How a matron of her age should have allowed the friendship of the commencement to develop into a liaison is one of those problems of sexual psychology easier to describe in Balzac's own language than to explain rationally. We know that she was not happy with her husband, and can surmise that she entered upon the role she played without clearly foreseeing its dangers. No doubt, her desire to form this genius in the rough carried her away from her moorings, which, indeed, had never been very strong, since she had already once before in her married life had a lover. Besides there was her temperament, sensual and sentimental; and with it the tradition of the eighteenth-century morals, indulgent to illicit amours.
Most likely, the second phase of her relations with Balzac coincided with his temporary abandonment of authorship for business. It was in 1825 that he resolved to embark on publishing,[*] partly urged by the mute reproaches of his parents and partly allured by the prospect of rapidly growing rich. He had likewise some intention of bringing out his own books, both those previously written and those in preparation. Of these latter there were a goodly number sketched out in a sort of note-book or album, which his sister Laure called his garde-manger or pantry. It was full of jottings anent people, places, and things that he had come across in the preceding lustrum.
[*] The initiator of this project was not Balzac, although his early biographers, Madame Surville included, gave him the credit for it.
The idea of taking up business was mooted to him first by a Monsieur d'Assonvillez, an acquaintance of Madame de Berny, whom he used to see and talk with when staying, as he occasionally did, at the small apartment rented by his father in Paris. Just then Urbain Canel, the celebrated publisher of Romantic books, was thinking of putting on the market compact editions of the old French classics, beginning with Moliere and La Fontaine; and Balzac, either already knowing him or being introduced to him by a mutual friend, was admitted to join in the undertaking. The money necessary for the partnership was lent to him by Monsieur d'Assonvillez, who, as a sharp business man, imposed conditions on the loan which secured him from loss in case of failure. The editions were to be library ones, illustrated by the artist Deveria (who about this time painted Balzac's portrait), and were to be published in parts. The price was high, twenty francs for each work; and additional drawbacks were the smallness of the type and the poorness of the engravings. No success attended the experiment; at the end of a twelvemonth not a score of copies had been sold. By common consent the firm, which had been increased to four partners, broke up their association, and Balzac was left sole proprietor of the concern, the assets of which consisted of a large quantity of wastepaper, and the liabilities amounted to a respectable number of thousand francs.
Madame Surville attributes the fiasco to the professional jealousy of competitors, who discouraged the public from buying; but the cause of the discomfiture lay rather in the faulty manner in which the partners carried out their plan. Monsieur d'Assonvillez being still an interested adviser, Balzac now submitted to him a project for retrieving his losses by adding a printing to his publishing business. The stock and goodwill of a printer were to be bought, and a working type-setter, named Barbier, was to be associated as a second principal in the affair, on account of his practical experience. The project was approved, and the elder Balzac was persuaded to come forward with a capital of about thirty thousand francs, this sum being required to pay out the retiring printer, Monsieur Laurens, and obtain the new firm's patent. Madame de Berny had already lent Honore money to help him in the publishing scheme. At present, she induced her husband to intervene with the Government so that the printing licence might be granted without delay.
The printing premises were situated at No. 17, Rue des Marais, Faubourg Saint-Germain, to-day Rue Visconti, near the Quai Malaquais. The street, which is a narrow one, subsists nearly the same as it was a century ago. Older associations, indeed, are attached to it. At No. 19 died Jean Racine in 1699, and Adrienne Lecouvreur in 1730. No. 17 was a new construction when Balzac went to it, having probably been built on the site where Nicolas Vauquelin des Yveteaux used to receive the far-famed Ninon in his gardens. On the impost, where formerly appeared the names Balzac and Barbier, now may be read "A. Herment, successeur de Garnier." The place is still devoted to like uses.
In the Lost Illusions, whose part-sequel David Sechard reproduces Balzac's life as a printer, there is a description of the ground floor: "a huge room, lighted on the street-side by an old stained-glass window and on the inner yard-side by a casement." The passage in Gothic style led to the office; and on the floor above were the living rooms, one of which was hung with blue calico, was furnished with taste, and was adorned with the owner's first novels, bound by Thouvenin. In this "den," during the two years that he was engaged in the printing trade, were received the daily visits of her he called his Dilecta.
She could not give him the practical business qualities in which he was utterly lacking and for which his wonderful intuitions of commercial possibilities were no compensation; but she could smile at his enthusiasms and sympathize with his disappointments, which had their see-saw pretty regularly in the interval from the 1st of June 1826 to the 3rd of February 1828. A very fair trade was done; and, in fact, some of the books he printed were important: Villemain's Miscellanies, Merimee's Jacquerie, Madame Roland's Memoirs, not to speak of his own small Critical and Anecdotal Dictionary of Paris Signboards, published under a pseudonym, or rather anonymously, since it was signed Le Batteur de Pave, the "Man in the Street." But the senior partner, he who should have financed the concern with all the more wariness as d'Assonvillez, the principal supplier of capital, had a mortgage upon the whole estate, allowed himself to be paid for his printing, more often than not, in bills for which no provision was forthcoming and in securities that were rotten. One debt of twenty-eight thousand francs was settled by the transfer of a lot of old unsaleable literature, which would have been dear at a halfpenny a volume. And then, when everything was in confusion—debtors recalcitrant and creditors pressing—what must he do but launch on another venture, buy the bankrupt stock of a type-founder, and start manufacturing. A fresh partner, Laurent, was admitted into the firm in December 1827, with a view to his exploiting the presumably auxiliary branch; and a prospectus was issued vaunting a process of type-founding, which Balzac was wrongly credited with having invented. Within two months after this spurt, and while a fine album was in preparation, which was to illustrate the firm's improved method, Barbier withdrew from the partnership. His desertion would have at once spelt disaster, if Madame de Berny had not boldly stepped into the vacant place, with a power of attorney conferred on her by her husband, and pledged her credit for nine thousand francs. During three months longer, the tottering house continued to hold up; and then, under the avalanche of writs and claims, it fell. A petition in bankruptcy was filed in April, and the estate was placed in the hands of an official receiver.
On reaching this crisis so big with consequences, Balzac had recourse to his mother, who, though little disposed in the past to humour his bent, consented now to every sacrifice in order to save his credit. Her first step was to get her cousin Monsieur Sedillot to occupy himself with the liquidation, she authorizing him at the same time to make whatever arrangement he should judge best, and promising to accept it. She was most anxious to spare her husband, at present eighty-three years of age, the grief he must feel if informed of the full extent of the disaster. Alas! notwithstanding her precautions, the old man did learn the truth; and the shock hastened his end. Within twelve months after the bankruptcy he met with a slight accident, which, acting on his enfeebled constitution, was fatal to him.
Balzac's liabilities, at the moment of the failure, were one hundred and thirteen thousand francs. The effect of the liquidation was to reduce the number of creditors, so that his indebtedness was restricted to members of his own family and to Madame de Berny. The latter's claims were partly met by her son's taking over the business with Laurent, the other partner. Being thus reconstituted, the firm subsequently prospered. To-day it still carries on its affairs under the control of a Monsieur Charles Tuleu, who succeeded Monsieur de Berny. Madame Surville would have us believe that, if her parents had only supported Honore more unreservedly at the commencement, he could have realized a fortune; but all the facts of her brother's life go to prove the contrary.
Referring, a decade later, to these dark days, which loaded him with a burden of debt that he never shook off but increased by his natural inability to balance receipts and expenditure, he spoke of Madame de Berny's kindness, and declared that he had repaid the Dilecta in 1836 the last six thousand francs he owed her, together with their five per cent interest. As on many other occasions, Balzac imagined something which had not been done, though he apparently believed what he asserted. The following anecdote re-establishes the facts of the case.
Monsieur Arthur Rhone, a friend of the de Berny family, who used to visit the son Alexander in the office of the Rue des Marais, often admired on the mantelpiece a fine bust of Flora, modelled by Marin. One day the printer said to him: "Do you know how much that bust cost me? . . . Fifteen thousand francs. I got it from Balzac, who owed me a great deal of money. Once when I was at his house in Passy, he exclaimed: 'Since I can't pay you, take what you like from here to reimburse yourself.'" This work of art, a Louis XVI. gilt-bronze time piece, with its two candelabra, once also in Balzac's possession, was part payment of the balance due to the de Berny family, and was surrendered only in the forties.
The novelist, whose memory was so short in money matters, had a longer recollection of his moral obligations. In the letter above referred to, he confessed: "Without her (Madame de Berny) I should have died. She often divined that I had not eaten for several days (here he was probably piling on the agony). She provided for everything with angelic kindness. Her devotion was absolute." It ended only with the Dilecta's life.
In the Shagreen Skin, which embodies some of Balzac's youthful experiences, Raphael, the hero, was saved from committing suicide, after ruining himself, by an accident which forms the thread of the story. Possibly, during the bankruptcy proceedings, there may have been a fit of despair which urged the insolvent printer to end his own troubles in the Seine. If so, it was of short duration. A fortnight after he had quitted the Rue des Marais, the letter he wrote to General de Pommereul showed him planning out a fresh future.
"At last has happened," he said in it, "what many persons were able to foresee, and what I myself feared in beginning and courageously supporting an establishment the magnitude of which was colossal (!!!). I have been precipitated, not without the previsions of my conscious mind, from my modest prosperity. . . . For the last month I have been engaged on an historical work of the highest interest; and I hope that, in default of a talent altogether problematic with me, my sketch of national customs will bring me luck. My first thought was for you; and I resolved to write and ask you to shelter me for two or three weeks. A camp-bed, a single mattress, a table, if only it is quadrupedal and not rickety, a chair and a roof are all that I require."
