And he did, with many things else that happened to him in his dealings with his fellows. There is biography too, as well as autobiography in the Comedy—this notwithstanding his disclaimers. Exact portraiture he avoided for obvious reasons, but intentional portraiture he indulged in largely; and life and character were sufficiently near the truth for shrewd contemporaries to recognize the originals. To add one or two examples to the number already given. Claire Brunne (Madame Marbouty) seems to have suggested his Muse of the County, a Berrichon blue-stocking; Madame d'Agoult and Liszt became Madame de Rochfide and the musician Conti in Beatrix; a cousin of Madame Hanska, Thaddeus Wylezinski, who worshipped her discreetly, is depicted under the traits of Thaddeus Paz, a Polish exile in the False Mistress, who assumes a feigned name to conceal his love; Lamartine furnished the conception of the poet Canalis in Modeste Mignon, the resemblance being at first so striking that the novelist afterwards toned it away a little; and Monnier, the caricaturist, certainly supplied the essential elements in Bixiou, who is so well drawn in Cousin Bette and the Firm of Nucingen. The Baron Nucingen himself has some of the features of the James de Rothschild whom Balzac knew; and Rastignac embodied the author's impression of Thiers in the statesman's earlier years. One might go further and couple Delacroix the painter's name with that of Joseph Bridau in A Bachelor's Household, Frederick Lemaitre, the actor's, with Medal's in Cousin Pons, Emile de Girardin's with du Tillet's in Cesar Birotteau. At last, however, owing to the mingling of one personality with another, identification is increasingly difficult, unless the novelist comes to our assistance, as in the story Cousin Bette, where he confesses Lisbeth the old maid, to be made up out of three persons, Madame Valmore, Madame Hanska's aunt, and his own mother.
Summing up Balzac's entire literary production, which in Monsieur de Lovenjoul's catalogue occupies no fewer than fourteen pages, we find that it comprises, besides the ninety-six different works of the Comedie Humaine properly so called, ten volumes of his early novels; six complete dramatic pieces—one, the School for Husbands and Wives recently published;[*] thirty Contes Drolatiques; and three hundred and fourteen articles and opuscles, some of them fairly long, since the Reminiscences of a Pariah has a hundred and eighty-four pages octavo, the Theory of Walking fifty, the Code of Honest People a hundred and twelve, the Impartial History of the Jesuits eighty; these exclusive of the Revue Parisienne with its two hundred and twenty pages, which, as we have seen, was written entirely by himself. When we remember that the whole of this, with the exception of the early novels and six of the opuscles, was produced in twenty years, we can better appreciate the man's industry, which, as Monsieur Le Breton calculates, yielded an average of some two thousand pages, or four to five volumes a year.
[*] Played for the first time March 13, 1910, at the Odeon Theatre.
In the miscellanies one meets with much that is curious, amusing, and instructive, quite worthy to figure in the Comedy—witty dialogues, light stories containing deductions a la Sherlock Holmes or Edgar Allan Poe, plenty of satire, sometimes acidulated as in his Troubles and Trials of an English Cat, and theories about everything, indicative of extensive reading, large assimilation and quick reasoning. The miscellanies really stand to the novels in the relation of a sort of prolegomenon. They serve for its better understanding, and are agreeable even for independent study.
VALUE OF THE WORK
The aim of an author whose writings are intended to please must be ethical as well as aesthetic, if he respects himself and his readers. He wishes the pleasure he can give to do good, not harm. The good he feels capable of producing may be limited to the physical or may extend beyond to the moral; but it will be found in his work in so far as the latter is truly artistic.
Balzac's prefaces and correspondence are so many proofs that he rejected the pretensions of literature or any other art to absolute independence. The doctrine of art for art's sake alone would have had no meaning to him. However much his striving to confer on his novels organic unity, and however much the writing against time deteriorated his practice, they did not prevent him from recognizing the ethical claim. What he realized less was the necessity of submitting treatment to the same government of law.
Even if we grant that the plan of the Comedie Humaine existed in the novelist's mind from the commencement, obscurely at first, more clearly afterwards, the plan itself was not artistic in the sense that an image in the architect's mind is artistic when he designs on paper the edifice he purposes to construct, or in the painter's mind when he chooses the subject and details of his picture, or in the sculptor's mind when he arranges his group of statuary, or in the musician's mind when he conjures up his opera or oratorio. Balzac's plan was one of numbers or logic merely. The block of his Comedy was composed on the dictionary principle of leaving nothing out which could be put in; and his genius, great as it was, wrestled achingly and in vain with a task from which selection was practically banished and which was a piling of Pelion on Ossa.
For this reason it is that, regarded as an aggregate, the Comedie Humaine can be admired only as one may admire a forceful mass of things, when it is looked at from afar, through an atmosphere that softens outlines, hides or transforms detail, adds irreality. In such an ambience certain novels that by themselves would shock, gain a sort of appropriateness, and others that are trivial or dull serve as foils. But, at the same time, we know that the effect is partly illusion.
In a writer's entire production the constant factor is usually his style, while subject and treatment vary. Balzac, however, is an exception in this respect as in most others. He attains terse vigour in not a few of his books, but in not a few also he disfigures page after page with loose, sprawling ruggedness, not to say pretentious obscurity. His opinion of himself as a stylist was high, higher no doubt than that he held of George Sand, to whom he accorded eminence mainly on this ground. Of the French language he said that he had enriched it by his alms. Finding it poor but proud, he had made it a millionaire. And the assertion was put forward with the same seriousness that he displayed when declaring that there were three men only of his time who really knew their mother-tongue—Victor Hugo, Theophile Gautier, and himself. That his conversancy with French extended from Froissart downwards, through Rabelais' succulent jargon as well as Moliere's racy idiom, is patent in nearly all he wrote; and that he was capable of using this vocabulary aptly is sufficiently shown in the best and simplest of his works. But it is not so clear that he added anything to the original stock. Such words as he coined under the impetus of his exuberance are mostly found in his letters and have not been taken into favour.
A demur must likewise be entered against his style's possessing the qualities that constitute a charm apart from the matter expressed. Too many tendencies wrought in him uncurbed for his ideas to clothe themselves constantly in a suitable and harmonious dress. Generally when his personality intruded itself in the narrative, it was quite impossible for him to speak unless affectedly, with a mixture of odd figures of speech and similes that hurtled in phrases of heavy construction. Taine has collected a few of these. In the Cure of Tours we read:—
"No creature of the feminine gender was more capable than Mademoiselle Sophie Gamard of formulating the elegiac nature of an old maid."
Elsewhere, he speaks of the "fluid projections of looks that serve to touch the suave skin of a woman;" of the "atmosphere of Paris in which seethes a simoon that swells the heart;" of the "coefficient reason of events;" of "pecuniary mnemonics;" of "sentences flung out through the capillary tubes of the great female confabulation;" of "devouring ideas distilled through a bald forehead;" of a "lover's enwrapping his mistress in the wadding of his attentions;" of "abortions in which the spawn of genius cumbers an arid strand;" of the "philosophic moors of incredulity;" of a "town troubled in its public and private intestines."
In one of the chapters of Seraphita, he says: "Wilfred arrived at Seraphita's house to relate his life, to paint the grandeur of his soul by the greatness of his faults; but, when he found himself in the zone embraced by those eyes whose azure scintillations met with no horizon in front, and offered none behind, he became calm again and submissive as the lion who, bounding on his prey in an African plain, receives, on the wing of the winds, a message of love, and stops. An abyss opened into which fell the words of his delirium!"
And the same Wilfred "trusted to his perspicacity to discover the parcels of truth rolled by the old servant in the torrent of his divagations."
During the years of Balzac's greatest literary activity, which were also those of his bitterest polemics, his opponents made much capital out of the caprices of his pen. In the lawsuit against the Revue de Paris, Monsieur Chaix d'Est-Ange, the defendant's counsel, provoked roars of laughter by quoting passages from the Lily in the Valley; and Jules Janin, in his criticism of A Provincial Great Man in Paris, grew equally merry over the verbal conceits abounding in the portraits of persons. And yet the very volumes that furnish the largest number of ill-begotten sentences contain many passages of sustained dignity, sober strength, and proportioned beauty.
