, while forty-five were necessary for election,--but it was not
long before he had made his influence felt and had been chosen as a
member of the committee. Leon Gozlan, who served with him, acknowledged
his influence. "Balzac," he wrote, "brought to the Society a profound,
almost diabolical knowledge of the chronic wretchedness of the
profession; a rare and unequalled ability to deal with the aristocrats
of the publishing world; an unconquerable desire to limit their
depredations, which he had brooded over on the Mount Sinai of a long
personal experience; and, above all else, an admirable conviction of
the inherent dignity of the man of letters."

It was Balzac's ambition to form a sort of author's league, under the
direction of "literary marshals," of whom he should be the first, and
including in its membership all the widely scattered men of letters,
banded together in defense of their material and moral interests. He
himself set an example by requesting the support of the Society against
a little sheet entitled Les Ecoles, which had libelled him in a cartoon
in which he was represented in prison for debt, wearing his monkish
robe and surrounded by gay company. The cartoon bore the following
legend: "The Reverend Father Seraphitus Mysticus Goriot, of the regular
order of the Friars of Clichy, at last taken in by those who have so
long been taken in by him." This was in September, 1839, and on the 22d
of the following October Balzac appeared as the representative of the
Society of Men of Letters before the trial court of Rouen, in an action
which it had begun against the Memorial de Rouen, for having reprinted
certain published matter without permission. But he did not limit
himself to a struggle from day to day, to discussions in committee
meetings, to appeals to the legislature,--his ambition was to become
himself the law-maker for the writers. In May, 1840, two months after
the disastrous failure of Vautrin, he offered to the consideration of
the Society of Men of Letters a Literary Code, divided into titles,
paragraphs, and articles, in which he laid down the principles from
which to formulate practical rules for the protection of the interests
of authors, and for the greater glory of French literature.

Having been appointed a member of the Committee of Official Relations,
a committee which had been created at his suggestion for the purpose of
seeing that men of letters should exercise a just influence over the
government, Balzac drew up in 1841, some highly important Notes to be
submitted to Messieurs the Deputies constituting the Committee on the
Law of literary Property. But that same year, after having worked upon
a Manifesto which the Committee was to present to the ruling powers, he
handed in his resignation from the Society, on the 5th of October, and
it was found impossible to make him reconsider his decision. It may be
that he had received some slight which he could not forgive, or perhaps
he had decided that it was to his interest to retain in his own name
the right to authorise the republication of his works.

At this period he had attained that supremacy of which he had formerly
dreamed in his humble mansarde chamber in the Rue Lesdiguieres, and he
wished to have it crowned by some sort of official recognition. He made
up his mind to present himself for election to the Academie Francaise,
in December, 1839, but withdrew in favour of the candidacy of Victor
Hugo, notwithstanding that the latter begged him, in a dignified and
gracious message, not to do so.

An intercourse which, without being especially cordial, was fairly
frequent had been established between these two great writers as a
result of their joint labours on the committee of the Society of Men of
Letters. During the month of July, 1839, Victor Hugo breakfasted with
Balzac at Les Jardies, in company with Gozlan, for the purpose of
discussing the great project of the Manifesto. Gozlan, who formed the
third member of this triangular party, has left the following
delectable account of the interview:

"Balzac was picturesquely clad in rags; his trousers, destitute of
suspenders, parted company with his ample fancy waistcoat; his
downtrodden shoes parted company with his trousers; his necktie formed
a flaring bow, the points of which nearly reached his ears, and his
beard showed a vigorous four days' growth. As for Victor Hugo, he wore
a gray hat of a very dubious shade, a faded blue coat with gilt buttons
resembling a casserole in colour and shape, a much frayed black cravat,
and, as a finishing touch, a pair of green spectacles that would have
delighted the heart of the head clerk of a county sheriff, enemy of
solar radiation!"

They made the circuit of the property, and Victor Hugo remained
politely cold before the dithyrambic praises which Balzac lavished on
his garden. He smiled only once, and that was at sight of a walnut
tree, the only tree that the owner of Les Jardies had acquired from the

Victor Hugo had revealed to him the enormous profits that he drew from
his dramatic writings, and it is easy to believe that Balzac's
persistent efforts to have a play produced were due to the momentary
glimpse of a steady stream of wealth that was thus flashed before his
dazzled eyes. After the catastrophe of Vautrin, he still pursued his
dramatic ambitions with Pamela Giraud and Mercadet, but failed to find
any theatre that would consent to produce them. What was worse, the
year 1840 was, beyond all others, a frightful one for Balzac. He faced
his creditors like a stag at bay; and all the while he found the burden
of Les Jardies becoming constantly heavier. The walls surrounding the
property had slipped on their clay foundation and broken down, while
Balzac himself had sustained a serious fall on the steep slopes of his
garden, and had consequently lost more than a month's work.
Furthermore, he underwent imprisonment at Sevres for having refused to
take his turn at standing guard over his neighbours' vineyards.

