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Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, Vol. 13 - Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers
by Elbert Hubbard
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* * * * *

The verdict of humanity seems to be that Laura was the most consummate coquette in history. She dressed to catch Petrarch's attention; wore the flowers he liked best; accepted his amorous poems without protest; placed herself in his way by running on the same schedule.

The "Standard Dictionary" makes some fine distinctions between flirtation, coquetry and coyness. Flirtation means to fascinate and leave the lover in doubt as to his fate—to lead him on and leave him in a maze. It does not imply that he does not have reason for hope. Flirtation is coyness refined to a system.

Coquetry is defined as an attempt to attract admiration and lead the lover up to the point of a matrimonial proposal and then reject him—a desire to gratify personal vanity. Coquettes are regarded as heartless, while flirts are often sincere creatures who adopt certain tactics for the sole purpose of bagging the game. That is, the flirt works to win, the coquette to reject. Coquetry is attention without intention. Flirtation is a race with the intention of being overtaken, and has in it the rudiments of that old idea that a woman must be captured. So we have a legend concerning those Sabine women, where one of them asks impatiently, "How soon does this attack begin?"

Laura was not a flirt. She was an honest wife and became the mother of ten children in her twenty years of married life. When Petrarch first saw her she had a babe at home a year old. In another year, this first babe became "the other baby," and was put on a bottle with its little pug-nose out of joint. There was always one on bread and milk, one on the bottle and one with nose under the shawl—and all the time the sonnets came fluttering adown the summer winds.

Laura was a cool-headed woman, shrewd and astute, with heart under perfect control, her feelings well upholstered by adipose. If she had been more of the woman she would have been less. Like the genuine coquette that she was, she received everything and gave nothing. She had a good digestion and no nerves to speak of.

Petrarch describes her in a thousand ways, but the picture is so retouched that the portrait is not clear or vivid. He dilates on her mental, moral, spiritual and physical qualities, according to his mood, and the flattery to her was never too fulsome. Possibly she was not fully aware before that she was such a paragon of virtue, but believing in the superior insight of Petrarch she said, "It must be so." Thus is flattery always acceptable, nor can it be overdone unless it be laid on with a trowel.

To flatter in rhythm and rhyme, with due regard for euphony and cadence, is always safe, and is totally different from bursting out upon a defenseless woman with buckets of adoration.

Laura evidently knew by intuition that her success in holding the love of Petrarch lay in never allowing him to come close enough to be disillusioned. She kept him at a distance and allowed him to do the dialogue. All she desired was to perform a solo upon his imagination.

Clothes play a most important part in Cupid's pranks. Though the little god himself goes naked, he never allows his votaries to follow suit. That story of Venus unadorned appearing from the sea is only a fairy-tale—such a sight would have made a lovelorn swain take to the woods, and would have been interesting only to the anatomist or a member of the life class. The wicket, the lattice, the lace curtain, the veil and mantilla, are all secondary sexual manifestations. In rural districts where honesty still prevails, the girls crochet a creation which they call a "fascinator," and I can summon witnesses to prove it is one.

Just why coquetry should be regarded as distinctly feminine I can not say. Laura has been severely criticized by certain puritan ladies with cold pedals, for luring Petrarch on in his hopeless passion. Yet he knew her condition of life, and being a man of sense in most ways he must have known that had she allowed his passion to follow its unobstructed course it would have wrecked the lives of both. He was a priest and was forbidden to marry; and while he could carry on an intrigue with a woman of inferior station and society would wink in innocency, it was different with a woman of quality—his very life might have paid the penalty, and she would have been hoisted high by the social petard.

Petrarch was no fool—he probably had enough confidence in Laura to know that she would play the part. I know a successful businessman in Saint Louis, an owner of monopolies, on the profits of which he plays at being a Socialist. This man knows that if he could succeed in bringing about the things he advocates it would work his ruin.

He elocutes to the gallery of his cosmic self, for the ego is a multi-masked rascal and plays I-Spy and leap-frog with himself the livelong day.

Had the love of Petrarch and Laura ever gone to the point of executive session, he would straightway have ceased to write about it, and literature would have been the loser.

It is not likely that either Petrarch or Laura reasoned things out thus far—we are all puppets upon the chess-board of Time, moved by the gods of Fate, and the fact that we know it proved for William Ellery Channing the soul of man. I am both the spectator and the play.

* * * * *

Laura died in her fortieth year of "the plague." Seven months after her death her husband paid her memory the compliment of taking a second wife, thus leaving us to assume that the first venture was a happy one, otherwise he would not have been in such haste to repeat it.

The second wife of Hugh de Sade never stirred the pool of ink from which Petrarch fished his murex up. He refers to this second wife once by indirection, thus: "The children of Laura are no longer motherless."

On the death of Laura the poet was overwhelmed with grief. But this paroxysm of pain soon gave way to a calm reflection, and he realized that she was still his as much as she ever was. Her death, too, stopped all flavor of scandal that was in the bond, and thus Petrarch stood better in the eyes of the world and in his own eyes than he did when gossip was imminent.

Petrarch expected to be immortalized by his epic poem "Africa," but it is not read today, even by scholars, except in fragments to see how deep are the barren sands of his thought.

The sonnets which he calls "fragments, written in the vulgar tongue," the Italian, are verses which have made him live. They are human documents inspired by the living, throbbing heart, and are vital in their feeling and expression. His "best" poems are fifteen times as voluminous as his love-poems; they were written in Latin and polished and corrected until the life was sandpapered out of them.

His love for Laura was an idyllic thing as artificial as a monk's life, and no more virtuous. It belongs to a romantic age where excess was atoned for by asceticism, and spasms of vice galled the kibe of negative virtue.

This love for Laura was largely a lust for the muse.

Fame was the god of Petrarch, and to this god he was forever faithful. He toiled unremittingly, slavishly, painfully, cruelly for fame—and he was rewarded, so far as fame can reward.

At Rome, on Easter Sunday in April, Thirteen Hundred Forty-one, with great ceremony, Petrarch was crowned with the laurel-wreath, reviving the ancient custom of thus honoring poets. Petrarch had been working hard to have this distinction shown him at Paris as well as at Rome, and the favorable response to his request at both places arrived on the same day. His heart longed for Rome.

All his life he worked both wisely, and otherwise, for the Holy See to be removed to that city of his dreams. Paris was second choice.

Petrarch had been cramming for exams for many months, and when he set out on his journey in February his heart beat high. He stopped at Naples to be examined by the aged King Robert as to his merit for the honor of the laurel, and "for three days I shook all my ignorance," is Petrarch's reference to the way he answered the questions asked him by the scholars of his time.

The King wanted to go on to Rome to the coronation, but he was too feeble in strength to do this, so he placed his own royal robe upon the young man and sent him to the ancient city of learning, where a three days' proceeding marked an epoch in the history of learning from which the Renaissance began. Petrarch closed the Preraphaelite period in letters.

While there is much in Petrarch's character that is vain and self-conscious, it must not be forgotten that there was also much that was true, tender, noble and excellent.

Petrarch was the founder of Humanism. He is the first man of modern times to make us realize that Cicero, Vergil, Horace, Quintilian and Seneca were real and actual men—men like ourselves. Before his time the entire classic world stood to us in the same light that the Bible characters did to most so-called educated people, say in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-five. Even yet there are people who stoutly maintain that Jesus was something different from a man, and that the relationship of God to Moses, Isaiah, Abraham, Elijah and Paul was totally different from God's attitude towards us.

Before Petrarch's time the entire mental fabric of Greece and Rome for us was steeped in myth, fable and superstition. Petrarch raised the status of man, and over and over again proclaimed the divinity of all humanity.

He realized his own worth, and made countless other men realize theirs. He wrote familiar letters to Homer, Sallust, Plato, Socrates and Seneca, addressing them as equals, and issued their replies. He showed the world that time is only an illusion, and that the men of Greece derived their life from the same source from whence ours is derived, and that in all respects they were men with like tastes, passions, aspirations and ambitions as ourselves.

He believed in the free, happy, spontaneous life of the individual; and again and again he affirms that the life of expression—the life of activity—is the only life. Our happiest moments are when we forget self in useful effort. He held that every man should sing, speak, paint or carve—this that he might taste the joys of self-expression. Constantly he affirms that this expression of our highest and best is Paradise. He combats the idea of Dante that Heaven and Hell are places or localities.

Yet Petrarch was profoundly influenced by Dante. He used the same metaphors, symbols and figures. As a word-artist, possibly he was not the equal of Dante, but as a man, an educated man, sane and useful, he far surpasses Dante. He met princes, popes and kings as equals. He was at home in every phase of society; his creations were greater than his poems; and as a diplomat, wise, discreet, sincere, loyal to his own, he was almost the equal of our own Doctor Franklin.

And always and forever he clung to his love for Laura. From his twenty-third year to his seventieth, he dedicated and wrote poems to Laura.