Normally, Balzac's style, in spite of its mannerisms, its use and abuse of metaphor, its laboured evolution and expression of the idea, and its length and heaviness of period, adapts itself to the matter, and alters with kaleidoscopic celerity, according as there is description, analysis, or dramatization. Thus blending with the subject, it loses a good deal of its proper virtue, which explains why it does not afford the pleasure of form enjoyed in such writers as George Sand, Flaubert, Renan, and Anatole France. The pleasure his word-conjuring can yield is chiefly of the sensuous order. The following passage is, as Taine says, botany turned into imagination and passion:—
"Have you felt in the meadows, in the month of May, the perfume which communicates to every living being the thrill of fecundation, which, when you are in a boat, makes you dip your hands in the rippling water and let your hair fly in the wind, while your thoughts grow green like the boughs of the forest? A tiny herb, the sweet-smelling anthoxanthum is the principal of this veiled harmony. Thus, no one can stay in its proximity unaffected by it. Put into a nosegay its glittering blades streaked like a green-and-white netted dress; inexhaustible effluvia will stir in the bottom of your heart the budding roses that modesty crushes there. Within the depths of the scooped-out neck of porcelain, suppose a wide margin composed of the white tufts peculiar to the sedum of vines in Touraine; a vague image of desirable forms turned like those of a submissive slave. From this setting issue spirals of white-belled convolvulus, twigs of pink rest-harrow mingled with a few ferns, and a few young oak-shoots having magnificently coloured leaves; all advance bowing themselves, humble as weeping willows, timid and suppliant as prayers. Above, see the slender-flowered fibrils, unceasingly swayed, of the purply amourette, which sheds in profusion its yellowy anthers; the snowy pyramids of the field and water glyceria; the green locks of the barren bromus; the tapered plumes of the agrosits, called wind-ears; violet-hued hopes with which first dreams are crowned, and which stand out on the grey ground of flax where the light radiates round these blossoming herbs. But already, higher up, a few Bengal roses scattered among the airy lace of the daucus, the feathers of the marsh-flax, the marabouts of the meadow-sweet, the umbellae of the white chervil, the blond hair of the seeding clematis, the neat saltiers of the milk-white cross-wort, the corymbs of the yarrow, the spreading stems of the pink-and-black flowered fumitory, the tendrils of the vine, the sinuous sprays of honeysuckle; in fine, all that is most dishevelled and ragged in these naive creatures; flames and triple darts, lanceolated, denticulated leaves, stems tormented like vague desires twisted at the bottom of the soul; from the womb of this prolix torrent of love that overflows, shoots up a magnificent red double-poppy with its glands ready to open, displaying the spikes of its fire above the starred jasmine and dominating the incessant rain of pollen, a fair cloud that sparkles in the air, reflecting the light in its myriad glistening atoms. What woman, thrilled by the love-scent lurking in the anthoxanthum, will not understand this wealth of submissive ideas, this white tenderness troubled by untamed stirrings and this red desire of love demanding a happiness refused in those struggles a hundred times recommenced, of restrained, eternal passion. Was not all that is offered to God offered to love in this poesy of luminous flowers incessantly humming its melodies to the heart, caressing hidden pleasures there, unavowed hopes, illusions that blaze and vanish like gossamer threads on a sultry night?"
This last quotation was probably in Sainte-Beuve's mind when he spoke of the efflorescence by which Balzac gave to everything the sentiment of life and made the page itself thrill. Elsewhere he found the efflorescence degenerate into something exciting and dissolvent, enervating, rose-tinted, and veined with every hue, deliciously corruptive, Byzantine, suggestive of debauch, abandoning itself to the fluidity of each movement. Sainte-Beuve was not an altogether unprejudiced critic of the novelist; but his impeachment can hardly be refuted, although Brunetiere would fain persuade us that the only thing which may be reasonably inveighed against in Balzac's style is its indelicacy or rather native non-delicacy. If the Contes Drolatiques alone had been in question, this lesser accusation might suffice. But there are the Lost Illusions, the Bachelor's Household, and Cousin Bette, not to mention other novels, in which the scenes of vice are dwelt upon with visible complacency and a glamour is created and thrown over them by the writer's imagination, in such a way that the effect is nauseous in proportion as it is pleasurable. The artistic representation of vice and crime is justifiable only in so far as the mind contemplating it is carried out and beyond into the sphere of sane emotion. True, by considerable portions of the Comedie Humaine only sane emotions are roused; but these portions are, more often than not, those wherefrom the author's peculiar genius is absent. It is in less conspicuous works, or those like the Cure of Tours, the Country Doctor, Cesar Birotteau, Cousin Pons, the Reverse Side of Contemporary History that the eternal conflict of good and evil is so exhibited as to evoke healthy pity, sympathy, admiration, and their equally healthy contraries, and also a wider comprehension of life.
It is difficult to separate the subject-matter of a novel from its treatment. Yet a word should be said of Balzac's widening the limits of admission. His widening was two-fold. It boldly took the naked reality of latest date, the men and women of his time in the full glare of passion and action, unsoftened by the veil that hides and in some measure transforms when they have passed into history; and it included in this reality the little, the commonplace, the trivial. This innovator in fiction aimed, as Crabbe and Wordsworth had aimed in poetry, at interesting the reader in themes which were ordinarily deemed to be void of interest. The thing deserved trying. His predecessors, and even his contemporaries, had neglected it. An experimenter in this direction, he now and then forgot that the proper subject-matter of the novel is man—man either individual or collective—and spent himself in fruitless endeavours to endow the abstract with reality.
When he opined, somewhat rashly, that George Sand had no force of conception, no power of constructing a plot, no faculty of attaining the true, no art of the pathetic, he doubtless wished the influence to be drawn that he was not lacking in them himself.
As regards the first, his claim can be admitted without reserve. Force of conception is dominant throughout his fiction. It is that which gained his novels their earliest acceptance. Whether they were approved or disapproved in other respects, their strong originality imposed itself on the attention of friends and enemies alike. One felt then, and one feels now, though more than half a century has elapsed since they were produced, that, whatever factitious accretions clung to them, they came into the world with substance and form new-fashioned; no mere servile perpetuation of an effete type, but a fresh departure in the annals of art.
Especially is this seen in his characterization. His men and women are most of them put on foot with the energy of movement in them and an idiosyncrasy of speech and action that has not been surpassed. As already stated, they generally are not portraits, although his memory was of that peculiar concave visuality which allowed him to cast its images forth solidly into space. What he did was to remodel these images with proportions differing from those of the reality, magnifying or diminishing them pretty much as Swift with his Brobdingnagians and Lilliputians; and, having got the body of his personage recomposed, with mental and moral qualities and defects corresponding to every one of its details—for Balzac was a firm believer in the corporal being an exact reflection of the spiritual —he set his mechanisms in motion.[*]
[*] "A round waist," he says, "is a sign of force; but women so built are imperious, self-willed, more voluptuous than tender. On the contrary, flat-waisted women are devoted, full of finesse, inclined to melancholy." Elsewhere, he informs us that "most women who ride horseback well are not tender." "Hands like those of a Greek statue announce a mind of illogical domination; eyebrows that meet indicate a jealous tendency. In all great men the neck is short, and it is rare that a tall man possesses eminent faculties."
To call his men and women mechanisms, while yet acknowledging their intense vitality, may seem a contradiction; but nothing less than this antinomy is adequate to indicate the fatality of Balzac's creatures. None of them ever appear to be free agents. Planet-like they revolve in an orbit, or meteor-like they rush headlong, and their course in the one or the other case is guessable from the beginning. Not that change or development is precluded. The conjuror provides for large transformation; but the law of such transformation is one of iron necessity, and, when he brings in at the end his interferences of Providence, they shock us as an inconsequence. However, though bound by their weird, his people are extraordinarily various in their aspect and doings. It is rare that he repeats his characters, albeit many of them touch each other at certain points. The exceptions are caused by his sometimes altering his manner of characterization and proceeding from the inside first. This variation goes to the extent of distinguishing influences of the soil as well as of social grade and temperament. His northerners speak and act otherwise than those of the south or west, and, in the main, are true to life, despite the author's perceptible satire when depicting provincials.
Parallel to his vigorous creation of character is the force with which he builds up their environment. Here his realism is intense. Indeed, occasionally one is tempted to credit Balzac with a greater love of things than of men, yet not the things of nature as much as things made by men. His portrayal of landscape may be fine prose, but contains no pure feeling of poetry in it, while, in the town, in the house, in the street, wherever the human mind and hand have left their imprints, his language grows warm, his fancy swoops and grasps the significance of detail; these dumb survivals of the past become eloquent to his ears; his eyes discover in them a reflecting retina which, obedient to his command, resuscitates former contacts, a world buried and now found again. When attempting the historical novel, in which his persons are typical rather than individual, he still preserves this exactitude of local colouring. His descriptions of places, in fact, in all his books are almost photographs, and, where change has been slow, still serve to guide the curious traveller.
In his preface to the Cabinet of Antiques, he explains how he dealt with his raw material. A young man has been prosecuted before the Assize Court, and had been condemned and branded. This case he connected with the story of an ancient family fallen from its high estate and dwelling in provincial surroundings. The story had dramatic elements in it, but less intensely dramatic than those of the young man's case. "This way of proceeding," he says, "should be that of an historian of manners and morals. His task consists in blending analogous facts in a single picture. Is he not rather bound to give the spirit than the letter of the happenings? He synthesizes them. Often it is necessary to pick out several similar characters in order to succeed in making up one, just as odd people are met with who are so ridiculous that two distinct persons may be created out of them. . . . . Literature uses a means employed in painting, which, to obtain a fine figure, adapts the hands of one model, the foot of another, the chest of a third, the shoulders of a fourth."
The foregoing quotation raises the question of the significance of the term truth as applied to fiction. Evidently, it cannot have the same meaning as when applied to history or biography. In the latter, the writer invents neither circumstances nor actions, nor the persons engaged in them, but seeks to know the whole of the first two exactly as they occurred, and to interpret, as nearly to life as may be, the third. However, if he be a philosopher, he will perhaps try to show the intimate relations existing between these same persons and the events in which they were concerned; and, in doing so, he will step out of his proper role and assume one which is less easy for him than for the novelist to play, since the writer of fiction composes both his dramatis personae and their story; and the concordance between them is more a matter of art than of science.
Still it is possible that neither a novelist's characters nor their environment shall be in entire agreement with all observable facts. There may be arrangements, eliminations, additions, which, though pleasing to the reader, may remove the mimic world to a plane above that of the so-called real one. Thus removed, Balzac judged George Sand's production to be. And we must confess that, even in Little Fadette, The Devil's Pool, and Francois le Champi, it deals with human experience in a mode differing widely from that which the author of Eugenie Grandet considered conform to truth.