The General replied: "Your room awaits you. Come quick." And he went. It was his definite entrance into literature, and his resumption of the search for wealth withal.
FIRST SUCCESSES AND FAME
The historical novel that Balzac had set himself to write was the Chouans, this name being given to the Vendee Royalists who, under the leadership of the Chevalier de Nougarede, combated the Revolution and Napoleon. The scene being laid in Brittany, it was natural that, apart from health reasons, the author should wish to inspire his pen by a visit to the places he intended to describe.
His hostess at Fougeres has left us a description of her guest: "He was a little, burly man, clad in ill-fitting garments that increased his bulk. His hands were magnificent. He wore a most ugly hat; but, as soon as he took it off, one remarked nothing else besides his head. . . . Beneath his ample forehead, on which seemed to shine the reflection of a lamp, there were brown, gold-spangled eyes which expressed their owner's meaning as clearly as his speech. He had a big, square nose, and a huge mouth, which was perpetually smiling in spite of his ugly teeth. He wore a moustache, and his long hair was brushed back. At the time he came to us he was rather thin, and appeared to be half-starved. He devoured his food, poor fellow! For the rest, there was so much confidence, so much benevolence, so much naivete, so much frankness in his demeanour, his gestures, his ways of speaking and behaving that it was impossible to know him and not love him. . . . His good humour was so exuberant as to be contagious. Notwithstanding the misfortunes he had just passed through, he had not been with us a quarter of an hour before he made the General and me laugh till tears came into our eyes."
The Chouans, which his two or three months' sojourn at Fougeres enabled him to get on with rapidly, was completed after his return to Paris, and was published under his own name in 1829. Charles Vimont, who accepted and brought it out, paid him no more than a thousand francs. The book, although it was not badly written, and contained plenty of incident, very fair characterization, of the minor personages especially, and local colouring imitated from Walter Scott, made no great impression. For the ordinary reader it differed too little from the Romanticism with which he was familiar. Moreover, the action savoured too much of the melodramatic; and the character of Mademoiselle de Verneuil, and that of the Chouan chief, whom she had promised to deliver up to the emissaries of Fouche, were too nebulous to gain general sympathy, even with the heroine's tragic devotion. There is, however, a fine sketch of Brittany and of its spirit of revolt; the numerous figures of the background are vigorously executed, and nearly all the episodes of the drama are skilfully presented. A perusal of the Chouans makes us regret that there was hardly any return to this kind of composition in the author's after-work.
When embarking on his publishing enterprise, Balzac went to live in an apartment of the Rue Tournon, No. 2[*] close to the Luxembourg. He abandoned it for the Rue des Marais in 1826; and, this latter abode being given up in 1828, he removed on his return from Brittany to No. 4, Rue Cassini, where he remained for some years. A friend of his, Latouche—soon to become an enemy—helped him to liven up the walls of his study with the famous blue calico that had adorned his room over the printing office. Certain busybodies spread the report that he was furnishing his new apartment extravagantly; and Laure, to whose ear the tattle had come, ventured to allude to it in a letter reproaching him with remissness in writing home and to her. The accusation of extravagance, which later he really merited, was at this moment a trifle previous, money being scarce and credit also. "Stamps and omnibus fares are expenses I cannot afford," he assured his sister; "and I abstain from going out in order to save my clothes."
[*] Some early biographers state that the novelist went to the Rue Tournon after his bankruptcy. This is a mistake.
However, he was now on the point of scoring a literary success. In the same year as his Chouans appeared his Physiology of Marriage, a book of satire and caricature having a distinct stamp of his maturer manner. Werdet, for a number of years his publisher and friend, relates in his Portrait Intime that Balzac, while still in the Lesdiguieres Street garret, had gone one day to Alphonse Levavasseur and offered, in return for a royalty and a cash installment of two hundred francs, to supply him with a book to be entitled: Manual of the Business Man, by a former Notary's Clerk. It was agreed that the manuscript should be handed in at the end of the month; and the two hundred francs were paid down. In vain the publisher waited for his Manual. Ultimately he hunted out his debtor; and the latter had to confess that the long-promised manuscript had never been written. In order to calm the creditor's indignation, Balzac read to him some fragments of another book which he was really engaged upon. After listening for a while, Levavasseur's countenance grew serene: "I will pay you two thousand francs for this production when finished, Monsieur," he said; "and we will cancel the old transaction. Come with me. I will give you the first thousand francs now. The rest you shall have as soon as I get the last corrected proofs." "Dear publisher, your speech is golden," cried Balzac; "I accept." Nevertheless, the proofs were not delivered until 1829. The book immediately became popular. "From the day of its appearance," comments Werdet, "literature counted another master and France another Moliere."
The verdict is exact only if the Physiology is regarded in conjunction with the novelist's after achievement in the domain of realistic fiction. Alone it would not rank so high. Flippant, cynical, immoral—these epithets, which were freely applied to it, all have their justification when one looks at the work from any other standpoint than that of its being a very amusing and clever exposition of sex relations governed by interest and passion. Both facts and philosophy are confined within an exceedingly narrow horizon, one in which the writer was most thoroughly at home, which explains why they bear the imprint of a mind already blase.
From a letter Balzac sent to Levavasseur, while finishing the last pages of the manuscript, it appears that he commenced his task as a jest and completed it with more serious purpose: "I intended to dash off a pleasantry," he told him, "and you came one morning and asked me to do in three months what Brillat-Savarin took ten years to do. I haven't an idea which is not the Physiology. I dream of it, I am absorbed by it."
The sale of the book was in a measure due to the sort of scandal it provoked. Ladies especially bought the volume to find out for themselves how far they had been maligned; and Levavasseur, who was pleased with his profits, introduced Balzac to Emile de Girardin, then chief editor of the Mode, to which paper he now began to contribute light articles, not to speak of other journals, which were only too glad to receive something from his pen. The extent to which the fair sex read the Physiology and were affected by it is illustrated by a story that Werdet tells of a hoax perpetrated at Balzac's expense by a number of his society friends, who had cause to complain of his uppishness towards them, a treatment based not merely on the belief he entertained in his literary superiority, but on his pretensions to aristocratic descent. The story belongs more properly to the middle thirties, when he had been using the prefix "de" before his name already for some years, justifying himself on the ground that his father claimed issue from an old family that had resisted the Auvergne invasion and had begotten the d'Entragues stock. His father, moreover, so he said, had discovered documents in the Charter House establishing a concession of lands made by a de Balzac in the fifth century; and a copy of the transaction had been registered by the Paris Parliament.
Between 1833 and 1836 one of the most celebrated Paris "sets" was that of the Opera "lions," seven young aristocratic sparks composing it, or, to be precise, six, together with the Chevalier d'Entragues de Balzac, as his friends jokingly dubbed him—he being an elder. It was the period of his first flush of prosperity, when he drove about in a hired carriage resplendent with the d'Entragues coat of arms, which cost him five hundred francs a month; had a majestic coachman in fine livery and a Tom Thumb groom; sported himself in gorgeous garments and strutted about in the Opera foyer, amidst the real or feigned admiration of his fellows.
To revenge themselves for their mentor's superciliousness towards them, the six other lions induced a dancer at the Opera to play the part of a supposed Duke's daughter smitten with the great man's writings and person, a role she undertook the more willingly as, being well acquainted with the former, she was anxious to prove to him that he was not so perspicacious as he deemed himself. An Opera ball was chosen for the adventure; and Balzac was duly baited and taken in tow by the lady, whose mask only half concealed her beauty. Thus began a flirtation, with subsequent clandestine meetings, allowing the fair unknown to fool him to the top of her bent. The author wanted to propose for her hand to the Duke her father; but, cleverly using her knowledge of his books, the sly jade showed him that he would have no chance of being accepted. At last she hinted she would like to visit him in his author's sanctum; and the delighted novelist went to most lavish expense in fitting up a boudoir to receive her. The visit was presumably a secret one. Protected by a young man employed at the Opera, to whom she was engaged, and who accompanied her in the disguise of a negro, she went to the Rue des Batailles one evening and graciously listened to the enraptured conversation of her victim till towards midnight, when her mother, who was in the plot, came to fetch her. The novelist's fury and humiliation were extreme on his learning how neatly he had been tricked, and it was some time before he ventured to reappear in his accustomed haunts. As narrated by Werdet, the story is a good deal embellished, and some of the details that he gives were probably invented; but the main outline he vouches to be true.
Among the editors of journals who sought Balzac's collaboration after the publication of the Physiology were Buloz of the Revue de Paris and Victor Ratier of the Silhouette. To the latter of them, in 1831, he wrote from La Grenadiere, where he had gone to recruit, a letter revealing a curiously mixed state of mind in this dawning period of fame. He would seem to have been under a presentiment of the long years of struggle and incessant toil he was about to be involved in, and to have felt a shrinking of his physical nature from them.