He sings her wit, her beauty, her grace, her subtle insight, her spiritual worth. The book compiled after his death entitled, "Poems on the Life and Death of Laura," forms a mine of love and allusion that served poets and lovers in good stead for three hundred years, and which has now been melted down and passed into the current coin of every tongue. It was his love-nature that made Petrarch sing, and it was his love-poems that make his name immortal. He expressed for us the undying, eternal dream of a love where the man and woman shall live together as one in their hopes, thoughts, deeds and desires; where they shall work for each other; live for each other; and through this blending of spirit, we will be able to forget the sordid present, the squalid here, the rankling now. By love's alchemy we will gild each hour and day, so it will be a time of joyous hope, and life will be a continual feast-day. And so through the desire and effort to express, we will reach the highest good, or paradise.

Petrarch did not live this ideal life of love and service—he only dreamed it. But his dream is a prophecy—all desire is a promise. We double our joys by sharing them, and the life for the Other Self seems a psychological need. Man is only in process of creation. We have not traveled far; we are only just learning to walk, and so we sometimes stumble and fall. But mankind is moving toward the light, and such is our faith now in the Divine Intelligence that we do not believe that in our hearts were planted aspirations and desires that are to work our undoing. The same God who created paradise devised the snake, and if the snake had something to do with driving the man and woman out of the Garden into a world of work, it was well. Difficulty, trial, hardship, obstacle, are all necessary factors in the evolution of souls.

A man alone is only half a man—he pines for his mate. When he reaches a certain degree of mentality he craves partnership. He wants to tell it to Her! When she reads she wants to read to Him. And when a man and a woman reach an altitude where they spiritualize their love, they are in no danger of wearing it out.



DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI AND ELIZABETH ELEANOR SIDDAL

LOVE'S LOVERS

Some ladies love the jewels in Love's zone, And gold-tipped darts he hath for painless play In idle, scornful hours he flings away; And some that listen to his lute's soft tone Do love to vaunt the silver praise their own; Some prize his blindfold sight; and there be they Who kissed the wings which brought him yesterday And thank his wings today that he is flown.

My lady only loves the heart of Love: Therefore Love's heart, my lady, hath for thee His bower of unimagined flower and tree. There kneels he now, and all a-hungered of Thine eyes gray-lit in shadowing hair above, Seals with thy mouth his immortality.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti



When an ambitious young man from the "provinces" signified his intention to Colonel Ingersoll of coming to Peoria and earning an honest livelihood, he was encouraged by the Bishop of Agnosticism with the assurance that he would find no competition.

Personally, speaking for my single self, I should say that no man is in so dangerous a position as he who has no competition in well-doing. Competition is not only the life of trade, but of everything else. There have been times when I have thought that I had no competition in truth-telling, and then to prevent complacency I entered into competition with myself and endeavored to outdo my record.

The natural concentration of business concerns in one line, in one locality, suggests the many advantages that accrue from attrition and propinquity. Everybody is stirred to increased endeavor; everybody knows the scheme which will not work, for elimination is a great factor in success; the knowledge that one has is the acquirement of all. Strong men must match themselves against strong men: good wrestlers will need only good wrestlers. And so in a match of wit rivals outclassed go unnoticed, and there is always an effort to go the adversary one better.

Our socialist comrades tell us that "emulation" is the better word, and that "competition" will have to go. The fact is that the thing itself will ever remain the same—what you call it matters little. We have, however, shifted the battle from the purely physical to the mental and psychic plane. But it is competition still, and the reason competition will remain is because it is beautiful, beneficent and right. It is the desire to excel. Lovers are always in competition with each other to see who can love most.

The best results are obtained where competition is the most free and most severe—read history. The orator speaks and the man who rises to reply had better have something to say. If your studio is next door to that of a great painter, you had better get you to your easel, and quickly, too.

The alternating current gives power: only an obstructed current gives either heat or light; all good things require difficulty. The Mutual Admiration Society is largely given up to criticism.

Wit is progressive. Cheap jokes go with cheap people; but when you are with those of subtle insight, who make close mental distinctions, you should muzzle your mood, if perchance you are a bumpkin.

Conversation with good people is progressive, and progressive inversely, usually, where only one sex is present. Excellent people feel the necessity of saying something better than has been said, otherwise silence is more becoming. He who launches a commonplace where high thoughts prevail is quickly labeled as one who is with the yesterdays that lighted fools adown their way to dusty death.

Genius has always come in groups, because groups produce the friction that generates light. Competition with fools is not bad—fools teach the imbecility of repeating their performances. A man learns from this one, and that; he lops off absurdity, strengthens here and bolsters there, until in his soul there grows up an ideal, which he materializes in stone or bronze, on canvas, by spoken word, or with the twenty-odd little symbols of Cadmus.

Greece had her group when the wit of Aristophanes sought to overtop the stately lines of AEschylus; Praxiteles outdid Ictinus; and wayside words uttered by Socrates were to outlast them all.

Rome had her group when all the arts sought to rival the silver speech of Cicero. One art never flourishes alone—they go together, each man doing the thing he can do best. All the arts are really one, and this one art is simply Expression—the expression of Mind speaking through its highest instrument, Man.

Happy is the child who is born into a family where there is a competition of ideas, and where the recurring theme is truth. This problem of education is not so very much of a problem after all. Educated people have educated children, and the best recipe for educating your child is this: Educate yourself.

* * * * *

The Rossettis were educated people: each was educated by all and all by each.

Individuality was never ironed out, for no two were alike, and between them all were constantly little skirmishes of wit, and any one who tacked a thesis on the door had to fight for it. Luther Burbank rightly says that children should not be taught religious dogma. The souls of the Rossettis were not water-logged by religious belief formulated by men with less insight and faith than they.

In this way they were free. And so we find the father and the mother, blessed by exile in the cause of liberty, living hard, plain lives, in clean yet dingy poverty, with never an endeavor to "shine" in society or to pass for anything different than what they were, and never in debt a penny to the haberdasher, the dressmaker, the milliner or the grocer. When they had no money to buy a thing they wanted, they went without it.

Just the religion of paying your way and being kind would be a pretty good sort of religion—don't you think so?

So now, behold this little Republic of Letters, father and mother and four children: Maria, Christina, Dante Gabriel and William Michael.

The father was a poet, musician and teacher. The mother was a housekeeper, adviser and critic, and supplied the necessary ballast of commonsense, without which the domestic dory would surely have turned turtle.

Once we hear this good mother saying, "I always had a passion for intellect, and my desire was that my husband and my children might be distinguished for intellect; but now I wish they had a little less intellect, so as to allow for a little more commonsense."

This not only proves that this mother of four very extraordinary and superior children had wit, but it also seems to show that even intellect has to be bought with a price.

I have read about all that has been written concerning Rossetti and the Preraphaelite Brotherhood by those with right and license to speak. And among all those who have set themselves down and dipped pen in ink, no one that I have found has emphasized the very patent truth that it was a woman who evolved the "Preraphaelite Idea," and first exemplified it in her life and housekeeping.

It was Frances Polidora Rossetti who supplied Emerson that fine phrase, "Plain living and high thinking." Of course, it might have been original also with Emerson, but probably it reached him via the Ruskin and Carlyle route.

Emerson also said, "A few plain rules suffice," but Mrs. Rossetti ten years before put it this way, "A few plain things suffice." She had a horror of debt which her husband did not fully share. She preferred cleanly poverty and honest sparsity to luxury on credit. In her household she had her way. Possibly it was making a virtue of necessity, but she did it so sincerely and gracefully that prenatally her children accepted the simplicity of their Preraphaelite home as its chief charm.

Without the Rossettis the Preraphaelite Brotherhood would never have existed. It will be remembered that the first protest of the Brotherhood was directed against "Wilton carpets, gaudy hangings, and ornate, strange and peculiar furniture."

Christina Rossetti once told William Morris that when she was but seven years old her mother and she congratulated themselves on the fact that all the furniture they had was built on straight and simple lines, that it might be easily cleaned with a damp cloth. They had no carpets, but they possessed one fine rug in the "other room" which was daily brought out to air and admire. The floors were finished in hard oil, and on the walls were simply the few pictures that they themselves produced, and the mother usually insisted on having only "one picture in a room at a time, so as to have time to study it."

So here we get the very quintessence of the entire philosophy of William Morris: a philosophy which, it has well been said, has tinted the entire housekeeping world.

In his magazine, called, somewhat ironically, "Good Words," Dickens ridiculed, reviled and berated the Preraphaelite Idea. Of course, Dickens didn't understand what the Rossettis were trying to express.