As regards the methods of these two rivals, the claim to superior truth cannot be settled in Balzac's favour by merely pointing to his realism. Realism tried by the norm of truth is relative. What it represents of the accidental in life may be much less than what it omits of the essential or potential, for these two words are often interchangeable. In the same object, different people usually see different aspects, qualities, attributes. Is one spectacle necessarily true and another false? It is certain that George Sand, in her stories of peasant life, largely uses the artist's liberty of leaving out a great deal that Balzac would have put in when treating a like subject. It is certain that from some themes and details that Balzac delighted in describing she deliberately turned away, and it is certain also that she introduced into her fiction not a little of the Utopian world that has haunted man in his later development without there being actuality or the least chance of realization to lend it substance. But Balzac's fiction has, too, its pocket Utopias, less attractive and less invigorating than Madame Dudevant's, and in his most realistic portrayals there are not infrequently dream-scapes of the fancy. The truth that we can most readily perceive in his work is one which, after all, embraces the ideally potential in man as well as his most material manifestations. It is small compared with the mass of what he wrote; but, where found, it is supreme.
In constructing plot Balzac is unequal and often inferior. Here it is that his romanticist origins reappear rankly like weeds, giving us factitious melodrama that accords ill with his sober harvest of actuality. And his melodrama has not the merit of being various. It nearly always contains the same band of rogues, disguised under different names, conspiring to ruin innocent victims by the old tricks of their trade.
Then, again, many of his novels have no understandable progression from the commencement, through the middle, to the conclusion. This is not because he was incapable of involving his characters in the consequences of their actions, but because things that he esteemed of greater importance interfered with the story's logical development. We have episodes encroaching on the main design, or what was originally intended to be the main design, which is disaggregated before the end is arrived at. As a matter of fact, quite a number of his plots are swamped by what he forces into them with the zeal of an encyclopaedist. Philosophy, history, geography, law, medicine, trade, industry, agriculture enter by their own right. The novelist yields up his wand, and the pedagogue or vulgarisateur comes forward with his chalk and blackboard. Canalization is explained at length in the Village Cure; will-making is discoursed upon in Ursule Mirouet; promissory notes, bills of exchange, and protests, not to speak of business accounts, cover pages in the Lost Illusions; therapeutics takes the place of narrative in the Reverse Side of Contemporary History; physiology is lectured upon in the Lily in the Valley; Louis Lambert aims at becoming a second and better edition of the Thoughts of Pascal; and in Seraphita we have sermons as long and tedious as those of an Elizabethan divine. The result is that even novels containing the presentment of love in its most passional phases lose their right to the name. At best they can be called only disparate chapters of fiction; at worst, they are merely raw material.
As for his achievement in the pathetic, it is almost nil. At least, if by pathos we mean that which touches the heart's tenderest strings. Harrow us, he can; play upon many of our emotions, he is able to at will. But, at bottom, he had too little sympathy with his fellows to find in their mistakes, or sins, or sufferings, the wherewithal to bring out of us our most generous tears. Those he wept once or twice himself when writing were drawn from him by a reflex self-pity that is easily evoked. In genuine pathos, Hugo is vastly his superior.
Women occupy so preponderant a position in the Comedy that one is forced to ask one's self whether these numerous heroines are reproduced with the same fidelity to nature as are his men. At any rate, they are not all treated in the same manner. In his descriptions of grand ladies the satiric intention is rarely absent. Why, it is difficult to say, unless it was that he was unable to avoid the error of introducing the pique of the plebeian suitor, and that the satire was an effort to establish the balance in his favour. "When I used to go into high society," he told Madame Hanska, "I suffered in every part of me through which suffering could enter. It is only misunderstood souls and those that are poor who know how to observe, because everything jars on them, and observation results from suffering." In his inmost thought he had no high opinion of women. Notwithstanding his flattery of Madame Hanska, he was a firm upholder of the old doctrine of male supremacy; and, at certain moments, he slipped his opinion out, content afterwards to let Eve or another suppose that his hard words were not spoken in earnest. One of his would-be witticisms at the expense of the fair sex was: "The most Jesuitical Jesuit among the Jesuits is a thousand times less Jesuitical than the least Jesuitical woman." The form only of the accusation was new. How often before and since the misogynist has asserted that women have no conscience. Be it granted that Balzac's grand dames often have very little, and some of his other women also. They are creatures of instinct and passion susceptible only of being influenced through their feelings. Yet, as regards the former, Sainte-Beuve assures us that their portraits in the Comedy resemble the originals. He says: "Who especially has more delightfully hit off the duchesses and viscountesses of the Restoration period!" Brunetiere accepts this testimony of a contemporary who himself frequented the salons of the great. Some later critics, on the contrary, hold that the novelist has given us stage-dames with heavy graces and a bizarre free-and-easiness as being the nearest equivalent to aristocratic nonchalance. One thing is certain, namely, that Balzac was personally acquainted rather with that side of aristocratic society which was not the better. It was the side bordering on licentiousness, where manners as well as morals are easily tainted and vulgarity can creep in. Again, he creates his women with a theory, and, in art, theories are apt to become prejudices. According to his appreciation Walter Scott's heroines are monotonous; they lack relief, he said, and they lack it because they are Protestants. The Catholic woman has repentance, the Protestant woman, virtue only. Many of Balzac's women repent, and many of those that repent either backslide or come very near to it. His altogether virtuous women are childish without being children, and some are bold into the bargain. In fine, his gamut of feminine psychology seems to be limited, very limited. Women of the finest mind he neither comprehended nor cared to understand. They were outside his range.
But what he missed in the whole representation of the fair sex he made up for by what he invented, as indeed, too, in his representation of the sterner sex; and Jules Janin's account of the matter is not far from the truth:—
"He is at once the inventor, the architect, the upholsterer, the milliner, the professor of languages, the chambermaid, the perfumer, the barber, the music-teacher, and the usurer. He renders his society all that it is. He it is who lulls it to sleep on a bed expressly arranged for sleep and adultery; he, who bows all women beneath the same misfortune; he, who buys on credit the horses, jewels, and clothes of all these handsome sons without stomach, without money, without heart. He is the first who has found the livid veneer, the pale complexion of distinguished company which causes all his heroes to be recognized. He has arranged in his fertile brain all the adorable crimes, the masked treasons, the ingenious rapes mental and physical which are the ordinary warp of his plots. The jargon spoken by this peculiar world, and which he alone can interpret, is none the less a mother-tongue rediscovered by Monsieur de Balzac, which partly explains the ephemeral success of this novelist, who still reigns in London and Saint Petersburg as the most faithful reproduction of the manners and actions of our century."
Janin's animus blinded him to the rest, and it is just the rest of the qualities which converted the ephemeral success into the permanent. Taine's estimate is more discursive. He is further removed from polemics. He says:—
"Monsieur de Balzac has of private life a very deep and fine sentiment which goes even to minuteness of detail and of superstition. He knows how to move you and make you palpitate from the first, simply in depicting a garden-walk, a dining-room, a piece of furniture. He divines the mysteries of provincial life; sometimes he makes them. Most often he does not recognize and therefore isolates the pudic and hidden side of life, together with the poetry it contains. He has a multitude of rapid remarks about old maids and old women, ugly girls, sickly women, sacrificed and devoted mistresses, old bachelors, misers. One wonders where, with his petulant imagination, he can have picked it all up. It is true that Monsieur de Balzac does not proceed with sureness, and that in his numerous productions, some of which appear to us almost admirable, at any rate touching and delicious or piquant and finely comic in observation, there is a dreadful pell-mell. What a throng of volumes, what a flight of tales, novels of all sorts, droll, philosophic, and theosophic. There is something to be enjoyed in each, no doubt, but what prolixity! In the elaboration of a subject, as in the detail of style, Monsieur de Balzac has a facile, unequal, risky pen. He starts off quickly, sets himself in a gallop, and then, all at once, he stumbles to the ground, rising only to fall again. Most of his openings are delightful; but his conclusions degenerate or become excessive. At a certain moment, he loses self-control. His observing coolness escapes; something in his brain explodes, and carries everything far, far away. Hazard and accident have a good share in Monsieur de Balzac's best production. He has his own manner, but vacillating, fidgety, often seeking to regain self-possession."
How much one could wish that, instead of producing more, Balzac should have produced less. With a man of his native power and perseverance, what greater perfection there might have been! Certainly, no defect is more patent in the Comedie Humaine than the trail of hasty workmanship, the mark of being at so much a line. Strangely, the speed with which he wrote furnished him with a cause for boasting. More properly, it ought to have filled him with humiliation. Many litterateurs are compelled to drive and overdrive their pens. But, if they have the love of letters innate in them, it will go against the grain to send into the world their sentences without having had leisure to polish each and all. Examples have already been given of the short time spent over several books of the Comedy. There is no need to repeat these or to add to their names. Occasionally, the result was not bad, when, as with Cesar Birotteau, the subject had been long in the novelist's head. This, however, was the exception. The fifty-five sheets once composed in a single week, and the six thousand lines once reeled off in ten days, were probably invented as well as set on paper within the periods stated. No doubt, much was altered in the galley proofs; but the alterations would be made with the same celerity, so that they risked being no improvement either in style or matter. Balzac, indeed, was aware of the imperfections arising from such a method; and he not infrequently strove to correct them in subsequent editions. The task might perhaps have been carried out fully, if the bulk of his new novels had not been continually growing faster than he could follow it with his revision.
