"No, sir. It is in that bag on the table."
The old gentleman eagerly took up the bundle that lay on the table, and began with trembling fingers to open it.
"Wait a moment, Mr. Denny," said Mr. Franklin. "I should like to ask this man a question or two."
Mr. Denny paused, and there was a profound silence in the room.
"Lawrence Belford, if you are wise, you will speak the truth. That release is a forgery—or at least it has no legal value."
"It is not worth a straw," replied the prisoner with cool impudence; "and on the whole, I'm glad of it. The mortgage will be foreclosed to-morrow."
"Your share will be small, Mr. Belford. I am afraid your partner will find some difficulty in making a settlement with you, unless he joins you in prison."
Mr. Denny sat heavily down in an arm-chair and groaned aloud. In vain Alma, with choking voice, tried to comfort him. The blow was too terrible for words, and for a moment or two there was a painful silence in the room.
Mr. Franklin seemed nervous and excited. He fumbled in his pockets as if in search of something. Presently he advanced toward the old gentleman and said quietly:
"Mr. Denny, can you bear one more piece of news—one more link in this terrible chain of crime?"
"Yes," he replied slowly. "There can be nothing worse than this. Speak, my son—let us hear everything."
"I think, sir," said the young man reverently, "that I ought to thank God that He has enabled me to bring such knowledge as He has given me to your service."
Then after a brief pause he added:
"There is the will, sir."
With these words he held out a small bit of sheet glass about two inches square.
"Where?" cried Mr. Denny in amazement. "I see nothing."
"There it is—on that piece of glass. That dusky spot in the centre is a micro-photographic copy of your father's will."
"My son, my son, do not trifle with us in this our hour of trial."
"Far be it from me to do such a thing. Alma, will you please go to my room and bring down my lantern? And John, you may go and help Miss Denny. Bring a sheet from the spare bed also."
"I do not know what you mean, my son. You tell me the will is destroyed, and you say you have a copy. Is it a legal copy? and how do you know it is really my father's will? Have you read it?"
"Yes, sir. You shall read it too presently. I have already shown it to a lawyer, and he pronounced it correct and perfectly legal."
"But why did you not tell us of it before?"
"I have only had it a few days, sir, and I wished first to crush or capture this robber."
"Hadn't ye better let me take him off, sir?" said the sheriff. "He's done enough to take him afore the grand jury. Besides, we have another bitter bill against him down in the village."
"No," said Mr. Franklin. "Let him stay and see the will. It may interest him to know that all his villainous plans are utterly overthrown."
"Shut up, you whelp," said the man in the chair.
"Shut up—ye," replied the sheriff, administering a stout cuff to the prisoner's ear. "Ye best hold your tongue, man."
Just here Alma and John returned with the lantern. Under Elmer's directions they hung the sheet over one of the windows, and then the young man prepared his apparatus for a small trial of lantern projections. Mr. Denny sat in his chair silent and wondering. He knew not what to say or do, and watched these preparations with the utmost attention.
"Mr. Sheriff, if you please, you will stand near Mr. Belford, to prevent him from attempting mischief when I darken the room. John, you may put out all the candles save one."
Alma took her father's hand and kneeled upon the floor beside him as if to aid and comfort him.
"Now, John, set that candle just outside the door in the entry."
A sense of awe and fear fell on them all as the room became dark, and none save the young son of science dared breathe. Suddenly a round spot of light fell on the sheet, and its glare illuminated the room dimly.
"Before I show the will, Mr. Sheriff, I wish you to see a photo that may be of use to you in that little matter in the village of which you were speaking."
Two dusky figures slid over the disk of light. They grew more and more distinct.
"Great God! It's Alice Green!"
A passion of weeping filled the room, and Elmer opened the lantern, and the room became light. Alma, with her head bent upon her father's knee, was bathed in tears.
"Poor, poor lost Alice!"
"And the fellow with her? Who is he?" cried the sheriff.
"That is Mr. Belford—Mr. Lawrence Belford," said Elmer with cool confidence. "That picture was taken through a telescope from my room on the morning of the 13th."
"The 13th! Why, man, that was the day she was missed."
"Yes. Mr. Belford was with her that day, and perhaps he can explain her disappearance."
The prisoner groaned in abject terror and misery. He saw it all now. His dream pictures were explained. His defeat and detection were accomplished through the young man's science. That he should have been overthrown by such simple means filled him with mortification and anger.
"You shall have the picture, Mr. Sheriff. You may need it at the trial. And now for the will."
The room became again dark, and the figures on the wall stood out sharp and distinct on the sheet. Then the picture faded away, and in its place appeared writing—letters in black upon white ground:
"SALMON FALLS, June 1, 1863.
"I, Edward Denny, do hereby leave and bequeath to my son, John Denny, all of my property, both real and personal. All other wills I have made are hereby annulled. My near death prevents a more formal will.
"JOHN MAXWELL, M.D."
"My father's will. Thank——"
There was a heavy fall, and Elmer opened his lantern quickly. It was too much for the old man. He had fallen upon the floor insensible.
"A light, John, quick."
They lifted him tenderly, and with Alma's help the old sheriff and the serving man took him away to his room.
The moment the two men were alone, the prisoner in the chair broke out in a torrent of curses and threats. The young man quietly took up his revolver, and said sternly:
"Lawrence Belford, hold your peace. Your threats are idle. You insulted me outrageously the day I came here. I bear you no malice, but when you attempted your infamous plan to capture my cousin and to ruin her father, I sprang to their rescue with such skill as I could command. We shall not pursue you with undue rigor, but with perfect justice——"
"Oh, Mr. Franklin, have mercy upon me! Let me go! Let me escape before they return. I will go away—far away! Save me, save me, sir! I never harmed you. Have mercy upon me!"
"Had you shown mercy perhaps I might now. No, sir; justice before mercy. Hark—the officer comes."
They unfastened the ropes about Belford, and released the wires, and in silence he went away into the night, a broken-down, crushed, and ruined man in the hands of his grisly Nemesis.
The young man flung himself upon the lounge in the library, and in a moment was fast asleep.
* * * * *
The red gold of the coming day crept up the eastern sky. The storm became beautiful in its fleecy rains in the far south. As the stars paled, the sweet breath of the cool west wind sprang up, shaking the raindrops in showers from the trees. The birds sang and the day came on apace.
To one who watched it seemed the coming of a fairer day than had ever shone upon her life. The vanished storm, the fresh aspect of nature moved her to tears of happiness. Long had she watched the stars. They were the first signs of light and comfort she had discovered, and now they paled before the sun. Thus she sat by the open window in the library and watched with a prayer in her heart.
She looked at the mantel clock. Half past four. In half an hour the house would be stirring. All was now safe. She could return to her room. She rose and approached the sleeper on the lounge. He slept peacefully, as if the events of the night disturbed him not.
He smiled in his dreams, and murmured a name indistinctly. She drew back hastily and put her hand over her mouth, while a bright blush mounted to her face. Just here, through the sweet, still air of the morning, came the sound of the village bell. Tears gathered in her eyes and fell unheeded upon her hands, clasped before her.
She turned toward the sleeper with a startled cry. He was awake and sitting up.
"What bell is that?"
"It is tolling. They have found her."
"Yes, it is a sad story. Alma?"
She advanced toward him. He noticed her tears and the morning robe in which she was dressed.
"What is it, Elmer? Do you feel better?"
"Yes. It was a sorry night for us."
"Yes, the storm has cleared away."
He did not seem to heed what she said.
"How long have you been up?"
"Since it happened. After I saw father up stairs, I came down and found you here asleep. And Elmer—forgive me—it was wrong, but I did not mean to stay here so long——"
"You will pardon me?"
"Oh! Pardon you—pardon you—why should I? I dreamed the angels watched me."
"I was anxious, and we owe you so much. We can never reward you—never!"
"Reward, Alma! I want none—save——"
He opened his arms wide. A new and beautiful light came into her eyes.
"Can there be greater reward than love?"
"No. Love is the best reward—and it is yours."
THE MURDER OF MARGARY.
Our own politics have so absorbed the attention of the press and the public for the last six months, that events of decided international prominence have attracted merely a brief notice, instead of the careful discussion which their importance warranted. Even the "Eastern question," that has so long kept the European world in a state of excitement and anxiety almost as intense and even more painful than that in which our own country is now plunged, excited but a fitful interest here. It was only by an effort that we could extend our political horizon as far east as Constantinople. All beyond was comparative darkness. In this darkness, however, history has gone steadily on accumulating new and important data, which must be taken note of if we would keep up with the record of the times.