He called it pagan, anti-Christian, and the glorification of pauperism. Dickens was born in a debtor's prison—constructively—and he leaped from squalor into fussy opulence. He wrote for the rabble, and he who writes for the rabble has a ticket to Limbus one way. The Rossettis made their appeal to the Elect Few. Dickens was sired by Wilkins Micawber and dammed by Mrs. Nickleby. He wallowed in the cheap and tawdry, and the gospel of sterling simplicity was absolutely outside his orbit. Dickens knew no more about art than did the prosperous beefeater, who, being partial to the hard sound of the letter, asked Rossetti for a copy of "The Gurm," and thus supplied the Preraphaelites a title they thenceforth gleefully used.

But the abuse of Dickens had its advantages—it called the attention of Ruskin to the little group. Ruskin came, he saw, and was conquered. He sent forth such a ringing defense of the truths for which they stood that the thinking people of London stopped and listened. And this caused Holman Hunt to say, "Alas! I fear me we are getting respectable."

Ruskin's unstinted praise of this little band of artists was so great that he convinced even his wife of the truth of his view; and as we know, she fell in love with Millais, "the prize-taking cub," and they were married and lived happily ever after.

Ruskin and Morris were both born into rich families, where every luxury that wealth could buy was provided. Having much, they knew the worthlessness of things: they realized what Walter Pater has called "the poverty of riches." Dickens had only taken an imaginary correspondence course in luxury, and so Wilton carpets and marble mantels gave him a peace which religion could not lend. A Wilton carpet was to him a Christian prayer-rug.

The joy of discovery was Ruskin's: he found the Rossettis and gave them to the world. Ruskin was a professor at Oxford, and in his classes were two inseparables, William Morris and Burne-Jones. They became infected with the simplicity virus; and when Burne-Jones went up to London, which is down from Oxford, he sought out the man who had painted "The Girlhood of the Virgin," the picture Charles Dickens had advertised by declaring it to be "blasphemously idolatrous."

Burne-Jones was so delighted with Rossetti's work that he insisted upon Rossetti giving him lessons; and then he wrote such a glowing account of the Rossettis to his chum, William Morris, that Morris came up to see for himself whether these things were true.

Morris met the Rossettis, spent the evening at their home, and went back to Oxford filled with the idea of Utopia, and that the old world would not find rest until it accepted the dictum of Mrs. Rossetti, "A few plain things suffice."

It was a woman who brought about the Epoch.

* * * * *

The year Eighteen Hundred Fifty was certainly rich in gifts for Gabriel Rossetti. He was twenty-two, gifted, handsome, intellectual, the adored pet and pride of his mother and two sisters, and also the hero of the little art group to which he belonged. I am not sure but that the lavish love his friends had for him made him a bit smug and self-satisfied, for we hear of Ruskin saying, "Thank God he is young," which remark means all that you can read into it.

At this time Rossetti had written many poems, and at least one great one, "The Blessed Damozel." He had also painted at least one great picture, "The Girlhood of the Virgin," a canvas he vainly tried to sell for forty pounds, and which later was to be bought by the nation for the tidy sum of eight hundred guineas, and now can not be bought for any price—but which, nevertheless, may be seen by all, on the walls of the National Gallery.

But four numbers of "The Germ" had been printed, and then the venture had sunk into the realm of things that were, weighted with a debt of one hundred twenty pounds. Of the fifty-one contributions to "The Germ" twenty-six had been by the Rossettis. Dante Gabriel, always a bit superstitious, felt sure that the gods were trying to turn him from literature to art, but Christina felt no comfort in the failure.

Then came the championship of Ruskin, and this gave much courage to the little group. Doubtless none knew they stood for so much until they had themselves explained to themselves by Ruskin.

Then best of all came Burne-Jones and Morris, adding their faith to the common fund and proving by cash purchases that their admiration was genuine.

Rossetti's poem, "The Blessed Damozel," was without doubt inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee," but with this difference, that while Rossetti carried the sorrow clear to Paradise, Poe was content to leave his sorrow on earth.

Being a painter of pictures as well as picturing things by means of words, Rossetti had constantly in his mind some one who might pose for the Damozel. She must be stately, sober, serious, tall, and possess "a wondrous length of limb." Her features must be strong, individual, and she must have personality rather than beauty.

A pretty woman would, of course, never, never do. Where was such a model woman to be found?

Christina wrote a beautiful sonnet about this Ideal Woman. Here it is:

One face looks out from all his canvases; One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans: We found her hidden just behind those screens, That mirror gave back all her loveliness. A queen in opal or in ruby dress, A nameless girl in freshest Summer-greens, A saint, an angel—every canvas means The one same meaning, neither more nor less. He feeds upon her face by day and night, And she with true, kind eyes looks back on him, Fair as the moon and joyful as the light: Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim; Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright; Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Dante Gabriel was becoming moody, dreamy and melancholy; but not quite so melancholy as he thought he was, since the divine joy was his of expressing his melancholy in art. People submerged in melancholy are not creative.

Rossetti was quite sure that Nature had never made as lovely a woman as he could imagine, and his drawings almost proved it. But being a man he never gave up the quest.

One day, Walter Deverell, one of the Brotherhood, came into Rossetti's studio and proceeded to stand on his head and then jump over the furniture. After being reprimanded, and then interrogated as to reasons, he told what he was dying to tell—that is, "I have found her!" Her name was Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, and she was an assistant to a milliner and dressmaker in Oxford Street. She was seventeen years old, five feet eight inches high, and weighed one hundred twenty pounds. Her hair was of a marvelous, coppery, low tone, and her features were those of Sappho. None of the assembled Brotherhood had ever seen Sappho, but they had their ideas about her. Whether the dressmaker's wonderful assistant had intellect and soul did not trouble the young man. Dante Gabriel, the Nestor of the group, twenty-two and wise, was not to be swept off his feet by the young and impressible enthusiasm of Deverell, aged nineteen.

He sneezed and calmly continued his work at the easel, merely making inward note of the location of the shop where the "find" was located.

Two hours later, Rossetti, perceiving himself alone, laid aside his brushes and palette, put on his hat, and walked rapidly toward Oxford Street. He located the shop, straggled past it, first on one side of the street, then on the other, and finally boldly entered on a fictitious errand.

Miss Siddal was there. He stared at her; she looked at him in half-disdain. Suddenly his knees grew weak: he turned and fled.

Deverell boldly stalked the quarry the next day in company with his mother, who was a customer of the shop. He failed to get an interview. A little later, the mother went back alone, and put the matter before Miss Siddal in a purely business light.

Elizabeth Eleanor was from a very poor family.

Her father was an auctioneer who had lost his voice, and she was glad to increase the meager pay she was receiving by posing for the artists. She was already a model, setting off bonnets and gowns, and her first idea was that they wanted her for fashion-plates. Mrs. Deverell did not disabuse her of this idea.

And so she posed for the class at Rossetti's studio, duly gowned as angels are supposed to be draped and dressed in Paradise.

Mrs. Deverell was present to give assurance, and all went well. The young woman was dignified, proud, with a fine but untrained mind. As to her knowledge of literature, she explained that she had read Tennyson's poems because she had found them on some sheets of paper that were wrapped around a pat of butter she had bought to take home to her mother.

Her general mood was one of silent good-nature, flavored with a dash of pride, and an innocent curiosity to know how the picture was getting along. It has been said that people who talk but little are quiet either because they are too full for utterance, or because they have nothing to utter. Miss Siddal was reserved, because she realized that she could never talk as picturesquely as she could look. People who know their limitations are in the line of evolution. The girl was eager and anxious to learn, and Rossetti set about to educate her. In the operation he found himself loving her with a mad devotion.

The other members of the Brotherhood respected this very frank devotion and did not enter into competition with it, as they surely would have done had it been merely admiration. They did not even make gentle fun of it—it was too serious a matter with Rossetti: it was to him a religion, and was to remain so to the day of his death. Within a week after their meeting, "The House of Life" began to find form. He wrote to her and for her, and always and forever she was his model. The color of her hair got into his brush, and her features were enshrined in his heart.

He called her "Guggums" or "Gug." Occasionally, he showed impatience if any one by even the lifting of an eyebrow seemed to doubt the divinity of the Guggums.

There was no time for ardent wooing on his part, no vacillation nor coyness on hers. He loved her with an absorbing passion—loved her for her wonderful physical beauty, and what she may have lacked in mind he was able to make good.

And she accepted his love as if it were her due, and as if it had always been hers. She was not agitated under the burning impetus; no, she just calmly and placidly accepted it as a matter of course.

It will hardly do to say that she was indifferent, but Burne-Jones was led by Miss Siddal's beautiful calm to say, "Love is never mutual—one loves and the other consents to be loved."

The family of Rossetti, his mother and sisters, must have known how much of the ideal was in his passion. Mentally, Miss Siddal was not on their plane; but the joy of Dante Gabriel was their joy, and so they never opposed the inevitable. He, however, acknowledged Christina's mental superiority by somewhat imperiously demanding that Christina should converse with Miss Siddal on "great themes."

Ruskin has added his endorsement to Miss Siddal's worth by calling her "a glorious creature."