The commercial compromises that he consented to were still more injurious to the artistic finish of some of his later pieces of fiction. For instance, when the Employees was about to come out in a volume, after its publication as a serial the length was judged to be insufficient by the man of business. He wanted more for his money. What did Balzac do? He searched through his drawers, pitched upon a manuscript entitled Physiology of the Employee, and drilled it into the other story. Of these patchwork novels The Woman of Thirty Years Old is the worst. Originally, it was six distinct short tales which had appeared at divers dates. The first was entitled Early Mistakes; the second, Hidden Sufferings; the third, At Thirty Years Old; the fourth, God's Finger; the fifth, Two Meetings; and the sixth and last, The Old Age of a Guilty Mother. In 1835, the author took it into his head to join them together under one title, The Same Story, although the names of the characters differed in each chapter, so that the chief heroine had no fewer than six appellations. Not till 1842 did he remedy this primary incoherence, yet without the removal of the aliases doing anything towards bestowing consistency on the several personages thus connected in Siamese-twin fashion. To-day, any one who endeavors to read the novel through will proceed from astonishment to bewilderment, and thence to amazement. Nowhere else does Balzac come nearer to that peculiar vanity which fancies that every licence is permissible to talent.
In his chapter on the social importance of the Comedie Humaine, Brunetiere tries to persuade us that, before Balzac's time, novelists in general gave a false presentation of the heroes by making love the unique preoccupation of life. And he seems to include dramatists in his accusation, declaring that love as a passion, the love which Shakespeare and Racine speak of, is a thing exceeding rare, and that humanity is more usually preoccupied with everything and anything besides love; love, he says, has never been the great affair of life except with a few idle people. Monsieur Brunetiere's erudition was immense, and the nights as well as the days he spent in acquiring his formidable knowledge may in his case have prevented more than a passing thought being given to the solicitation of love. If the eminent critic had been as skilled in psychology as he was in literature, he would have been more disposed to recognize that, amidst all the toils and cares of life, love, in some phase, is after all the mainspring, and that, if it were eliminated from man's nature, the most puissant factor of his activity would disappear. Love is part of the huge sub-conscious in man; and the novelist, in making the events of his fiction turn upon it, does no more than follow nature.
However, it is not exact that all novelists and dramatists, or even the majority of them, before Balzac's time made love the sole preoccupation of their heroes. What they did rather—in so far as their writing was true—was to give a visible relief to it which in real life is impossible, since it belongs to the invisible, inner experience. Nor is it exact that Balzac consistently assigns a secondary place in his novels to love. He does so in his best novels, but not in some that he thought his best—The Lily in the Valley and Seraphita for example. The relegation of love to the background in these novels which happen to be his masterpieces was caused by something mentioned in a preceding chapter, to wit, that Balzac never thoroughly felt or understood love as a great and noble passion. And love, with him, being so oddly mixed up with calculation, it was to be expected he should succeed best in books in which the dominant interest was some other passion—an exceptional one. If money plays, on the contrary, such an intrusive role in his novels, its introduction was less from voluntary, reasoned choice than from obsession. He deals with this subject sometimes splendidly, but, at other times, he wearies. Had money filled a smaller part of his work, the work would not have been lost.
In fine, with its beauties and its ugliness, its perfections and its shortcomings, the Comedy is the illumination cast by a master-mind upon the goings-out and comings-in of his contemporaries, the creation of a more universal and representative history of social life than had been previously written. Having considerable ethical value, it is worth still more on account of the ways it opens towards the fiction of the future.
Balzac's influence during his lifetime was, with but few exceptions, exercised outside his own, novelist's profession. The sphere in which it made itself chiefly felt was that of the cultured reading public, and the public was, first and foremost, a foreign one. History repeated itself. To Honore d'Urfe, the author of the Astree, in the sixteenth century, while living in Piedmont, a letter came announcing that twenty-nine princesses and nineteen lords of Germany had adopted the names and characters of his heroes and heroines in the Astree, and had founded an academy of true lovers. Almost the same thing occurred to the nineteenth-century Honore de Balzac. For a while, certain people in Venetian society assumed the titles and roles of his chief personages, playing the parts, in some instances, out to their utmost conclusion.
Sainte-Beuve, who, in 1850, drew attention to this curious historical analogy, went on to mention that, in Hungary, Poland, and Russia, Balzac's novels created a fashion. The strange, rich furniture that was assembled and arranged, according to the novelist's fancy, out of the artistic productions of many countries and epochs, became an after-reality. Numerous wealthy persons prided themselves on possessing what the author had merely imagined. The interior of their houses was adorned a la Balzac.
One evening at Vienna, says his sister, he entered a concert-room, where, as soon as his presence was perceived and bruited about, all the audience rose in his honour; and, at the end of the entertainment, a student seized his hand and kissed it, exclaiming: "I bless the hand that wrote Seraphita." Balzac himself relates that, once travelling in Russia, he and his friends, as night was coming on, went and asked for hospitality at a castle. On their entrance, the lady of the house and some other members of the fair sex vied with each other in eagerness to serve the guests. One of the younger ladies hurried to the kitchen for refreshment. In the meantime, the novelist's identity was revealed to the chatelaine. A lively conversation was immediately engaged in, and, when the impromptu Abigail returned with the refreshment, the first words she heard were: "Well, Monsieur Balzac, so you think—" Full of surprise and joy she started, dropped the tray she had in her hands, and everything was broken. "Glory I have known and seen," adds the narrator; "wasn't that glory?"
It was more. It was power wielded for good or evil, like that of every other great man, be he statesman, or priest, or artist. The conviction of possessing this power caused Balzac to complain with sincere indignation of those who charged him with being an immoral writer. "The reproach of immorality," he said in his preface to the second edition of Pere Goriot, "which has ever been launched at the courageous author, is the last that remains to be made, when nothing else can be urged against a poet. If you are true in your portrayal, if, by dint of working night and day you succeed in writing the most difficult language in the world, the epithet immoral is cast in your face. Socrates was immoral, Jesus Christ was immoral. Both were persecuted in the name of the societies they overthrew or reformed. When the world wishes to destroy any one, it taxes him with immorality."
This argument is beside the question. It does not settle whether the apologist's influence upon the men and women of his generation and beyond—an influence which, in his lifetime, was incontestable, and may be deemed potent still, to judge by the extent to which his books are read—was and is good or bad. Balzac's personality is here only indirectly involved. His individual character might have been better or worse without the conclusion to be drawn being affected. Good men's influence is not always good, nor bad men's influence always bad. Intention may be inoperative, and effect may be involuntary.
Balzac claimed the right to speak of all conduct, to represent all conduct in his fiction; and we shall see, farther on, that he imposed his claim upon those who followed him in literature. But, if he anticipated reality—and this is acknowledged—if he led society to imitate his fiction, if his exceptional representations tended, with him and after him, to become general or more frequent in one or another class of society, he must be considered morally responsible for the result. It has already been remarked, in the preceding chapter, that there are two ways of reproducing reality in literature and art, one of them favouring, not through didacticism but through emotion, the creation in the mind of a state of healthy feeling, thought, and effort; the other, that sort of fascination with which the serpent attracts its victims. It is certain that Balzac did not adequately take this into account, certain also that in parts of his Comedy, the secret, unconscious sympathy of the author with some of his sicklier heroes and heroines could not and did not have that dynamic moral action which he vainly desired.
Of the chief French novelists or litterateurs who were his contemporaries, critics are inclined to esteem his influence most evident on George Sand and Victor Hugo. Brunetiere, indeed, begins with Sainte-Beuve. But the similarities discoverable between the author of Volupte and the author of the Comedie Humaine were present in Sainte-Beuve's work at a period when Balzac was only just issuing from obscurity, and appear, moreover, to be due to temperament. In the case of George Sand, the inference is based partly on the praise she meted out to Balzac in her reminiscences. Brunetiere specifies the Marquis de Villemer as the one proved example of imitation. But this novel was written in 1861, eleven years after Balzac's death; and, in so far as it differs from Mauprat and the earlier books, whether La Petite Fadette or Consuelo, can be shown to be the result of a natural and independent evolution.
As regards Victor Hugo, on the contrary, there is plenty of prima facie evidence that he largely utilized Balzac's material and method; and there is evidence also that Balzac utilized, though in a less degree, the subjects developed by Hugo. The reciprocal borrowing is easy to explain, both men, in spite of their fundamental peculiarities, having much in them that was common—imagination difficult to control, fondness for exaggeration, language prone to be verbose and turgid, research of devices to astonish the reader. Hugo's Miserables is a monument of his fiction that owes much to Balzacian architecture. The realism of the latter author is converted without difficulty into the former's romanticism, or, rather, the alloy of romanticism is so considerable in Balzac's work that there is little conversion to make. Ferragus and Vautrin are prototypes of Valjean, just as Valjean's Cosette exploited by Madame Thenardier is an adaptation of Ferragus' daughter or Doctor Minoret's Ursula. The prison manners and slang of the Miserables inevitably recall those of Vautrin's Last Incarnation, while, on the other hand, Hugo's salon ultra reappears in the Cabinet of Antiques. And the analogies present themselves continually. One might almost say that the whole of the Comedie Humaine suggested things to its future panegyrist, who wrote his greatest novel in the years consecutive to Balzac's death. Of course, Hugo's borrowings, being those of a man of genius, were not made use of servilely. Like Shakespeare and Moliere, the author of the Miserables metamorphosed and enhanced what he took.
Balzac's major influence on literature began as soon as he was dead. And the men he reacted on soonest were the dramatists; not through his own plays, which figured so small in his achievement, or, if through them at all, then only as they applied the same principles as his novels. The stage, being ever en vedette, is best situated to interpret the signs of the times, and is likewise more open to the solicitations of novelty, more ready to try new methods. A noticeable defect of the French drama, in the first half of the nineteenth century, was the pronounced artificiality of its characters and plots. Whatever the kind of play exhibited, the same stereotyped noble fathers, ingenuous maidens, coquettes, and Lotharios strutted on the boards. Whatever else changed, these did not. Only their costumes differed. Moreover, the adventures in which the dramatis personae displayed themselves contained always the same sort of tricks for bringing about the denouement. Even the language had its own style, outside which nothing was appropriate. All this was classicism in its most degenerate form, an art from which original inspiration was banished to the profit of a much inferior species of skill. Be it granted that the drama, more than any other kind of literature, is liable to the encroachment and dominance of such artificiality on account of its foreshortening in perspective. Be it granted, also, that sometimes a new movement will intensify an old habit. The Romanticists, though reformers in other respects, did little or nothing to render the stage more real. Their lyricism, in front of the footlights, needed buskins and frippery, or, at any rate, fostered them, as the pieces of Hugo and de Vigny proved.