"Oh! if you knew what Touraine is like," he exclaimed. "Here one forgets everything else. I forgive the inhabitants for being stupid. They are so happy. Now, you know that people who enjoy much are naturally stupid. Touraine admirably explains the lazzarone. I have come to regard glory, the Chamber, politics, the future, literature, as veritable poison-balls to kill wandering, homeless dogs, and I say to myself: 'Virtue, happiness, life, are summed up in six hundred francs income on the bank of the Loire. . . .' My house is situated half-way up the hill, near a delightful river bordered with flowers, whence I behold landscapes a thousand times more beautiful than all those with which rascally travellers bore their readers. Touraine appears to me like a pate de foie gras, in which one plunges up to the chin; and its wine is delicious. Instead of intoxicating, it makes you piggy and happy. . . . Just fancy, I have been on the most poetic trip possible in France—from here to the heart of Brittany by water, passing between the most ravishing scenery in the world. I felt my thoughts go with the stream, which, near the sea, becomes immense. Oh, to lead the life of a Mohican, to run about the rocks, to swim in the sea, to breathe in the fresh air and sun! Oh, I have realized the savage! Oh, I have excellently understood the corsair, the adventurer —their lives of opposition; and I reflected: 'Life is courage, good rifles, the art of steering in the open ocean, and the hatred of man —of the Englishman, for example.' (Here Balzac is of his time.) Coming back hither, the ex-corsair has turned dealer in ideas. Just imagine, now, a man so vagabond beginning on an article entitled, Treatise of Fashionable Life, and making an octavo volume of it, which the Mode is going to print, and some publisher reprint. . . . Egad! At the present moment literature is a vile trade. It leads to nothing, and I itch to go a-wandering and risk my existence in some living drama. . . . Since I have seen the real splendours of this spot, I have grown very philosophic, and, putting my foot on an ant-hill, I exclaim, like the immortal Bonaparte: 'That, or men, what is it all in presence of Saturn or Venus, or the Pole Star?' And methinks that the ocean, a brig, and an English vessel to engulf, is better than a writing-desk, a pen, and the Rue Saint-Denis."
About the events of the 1830 Revolution the novelist was apparently but little concerned. True, the change was one of dynasty only, not of regime, albeit Louis-Philippe posed rather as a plebiscitary monarch. Balzac's clericalism and royalism, which ultimately became so crystallized, were at this date in a position of unstable equilibrium. At one moment his criticisms have an air of condemning the monarchic principle, at another they point to his being a pillar of the ancient system of things. On this occasion he was twitted by Madame Zulma Carraud, his sister's friend, with whom his relations grew more intimate as his celebrity augmented; and he defended himself by a confession of faith which forecast his endeavours—less persistent than his desires—to add the statesman's laurels to those of the litterateur. His doctrine, following the Machiavellian tradition, was that the genius of government consists in operating the fusion of men and things—a method which demonstrated Napoleon and Louis XVIII. alike to be men of talent. Both of them restrained all the various parties in France—the one by force, the other by ruse, because the one rode horseback, the other in a carriage. . . . France, he continued, ought to be a constitutional monarchy, with an hereditary Royal Family, a House of Lords extraordinarily powerful and representing property, etc., with all possible guarantees of heredity and privilege; then she should have a second, elective assembly to represent every interest of the intermediary mass separating high social positions from what was called the people. The bulk of the laws and their spirit should tend to enlighten the people as much as possible—the people that had nothing—workmen, proletaries, etc.—so as to bring the greatest number of men to that condition of well-being which distinguished the intermediary mass; but the people should be left under the most puissant yoke, in such a way that the individual units might find light, aid, and protection, and that no idea, no form, no transaction might render them turbulent. The richer classes must enjoy the widest liberty practicable, since they had a stake in the country. To the Government he wished the utmost force possible, its interests being the same as those of the rich and the bourgeois, viz. to render the lowest class happy and to aggrandize the middle class, in which resided the veritable puissance of States. If rich people and the hereditary fortunes of the Upper Chamber, corrupted by their manners and customs, engendered certain abuses, these were inseparable from all society, and must be accepted with the advantages they yielded.
This conception of the classes and the masses which he afterwards set forth more fully in his Country Doctor and Village Cure, partly explains why all his best work, besides being impregnated with fatalism, has such a constant outlook on the past. It was a dogma with him rather than a philosophy, and was clung to more from taste than from reasonable conviction. He believed in aristocratic prerogative, because he believed in himself, and ranked himself as high as, or rather higher than, the noble. This was at the bottom of his doctrine; but he was glad all the same to have his claim supported by such outward signs of the inward grace as were afforded by vague genealogy and the homage of the great. Duchesses were his predilection when they were forthcoming; failing them, countesses were esteemed.
The Duchess d'Abrantes—one of his early admirers—to whom he dedicated his Forsaken Woman, was herself a colleague in letters; and he was able to render her some service through his relations with publishers. Their correspondence shows them to have been on very friendly terms. In one of his letters to her, he insisted on his inability to submit to any yoke, and rebutted her insinuation that he permitted himself to be led—possibly the Duchess's hint referred to Madame de Berny. "My character," he said, "is the most singular one I have ever come across. I study myself as I might another person. I comprise in my five feet two every incoherence, every contrast possible; and those who think me vain, prodigal, headstrong, frivolous, inconsistent, foppish, careless, idle, unstable, giddy, wavering, talkative, tactless, ill-bred, impolite, crotchety, humoursome, will be just as right as those who might affirm me to be thrifty, modest, plucky, tenacious, energetic, hardworking, constant, taciturn, cute, polite, merry. Nothing astonishes me more than myself. I am inclined to conclude I am the plaything of circumstances. Does this kaleidoscope result from the fact that, into the soul of those who claim to paint all the affections and the human heart, chance casts each and every of these same affections in order that by the strength of their imagination they may feel what they depict? And can it be that observation is only a sort of memory proper to aid this mobile imagination? I begin to be of this opinion."
Balzac appears to have been introduced to the Duchess d'Abrantes about the year 1830, when he was engaged in writing his Shagreen Skin, which, out of the numerous pieces of fiction produced within this and the next twelve months, added most to his notoriety, though inferior to such stories as the House of the Tennis-playing Cat, and even to the Sceaux Ball in the more proper qualities of the novel.
The Shagreen Skin is the adventure of a young man who, after sowing his wild oats and losing his last crown at the gaming table, goes to end his troubles in the river, but is prevented from carrying out his intention by being fortuitously presented with a piece of shagreen skin, which has the marvellous property of gratifying its possessor's every wish, yet, meanwhile, shrinks with each gratification, and in the same proportion curtails its possessor's life. On this warp of fairy tale, the author weaves a woof of romance and reality most oddly blended. The imitations of predecessors are numerous. The style is turgid, the thought is shallow, the sentiment is exaggerated. But very little of the sober characterization soon to be manifested in other books is displayed in this one. The best that can be said is that the thing has the same cleverness as the Physiology, with here and there indications—and clear ones—of the novelist's later power. He himself grossly overestimated it, as, indeed, he overestimated not a few of his poorer productions—maybe because they cost him greater toil than his masterpieces, which generally, after long, unconscious gestation, issued rapidly and painless from him.
An amusing expression of this self-praise has come down to us in the puff he composed on the occasion of a reprint of the Shagreen Skin by Gosselin in 1832. "The Philosophic Tales of Monsieur de Balzac," it announced, "have appeared this week. The Shagreen Skin is judged as the admirable novels of Anne Radcliffe were judged. Such things escape annalists and commentators. The eager reader lays hold of these books. They bring sleeplessness into the mansions of the rich and into the garret of the poet; they animate the village. In winter they give a livelier reflection to the sparkling log, great privileges to the story-teller. It is nature, in sooth, who creates story-tellers. Vainly are you a learned, grave writer, if you have not been born a story-teller, and you will never obtain the popularity of the Mysteries of Udolpho and the Shagreen Skin, the Arabian Nights, and Monsieur de Balzac. I have somewhere read that God created Adam, the nomenclator, saying to him: You are the story-teller. And what a story-teller! What verve and wit! What indefatigable perseverance in painting everything, daring everything, branding everything! How the world is dissected by this man! What an annalist! What passion and what coolness!
"The Philosophic Tales are the red-hot interpretation of a civilization ruined by debauch and well-being, which Monsieur de Balzac exposes in the pillory. The Arabian Nights are the complete history of the luxurious East in its days of happiness and perfumed dreams. Candide is the epitome of an epoch in which there were bastilles, a stag-park, and an absolute king. By thus taking at the first bound a place beside these formidable or graceful tale-tellers, Monsieur de Balzac proves one thing that remained to be proved; to wit, that the drama, which was no longer possible to-day on the stage, was still possible in the story—that our society, so dangerously sceptical, blase, and scornful, could yet be moved by the galvanic shocks of this poetry of the senses—full of life and colour, in flesh and blood, drunk with wine and lust—in which Monsieur de Balzac revels with such delight. Thus, the surprise was great, when, thanks to this story-teller, we still found among us something resembling poetry—feasts, intoxication, the light o' love giving her caresses amidst an orgie, the brimming punch-bowl crowned with blue flames, the yellow-gloved politician, scented adultery, the girl indulging in pleasure and love and dreaming aloud, poverty clean and neat, surrounded with respectability and happy hazard—we have seen all this in Balzac. The Opera with its lemans, the pink boudoir and its flossy hangings, the feast and its surfeits; we have even seen Moliere's doctor reappear, such need has this man of sarcasm and grotesqueness. The further you advance in the Shagreen Skin—vices, lost virtues, poverties, boredom, deep silence, dry-as-dust science, angular, witless scepticism, laughable egotism, puerile vanities, venal loves, Jewish second-hand dealers, etc.—the more astonished and pained you will be to recognize that the nineteenth century in which you live is so made up. The Shagreen Skin is Candide with Beranger's notes; it is poverty, luxury, faith, mockery; it is the heartless breast, the brainless cranium of the nineteenth century—the century so bedizened and scented, so revolutionary, so ill-read, so little worth, the century of brilliant phantasmagorias, of which in fifty years' time nothing will be seizable except Monsieur de Balzac's Shagreen Skin."