In his distress he thought seriously of expatriating himself and
setting out for Brazil; and, before coming to a final decision, he
awaited only the success or failure of a publishing venture such as he
had already undertaken in vain. In the month of July, 1840, he started
the Revue Parisienne, of which he was the sole editor, and through
which he proclaimed a dictatorial authority over the arts and letters,
society and the government. He had to abandon it after the third number.

Balzac remained in France, but he was obliged to quit Les Jardies. His
creditors looked upon this property as their legitimate prey, and
neither ruse nor sacrifice could any longer keep it from them. He first
made a fictitious sale of it to his architect, and then a real one, on
the advice of his lawyer. It had cost him more than ninety thousand
francs, and he got back only seventeen thousand five hundred. But he
had lived there through some beautiful dreams and great hopes.

Chapter 9.

In Retirement.

Upon leaving Les Jardies, Balzac took refuge in the village of Passy,
at No. 19, Rue Basse, and there buried himself. (Thanks to M. de
Royaumont, this building has become the Balzac Museum, similar to that
of Victor Hugo at Paris, and of Goethe at Frankfort.) It was there that
he meant to make his last effort and either perish or conquer destiny.
Under the name of M. de Brugnol he had hired a small one-storey
pavilion, situated in a garden and hidden from sight by the houses
facing on the street. His address was known only to trusted friends,
and it was now more difficult than ever to discover him. And his life
as literary galley-slave was now burdened, in this solitude, with new
and overwhelming tasks.

In the midst of the stormy tumult of money troubles and creative labour
there was only one single gleam of calm and tender light. In November,
1840, he formed the project of going to Russia, and promised himself
the pleasure of joining the Comtesse de Hanska at St. Petersburg for
two long months. This hope, which he clung to with all the strength of
his ardent nature, was not to be realised until 1843, for his departure
was delayed from day to day through his financial embarrassment and
unfulfilled contracts with publishers.

Shutting himself into his writing den, a small narrow room with a low
ceiling, he proceeded to finish The Village Cure and The Diaries of Two
Young Brides; he began A Dark Affair for a journal called Le Commerce,
The Two Brothers, later A Bachelor's Establishment, for La Presse; Les
Lecamus, for Le Siecle; The Trials and Tribulations of an English Cat,
for one of Hetzel's publications, Scenes from the Private and Public
Life of Animals; he worked upon The Peasants and wrote Ursule
Mirouet,--altogether more than thirty thousand lines in the newspaper
columns, in less than one year!

Meanwhile his business affairs, so entangled that he himself hardly
knew where he stood, in spite of a portfolio bound in black in which he
kept his promissory notes and every other variety of commercial
paper,--and which he called his Compte Melancoliques (his Melancholy
Accounts), adding that they were not to be regarded as a companion
volume to his Contes Drolatiques (his Droll Tales),--began to assume
some sort of order, thanks to the efforts of his lawyer, M. Gavault,
who had undertaken to wind them up. Balzac remained as poor as ever,
for he had to turn over to M. Gavault all the money he took in, aside
from what he needed for the strict necessities of life. He admitted
proudly that at this period there were times when he contented himself
with eating a single small roll on the Boulevard, and that he had gone
for days together with one franc as his sole cash on hand.

But a new edition was soon destined to put him on his feet, enable him
to liquidate a portion of his floating debt and to pay back some of his
biggest loans. An agreement had been formed between Furne, Dubochet,
Hetzel and Paulin to bring out an edition of his complete works under
the glorious and definitive title of The Human Comedy. But it meant a
vast amount of work, all his older volumes to revise and new ones to
write,--a task that he estimated would require not less than seven years
to finish. If he had produced thirty thousand lines in 1841, he
calculated that he was bound by his contracts to produce not less than
forty thousand in 1842, not counting the work of correcting proofs of
all the new editions of his published stories.

His mental powers were as fertile as ever, but his bodily strength,
despite his robust constitution, sometimes broke down under the
prodigious fever of creation. Balzac's physician, Dr. Nacquart, obliged
him to take a rest. "I am ill," he wrote at this time. "I have been
resting all through the latter part of May (1841) in a bathtub, taking
three-hour baths every day to keep down the inflammation which
threatened me, and following a debilitating diet, which has resulted in
what, in my case, amounts to a disease, namely, emptiness of the brain.
Not a stroke of work, not an atom of strength, and up to the beginning
of this month I have remained in the agreeable condition of an oyster.
But at last Dr. Nacquart is satisfied and I am back at my task and have
just finished The Diaries of Two Young Brides and have written Ursule
Mirouet, one of those privileged stories which you are going to read;
and now I am starting in on a volume for the Montyon prize." (Letters
to a Foreign Lady, Volume 1, page 560, Letter of June-July, 1841.)