The term "Eastern question" has come to mean the political complications arising from the presence of the Turkish empire in Europe. The expression might much more appropriately be applied to the serious difficulties that have for the last year and a half existed between the governments of England and China, and which have, as it now appears, been brought to a reasonably satisfactory conclusion. These difficulties sprang out of the murder of an English subject, Augustus Raymond Margary by name, who was travelling in an official capacity in a remote part of the Chinese empire. They were still further complicated by an almost simultaneous attack upon a British exploring expedition that had just crossed the Chinese frontier from Burmah, with the intention of surveying and opening up to trade an overland route between that country and the Middle Kingdom. To understand the matter it will be necessary to give a brief recapitulation of some events that went before.
The vast importance of establishing an overland trade route between India and China will be seen by a glance at the map. It has been the unrealized dream of generations of India and China merchants. "The trade route of the future" it has been called; and when we consider the vast marts of commerce that such a highway would bring in direct contact, it is impossible to think the name thus enthusiastically given an exaggeration. An overland passage between China and Burmah has long been known and made use of by the native merchants of these countries. From time immemorial it has served as a highway for invading armies or peaceful caravans. How highly the two governments appreciated its importance to the commercial prosperity of their respective subjects is shown by the clause in a treaty concluded by them in 1769, which stipulated that the "gold and silver road" between the two countries should always be kept open. European travellers in Eastern lands, from the ubiquitous Marco Polo down, have also done their best to call attention to it. It may therefore seem somewhat strange that England, the commercial interest of whose Indian empire would be most directly promoted by the opening up of this new channel of trade, should have gone so long without paying much official attention to the matter. Recent events, however, have proved, what was probably foreseen by those whose business it was to study up the subject, that there were grave practical difficulties to be overcome before the plan could be successfully carried out.
In the first place it was necessary to secure the consent of both the Burmese and Chinese governments—a task of almost insurmountable difficulty because of the natural dislike of these two powers to share with another the trade monopoly they had heretofore exclusively enjoyed. Then again there lies between the civilizations of India and China a broad tract of wild and mountainous country, inhabited by a mongrel race of savages, known as Shans and Kakhyens, who, while nominally owing allegiance to one or the other of their more civilized neighbors, practically find their chief support in levying blackmail on all people passing through their territory.
To fit out an exploring expedition strong enough to defy the attacks of the savages, and yet small enough not to convey the idea of an invasion, was, therefore, a work requiring much patience and diplomacy. At length, however, in 1867, the British Government in India succeeded in gaining the consent of the King of Burmah to the passage through his dominions of a mission combining the necessary strength and limits. Under the command of Major Slade, this little army made its way safely through the debatable land of the Kakhyens and Shans, and, entering the province of Yunnan, penetrated as far into the Chinese empire as the city of Momien. But here its further progress was checked.
Yunnan was at the moment in the very crisis of a rebellion against the imperial government. The population of the province is largely Mohammedan. How the religion of the Prophet first obtained so firm a foothold there is still for antiquaries to discover. A semi-historical legend says that the germs of the faith were planted by a colony of Arabs who settled in the country more than a thousand years ago. However this may be, it is certain that the first Mohammedans were not Chinese. By intermarriage, propagation, and adoption, they slowly but steadily communicated their belief to the original inhabitants, until, at the time of which we are writing, more than a tenth of the ten million inhabitants were fanatical Mussulmans. To the mixed race that embrace this creed the general name of Panthays has been given, though for what reason is not known.
In 1855 the Panthays, oppressed, it is said, by the Chinese officials, rose up in rebellion against the imperial government. Led by an obscure Chinese follower of Mohammed, called Tu-win-tsen, the insurrection grew rapidly in extent and success. One imperial city after the other fell into the hands of the rebels, until the entire western section of the province was in their possession and organized as a separate and independent nation, under the sovereignty of Tu-win-tsen, who had in the mean while assumed the more euphonious title of Sultan Soleiman.
It was when Soleiman had attained the height of his glory that Major Slade's party entered Yunnan, and it was with him as the governor de facto that the British commander entered into negotiations. Such a proceeding, though it may have been necessary, was fatal to the further progress of the expedition. The Chinese authorities naturally refused to pass on a party that had, however innocently, entered into friendly relations with its rebellious subjects. Major Slade had the good sense to understand this. The mission retraced its steps into Burmah, and the exploration of the "trade route of the future" was indefinitely postponed.
The visit of the English party to Momien was the signal for a rapid downfall of Soleiman's power. The imperial government, seriously alarmed at the practical recognition of the rebels' independence by an outside power, now put forth all its might to reestablish its authority. It was successful.
Under the energetic command of one Li-sieh-tai, a famous general who had once himself been a rebel, the Chinese armies wrested back the country, foot by foot, to its former governors. In 1872 Tali-fu, the last and most important stronghold of the rebellion, was closely invested. After a desperate resistance, it was obliged to open its gates.
The end of Soleiman was dramatic in the extreme. He was told that his followers should be spared if he himself would surrender. He agreed to the terms, and, after administering a dose of poison to himself, his three wives and five children, he mounted his chair, and was borne to the camp of his enemies, where he arrived a corpse sitting erect, the imperial turban on his head and the keys of his capital clasped tightly in his hand. His head, preserved in honey, was sent to Peking. The imperial troops poured into Tali-fu. A general massacre occurred. Those Mohammedans that were not slaughtered fled to the mountains, where they still continued to keep up a guerilla warfare. But the rebellion was practically at an end, and by 1874 the authority of the central government was firmly established throughout the province.
The trade between Burmah and China, which had ceased almost entirely during the long years of the rebellion, again sprang into activity, and once more the attention of the Indian government was attracted to it. In 1874 a new expedition of exploration was prepared and placed under the command of Colonel Browne. The consent of the King of Burmah was obtained, and the British minister in Peking, Mr. Thomas Wade, was instructed to explain the object of the mission to the Chinese government, so that it might receive no opposition upon crossing the Chinese frontier. It was also arranged that a special messenger should be despatched from Peking across China to the frontier to act as interpreter to the expedition, and to prepare the mandarins along the route for its approach. For this responsible and dangerous service, Augustus Raymond Margary was selected—a young man attached to the English consular department, a perfect master of the Chinese language and customs, and a fine type of the best class of young Englishmen.
Provided with the necessary passports from the British minister, countersigned by the Tsung-li-yamen, the Chinese foreign office, Mr. Margary started on his journey. He went up the Yangtsze river as far as Hankow in one of the huge American steamers of the Shanghai Steam Navigation Company. At Hankow, on September 4, 1874, he bade good-by to Western civilization, and, with a Chinese teacher and two or three Chinese attendants, began his trip through a vast and populous country, a terra incognita to Europeans.
His diary of this journey has recently been published. It is interesting in the extreme, though devoid of those startling episodes that generally give charm to accounts of travels in unexplored lands.
He has no old theories to prove and no ambition to start new ones, but simply jots down his impressions of people and things with no attempt at elaboration. The result is, we have a plain, faithful, unvarnished picture of Chinese life and manners, as seen by an intelligent, unprejudiced man. Upon the whole, we think this picture most decidedly favorable to the Chinese character.
Did space permit, we should like to follow Mr. Margary, stage by stage, through his long journey of 900 miles. The first part, through the provinces of Yunnan and Kwei-chow as far as the city of Ch'en-yuan-fu, was made by boat—a long and monotonous trip of four weeks, through a country so picturesque that the "sight was at last completely satiated with the perpetual view of the most glorious scenery that ever made the human heart leap with wonder and delight."
At Ch'en-yuan-fu he exchanged his boat for a chair, in which he completed his journey; traversing Kwei-chow and Yunnan, and the debatable hill land that lies between the latter province and Burmah; arriving in Bhamo, on the Burmese side of the border, on January 17, 1875, where he joined the expedition of Colonel Browne that was advancing to meet him.
Except in two or three instances, he was treated with courtesy by the people and respect by the officials. In the exceptional cases a display of his Chinese passports sufficed to quickly change the demeanor of the mandarins; while a few calm words of rebuke upon their want of politeness generally caused popular mobs to disperse abashed. An instance of this is given by him in his account of his stay at Lo-shan, a small naval station on the Yangtsze. In returning from a visit to the mandarin of the place, he was surrounded by a dense crowd of street rabble, leaping and screaming like maniacs, and shouting to one another: "I say! Come along. Here's a foreigner. What a lark! Ha, ha, ha!" Margary descended from his chair and delivered a short address:
"Why do you crowd round me in this rude manner? Is this your courtesy to strangers? I have often heard it said that China was of all things distinguished for civility and courtesy. But am I to take this as a specimen of it? Shall I go back and tell my countrymen that your boasted civility only amounts to rudeness?" "I was astonished," he adds, "at the effect this speech produced. They listened with silence, and when I had done walked quietly back quite abashed. Only a few remained; and over and again after this many an irrepressible youngster was severely rebuked for any sign of disrespect by his elders."