Dante Gabriel's own descriptions of Elizabeth Eleanor are too much retouched to be accurate; but William Rossetti, who viewed her with a critical eye, describes her as "tall, finely formed, with lofty neck; regular, yet uncommon, features; greenish-blue, unsparkling eyes; large, perfect eyelids; brilliant complexion, and a lavish wealth of dark molten-gold hair."

In the diary of Madox Brown for October Sixth, Eighteen Hundred Fifty-four, is this: "Called on Dante Rossetti. Saw Miss Siddal, looking thinner and more death-like, and more beautiful and more ragged than ever; a real artist, a woman without parallel for many a long year. Gabriel as usual diffuse and inconsequent in his work. Drawing wonderful and lovely Guggums one after another, each one a fresh charm, each one stamped with immortality, and his picture never advancing. However, he is at the wall and I am to get him a white calf and a cart to paint here; would he but study the Golden One a little more. Poor Gabriello!"

In Elizabeth Eleanor's manner there was a morbid languor and dreaminess, put on, some said, for her lover like a Greek gown, and surely encouraged by him and pictured in his Dantesque creations.

Always and forever for him she was the Beata Beatrix. His days were consumed in writing poems to her or painting her, and if they were separated for a single day he wrote her a letter, and demanded that she should write one in return, to which we once hear of her gently demurring. She, however, took lessons in drawing, and often while posing would work with her pencil and paper.

Ruskin was so pleased with her work that he offered to buy everything she did, and finally a bargain was struck and he paid her one hundred pounds a year and took everything she drew.

Possibly this does not so much prove the worth of her work as the generosity of Ruskin. The dressmaker's shop had been able to get along without its lovely model, and art had been the gainer. At one time a slight cloud appeared on the horizon: another "find" had been located. Rossetti saw her at the theater, ascertained her name and called on her the next day and asked for sittings. Her name was Miss Burden. She was very much like Miss Siddal, only her face was pale and her hair wavy and black. She was statuesque, picturesque, of good family, and had a wondrous poise. Rossetti straightway sent for William Morris to come and admire her. William Morris came, and married her in what Rossetti resentfully called "an unbecoming and insufficiently short space of time."

For some months there was a marked coldness between Morris and Rossetti, but if Miss Siddal was ever disturbed by the advent of Miss Burden we do not know it. Whistler has said that it was Mrs. Morris who gave immortality to the Preraphaelites by supplying them stained-glass attitudes. She posed as Saint Michael, Gabriel, and Saint John the Beloved, and did service for the types that required a little more sturdiness than Miss Siddal could supply.

The Burne-Jones dream-women are very largely composite studies of Miss Siddal and Mrs. Morris; as for Rossetti, he painted their portraits before he saw them, and loved them on sight because they looked like his Ideal.

* * * * *

After Dante Gabriel and Elizabeth Eleanor had been engaged for more than five years—that is, in the year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-five—Madox Brown asked Rossetti this very obvious question: "Why do you not marry her?" One reason was that Rossetti was afraid if he married her he would lose her. He doted on her, fed on her, still wrote sonnets just for her, and counted the hours when they parted until he could see her again. Miss Siddal was not quite firm enough in moral and mental fiber to cut out her own career. She deferred constantly to her lover, adopted his likes and dislikes, and went partners with him even in his prejudices. They dwelt in Bohemia, which is a good place to camp, but a very poor place in which to settle down.

The precarious ways of Bohemia do not make for length of days. Miss Siddal seemed to fall into a decline, her spirits lost their buoyancy, she grew nervous when required to pose for several hours at a time. Rossetti scraped together all his funds and sent her on a trip alone through France. She fell sick there, and we hear of Rossetti working like mad on a canvas, so as to sell the picture and send her money.

When she returned, a good deal of her old-time beauty seemed to have vanished: the fine disdain, that noble touch of scorn, was gone—and Rossetti wrote a sonnet declaring her more beautiful than ever. Ruskin thought he saw the hectic flush of death upon her cheek.



Sorrow, love, ill-health, poverty, tamed her spirit, and Swinburne telling of her, years after, speaks of "her matchless loveliness, courage, endurance, humor and sweetness—too dear and sacred to be profaned by any attempt at expression."

Rossetti writing to Allingham says: "It seems to me when I look at her working, or too ill to work, and think of how many without one tithe of her genius or greatness of spirit have granted them abundant health and opportunity to labor through the little they can or will do, while perhaps her soul is never to bloom, nor her bright hair to fade; but after hardly escaping from degradation and corruption, all she might have been must sink again unprofitably in that dark house where she was born. How truly she may say, 'No man cared for my soul.' I do not mean to make myself an exception, for how long have I known her, and not thought of this till so late—perhaps too late."

In Rossetti's love for this beautiful human lily there was something very selfish, the selfishness of the artist who sacrifices everything and everybody, even himself, to get the work done.

Rossetti's love for Miss Siddal was sincere in its insincerity. The art impulse was supreme in him and love was secondary. The nine years' engagement, with the uncertain, vacillating, forgetful, absent-minded habits of erratic genius to deal with, wore out the life of this beautiful creature.

The mother-instinct in her had been denied: Nature had been set at naught, and art enthroned. When the physician told Rossetti that the lovely lily was to fade and die, he straightway abruptly married her, swearing he would nurse her back to life. He then gave her the "home" they had so long talked of; three little rooms, one all hung with her own drawings and none other. He petted her, invited in the folks she liked best, gave little entertainments, and both declared that never were they so happy.

She suffered much from neuralgia, and the laudanum taken to relieve the pain had grown into a necessity.

On the Tenth of February, Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two, she dined with her husband and Mr. Swinburne at a nearby hotel. Rossetti then accompanied her to their home, and leaving her there went alone to give his weekly lecture at the Working Men's College. When he returned in two hours, he found her unconscious from an overdose of laudanum. She never regained consciousness, breathing her last but a few short hours later.

* * * * *

The grief of Rossetti on the death of his wife was pitiable. His friends feared for his sanity, and had he not been closely watched it is quite possible that one grave would have held the lovers. He reproached himself for neglecting her. He cursed art and literature for having seduced him away from her, and thus allowed her to grope her way alone. He prophesied what she might have been had he only devoted himself to her as a teacher, and by encouragement allowed her soul to bloom and blossom. "I should have worked through her hand and brain," he cried.

He gathered all the poems he had written to her, including "The House of Life," and tying them up with one of the ribbons she had worn, placed the precious package by stealth in her coffin, close to the cold heart that had forever stopped pulsing. And so the poems were buried with the woman who had inspired them.

Was it vanity that prompted Rossetti after seven years to have the body exhumed and recover the poems that they might be given to the world? I do not think so, else all men who print the things they write are inspired by vanity. Rossetti was simply unfortunate in being placed before the public in a moment of spiritual undress. Everybody is ridiculous and preposterous every day, only the public does not see it, and therefore the acts are not ridiculous and preposterous. The conduct of the lovers is always absurd to the onlooker, but the onlooker has no business to look on—he is a false note in a beautiful symphony, and should be eliminated.

Rossetti in the transport of his grief, filled with bitter regret, and with a welling heart for one who had done so much for him, gave into her keeping, as if she were just going on a journey, the finest of his possessions. It was no sacrifice—the poems were hers.

At such a time do you think a man is revolving in his mind business arrangements with Barabbas?

The years passed, and Rossetti again began to write—for God is good.

The grief that can express itself is well diluted; in fact, grief often is a beneficent stimulus of the ganglionic cells. The sorrow that is dumb before men, and which, if it ever cries aloud, seeks first the sanctity of solitude, is the only sorrow to which Christ in pity turns his eye or lends his ear.

The paroxysms of grief had given way to calm reflection. The river of his love was just as deep, but the current was not so turbulent. Expression came bringing balm and myrrh. And so on the advice of his friends, endorsed by his own promptings, the grave was opened and the package of poems recovered.

It was an act that does not bear the close scrutiny of the unknowing mob. And I do not wonder at the fierce hate that sprang up in the breast of Rossetti when a hounding penny-a-liner in London sought to picture the stealthy, ghoul-like digging in a grave at midnight, and the recovery of what he called "a literary bauble." As if the man's vanity had gotten the better of his love, or as if he had changed his mind! Men who know, know that Rossetti had not changed his mind—he had only changed his mood.

The suggestion that gentlemen poets about to deposit poems in the coffins of their lady-loves should have copies of the originals carefully made before so doing, was scandalous. However, when this was followed up with the idea that Rossetti should, after exhuming the poems, have copies made and place these back in the coffin, and that the performance of midnight digging was nothing less than petit larceny from a dead woman, witnessed by the Blessed Damozel leaning over the bar of Heaven—in all this we get an offense in literature and good taste which in Kentucky or Arizona would surely have cost the penny-a-liner his life.