Every one of Balzac's novels cost him unimaginable and never ending
toil. After having brooded over his subject, planned the situation,
characterised his personages, and decided upon the general philosophy
that he intended to express, there followed the task of translating all
that he had conceived and thought into an adequate literary form.
Balzac often proceeded in bursts of enthusiasm, flashes of
illumination, and in a few nights would map out the entire scenario of
a whole novel. This first effort was in a certain sense the
parent-cell, which little by little gathered to itself the elements
necessary for the final composition of the work. The proof sheets sent
to Balzac always had broad margins, and it is not too much to say that
he amplified the initial draft as though he were attaching the muscles
and tendons to the bones of a skeleton; then one set of proofs followed
another, while he imparted to his story a network of veins and arteries
and a nervous system, infused blood into its veins and breathed into it
his powerful breath of life,--and all of a sudden there it was, a
living, pulsating creation, within that envelope of words into which he
had infused the best that he possessed in style and colour. But he
suffered bitter disillusions when the work was finally printed; the
creator never found his creation sufficiently perfect. Balzac suffered
with all the sensibility of his artistic conscience from blemishes
which he regarded as glaring faults, and which he followed up and
corrected with unparalleled ardour. He was aided in this task by Mme.
de Berny, his sister Laure, Charles Lemesle and Denoyers; and he
himself, a literary giant, who did not hesitate to write to Mme.
Carraud that his work was in its own line a greater achievement than
the Cathedral at Bourges was in architecture, spent whole days in
shaping and reshaping a phrase, like some sublime mason who--by a
prodigy--had built a cathedral single-handed and whose heart bled upon
discovering a neglected carving in the shadow of some buttress and
expended infinite pains to perfect it, although it was almost invisible
amidst the vastness and the beauty of the whole structure.

Accordingly his work became steadily more laborious to Balzac, and from
time to time we can hear him grumbling and groaning; we can see him at
his task, his broad face contracted, his black eyes bloodshot, his skin
bathed in perspiration and showing dark, almost greenish, in the
candle-light, while his whole body trembled and quivered with the
unseen effort of creation. His fatigue was often extreme; the use of
coffee troubled his stomach and heated his blood; he had a nervous
twitching of the eyelids, and suffered from painful shortness of breath
and a congested condition of the head that resulted in over-powering

But he rallied and his will power dominated illness itself and imposed
his own rules upon his overstrained body. At the same time he dreamed
of a calmer life, he pictured the delights of bucolic days and longed
to know when this driving slavery was to end. Accordingly we find him
consulting a sorcerer, a reader of cards, the celebrated Balthazar, in
regard to his future. He was amazed to find how much of his past this
man was able to reveal to him, a past made up of struggles and of
obstacles overcome, and he joyously accepted predictions that assured
him victory. Balzac was superstitious, not in a vulgar way, but through
a deep curiosity in the presence of those mysteries of the universe
which are unexplained by science. He believed himself to be endowed
with magnetic powers; and, as a matter of fact, the irresistible effect
of his words, the subtle force which emanated from his whole
personality and confirmed by his contemporaries. He believed in
telepathy, he held that two beings who love each other, and whose
sensibilities are in a certain degree in harmony, are able, even when
far apart, mutually to respond to emotions felt by the one or the
other. He consulted clairvoyants as to the course of diet to be
followed by Mme. Hanska, and gravely communicated their replies to her,
urging her to follow their advice. Occurrences apparently quite trivial
troubled him profoundly, and he was anxious for several days because he
had lost a shirt-stud given him by Mme. de Berny and could not
determine what could be the meaning of the loss. His sorcerer had
predicted that he would shortly receive a letter which would change the
entire course of his life, and, as a confirmation of his clairvoyance,
Mme. de Hanska announced a few months later the death of her husband,
M. de Hanski, which permitted Balzac to indulge in the highest hopes.

This event brought him an access of fresh courage, for in order to make
the journey to St. Petersburg it was essential that he should first
achieve a triumph, brief, brilliant and complete. He decided once again
to make a bold attempt at the theatre, and the scene of battle was to
be the Odeon. He offered The Resources of Quinola to the manager,
Lireux, who accepted it with enthusiasm. Balzac read his comedy to its
future interpreters,--notwithstanding that he had as yet written only
four acts of it,--and calmly informed them that he would have to tell
them the general substance of the fifth. They were amazed at such bold
disregard of professional usages, but it was passed over, for Lireux
was all impatience to produce The Resources and to begin the rehearsals.

Warned by the failure of Vautrin, Balzac took the most minute care in
arranging for the opening night audience which he relied upon to sweep
Quinola heavenward on a mounting wave of glory. To begin with, he did
away with the claquers and fixed the price of admission at five francs,
while the general scale of prices was as follows: balcony seats twenty
five francs, stalls twenty francs, seats in the open boxes of the first
tier twenty-five francs, open boxes of the second tier twenty francs,
closed boxes of the second tier twenty five francs, baignoir boxes
twenty francs. He had no use for mere nobodies, but determined to sift
out his audience from amongst the most distinguished men and women in
all Paris, ministers, counts, princesses, academicians, and financiers.
He included the two Princesses Troubetskoi, the Countess Leon, the
Countess Nariskine, the Aguados, the Rothschilds, the Doudeauvilles,
the Castries, and he decided that there should be none but pretty women
in the front seats of the open boxes. And he counted upon piling up a
fine little surplus, since the revenues of the box-office were in his
hands for the first three nights. Alas, on the night of March 19, 1842,
The Resources of Quinola met with the same reception as Vautrin had
done before it; in spite of all his precautions, his enemies had gained
admission to the Odeon, and throughout the whole evening, from the
first act onward, there was a ceaseless storm of hisses and cat-calls.
He had wasted four months, only to arrive at another defeat.