Contrast this with the effect which such a speech as that of Margary's, delivered by a Chinaman, would have had upon an English or American mob, and we cannot repress a slight feeling of sympathy with the natives of the Flowery Kingdom when they call us "outside barbarians."
His Chinese letters of recommendation, given him by the Tsung-li-yamen to the viceroys of the three great provinces through which he passed, proved of inestimable value. In the viceroy of Yunnan especially he found an unexpected ally and friend, who issued instructions to the officials all along the road to receive the foreigner with the utmost respect. The extent to which these instructions were carried out depended, of course, very largely on the temperament of the local mandarins. "Some were obsequious, others reserved, but most of them met me with high bred courtesy worthy of praise, and such as befits a welcome from man to man."
"Taking all these experiences together," says Sir Rutherford Alcock, formerly British minister to China, a gentleman by no means inclined to judge Chinese officials favorably, "the impression left is decidedly to the advantage of the central government so far as the bona fides of the safe-conduct given is concerned."
A great deal of Margary's success was also undoubtedly due to his personal magnetism and thorough acquaintance with Chinese habits. Indeed, no one can read this diary without deriving from it a high idea of the genuine attractiveness and solidity of the author's character. In sickness, in trouble, in delay, in vexation, there runs through it all a refreshing, manly, Anglo-Saxon spirit. Knowing as we do what is coming, we find ourselves involuntarily catching with hope at little incidents that seem to delay onward march. Reading these pages, it is impossible to realize that he who wrote them is dead. It is with a mournful feeling of utter and fatalistic helplessness that we follow this young and generous hero while he travels, all unconsciously, down to his death. To the very last all seems to go well with him. At Manwyne, the last city on his journey, the renowned and dreaded Li-sieh-tai, the suppressor of the Mohammedan rebellion, actually prostrated himself before him and paid him the highest honors, warning the assembled chiefs of the savage hill people that they had best take good care of the stranger, as he came protected by an imperial passport.
On the 16th of February, 1875, Colonel Browne's expedition, accompanied by Margary, broke up their camp at Tsitkaw, in Burmah, and advanced toward the Chinese frontier.
Arrangements had been made with the practically independent chieftains of this wild region for the safe passage of the party through the hilly country. As it advanced, however, ominous rumors of a projected attack by the hill savages and Chinese frontiersmen reached the ears of its members. Though these rumors were generally discredited, it was thought best to send forward Margary as a pioneer, he being well known to the people and officials of the Chinese border town of Manwyne. Margary willingly undertook the mission. With his Chinese teacher and attendants, he hastened on in advance, the rest of the expedition following more slowly. The last communications that came from him were dated "Seray," a town just inside the Chinese frontier. He reported that thus far the road was unmolested and the people civil. On the strength of these advices, Colonel Browne pressed on, crossed the Chinese frontier, and advanced as far as Seray. It was here, on the morning of February 21, that Margary and his attendants had all been murdered, near Manwyne.
Hardly had the news been communicated when it was found that the expedition was surrounded by a large body of armed men, who instantly began an attack. The assailants, a motley crowd of Kakhyens and Chinese border men, were soon repulsed; but as reports came streaming in that large bodies of Chinese train bands were advancing to their aid, it was thought best to beat a retreat. This was safely effected, and by the 26th of February the expedition found itself once more at Bhamo. Thus mournfully ended the second attempt to explore "the trade route of the future."
* * * * *
The mere fact that a British subject had been murdered, and a British exploring expedition attacked on Chinese soil, would in itself have created a grave subject for diplomatic discussion between the governments of England and China. But the matter was rendered doubly serious by the presence of many circumstances tending to show that the outrage had been committed with the tacit connivance, if not at the direct instigation, of the provincial authorities of Yunnan. The whole affair, it was claimed, was not the result of an outbreak of booty-seeking savages, but the culmination of a systematic plot on the part of the Chinese officials.
In laying the matter before Prince Kung, Mr. Wade, the English minister, plainly implied that such was his opinion, and demanded from the Chinese government the promptest and most searching investigation.
An imperial decree was at once issued, commanding the governor of Yunnan to proceed at once to the spot and enter upon a thorough examination of the case. Mr. Wade, however, demanded some securer guarantee that strict justice should be done. He submitted to the Tsung-li-yamen an ultimatum containing three principal conditions: that such British officials as he might see fit to appoint should go to Yunnan and assist at the investigation; that passports should be immediately issued, to enable another expedition to enter Yunnan by the same route; and that a sum of $150,000 be placed in his hands as a guarantee of good faith. The Chinese government demurred at first to these demands, but the threat of Mr. Wade to leave Peking unless they were accepted before a certain day finally caused it to give a reluctant consent. Some months were then spent in diplomatic wrangling over the conditions under which the British officials should proceed to Yunnan, and what their powers should be on their arrival there. The Chinese government showed, in the opinion of Mr. Wade, a strong desire to avoid fulfilling its part of the contract. The negotiations on several occasions assumed an acute character of danger. Both parties prepared for war. The English minister concentrated the English fleet in the China seas; the Chinese government bought up large supplies of arms and ammunition. But Prince Kung and his advisers had the good sense to see that the chances in a struggle of arms would be too unequal, and always submitted at the last moment. At last the Chinese government, having agreed to all the preliminary conditions, and having also despatched a high officer, Li-hang-chang, to Yunnan to thoroughly investigate the affair, "without regard to persons," the British minister agreed to let the English mission of investigation proceed. Mr. Grosvenor, a secretary of legation, was placed at its head. Li-hang-chang went on in advance.
This high official seems to have done his duty in a spirit of strict impartiality. His reports to the government make no attempt to conceal the guilt of the provincial officials, or to shield them from deserved punishment. He immediately ordered the arrest of the general commanding at Momien and a number of other local officers, pushing his inquiries with vigor and with what appears a sincere desire to arrive at the ground facts. In the course of his labors he came to the conclusion that Li-sieh-tai, whom we have already mentioned, was one of the instigators, probably the chief one, of the attack on the mission. He at once memorialized the throne to have him arrested and brought up for trial. In this memorial he gives what seems to us, upon an unprejudiced comparison of testimony, the truest version of the affair. He believes the murder of Margary and his attendants to have been the work of "lawless offenders," greedy of gain, but that the attack upon Colonel Browne's party was made at the secret instigation of Li-sieh-tai and other provincial officials, although that general was not on the spot, nor were there any soldiers concerned in the assault. He shows that Li-sieh-tai had already written to the governor of Yunnan, telling him that he (Li) was "taking vigorous measures to protect the region against invasion," and that the governor had written back commanding him to stop all further proceedings and quiet the apprehensions of the people. This command, however, was not received until after the murder and attack had taken place. "It appears from this, consequently" (the report adds), "that although Li-sieh-tai had no intention of committing murder, he is liable to a charge of having laid plans to obstruct the expedition; and your servants have agreed, after taking counsel together, that he should not be suffered to take advantage of his official rank as a cover for lying evasions, gaining time with false statements, in dread of incurring punishment."
Immediately upon receipt of this memorial a decree appeared in the Peking "Gazette" ordering Li-sieh-tai to be degraded from his rank, and commanding him to proceed at once to Yunnan for trial before the high commission.
As we have said before, we think Li-hang-chang's account is substantially correct. There are a great many circumstances tending to exculpate Li-sieh-tai from any wish to have Margary murdered. Had such been his wish, he might more easily have disposed of him when he passed through en route for Burmah. Moreover, at the very time of Margary's murder, Mr. Elias, a member of the expedition, who had struck off from the main body in order to explore another route to Momien, was entertained by Li-sieh-tai at Muangnow, a town at some distance from the seat of the murder. Though completely in his power, Mr. Elias received all possible civility compatible with a determined and successful opposition to his further advance. Now it seems absurd to believe that Li-sieh-tai felt any stronger personal dislike for Margary than he felt for Mr. Elias.
In regard to his complicity in the attack on the expedition, the evidence is just as strong on the other side. He had a deep and by no means unnatural prejudice against English exploring parties. The last mission of the kind had entered into negotiations, as we have already mentioned, with the enemies against whom this Chinese general was prosecuting bitter war. The smouldering embers of the rebellion were not even yet entirely extinguished; the presence of an armed body of foreigners, no matter how small, who had previously shown a friendly disposition toward the Mohammedan usurpation, might awaken new hopes in the breasts of the still surviving rebels. This feeling, combined with the jealous wish of the border merchants, both Chinese and Burmese, to retain a monopoly of the overland trade, undoubtedly inspired a general feeling of hostility among the local officials and the people, which found a ready instrument in the greedy and savage character of the frontier tribes. Where so much combustible matter was heaped up, it needed but a hint to bring on the catastrophe that followed.