If these poems had not been recovered, the world would have lost "The House of Life," a sonnet series second not even to the "Sonnets From the Portuguese," and the immortal sonnets of Shakespeare.

The way Rossetti kept the clothing and all the little nothings that had once belonged to his wife revealed the depths of love—or the foolishness of it, all depending upon your point of view. Mrs. Millais tells of calling at Rossetti's house in Cheyne Walk in Eighteen Hundred Seventy, nearly ten years after the death of Elizabeth Eleanor, and having occasion to hang her wraps in a wardrobe, perceived the dresses that had once belonged to Mrs. Rossetti hanging there on the same hooks with Rossetti's raiment. Rossetti made apology for the seeming confusion and said, "You see, if I did not find traces of her all over the house I should surely die."

A year after the death of his wife Rossetti painted the wonderful "Beata Beatrix," a portrait of Beatrice sitting in a balcony overlooking Florence. The beautiful eyes filled with ache, dream and expectation are closed as if in a transport of calm delight. An hourglass is at hand and a dove is just dropping a poppy, the flower of sleep and death, into her open hands. Of course the picture is a portrait of the dear, dead wife, and so in all the pictures thereafter painted by Dante Gabriel for the twenty years that he lived, you perceive that while he had various models, in them all he traced resemblances to this first, last and only passion of his life.

* * * * *

In William Sharp's fine little book, "A Record and a Study," I find this:

As to the personality of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a great deal has been written since his death, and it is now widely known that he was a man who exercised an almost irresistible charm over those with whom he was brought in contact. His manner could be peculiarly winning, especially with those much younger than himself, and his voice was alike notable for its sonorous beauty and for the magnetic quality that made the ear alert when the speaker was engaged in conversation, recitation or reading. I have heard him read, some of them over and over again, all the poems in the "Ballads and Sonnets," and especially in such productions as "The Cloud Confines" was his voice as stirring as a trumpet-note; but where he excelled was in some of the pathetic portions of "The Vita Nuova" or the terrible and sonorous passages of "L'Inferno," when the music of the Italian language found full expression indeed. His conversational powers I am unable adequately to describe, for during the four or five years of my intimacy with him he suffered too much to be a brilliant talker, but again and again I have seen instances of that marvelous gift that made him at one time a Sydney Smith in wit and a Coleridge in eloquence.

In appearance he was, if anything, rather above middle height, and, especially latterly, somewhat stout; his forehead was of splendid proportions, recalling instantaneously the Stratford bust of Shakespeare; and his gray-blue eyes were clear and piercing, and characterized by that rapid, penetrative gaze so noticeable in Emerson.

He seemed always to me an unmistakable Englishman, yet the Italian element frequently was recognizable; as far as his own opinion was concerned, he was wholly English. Possessing a thorough knowledge of French and Italian, he was the fortunate appreciator of many great works in their native tongue, and his sympathies in religion, as in literature, were truly catholic. To meet him even once was to be the better for it ever after; those who obtained his friendship can not well say all it meant and means to them; but they know they are not again in the least likely to meet with such another as Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

In Walter Hamilton's book, "AEsthetic England," is this bit of most vivid prose:

Naturally the sale of Rossetti's effects attracted a large number of persons to the gloomy, old-fashioned residence in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, and many of the articles sold went for prices very far in excess of their intrinsic value, the total sum realized being over three thousand pounds. But during the sale of the books, on that fine July afternoon, in the dingy study hung round with the lovely but melancholy faces of Proserpine and Pandora, despite the noise of the throng and the witticisms of the auctioneer, a sad feeling of desecration must have crept over many of those who were present at the dispersion of the household goods and gods of that man who so hated the vulgar crowd. Gazing through the open windows they could see the tall trees waving their heads in a sorrowful sort of way in the summer breeze, throwing their shifty shadows over the neglected grass-grown paths, once the haunt of the stately peacocks, whose medieval beauty had such a strange fascination for Rossetti, and whose feathers are now the accepted favors of his apostles and admirers. And so their gaze would wander back again to that mysterious face upon the wall, that face as some say the grandest in the world, a lovely one in truth, with its wistful, woful, passionate eyes, its sweet, sad mouth with the full red lips; a face that seemed to say the sad old lines:

'Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.

And then would come the monotonous cry of the auctioneer to disturb the reverie, and call one back to the matter-of-fact world which Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter and poet, has left forever—Going!—Going!—Gone!



BALZAC AND MADAME HANSKA

A thought entered my heart, such as God sends to make us willing to bear our griefs. I resolved to instruct and raise this corner of the earth, as a teacher brings up a child. Do not call it benevolence; my motive was the need I felt to distract my mind. I wanted to spend the remainder of my days in some arduous enterprise.

The changes to be introduced into this region, which Nature has made so rich and man made so poor, would occupy my whole life; they attracted me by the very difficulty of bringing them about. I wished to be a friend to the poor, expecting nothing in return. I allowed myself no illusions, either as to the character of the country people or the obstacles which hinder those who attempt to ameliorate both men and things. I made no idyls about my poor; I took them for what they were.

Balzac in "The Country Doctor"



Balzac was born in the year Seventeen Hundred Ninety-nine. The father of Balzac, by a not unusual coincidence, also bore the name of Balzac. And yet there was only one Balzac. This happy father was an officer in the commissary department of Napoleon's army, and so never had an opportunity to win the bauble reputation at the cannon's mouth, nor show his quality in the imminent deadly breach. He died through an earnest but futile effort, filled with the fear of failure, to so regulate his physical life that repair would exactly equal waste, and thus live on earth forever.

The mother of our great man was a beauty and an heiress. Her husband was twenty-five years her senior. She ever regarded herself as one robbed of her birthright, and landed at high tide upon a barren and desert domestic isle. Honore, her first child, was born before she was twenty. Napoleon was at that time playing skittles with all Europe, and the woman whom Fate robbed of her romance worshiped at the shrine of the Corsican, because every good woman has to worship something or somebody. She saw Napoleon on several occasions, and once he kissed his hand to her when she stood in a balcony and he was riding through the street. And there their intimacy ended, a fact much regretted in print by her gifted son years afterward.

Six years of Balzac's life, from his sixth to his thirteenth year, were spent in a monastery school, a place where fond parents were relieved by holy men of their parental responsibilities, for a consideration.

Not once in the six years' time was the boy allowed to go home or to visit his parents. Once a year, at Easter, his mother came to see him and expressed regret at the backward state of his mind.

Balzac's education was gotten in spite of his teachers, and by setting at naught the minute and painstaking plans of his mother. This mother lived her life a partial invalid, whimsical, querulous, religious overmuch, always fearing a fatal collapse; in this disappointed, for she finally died peacefully of old age, going to bed and forgetting to waken. She was long to survive her son, and realize his greatness only after he was gone, getting the facts from the daily papers, which seems to prove that the newspaper does have a mission.

Possibly the admiration of Balzac's mother for the little Corporal had its purpose in God's great economy. In any event her son had some of the Corsican's characteristics.

In the big brain of Balzac there was room for many emotions. The man had sympathy plus, and an imagination that could live every life, feel every pang of pain, know every throb of joy, die every death. In stature he was short, stout, square of shoulder and deep of chest. He had a columnar neck and carried his head with the poise of a man born to command.

The scholar's stoop and the abiding melancholy of the supposed man of genius were conspicuous by their absence. His smile was infectious, and he was always ready to romp and play. "He has never grown up: he is just a child," once said his mother in sad complaint, after her son had well passed his fortieth milestone.

The leading traits in the life of Balzac were his ability to abandon himself to the task in hand, his infinite good-nature, his capacity for frolic and fun, and his passion to be famous and to be loved.

Napoleon never took things very seriously. It will be remembered that even at Saint Helena, when in the mood, he played jokes on his guards, and never forgot his good old habit of stopping the affairs of State to pinch the ears of any pretty miss, be she princess or chambermaid, who traveled without an escort.

Upon a statuette of Napoleon, Balzac in his youth once wrote this: "What he began with the sword I will finish with the pen."

Only once did Balzac see Napoleon, probably at that last review at the Carrousel, and he describes the scene thus in one of his novels: "At last, at last! there he was, surrounded with so much love, enthusiasm, devotion, prayer—for whom the sun had driven every cloud from the sky. He sat motionless on his horse, six feet in advance of the dazzling escort that followed him. An old grenadier cried: 'My God, yes, it was always so—under fire at Wagram—among the dead in the Moskowa he was quiet as a lamb, yes, that is he!' Napoleon rode that little white mare, so gentle and under such perfect control. Let others ride plunging chargers and waste their energy and the strength of their mount in pirouettes for the admiration of the bystanders—Napoleon and his little white horse were always quiet when all around there was confusion. And the hand that ruled the Empire stroked the mane of the little white mare, so docile that a girl of ten would have been at home on her back. That is he—under fire at Wagram, with shells bursting all around—he strokes the mane of his quiet horse—that is he!"