The younger Dumas, Emile Augier, Halevy and Becque—with a crescendo that in the last of the four is somewhat harsh—diverged from the traditional path, and in their plays put men and women whose motives and conduct were nearer to the humanity of their audience. The departure from old lines in these dramatists is patent; and, after discounting the part that may have been temperamental or contingent on some other cause, there remains the larger share to attribute to Balzac's influence. Dumas' Dame aux Camelias originally staged in 1852, was a timid start in the new direction. The theme, that of the courtezan in love, was a favourite one with the classical school, and much of the ancient style and tone pervades it; yet its atmosphere is a modern one, the expression of its sentiment is modern too, and the accessories are supplied with an eye to material and moral exactitude. The same author's Question d'Argent, composed a few years later, was a more direct tribute to the modifying power of the Comedie Humaine. It was Balzac's Mercadet the Jobber remodelled with a larger stage science. Hypnotized subsequently by the piece a these (and not to his advantage) Dumas went off at a tangent whereas Augier, once engaged in the newer manner with his Gendre de Monsieur Poirier, persisted in it with each of his succeeding pieces, flattering his model by resurrection after resurrection of the Comedy's principal actors, Bixiou and Lousteau in Giboyer and Vernouillet, Balthazar Claes in the Desronceretz of Maitre Guerin. Ludovic Halevy apparently wished every one to perceive what he owed to the father of French realism. Finding in the Petty Bourgeois a Madame Cardinal whose comic personality and peculiar moral squint suited one of his plays, he adopted her entirely, name and all, altering only what her more recent surroundings required. Henri Becque digested Balzac rather than imitated him. One feels in reading his Corbeaux that it is a disciple's own work. The master's virtues and some of the disciple's faults are everywhere present, both in the subject and in the treatment. We have the same world of money and business that shows so big throughout the Comedy, an unfaithful partner and lawyer introducing ruin into the house of the widow and orphan. The practice of legal ruse and robbery—in these things Balzac had rung the changes again and again. What Becque added were sharpness of contrast, dramatic concentration, bitterer satire, and likewise greater art.
If one may hazard a guess at the reasons that convinced the older school of playwrights of their error, there are two by which they must have been struck—the artistic possibilities of the real suggested by the Comedie Humaine, and the prescience—one might say the intuition —it exhibited of things that were destined to reveal themselves more prominently in the latter half of the nineteenth century. And in this respect Balzac in no wise contributed to what he foresaw and, so to speak, prophesied—the growing stress of the struggle for life in domains political, social, financial, industrial, the coming of uncrowned kings greater in puissance than monarchs of yore, the reign of not one despot but many, the generalization of intrigue, the replacement of ancient disorders by others of equal or increased virulence and harder to remedy, hundred-headed hydras to combat, most difficult of herculean tasks. The reflection of all this in the Comedy was calculated to impress at its hour, and the hour arrived. Men looked at the counterfeit presentment and wondered why no one had recognized these things sooner. From that moment, the reputation of the Comedie Humaine was made. Perhaps, after all, in such connection, the one or two of Balzac's plays that went so resolutely off the old lines—the Resources of Quinola and Mercadet,—may have served, in remembrance, despite their insignificance beside the novels, which were the true drama, to awaken the attention of professional dramatists, especially as one after another story of the Comedy was dramatized. But it was the fund of observation and the leaven of satire which startled, aroused, and ultimately set the stage agog. Not even the lighter forms of composition were left unaffected. Labiche, in the vaudeville style, with his Voyage de Monsieur Perrichon and La Cagnotte, gave his audience, behind his puppets, the touch of present reality, the sensation of existent follies.
The relative slowness with which the novels of Balzac's younger contemporaries and his successors were penetrated with realism was partly due to the lasting effect of George Sand's idealistic fiction. As we have seen, Balzac himself was reacted upon by it to some extent; but he yielded against his will, and the result in his case was a bastard one. She whom he called his brother George survived him for more than twenty years, and continued to the last to add to her reputation, so that naturally the impetus she lent to the idealistic movement was long before it was spent, if indeed one may say that the impetus has altogether been lost. Adepts like Octave Feuillet, with his Roman d'un Jeune Homme Pauvre, and Victor Cherbuliez, with his Comte Kostia, endeavoured to perpetuate idealism or at least to recreate it in other forms. And then there were independents, like Flaubert who, with Madame Bovary, passed realism by on his way to naturalism. Yet it is worth remarking that Flaubert made a sort of volte face in 1869, and wrote his Education Sentimentale, in which, under the pressure of simple circumstance, the hero descends gradually from the soaring of youth's hopes and ambitions to the dull, dun monotony of mature life, with nothing left him save the iron circle of his environment. Here the disillusionment is that of all Balzac's chief dramatis personae. Moreover, the minor characters of Madame Bovary may well owe something to the Comedy. These doctors, chemists, cures, prefectoral councillors and country squires would possibly never have been depicted but for their having already existed for twenty years in the predecessor's gallery of portraits.
There is no need to call the de Goncourts and Guy de Maupassant imitators because they bear a strong stamp of Balzac's influence. They have greater art, a finer style, and, above all, more pathos than the earlier master was capable of. But they are true disciples, as likewise Feuillet in his later manner with Monsieur de Camors. De Maupassant's short stories, exemplifying his severely objective treatment at his best, are Balzac's purified of their lingering romanticism, and his Bel Ami is a modernized Lucien de Rubempre. And, if the resemblances are closer between works of the de Goncourts less known, such as Charles Demailly, or Manette Salomon and the Lost Illusions, Peter Grassou, the Muse of the County, yet the means employed by the two brothers to endow with life and form Renee Mauperin and Germinie Lacerteux, fixing a background, stamping the outlines, filling in details, adding particularities, all this was Balzacian method, insufficient forsooth, in the domain of psychology, but furnishing idiosyncrasy in plentiful variations.
When we come to Alphonse Daudet, time enough has elapsed for realism to evolve into naturalism so-called. Naturalism is realism stark-naked —the dissecting-room, and a good deal besides, which Monsieur Zola illustrated well but not wisely. Daudet, fortunately for his reputation, was a naturalist sui generis, with a delicate artistic perception altogether lacking to the author of the Rougon-Macquart series. He was also an independent, but willing to take lessons in his trade. And how much he learnt from Cousin Bette may be judged by his Numa Roumestan and Froment Jeune et Rissler aine. There are close analogies also between the best of Balzac's fiction and the sombre realism of the Evangeliste, based on tragic facts that had come under Daudet's personal notice. Of the two realisms Daudet's is certainly the more genuine, with its lambent humour that glints on even the saddest of his pictures.
In neither the naturalistic school of fiction, nor the psychological, in so far as the latter is represented by Bourget, has Balzac's influence been a gain. Bourget has borrowed Balzac's furniture, his pompous didacticism, his occasional indecency—in fine, all that is least essential in the elder's assets, without learning how to breathe objective life into one of his characters. Zola borrowed more, but mainly the unwholesome parts, truncating these further to suit his theory of the novel as a slice of life seen through a temperament, and travestying in the Rougon-Macquart scheme, with its burden of heredity and physiological blemish, Balzac's cumbrous and plausible doctrine of the Comedy. Both novelists made a mistake in arrogating to themselves the role of the savant. Neither of them seemed to understand that there are limits imposed on each profession by the mode of its operation. For Zola the novel was not only an observation working upon the voluntary acts of life, it was an experiment—like that of the astrologers whom Moses met in Egypt—producing phenomena artificially, and allowing a law of necessity to be deduced from the result. And for Balzac the novel was something of the same kind—a synthesis of every human activity framed by one who, as he proudly claimed, had observed and analysed society in all its phases from top to bottom, legislations, religions, histories, and present time. What Balzac did in fiction and what he thought he did are separated by a gulf which could only have been bridged over by the long and painful study of a man surviving for centuries. His scientific knowledge was superficial in nearly every branch. It was his divination which was great. And divination is not omniscience.
An offshoot from the naturalistic school apparently, but derived more truly from the Comedie Humaine, is that decadent, pornographic art, of which Balzac would have been ashamed, had he lived to see the vegetation that grew up from the seeds he had sown without knowing what they would bring forth. In Zola's novels the plant was already full grown; its earlier appearance as the slender blade was Champfleury's vulgar satire, the Bourgeois de Molinchart. More recently the blossom has revealed its pestilential rankness so plainly that no one can be deceived as to its noxious effect.
Where Balzac's influence is likeliest to remain potent for good is in the domain of history. He was not altogether an initiator here, having learnt from Walter Scott in the one as in the other capacity; but he developed and focussed what he had received; he added to it, and made it a factor in the historical science. After him historians began to assign a more important place in their narrations and chronicles to the manners and interests of the people, patiently seeking to assemble and situate everything that could relate them exactly to the great political and other public events which would be nothing but names without them. The de Goncourts, in their History of French Society during the Revolution and under the Directoire, applied this method with all the zeal of fresh disciples, and with hardly enough discretion. Taine's Origins of Contemporary France abdicates none of the older historian's role, but its background is Balzacian. Among the later writers who have taken up the historian's pen, Masson, Lenotre, and Anatole France, illustrate the newer principles, each with a difference, but all excellently, the first in his Napoleon, the second in his Old Houses, Old Papers, the third in his Joan of Arc.