And all the while his financial difficulties were becoming keener, more
pressing, more imminent, and Balzac, overburdened, recapitulated his
disasters as follows: the Chronique de Paris, the Trip to Sardinia, the
Revue Parisienne and Vautrin; nevertheless he proudly squared his
shoulders. "My writings will never make my fortune until the time comes
when I shall no longer be in need of a fortune for it takes twenty-five
years before a success begins to pay, and fifty years before a great
achievement is understood." And he returned to his work! His Complete
Works were now published, for he had written a "Foreword," summing up
his method, his art and his idea; he composed Albert Savarus, in order
"to respond with a masterpiece to the barkings of the press"; he
completed The Peasants, The Two Brothers (later A Bachelor's
Establishment), he wrote The Pretended Mistress, A Debut in Life, which
appeared in La Legislature, David Sechard, The Evil Doings of a Saint,
The Love of Two Beasts; he began The Deputy from Arcis and The Brothers
of Consolation; he dreamed of bringing out a new edition--and we know
the labour that new editions cost him!--of Louis Lambert and Seraphita;
and, lastly, he corrected three volumes of the Comedie Humaine!

Living as a recluse at Passy, shut up in his working room with its
hangings of red velvet, seated at his table, with one shapely hand
supporting his massive head and his eyes fixed upon a miniature
reproducing the somewhat opulent contours of Mme. Hanska's profile, and
hence straying to an aquarelle representing the chateau at
Wierzchownia, Balzac interrupted his proof correcting to forget his
weariness in golden dreams: It was impossible that he should fail to be
elected to the Academie Francaise--which would mean two thousand
francs--hereupon he smiled--he was sure of being appointed a member of
the dictionary committee--six thousand francs more--his smile
broadened--and why should he not become a member of the Academy of
Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres and its permanent secretary?--another
six thousand francs--total, fourteen thousand!--and laughing his vast
sonorous laugh--in view of this assured and honourable position--Balzac
made plans for a prompt marriage with his far-off and long-awaited

But his dreams were of short duration. There was no end of ink-stained
paper which had to be inked still further, for without money there
could be no journey to St. Petersburg. And then there were losses of
time, which he regretted but could not avoid, such as having to pose
for David of Angers, who was modelling his monumental bust; having to
take long walks, in order to keep down his growing corpulence; and
inviting a few friends to Le Rocher de Cancale, Victor Hugo and Leon
Gozlan, in order to entertain a Russian, M. de Lenz, who wished to meet
him,--a sumptuous and lively dinner which cost him a hundred and twenty
francs,--a sum which he naturally had to borrow, and with no small

After alternating between hope and despair, Balzac set forth by way of
Dunkerque for St. Petersburg, where he arrived July 29, 1843, not
returning to Paris until the 3rd of November. This was his fourth
meeting with Mme. Hanska in the space of ten years, and the first since
the death of M. de Hanski. (Hanski is the masculine form for Hanska.
[Translator's Note.]) Balzac was happy and irresponsible, he laughed
his deep, resounding laugh of joyous days, that laugh which no
misfortune could quite extinguish. He was carefree and elated, and
found the strength to write a short story, Honorine, without taking
coffee. He indulged in jests; the Emperor of Russia, he declared,
valued him to the extent of thirty-two roubles, for that was the cost
of his permit of residence. And heart and soul he gave himself up to
his dear Countess Hanska.

Balzac's trip to Russia was the source of numerous legends. It was said
that he went for the purpose of asking the Czar to authorise him to
write a work that should be to a certain extent official, for the
purpose of refuting M. de Custine's Russia in 1839, and that, having
demanded an audience in too cavalier a tone, he was ordered to regain
the frontier by the shortest possible route. Others related that he had
gone there in pursuit of a princess whom he was bent upon marrying.

The return trip was made in short stages through Germany and Belgium,
and Balzac stayed over long enough in Berlin, Dresden and Liege to
become acquainted with these cities and their museums. But he had no
sooner arrived in Paris than he was attacked with inflammation of the
brain, and Dr. Nacquart put him on a very strict regime. In Paris he
once again found his tasks and his financial difficulties faithfully
awaiting him, and, faithful in his turn, he set to work again with true
"Balzacian fury." But now a new element had entered into his life: his
marriage to Mme. Hanska, although still far distant, and dependent upon
chance, was at least a settled question, and he left St. Petersburg
taking her formal promise with him. Consequently, whatever the
hardships of his existence, his periods of poverty and toil, he was now
sustained by the hope of realising a union that had been so long
desired, and he strove towards it with all his tenacious energy, as
towards a supreme goal. For the next seven years his every act was
designed as a preparation for his marriage, the future organisation of
his life, when he should become the husband of Countess Hanska. He
concerned himself with her financial affairs, with the lawsuit brought
against her after the death of her husband, with the difficulties
arising from a contested inheritance; and from a distance he gave her
advice as to the management of her property and the investment of her
principal. And at the same time he kept her informed of his efforts to
find a home worthy of their happiness, told her of household
furnishings he had bought, and sketched the various scales of domestic
and social life which one could live according to the amount of one's