On account of its sensationalism, the Shagreen Skin had a success of curiosity equal, and, if anything, superior to that of the Physiology. The author, however, had to defend himself against the charge of copying foreign literature—Hoffman's tales in particular. One of his correspondents, the Duchess de Castries, who subsequently flattered him and flirted with him, wrote to him incognito, taking exception to certain statements he had made in each of his two popular works. Replying to her, he for the first time spoke of his desire to develop his fiction into a vast series of volumes destined to make known to posterity the life of his century.
Great schemes were always to be Balzac's day-dreaming, one chasing the other in his fancy. They filled his thoughts, and in his heart were his constant aim, far more than to be loved, for all he asserted of this last desire. If literature was the one means he resorted to in his efforts to attain them, this was because every other means deceived his expectation, and not because he deliberately preferred it to all others. He owned the fact without reservation. In the case of a man whose literary achievement was so high, such slighting of letters has its significance, and is curious. Taken in conjunction with other evidence furnished by his letters, it proves that genius, though sometimes clearly the pure, simple moving of a spirit that cannot be resisted, is also—and perhaps as often—a calculating partnership, and that the work of art is a compromise. Would Balzac have written better if his motive had been single? It is not certain.
During these early days of his popularity, a seat in the Chamber of Deputies was his will o' the wisp. Aided by the Dilecta's friends, he offered himself as a candidate in two constituencies, Angouleme and Cambrai, after publishing his pamphlet: An Inquiry into the Policy of Two Ministries. With a view to shining in the future Parliament, he sharpened his witticisms, rounded his periods, polished his style, exercised himself in opposing short phrases to others of Ciceronian length, endeavouring the while to put poetry and observation into a new subject. At least these things were in his mind, as his communication to Berthoud of the Cambrai Gazette testified. His intention was to become an orator, he said. Had he been elected, he might have become the rival of Thiers. They were about the same age. Then France might have had two "little bourgeois" instead of one, unless one of the two had knocked the other out. But whether conquering or conquered, Balzac the politician would have swallowed up Balzac the novelist, and Eugenie Grandet would never have been written. Why he failed at the polls is not clear. Probably he did not possess enough suppleness to please his party. To tell the truth, we do not learn definitely to which party he belonged. He was quite capable of constituting one by himself.
These preoccupations hindered him somewhat in carrying out his engagements with publishers and editors, so that he did not always get the money he counted on. Yet he worked hard. His habit, at this time, was to go to bed at six in the evening and sleep till twelve, and after, to rise and write for nearly twelve hours at a stretch, imbibing coffee as a stimulant through these spells of composition. What recreation he took in Paris was at the theatre or at the houses of his noble acquaintances, where he went to gossip of an afternoon. It was exhausting to lead such an existence; and even the transient fillips given by the coffee were paid for in attacks of indigestion and in abscesses which threw him into fits of discouragement. When suffering from these, he poured out his soul to his sister or Madame Carraud, complaining in his epistles that his destiny compelled him to run after fame and deprived him of his chance to meet with the ideal woman. Madame de Berny, with all her devotion, did not satisfy him now. "Despairing of ever being loved and understood by the woman of my dreams," he tragically cried, "having met with her only in my heart, I am plunging again into the tempestuous sphere of political passions and the stormy, withering atmosphere of literary glory." But the "she" of his dreams, he added, must be wealthy. He could not conceive of marriage and love in a cottage. It must be admitted that from his sources of affection as from his sources of ambition there was a gush which was rather muddy.
Altogether, the year of 1832 was an irritating one for Balzac. A rich match he had hoped to make fell through. A second attempt of his to enter the Chamber of Deputies ended in defeat. His books, after their first season or two of favour, were selling but poorly in France, although pirated editions were issued and had a large circulation abroad. Impatiently he meditated plans for doubling and tripling his revenue. He would emigrate—he would recommence publishing—he would turn playwright. Amid these three solicitations he moved in a circle without reaching a conclusion. And fortune, while he was hesitating, did not come to his door. In default of her visit, not all the flattering epistles he received from ladies in Russia and Germany —three and four a day, he asserted—were an adequate compensation. A journey undertaken for the benefit of his health to Sache, Angouleme, and Aix forced him to borrow from his mother again, instead of paying back the capital he owed her. His unfinished manuscripts he had taken with him, but he found it difficult to get on with them: "I was going to start work this morning with courage," he wrote to her, "when your letter came to upset me completely. Do you think it possible for me to have artistic thoughts when I see all at once the tableau of my miseries displayed before me as you display them? Do you think I should toil thus, if I did not feel it?"
The novelist's relations with his mother force the attention of any one that studies his life. Their two natures were contrary; there were often conflicts between them. As a child, he seems not to have comprehended the affection underlying the maternal severity, and to have entertained a dread of the latter which never entirely left him. According to his friend Fessart, he used to confess he always experienced a nervous trembling whenever he heard his mother speak; and the effect was in some sort the numbing of his faculties when he was in her presence. Her generous abnegation at the time of his bankruptcy was a revelation to him; his gratitude for it was sincere; and from that date onwards, during a number of years, his letters to her evinced it, yet not consistently; the old distrust recurs, and also a growing tendency to utilize her as a servant in his concerns. Having once dipped in her purse, he did not hesitate to hold out his hand, on each occasion that his needs, real or fancied, prompted him, being confident of requiting her in the future. His refrain was ever the same: "Sooner or later, politics, journalism, a marriage, or a big piece of business luck will make me a Croesus. We must suffer a little longer." And he finished by exhausting her last penny of capital, and reduced her to depend on an allowance he gave her, irregularly—an allowance which, when he died, had to be continued to her from the purse of another. Madame Balzac was sacrificed to his improvidence and stupendous egotism; nor can the tenderness of his language—more frequently than not called forth by some fresh immolation of her comfort to his interests—disguise this unpleasing side of his character and action. While he was recouping his strength and spirits, on the 1832 holiday, she was in Paris negotiating with Pichot of the Revue de Paris, with Gosselin and other publishers, arranging for proofs, and also for an advance of cash. Even his epistolary good-byes were odd mixtures of business with sentiment. After casting himself —through the post—on her bosom and embracing her with effusion, he terminated by: "Pay everything as you say. On my side, I will gain money by force, and we will balance the expenses by the receipts."
The book that cost him the greatest efforts during the year of 1832 was his Louis Lambert, already mentioned in the second chapter. Writing about it to his family from Angouleme he explained that he was attempting in it to vie with Goethe and Byron, with Faust and Manfred. It was to be a conclusive reply to his enemies, and would make his superiority manifest. Some day or other it would lead science into new paths. Meantime it would produce a deep impression and astonish the Swedenborgians. Whether the members of this sect were astonished, history does not record. Those who were most so were the novelist's friends, and Madame de Berny among the number. But their wonder was not a eulogium. First of all, the hero—his alter ego—is a very poor replica of Pascal; and the exalting of Lambert's intelligence, which was mere self-praise, jarred on them the more, as they truly loved him. The Dilecta, whom he had asked to pass her frank opinion on it, did not hesitate to tell him some hard truths: "Goethe and Byron," she said, "have admirably painted the desires of a superior mind; when reading them, one aggrandizes them by all the space they have perceived; one admires the scope of their view; one would fain give them one's soul to help theirs to cover the distance that separates them from the goal they aspire to reach. But, if an author comes and tells me he has attained this goal, I no longer see in him, however great he may be, more than a presumptuous man; his vanity shocks me, and I diminish him by all the height to which he has tried to raise himself. . . . I would therefore beg you, dearest, to cut out of your Lambert everything that might suggest these singular ideas; for instance: 'The admirable combat of thought arrived at its greatest force, at its vastest expression' . . . 'The moral world, whose limits he had thrown back for himself,' cannot be tolerated. Write, dearest, in such a manner that the whole crowd may perceive you from everywhere, by the height at which you will have placed yourself; but do not cry out for people to admire you; for, on all sides, the largest magnifying-glasses would be directed towards you; and what becomes of the most delicious object seen by the microscope!"
The lesson was a severe one. Though it did not cure Balzac of his author's vanity—nothing could cure him of that—it did, for a while at least, direct his endeavours towards fiction of a more objective kind.
What he was now capable of in characterization treated objectively he showed in his Colonel Chabert and the Cure of Tours, both of which were published in the same twelvemonth as Louis Lambert. These stories are exceedingly simple in construction. The Cure is a priest whose joys and ambitions are modest and innocent. Having reached the age when indulgence in ease and comfort is excusable, he finds himself suddenly deprived of them through unwittingly offending his landlady. She, an old maid, as inwardly shrewish as outwardly pious, utilizes the Abbe Birotteau and another clergyman, who both lodge with her, to attract the good society folk of Tours to her evening receptions. After due experience of these gatherings, the Abbe plays truant, finding it more agreeable to spend his leisure with friends elsewhere. His absence causes the landlady's guests to grow remiss and finally to desert her; so, to revenge herself, the slighted dame, proceeding by petty pin-pricks, makes the Abbe's life a burden to him, and, ultimately enlisting the brother clergyman in her schemes of annoyance, works on his jealousy with such cleverness that their victim's career is blasted and blighted. Dependent on the development of the characters, the plot is adroitly and naturally elaborated. Nowhere is there any forcing of the note; and, in alternate flow, humour and pathos, of a saner sort than in some of the author's previous work, run and ripple throughout. With deeper pathos the novelist tells in Colonel Chabert the virtues of a man of obscure origin, whose nobleness meets with but scanty recognition, since it conducts him to the almshouse in his old age. So vivid is the sober realism of this fine story that the public believed the relation to be plain, unvarnished facts, and were astonished at the writer's daring to reveal them in all their detail.