It can scarcely be disputed that an entrance of realism into French literature would have occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century, had there been no Balzac. Some other novelists or writers, themselves reacted upon by the scientific spirit, would have set the example in their own way, if not with the achievement of the author of the Comedy. On the other hand, it is certain that Balzac, had he put his hand to another treatment of fiction, would nevertheless have created a school. His tremendous force would have channelled into the future, whatever the nature of its current. As Sainte-Beuve well says, he wrote what he wrote with his blood and muscles, not merely with his thought, and such work backed by genius was sure to tell, notwithstanding its defects, the latter even to some extent aiding.
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Having partly a bibliographic value, and partly confirming the statements above as to Balzac's influence, the following details concerning theatrical adaptations of some of his novels may serve as a supplement to this chapter.
The first made was produced at the Vaudeville in 1832, and was based on the story of Colonel Chabert, which under another title, The Compromise, had finished as a serial in the March Artiste of the same year. In Balzac's tale—the one of the novels that contains most real pathos—the Colonel, who is a Count of the Empire, is left for dead on the battlefield of Eylau, with wounds that disfigure him dreadfully. Rescued, and sojourning for a long while in German hospitals, he ultimately returns to France, but only to find his wife, who believes him dead, married to another nobleman. Treated as an imposter by everybody save a former non-commissioned officer of his regiment, he falls into poverty and wretchedness, and dies in a hospice, whilst his wife continues to live rich and honoured. Jacques Arago and Louis Lurine, who composed the play, altered the denouement. The husband is pensioned off by his wife, who, however, suffers for her hard-heartedness, being afterwards deserted by her second husband. A second version of the same subject was produced twenty years later at the Beaumarchais Theatre by Faulquemont, and, in 1888, a third at Brussels.
Eugenie Grandet was staged as a comedy, at the Gymnase in 1835, by Bayard and Paulin, who dealt with the plot very freely. Eugenie, happening to lay hold of the letter telling of her uncle's intention to commit suicide, begs her father to send money enough to Paris to prevent the catastrophe. On her father's refusing, she steals one of the old man's strong-boxes and gives it to the son of a local notary, who hurries to the capital with it and reaches there in time to save Charles' father from ruin and death. As Charles has also fled with his uncle's mare on the same errand, the miser thinks he is the thief, and obtains a warrant for his arrest. But Eugenie avows everything except the name of her accomplice. Explanations occur, now that Guillaume Grandet is saved; Charles comes out of prison and marries Eugenie, whose dowry is the money that has served so good a purpose. With Bouffe in the chief role, the Miser's Daughter, as the piece was called, had a great popularity, and was several times revived.
In 1835 also, was produced Pere Goriot at the Varietes, there being three collaborators in the dramatizing, Theaulon, de Comberousse, and Jaime. Their adaptation possessed the same characters as the novel, but the roles are considerably modified. Victorine Taillefer becomes Goriot's illegitimate daughter, who is provided for by her father, yet brought up without ever seeing him and without the least inkling of her relationship to him. But Vautrin has discovered that a sum of five hundred thousand francs is deposited on her behalf with a notary; and he goes to Grenoble, where she is living, brings her back with him to Paris, and presents her to Goriot as a poor girl, his intention being to ask her in marriage at the proper moment. The retired tradesman takes her in, and she remains with him when his other daughters marry, and during the time they pass in ungratefully stripping him of his fortune. At last his sons-in-law, to salve their consciences, offer to place him in an almshouse. Goriot indignantly refuses, and tells them he has another daughter whom he has made rich, and that he will go and live with her. Now is Vautrin's opportunity. He informs Goriot who Victorine is, and, since she had given her affections to the young Rastignac, he, like a good fellow, renounces his own matrimonial project and assists the old father in marrying the lovers happily. The part of Goriot was acted by Vernet, who did entire justice to Balzac's great creation. Simultaneously at the Vaudeville, another and poorer version of the novel was given; and, in 1891, at the Theatre Libre, Tabarand experimented a third piece, this last being a faithful reproduction of the novel. Antoine scored a big success in the part of Goriot, rendering the death-bed scene with remarkable power and skill.
In 1836, La Grande Breteche, with its vengeful husband who walls up his wife's lover alive, tempted Scribe and another playwright, Melesville. In their arrangement, there is a virtuous wife whose husband is a bigamist. On learning the truth, she consents to receive the visit of Lara, an admirer of hers, whom she loves; and, when the Bluebeard, Valdini, surprises his victim and proceeds to the immurement, his first wife slips in most conveniently and whisks him off, leaving Valentine free to marry Lara.
It is curious to notice how, in almost every instance, the first adapting dramatists transformed Balzac's tragedies into comedies, softening the stern facts of life and its injustices, and meting out the juster rewards and punishments which the novelist's realism forbade.
In Antony Beraud's Gars, a play drawn from the Chouans and performed at the Ambigu-Comique in 1837, the hero and heroine, instead of dying, are saved by a political amnesty decreed by Napoleon; and the curtain falls to the cry of Vive l'Empereur. More than fifty years later, in 1894, the same theatre gave a close rendering of the dramatic portions of the Chouans, due to the collaboration of Berton and Blavet, the tragic ending being preserved, with all the effects properly belonging to it.
Commonplace, like the Gars, were the arrangements of the Search for the Absolute, in 1837, and Cesar Birotteau in 1838. The former was staged under the bizarre title, AMx=OX, or the Dream of a Savant. The authors, Bayard and Bieville, concealed their identity under an algebraic X as well; and their piece, which made Balthazar Claes a Parisian chemist and a candidate to a vacant chair in the College de France, failed to attract at the Gymnase, in spite of Bouffe's talent and the redemption of Balthazar.
Cesar Birotteau was performed at the Pantheon Theatre, which was demolished in 1846. The love-story of Popinot and Cesarine, which is so briefly sketched in the novel, assumed chief importance in Cormon's adaptation, and, of course, Cesar does not die.
Scribe borrowed largely from the Comedie Humaine. His Sheriff libretto for Halevy's music at the Opera Comique in 1839 was a transmogrification of Master Cornelius. Balzac's Cornelius is Louis XI's money-lender, who lives with his sister in an old mansion, next to a house with the King's natural daughter, Marie de Sassenage, occupies with her husband, the Comte de Sainte-Vallier. The old money-lender, perceiving that his gold is disappearing, has had four of his apprentices hanged on suspicion. The like fate now threatens Marie's lover, Georges d'Estouteville, who in order to see her more safely, has persuaded Cornelius to let him stay in his dwelling one night. Marie appeals to the King to spare her lover's life, and Louis, on investigating the matter, discovers that Cornelius is a somnambulist, and has been robbing himself and burying his gold. On being told of this, the old money-lender has no peace of mind, fearing the King will take all his treasure, and ultimately cuts his own throat. In Scribe's parody, for a parody the piece virtually is, the scene is laid in England. John Turnel, the Sheriff of London, is the somnambulist, and he suspects his own daughter and his cook of stealing his money. But, differing from Cornelius, he accepts the situation when the truth is revealed to him under circumstances that make him as ridiculous as the spectre of Tappington in the Ingoldsby Legends; and, as a comic opera generally ends happily, he consents to the marriage of his daughter, Camilla, and of Keat, the cook, with their respective swains.
An English setting was likewise given by Scribe to his play of Helene, suggested by Balzac's Honorine, which was staged at the Gymnase in 1846. Helene is a young orphan who draws and paints for her living, and has the good fortune to have all her canvases bought at advantageous prices by a rich dealer named Crosby. But suddenly she learns that the dealer is acting in behalf of a certain Lord Clavering, and, fearing some underhand designs, she refuses to keep the money that has been paid her. Smitten by her disinterestedness as well as by her beauty, Lord Clavering would gladly marry her, but is bound by his word plighted to Lord Dunbar's daughter. However, the latter elopes with another nobleman, and Clavering marries Helene. This pretty theme, developed by the actress Rose Cheri, made a huge hit.
Nearly as great was the actress's success at the same theatre in 1849, when she played the principal role in Clairville's Madame Marneffe a version of Cousin Bette, but very much modified, since Bette is eliminated altogether, and Valerie Marneffe, instead of being a depraved creature, is merely a clever woman of the world, who avenges her father's ruin on the Baron Hulot and Crevel, they being mainly responsible for it. When Balzac was at Wierzchownia, on his last visit, he wrote to his mother asking her to go to the theatrical agent's in order to receive his third of the receipts produced by the piece. These author's royalties must have helped his purse considerably.
In the year after the novelist's death, the applauded representation of Mercadet, at the Gymnase, stimulated other managers of theatres to go on exploiting his Comedy. In September, the Shagreen Skin, arranged by Judicis, was played at the Ambigu-Comique, with tableaux of almost literal imitation, yet bringing to life again, in the denouement, the chief dramatis personae, and making the whole drama a dream.
At the Comedie Francaise, in 1853, Barriere and de Beauplan produced a five-act prose play drawn from the Lily in the Valley. The novel was an awkward one to dramatize, there being very few elements in it capable of yielding situations for the stage. So the result was poor. A better thing was made in 1859 by de Keraniou out of the Sceaux Ball. On it he based an agreeable piece entitled Noblesse Oblige, with a delicately interpreted love scene in it which met with appreciative audiences at the Odeon.