These were no longer dreams, practically speaking, but projects for an
assured future. Nevertheless, he was still destined to pass through
many a disastrous period before the triumph came. In 1843 he was a
candidate for the Academie Francaise, and he had reason to believe that
he would be welcomed there with especial honours. His already extensive
achievements, surpassing all contemporary production, were further
augmented by Honorine, The Muse of the Department, Lost Illusions (part
three), The Sufferings of an Inventor, a Monograph on the Parisian
Press, which had aroused great anger, The Splendour and Misery of
Courtezans (second part), Modeste Mignon, and Madame de la Chanterie
(later The Seamy Side of Contemporary History), and there was no other
writer who was in a position to dispute the sceptre with him.
Nevertheless, legitimate as his candidacy was, he felt the opposition
to it, and, realising the cause, he wrote to Nodier, who was supporting
him, this proudly sad letter:


"I know to-day so surely that my financial position is one of the
reasons for the opposition to my candidacy for the Academie, that I beg
you, though with profound regret, not to use your influence in my

"If I am debarred from the Academie by reason of a most honourable
poverty, I shall never again present myself in the days when prosperity
accords me her favours. I am writing to the same effect to our friend
Victor Hugo, who has been working for me.

"God give you health, my good Nodier."

And, this letter being written, Balzac once more buried himself in his
work with such energy that he had a rush of blood to the head, together
with such atrocious neuralgic pains that it was necessary to apply
leeches. None the less he continued to work, and, if he went out at
all, it was for the purpose of visiting his printers or going on the
trail of works of art. From the time that the question of his marriage
was assured he began an assiduous search for beautiful adornments for
his future home, their home; and he prided himself on his instinct as a
collector and his cleverness as a buyer. He could get the upper hand of
the oldest antiquary. He had bought some Florentine furniture worthy of
the Louvre, a commode and a writing-desk that had belonged to Marie de
Medicis, for thirteen hundred and fifty francs--a unique bargain!--and he
could sell them again at a profit of thousands of francs if he wished
to. Perhaps he would consent to part with the commode, but he intended
to keep the writing desk and place it between two ebony wardrobes which
he already possessed, and it would cost him nothing, because the sale
of the other piece, the commode, would cover the entire cost! And
although in his letters to Mme. Hanska he defended himself against the
charge of prodigality, these "good bargains" still continued. A clock
of royal magnificence and two vases of pale green garnet, also
Bouchardon's "Christ" in a frame by Brustolone. And for years he
continued in pursuit of bric-a-brac, paintings and other works of art.
In 1845, on his way home after accompanying Mme. Hanska to Naples, he
passed through Marseilles, where he found some Chinese vases and plates
at Lazard's curio shop, and, after reaching Paris, he wrote to Lazard,
ordering some Chinese Horns-of-plenty and some "very fine bookcases ten
metres long by three high, richly ornamented or richly carved." And,
not content with giving these instructions to the dealer, he wrote to
Mery, who had entertained him at Marseilles, explaining what he wanted
from Lazard, and giving the following excellent lesson in the art of

"While you are jollying the worthy Lazard, do me the favour of sending
from time to time some of your friends to bargain for the two objects
in question, and have them always make an offer, some of fifty, others
of a hundred, others of twenty-five francs less than yours. After a
fortnight of this manoeuvring, some fine morning Lazard will let you
have them."

And Balzac added a postscript to this little lesson in the fine art of
bargaining: "Never become a collector, for if you do you give yourself
into the keeping of a demon as exacting and jealous as the demon of
gambling." But while warning his friends against his own ruling passion
he surrendered himself to it with passionate delight. During his
leisure hours he wandered at random through Paris, like a hunter on the
trail of his quarry,--through Paris which he knew down to the remotest
of its back alleys and which he loved even in its slums. When he ran
across some rare and precious piece, or something that merely appealed
to his individual taste, he derived an intense joy out of employing all
his trickery, his readiness of speech, his persuasive powers, to beat
down the price of the coveted object. It was a battle in which he chose
to come out conqueror. It pleased him to be recognised as a man with
the business instinct; and he threw out his chest when he repeated the
remark of his publisher, Souverain, "M. de Balzac is better at figures
than Rothschild!"