Balzac's autumn trip was prolonged as far as Annecy and Geneva. He had intended going on to Italy in company with the Duke de Fitz-James. The latter journey, however, was ultimately abandoned, as he did not succeed in raising the thousand crowns it required. Travelling on the top of a coach, he had rather a serious accident when going to Aix. He was climbing up to the front seat just as the horses set off, and, having missed his footing, fell with all his weight against the iron step. The strap, which he clutched in his fall, saved him from coming to the ground; but the impact of his eighty-four kilograms caused the sharp iron to enter the flesh of his leg pretty deeply. This wound took some time to heal, and the annoyance it cause him was aggravated by an additional malady in his stomach which he tried to deal with by consulting a mysterious quack in Paris, sending him through his mother, two pieces of flannel that he had been wearing next his skin. The doctor was to examine No. 1 flannel, and by it to determine the seat and the cause of the affection, as well as the treatment to be followed; then he was to examine No. 2, and to give certain instructions as to its further use. Balzac asked his mother to touch the flannels only with paper, so as not to interfere with their effluvia. This belief of his in magnetism of an occult kind was an inheritance. His mother, it has already been said, was a mystic. Her books of this doctrine comprised more than a hundred volumes of Saint-Martin, Swedenborg, Madame Guyon, Jacob Boehm, and others. All these writers he was familiar with. Throughout his life, the influence of their teaching and his mother's firm belief remained with him. On his conduct and practice their effect was harmless; but in his literary work they were a disturbance, and, wherever they intruded, detracted from its quality.
Happily, he was beginning to be tempted more and more by the artistic side of things in his daily experience. Of the lesser novels composed before the end of 1832, several were directly inspired by incidents brought to his knowledge. The Red Inn was related to him by a former army surgeon, a friend of the man that was unjustly condemned and executed. An Episode under the Terror was narrated by the hero himself. A Desert Attachment was the outcome of a conversation with Martin, the celebrated tamer of wild beasts. On the other hand, Master Cornelius was written to correct the false impression of Louis XI. which he considered Walter Scott had given to his readers in Quentin Durward, this making him very angry. His curiosity concerning facts and realities of every description led him to seek an interview with Samson the executioner. Calling one day to see the Director of Prisons, he found himself in presence of a pale, melancholy-looking man of noble countenance, whose manners, language, and apparent education were those of one polished and cultured. It was Samson. Entering into conversation with this strange personage, the novelist listened to the particulars of his life. Samson was a royalist. On the morrow of Louis XVI.'s execution he had suffered the utmost remorse, and had paid for what was probably the only expiatory mass said on that day for the repose of the King's soul.
Like other litterateurs, Balzac took up many subjects which he did not go on with. He had this peculiarity besides, that he often asserted some book to be completed which was either not begun at all or was in a most unfinished condition. While on the Angouleme and Aix excursion, he spoke especially of The Three Cardinals, The Battle of Austerlitz (afterwards often alluded to simply as the Battle), and The Marquis of Carrabas. Not one of these was ever written. They were abandoned perhaps on account of other work, or else because the execution was less easy than the conception. Napoleon, who would have been a central figure in the Battle, is incidentally introduced in the Country Doctor, which was begun in 1832.
Probably, also, to this same date should be assigned the bizarre and even comical expression of hopes and fears for the future which Balzac confided to his sister Laure. In order to force himself to take exercise, he used to correct his proofs either at the printer's or at her house. Sometimes the weather, to the influence of which he was very susceptible, sometimes his money-tightness, or his fatigue from protracted work would cause him to arrive with lack-lustre eyes, sallow complexion, glum expression and irritable temper. Laure essayed to console and brighten him.
"Now don't try to comfort me," he answered on one occasion. "I'm a dead man."
And the dead man began to drawl out his tale of woe, gradually rousing up as he talked, and, at last, speaking excitedly. But the dolent accents returned as he opened his proofs and read them.
"I shall never make a name, sis."
"Nonsense! with such books, any one could make a name."
He raised his head; his features relaxed; the sombre tints vanished from his face.
"You are right, by Jove! . . . these books must live. . . . Besides, there is Chance. It can protect a Balzac as well as it can a fool. Indeed, one has only to invent this chance. Let some one of my millionaire friends (and I have a few), or a banker not knowing what to do with his money, come and say to me: 'I am aware of your immense talent and your anxieties; you need such and such a sum to be free; accept it without scruple; you will pay it back some day or other; your pen is worth my millions!' That's all I require, my dear sister."
Laure, being accustomed to the appearance of these illusions which brought back his cheerfulness, never exhibited any surprise at such soaring notes. Having created the fable, her imaginative brother continued:
"Those people spend such sums on whims. . . . A handsome deed is a whim, like any other, and gives joy perpetually. It is something to say: 'I have saved a Balzac.' Humanity has good impulses of the sort; and there are people who, without being English, are capable of like eccentricities. 'Either a millionaire or a banker,' he cried, thumping on his chest, 'one of them I will have.'"
By dint of talking he had come to accredit the thing, and gleefully strode about the room, lifting and waving his arms.
"Ah! Balzac is free! You shall see, my dear friends, and my dear enemies, what his progress is."
In fancy, he entered the Academy! From there it was only a step to the House of Peers. He beheld himself admitted thither. Why shouldn't he be a member of the Upper Chamber? This and that person had been created a peer. Then he was appointed a minister. There was nothing extraordinary about it. Presidents existed. Were not people who had boxed the compass of ideas the fittest to govern their fellows? A programme, a policy was evolved and carried out; and, as everything was going on smoothly, he had time to think of the millionaire friend or banker who had assisted him. The generous Maecenas should be rewarded. He understood the novelist, had lent him money on the security of his talent, had enabled him to obtain his well-deserved honours. The benefactor should now have his share in the honour, a share in the immortality.
After a peregrination of this magnitude and dreams to match, he alighted from his Pegasus, and spoke as an ordinary mortal—he had enjoyed himself, and his fit of the dumps was exorcised. Putting the last touch to his proof-correcting, he left the house with his face wreathed in smiles.
"Good-bye," he said to his sister, at the door; "I am off home to see if the banker is there, waiting for me. If he isn't, I shall find some work to do all the same; and work is my real money-lender."
LETTERS TO "THE STRANGER," 1831, 1832
One has little doubt in deciding that, of the two spurs which goaded Balzac's labours, his desire for wealth acted more persistently and energetically than his desire for glory. In his conversations, in his correspondence, money was the eternal theme; in his novels it is almost always the hinge on which the interest, whether of character, plot, or passion, depends. Money was his obsession, day and night; and, in his dormant visions, it must have loomed largely.
Henry Monnier, the caricaturist, used to relate that, meeting him once on the Boulevard, the novelist tapped him on the shoulder and said:
"I have a sublime idea. In a month I shall have gained five hundred thousand francs."
"The deuce, you will," replied Monnier; "let's hear how."
"Listen, then," returned his interlocutor. "I will rent a shop on the Boulevard des Italiens. All Paris is bound to pass by. That's so, isn't it?"
"Yes. Well, what next?"
"Next, I will establish a store for colonial produce; and, over the window, I will have printed, in letters of gold: 'Honore de Balzac, Grocer.' This will create a scandal; everybody will want to see me serving the customers, with the classical counter-skipper's smock on. I shall gain my five hundred thousand francs; it's certain. Just follow my argument. Every day these many people pass along the Boulevard, and will not fail to enter the shop. Suppose that each person spends only a sou, since half of it will be profit to me I shall gain so much a day; consequently, so much a week; so much a month."
And thereupon, the novelist, launched into transcendental calculations, soaring with his enthusiasm into the clouds.
It was the same Henry Monnier who, meeting him another time on the Place de la Bourse, and having had to listen to another of such mirific demonstrations about a scheme from which both were to derive millions, answered drily:
"Then lend me five francs on strength of the affair."
Noticing this sort of monomania, in an article which he wrote in the short-lived Diogenes, during the month of August 1856, Amedee Roland said of Balzac:
"His ambition was to vie in luxury with Alexandre Dumas and Lamartine, who, before the Revolution of 1848, were the most prodigal and extravagant authors in the five continents. For anything like a chance of finding his elusive millions, he would have gone to China. Indeed, on one occasion, he took it into his head he would start, together with his friend, Laurent Jan, and go to see the great Mogul, maintaining that the latter would give him tons of gold in exchange for a ring he possessed, which came, so he asserted, right down from Mahomet. It was three o'clock in the morning when he knocked at Laurent Jan's door to inform his sleeping friend of his project; and the latter had the greatest difficulty in dissuading him from setting off forthwith in a post-chaise for India, of course, at the expense of the monarch in question."
In justice, however, to Balzac, it should be stated that not a few of his suggestions were sensible enough, and contained ideas which, if properly put into execution, could have yielded profitable results. As a matter of fact, some were subsequently exploited by people who listened to them, or heard of them. A scheme of his for making paper by an improved process, which he tried to realize in 1833, and which he induced his mother, his sister's husband, and other friends to support with their capital, anticipated the employment of esparto grass and wood, which since has been adopted successfully by others and has yielded large fortunes to them. The scheme was perhaps premature in Balzac's day, not to speak of his small business capacity, which was in an inverse ration to his inventiveness.
From one of his conceptions, at least, there issued an important benefit to the entire literary profession. Already, in the previous century, Beaumarchais had attempted to establish a society of authors, whose aim should be to protect the rights of men of letters. His efforts then met with no response. Balzac revived the proposal, and coupled with it others tending to improve the material and style of printing of books. He had to contend with the hostility of certain publishers and the indifference of many authors. But his endeavours were ultimately understood and appreciated; and, not long afterwards, in 1838, the Societe des Gens de Lettres was founded.