While Li-hang-chang and the Chinese commission were conducting the preliminary investigations, Mr. Grosvenor and his colleagues were approaching. Their journey across the empire was attended not only with no opposition or difficulty, but they were received everywhere with great and even obsequious respect. Upon arriving in Yunnan they found an immense pile of evidence awaiting their inspection. Mr. Grosvenor's report has not yet been published, we believe, but from general rumor, and the fact that nothing has been heard to the contrary, we are justified in believing that he found the state of the case to be substantially as it was reported by the Chinese high commissioner. After having reviewed the evidence presented, after having witnessed the execution of a number of wretches convicted of direct complicity in the murder of Margary, the Grosvenor commission pursued its way, escorted by troops that had been despatched from Burmah for the purpose.
Diplomatic negotiations were once more transferred to Peking, and turned upon the compensation to be offered by China for the violation of international law that had occurred upon her soil. The demands of the British minister, who had in the mean time been knighted as Sir Thomas Wade by the Queen, as a just acknowledgment of his efficient services, were considered too severe by the Chinese government, and at one time it looked as if all further negotiations would be broken off.
Sir Thomas finally carried his threat to leave Peking into execution. Prince Kung had evidently not expected so decided a step, and was seriously alarmed by it, for the Chinese government have shown throughout the affair a very wise disposition not to push matters to the last extreme. Li-wang-chang (a brother, we believe, of the official who was sent to Yunnan), the governor of the province of Chihli, the highest and most powerful statesman in the country, was immediately granted extraordinary powers, and sent after the English minister. After some diplomatic fencing Sir Thomas agreed to meet the Chinese envoy at Chefoo—a seaport about half way between Shanghai and Peking, a great summer resort of the foreigners in China—the Newport of the eastern world. Here, in the month of September, 1876, with much surrounding pomp and ceremony, a convention was signed between the English and the Chinese plenipotentiaries. The final settlement of the difficulty was celebrated by a grand banquet, given by Li-wang-chang to Sir Thomas and the other foreign ambassadors, who had been drawn to Chefoo by their interest in the negotiations.
The following is a synopsis of the agreement:
1. An imperial edict to be published throughout the Chinese empire, setting forth the facts of the affair, subject to the directions and approval of the British minister.
2. Consular officials to visit the various towns and public places to see that the said imperial edict is posted where all can see it.
3. The family of Margary to be paid about $250,000 indemnity.
4. A further indemnity to be given, covering all expenses of the unsuccessful expedition under Colonel Browne.
5. A special embassy of apology to be sent to England.
Then follow a number of concessions with regard to placing on a better footing the relations of foreign ambassadors to the Chinese authorities, the enlargement of the foreign settlement at Shanghai, etc.
But by far the most important clause is that opening up to foreign trade four new ports on the Yangtsze river. This concession is virtually equivalent to throwing open the whole interior of the country to foreign merchants.
Altogether the British minister has certainly won a triumph that well deserved a knighthood.
Undoubtedly he had a very strong indictment against the Chinese authorities, although we cannot help regarding the matter of the murder and the attack as more the misfortune than the fault of the central government. Nevertheless, western nations are fully justified in rigidly holding the Peking authorities responsible for any violation of international duties committed anywhere within their jurisdiction; and it is not only fair, but expedient, that when such cases do occur some practical and important reparation should be made for them. The concessions obtained by Sir Thomas Wade, though sweeping, are not, in our opinion, excessive. On the other hand, the Chinese government by granting them has fully satisfied the demands of justice. It could not have gone further without losing the respect and incurring the dangerous opposition of its people. Indeed, throughout the negotiations Prince Kung and his advisers have had to contend against a powerful anti-foreign party in the court and the nation. Strong fears were entertained more than once that the reactionary element would get the upper hand. Some idea of Prince Kung's difficulties may be conceived when we read that one morning the walls of Peking were found covered with placards bitterly denouncing the policy of the government, and calling upon all good subjects to rise up against such unpatriotic leaders.
When Li-wang-chang, who enjoys great popularity in his province, was en route for Chefoo to negotiate with Sir Thomas Wade, the people of Tien-tsin made the most determined efforts to prevent him from going further. For a time he was literally besieged in his own yamen, and it was only by the publication of a proclamation warning the people that they were guilty of rebellion against the emperor when they hindered the progress of his representatives, that the opposition was withdrawn.
Sir Thomas deserves the highest praise for going just far enough and no further in his demands. Yet the last mail from China brings the news that the foreign residents there are intensely dissatisfied with the result of the settlement. This was to be expected. Any settlement short of one effected by war would have met the disapproval of these gentry. The interests of the Chinese and the foreign merchants are too antagonistic to admit of impartial judgment on questions of this sort. England, in their opinion, could gain greater concessions by war than by negotiations—ergo, they would have all such troubles settled by "blood and iron."
The London "Times" puts it very well when it says:
"Those Englishmen who reside in the treaty ports are not impartial judges of the concessions. Too often they go to Canton or Shanghai in a frame of mind that would exasperate a much less vain people than the Chinese. They sometimes talk as if they thought it a mere impertinence on the part of an inferior race to have a pride of its own, and they act as if the chief end of the Chinese were to minister to the demands of British trade."
WALTER A. BURLINGAME.
THE LETTERS OF HONORE DE BALZAC.
The first feeling of the reader of the two volumes which have lately been published under the foregoing title is that he has almost done wrong to read them. He reproaches himself with having taken a shabby advantage of a person who is unable to defend himself. He feels as one who has broken open a cabinet or rummaged an old desk. The contents of Balzac's letters are so private, so personal, so exclusively his own affairs and those of no one else, that the generous critic constantly lays them down with a sort of dismay, and asks himself in virtue of what peculiar privilege, or what newly discovered principle it is, that he is thus burying his nose in them. Of course he presently reflects that he has not broken open a cabinet nor violated a desk, but that these repositories have been very freely and confidently emptied into his lap. The two stout volumes of the "Correspondence de H. de Balzac, 1819-1850," lately put forth, are remarkable, like many other French books of the same sort, for the almost complete absence of editorial explanation or introduction. They have no visible sponsor; only a few insignificant lines of preface and the scantiest possible supply of notes. Such as the book is, in spite of its abruptness, we are thankful for it; in spite, too, of our bad conscience. What we mean by our bad conscience is the feeling with which we see the last remnant of charm, of the graceful and the agreeable, removed from Balzac's literary physiognomy. His works had not left much of this favoring shadow, but the present publication has let in the garish light of full publicity. The grossly, inveterately professional character of all his activity, the absence of leisure, of contemplation, of disinterested experience, the urgency of his consuming money-hunger—all this is rudely exposed. It is always a question whether we have a right to investigate a man's life for the sake of anything but his official utterances—his results. The picture of Balzac's career which is given in these letters is a record of little else but painful processes, unrelieved by reflections or speculations, by any moral or intellectual emanation. To prevent misconception, however, we hasten to add that they tell no disagreeable secrets; they contain nothing for the lovers of scandal. Balzac was a very honest man, but he was a man almost tragically uncomfortable, and the unsightly underside of his discomfort stares us full in the face. Still, if his personal portrait is without ideal beauty, it is by no means without a certain brightness, or at least a certain richness of coloring. Huge literary ogre as he was, he was morally nothing of a monster. His heart was capacious, and his affections vigorous; he was powerful, coarse, and kind.