One more example, that of Cousin Pons, may be given to close the list of these adaptation, which are fully treated in Edmond Bire's interesting book dealing with certain aspects of Balzac's life and work. Cousin Pons was staged at the Cluny Theatre in 1873. Alphonse de Launay, the author of the play, keeps to his text fairly well; but he adds a love episode which thrusts the friendship of the two musicians into the second place. Moreover, after the death of Pons, Schmucke lives to inherit his fortune and the Camusots are checkmated.
CONCLUSION: THE MAN AND HIS PORTRAITS
It may be affirmed, without thereby disparaging the Comedie Humaine, that Balzac's personality is even more interesting than his work; and this is a sufficient excuse for returning to it in a last chapter and trying, at the risk of repetition, to make its presentment completer by way of supplement and summary.
The interest does not arise alone from the contrasts of his foibles, which, forsooth, are nearly always comic—when they are not tragic. We are just as much attracted by the contrasts of his qualities, and by the interplay of the former with the latter—the victories and defeats, the glimpses of immense possibility, the struggles between temperament and environment, all these having a fullness of display rarely found in human nature.
Besides the portraits in painting or sculpture executed of the novelist by Deveria, Boulanger, David d'Angers, and others, some mention of which has already been made, there was one begun by Meissonier, who unfortunately did not finish it. Monsieur Jules Claretie states that the canvas on which it was drawn was subsequently covered by the artist's Man choosing a Sword, to-day in the Van Prael collection at Brussels. About Boulanger's picture Theophile Gautier has a good deal to tell us in his article of 1837, published in the Beaux Arts de la Presse; and it scarcely agrees with Balzac's condemnation of the portrait as a daub, when he saw the canvas some years later in Russia. Remarking on the difficulty of rendering the novelist's physiognomy, on account of its mobility and strange aspect, Gautier gives it as his opinion that Boulanger succeeded perfectly in seizing the complex expression which seemed to escape all efforts of the brush. The description is a long one; and any one desirous of comparing with each other the impressions received by Balzac's contemporaries who came into close contact with him would do well to read it after this description by Lamartine. In the tenth of his lectures on Literature during the year 1856, the author of Jocelyn, speaking of what he had observed, said:—
"His exterior was as uncultivated as his genius. It was the shape of an element: big head, hair scattered over his collar and cheeks like a mane that scissors never trimmed, lips thick, eyes soft but of flame; costume clashing with every elegance; clothes too small for his colossal body; waistcoat unbuttoned; linen coarse; blue stockings; shoes that made holes in the carpet; an appearance as of a schoolboy on holiday, who has grown during the year and whose stature has burst his garments. Such was the man that by himself wrote a whole library about his century, the Walter Scott of France, not the Walter Scott of landscape and adventure, but what is much more prodigious, the Walter Scott of characters, the Dante of the infinite circles of human life, the Moliere of read comedy, less perfect but more fertile than the Moliere of played comedy. Why does not his style equal his conception? France would then have two Molieres, and the greater would not be he who lived first."
Returning to the same subject in his hundred and sixth lecture, eight years later, Lamartine continued:—
"He bore his genius so simply that he did not feel it. He was not tall, and, however, the lighting up of his face and the mobility of his body prevented his small stature from being noticed; but this height swayed like his thought. Between the ground and him there appeared to be a certain margin; now, he stooped down to pick up a sheaf of ideas; now, he stood on tiptoe to follow the soaring of his thought into the infinite. He was big, thick-set, square-shouldered-and-hipped. His neck, chest, body, thighs, and limbs were mighty. There was much of the ampleness of Mirabeau, but no heaviness; there was so much soul that this carried that lightly. The weight seemed to give him force and not to take it from him. His short arms gesticulated with ease; he talked as an orator speaks. His voice resounded with the somewhat savage energy of his lungs, but it had neither roughness nor irony nor anger. His legs, on which he waddled a little, carried his bust smartly; his hands, plump and broad, expressed his whole thought by their waving movements. Such was the man in his stalwart frame. But, in front of the face, one forgot the framework. The speaking countenance, from which it was impossible to detach one's gaze, both charmed and fascinated the beholder. His hair floated over the forehead in large locks; his black eyes pierced like arrows blunted by benevolence; they entered yours confidently as if they were friends; his cheeks were full, rosy, and strongly coloured; the nose was well modelled, yet a trifle long; his lips, gracefully limned, ample and raised at the corners; his teeth, unequal, broken, and blackened by cigar-smoke; his head often inclining towards the neck, then proudly raised during speech. But the dominating trait of his face, even more than intelligence, was communicative kindness. He charmed your mind when he spoke, and, when not speaking, he charmed your heart. No passion of hatred or envy could have been expressed by this physiognomy; it would have been impossible for him not to be kind. Yet it was not a kindness of indifference or nonchalance, as in the epicurean face of a La Fontaine; it was a loving kindness, intelligent with regard to itself and others, which inspired gratitude and the outpouring of the heart, and defied a person not to love him. A gay childishness was the characteristic of this figure, a soul on holiday when he laid down his pen to forget himself with his friends. . . . But, when I saw him some years later, what gravity did that which was serious not inspire in him? what repulsion did his conscience not evince towards evil? What difficult virtues did his apparent joviality not conceal?"
This tribute of an intimate, as generous as that of Hugo and perhaps more sincere, may pass without comment in so far as it concerns the outer man. On the moral side its exactitude may be questioned, both for what it omits and what it asserts. The omissions are considerable. The assertions deal too exclusively with that conduct which people generally exhibit in their most amicable relations with each other. Balzac's kindness of heart came out in not a few experiences of his life; but deeper than these ephemeral bursts of generosity were selfishnesses that were enormous and persistent. The impulsive energy, the huge boyishness, the appetites physical and mental that age never trained nor chastened were phenomena that all his friends noted, though the manifestations differed.
Some lines of Gozlan's in his Balzac in Slippers, form a good sequel to Werdet's account of the Gargantuan dinner. "Balzac drank nothing but water," says Gozlan, but this must have been on Fridays; "and ate but little meat. On the other hand, he consumed great quantities of fruit. . . . His lips palpitated, his eyes lit up with happiness, at the sight of a pyramid of pears or fine peaches. Not one remained to go and relate the rout of the others. He devoured them all. He was superb in vegetable Pantagruelism, with his cravat taken off, his shirt unbuttoned at the neck, his fruit-knife in hand, laughing, drinking water, carving into the pulp of a doyenne pear. I should like to add—and talking. But Balzac talked only little. He let others talk, laughed at intervals, silently, in the savage manner of Leather-stocking, or else, he burst out like a bomb, if the sentence pleased him. It needed to be pretty broad, and was never too broad. He melted with pleasure, especially at a silly pun inspired by his wines, which were delicious."
Another portrait drawn of the novelist by a contemporary, interpreting the inner man, but less flattering to the great delineator of character, is not free from satire and narrowness; but some of the traits it outlines are closely and accurately observed. In his Histoire du Quarante et Unieme (Academy) Fauteuil, Arsene Houssaye wrote: "Monsieur de Balzac—that haughty rebel who would fain have been a founder, that refined Rabelais who discovered a woman where Rabelais had discovered only a bottle—Monsieur de Balzac dreamed of the gigantic, yet without being an architect of Cyclopean times. Consequently, when he tried to build his temple of Solomon, he had neither marble nor gold enough to his hand. For his human comedy he often lacked actors, and had to resign himself frequently to making the understudies play. It is the fashion to-day to raise Balzac to the level of the dominating geniuses of the world, such as Homer, Saint Augustine, Shakespeare and Moliere; but for the mind that has accurate vision, how many rocks are overturned on this Enceladus, what staircases are forgotten in his Tower of Babel, as in his Jardies house! Balzac was half a woman, as George Sand was half a man. He had a woman's curiosities, he had also her contradictions. Balzac believed himself religious; but his church was the witches' sabbath, and his priest was not Saint Paul but Swedenborg, if not Mesmer; his Gospel was the conjuror's book, perhaps that of Pope Honorius—Honorius de Balzac. He believed himself a politician, and endeavoured to continue de Maistre; he fancied he was glorifying authority, whereas he realized the perpetual apotheosis of force; his heroes were named indifferently Moses or Attila, Charlemagne or Tamerlane, Ricci, the General of the Jesuits, or Robespierre, the profaner of the sanctuary, Napoleon or Vautrin. The History of the Thirteen will remain as the grandiose and monstrous defence of personal force defying the social. But will it not remain also, by the side of Hegel's philosophy, as an eloquent codicil to those testaments of individual sovereignty signed by Aristophanes, Montaigne, and Voltaire? He believed himself a spiritualist, and, sublime sawbones, he studied only in the medical amphitheatre. He entered a drawing-room only through the kitchen and the dressing-room. He was always ignorant of that fine saying of Hemsterhuys: 'This world is not a machine but a poem.' He believed himself a painter of manners, and he invented the manners. His women who are so vividly alive, Madame de Langeais or La Torpille, have never been intimate with any other company than that of Monsieur de Balzac. As other great artists, he created his world, a strange world which has consoled and welcomed all the outcasts of the real world, an impossible world which has more than once painted the actual one in its likeness. What charming women of the provinces have since developed into a Eugenie Grandet, a Madame de Mortsauf, a Madame Claes! . . . What was wanting to Balzac in the hell of life, whose every spiral he descended, was virginity in love and ingenuousness in poetry. He always lost himself in the difficult places of style; and himself wept over the lack. When he wrote the Search for the Absolute, he was in quest of the ideal; but the ideal is that which one had inside one's self, just as love is. The studies of the chemist and alchemist, of the doctor and jurist, do not light the flame of Prometheus."