And right here may be a good place to quote that other tribute to the Corsican, by a man who was best qualified to give it—the Iron Duke Wellington: "It is very true that I have said that I considered Napoleon's presence in the field equal to forty thousand men in the balance."

* * * * *

As Balzac emerged out of boyhood into man's estate he seemed to have just one woman friend, and this was his grandmother. He didn't seem to care for much more. With her he played cards, and she used to allow him to win small sums of money. With this money he bought books—always books.

He had great physical strength, but was beautifully awkward. The only time he ever attempted to dance he slipped and fell, to the great amusement of the company. He fled without asking the dancing-master to refund his tuition.

He was morbidly afraid of young women, and as fear and hate are one, he hated women, "because they had no ideas," he said. His head was stuffed with facts, and his one amusement was attending the free lectures at the Sorbonne. Here he immersed himself with data about every conceivable subject, made infinite notebooks, and sought vainly for some one with whom he could talk it all over.

In the absence of a wise companion with whom he could converse, he undertook the education of his brother Henry, who was not exactly a prodigy and could not get along at school. Great people are teachers through necessity, for it is only in explaining the matter to another that we make it clear to ourselves. Not finding enough to do in teaching his brother, Balzac advertised to tutor boys who were backward in their studies.

His first response came from Madame De Berney, who had a boy whom the teachers could not control.

That is the way: we buy our tickets to one place and Fate puts us off at another! "Put me off at Buffalo," we say, and in the morning we find ourselves on the platform at Rochester.

Madame De Berney was the mother of nine, and she was just twenty-two years older than Balzac. The son she wished to have tutored was weak in body and not strong in mind. He was in his twentieth year, within a year of the same age as Balzac.

Balzac made a companion of the youth, treating him as an equal; and by his bubbling good-nature and eager, hungry desire to know, inspired his pupil with somewhat of his own enthusiasm.

And in winning the pupil, of course he caught the sympathetic interest of the mother. No love-affair had ever come to Balzac—women had no minds: all they could do was to dance!

Madame De Berney was old enough to put Balzac at his ease. She it was who discovered him—no De Berney, no Balzac. And on this point the historians and critics are all agreed.

Madame De Berney was a gentle, intelligent, sympathetic and pathetic figure. She was no idle woman, warm on the eternal quest. She was a home-body intent on caring for her household.

Her husband was many years her senior, and at the time Balzac appeared upon the scene, De Berney, had he been consistent, would have passed off; but he did not, for paralytics are like threatened people—good life-insurance risks.

A woman of forty-two is not old—bless my soul! I'll leave it to any woman of that age.

And Balzac at twenty was as old as he was at forty-two: a little more so perhaps, for as the years passed he grew less dogmatic and confident. At twenty we are likely to have full faith in our own infallibility.

Madame De Berney was the daughter of a musician in the court of Marie Antoinette. In fact, the queen had stood as her godmother and she had grown up surrounded by material luxury and a mental wilderness, for be it known that members of royal households, like the families of millionaires, are likely to be densely ignorant, being hedged in, shielded, sheltered and protected from the actual world that educates and evolves.

Madame De Berney had been married at the age of sixteen by the busy matchmakers, and her life was one of plain marital serfdom. Her material wants were supplied, but economic freedom had not been hers, for she was supposed to account to her husband for every sou. Marriage is often actual slavery, and it was such for Madame De Berney, until De Berney got on pretty good terms with locomotor ataxia and placed his foot on one spot when he meant to put it on another.

Portraits of Madame De Berney show her to be tall, slender, winsome, with sloping shoulders, beautiful neck, and black, melancholy curls drooping over her temples, making one think of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In the presence of such a woman, one would naturally lower his voice. Half-mourning was to her most becoming. Madame De Berney was receptive and sympathetic and had gotten a goodly insight into literature. She had positive likes and dislikes in an art way. There were a few books she had read and reread until they had become a part of her being. At forty-two a woman is either a drudge, a fool or a saint. Intellect shines out and glows then if it ever does. From forty to sixty should be a woman's mental harvest-time. Youth and youth's ambitions and desires are in abeyance. If Fate has been kind she has been disillusioned, and if Destiny has used her for a doormat, no matter.

The silly woman is one who has always had her own way, and is intent on conquest as Chronos appropriates her charms and gives bulk for beauty.

The drudge is only a drudge, and her compensation lies in the fact that she seldom knows it.

Madame De Berney had been disillusioned, and intellectual desire was glowing with a steady, mellow light. She wanted to know and to be. And shooting through space comes Balzac, a vagrant comet, and their orbits being the same, their masses unite and continue in one course, bowled by the Infinite.

The leading impulse in the life of Balzac was to express: to tell the things he knew and the things he imagined. To express was the one gratification which made life worth living. And so he told Madame De Berney's son, and then Madame came into the class and he told her. We talk to the sympathetic and receptive: to those who are masters of the fine art of listening.

Soon the lessons were too advanced for the son to follow, and so Balzac told it all to Madame. She listened, smiled indulgently, sighed. They walked in the park and along country lanes and byways; the young tutor talked and talked, and laughed and laughed.

Balzac's brain was teeming with ideas, a mass and jumble of thoughts, ideas, plans and emotions. "Write it out," said Madame—in partial self-defense, no doubt. "Write it out!"

And so Balzac began to write poetry, plays, essays, stories. And everything he wrote he read to her. As soon as he had written something he hastened to hunt up "La Dilecta," as he called her.

Their minds fused in an idea—they blended in thought. He loved her, not knowing when he began or how. His tumultuous nature poured itself out to her, all without reason.

She became a need to him. He wrote her letters in the morning and at night. They dined together, walked, talked, rowed and read.

She ransacked libraries for him. She sold his product to publishers. They collaborated in writing, but he had the physical strength that she had not, so he usually fished the story out of the ink-bottle and presented it to her.

He began to be sought after. Fame appeared on the horizon. Critics rose and thundered. Balzac defied all rules, walked over the grammar, defiled the well of classic French. He invented phrases, paraphrased greatness, coined words. He worked the slide, glide, the ellipse—any way to express the thought. He forged a strange and wondrous style—a language made up of all the slang of the street, combined with the terminologies of the laboratory, law, medicine and science. He was an ignoramus.

But still the public read what he wrote and clamored for more, because the man expressed humanity—he knew men and women.

Balzac was the first writer to discover that every human life is intensely interesting; not merely the heroic and the romantic.

Every life is a struggle; and the fact that the battles are usually bloodless, and the romance a dream, makes it no less real.

Balzac proved that the extraordinary and sensational were not necessary to literature. And just as the dewdrop on the petal is a divine manifestation, and every blade of grass is a miracle, and the three speckled eggs in an English sparrow's nest constitute an immaculate conception, so every human life, with its hopes, aspirations, dream, defeats and successes, is a drama, joyous with comedy, rich in melodrama and also dark and somber as can be woven from the warp and woof of mystery and death.

Balzac wrote a dozen books or more a year. Of course he quarreled with Barabbas, and lawsuits followed, where both sides were right and both sides were wrong. Balzac hadn't the time to look after business details. He would sign away his birthright for a month's peace, forgetful of the day of reckoning. He supported his mother and brothers and sisters, loaned money to everybody, borrowed from La Dilecta when the bailiffs got too pressing, and all the time turned out copy religiously. He practised the eight-hour-a-day clause, but worked in double shifts, from two A.M. to ten A.M., and then from noon until eight o'clock at night. Then for a month he would relax and devote himself to La Dilecta. She was his one friend, his confidante, his comrade, his mother, his sweetheart.

No woman was ever loved more devotedly, but the passionate intensity of the man's nature must have been a sore tax at times on her time and strength. A younger woman could not have known his needs, nor ministered to him mentally. He was absorbed in his work and in his love, and these were to him one.

He had won renown, for had he not called down on his head the attacks of the envious? His manuscripts were in demand.

Balzac was thirty years of age; Madame De Berney was fifty-two. The sun for him had not reached noon, but for her the shadows were lengthening toward the East. She decided that she must win—he should never forsake her!

He had not tired of her, nor she of him. But she knew that when he was forty she would be sixty: he at the height of his power and she an old woman. They could never grow old together and go down the hill of life hand in hand.

So Madame De Berney with splendid heroism took the initiative. She told Balzac what was in her mind, all the time trying to be playful, as we always do when tragedy is tugging at our hearts. Soon she would be a drag upon him, and before that day came it was better they should separate. He declined to listen, swore she could not break the bond; and the scene from being playful became furious. Then it settled down, calmed, and closed as lovers' quarrels usually do and should.

The subject came up again the next week and with a like result. Finally Madame De Berney resorted to heroic treatment. She locked herself in her rooms, and gave orders to the butler that Monsieur Balzac should not be allowed to enter the house, and that to him she was not at home.