In 1846, during a new trip to Italy with Mme. Hanska, her daughter Anna
and the latter's husband, Count Georges Mniszech, he ransacked all
Naples, Rome and Genoa, and no longer confined his attention to
furniture and bric-a-brac, but had his eye open for paintings as well,
because his latest ambition was to found a gallery. This taste for
paintings came to him rather late in life, for his artistic
appreciation had long been limited to the works of Girodet, a taste
which called forth many a sarcasm from the far better informed
Theophile Gautier. In Rome Balzac purchased a Sebastiano del Piombo, a
Bronzino and a Mierevelt, he hunted up some Hobbemas and Holbeins, he
secured a Natoire and a Breughel,--which he decided to sell, as it
proved not to be genuine,--for he wanted "pictures of the first rank or
none at all"; furthermore, he brought back to Paris a Judgment of
Paris, attributed to Giorgione, a Greuze,--a sketch of his wife,--a Van
Dyck, a Paul Brill, The Sorceresses, a sketch of the birth of Louis XIV
representing the Adoration of the Shepherds, an Aurora by Guido, a Rape
of Europa, by Annibale Carrachio or Domenichino,--and there we have the
beginning of his gallery such as he described it in Cousin Pons. At the
same time he did not neglect other forms of art for the sake of his
paintings; he acquired a Saxon dinner service and a set of Dutch
furniture from Amsterdam; Mme. Hanska sent him some porcelains from
Germany; he sent to Tours for a writing desk and a commode of the Louis
XVI period, he bought a bed supposed to have belonged to Mme. de
Pompadour and which he intended for his guest chamber, besides a
parlour set in carved woodwork, "of the last degree of magnificence,"
and a dining-room fountain made by Bernard Palissy for Henry II or
Charles IX. Little by little he accumulated these marvels, destined to
adorn his home after the marriage.

And, in the hope of hastening the date, he made one supreme effort,
with his brain as clear and as fertile as in the periods of his most
furious production. Between 1844 and 1847 he produced, in addition to
the works already mentioned, The Peasants, The Splendour and Misery of
Courtezans (third part), Cousin Bette, The Involuntary Comedians, The
Last Incarnation of Vautrin, Cousin Pons, The Deputy from Arcis, and
The Lesser Bourgeoisie. He foresaw the dawn of his deliverance: he
would be able to achieve his gigantic task in peace.

Balzac was fully conscious of his genius and of the greatness of the
monument which he had already partly raised. He objected to being
classed with the men of letters of his period, and for some time past
had claimed recognition as standing on a higher level. Eugene de
Mirecourt was witness of a scene which bore evidence to his justifiable

"It was during the winter of 1843," he wrote, "that Messrs. Maulde and
Renon published a Picture of the Great City, which was edited by Marc
Fournier, the present manager of the Port-Saint-Martin theatre.

"One evening Balzac entered the publishers' office and said:

"'Our agreement, gentlemen, was that I should be paid for my Monograph
on the Parisian Press at the rate of five hundred francs a page.'

"'That is so,' they replied.

"'I have received only fifteen hundred francs and there are four pages;
accordingly you still owe me five hundred francs.'

"'But your corrections, M. de Balzac! Have you any idea what they
amounted to?'

"'There was nothing said about my paying for corrections.'

"'That is true,' replied M. Renon, 'but I ought to tell you that
Alexander Dumas's article, Filles, Lorettes et Courtisanes, also ran to
four pages, yet we have not given him a centime more than we have given

"Balzac started and turned pale. It is evident that he must have been
in great financial need before he would have come to make such a
request. But he quite forgot this in the face of the words he had just
heard. For, without pressing his claim further, he arose, took his hat
and said, with an accent of solemn dignity:

"'From the moment that you compare me with that negro I have the honour
of wishing you good evening!'

"He went out. And that was how the mere name of Alexandre Dumas saved
the business office of The Great City five hundred francs." (Balzac, by
Eugene de Mirecourt, pp. 80-82.)

In order to hasten his liberation from debt and his settlement with
creditors, Balzac tried to augment the sums which he received from
editors and publishers with the profits from various speculations. He
expected a rise in value of the shares which he held in the company of
the Chemins de Fer du Nord, and, either trusting to reliable
information or else himself possessing an intimate knowledge of the
development of real estate in Paris, he urged Mme. Hanska to invest her
capital in land in the Monceau district. He cited the example of
Louis-Philippe, who was the cleverest speculator of his time, and who
had acquired tracts of immense extent.

After the close of 1846 Balzac retired from the outside world and gave
himself up almost entirely to his great work. Through an intermediary
he had purchased the residence of the financier, Baujon, in the Rue
Fortunee, and with great secrecy he had it repaired and redecorated,
with a view to making it habitable at the earliest possible date. Here
he deposited his wealth of furnishings,--which had already begun to
excite public wonderment, owing to certain indiscreet revelations,--but
his life, which had always been closely hidden, had now become
practically unknown. He was unwilling to show himself again in public
until he could return in triumph after his marriage. Mme. Hanska
visited Paris a second time, in 1847, and approved of all his
arrangements. Balzac in return went to Wierzchownia that same year, and
he was dazzled by the vastness of her estates,--which were equal in
extent to a whole department of France,--and by the possibilities of
neglected and undeveloped resources which might be made to yield
millions. After his return to Paris he had but one desire: to go back
to Wierzchownia, celebrate his marriage, and realise the dream which he
had tenaciously pursued for seventeen years.

