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Balzac by Frederick Lawton

Part 3 out of 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Not finishing the word /etrangere/, he said only /etrange/.)

"/Ere/," shouted Balzac, adding the termination.

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

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

"With the corrections?" queried Karr slily.

"Yes, with the corrections."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[*] More land was subsequently bought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[*] A /nom de guerre/ of Balzac in his apprenticeship days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[*] English, /Jobber/.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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