In connection with this campaign, which he waged for a while alone, there was also his elaboration of the arrangement, first accepted by Charpentier, which consisted in fixing the percentage of the author's royalty on the octavo, three-franc-fifty volume at one-tenth of the published price. One of his discussions with Charpentier on the subject was overheard in the Cafe of the Palais Royal by Jules Sandeau's cousin, who happened to be playing a game of billiards there. After the departure of Balzac and the publisher, the cousin remarked that a paper had been forgotten; and, on reading it through, with his partner in the game, saw a crowd of figures that were so many hieroglyphics to them. When the paper was restored to the novelist by Jules Sandeau, who lived in the same set of flats as Balzac, it transpired that the figures were the calculation of the sum that the writer might obtain on the decimal basis, if a hundred thousand copies of any one of his works were sold.
Two of the novelist's most important books appeared in 1833, his Country Doctor and Eugenie Grandet. The former he disposed of to a new publisher, Mame, who was to print it, at first, unsigned, his old publisher Gosselin having pre-emption rights, that had not been redeemed. Referring to it in a letter to Mame, towards the end of 1832, he said: "I have long been desirous of the popular glory which consists in selling numerous thousands of a small volume like Atala, Paul and Virginia, the Vicar of Wakefield, Manon Lescaut, etc. The book should go into all hands, those of the child, the girl, the old man, and even the devotee. Then once, when the book is known, it will have a large sale, like the Meditations of Lamartine, for instance, sixty thousand copies. My book is conceived in this spirit; it is something which the porter and the grand lady can both read. I have taken the Gospel and the Catechism, two books that sell well, and so I have made mine. I have laid the scene in a village, and the whole of the story will be readable, which is rare with me." How high his hopes of its quality and saleableness were (the two things were oddly mixed up in his mind), he imparted to Zulma Carraud. "The Country Doctor has cost me ten times more labour than Louis Lambert," he informed her. "There is not a sentence or an idea in it that has not been revised, re-read, corrected again and again. It's terrible. But when one wishes to attain the simple beauty of the Gospel, surpass the Vicar of Wakefield and put the Imitation of Jesus Christ into action, one must spare no effort. Emile de Girardin and our good Borget (his co-tenant at the time) wager the sale will be four hundred thousand copies. Emile intends to bring out a franc edition, so that it may be sold like a Prayer Book."
What with his writing for the Revue de Paris, to which he was contributing Ferragus, and the pains he gave himself with the Country Doctor, he was unable to deliver the latter work to Mame at the date stipulated, and the publisher brought a lawsuit against him, the first of a series of legal disputes he was destined to wage with publishing firms and magazine editors during his agitated life.
Notwithstanding the advertisement produced him by the lawsuit, the Country Doctor fell flat in the market. Most of the newspapers spoke contemptuously of it. One reason given was its loose construction, there being no plot, and the two love stories being thrust in towards the end to explain the doctor's altruism and the vicarious paternity of the Commandant Genestas.
This officer, who is stationed not far from the village close to the Grande-Chartreuse, pays a few days' visit to a Doctor Benassis there, under pretext of consulting him professionally. While on the visit he is initiated into the transformation that has been wrought by the doctor in the habits of the people and their homes and surroundings—a regeneration accomplished quietly and gradually, vanquishing hostility and lethargy and converting the peasant's distrust into love. The placing of the Commandant's adopted child under the doctor's care, and Benassis' death, which occurs shortly after, form rather a lame conclusion to the love stories, which are mysteriously withheld to tempt the reader to go on with his perusal. For all its dogmatism in religion and politics, its long arguments in defence of the author's favourite opinions, and its defective construction, the novel, if one can call it a novel, is one of Balzac's best creations. The pictures of country scenes are presented with close fidelity to nature and also with real artistic arrangement. There are, moreover, delineations of rustic character that are truer to life than many of the more celebrated ones in the rest of the novelist's fiction; and, in the episode entitled the Napoleon of the people,—the narration of an old soldier of the First Empire,—there is a topical realism that makes one regret the never-achieved Battle. Add to these excellences the writer's having put into his work, for the nonce, a sincere aspiration towards the idea; and, despite flaws, the whole can be pronounced admirable.
It was just about the time the Country Doctor was published that he began to dwell upon the advantages he might secure by connecting the characters in his novels and forming them into a representative society. Excited by the perspective this plan offered if all its possibilities were realized, he hurried to his sister's house in the Faubourg Poissonniere.
"Salute me," he exclaimed joyfully: "I'm on the point of becoming a genius!"
And he commenced to explain his thought, which seemed to him so vast and pregnant with consequence as to inspire him with awe.
"How fine it will be if I can manage the thing," he continued, striding up and down the drawing-room, too restless to stay in one place. "I shan't mind now being treated as a mere teller of tales, and can go on hewing the stones of my edifice, enjoying, beforehand, the amazement of my short-sighted critics, when they contemplate the structure complete."
At length, Honore sat down and more tranquilly discussed the fortunes of the individuals already born from his brain, or, as yet in process of birth. He judged them and determined their fate.
"Such a one," he said, "is a rascal, and will never do any good. Such another is industrious, and a good fellow; he will get rich, and his character will make him happy. These have been guilty of many peccadilloes; but they are so intelligent and have such a thorough knowledge of their fellows that they are sure to raise themselves to the highest ranks of society."
"Peccadilloes!" replied his sister. "You are indulgent."
"They can't change, my dear. They are fathomers of abysses; but they will be able to guide others. The wisest persons are not always the best pilots. It's not my fault. I haven't invented human nature. I observe it, in past and present; and I try to depict it as it is. Impostures in this kind persuade no one."
To the members of his family he announced news from his world of fiction just as if he were speaking of actual events.
"Do you know who Felix de Vandenesse is marrying?" he asked. "A Mademoiselle de Grandville. The match is an excellent one. The Grandvilles are rich, in spite of what Mademoiselle de Belleville has cost the family."
If, now and again, he was begged to save some wild young man or unhappy woman among his creations, the answer was:
"Don't bother me. Truth above all. Those people have no backbone. What happens to them is inevitable. So much the worse for them."
This absorption in the domain of fancy was so complete at times as to cause him to confuse it with the outside world. It is related that Jules Sandeau, returning once from a journey, spoke to him of his sister's illness. Balzac listened to him abstractedly for a while, and then interrupted him: "All that, my friend, is very well," he said to the astonished Jules, "but let us come back to reality; let us speak of Eugenie Grandet."
It was the second great book of 1833; and, on the whole, exhibits the novelist at his best. Eulogiums came from friends and enemies alike. The critics were unanimous, too unanimous, indeed, for the author, who detected in their chorus of praise a reiterated condemnation of much of his previous production. At last, it even annoyed him to hear his name invariably mentioned in connection with this single novel. "Those who call me the father of Eugenie Grandet seek to belittle me," he cried. "I grant it is a masterpiece, but a small one. They forbear to cite the great ones."
His ill-humor was, of course, of later growth. While Eugenie Grandet was being written, between July and November of 1833, Balzac was quite content to estimate it at its higher value. During the period of its composition, he had fallen, perhaps for the first time in his life, sincerely in love with the woman he ultimately married; and it is appropriate to notice here the synchronism of the event with his high-water mark in fiction. As he confessed to Zulma Carraud, love was his life, his essence; he wrote best when under its influence. There were, be it granted, other contributory causes to make this rapidly written story what we find it to be. The place, the date, the people, the incidents were all close to his own life. Saumur and Tours are neighbouring towns; and 'tis affirmed that the original of the goodman Grandet, a certain Jean Niveleau, had a daughter, whom he refused to give in marriage to Honore. Maybe tradition has embroidered a little on the facts, but there would seem to be much in the narration that belongs to the writer's personal experience. His sister found fault with his attributing so many millions to the miser. "But, stupid, the thing is true," he replied. "Do you want me to improve on truth? If you only knew what it is to knead ideas, and to give them form and colour, you wouldn't be so quick to criticize."
As is usual, when the interest is chiefly characterization, Balzac does not give us a complicated plot. We have in Grandet a self-made man, who has amassed riches by trade and speculation, and lives with his wife and daughter in a gloomy old house, with only one servant as miserly as the master. Eugenie's hand is sought by several suitors, and in particular by the son of the banker des Grassins and the son of the notary Cruchot, these two families waging a diplomatic warfare on behalf of their respective candidates. Into this midst suddenly comes the fashionable nephew Charles Grandet, whose father has, unknown to him, just committed suicide to escape bankruptcy. Eugenie falls in love with her cousin, and he, apparently, with her; but the old man, unsoftened by his brother's death, using it even as a further means of speculation, gets rid of the unfortunate lover by gingerly helping him to go abroad. Years pass, and Eugenie's mother dies, while she herself withers, under the miser's avaricious tyranny. At length, old Grandet pays his debt to nature, and Eugenie is left with the millions. Until now she had waited for the wandering lover's return; but he, engaging in the slave-trade, has lost all the generous impulses of his youth, and comes back only to deny his early affection and marry the ill-favoured daughter of a Marquis. Eugenie takes a noble revenge for this desertion by paying her dead uncle's debts, which Charles had repudiated, and she marries the notary's son, who leaves her a widow soon after.
Everything in the tale is absolutely natural, extraordinary in its naturalness; and the reactions of its various persons upon each other are traced with fine perception. There is not much of the outward expression of love—in this Balzac did not excel—but there is a good deal of its hidden tragedy. Moreover, the miser's ruling passion is exhibited in traits that suggest still more than they openly display; and all the action and circumstance are in the subdued tone proper to provincial existence. The introductory words prepare the reader's mind for what follows:—
"In certain country towns there are houses whose aspect inspires a melancholy equal to that evoked by the gloomiest cloisters, the most monotonous moorland, or the saddest ruins. . . . Perhaps, in these houses there are at once the silence of the cloister, the barrenness of the moorland, and the bones of ruins. Life and movement are so tranquil in them that a stranger might believe them uninhabited if he did not suddenly see the pale, cold gaze of a motionless person whose half-monastic face leans over the casement at the noise of an unknown step. . . ."
And the shadow persists even in the love-scene.
"Charles said to Eugenie, drawing her to the old bench, where they sat down under the walnut trees: 'In five days, Eugenie, we must bid each other adieu, for ever perhaps; but, at least, for a long while. My stock and ten thousand francs sent me by two of my friends are a very small beginning. I cannot think of my return for several years. My dear cousin, don't place my life and yours in the balance. I may perish. Perhaps you may make a rich marriage.'—'You love me,' she said.—'Oh yes, dearly,' he replied, with a depth of accent revealing a corresponding depth of sentiment.—'I will wait, Charles. Heavens! my father is at his window,' she said, pushing away her cousin, who was approaching to kiss her. She escaped beneath the archway; Charles followed her there. On seeing him, she withdrew to the foot of the staircase and opened the self-closing door; then hardly knowing where she was going, Eugenie found herself near Nanon's den, in the darkest part of the passage. There, Charles, who had accompanied her, took her hand, drew her to his heart, seized her round the waist, and pressed her to himself. Eugenie no longer protested. She received and gave the purest, sweetest, but also the entirest of all kisses."
The foregoing and others, equally well drawn, are figures in the background. Standing out in front of them, and in lurid relief, is the central figure of the miser, represented with the same mobility of temperament noticeable in George Eliot's creations—a thing exceptional in Balzac's work. Grandet, as long as his wife lives is reclaimable—just reclaimable. Subsequently, he is an automaton responsive only to the sight and touch of his gold.
The dedication of Eugenie Grandet is to Maria; and Maria, portrayed under the features and character of the heroine, was, we learn, an agreeable girl, of middle-class origins, who, in the year of 1833, attached herself to Balzac and bore him a child.
This liaison was running its ephemeral course just at the time when accident made him acquainted with his future wife. On the 28th of February 1832, his publisher Gosselin handed him a letter with a foreign postmark. His correspondent, a lady, who had read, she said, and admired his Scenes of Private Life, reproached him with losing, in the Shagreen Skin, the delicacy of sentiment contained in these earlier novels, and begged him to forsake his ironic, sceptical manner and revert to the higher manifestations of his talent. There was no signature to this communication; and the writer, who subscribed herself "The Stranger," begged him to abstain from any attempt to discover who she was, as there were paramount reasons why she should remain anonymous. Balzac's curiosity was keenly aroused by so much mystery, and he tried, but in vain, to get hold of some clue that might conduct him to the retreat of the incognita. After a lapse of seven months, a second epistle arrived, more romantic in tone than the first; and containing, among obscure allusions to the lady's surroundings and personality, the following declaration: "You no doubt love and are loved; the union of angels must be your lot. Your souls must have unknown felicities. The Stranger loves you both, and desires to be your friend. . . . She likewise knows how to love, but that is all. . . . Ah! you understand me."
A third letter followed this one shortly afterwards, asking the novelist to acknowledge its receipt in the Quotidienne journal, which he did, expressing in the advertisement his regret at not being able to address a direct reply. At last, in the spring of 1833, the fair correspondent made herself known. She was a Countess Evelina Hanska, wife of a Polish nobleman living at Wierzchownia in the Ukraine. She further allowed it to be understood that she was young, handsome, immensely rich, and not over happy with her husband. This information sufficed to set Balzac's imagination agog. At once, he enshrined the dame in the temple of his ideal, poured out his heart to her, and told her of his struggles and ambitions, meanwhile fashioning a realm of the future in which he and she were to be the two reigning monarchs.
Madame Hanska was also a Pole. She belonged to the noble Rzewuska stock and was born in the castle of Pohrebyszcze between 1804 and 1806. Owing to family reverses, her parents, who had several other children to provide for, were glad to meet with a husband for her in the Count Hanski, who was twenty-five years her senior. The marriage took place between 1818 and 1822, and four children, three boys and a girl, were its issue; but, the boys all dying in infancy, the young mother was left with her little daughter Anna to bring up, and with the desires of a rich, cultured woman, who did not find in her home-circle the wherewithal to satisfy them.
Of her own charms she had spoken truly. Daffinger's miniature of her, painted when she was thirty, represents her as abundantly endowed by nature; and Gigoux' pastel of 1852, which is less faithful and shows her considerably older, still gives substantially the portrait that Barbey d'Aurevilly sketched of her after Balzac's death: "She was of imposing and noble beauty, somewhat massive," says this writer. "But she knew how to maintain, despite her embonpoint, a very great charm, which was enhanced by her delightful foreign accent. She had splendid shoulders, the finest arms in the world, and a complexion of radiant brilliancy. Her soft black eyes, her full red lips, her framing mass of curled hair, her finely chiselled forehead, and the sinuous grace of her gait gave her an air of abandon and dignity together, a haughty yet sensuous expression which was very captivating."
Fascinated by Balzac's masterly delineation of her sex, and longing to learn more about the man who had appealed to her so powerfully, she contrived a journey to Switzerland in 1833, in which her husband and child accompanied her. Switzerland was a land easier for a noble Russian subject to obtain permission to visit. Neufchatel was the place of sojourn chosen, since there was the home of Anna's Swiss governess, Mademoiselle Henriette Borel, who had played an intermediary's role in the beginning of the adventure.
As soon as he had news of the party's arrival, Balzac posted off, concealing from every one the reason for his sudden departure. It had been agreed that the meeting should be on the chief promenade; and there, on a bench, with one of the novelist's books on her lap, Madame Hanska sat with her husband, when he came up and accosted her. One account states that the Countess having, in her excitement, allowed a scarf to drop and hide the book, he passed her by more than once, not daring to speak till she took up the scarf. The same account adds that the lady, remarking the little, stout man staring at her, prayed he might not be the one she was expecting. But no written confession of the Countess's exists to prove that such a thought damped her enthusiasm.
Balzac's impression was recorded in a letter to his sister. "I am happy, very happy," he wrote. "She is twenty-seven, possesses most beautiful black hair, the smooth and deliciously fine skin of brunettes, a lovely little hand, is naive and imprudent to the point of embracing me before every one. I say nothing about her colossal wealth. What is it in comparison with beauty. I am intoxicated with love." The one drawback to the meeting was Monsieur Hanski. "Alas!" adds the writer, "he did not quit us during five days for a single second. He went from his wife's skirt to my waistcoat. And Neufchatel is a small town, where a woman, an illustrious foreigner, cannot take a step without being seen. Constraint doesn't suit me."
Evidently, during the Neufchatel intercourse, some sort of understanding must have been reached, based on the rather unkind anticipation of the Count Hanski's death. At that time, the gentleman's health was precarious. He survived, however until 1841, meanwhile more or less cognizant of his wife's attachment and offering no opposition. He even deemed himself honoured by Balzac's friendship. How rapid the progress of the novelist's passion was for the new idol may be judged by the letter he despatched to Geneva, two or three months later, in December, whilst he was correcting the proofs of Eugenie Grandet. "I think I shall be at Geneva on the 13th," he wrote. "The desire to see you makes me invent things that ordinarily don't come into my head. I correct more quickly. It's not only courage you give me to support the difficulties of life; you give me also talent, at any rate, facility. . . . My Eve, my darling, my kind, divine Eve! What a grief it is to me not to have been able to tell you every evening all that I have done, said, and thought."
The visit to Geneva was paid, and lasted six weeks, the novelist quitting Switzerland only on the 8th of February 1834. From this date onward, a regular correspondence was kept up between them, compensating for their seeing each other rarely. The project of marriage, more tenaciously pursued by Balzac than by his Eve, was yet no hindrance to his fleeting fancies for other women. These interim amours have a good deal preoccupied his various biographers, partly because of the undoubted use he made of them in his novels, and partly also because of the trouble he gave himself to establish among circles outside his own immediate entourage the legend of his being a sort of Sir Galahad, leading a perfectly chaste life and caring only for his literary labours. Says Theophile Gautier:—
"He used to preach to us a strange literary hygiene. We ought to shut ourselves up for two or three years, drink water, eat soaked lupines like Protogenes, go to bed at six o'clock in the evening, and work till morning . . . and especially to live in the most absolute chastity. He insisted much on this last recommendation, very rigorous for a young man of twenty-four or twenty-five years of age. According to him, real chastity developed the powers of the mind to the highest degree, and gave to those that practised it unknown faculties. We timidly objected that the greatest geniuses had indulged in the love passion, and we quoted illustrious names. Balzac shook his head and replied: 'They would have done much more but for the women.' The only concession he would make us, regretfully, was to see the loved one for half-an-hour a year. Love letters he allowed. They formed a writer's style."
George Sand speaks much to the same effect in her reminiscences. She believed in the legend.
"Moderate in every other respect," she says, "he had the purest of morals, having always dreaded wildness as the enemy of talent; and he nearly always cherished women solely in his heart and in his head, even in his youth. He pursued chastity on principle; and his relations with the fair sex were those merely of curiosity. When he found a curiosity equal to his own, he exploited this mine with the cynicism of a father-confessor. But, when he met with health of mind and body, he was as happy as a child to speak of real love and to rise into the lofty regions of sentiment."