The first letter in the series is addressed to his elder sister, Laure, who afterward became Mme. de Surville, and who, after her illustrious brother's death, published in a small volume some agreeable reminiscences of him. For this lady he had, especially in his early years, a passionate affection. He had in 1819 come up to Paris from Touraine, in which province his family lived, to seek his fortune as a man of letters. The episode is a strange and gloomy one. His vocation for literature had not been favorably viewed at home, where money was scanty; but the parental consent, or rather the parental tolerance, was at last obtained for his experiment. The future author of the "Pere Goriot" was at this time but twenty years of age, and in the way of symptoms of genius had nothing but a very robust self-confidence to show. His family, who had to contribute to his support while his masterpieces were a-making, appear to have regretted, the absence of further guarantees. He came to Paris, however, and lodged in a garret, where the allowance made him by his father kept him neither from shivering nor from nearly starving. The situation had been arranged in a way very characteristic of French manners. The fact that Honore had gone to Paris was kept a secret from the friends of the family, who were told that he was on a visit to a cousin in the South. He was on probation, and if he failed to acquire literary renown, his excursion should be hushed up. This pious fraud did not contribute to the comfort of the young scribbler, who was afraid to venture abroad by day lest he should be seen by an acquaintance of the family. Balzac must have been at this time miserably poor. If he goes to the theatre, he has to pay for the pleasure by fasting. He wishes to see Talma (having to go to the play, to keep up the fiction of his being in the South, in a latticed box). "I shall end by giving in.... My stomach already trembles." Meanwhile he was planning a tragedy of "Cromwell," which came to nothing, and writing the "Heritiere de Birague," his first novel, which he sold for one hundred and sixty dollars. Through these early letters, in spite of his chilly circumstances, there flows a current of youthful ardor, gayety, and assurance. Some passages in his letters to his sister are a sort of explosion of animal spirits:
Ah, my sister, what torments it gives us—the love of glory! Long live grocers! they sell all day, count their gains in the evening, take their pleasure from time to time at some frightful melodrama—and behold them happy! Yes, but they pass their time between cheese and soap. Long live rather men of letters! Yes, but these are all beggars in pocket, and rich only in conceit. Well, let us leave them all alone, and long live every one!
Elsewhere he scribbles: "Farewell, soror! I hope to have a letter sororis to answer sorori, then to see sororem," etc. Later, after his sister is married, he addresses her as "the box that contains everything pleasing; the elixir of virtue, grace, and beauty; the jewel, the phenomenon of Normandy; the pearl of Bayeux, the fairy of St. Lawrence, the virgin of the Rue Teinture, the guardian angel of Caen, the goddess of enchantments, the treasure of friendship."
We shall continue to quote, without the fear of our examples exceeding, in the long run, our commentary. "Find me some widow, a rich heiress," he writes to his sister at Bayeux, whither her husband had taken her to live. "You know what I mean. Only brag about me. Twenty-two years old, a good fellow, good manners, a bright eye, fire, the best dough for a husband that heaven has ever kneaded. I will give you five per cent. on the dowry." "Since yesterday," he writes in another letter, "I have given up dowagers and have come down to widows of thirty. Send all you find to Lord Rhoone [this remarkable improvisation was one of his early noms de plume]; that's enough—he is known at the city limits. Take notice. They are to be sent prepaid, without crack or repair, and they are to be rich and amiable. Beauty isn't required. The varnish goes, and the bottom of the pot remains!"
Like many other young men of ability, Balzac felt the little rubs—or the great ones—of family life. His mother figures largely in these volumes (she survived her glorious son), and from the scattered reflection of her idiosyncrasies the attentive reader constructs a sufficiently vivid portrait. She was the old middle-class Frenchwoman whom he has so often seen—devoted, active, meddlesome, parsimonious, exacting veneration, and expending zeal. Honore tells his sister:
The other day, coming back from Paris much bothered, it never occurred to me to thank maman for a black coat which she had had made for me; at my age one isn't particularly sensitive to such a present. Nevertheless, it would not have cost me much to seem touched by the attention, especially as it was a sacrifice. But I forgot it. Maman began to pout, and you know what her aspect and her face amount to at those moments. I fell from the clouds, and racked my brain to know what I had done. Happily Laurence [his younger sister] came and notified me, and two or three words as fine as amber mended maman's countenance. The thing is nothing—a mere drop of water; but it's to give you an example of our manners. Ah, we are a jolly set of originals in our holy family. What a pity I can't put us into novels!
His father wished to find him an opening in some profession, and the thought of being made a notary was a bugbear to the young man: "Think of me as dead, if they cap me with that extinguisher." And yet, in the next sentence, he breaks out into a cry of desolate disgust at the aridity of his actual circumstances: "They call this mechanical rotation living—this perpetual return of the same things. If there were only something to throw some charm or other over my cold existence. I have none of the flowers of life, and yet I am in the season in which they bloom. What will be the use of fortune and pleasures when my youth has departed? What need of the garments of an actor if one no longer plays a part? An old man is a man who has dined, and who watches others eat; and I, young as I am—my plate is empty, and I am hungry. Laure, Laure, my two only and immense desires, to be famous and to be loved—will they ever be satisfied?"
These occasional bursts of confidence in his early letters to his sister are (with the exception of certain excellent pages, addressed in the last years of his life to the lady he eventually married) Balzac's most delicate, most emotional utterances. There is a touch of the ideal in them. Later, one wonders where he keeps his ideal. He has one of course, artistically, but it never peeps out. He gives up talking sentiment, and he never discusses "subjects"; he only talks business. Meanwhile, however, at this period, business was increasing with him. He agrees to write three novels for eight hundred and twenty dollars. Here begins the inextricable mystery of Balzac's literary promises, pledges, projects, and contracts. His letters form a swarming register of schemes and bargains through which he passes like a hero of the circus, riding half a dozen piebald coursers at once. We confess that in this matter we have been able to keep no sort of account; the wonder is that Balzac should have accomplished the feat himself. After the first year or two of his career, we never see him working upon a single tale; his productions dovetail and overlap, and dance attendance upon each other in the most bewildering fashion. As soon as one novel is fairly on the stocks he plunges into another, and while he is rummaging in this with one hand, he stretches out a heroic arm and breaks ground in a third. His plans are always vastly in advance of his performance; his pages swarm with titles of books that were never to be written. The title circulates with such an assurance that we are amazed to find, fifty pages later, that there is no more of it than of the cherubic heads. With this, Balzac was constantly paid in advance by his publishers—paid for works not begun, or barely begun; and the money was as constantly spent before the equivalent had been delivered. Meanwhile more money was needed, and new novels were laid out to obtain it; but prior promises had first to be kept. Keeping them, under these circumstances, was not an exhilarating process; and readers familiar with Balzac will reflect with wonder that these were yet the circumstances in which some of his best tales were written. They were written, as it were, in the fading light, by a man who saw night coming on, and yet couldn't afford to buy candles. He could only hurry. But Balzac's way of hurrying was all his own; it was a sternly methodical haste, and might have been mistaken, in a more lightly-weighted genius, for elaborate trifling. The close tissue of his work never relaxed; he went on doggedly and insistently, pressing it down and packing it together, multiplying erasures, alterations, repetitions, transforming proof-sheets, quarrelling with editors, enclosing subject within subject, accumulating notes upon notes.
The letters make a jump from 1822 to 1827, during which interval he had established, with borrowed capital, a printing house, and seen his enterprise completely fail. This failure saddled him with a mountain of debt which pressed upon him crushingly for years, and of which he rid himself only toward the close of his life. Balzac's debts are another labyrinth in which we do not profess to hold a clue. There is scarcely a page of these volumes in which they are not alluded to, but the reader never quite understands why they should bloom so perennially. The liabilities incurred by the collapse of the printing scheme can hardly have been so vast as not to have been for the most part cancelled by ten years of heroic work. Balzac appears not to have been extravagant; he had neither wife nor children (unlike many of his comrades, he had no illegitimate offspring), and when he admits us to a glimpse of his domestic economy, we usually find it to be of a very meagre pattern. He writes to his sister in 1827 that he has not the means either to pay the postage of letters or to use omnibuses, and that he goes out as little as possible, so as not to wear out his clothes. In 1829, however, we find him in correspondence with a duchess, Mme. d'Abrantes, the widow of Junot, Napoleon's rough marshal, and author of those voluminous memoirs upon the imperial court which it was the fashion to read in the early part of the century. The Duchess d'Abrantes wrote bad novels, like Balzac himself at this period, and the two became good friends.
The year 1830 was the turning point in Balzac's career. Renown, to which he had begun to lay siege in Paris in 1820, now at last began to show symptoms of self-surrender. Yet one of the strongest expressions of discontent and despair in the pages before us belongs to this brighter moment. It is also one of the finest passages:
Sacredieu, my good friend, I believe that literature, in the day we live in, is no better than the trade of a woman of the town, who prostitutes herself for a dollar. It leads to nothing. I have an itch to go off and wander and explore, make of my life a drama, risk my life; for, as for a few miserable years more or less!... Oh, when one looks at these great skies of a beautiful night, one is ready to unbutton——
But the modesty of the English tongue forbids us to translate the rest of the phrase. Dean Swift might have related how Balzac wished to express his contempt for all the royalties of the earth. Now that he is in the country, he goes on:
I have been seeing real splendors, such as fine, sound fruit and gilded insects; I have been quite turning philosopher, and if I happen to tread upon an anthill, I say, like that immortal Bonaparte, "These creatures are men: what is it to Saturn, or Venus, or the North Star?" And then my philosopher comes down to scribble "items" for a newspaper. Proh pudor! And so it seems to me that the ocean, a brig, and an English vessel to sink, if you must sink yourself to do it, are rather better than a writing-desk, a pen, and the Rue St. Denis.
But Balzac was fastened to the writing desk. In 1831 he tells one of his correspondents that he is working fifteen or sixteen hours a day. Later, in 1837, he describes himself repeatedly as working eighteen hours out of the twenty-four. In the midst of all this (it seems singular), he found time for visions of public life, of political distinction. In a letter written in 1830 he gives a succinct statement of his political views, from which we learn that he approved of the French monarchy having a constitution, and of instruction being diffused among the lower orders. But he desired that the people should be kept "under the most powerful yoke possible," so that in spite of their instruction they should not become disorderly. It is fortunate, probably, both for Balzac and for France, that his political role was limited to the production of a certain number of forgotten editorials in newspapers; but we may be sure that his dreams of statesmanship were brilliant and audacious. Balzac indulged in no dreams that were not.
Some of his best letters are addressed to Mme. Zulma Carraud, a lady whose acquaintance he had made through his sister Laure, of whom she was an intimate friend, and whose friendship (exerted almost wholly through letters, as she always lived in the country) appears to have been one of the brightest and most salutary influences of his life. He writes to her in 1832:
There are vocations which we must obey, and something irresistible draws me on to glory and power. It is not a happy life. There is within me the worship of woman (le culte de la femme), and a need of love which has never been fully satisfied. Despairing of ever being loved and understood by such a woman as I have dreamed of, having met her only under one form, that of the heart, I throw myself into the tempestuous sphere of political passions and into the stormy and desiccating atmosphere of literary glory. I shall fail perhaps on both sides; but, believe me, if I have wished to live the life of the age itself, instead of running my course in happy obscurity, it is just because the pure happiness of mediocrity has failed me. When one has a fortune to make, it is better to make it great and illustrious; because, pain for pain, it is better to suffer in a high sphere than in a low one, and I prefer dagger blows to pin pricks.
All this, though written at thirty years of age, is rather juvenile; there was to be much less of the "tempest" in Balzac's life than is here foreshadowed. He was tossed and shaken a great deal, as we all are, by the waves of the time, but he was too stoutly anchored at his work to feel the winds.
In 1832 "Louis Lambert" followed the "Peau de Chagrin," the first in the long list of his masterpieces. He describes "Louis Lambert" as "a work in which I have striven to rival Goethe and Byron, Faust and Manfred. I don't know whether I shall succeed, but the fourth volume of the 'Philosophical Tales' must be a last reply to my enemies and give the presentiment of an incontestable superiority. You must therefore forgive the poor artist his fatigue [he is writing to his sister], his discouragements, and especially his momentary detachment from any sort of interest that does not belong to his subject. 'Louis Lambert' has cost me so much work! To write this book I have had to read so many books! Some day or other, perhaps, it will throw science into new paths. If I had made it a purely learned work, it would have attracted the attention of thinkers, who now will not drop their eyes upon it. But if chance puts it into their hands, perhaps they will speak of it!" In this passage there is an immense deal of Balzac—of the great artist who was so capable at times of self-deceptive charlatanism. "Louis Lambert," as a whole, is now quite unreadable; it contains some admirable descriptions, but the "scientific" portion is mere fantastic verbiage. There is something extremely characteristic in the way Balzac speaks of its having been optional with him to make it a "purely learned" work. His pretentiousness was simply colossal, and there is nothing surprising in his wearing the mask even en famille (the letter we have just quoted from is, as we have said, to his sister); he wore it during his solitary fifteen-hours sessions in his study. But the same letter contains another passage, of a very different sort, which is in its way as characteristic:
Yes, you are right. My progress is real, and my infernal courage will be rewarded. Persuade my mother of this too, dear sister; tell her to give me her patience in charity; her devotion will be laid up in her favor. One day, I hope, a little glory will pay her for everything. Poor mother, that imagination of hers which she has given me throws her for ever from north to south and from south to north. Such journeys tire us; I know it myself! Tell my mother that I love her as when I was a child. As I write you these lines my tears start—tears of tenderness and despair; for I feel the future, and I need this devoted mother on the day of triumph! When shall I reach it? Take good care of our mother, Laure, for the present and the future.... Some day, when my works are unfolded, you will see that it must have taken many hours to think and write so many things; and then you will absolve me of everything that has displeased you, and you will excuse, not the selfishness of the man (the man has none), but the selfishness of the worker.
Nothing can be more touching than that; Balzac's natural affections were as robust as his genius and his physical nature. The impression of the reader of his letters quite confirms his assurance that the man proper had no selfishness. Only we are constantly reminded that the man had almost wholly resolved himself into the worker, and we remember a statement of Sainte-Beuve's, in one of his malignant foot-notes, to the effect that Balzac was "the grossest, greediest example of literary vanity that he had ever known"—l'amour-propre litteraire le plus avide et le plus grossier que j'aie connu. When we think of what Sainte-Beuve must have known in this line, these few words acquire a portentous weight.
By this time (1832) Balzac was, in French phrase, thoroughly lance. He was doing, among other things, some of his most brilliant work, certain of the "Contes Drolatiques." These were written, as he tells his mother, for relaxation, as a rest from harder labor. One would have said that no work would have been much harder than compounding the marvellously successful imitation of mediaeval French in which these tales are written. He had, however, other diversions as well. In the autumn of 1832 he was at Aix-les-Bains with the Duchess of Castries, a great lady, and one of his kindest friends. He has been accused of drawing portraits of great ladies without knowledge of originals; but Mme. de Castries was an inexhaustible fund of instruction upon this subject. Three or four years later, speaking of the story of the "Duchesse de Laugeais" to one of his correspondents, another femme du monde, he tells her that as a femme du monde she is not to pretend to find flaws in the picture, a high authority having read the proofs for the express purpose of removing them. The authority is evidently the Duchess of Castries.
Balzac writes to Mme. Carraud from Aix: "At Lyons I corrected 'Lambert' again. I licked my cub, like a she bear.... On the whole, I am satisfied; it is a work of profound melancholy and of science. Truly, I deserve to have a mistress, and my sorrow at not having one increases daily; for love is my life and my essence.... I have a simple little room," he goes on, "from which I see the whole valley. I rise pitilessly at five o'clock in the morning, and work before my window until half-past five in the evening. My breakfast comes from the club—an egg. Mme. de Castries has good coffee made for me. At six o'clock we dine together, and I pass the evening with her. She is the finest type (le type le plus fin) of woman; Mme. de Beauseant [from "Le Pere Goriot"] improved; only, are not all these pretty manners acquired at the expense of the soul?"
During his stay at Aix he met an excellent opportunity to go to Italy; the Duke de Fitz-James, who was travelling southward, invited him to become a member of his party. He discourses the economical problem (in writing to his mother) with his usual intensity, and throws what will seem to the modern traveller the light of enchantment upon that golden age of cheapness. Occupying the fourth place in the carriage of the Duchess of Castries, his quarter of the total travelling expenses from Geneva to Rome (carriage, beds, food, etc.) was to be fifty dollars! But he was ultimately prevented from joining the party. He went to Italy some years later.
He mentions, in 1833, that the chapter entitled "Juana," in the superb tale of "The Maranas," as also the story of "La Grenadiere," was written in a single night. He gives at the same period this account of his habits of work: "I must tell you that I am up to my neck in excessive work. My life is mechanically arranged. I go to bed at six or seven in the evening, with the chickens; I wake up at one in the morning and work till eight; then I take something light, a cup of pure coffee, and get into the shafts of my cab until four; I receive, I take a bath, or I go out, and after dinner I go to bed. I must lead this life for some months longer, in order not to be overwhelmed by my obligations. The profit comes slowly; my debts are inexorable and fixed. Now, it is certain that I will make a great fortune; but I must wait for it, and work for three years. I must go over things, correct them again, put everything en etat monumental; thankless work, not counted, without immediate profit." He speaks of working at this amazing rate for three years longer; in reality he worked for fifteen. But two years after the declaration we have just quoted, it seemed to him that he should break down: "My poor sister, I am draining the cup to the dregs. It is in vain that I work my fourteen hours a day; I can't do enough. While I write this to you I find myself so weary that I have just sent Auguste to take back my word from certain engagements that I had formed. I am so weak that I have advanced my dinner hour in order to go to bed earlier; and I go nowhere." The next year he writes to his mother, who had apparently complained of his silence: "My good mother, do me the charity to let me carry my burden without suspecting my heart. A letter for me, you see, is not only money, but an hour of sleep and a drop of blood."
