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Balzac by Frederick Lawton

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continued, ought to be a constitutional monarchy, with an hereditary
Royal Family, a House of Lords extraordinarily powerful and
representing property, etc., with all possible guarantees of heredity
and privilege; then she should have a second, elective assembly to
represent every interest of the intermediary mass separating high
social positions from what was called the people. The bulk of the laws
and their spirit should tend to enlighten the people as much as
possible--the people that had nothing--workmen, proletaries, etc.--so
as to bring the greatest number of men to that condition of well-being
which distinguished the intermediary mass; but the people should be
left under the most puissant yoke, in such a way that the individual
units might find light, aid, and protection, and that no idea, no
form, no transaction might render them turbulent. The richer classes
must enjoy the widest liberty practicable, since they had a stake in
the country. To the Government he wished the utmost force possible,
its interests being the same as those of the rich and the bourgeois,
viz. to render the lowest class happy and to aggrandize the middle
class, in which resided the veritable puissance of States. If rich
people and the hereditary fortunes of the Upper Chamber, corrupted by
their manners and customs, engendered certain abuses, these were
inseparable from all society, and must be accepted with the advantages
they yielded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I shall never make a name, sis."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER V

LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1831, 1832

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes. Well, what next?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the shadow persists even in the love-scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the sight of them Balzac burst out laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VI

LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1833, 1834

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[*] English linden, or lime-tree.

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VII

LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1835, 1836

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had a great success when it came out in book form. People were

Book of the day: