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The works
ofHonore de Balzac

Honore de Balzac, George Saintsbury


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Beatrix was built up in the odd fashion in which Balzac
sometimes did build up his novels, and which may be thought
to account for an occasional lack of unity and grasp in them.
The original book, written in 1838, and published with the
rather flowery dedication "to Sarah" at the end of that
year, stopped at the marriage of Calyste and Sabine. The
last part, separately entitled Un AduUere Retrospectif, was
not added till six years later. It cannot be said to be either
very shocking or very unnatural that the young husband
should exemplify the truth of that uncomfortable proverb.
Qui a bu boira; and it is perhaps rather more surprising tliat
Balzac should have allowed him to be "refished" (as the
French say) in a finally satisfactory condition by his lawful

Still, I do not think the addition can be considered on the
whole an improvement to the book, of which it is at the best
rather an appendix than an integral part. The conception
of Beatrix herself seems to have changed somewhat, and that
not as the conception of her immortal namesake in Esmond
and The Virginians changes, merely to suit the irreparable
outrage of years. The end has unsavory details, which have
not, as the repetition of them in more tragic form a little later
in La Cousine Bette has, the justification of a really tragic'
retribution ; and a man must have a great deal of disinterested
good nature about him to feel any satisfaction, or indeed to
ta^e much interest, in the restoration of the domestic happi-

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ness of two such persons as M. and Bochefide. Calyste
du GuiniCy whose character was earlier rather exaggerated,
is now almost a caricature, and to me at least the thing is
not much excused by the fact that it gives Balzac an oppor-
tunity of introducing his pattern gentleman-scoundrel,
Maxime de Trailles, and his pet Bohemian, La Palf6rine.
The many-named Italian here indeed plays a comparatively
benevolent part, as does Trailles; but they are both as great
" raflfs** and " tigers" as ever.

The first and larger part of the book, on the other hand, —
the book proper, as we may call it, — ^is a remarkable, a well-
designed, and a very interesting study. It is not so much
of an additional attraction to me, as it perhaps is to most
people, that contemporaries, without much contradiction, or
in all cases improbability, chose to regard the parts and per-
sonages of F61icit6 des Touches, Beatrix de Bochefide,
Claude Vignon, and the musician Conti, as designed, and
pretty closely designed, after George Sand, Madame d^Agoult
(known as "Daniel Stem"), Gustave Planche, the critic,
and Liszt. As to the first pair, there can, of course, be no
doubt; for Balzac, by representing "Camille Maupin" as
(Jeorge Sand*s rival, and br introducing divers ingenious
and legitimate adaptations of the famous she-novelisfs
career, both invites, and in a way authorizes, the attribu-
tion. There is nothing oflfensive in it; indeed, F61icit6 is
one of the most eflFective and sympathetic of his female char-
acters, and would always have been incapable of the rather
heartless action by which the actual 'George Sand amused
herself intellectually and sentimentally with lover after lover,
and then threw them away. Unless the accounts of Planche
that we have are very unfair — ^and they possibly are, for he

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was a critic, and was particularly obnoxious to the extreme
Bomantic school, which was perhaps why Balzac liked him —
Claude Vignon is a still more flattered portrait, though Bal-
zac's low, if not quite impartial, opinion of critics in general
comes out in it. Conti may be fair enough for Liszt; and if
Beatrix is certainly a libel on poor Madame d'Agoult, it
must be remembered that this later Madame, de Stael was
generally misrepresented in her lifetime, though since her
death she has had more justice.

The " key ^'-interest of books, however, is always a minor»
and sometimes a purely illegitimate one. It ought to be
BufScient for us that the interest of the quartette, even if
there had been no such persons as George Sand, Daniel Stern,
Planche, and Liszt in the world, would be very great, and
that it is well composed with and maintained by the accessory
and auxiliary facts and characters. The picture of the
Guenic household (which, after Balzac's usual fashion, throws
us back to Les Chouans, while Beatrix as a Cast^ran, and
thus a connection of the luckless Mile, de Vemeuil, is also
connected with that book) may seem to some to be a little
too fully painted; it does not seem so to me. Whether, as
hinted above, the character of Calyste has its childishness
exaggerated or not, I must leave to readers to decide for
themselves. His casting of Beatrix into the sea, besides be-
ing illegal, may seem to some extravagant; but it must be
remembered that Balzac was originally writing when the
heyday of the Romantic movement was by no means over,
and when melodrama was still pretty fully in fashion. It
is difficult, too, to see what better contrast and uniting scheme
for the contrasted worldliness of the four chief characters
could have been devised; while the childishness itslf is not

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inconceivable or unnatural in a boy brought up in a sort
of household of romance by a heroic father and a doting
mother, both utterly unworldly, his head being further fired
by participating in actual civil war on behalf of an injured
princess, and his heart exposed without preparation to such
different, influences as those of Mile, des Touches' and of

The contrast of the two ladies is also fine; indeed, Beatrix
seems to me, though by no means Balzac's most perfect work,
to be an attempt in a higher style of novel writing than any
other heroine of his. It is impossible not to suspect in
Felicity, good, clever, and so forth as she is, a covert satire
on the variety of womankind which had begun to be fashion-
able. The satire on the unamiable side of mere womanliness
which the sketch of Beatrix contains is, of course, open and
undeniable. I think that Thackeray has far excelled it, but
I am not certain that he was not indebted to it as a pat-
tern. The fault of the French Beatrix has been expressed
by her creator on nearly the last page of the book. A woman
sans cosur ni tete may do a great deal of mischief; but she
cannot quite play the part attributed to Madame de Koche-

The first two parts of Beatrix (in which Madame de
Rochefide was at first called 'Rochegude) appeared in the
Siecle during April and May 1839, with the alternative title
nil les Amours Forces, and they were published in book form
})y Souverain in the same year. They were then divided
briefly: the first part, which was called Moeurs D' Autrefois
in the Siecle, and Une Famille Patriarcale in the book, had
eight headed chapters; the second (Moeurs d'Aujourhui in
the first, Une Femme Celebre in the second) eleven; and a

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third division, ijCS Rivalites, eight. As a Scene de la Vie
Privee, which it became in 1842, it had no chapters; it was
little altered otherwise; and the present completion was an-
ticipated, though not given, in a final paragraph. It also
had the simple title of Beatrix. The completion itself did not
appear till the midwinter (December- January) of 1844-45.
It was first called Les Peiits Maneges d'une Femme Veriueuse
in the Messager, and when, shortly afterwards, it was pub-
lished by Chlendowski as a book. La Lune de MieL In these
forms it had fifty-nine headed chapters. In the same year,
however, it became, with its forerunners, part of the Comedie,
and the chapters were swept away throughout. G. S.

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To Sarah

Id clear weather, on the Mediterranean shore, where formerly
your name held elegant sway, the waves sometimes aUow us to
perceive beneath the mist of waters a sea-flower, one of Nature's
masterpieces: the lace work of Its tissue, tinged with purple,
russet, rose, violet, or gold, the crispness of that living filagree,
the velvet texture, all vanish as soon as curiosity draws It forth
and spreads It on the strand.

Thus would the glare of publicity offend your tender modesty;
so. In dedicating this work to you, I must reserve a name which
would indeed be its pride. But under the shelter of this half
concealment, your superb hands may bless it, your noble brow
may bend and dream over it, your eyes, full of motherly love,
may smile upon it, since you are here at once present and veiled,
lilke that gem of the ocean-garden, you will dwell on the fine
white level sand where your beautiful life expands, hidden by a
wave that is transparent only to certain friendly and reticent

I would gladly have laid at your feet a work in harmony with
your perfections; but as that was impossible, I knew, for my
consolation, that I was gratifying one of your Instincts by offer-
ing you something to protect.

De Balzao.


Prance, and more especially Brittany, still has some few
towns that stand entirely outside the social movement which
gives a character to the nineteenth century. For lack of rapid
and constant communications with Paris, connected only by
an ill-made road with the prefecture or chief town to which

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they belong, these places hear and see modem civilization pass
by like a spectacle; they are amazed, but they do not applaud;
and whether they fear it or make light of it, they remain
faithful to the antiquated manners of which they preserve
the stamp. Any one who should travel as a moral archaeolo-
gist, and study men instead of stones, might find a picture
of the age of Louis XV. in some village of Provence, that of
the time of Louis XIV. in the depths of Poitou, that of yet
remoter ages in the heart of Brittany.

Most of these places have fallen from some splendor of
which history has kept no record, busied as it is with facts
and dates rather than manners, but of which the memor}'
still survives in tradition; as in Brittany, where the char-
acter of the people allows no forgetfulness of anything that
concerns the home country. Many of these towns have been
the capital of some little feudal territory — a county or a
duchy 'conquered by the Crown, or broken up by inheritors
in default of a direct male line. Then, deprived of their ac-
tivity, these heads became arms; the arms, bereft of nutri-
tion, have dried up and merely vegetate; and within these
thirty years these images of remote times are beginning to
die out and grow very rare.

Modern industry, toiling for the masses, goes on destroy-
ing the creations of ancient art, for its outcome was as per-
sonal to the purchaser as to the maker. We have products
nowadays ; we no longer have works. Buildings play a large
part in the phenomena of retrospection; but to industry,
buildings are stone-quarries or saltpetre mines, or storehouses
for cotton. A few years more and these primitive towns will
be transformed, known no more excepting in this literary

One of the towns where the physiognomy of the feudal
ages is still most plainly visible is Gu6rande. The name alone
will revive a thousand memories in the mind of painters, art-
ists, and thinkers who may have been to the coast and have
aeen this noble gem of feudality proudly perched where it

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oommands the sand-hills and the strand at low tide^ the top
comer, as it were, of a triangle at whose other points stand
two not less curious relicts — ^le Croisic and le Bonrg de Batz.
Besides Gu^rande there are but two places — Vitr6, in the very
centre of Brittany, and Avignon in the south — ^which pre-
serve their mediaeval aspect and features intact in the midst
of our century.

6u6rande is to this day enclosed by mighty walls, its wide
moats are full of water, its battlements are unbroken, its
loopholes are not filled up with shrubs, the ivy has thrown no
mantle over its round and square towers. It has three gates,
where the rings may still be seen for suspending the port-
cullis; it is entered over drawbridges of timber shod with
iron, which could be raised, though they are raised no longer.
The municipality was blamed in 1820 for planting poplars
by the side of the moat to shade the walk; it replied that
on the land side, by the sand-hills, for above a hundred years,
the fine, long esplanade by the walls, which look as if they had
been built yesterday, had been made into a mall over-
shadowed by elms, where the inhabitants took their pleasure.

The houses have known no changes ; they are neither more
nor less in number. Not one of them has felt on its face the
hammer of the buildei, or the brush of the whitewasher, or
trembled under the weight of an added story. They all re-
tain their primitive character. Some are raised on wooden
columns forming *'rows,*' under which there is a footway,
floored with planks that yield but do not break. The shop-
dwellings are small and low, and faced with slate shingles.
Woodwork, now decayed, has been largely used for carved
window-frames; and the beams, prolonged beyond the pil-
lars, project in grotesque heads, or at the angles, in the form
of fantastic creatures, vivified by the great idea of Art, which
at that time lent life to dead matter. These ancient things,
defying the touch of time, offer to painters the brown tones
and obliterated lines that they delight in.

The streets are what they were a hundred years ago. Only,
as the population is thinner now, as the social stir i^ l^s

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active, a traveler curious to wander through this town, as
fine as a perfect suit of antique armor, may find his way,
not untouched by melancholy, down an almost deserted street,
where the stone window-frames are choked with concrete to
avoid the tax. This street ends at a postem-gate built up
with a stone wall, and crowned by a clump of saplings planted
there by the hand of Breton Nature — France can hardly show
a more luxuriant; and all-pervading vegetation. If he is a
poet or a painter, our wanderer will sit down, absorbed inJ
the enjoyment of the perfect silence that reigns under the
still sharp-cut vaulting of this side gate, whither no sound
comes from the peaceful town, whence the rich country may
be seen in all its beauty through loopholes, once held by
archers and cross-bowmen, which seem placed like the little
windows arranged to frame a view from a summer-house.

It is impossible to go through the town without being re-
minded at ever}' step of the manner^ and customs of long past
times ; every stone speaks of them ; traditions of the Middle
Ages survive there as superstitions. If by chance a gendarme
passes in his laced hat, his presence is an anachronism against
which the mind protests ; but nothing is rarer than to meet a
being or a thing of the present. There is little to be seen
even of the dress of the day ; so much of it as the natives have
accepted has become to some extent appropriate to their un-
changing habits and hereditary physiognomy. The market-
place is filled with Breton costumes, which artists come here
to study, and which are amazingly varied. The whiteness of
the linen clothes worn by the paludiers, the salt-workers who
collect salt from the pans in the marshes, contrasts effect-
ively with the blues and browns worn by the inland peasants,
and the primitive jewelry piously preserved by the women.
These two classes and the jacketed seamen, with their round
varnished leather hats, are as distinct as the castes in India,
and they still recognize the distinctions that separate the
townsfolk, the clergy, and the nobility. Here every landmark
still exists; the revolutionary plane found the divisions too
rugged and too hard to work over ; it would have been notched

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if not broken. Here the immutability which JTatnre has
given to zoological species is to be seen in men. In short,
even since the revolution of 1830, 6u6rande is still a place
unique, essentially Breton, fervently catholic, silent, medita-
tive, where new ideas can scarcely penetrate.

Its geographical position accounts for this singularity.
This pretty town overlooks the salt marshes; its salt is in-
deed known throughout Brittany as 3el de Ouerande, and to
its merits many of the natives ascribe the excellence of their
butter and sardines. It has no communication with the rest
of France but by two roads, one leading to Savenay, the chief
town of the immediate district, and thence to Saint-Nazaire;
and* the other by Vannes on to Morbihan. The district road
connects it with Nantes by land; that by Saint-Nazaire and
then by boat also leads to Nantes. The inland road is used
only by the Government, the shorter and more frequented
way is by Saint-Nazaire. Between that town and 6u6rande
lies a distance of at least six leagues, which the mails do not
serve, and for a very good reason — there are not three travel-
ers by coach a year. Saint-Nazaire is divided from Paim-
boeuf by the estuary of the Loire, there four leagues in
width. The bar of the river makes the navigation by steam-
boat somewhat uncertain ; and to add to the difficulties, there
was, in 1829, no landing quay at the cape of Saint-Nazaire;
the point ended in slimy shoals and granite reefs, the natural
fortifications of its picturesque church, compelling arriving
voyagers i6 fling themselves and their baggage into boats
when the sea was high, or, in fine weather, to walk across the
rocks as far as the jetty then in course of construction.
These obstacles, ill suited to invite the amateur, may per-
haps still exist there. In the first place, the authorities move
but slowly ; and then the natives of this comer of land, which
you may see projecting like a tooth on the map of France
between Saint-Nazaire, le Bourg de Batz, and le Croisic, are
veiy well content with the hindrances that protect their terri-
tory from the incursions of strangers.

Thus flung down on the edge of a continent, Ouirande

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leads no wjiither, and no one ever comes there. Happy in
being unknown, the town cares only for itself. The centre
of the immense produce of the salt marshes, paying not less
than a million francs in taxes, is at le Croisic, a peninsular
town communicating with Guerande across a tract of shifting
sands, where the road traced each day is washed out each
night, and by boats indispensable for crossing the inlet which
forms the port of le Croisic, and which encroaches on the
sand. Thus this charming little town is a Herculaneum of
feudalism, miniis the winding sheet of lava. It stands, but
is not alive; its only reason for surviving is that it has not
been pulled down.

If you arrive at Gu6rande from le Croisic, after crossing
the tract of salt marshes, you are startled and excited at the
sight of this immense fortification, apparently quite new.
Coming on it from Saint-Nazaire, its picturesque position
and the rural charm of the neighborhood are no less fasci-
nating. The country round it is charming, the hedges full
of flowers — honeysuckles, roses, and beautiful shrubs; you
might fancy it was an English wild garden planned by a
great artist. This rich landscape, so homelike, so little vis-
ited, with all the charm of a clump of violets or lily-of-the-
valley found in the midst of a forest, is set in an African
desert shut in by the ocean — a desert without a tree, with-
out a blade of grass, without a bird, where, on a sunny day,
the marsh-men, dressed all in white, and scattered at wide
intervals over the dismal flats where the salt is collected,
look just like Arabs wrapped in their burnouse. Indeed,
Guerande, with its pretty scenery inland, and its desert
bounded on the right by le Croisic and on the left by Batz,
is quite unlike anything else to be seen by the traveler in
France. The two types of nature so strongly contrasted and
linked by this last monument of feudal life, are quite inde-
scribably striking. The town itself has the effect on the mind
that a soporific has on the body ; it is as soundless as Venice.

There is no public conveyance but that of a carrier who

Online LibraryGeorge CrabbeThe works of Honoré de Balzac → online text (page 1 of 62)