We spoke just now of Balzac's sentimental consolations; but it appears that at times he was more acutely conscious of what he missed than of what he enjoyed. "As for the soul," he writes to Mme. Carraud in 1833, "I am profoundly sad. My work alone sustains me in life. Is there then to be no woman for me in this world? My physical melancholy and ennui last longer and grow more frequent. To fall from this crushing labor to nothing—not to have near me that soft, caressing mind of woman, for whom I have done so much!" He had, however, a devoted feminine friend, to whom none of the letters in these volumes are addressed, but who is several times alluded to. This lady, Mme. de Berny, died in 1836, and Balzac speaks of her ever afterward with extraordinary tenderness and veneration. But if there had been a passion between them, it was only a passionate friendship. "Ah, my dear mother," he writes on New Year's day, 1836, "I am harrowed with grief. Mme. de Berny is dying; it is impossible to doubt it. No one but God and myself knows what my despair is. And I must work—work while I weep!" He writes of Mme. de Berny at the time of her death as follows. The letter is addressed to a lady with whom he was in correspondence more or less sentimental, but whom he never saw: "The person whom I have lost was more than a mother, more than a friend, more than any creature can be for another. The term divinity only can explain her. She had sustained me by word, by act, by devotion, during my worst weather. If I live, it is by her; she was everything for me. Although for two years illness and time had separated us, we were visible at a distance for each other. She reacted upon me; she was a moral sun. Mme. de Mortsauf, in the 'Lys dans la Vallee,' is a pale expression of this person's slightest qualities." Three years afterward he writes to his sister: "I am alone against all my troubles, and formerly, to help me to resist them, I had with me the sweetest and bravest person in the world; a woman who every day is born again in my heart, and whose divine qualities make the friendships that are compared with hers seem pale. I have now no adviser in my literary difficulties; I have no guide but the fatal thought, 'What would she say if she were living?'" And he goes on to enumerate some of his actual and potential friends. He tells his sister that she herself might have been for him a close intellectual comrade if her duties of wife and mother had not given her too many other things to think about. The same is true of Mme. Carraud: "Never has a more extraordinary mind been more smothered; she will die in her corner unknown! George Sand," he continues, "would speedily be my friend; she has no pettiness whatever in her soul—none of the low jealousies which obscure so many contemporary talents. Dumas resembles her in this; but she has not the critical sense. Mme. Hanska is all this; but I cannot weigh upon her destiny." Mme. Hanska was the Polish lady whom he ultimately married, and of whom we shall speak. Meanwhile, for a couple of years (1836 and 1837), he carried on an exchange of opinions, of the order that the French call intimes, with the unseen correspondent to whom we have alluded, and who figures in these volumes as "Louise." The letters, however, are not love letters; Balzac, indeed, seems chiefly occupied in calming the ardor of the lady, who was evidently a woman of social distinction. "Don't have any friendship for me," he writes; "I need too much. Like all people who struggle, suffer, and work, I am exacting, mistrustful, wilful, capricious.... If I had been a woman, I should have loved nothing so much as some soul buried like a well in the desert—discovered only when you place yourself directly under the star which indicates it to the thirsty Arab."
His first letter to Mme. Hanska here given bears the date of 1835; but we are informed in a note that he had at that moment been for some time in correspondence with her. The correspondence had begun, if we are not mistaken, on Mme. Hanska's side, before they met; she had written to him as a literary admirer. She was a Polish lady of great fortune, with an invalid husband. After her husband's death, projects of marriage defined themselves more vividly, but practical considerations kept them for a long time in the background. Balzac had first to pay off his debts, and Mme. Hanska, as a Polish subject of the Czar Nicholas, was not in a position to marry from one day to another. The growth of their intimacy is, however, amply reflected in these volumes, and the denouement presents itself with a certain dramatic force. Balzac's letters to his future wife, as to every one else, deal almost exclusively with his financial situation. He discusses the details of this matter with all his correspondents, who apparently have—or are expected to have—his monetary entanglements at their fingers' ends. It is a constant enumeration of novels and tales begun or delivered, revised or bargained for. The tone is always profoundly sombre and bitter. The reader's general impression is that of lugubrious egotism. It is the rarest thing in the world that there is an allusion to anything but Balzac's own affairs, and to the most sordid details of his own affairs. Hardly an echo of the life of his time, of the world he lived in, finds its way into his letters; there are no anecdotes, no impressions, no opinions, no descriptions, no allusions to things heard, people seen, emotions felt—other emotions, at least, than those of the exhausted or the exultant worker. The reason of all this is of course very obvious. A man could not be such a worker as Balzac and be much else besides. The note of animal spirits which we observed in his early letters is sounded much less frequently as time goes on; although the extraordinary robustness and exuberance of his temperament plays richly into his books. The "Contes Drolatiques" are full of it, and his conversation was also full of it. But the letters constantly show us a man with the edge of his spontaneity gone—a man groaning and sighing, as from Promethean lungs, complaining of his tasks, denouncing his enemies, and in complete ill humor generally with life. Of any expression of enjoyment of the world, of the beauties of nature, art, literature, history, human character, these pages are singularly destitute. And yet we know that such enjoyment—instinctive, unreasoning, essential—is half the inspiration of the poet. The truth is that Balzac was as little as possible of a poet; he often speaks of himself as one, but he deserved the name as little as his own Canalis or his own Rubempre. He was neither a poet nor a moralist, though the latter title in France is often bestowed upon him—a fact which strikingly helps to illustrate the Gallic lightness of soil in the moral region. Balzac was the hardest and deepest of prosateurs; the earth-scented facts of life, which the poet puts under his feet, he had put above his head. Obviously there went on within him a vast and constant intellectual unfolding. His mind must have had a history of its own—a history of which it would be most interesting to have an occasional glimpse. But the history is not related here, even in glimpses. His books are full of ideas; his letters have almost none. It is probably not unfair to argue from this fact that there were few ideas that he greatly cared for. Making all allowance for the pressure and tyranny of circumstances, we may believe that if he had greatly cared to se recueillir, as the French say—greatly cared, in the Miltonic phrase, "to interpose a little ease"—he would sometimes have found an opportunity for it. Perpetual work, when it is joyous and salubrious, is a very fine thing; but perpetual work, when it is executed with the temper which more than half the time appears to have been Balzac's, has in it something almost debasing. We constantly feel that his work would have been vastly better if the Muse of "business" had been elbowed away by her larger-browed sister. Balzac himself, doubtless, often felt in the same way; but, on the whole, "business" was what he most cared for. The "Comedie Humaine" represents an immense amount of joy, of spontaneity, of irrepressible artistic life. Here and there in the letters this occasionally breaks out in accents of mingled exultation and despair. "Never," he writes in 1836, "has the torrent which bears me along been more rapid; never has a work more majestically terrible imposed itself upon the human brain. I go to my work as the gamester to the gaming-table; I am sleeping now only five hours and working eighteen; I shall arrive dead.... Write to me; be generous; take nothing in bad part, for you don't know how, at moments, I deplore this life of fire. But how can I jump out of the chariot?" We had occasion in writing of Balzac in these pages more than a year ago to say that his great characteristic, far from being a passion for ideas, was a passion for things. We said just now that his books are full of ideas; but we must add that his letters make us feel that these ideas are themselves in a certain sense "things." They are pigments, properties, frippery; they are always concrete and available. Balzac cared for them only if they would fit into his inkstand.
He never "jumped out of his car"; but as the years went on he was able at times to let the reins hang more loosely. There is no evidence that he made the great fortune he had looked forward to; but he must have made a great deal of money. In the beginning his work was very poorly paid, but after his reputation was solidly established he received large sums. It is true that they were swallowed up in great part by his "debts"—that dusky, vaguely outlined, insatiable maw which we see grimacing for ever behind him, like the face on a fountain which should find itself receiving a stream instead of giving it out. But he travelled (working all the while en route). He went to Italy, to Germany, to Russia; he built houses, he bought pictures and pottery. One of his journeys illustrates his singular mixture of economic and romantic impulses. He made a breathless pilgrimage to the island of Sardinia to examine the scoriae of certain silver mines, anciently worked by the Romans, in which he had heard that the metal was still to be found. The enterprise was fantastic and impracticable; but he pushed his excursion through night and day, as he had written the "Pere Goriot." In his relative prosperity, when once it was established, there are strange lapses and stumbling-places. After he had built and was living in his somewhat fantastical villa of Les Jardies at Sevres, close to Paris, he invites a friend to stay with him on these terms: "I can take you to board at forty sous a day, and for thirty-five francs you will have fire-wood enough for a month." In his joke he is apt to betray the same preoccupation. Inviting Charles de Bernard and his wife to come to Les Jardies to help him arrange his books, he adds that they will have fifty sous a day and their wine. He is constantly talking of his expenses, of what he spends in cab hire and postage. His letters to the Countess Hanska are filled with these details. "Yesterday I was running about all day: twenty-five francs for carriages!" The man of business is never absent. For the first representations of his plays he arranges his audiences with an eye to effect, like an impresario or an agent. In the boxes, for "Vautrin," "I insist upon there being handsome women." Presenting a copy of the "Comedie Humaine" to the Austrian ambassador, he accompanies it with a letter calling attention, in the most elaborate manner, to the typographical beauty and the cheapness of the work; the letter reads like a prospectus or an advertisement.