The quotations do not exhaust the list of portraits emanating from Balzac's fellows, but they adequately illustrate the varying views, which were many. Indeed, like the sculptor who produces several studies of the same model and shows a different interpretation each time, critics have presented us, in more than one instance, with descriptions of the novelist, at an earlier and a later date, that contain important discrepancies.
Balzac was an enigma because he was not always the same personality to himself. Both his energies and his desires carried him outside the limits in which a man's individuality is usually manifested. Despite Monsieur Houssaye, one may even sympathize, though incredulous, with admirers that would have him to be a universal genius, unfortunately thwarted by fate—one who else might have opened up all the avenues of knowledge that humanity can ever penetrate. This persuasion was undoubtedly his own; and it partly explains his Faustus curiosities leading him now and again into illegitimate and unwholesome experiments, of which we get some glimpse in his books and correspondence.
That he could have succeeded in other careers, the medical one, for example, the painter's or sculptor's perhaps, or the mechanical inventor's, seems likely; but his impulsiveness, his exuberance, and his poor financial ability would have been hindrances in directions where success depends largely on exact calculation, method, and detail. In political life, his brilliance would assuredly have sufficed to procure him prominence in opposition. As a minister he would have inevitably fallen a victim to the inconsistencies of his own attitude—inconsistencies due to the fact that his judgments were intuitional and instinctive, with prejudices reacting on them, too numerous and too strong to allow him to weigh things fairly and deliberately. Moreover, his mind was too much engrossed by the sole picturesqueness of phenomena to delve deep enough beneath them for their essential relations. This is why it happens that his arguments are often worse than his convictions, the latter being inherited, in general, and at least having the residuary wisdom of tradition together with the additional force of his common sense. Thus, on the eve of giving the ignorant man a power equal to that of the intelligent one, and of handing over the supreme decision in the vital concerns of a country to unsafeguarded majorities less qualified for the task than ancient oligarchy or autocracy. But he had nothing of worth to suggest, no alternative save the return to abuses of the grossest kind which experience had proved to lead to revolution.
His ponderous declaration: "I write by the light of two eternal truths, religion and the monarchy," was a sort of cheap-jack recommendation of the so-called philosophy in his Comedie Humaine. His Catholic orthodoxy, if orthodoxy it were, savoured more of politics than religion. He did not wish the old ecclesiastical organization and faith of France to be changed, because he saw in it a useful police agency for restraining the masses. As for his Royalism, which had a smack of Frondism in it, he stuck to it because it accorded with his conservative, eclectic tastes, and not because he had worked it out as the best theory of government. Such dissertations as appear in his writings, on either the one or the other subject, have nothing more original about them than can be found in the most ordinary election speech or pulpit discourse.
And in the realm of pure speculative thought he was not great. Beyond the limits of the visible, his intuition failed him; so that he floundered helplessly when not upheld by the doctrines of others, which, since he did not understand them, he adapted to his purpose but awkwardly. Whether there were latent faculties in him that might have developed with training, it is impossible to affirm or deny; however, we may be forgiven the doubt. From a mind so forceful, the native perception, though uncultured, should have issued in something better than Lambert or Seraphita. Still, there is this to be said, that a man whose eyes were so constantly bent on facts, whose gaze was always spying out details which escaped the common observation, was embracing a plane parallel, if inferior to that which was covered by a Plato.
The title of the author of the Comedy to be called a philosopher can be defended only on the ground of his adding a new domain to the rule of science. He was not the discoverer of the law of cause and effect. Nor was he the one in his own country who did the most towards demonstrating the interdependence of the various branches of knowledge, this honour being reserved to Comte. But the transference of the minute causalities of life into fiction was systematized by him. He made the thing an artistic method, using it with the same power, though not the same chasteness, as George Eliot after him. His employment was not very logical—how could it be when the guiding mind was in chronic fermentation? He gives us this contradiction that human thought is at once the grandeur and destruction of life—an opinion imbued with ecclesiasticism, confusing thought with passion. It is passion alone which disintegrates; and, in the Comedie Humaine, such monomaniacs as Grandet, Claes, and Hulot are destroyed not by their thought but their desire.
Balzac's pessimism is not philosophic. In him it was not the despair of an intellect that had worn itself out in vainly seeking for the solution of the riddle of the universe, vainly striving after a theory that should reconcile nature's brute law with the human demand for justice and immanent goodness. By original temperament an optimist, he changed and grew pessimistic with the untoward happenings of his agitated career, and under the fostering of his native self-esteem. Possibly too, as Le Breton asserts, a secondary cause was his having imbibed the pretentious doctrines of the Romantic school, the disdains of the young artistic bloods of 1830, who held their clan composed the loftier, super-human race, the only one that counted. Berlioz carried this folly of pride to its highest pitch. In his Memoirs, he declared that the public (of course excluding himself) were an infamous tag-rag-and-bob-tail. The people of Paris, he protested, were more stupid and a hundred times more ferocious, in their caperings and revolutionary grimaces, than the baboons and orang-outangs of Borneo. Balzac at times adopted and expressed similar opinions. Gozlan relates that one day the owner of Les Jardies said to him in the attic of his hermitage: "Come, let us spit upon Paris." The novelist imagined that talents of the kind he possessed ought to be admitted to every honour; and his hatred of the Revolution and Republicanism was more because he believed they were inimical to art—and his art—than because they had cast down a throne. His bitterness was to some extent excusable, for he was exploited much during his lifetime, and had, even to the end, to bend his neck to the yoke. But he also belonged to the class of exploiters by his mental constitution. Could he have had his way, all the men of letters around him would have been in his pay, writing for their bare living and contributing to his fame. In this connection there is an anecdote narrated by Baudelaire, in the Echo des Theatres of the 25th of August 1846, and referable to the year 1839.
The Jardies hermit had a bill of twelve hundred francs to meet; and for this reason he was sad as he walked up and down the double passage of the Opera—he, the hardest commercial and literary head of the nineteenth century; he, the poetic brain upholstered with figures like a financier's office; he, the man of mythologic failures, of hyperbolic and phantasmagoric enterprises, the lanterns of which he always forgot to light; he, the great pursuer of dreams for ever in quest of the absolute; he, the funniest, most attractive as well as the vainest character of the Comedie Humaine; he, the original, as unbearable in private life as he was delightful in his writings; the big baby swollen with genius and conceit, who had so many qualities and so many failings that one feared to attack the latter for fear of injuring the former, and thus spoiling this incorrigible and fatal monstrosity.
At length, however, his forehead grew serene and he went towards the Rue de Richelieu with sublime and cadenced step. There he entered the den of a rich man (Curmer), who received him with due honour.
"Would you like," quoth he, "the day after to-morrow to have in the Siecle and the Debats two smart articles on the French depicted by themselves, the articles to be signed by me? I must have fifteen hundred francs. The affair is a grand one for you."
The editor, unlike his confreres, found the proposal reasonable, and the bargain was concluded on the spot, with the stipulation that the money should be paid on the delivery of the first article. Leaving the office, the visitor returned to the passage of the Opera; and there he met a diminutive young man of shrewish, witty countenance (Edouard Ourliac), known among the journalists for his clownish verve.
"Edouard, will you earn a hundred and fifty francs to-morrow?"
"Won't I, if I get the chance!" answered the latter.
"Then come and drink a cup of coffee."
"To-morrow," explained his principal, "I must have three big columns on the French depicted by themselves, and I must have them early, for I have to copy and sign them."
Edouard hastened away to his task, while the novelist went and ordered a second article in the rue de Navarin.
The first article appeared two days later in the Siecle, and was signed, strangely enough, neither by the little man nor by the great man, but by a third person known in Bohemia for his tom-cat and opera-comique amours (Gerard de Nerval). The second friend was big, idle, and lymphatic. Moreover, he had no ideas; he knew only how to thread words together like pearls; and, as it takes longer to heap up three long columns of words than to make a volume of ideas, his article appeared only several days later in the Presse.
The twelve-hundred-francs debt was paid. Each one was perfectly satisfied, except the editor, who was not quite. And this was how a man of genius discharged his liabilities.
Balzac's individuality is one of those that inevitably raise the question as to how far genius and creative imagination are made up of will-power, how far what is produced by great talent is sub-conscious inspiration virtually independent of effort. Although Shelley confines his assertions on the subject to poetry, he nevertheless seems to imply that creation of any kind has little to do with the will. "The mind in creation," he says, "is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the colour of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the ocnsciuso portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure. Could this influence be durable in its original purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the results; but, when composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline." The case of Balzac suggests that the sort of genius Shelley had in his thought is the exception rather than the rule. The author of the Comedy himself asserts that great talents do not exist without great will. "You have ideas in your brain?" he says. "Just so. I also. . . . What is the use of that which one has in one's soul if no use is made of it?" . . . "To conceive is to enjoy; it is to smoke enchanted cigarettes; but, without the execution, everything goes away in dream and smoke." . . . "Constant work is the law of art as it is that of life; for art is creation idealized. Consequently, great artists and poets do not wait for orders or customers; they bring forth to-day, to-morrow, continually."
It may be, after all, that the difference is one of those verbal ones to which Locke draws attention in his Essay on the Human Understanding. Will-power is partly an inheritance and partly an acquisition. And acquired qualities are always less puissantly exercised, less effective in the results obtained. Even in poetry it would appear that, without will to unlock the door, fine faculties that are dormant may never make their existence known. Balzac gives us an example of a native will that was for ever rushing through his being and arousing to activity first one and then another of his native powers. And, if the total accomplishment was not conform to the tremendous liberation of force, it was because there was circumstance harder than will and the intershock of energies that ran counter to each other.