"You shall not see me grow old and totter, my body wither and fail, my mind decline. We part now and part forever, our friendship sacred, unsullied, and at its height. Good-by, Balzac, and good-by forever!"

Balzac was dumb with rage, then tears came to his relief, and he cried as a child cries for its mother. The first paroxysm passed, anger took the place of grief: he found time to realize that perhaps there were other women besides La Dilecta—possibly there were other Dilectas. She had struck a blow at his pride—the only blow, in fact, he ever received.

Among Balzac's various correspondents—for successful men always get letters from sympathetic unknowns—was one Madame Hanska, in far-off Poland. From her letters she seemed intelligent, witty, sympathetic. He would turn to her in his distress, to Madame Hanska—where was that last letter from her? And did he not have her picture somewhere: let us see, let us see!

And as for Madame De Berney: when she gave liberty to Balzac it was at the expense of her own life. "If I could only forget, if I could only forget!" she said. And so she lingered on for four years, and then sank into that forgetfulness which men call death.

* * * * *

Balzac wrote of her as "Madame Hanska," and to her husband he referred as "Monsieur Hanski," a distinction that was made by the author as inference that Monsieur Hanska was encroaching on some one else's domain, with designs on the pickle-jar of another.

The Hanskas belonged to the Russian nobility and lived on an immense estate in Ukraine, surrounded only by illiterate peasants. It was another beautiful case of mismating: a man of forty who had gone the pace marrying a girl of seventeen to educate her and reform himself.

Madame Hanska must have been a beauty in her youth—dark, dashing, positive, saucy. She had enough will so that she never became a drudge nor did she languish and fade. She was twenty-eight years old when she first appeared in the field of our vision—twenty-eight, and becomingly stout.

She had literary ambitions and had time to exercise them. Accidentally, a volume of Balzac's "Scenes From a Private Life" had fallen in her way. She glanced at it, and read a little here and there; then she read it through. Balzac's consummate ease and indifference of style caught her. She wanted to write just like Balzac. She was not exactly a writer—she only had literary eczema. She sat down and wrote Balzac a letter, sharply criticizing him for his satirical views of women.

It is a somewhat curious fact that when strangers write to authors, about nine times out of ten it is to find fault. The person who is thoroughly pleased does not take the trouble to say so, but the offended one sits himself down and takes pen in hand. However, this is not wholly uncomplimentary, since it proves at least two things: that the author is being read, and that he is making an impression. Said old Doctor Johnson to the aspiring poet, "Sir, I'll praise your book, but damn me if I'll read it."

Unread books are constantly being praised, but the book that is warmly denounced is making an impression.

Madame Hanska in her far-off solitude had read "Scenes From a Private Life," paragraph by paragraph, and in certain places had seen her soul laid bare. Very naively, in her letter to Balzac, in her criticism she acknowledged the fact that the author had touched an exposed nerve, and this helped to take the sting out of her condemnation. She signed herself "The Stranger," but gave an address where to reply.

Balzac wrote the stranger a slapdash of a letter, as he was always doing, and forgot the incident.

Long letters came from Madame; they were glanced at, but never read. But Madame Hanska, living in exile, had opened up a new vein of ore for herself. She was in communication with a powerful, creative intellect. She sent to a Paris bookseller an order for everything written by Balzac. She read, reread, marked and interlined. Balzac seemed to be writing for her. She kept a daily journal of her thoughts and jottings and this she sent to Balzac.

He neglected to acknowledge the parcel, and she wrote begging he would insert a personal in a certain Paris paper, to which she was a subscriber, so she would know that he was alive and well.

He complied with the unusual request, and it seemed to both of them as if they were getting acquainted. To the woman, especially, it was a half-forbidden joy: a clandestine correspondence with a single gentleman! It had all the sweet, divine flavor of a sin. So she probably repeated the joy by confessing it to the priest, for the lady was a good Catholic. Next she sent Balzac her miniature, and even this he did not acknowledge, being too busy, or too indifferent, or both.

It was about this time that Madame De Berney plunged a stiletto into his pride. And the gaze of Balzac turned towards Poland, and he began to write letters to the imprisoned chatelaine, pouring out his soul to her. His heart was full of sorrow. To ease the pain he traveled for six months through Southern France and Italy, but care rode on the crupper.

He was trying to forget. Occasionally, he met beautiful women and endeavored to become interested in them, and in several instances nearly succeeded.

Madame Hanska's letters now were becoming more and more intimate. She described her domestic affairs, and told of her hopes, ideals and plans.

Balzac had his pockets full of these letters, and once in an incautious moment showed them to Madame Carraud, a worthy woman to whom he was paying transient court. Madame Carraud wrote an ardent love-letter to Madame Hanska, breathing the most intense passion, and signed Balzac's name to the missive. It was a very feminine practical joke. Balzac was told about it—after the letter was mailed. He was at first furious, and then faint with fear.

Madame Hanska was delighted with the letter, yet mystified to think that Balzac should use a secretary in writing a love-letter. And Balzac wrote back that he had written the letter with his left hand, and that was doubtless the reason it seemed a different penmanship. At one stage of their evolution, lovers are often great liars, but at this time Balzac was only playing at love. He could not forget Madame De Berney, dying there alone in her locked room.

Upon every great love are stamped the words, "Not Transferable." Gradually, however, Balzac succeeded in making a partial transfer, or a transfer belief, of his affections. He wrote to Madame Hanska: "I tremble as I write you: will this be only a new bitterness? Will the skies for me ever again grow bright? I love you, my Unknown, and this strange thing is the natural effect of an empty and unhappy life, only filled with ideas."

The man had two immense desires—to be famous and to be loved. Madame Hanska had intellect, literary appreciation, imagination, and a great capacity for affection. She came into Balzac's life at the psychological moment, and he reached out and clung to her as a drowning man clings to a spar. And to the end of his life, let it be said, never did Balzac waver in his love and allegiance.

* * * * *

In the Spring of Eighteen Hundred Thirty-three, the Hanskas arranged for a visit to Switzerland, with Neufchatel as the special place in view. To travel at that time was a great undertaking—especially if you were rich. It is a great disadvantage to be rich: jewels, furniture, servants, horses—they own you, all: to take them or to leave them—which?

Madame Hanska wrote to Balzac saying the trip was under discussion.

That it was being seriously considered.

It had been decided upon.

Necessarily postponed two weeks to prepare to get ready to go.

The start would take place at a certain day and hour.

In the meantime Balzac had decided on a trip also, and the objective point was Neufchatel.

Balzac had to explain it all to somebody—it was just like a play! So he wrote to his sister. Monsieur Hanska was being utilized for a divine purpose, just as Destiny makes use of folks and treats them as chessmen upon the board of Time.

Madame Hanska was exquisitely beautiful, superbly witty, divinely wise and enormously rich: Balzac said so. In their letters they had already sworn eternal fealty; now they were to see each other face to face. All this Balzac wrote to his sister, just like a sophomore.

The Madame had purchased millinery; Balzac banked on his brain and his books.

The Hanskas arrived on the scene of the encounter first; this was stipulated. The Madame was to have a full week of preparation.

Balzac came one day ahead of time—a curious thing for him to do, as he used to explain away his failing by saying he was born a day late and never caught up. At the hotel where it was arranged he should locate was a letter saying he should meet his fate on the Twenty-sixth of September, two days later, between one and four in the afternoon, on the Promenade du Faubourg. Being a married woman she could not just say what hour she could get away. She would have with her a maid, and in her hand would be one of Balzac's novels. They were to meet quite casually, just as if they had always known each other—childhood acquaintances. They would shake hands and then discuss the Balzacian novel: the maid would be dismissed; and the next day Balzac would call at their villa to pay his respects to her husband.

But how to kill time for two days! Balzac was in a fever of unrest. That afternoon he strolled along the Faubourg looking at every passing face, intent on finding a beautiful woman with a Balzac novel in her hand.

Balzac had not demanded anatomical specifications—he had just assumed that "The Stranger" must be quite like Madame De Berney, only twenty years younger, and twenty times more beautiful. La Dilecta was tall and graceful: it was possible that Madame Hanska was scarcely as tall, or that is to say, being more round and better developed, she would not appear so tall.

The encounter was not scheduled for two days yet to come, but Balzac was looking over the ground hoping to get the sun to his back. When lo! here was a lady with a Balzac novel in her hand, and the book held at an angle of sixty-two degrees.

Balzac gasped for breath as the woman came forward and held out her hand. She wasn't handsome, but she certainly was pretty, even though her nose was retrousse, which is French for pug. Her hair was raven-black, her eyes sparkling, her lips red and her complexion fresh and bright.

But ye gods! she was short, damnably short, and in ten years she would be fat, damnably fat!

Balzac's own personal appearance never troubled him, save on the matter of height—or, rather, the lack of it. His one manifestation of vanity was that he wore high heels.