In 1840 (he was forty years old) he thought seriously of marriage—with this remark as the preface to the announcement: "Je ne veux plus avoir de coeur!... If you meet a young girl of twenty-two," he goes on, "with a fortune of 200,000 francs, or even of 100,000, provided it can be used in business, you will think of me. I want a woman who shall be able to be what the events of my life may demand of her—the wife of an ambassador, or a housewife at Les Jardies. But don't speak of this; it's a secret. She must be an ambitious, clever girl." This project, however, was not carried out; Balzac had no time to marry. But his friendship with Mme. Hanska became more and more absorbing, and though their project of marriage, which was executed in 1850, was kept a profound secret until after the ceremony, it is apparent that they had had it a long time in their thoughts.
For this lady Balzac's esteem and admiration seem to have been unbounded; and his letters to her, which in the second volume are very numerous, contain many noble and delicate passages. "You know too well," he says to her somewhere, with a happy choice of words belonging to the writer, whose diction was here and there as felicitous as it was generally intolerable—"Vous savez trop bien que tout ce qui n'est pas vous n'est que surface, sottise et vains palliatifs de l'absence." "You must be proud of your children," he writes to his sister from Poland; "such daughters are the recompense of your life. You must not be unjust to destiny; you may now accept many misfortunes. It is like myself with Mme. Hanska. The gift of her affection explains all my troubles, my weariness, and my toil; I was paying to evil, in advance, the price of such a treasure. As Napoleon said, we pay for everything here below; nothing is stolen. It seems to me that I have paid very little. Twenty-five years of toil and struggle are nothing as the purchase money of an attachment so splendid, so radiant, so complete."
Mme. Hanska appears to have come rarely to Paris, and when she came to have shrouded her visits in mystery; but Balzac arranged several meetings with her abroad, and visited her at St. Petersburg and on her Polish estates. He was devotedly fond of her children, and the tranquil, opulent family life to which she introduced him appears to have been one of the greatest pleasures he had known. In several passages which, for Balzac, may be called graceful and playful, he expresses his homesickness for her chairs and tables, her books, the sight of her dresses. Here is something, in one of his letters to her, which is worth quoting: "In short, this is the game that I play; four men will have had, in this century, an immense influence—Napoleon, Cuvier, O'Connell. I should like to be the fourth. The first lived on the blood of Europe; il s'est inocule des armees; the second espoused the globe; the third became the incarnation of a people; I—I shall have carried a whole society in my head. But there will have been in me a much greater and much happier being than the writer—and that is your slave. My feeling is finer, grander, more complete, than all the satisfactions of vanity or of glory. Without this plenitude of the heart I should never have accomplished the tenth part of my work; I should not have had this ferocious courage." During a few days spent at Berlin, on his way back from St. Petersburg, he gives his impressions of the "capital of Brandenburg" in a tone which almost seems to denote a prevision of the style of allusion to this locality and its inhabitants which was to become fashionable among his countrymen thirty years later. Balzac detested Prussia and the Prussians.
It is owing to this charlatanism [the spacious distribution of the streets, etc.] that Berlin has a more populous look than Petersburg; I would have said "more animated" look if I had been speaking of another people; but the Prussian, with his brutal heaviness, will never be able to do anything but crush. To produce the movement of a great European capital you must have less beer and bad tobacco, and more of the French or Italian spirit; or else you must have the great industrial and commercial ideas which have produced the gigantic development of London; but Berlin and its inhabitants will never be anything but an ugly little city, inhabited by an ugly big people.
"I have seen Tieck en famille," he says in another letter. "He seemed pleased with my homage. He had an old countess, his contemporary in spectacles, almost an octogenarian—a mummy with a green eye-shade, whom I supposed to be a domestic divinity.... I am at home again; it is half-past six in the evening, and I have eaten nothing since this morning. Berlin is the city of ennui; I should die here in a week. Poor Humboldt is dying of it; he drags with him everywhere his nostalgia for Paris."
Balzac passed the winter of 1848-'49 and several months more at Vierzschovnia, the Polish estate of Mme. Hanska and her children. His health had been gravely impaired, and the doctors had absolutely forbidden him to work. His inexhaustible and indefatigable brain had at last succumbed to fatigue. But the prize was gained; his debts were paid; he was looking forward to owning at last the money that he should make. He could afford—relatively speaking at least—to rest. His fame had been solidly built up; the public recognized his greatness. Already, in 1846, he had written: "You will learn with pleasure, I am sure, that there is an immense reaction in my favor. At last I have conquered! Once more my protecting star has watched over me.... At this moment the public and the papers turn toward me favorably; more than that, there is a sort of acclamation, a general consecration.... It is a great year for me, dear Countess."
To be ill and kept from work was, for Balzac, to be a chained Prometheus; but there was much during these last months to alleviate his impatience. His letters at this period are easier, less painfully preoccupied than at any other; and he found in Poland better medical advice than he deemed obtainable in Paris. He was preparing a house in Paris to receive him as a married man—preparing it apparently with great splendor. At Les Jardies the pictures and divans and tapestries had mostly been nominal—had been present only in grand names, chalked grotesquely upon the empty walls. But during the last years of his life Balzac appears to have been a great collector. He bought many pictures and other objects of value; in particular, there figures in these letters a certain set of Florentine furniture which he was willing to sell again, but to sell only to a royal purchaser. The King of Holland appears to have been in treaty for it. Readers of the "Comedie Humaine" have no need to be reminded of the author's passion for furniture; nowhere else are there such loving or such invidious descriptions of it. "Decidedly," he writes once to Mme. Hanska, "I will send to Tours for the Louis XVI. secretary and bureau; the room will then be complete. It's a matter of a thousand francs; but for a thousand francs what can one get in modern furniture? Des platitudes bourgeoises, des miseres sans valeur et sans gout."
Old Mme. de Balzac was her son's factotum and universal agent. His letters from Vierzschovnia are filled with prescriptions of activity for his mother, accompanied always with the urgent reminder that she is to use cabs ad libitum. He goes into the minutest details (she was overlooking the preparation of his house in the Rue Fortunee, which must have been converted into a very picturesque residence): "The carpet in the dining-room must certainly be readjusted. Try and make M. Henry send his carpet-layer. I owe that man a good pour-boire; he laid all the carpets, and I once was rough with him. You must tell him that in September he can come and get his present. I want particularly to give it to him myself."
His mother occasionally annoyed him by unreasonable exactions and untimely interferences. There is an episode of a letter which she writes to him at Vierzschovnia, and which, coming to Mme. Hanska's knowledge, endangers his prospect of marriage. He complains bitterly to his sister that his mother cannot get it out of her head that he is still fifteen years old. But there is something very touching in his constant tenderness toward her—as well as something very characteristically French—very characteristic of the French sentiment of family consistency and solidarity—in the way in which, by constantly counting upon her practical aptitude and zeal, he makes her a fellow worker toward the great total of his fame and fortune. At fifty years of age, at the climax of his distinction, announcing to her his brilliant marriage, he signs himself Ton fils soumis. To his old friend Mme. Carraud he speaks thus of this same event: "The denouement of that great and beautiful drama of the heart which has lasted these sixteen years.... Three days ago I married the only woman I have loved, whom I loved more than ever, and whom I shall love until death. I believe that this union is the recompense that God has held in reserve for me through so many adversities, years of work, difficulties suffered and surmounted. I had neither a happy youth nor a flowering spring; I shall have the most brilliant summer, the sweetest of all autumns." It had been, as Balzac says, a drama of the heart, and the denouement was of the heart alone. Mme. Hanska, on her marriage, made over her large fortune to her daughter.
Balzac had at last found rest and happiness, but his enjoyment of these blessings was brief. The energy that he had expended to gain them left nothing behind it. His terrible industry had blasted the soil it passed over; he had sacrificed to his work the very things he worked for. One cannot do what Balzac did and live. He was enfeebled, exhausted, broken. He died in Paris three months after his marriage. The reader feels that premature death is the logical, the harmonious completion of such a career. The strongest man has but a certain fixed quantity of life to expend, and we may expect that if he works habitually fifteen hours a day, he will spend it while, arithmetically speaking, he is yet young.