He remained in Paris six months, living in his new home in the Rue
Fortunee, denying himself to all but his most intimate friends, and
hiding his prosperity until the day should come when he could announce
his good fortune to the world at large. One of the last portraits of
Balzac at this period is the one traced by Champfleury, whom he had
received as a disciple and fervent admirer:

"M. de Balzac," he wrote, "descended the stairs enveloped in his famous
monk's robe. His face is round, his black eyes are excessively
brilliant, the general tone of his complexion verges upon olive, with
patches of violent red in the cheeks, and pure yellow towards the
temples and around the eyes. His abundant hair is a dense black,
intermingled with threads of silver; it is an astonishing head of hair.
In spite of the amplitude of his dressing-gown, his girth appears
enormous." And, further on, he gives us this second sketch: "but at the
age of forty-nine M. de Balzac ought to be painted rather than
sculptured. His keen black eyes, his powerful growth of hair
intermingled with white, the violent tones of pure yellow and red which
succeed each other crudely in his cheeks, and the singular character of
the hairs of his beard, all combine to give him the air of a festive
wild boar, that the modern sculptors would have difficulty in

Arriving in Paris a few days before the Revolution, Balzac witnessed
the turbulent scenes of 1848. It is said that he was one of the first
to reach the Tuileries, mingling with the excited populace, and he
brought away a fragment of the tapestry which covered the throne of
Louis-Philippe. He attended an Assembly of Men-of-Letters, which met to
decide what their attitude should be towards the provisional
government, but he had an absent-minded and detached air, as though he
found himself a stranger among all those writers. He found no one he
knew, and seemed to be searching for his comrades of earlier days. His
frequent journeys outside of France, which began in 1845, his long
periods of residence in foreign countries, in company with Mme. Hanska,
seemed to have weaned him away from the environment in which he had
lived and developed, and fitted him for a different mode of life.

The club of Universal Fraternity, in Paris, having placed him upon its
list of candidates for the legislative elections, he sent to its
president the following public letter, proud and somewhat
disillusioned, in reply to the question of a member, who wished to know
his political opinions:

"I have already stated that if the functions of a representative were
entrusted to me I would accept them. But I thought from the beginning
and I still think that it is superfluous for any man whose life and
works have been public property for twenty years to make a profession
of faith.

"There are some men whom the votes solicit, and there are others who
must solicit votes, and it is the latter who must prove the soundness
of their political views. But, as to me, if I have not taken my place,
through my writings, amongst the nine hundred individuals who represent
in our country either intelligence, or power, or commercial activity,
or a knowledge of laws and men and business, the ballot will tell me

But although Balzac had for twenty years had an ambition to hold
political office, to be a cabinet minister and have a share in the
government, he witnessed the Revolution of 1848 with no other feeling
than sorrow, for he felt that it augured no good for France. Besides,
at this time he had no other wish than to return to Russia, join Mme.
Hanska, and close the great mystery of his life with a glorious
marriage. During the few months that he remained in Paris, from
February to September, 1848, he showed nothing of his customary
literary activity, and seems to have had no other thought than that of
putting his new home in order, and transforming it into a sumptuous
abode. And when everything was ready to receive the future bride he set
out for Wierzchownia, at the end of September, leaving his home in the
care of his mother, with whom he had often had clashes and periods of
coldness, yet who had never refused her son a devotion which, although
at times somewhat churlish, was based upon a deep affection and a
precise recognition of her duties.

Accordingly Mme. de Balzac watched over his interests, just as she
formerly did in 1832, when he had gone to Aix in the company of Mme. de
Castries; and Balzac sent instructions to her from Russia, but their
tone showed an assurance, a certain complete tranquillity, which he had
not had in the days of his laborious youth. These instructions related
to business ventures which he was thinking of undertaking,--during his
first sojourn he had considered the plan of utilising Count Mnizscek's
forests by converting them into railway ties,--and now he wanted her to
send him a work by Vicat, treating of mortars and hydraulic cement;
then there were orders relating to the care he wished to be given to
the final settling of his home,--which cost him not less than four
hundred thousand francs. Mme. de Balzac must needs oversee the various
contractors, Grohe, the upholsterer, Paillard, who had the contract for
furnishing the parlour, Feuchere, the worker in bronze, from whom
Balzac wished his mother to order two brackets in gilded copper, while
at the same time she was to send him a complete list of all his table
silver. He went into the most minute details, which showed his love of
order, begging his mother to remind Francois, one of his servants, to
fill and clean the lamps, "for that is an essential matter," he
insisted. Each of these letters to his mother contains some such
trivial recommendation, which goes to show that he had the instinct of
a careful housekeeper who hates needless waste.

From Russia he continued to supervise his theatrical interests, and
entrusted them so far as they related to Mercadet, to his friend,
Laurent-Jan, while at the same time he protested against a performance
of Vautrin which he had not authorised. He announced to Laurent-Jan
that he was hard at work and was preparing some scenarios for him. He
had not renounced the idea of making money through the dramatic branch
of his art. For there were times when Mme. Hanska became anxious
regarding his personal debts, which were not yet wholly paid off, as
well as their mutual debts incurred in relation to their future home
and its furnishings. He feared that his mother, who was herself easily
alarmed, might write some discouraging news as to his financial
position, and in this way alarm the countess. Accordingly he sent her
one day a secret letter, through the post-office in Berditcheff, in
which he gave her most explicit orders in this connection. For he had
now been in Wierzchownia almost twelve months, and his marriage,
although ostensibly agreed upon, had not yet taken place, and he knew
that in such a case the whole thing might fall through at any time, up
to the very moment of the ceremony. As a matter of fact, he was a sick
man, his heart and lungs were both affected, he had lost the last of
his teeth, and there were some days when he found it impossible even to
move his arms without a sense of suffocation.