Balzac had concealed from the stranger his lack of height: it made no difference to Madame De Berney. Why should it to the Hanska—it was none of her affair, anyway, Mon Dieu! And now he felt as Ananias did when he kept back part of the price.

Madame was evidently disappointed. Balzac was very careless in attire, his shirt open at the collar, and on the back of his head was a student's cap. He wasn't a gentleman! Madame was laying the whip to her imagination, trying to be at ease, her red lips dry and her eyes growing bloodshot.

The servant was dismissed—it was like throwing over sand ballast from a balloon. Things grew less tense.

They looked at each other and laughed. "Let's make the best of it," said Balzac. Then they kissed there under the trees and he held her hands. They understood each other. They laughed together, and all disappointment was dissipated in the laugh. They understood each other.

Balzac wrote home to his sister that night about the meeting, and described the promenade as "a waddle Du Faubourg—a duck and a goose out for the air." He insisted, however, that Madame was very pretty, very wise and very rich.

The next day Balzac called at the villa and met Monsieur Hanska, and evidently won that gentleman's good-will at once. Balzac made him laugh, exorcising his megrims. Then Balzac played cards with him and obligingly lost. Hanska insisted that the great author should come back to dinner. Balzac agreed with him absolutely in politics, and as token of their friendship Monsieur Hanska presented Monsieur Balzac a gigantic inkstand.

Things were moving along smoothly, when two letters dispatched to Madame by Balzac were placed in the hands of Monsieur Hanska by a servant who evidently lacked the psychic instinct. An hour later, Balzac appeared in person, and when frigidly shown the letters explained that it was all a joke—that the letters were literature, to be used in a book, and were sent to Madame for her inspection, delectation and divertisement.

The very extravagance of the missives saved the day. Monsieur Hanska could not possibly believe that any one could love his wife in this intense fashion—he never had. People only get love-crazy in books.

Everybody laughed, and Monsieur Hanska ordered the waiter to bring in bottles of the juice of the grape, and all went as merry as a marriage-bell.

Five days of paradise, and the Hanskas went one way and Balzac went another. He was up before daylight the morning they were to go, pacing the Faubourg in the hope of catching just one more look at the object of his passion. But his quest was in vain—he took the diligence back to Paris, and duly arrived, tired and sore in body, but with a heart for work. Madame Hanska understood him—was that not enough?

* * * * *

After that first meeting in Switzerland, every event in Balzac's life had Madame Hanska in mind. The feminine intellect was an absolute necessity to him. After a hard day's work, he eased down to earth by writing to "The Stranger" a letter, playful, pathetic, philosophical: just an outpouring of the heart of a tired man—letters like those Swift wrote to Stella. He called it "resting my head in your lap."

It is quite possible that there is a little picturesque exaggeration in these letters, and that Balzac was not quite so lonely all the time as he was when he wrote to her. He compares her with the women he meets, always to her advantage, of course, and in his letters he constantly uses extracts from her letters, with phrases and peculiar words which she had discovered for him. For instance, in one place he calls a publisher a "rosbif ambulant," which phrase Madame Hanska had applied to a certain Englishman she once met in Saint Petersburg.

The letters of Madame Hanska to Balzac were given to the flames by his own hand a few years before his death, "being too sacred for the world"; but his letters to her have been preserved and published, except such parts as were too intimate for the public to appreciate properly.

The "Droll Stories" were written and published just before Balzac met Madame Hanska. He was much troubled as to what she would think of them, and tried for a time to keep the book out of her hands. Finally, however, he decided on a grandstand play. He had one of the books sumptuously bound, and this volume he inscribed to Monsieur Hanska and sent it with a message to the effect that it was a book for men only, and it was written merely as a study of certain phases of human nature, and to show the progress of the French language.

Of course, a book written for men only is bound to be read by every woman who can place her pretty hands upon it. And so the "Droll Stories" were carefully read by Madame, and the explanation accepted that they were merely a study in antique French, and illustrated one chapter in "The Human Comedy." As for Monsieur Hanska, he, being not quite so scientific as his gifted wife, read the stories for a different reason, and enjoyed them so much that they served him as a mine from which he lifted his original stuff.

The conception of "The Human Comedy," or a series of books that would run the entire gamut of human experience and picture every possible phase of human emotion, was the idea of Madame Hanska. In the year Eighteen Hundred Thirty-two she had written him: "No writer who has ever lived has possessed so wide a sympathy as you. Some picture courts and kings; others reveal to us beggars, peasants and those who struggle for bread; still others give charming views of children; while all men and women in love write love-stories; but you know every possible condition that can come to a human soul, and so you seem the only person who ever has written or could write the complete 'Human Comedy' in which every type of man, woman or child who ever lived shall have his part."

No wonder Balzac loved Madame Hanska—what writer would not love a woman who could place him on such a pedestal! Every writer has moments when he doubts his power, and so this assurance from Some One seems a necessity to one who is to do a great and sustained work. Balzac, he of the child-mind, needed the constant assurance that he was going forward in the right direction.

Balzac seized upon the phrase, "The Human Comedy," just as he seized upon anything which he could weave into the fabric he was constructing. And so finally came his formal announcement that he was to write the entire life of man, and picture every possible aspect of humanity, in a hundred books to be known as "La Comedie Humaine." It was a conception as great and daring as the plan of Pliny to write out all human knowledge, or the ambition of Newton as shown in the "Principia," or the works of Baron von Humboldt as revealed in the "Cosmos," or the idea of Herbert Spencer as bodied forth in the "Synthetic Philosophy."

* * * * *

All the time Balzac was looking forward to when he and Madame Hanska would next meet, or back to the meeting that had just taken place. Each year, for a few short, sweet days, they met in Switzerland or at some appointed place in Italy or France. Sometimes Monsieur Hanska was there and sometimes not. That worthy gentleman always seemed to feel a certain gratification in the thought that his wife was so attractive to the great author of the "Droll Stories," the only Balzac book he had really ever read.

That he did not even guess their true relation is very probable; he knew that his wife was something of a writer, and he was satisfied when he was told that she was helping Balzac in his literary undertakings. That he was not compelled to read the joint production, and pass judgment on it, gave him so much pleasure that he never followed up the clue.

On January Fifth, Eighteen Hundred Forty-two, Balzac received from Madame Hanska an envelope lined with ominous black: a mourning-envelope. He seized it with joy—placed it to his lips and then pressed it to his heart. Monsieur Hanska was dead—dead—very dead—he had vacated the preserve—gone—flown—departed, dead!

Balzac sat down and wrote a sham letter of condolence to the bereaved widow, and asked permission to go at once and console her. Had it been De Berney he would have gone, but with Madame Hanska he had first to obtain permission.

So he waited for her reply.

Her answer was strangely cold: Madame was in sore distress—children sick, peasants dissatisfied, business complications and so forth.

Balzac had always supposed that Monsieur Hanska was the one impediment that stood in the way of the full, complete and divine mating. Probably Madame thought so, too, until the time arrived, and then she discovered that she had gotten used to having her lover at a distance. She was thus able to manage him. But to live with him all the time—ye gods, was it possible!

The Madame had so long managed her marital craft in storm and stress, holding the bark steadily in the eye of the wind, that now the calm had come she did not know what to do, and Balzac in his gay-painted galley could not even paddle alongside.

She begged for time to settle her affairs. In three months they met in Switzerland. Madame was in deep mourning, and Balzac, not to be outdone, had an absurdly large and very black band on his hat. With Madame was her daughter, a fine young woman of twenty, whom the mother always now kept close to her, for prudential reasons. The daughter must have been pretty good quality, for she called Balzac, "My Fat Papa," and Balzac threatens Madame that he will run away with the daughter if the marriage is not arranged, and quickly too.

But Madame will not wed—not yet—she is afraid that marriage will dissolve her beautiful dream. In the meantime, she advances Balzac a large amount of money, several hundred thousand francs, to show her sincerity, and the money Balzac is to use in furnishing a house in Paris, where they will live as soon as they are married.

Balzac buys a snug little house and furnishes it with costly carved furniture, bronzes, rugs and old masters.

He waits patiently, or not, according to his mood, amid his beautiful treasures. And still Madame would not relinquish the sweet joys of widowhood.

In a year Madame Hanska arrives with her daughter. They are delighted with the house, and remain for a month, when pressing business in Poland calls them hence. Balzac accompanies them a hundred miles, and then goes back home to his "Human Comedy."

The years pass very much as they did when Monsieur Hanska was alive, only they miss that gentleman, having nobody now but the public to bamboozle, and the public having properly sized up the situation has become very apathetic—busy looking for morsels more highly spiced. Who in the world cares about what stout, middle-aged widows do, anyway!

* * * * *

Occasionally, in letters to Madame Hanska, Balzac referred to Madame De Berney. This seems to have caused Madame Hanska once to say, "Why do you so often refer to ancient history and tell me of that motherly body who once acted as your nurse, comparing me with her?"

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