Unfortunately for the preceding testimony, a flat contradiction is given to it not only by the recorded facts of the novelist's life, but by his sister, who knew better than George Sand and Gautier that Balzac's profession of sublimer sentiments did not exclude a more mundane feeling and practice. Commenting on George Sand's generous panegyric of her brother, she adds: "It is an error to speak of his extreme moderation. He does not deserve this praise. Outside of his work, which was first and foremost, he loved and tasted all the pleasures of this world. I think he would have been the most conceited of all men, if he had not been the most discreet. Confident in himself, he never committed the least indiscretion in his relations with others, and kept their secrets, though unable to keep his own."
The Viscount Spoelberch de Lovenjoul is still more explicit in his short book on Balzac and Madame Hanska, entitled Roman d'Amour. Speaking of the novelist's various liaisons and love escapades, which were covered up with such solicitude from the eyes of the world, he remarks that Balzac, while vaunting himself, in argument, of having remained chaste for a number of years, owned to his sister that the truth was quite different. The novelist did his utmost, continues Monsieur de Lovenjoul, to foster the tradition of his hermit-like conduct; and to all the jealous women with whom he entertained friendly relations he asserted that his morals were as spotless as those of a cenobite. Ever and everywhere he abused the credulity of those who flattered themselves they were his only love.
Madame de Berny was not among the credulous ones, nor yet so resigned as the simple bourgeoise Maria, who, to quote Balzac's own words, "fell like a flower from heaven, exacted neither correspondence nor attentions, and said: 'Love me a year and I will love you all my life.'" Though forced to accept the transformation of her relations with her young lover into a purely platonic friendship, she made occasional protests against being supplanted by younger rivals—the imperious Madame de Castries among the number. The birth and growth of his affection for Madame Hanska she appears to have felt and resented to a greater degree than his previous infidelities to her. Not even its maintenance, for the time being, on the plane of pure sentiment, dispelled her jealous thoughts. Being apprized of Balzac's dedication of a portion of the Woman of Thirty Years Old to his Eve, she insisted on his expunging the offending name, while the sheets were in the press. Whether her fretting over his transferred allegiance hastened her end it is impossible to say with any certainty; yet one cannot help being struck by the fact that the serious phase of the malady that killed her almost coincided with the beginning of their separation.
Madame Hanska, although she started with a supposition of his loving another, became exacting also, in proportion as her admirer's professions of loyalty conferred the right upon her. Rumours reached her now and again, and sometimes precise information, of her place being usurped by another. And, later, as will be again mentioned, a breach occurred between them which was nearly final. By his various mistresses, Balzac had four children, including Maria's little daughter, two of whom survived him.
All this notwithstanding, it would be a mistake to assume that he was a deliberate woman-hunter, and wasted his energies in licentiousness. His immense industry and productiveness are enough to prove that such lapses were more the natural outcome of his having so constant a bevy of lady worshippers about him, and occurred as opportunity offered only. On the other hand, it must be admitted that woman's counsels, woman's encouragements, woman's caresses and help were very necessary to him; and he drew largely on the capacities, material and moral, of the Marthas and Maries that crossed his orbit, attracting him or themselves attracted.
The twelvemonth which was marked by the achievement of his most perfect novel also brought him into regular business relations with Werdet, destined to be one of his biographers, who now became his chief publisher and remained so during several years. Incorrect in many details which lay outside his own ken, and which he had gleaned from hearsay or books hastily written, Werdet's own book, a familiar portrait of Balzac, is nevertheless a valuable document. If the author was unable to fathom the whole of the genius and character of the man he described, he yet sincerely appreciated them; and not even the soreness he could not help feeling when ultimately thrown aside, destroyed his deep-rooted worship of him whom he regarded as one of the highest glories of French literature.
Werdet, when he was introduced to the writer of the Physiology of Marriage, had already tried his luck at publishing, but had been compelled to abandon the master's position and to enter as an employee into the house of a Madame Bechet, who was engaged in the same line of business. Having read and liked some of Balzac's earlier works, he persuaded the firm to entrust him with the task of negotiating a purchase of the exclusive rights of the novelist's Studies of Manners and Morals in the Nineteenth Century. The negotiation was carried through in 1832, and a sum of thirty-six thousand francs was paid to Balzac. This was the writer's real beginning of money-making. Twelve months after, Werdet resolved to start once more on his own account. He had only a few thousand francs capital. His idea was to risk them in buying one of Balzac's books; and then, if successful, gradually to acquire a publishing monopoly in the great man's productions. Distrusting his own powers of persuasion, he enlisted the good offices of Barbier, the late partner of the Rue des Marais printing-house, who was a persona grata with the novelist. Together, they went to the Rue Cassini; and Barbier set forth Werdet's desire.
"Very good," replied the great man. "But you are aware, Monsieur, that those who now publish my works require large capital, since I often need considerable advances."
Proudly, young Werdet brought out his six notes of five hundred francs each, and spread them on the table.
"There is all my fortune," he said. "You can have it for any book you please to write for me."
At the sight of them Balzac burst out laughing.
"How can you imagine, Monsieur, that I—I—de Balzac! who sold my Studies of Manners and Morals not long ago to Madame Bechet for thirty-six thousand francs—I, whose collaboration to the Revue de Paris is ordinarily remunerated by Buloz at five hundred francs per sheet, should forget myself to the point of handing you a novel from my pen for a thousand crowns? You cannot have reflected on your offer, Monsieur; and I should be entitled to look upon your step as unbecoming in the highest degree, were it not that your frankness in a measure justifies you."
Barbier tried to plead for his friend, and mentioned that, in consideration of Werdet's share in the transaction with Madame Bechet, a second edition of the Country Doctor might be granted him for the three thousand francs. But Balzac, retorting that whatever service had been rendered was not to himself but by himself, dismissed his visitors with the words:
"We have spent an hour, gentlemen, in useless talk. You have made me lose two hundred francs. For me, time is money. I must work. Good-day."
They left, and Barbier, to comfort his friend, prophesied that, in spite of this reception, Balzac would enter into pourparlers with him, and that Werdet had only to wait, and news would be received from the Rue Cassini shortly. He was not mistaken. Three days elapsed and then Werdet had the following note sent him:—
"SIR,—You called upon me the other day when my head was preoccupied with some writing that I wanted to finish, and I consequently did not very well comprehend what was your drift. To-day, my head is freer. Do me the pleasure to call on me at four o'clock, and we can talk the matter over."
Werdet waited nearly a week before he paid the requested visit. In quite another tone, the novelist discussed the proposed scheme, promised to use his influence on the young publisher's behalf, and gave him the Country Doctor for the price offered.
Thenceforward, a familiar guest in the dwelling of the Rue Cassini, Werdet described it in detail, when composing his Portrait Intime. It was part of a two-storied pavilion (as the French call a moderate-sized house) standing to the left in a courtyard and garden, with another similar building on the right. From the ground-floor a flight of steps led up to a glass-covered gallery joining the two buildings and serving as an antechamber to each. Its sides were hung in white and blue-striped glazed calico; and a long, blue-upholstered divan, a blue and brown carpet, and some fine china vases filled with flowers, adorned it. From the gallery the visitor proceeded into a pretty drawing-room, fifteen feet square, lighted on the east by a small casement that looked over the yard of a neighbouring house. Opposite the drawing-room door was a black marble mantelpiece.
The salon gave access to the bedroom and the dining-room, the latter being connected with the kitchen underneath by a narrow staircase. A secret door in the salon opened into the bathroom with its walls of white stucco, its bath of white marble, and its red, opaque window-panes diffusing a rose-coloured tint through the air. Two easy-chairs in red morocco stood near the bath.
The bedroom, having two windows, one towards the south and the observatory, the other overlooking a garden of flowers and trees, was very bright and cheery. The furniture, with its shades of white, pink, and gold, was rich and handsome. A secret door existed also in this chamber, hidden behind muslin hangings; it led down the same narrow staircase already mentioned to the kitchen, and thence out into the yard. Nanon, Balzac's cook, less discreet than Auguste, the valet-de-chambre, had tales to tell Werdet about certain lady visitors who arrived by means of this private staircase into the daintily arranged bedroom.
The study, of oblong shape, about eighteen feet by twelve, had likewise two windows affording a view only over the yard of the next house, which, being lofty, made the room dark, even in the sunniest weather. Here the furniture was simple, the principal piece being an exceedingly fine ebony bookcase, with mirrored panels. It contained a large collection of rare books, all bound in red morocco and set off with the escutcheon of the d'Entragues family. Among them were nearly all the authors who had written on mysticism, occult science, and religion. Opposite the bookcase, between the windows, was a carved ebony cabinet filled with red morocco box-cases, and on the top of the cabinet stood a plaster statuette representing Napoleon I. Across the sword-sheath was stuck a tiny paper with these words written by the novelist: "What he could not achieve with the sword I will accomplish with the pen. Honore de Balzac."
On the mantelpiece decorated with a mirror, there was an alarum in unpolished bronze, together with two vases in brown porcelain. And on either side of the mirror hung all sorts of woman's trifles; here, a crumpled glove, there a small satin shoe; and, further, a little rusty iron key. Questioned as to the significance of this last article, the owner called it his talisman. There was also a diminutive framed picture exhibiting beneath the glass a fragment of brown silk, with an arrow-pierced heart embroidered on it, and the English words: An Unknown Friend. In front of a modest writing-table covered with green baize was a large Voltaire arm-chair upholstered in red morocco; and about the room were a few other ebony chairs covered in brown cloth.