Nevertheless his constancy was at last recompensed, after months of
despair, during which he said, "I must regard the project which brought
me here as indefinitely postponed." In March, 1850, preparations were
made for the marriage, and in announcing it to his mother he said that
he would notify her of the day of his return, so that she could
decorate the rooms with flowers, "beautiful, beautiful flowers." And on
March 15th he despatched two letters, one to Mme. de Balzac and the
other to Laure, in which he announced the event so long delayed.
"Yesterday, at Berditcheff, in the parish church of St. Barbara, a
delegate of the bishop Jatomir, a saintly and virtuous priest, closely
resembling our own Abbe Henaux, confessor of the Duchess of Angouleme,
blessed and celebrated our marriage." And he signed the letter to his
sister: "Your brother, Honore, at the pinnacle of happiness!"

The happiness was brief. Balzac seems to have been destined to have a
life made up solely of toil and struggles, and at the very moment when
he had forced his way out of the jungle of obstacles and superhuman
efforts, and had reached that vast plain where travellers along the
path of life repose, destiny forbade him any joy. At the moment when he
was hoping for happiness, peace, and love, death was at his elbow.

He returned with his wife to Paris towards the end of May, 1850, in a
state of exhaustion, and yet full of dreams, projects and hopes,--but
only to take to his bed and await his destined hour. nothing could be
more dramatic than his last weeks. He suffered from heart, lungs and
liver. Every care was taken of him, and hope was offered of a cure; yet
he never rose again. His work had killed him. No one can read without
emotion the simple line that he traced on June 20, 1850, on a letter
dictated to his wife for Theophile Gautier, who had called to see him:
"I can no longer read nor write!"

Honore de Balzac died during the night of August 18, 1850, at a time
when his beautiful and weary eyes had barely caught a fleeting glimpse
of fortune, glory and peace.

Victor Hugo was notified and hurried to his bedside.

"We traversed a corridor," he has recorded, "we ascended a staircase
covered with a red carpet and encumbered with works of art, vases,
statues, paintings, cabinets containing enamels; then another corridor,
and I saw a door standing open. I heard a rattling breath, loud and
sinister. I found myself in Balzac's bedroom.

"A bed stood in the middle of the chamber. It was a bed of acacia wood,
at the head and foot of which were cross-pieces and straps, apparently
forming part of an apparatus for lifting and moving the sick man. M. de
Balzac lay in this bed, with his head supported on a pile of pillows,
to which had been added some red damask cushions taken from the sofa in
the same room. His face was purple, almost black, and was turned
towards the right. He was unshaven, but his gray hair was cut short.
His eyes were wide open and staring. I saw him in profile, and, seen
thus, he resembled the emperor.

"An old woman, the nurse, and a man-servant were standing, one on each
side of the bed. A candle was burning behind the headboard on a table,
and another on a commode near the door. On still another table a silver
vase had been placed. The man and woman stood silent, listening in a
sort of terror to the noisy rattle of the dying man's breath.

"The candle at the head of the bed vividly lighted a portrait of a
young man, high coloured and smiling, which hung above the mantle.

"An insupportable odour emanated from the bed. I lifted up the coverlid
and took Balzac's hand. It was bathed in sweat. I pressed it, but he
did not return the pressure.

"The nurse said to me:

"'He will die at daybreak.'

"I descended the stairs, carrying away that livid face in my thoughts;
as I crossed the parlour I once again came upon the motionless bust (of
Balzac, by David of Angers), impassible, proud and vaguely radiant, and
I drew a comparison between death and immortality.

"On reaching my home, as it happened to be Sunday, I found several
callers waiting for me, amongst others Riza-Bey, the Turkish charge
d'affaires, Navarrete, the Spanish poet, and Count Arrivabene, an
Italian exile. I said to them:

"'Gentlemen, Europe is about to lose a great mind.'

"He died during the night, at fifty-one years of age."

Balzac loved to compare his struggles with the military campaigns of
Bonaparte, and to point out that he had conducted them without halt or
bivouac, after the manner of the great conqueror. He wished to equal
him in glory and to surpass him in the achievements that he should
leave behind him for the benefit of future generations. He has recorded
his great desire: "In short, here is the game I am playing; during this
present half century four men will have exerted an immense influence:
Napoleon, Cuvier, O'Connell, and I should like to be the fourth. The
first lived upon the blood of Europe, he inoculated himself with
armies; the second espoused the globe; the third was the incarnation of
an entire people; as for me, I shall have borne an entire social epoch
in my head."

More fortunate than the young Corsican sub-lieutenant, Balzac produced
a work possessing a permanence which the other could not have,--since
thought is always greater than action,--and although death surprised him
before he could lay the last stone of his edifice, its incompleted
grandeurs might well suffice the loftiest ambition.

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